Wednesday, December 22, 2010

35 Years Of Fear

"Scared shitless" is the not-so-graceful term my fiancee used a few weeks ago to describe me after I expressed my displeasure at applying for a job in Memphis that would be in my desired field of broadcasting. The job was member of a "street team" for a radio station morning show. My impression of that gig is that it's not very high-paying, it's not very secure as far as how long one would be employed in that position before the station decided to cut costs and whack said position, and it's not very useful, because I imagine there's a lot of passing out flyers and setting up zany morning zoo stunts. And on top of that, there's a potential loss of money involved, because if I were to apply to that job and get it right now, I would lose tuition money that I'd have to reimburse my current employer for leaving within two years of getting that money, and I'd lose a performance bonus coming at the end of January. The only thing positive about that street crew position is that it would indeed be a foot in the door of the broadcasting industry, and that is all I want. I'm fairly confident that I will show my talent and ascend the ladder once I get that foot in the door. But I declined to apply for the job because of all the previously listed cons versus that one pro. My fiancee's reaction was to declare me "scared shitless" of going for a real position in radio when the opportunity presented itself. I took it hard that she thought of me that way, and I still to this day believe that my reasons for not applying for the gig were valid. And I believe that I would apply for that same job in February after those money issues are cleared up. But I do have to admit, I have a ton of fear inside of me. There are major, major life changes coming in 2011. I'm getting married, I'm moving to a new city that I am largely unfamiliar with, and I'm going to have to take a new job in order to make all of that happen. There's a sensation of rolling a wheel down a hill that comes with any application to a job in a city that I'm unfamiliar with before I've moved into that city. So that's scary right off the bat. Then applying for a job in radio or broadcasting adds another layer of fear because I have absolutely zero experience in those fields and I would likely be starting out at some entry-level position and hoping to give demo tapes of myself to some strangers and make an impression on them. And I think anyone hoping to break into their dream career in their mid-30s after doing something else for 15 years has trepidation about possibly failing at their dreams after all this time. So on this, my 35th birthday, I can only acknowledge the bundle of fears that I still possess. I can plan on being opportunistic and taking advantage of whatever comes my way, but the fact is, there's a moment before I approach a producer with my demo, before I press "send" on my online resume, before I call a prospective employer in Memphis, when I have to overcome a gigantic ball of fear inside me that has always stood in my way whenever I wanted something that I didn't think I was good enough to have. But hey, I'm 35. There are only so many opportunities that I can pursue. I have no choice but to overcome those fears.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Jack Of All Trades, Boss Of None

Everyone has a day at work where they feel like the only intelligent person in the entire building. I had that day a couple of weeks ago. Basically, a piece of mail came in that was sent to our customer's lockbox address, which is our building, because the lockbox was peeking out of the top of the envelope window. But if one looked down at the lower half of the window, a totally different address in Florida was showing. You had to work to find our customer's lockbox address because it wasn't clearly showing; someone actually peeled part of the envelope up to more clearly see the lockbox, ignoring the Florida address that was clear and easy to read. The return address was to our customer's lockbox. To me, this was obviously a case of mistaken mailing. The post office sent the piece of mail to the lockbox even though it was intended for the Florida address. But absolutely no one saw it my way. My team lead, my supervisor, a learning coach...all of them advised me to process the contents of the envelope to the lockbox instead of returning it to the post office as a missort. This was a two-day argument. One piece of mail came in and I refused to process it, and the next day, a second mistaken envelope with the exact same problem came in. My supervisor had to kindly ask me to process both to our lockbox before I finally gave up and did what I was told. It frustrated me because the company in Florida that should have received that mail will be sitting there for who knows how long waiting for two invoices that won't get there because we were so eager to process any mail that may have our client's lockbox number anywhere on it that we effectively intercepted the invoices and mailed them back to our client. It doesn't affect me personally, but I just hated doing something that was clearly the wrong option. But that's what I had to do in the end, because I'm just a worker bee and I have no real power. The funny thing is, my team lead had taken to calling me "Boss" as a nickname because I'm so adamant and forceful in stating my point, in this situation or any other, that I guess I act like I run the place according to her. I'm not trying to run the place, I'm just trying not to do stupid things like open mail obviously intended for another address. I know, I know, how silly of me.

The prospect of moving to Memphis with my fiancee and leaving this company isn't looking good right now either. I have two networking angles that I'm working, but I'm not optimistic that either will work out. One of them told me straight up that the bank job market in Memphis is the worst he's seen it in 30 years, and this is bad because he's the executive vice president of one of the larger banks in Memphis. As a courtesy, he asked me to e-mail my resume to him anyway. The other angle is the executive director at Chase who claims to have a nephew coincidentally employed at a bank in Memphis. About three months ago, I e-mailed my resume to my executive director for forwarding to his nephew, but he took forever to actually send it off. He kept walking past me every day saying "I haven't forgot about you" and "I'm gonna have something for you soon." It was just this past week that he finally informed me that he was planning to send my resume, but you could call it a bad sign that he then asked me if I had ever sent him my resume previously. Yeah, about a million years ago, buddy. So I'm not counting on that working out either. I'm sitting in limbo right now, searching Memphis job sites and finding not much, while my fiancee waits for me to move down with her in advance of our October wedding next year. I'm trying not to move down until I secure employment, but I may have to just make the move if I don't see anything worth applying for. The move and the wedding are potentially stressful life changes off in the distance. Facing me down right now are my continued financial woes and another cold winter looming, and the winter brings more financial trouble with the heating bill and physical trouble with the way my knees and ankles and toes seem to severely swell and flare up in a freezing climate. Yes, I'm looking for part-time work to ease the cash flow pain, and I may even work overtime on Thanksgiving. However, as much as it seems like I'm depressed and bitching and moaning, I'm sure that better days are ahead. I'll be married to a wonderful woman this time next year, I'll be in warmer temperatures, and I'll be sharing household expenses. I just gotta stay strong and fight through these tough times, and eventually, my patience will be rewarded. So long as I don't snap and go postal on my workplace for telling me I'm wrong when I know damn well that I'm right.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Our Culture Today

Real civil conversation I heard on the bus going home last Friday.

Old man talking to two guys sitting behind him: "You're making me nervous. Hey driver, these two guys are saying something to each other in Arabic. I don't care what the fuck you're saying, you're making me nervous. I don't care if you're fucking talking about sports, you're making me nervous."

Old lady standing about 15 feet behind the old man: "Okay, pal, you need to take it down a notch. That's enough."

Man: "Yeah, let's just wait until they blow up the bus."

Woman: "I hope they start with you first."

Man: "They want to start with me first, cause I'm Jewish."

Woman: "You should be so lucky."

The Arabic men were silent throughout this situation. The old man shut up after the woman's last line. All I have to add is, in another city, or in this city on another bus, I could easily see a different reaction from the others on the bus, one where they justify the old man's fear and also complain to the driver about being "nervous." It could have turned into a really ugly situation, well, uglier than it already was. You know what I'm nervous about? All the dumbasses in the world that feel like that old man. That really makes me nervous.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tying The Knot, Part 5: How To Pick A Date

MURFREESBORO, TN--"So what made you decide on October 16, 2011?" I asked.

"Well, I like the months of September and October," she replied. "They're cheaper for things like flowers and arrangements and catering. Although October is an 'on' off-month. Very popular among the off-months."


So I excitedly headed to the computer in the guest bedroom at my future mother-in-law's house here in beautiful Murfreesboro, where my fiancee and I are spending a few days of our weeklong vacation, and posted the date on my Facebook page, double-checking what day that date will fall on. Hmm, a Sunday, I thought. Not too many weddings on a Sunday. Maybe my fiancee, being very religious, has always wanted her wedding to be on a Sunday. So I went with it, warning my Facebook pals that they should save the date in pencil, since my fiancee hasn't actually checked with her church to see if that date is open.

My uncle happily replied on Facebook that it's great that we chose October 16, since it would be my deceased mom's birthday (his sister). I knew the date sounded familiar. But my fiancee had to tell me about this and other replies because right after I posted this Sunday night, I developed the worst headache I ever had, and she was in the room keeping me company at midnight after I burst into her bedroom begging for her Motrin. While watching over me, she checked her Facebook page and saw my announcement. Then she noticed the part about Sunday.

"October 16 is a Sunday?" she asked. I moaned yes while shielding the light from my eyes. "Did you check the date?" Despite me clearly saying yes, she checked herself and discovered her error. "Oops," she said. "I meant the 15th."

Like I said, save the date in pencil.

So finally, we have a (tentative) date. We know what church we want, and we're leaning towards the ultimate cheapo honeymoon, getting a room in downtown Memphis and acting like tourists. We're still debating the other details, such as whether we should cater or go to a restaurant for the reception and what method of invites we should use. I'm just relieved to have a freakin' date to look forward to. Oh, and my best friend "Jacob" is getting married next May and asked me to be his best man! How fucking cool is that? When I leave my job and move to Memphis next year after no longer being required to pay back tuition money to my employer, it will set off the busiest, most hectic year of my life. But since it will result in me and my honey finally starting a life as husband and wife, I will enjoy every second and soak all the memories in.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Yet Another Failure

So I just saw that the radio station that I auditioned for a few weeks ago chose its Final Four, and obviously, I ain't one of them. Now, I'm no stranger to dealing with failure, but this newest one comes on the heels of a conversation I had with my fiancee a few days ago. She started counseling sessions with a therapist, and she has identified an issue in her life that needs immediate attention. It's her inclination to help people to a fault, to excess, where she ends up being parental and overbearing, giving unsolicited advice and possibly gaining a sense of self-worth in "being there" for people. She thinks she needs to curtail this activity for her own mental health. The problem for me is, I believe that I need that kind of person in my life for moments just like this, where I'm feeling no self-worth and I would love for someone to smother me with advice and love, or just for someone to give a fuck about me. I think that I'm sitting here at 34 with nothing to show for my life partially because I have major problems motivating myself, and I need someone to take charge and motivate me when I'm feeling down. She doesn't think that should be her job, and it shouldn't, but it doesn't mean that it's not what I need. We have also been having dialogue about how difficult it is to be in a long distance relationship, and that's an issue as well. I explained to her how hard it is to get up in the morning and go through my typical workday with no one there for me, even though I'm supposed to be engaged to someone. I got the sense that she didn't quite understand how difficult it can be for me. Maybe she doesn't feel the same difficulty. I find the following irony almost humorous: I'm here alone at home feeling as low as it gets because I failed at something (the talk show audition) yet again, days after explaining to my fiancee that it feels sometimes like no one's there for me...and she and I usually talk every Saturday morning at this time to connect and catch up, but she's unavailable today due to job commitments. The worst part is, I don't know what the hell I would expect her to do about what I'm feeling even if she were here or on the phone with me. I'd still feel like the loser that I am, and I might even take offense at her if she tried too hard to convince me that I'm not a loser because I would feel like she was ignoring the fact that I am a loser and was just trying to placate me. Sometimes I feel like I shouldn't be getting married. I've got so many issues that are nowhere near resolution--financial, career, emotional stability, personal self-esteem. I still feel like I wouldn't have been ready for a woman in my life right before I met my fiancee. The question on my mind sometimes is, was I really ready when I did meet her? Will I ever be ready? What's wrong with me???

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sound And Fury Signifying Unnamed Sources

I had to post about the hype and silliness surrounding the whole LeBron James saga the last month or so, despite the drama coming to an end with his TV show "The Decision" this past Thursday. It's a fascinating look into the frenzy that surrounds a lot of media coverage in sports nowadays, and it shines a light on how hard writers and broadcasters are working to try to stay relevant, all while they appear to be less and less relevant.

As everyone knows, LeBron James has been the subject of endless speculation and rumor for the past year or so, because everyone knew that when this most recent NBA season ended, he would be a free agent, and which team he would choose was a great mystery. This speculation played itself out in the media in the form of endless writers and talking heads on TV and radio putting out their hot and heavy predictions and reports from their "sources." You name the journalist, he had a source that was telling him where LeBron was headed. Never mind that none of these people were talking to LeBron himself, since LeBron had announced early in the season that he wouldn't discuss his plans in the media. They all just knew that they had the inside track on his decision. Now, I was in the unique position of having the time to listen to talk shows daily from the top two speculated destinations for LeBron, here in Chicago and down in Miami. I listen to next-day podcasts of the Boers and Bernstein Show in Chicago and the Dan Le Batard Show from Miami while I work. They both happen to air at the exact same time, from 3 to 7 Eastern. (Boers and Bernstein's show is 5 hours long, so they start at 2 Eastern, or 1 Central.) This set up an almost unbelievable sequence of events that occurred live during their shows, linking them to each other in a way that neither could have imagined at the beginning of their broadcast day.

I don't remember the exact date, but I was listening to Boers and Bernstein's podcast, which was a show similar to all of their shows of the previous two weeks in that it was heavy on reports of various journalists writing or blogging or tweeting about their newest LeBron speculation. Bernstein breaks in rather breathily, if that's a word, about 3 hours into the show with word that Dan Le Betard of the Miami Herald had just "reported" that LeBron James was definitely not coming to Miami next season. Bernsie spent the next hour excitedly saying that it jibes with his reports from his "sources" that LeBron to Chicago is the most likely scenario. I was curious about this report from Le Batard because it was coming to Bernstein as if Le Batard had just wrote it, even though I knew that Le Batard normally would be on the air doing his radio show at that time of day. The next hour, Bernstein interrupts a thought and says, "Is this right? This can't be right. Dan Le Batard is now reporting that he was misquoted, that when he said James is not coming to Miami next year, he didn't mean LeBron James, he meant James Jones." Jones was a scrub for the Miami Heat last season, and his contract expired, so indeed, James Jones was not coming back to the Heat. But I felt bad for Le Batard because that would be a huge mistake to make if he wasn't clear which James he was talking about. And indeed, Bernsie savaged him for the remainder of the show for either confusing the Jameses or getting a bad report from a source and trying to backtrack by lying and claiming that he was never talking about LeBron. I was confused as to what kind of reporting Le Batard was up to, and I was very anxious to get home and download his show and hear if he was in the field calling in these reports to his show, or if this would be addressed on his show at all.

Imagine my surprise when I started Le Batard's show on my iPod the next day and heard him yapping away like always. I didn't know what to think at this point. Was Le Batard completely misquoted from the get-go? Were the reports Bernstein referenced from a Le Batard story he wrote earlier in the day? Would Le Batard talk about it in any way, shape or form? I listened very intently to the first 2 hours, and despite a ton of LeBron talk, there was no mention of any reporting being done by Le Batard. Then it unfolded very slowly, and everything became crystal clear. Just after two hours, which would put it in the exact same time frame as when Bernstein first mentioned Le Batard's report on his show, Le Batard and his co-host and producer start talking on the air about receiving phone calls from Canada because of a harmless, sourceless prediction Le Batard sent out on his Twitter that Chris Bosh, another highly sought-after free agent, would be coming to Miami after signing with his current team the Toronto Raptors and then agreeing to a trade to Miami. (The prediction was right on the money, BTW.) Le Batard and his cohorts were genuinely amazed that people in Canada were taking his tweet as gospel and were trying to contact him to follow up on it, as if it were a legitimate news item. They started batting around different shocking things they could write on Le Batard's Twitter account to see what kind of reaction they could get. After rejecting the headline of Pat Riley, Miami Heat top honcho and former coach, flying to Cleveland to discuss becoming their new coach because that would be too incendiary as well as a flat lie, they agree to posting a line about James definitely not coming to play for the Miami Heat next year. My mouth dropped as I realized that Bernstein, and maybe many other media outlets, had been duped into taking Le Batard's silly tweet as a serious piece of news and decided to relay it as a "report." The producer wondered how long he should wait until he posts the clarification that it's James Jones being referred to and not LeBron. But after a five minute break, they come back and realize that it's already out of control because the item had been re-tweeted 50 times in 10 minutes. The re-tweets were from all sorts of people--regular, earnest media folk as well as fans adding their own one-liners such as "No King LeBron in Miami, haha!" and "Suck it Miami!" The producer finally sent out the "clarification" maybe 30 or 40 minutes later as Le Batard half-jokingly chuckled, "My hard-earned credibility is going down the toilet!"

I'm still not completely sure why I found the whole episode so hilarious and brilliant. Maybe it was just because I was in on an inside joke that most people wouldn't ever understand because they won't know all the details. Or maybe it's because I got so sick and tired a long, long time ago of all these "insider" reports with these unnamed "sources" claiming that they have the latest scoop on LeBron when none of them knew any more than me. Maybe it was the fact that Dan Bernstein got pantsed on a Le Batard tweet, acting as if it was some sort of real report that backed up his bullshit claim that he somehow had the scoop that LeBron was likely coming here. As much as I love the Boers and Bernstein Show for the way that they rip anything dumb in sports and society, Bernstein gets off on being an insufferable prick, and he was actually trying to use this tweet to justify his claim that he had some knowledge of LeBron's decision. He knew NOTHING, just like everybody else. But this whole LeBron thing has been a real eye opener for me, as someone who hopes to be part of the media someday soon. (I even tried out last month for an open mike contest for a local sports station in which the winner gets a weekend talk show. Fingers crossed.) I hope and pray that I am never in a position where I have to rely on unnamed "sources," who could be anybody from a team exec to a member of a player's posse to the stadium janitor, to relay news to my listeners. I hate that shit so much. If my source turns out to be full of shit, my name and reputation take the hit, and the source gets no flak because he was unidentified. I'd rather find a way to fill my airtime in an entertaining manner talking sports and whatever else my listeners want to talk about. I don't want to have to step into the sewage that is reporting and journalism in a society where reporters are more and more unnecessary and uninformed. After all the speculation and punditry, LeBron's decision was announced by LeBron live on ESPN with more people watching than those who watched him actually play the game of basketball in the NBA Finals two years ago. That rendered all the Stephen A. Smiths and Ric Buchers and Chris Broussards and all the other jokers who claimed to have inside knowledge completely useless, and it pointed out how desperate those writers are to continue to matter in today's world, where the athletes or celebrities can take to their blogs or Twitter to break whatever news about themselves without the assistance of journalists. Chuck D. wasn't talking about them when he rapped about folks "talkin' loud, ain't sayin' nothin'." But he might as well have been.

Friday, June 11, 2010

So Much For Getting My Title Back

Just found out this week that all of the ESPN Zones are closing. Guess I won't have to be tortured until next year aching to get my Sports Spelling Bee title back. I'll now have to ache...until the end of time!!!!!

Or, I can get over it and focus on pursuits that actually mean something.

Monday, June 07, 2010

The Perfect Storm

There's a great old episode of The Honeymooners where Ralph Kramden is entered to compete on a Name That Tune-type game show and has to bone up on his music knowledge to prepare for the show. He enlists Ed Norton to come to the apartment and play sheet music on a piano, and Ralph practices being able to name the song, artist, writer, and composer. Ed, being a quirky character, has to play a little piece before every single song as a warm-up. Ralph gets annoyed quickly with this, but he's running through the songs with ease, and his confidence swells with every tune. Well, Ralph finally makes it to the show, smiling, cocky, rarin' to go, and then as the first song is played, you can see the blood rush away from his face as he recognizes the tune as that annoying little piece Ed had to play before every song. Ralph had failed to learn about that little piece because he completely overlooked it, focusing instead on the songs that were there on paper. It never occurred to him that the annoying little piece--which, BTW, was "Swannee River"--could possibly be one of the songs on the show. It's a wonderful lesson on confidence, overconfidence, preparation, and the pitfalls of assuming that you're totally ready for anything.

It's a lesson that I thought I had learned throughout my years, because I get the feeling that the ratio of times in my life that I felt that I was going into something ready to dominate and excel compared to the number of times that the event went all wrong and I looked like a damn fool is a very high ratio. There's going into a new grammar school thinking that I was going to be the cool dude because I was from a hardscrabble part of town and they were just a bunch of nerds; they turned out to be rich nerds who knew how to manipulate any situation so that I always seemed uncouth and beneath them. There's going to parties as a kid thinking I was going to dance and show off and be the man; but others were always much better at dancing and showing off, and I usually chose to be a wallflower and not risk embarrassment. There's going on various dates and social outings thinking that I was going to dazzle the women with my intelligence and charm; that almost never worked out for whatever reasons. (Maybe I'm not nearly as smart and charming as I think I am. Thank goodness my fiancee has been fooled into loving me anyway, or I might still be on Craigslist getting taken advantage of by fat sluts.) The point is, I feel that my life has been a series of lessons on not getting too confident about any upcoming event or contest no matter how good I feel about it.

Chalk up another painful lesson for me. Guess I still haven't learned.

I had been looking forward to the ESPN Zone Sports Spelling Bee literally from the moment that I won it last year. It was such an intoxicating feeling to walk into a competition that I felt like I had a right to be in--unlike, say, trying to pick up a hot chick at a bar or applying for a job that I'm not qualified for, which are events that are not very fun because of the underlying feeling of shooting for something that's out of my range--and actually winning the thing. I couldn't wait to come back this year and repeat the feat. When I e-mailed my registration, I wrote an extra little note at the end: "Make sure my trophy is nice and shiny." And I felt even better about my chances this year because there were several Chicago-area sports names that I would have been eliminated on if I got them last year, and I did some studying in an attempt to be prepared for them. I took the day off work this past Thursday because I didn't want to be tired after working all day and go to ESPN Zone and defend my title while trying to stay awake. I had taken some online tests last weekend to brush up on some of the popular hard-to-spell sports names nationally. I wound up typing "Krzyzewski" about ten times. So Thursday, I spent an hour or so researching the web sites of the Chicago Fire (soccer), the Chicago Sky (women's basketball), and the Chicago Blackhawks (hockey). I figured that I knew the names of all the Cubs, White Sox, Bears, and Bulls, because those teams compete in sports in which I play fantasy versions, and it's imperative that I know how to spell baseball, basketball, and football names so that I know who I'm drafting and acquiring in trades. So I wrote down names from the Blackhawks, Sky, and Fire that may trip me up because I was unfamiliar with them, and I stuffed the piece of paper into my pocket as I left for ESPN Zone supremely confident. It was names from those other fringe sports that would have knocked me out last year, and that's why I chose to study them this year. But apparently I didn't study them hard enough.

My friend "Drew" decided to attend the contest this year since he works downtown and it wouldn't be a big deal to check me out after work. He even texted me hard names as a way to quiz me, and I knew them all. Byfuglien. Hjalmarsson. Brouwer. Antti Niemi. Cuauhtemoc Blanco. You name it, if it was a Chicago sports star with a difficult name, I had studied it and felt that I knew it. When I arrived, I looked for him briefly, but he wasn't there yet. I then went to the sign-in table where a couple were just ahead of me receiving their placards. That meant that if I had arrived a minute earlier, I would have been ahead of them in order. (Remember that for later.) Drew arrived shortly after that. It was about 6:05. The lady at the table told me to come back to that same area just before 6:30 so that the director of the event could give us contestants the rules. I decided to sit with Drew up front in leather reclining chairs that he requested just so he could be in the front row for my coronation. He ordered food and I ordered a Coke from a comely black waitress. Drew and I shot the shit for about twenty minutes, then when the waitress asked if I wanted to order food, I made a show out of taking one last sip of Coke, grabbing my placard, saying, "Maybe later, I got some business to take care of," and running off as if I were O.J. sprinting for my plane. I got to the entrance area and saw the aforementioned couple and several male geeks standing around with placards around their necks looking for all the world like they were attending DragonCon. One guy was a brotha and was wearing a Blackhawks T-shirt with Jonathan Toews's name on the back, and I made a mental note to amuse myself if Toews's name came up in the competition. I actually heard one dude tell another dude, "He won it two years ago, and he won it last year," pointing at me. Obviously, the man who won in 2008 was here, but I didn't acknowledge being pointed at because I didn't want to seem too geeky. I just coolly stared at a TV screen pretending to watch something. We had been standing around for about ten minutes before the comely black waitress approached me from the left, tapped me softly on the elbow, flashed a billion-dollar smile and said, "Good luck." I thanked her and smiled back, then wondered how big of a tip she expected just because she pretended to care about how I did in this silly-ass competition.

Another ten minutes passed before Drew came back there wondering what was the hold-up, but at that same moment, the director walked through and I shooed Drew away thinking we were about to start. But it was yet another five minutes (and a walk-through the opposite direction by the director, who recognized me from last year and said "Welcome back") before he finally gathered all 16 of us competitors in a fire-escape hallway and ran down the rules. He had the 2008 winner and me raise our hands and take sparse applause for being past champs back for more. I had the most arrogant smirk on my face as he ran down the rules because I knew the rules and I was just waiting for the show to begin so that I could show off the skills that I had been harnessing for 365 days. It was a complete turnaround from last year, when I didn't know what I had gotten myself into and I just hoped before the contest started that I didn't embarrass myself by going out on the first name. I did a mock "Ooh" when the director told us that two extra prizes had been added for the grand prize winner, a year's supply of Powerade and a signed Luol Deng jersey. I wondered how I would cash in that many Powerade coupons at the store, especially since I don't have a car. The director finished his instructions and lined us up down in front, just like last year. I didn't even look at Drew presumably sitting in his seat right up front. I was the focused gladiator, ready for the war to commence, with no fear of losing. I even rubbed the trophy as I passed by before the contest began. I figured I was gaining a companion for the trophy from last year. I imagined them sitting side by side on top of my TV like twins. I had but one concern, and it was a bit irrational: I worried that I might go too fast on a name trying to show off, and I would put a letter accidentally in the wrong place. Never did I think they would give me a name that I didn't know.

The director told us right before the show began that there was a film crew there, which was not the case last year. They were from some local website, not a real news crew. We were told who the cameraman and interviewer were literally seconds after I saw them talking and noticed how incredibly ill-fitting the interviewer's dress was, way too tight for her age and too low-cut for her drooping breasts, and I wondered who the fuck they were. Then it was time to do it. As was the case last year, the guy who won in 2008 went first, because remember, the order was determined by who showed up first. The director told him that to make things a little more fair, he was to pick a number between 1 and 27, and the director would start reading names from that number so as to thwart any complaints about certain names being harder than others. This way, it was a totally random deal as to who got what name. The 2008 champ said, "It doesn't matter. We'll start with 1." My first name was Derrek Lee. I may have gotten him last year, too. I don't remember who my second name was. A blonde standing in front of me, half of the couple that arrived seconds before I did, asked me about the prizes that I received last year. I remembered standing behind a chatty blonde last year, too. I wondered if it was the same one. I was cool, calm, collected. Then the third round began.

This is a good spot to point out to those of you who aren't sports fans that the Chicago Blackhawks are smack dab in the middle of the Stanley Cup Finals, and the city has hockey fever like never before. In fact, the 2008 winner was decked in a Hawks jersey and cap, in addition to the black dude with the Toews shirt. So it should have come as no surprise that the list for the third round seemed to be all Blackhawks. Those hockey names are really good for spelling bees, you know. Our friend the 2008 winner was again given the choice of what number to pick so that the moderator could maybe start in a more random place. He again chose to start right at 1. It truly didn't matter to him. I don't remember if there were four or five people ahead of me at this point, but I do remember that all of the names in that round up to my turn were Blackhawks. Remember, I wrote down several of the more difficult Hawks names and glanced at the list on the train before I arrived. I looked at the Hawks roster online. Whether I spelled it right or wrong, if I received the name of a current Hawk, Sky or Fire, my eyes had seen the name earlier that very day. I recognized the name I got as another Blackhawk, but not as a difficult one that I had written down. The name was Brian Bickell. Now, I'm no hockey fan, despite the shaggy beard that I'm currently sporting in support of the Hawks' playoffs. (It's a tradition that teams in the hockey playoffs don't shave until they're eliminated or win the whole thing; certain loser fans with no lives, like me, chose to follow the tradition as if we're on the team.) So I didn't know who this Bickell guy was. And as a result, I had overlooked studying the one name that isn't difficult at all if you know the player, but it is difficult if you don't know him because there are several plausible spellings of Bickell. The first one that popped into my mind was Bickle, like Travis Bickle, the DeNiro character in Taxi Driver. So I start spelling the part of the name that I know is right, the B-I-C-K part. Then I pause, and my eyes widen as the realization washes over me that, uh oh, I actually don't know this guy's name and I'm gonna have to guess. I hate guessing in a spelling bee. What's the odds of being right on a guess in a spelling bee? The world stopped spinning as I pushed out the L-E from my voice box with a questionable inflection. The whistle blew. The yellow flag went up in the air. I had been eliminated. And my little insulated world imploded.

I never did look over at Drew.

I selected a cap from the collection of caps and T-shirts that were available as prizes for the also-rans after they got knocked out. Then, because to walk to my seat next to Drew would have been impossible thanks to the show going on right in the path that I would have to take, I stood in the back, lurking in the shadows as if waiting for another chance to enter, and I watched the rest of the competition. I swear before God, there wasn't a name that I heard that I didn't know and wouldn't have gotten correct, except for, of course, the name I got. Not in the entire fucking contest was there read another name that I didn't know. It didn't end much later after I lost because the list was so hard that people were getting eliminated very quickly. Maybe ten minutes after I got knocked out, some guy put an O in the name of Bears safety Al Afalava, the 2008 winner nailed Bears long snapper Patrick Mannelly, and the sordid affair was over. The shaking of the winner's hand by me had to endure a horrible five-minute interview of the new champ by the whore in the tight black dress. I nervously laughed as I shook his hand and said, "Those damn hockey names!" He laughed back and tossed me some kind of compliment. I didn't hear it because I was looking at this guy with his thick glasses and shaggy hair and slovenly clothes, who was entry #1 last year and this year because it meant so much to him to win this thing that he showed up twice before anyone else, and I was thinking, "My God. It's like I have a twin!" I then sat next to Drew, who just shook his head and smiled and asked, like a child whose hero had missed the game-winning shot and had let everyone down, "Brian Bickell?" The waitress came back and said, "I'm sorry. You better come back and win it next year!" I promised that I would and ordered dinner, then turned to my left to see the champ take the recliner next to me, trophy still shining in his hand. I mostly ignored him and watched the NBA Finals Game 1 with Drew. We left at halftime.

Since then, I've been reeling. I'm gonna say this big shpiel and then try to let it go. It was, by any rational observer's viewpoint, a perfect storm of coincidences and situations that led me to get this one name that I didn't know in a contest where EVERY OTHER FUCKING NAME was a name I knew. I left my house a little earlier than I did last year because last year, I was running in the door right at 6:30 and I almost missed the damn thing. Also, I took a different route that avoided all the traffic that slowed me down last year. That's why I was there at 6:05 and not at some other time. Any other time, I would not have been the #8 competitor. The route that I took had me going down the stairs to the subway, where I came across a friend from high school that I hadn't seen since 1995. The five minutes that we spent chatting and exchanging numbers may have caused me to miss an earlier train, which would have gotten me to ESPN Zone earlier than the two people who were registering right as I got there. If I had been really cool and not registered the moment I arrived, I would have gotten a different number. In the actual contest, if someone other than the 2008 winner would have been contestant #1, perhaps they choose a different word to start on than #1. If the guy has the slightest bit of creativity and chooses ANY OTHER NUMBER than #1, I don't get that name. If the list isn't created with that name in that position, I don't get that name. And, of course, if I don't overlook that name while studying, then I don't have a shitload of excuses to whine about.

I was fine in the direct aftermath of the spelling bee. Sitting there with Drew, eating and watching some hoops, ignoring the guy next to me who stole my title...I felt fine, no big deal. But as soon as I got ready to leave, it started to bother me. I received a certificate for a game card in addition to the cap. I gave the certificate to Drew. I looked at the cap and noticed that it had the apparel company's name across the front. The company was Champion. I figured that I used to be a champion, but today I wasn't. I left the cap. I also left the placard, which I kept last year. You know, when I won. No point in keeping it to commemorate this year. I got downstairs to take the subway home, and found myself standing against a big brick wall. I nearly turned around and banged my head off the wall. I was absolutely crushed. Who takes a day off and studies for a sports spelling bee and then LOSES on a name that he looked at and didn't bother to study? What kind of world-class loser does that? It could only be me, the one and only Planet Dre. This year of frustration and self-doubt and self-loathing that I'm about to go through before next year's contest, I wonder: Did the guy who won in 2008 and this year but lost to me last year go through this in the days and weeks and months after he lost? If so, then I guess the only solace I can take is that he stepped up and took his title back. He ignored anyone in his life trying to give him perspective, telling him not to worry about losing because you can't win 'em all and it's just a silly spelling bee, and he came back and took what he thought was rightfully his.

In 2011, once again it will be my turn. Toews, Byfuglien, Swannee River, and any other word they wanna throw at me. I will own them all. Unless I'm living in Memphis with my wife. As important as it is, it's not quite that important.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Unc To The Rescue?

On my Facebook page, I basically reiterated the whining frustration that I spit out in my previous blog post about not being able to go back to school and continue my pursuit of a broadcasting career. My uncle, to my surprise, left the following comment: "Find out some prices for classes and get back to me." I am thrilled that my uncle wants to help me out financially. I know that he has gone through some changes recently concerning his employment, and I'm not sure what his cash looks like at the moment. But it's a big gesture nonetheless. The fall semester is closer than I think, so I will have to figure out a course of action soon. I plan to spend a weekend with my uncle and have a conversation about how much help he can give me.

My fiancee has had to figure out for herself how best to support me as I writhe in anguish about my uncertain future. She's said that basically she will back off trying to verbally encourage and push me and will wait for me to let her know in what manner she can assist me. This is on the heels of my reaction to her "You don't want it bad enough" statement, which was not nearly as tame as my blog post. I hate the thought of shoving her away so bad that she now feels like she has to totally leave me alone. I really like having someone pushing me actually. But if I can't react to said pushing like a grownup, I shouldn't be getting pushed. She said that she has to work on how to be constructive in her criticism. Perhaps, but I certainly need to work on my reception of criticism. Now that I think about it, the archive of this blog is a running record of my inability to accept criticism. Guess I'm still working on it.

I was able to spend a quick weekend in Memphis with my fiancee this past weekend. It wasn't quite running down there for two days, but it was damn close. I called in sick to work last Friday, rode the bus for nine hours, got there Friday night, then left Sunday evening at 11 and rode ten hours back to Chicago, where I decided to go straight to work upon arrival because I didn't want to use another vacation day or sick day. (I don't think I'll ever try that again.) So that's two days and Friday evening, officially. Her job is not letting her use multiple vacation days in a row for some reason, so she can't take off for a few days to come see me. At the moment, it's up to me to make the trips and keep up the face-to-face contact. I'll be back down there in August for a week, most of which will be spent visiting her mother. She's lucky I love her, or I'd really be bitching and moaning about the travel. She did have to cook me a meal of my choice thanks to me beating her in the college basketball Bracket Challenge, and I really enjoyed the whole wheat tortellini with chicken and creamy pesto sauce. A Caesar salad and garlic bread accompanied the main dish, and a French silk pie for dessert made the meal complete. Magnifique! And the fooling around was much fun, as always.

Finally, I wanted to write up a sports-related rant just to get into the rhythm of it. I figure if I'm going to start a podcast soon, or maybe even take a freelance sports writing gig, I should find my voice as it relates to how I want to set the tone of my maniacal ravings. So don't be surprised if I make this blog much more sports related in the future, even more so than it already is. But I'll never delete the past postings or totally turn away from the personal nature of my past postings. This will always be the story of my adult life post-"Karen," no matter what. Anyhow, the only sports-related item I want to briefly talk about is the walking turd that is Milton Bradley. Bradley played for the Cubs last season, and he was so bad on and off the field that they traded him before this year began. If you're not aware of the Milton Bradley Show, then Google him. Basically, he's been hated everywhere he's gone throughout his decade-long career because his attitude is completely sour. Nothing that happens to him is his fault, if you ask him. It's all the bad fans, or the manager who doesn't understand him, or the players who can't stand him, or the media who wants him to be the bad guy. But the one that sent me over the top was his comments about the racist Cubs fans in Chicago, specifically the ones in the Wrigleyville neighborhood, where he and his kids lived during last year. He accused the primary school where his kids went of being racist against his 5-year-old. The kids and the teachers used derogatory names, according to Milton. That sounds completely ridiculous to me. The thought of 5-year-olds being allowed to use racial slurs in a big city in 2009 or 2010 doesn't make much sense. What really got me upset was the accusation that the surrounding neighborhood was racist. It's bad enough that the man has no credibility as it is, because there's always been a problem with everyone else wherever he's gone. He's never the issue, according to him. But this time, he decided to point the finger at an area where I used to live. For three years, I lived five blocks from Wrigley Field. So I can say this with total certainty: Not only is the Wrigleyville area not racist, it's probably the most diverse in the whole fucking city! I saw every mix of creed and color you can imagine on a daily basis--interracial couples and families, gay couples, lesbian couples, you name it, it's walking in the streets every day in that part of town. I never once saw an act of hate against anyone. In all the times I socialized with whatever white woman I happened to be dating, I never had a bad word said to me or had a cross look thrown my way. So this asshole slandered a part of Chicago that probably least deserved slandering, all because the fans in that ballpark booed his dumb ass when he played like shit. When blacks in general complain about racist behavior, we usually get an eyeroll from whites, who are sick of hearing us bitch about the bias that they feel we're making up. The reason Milton Bradley pissed me off so bad is because he's the type of person that whites sometimes imagine we all are like. We're not all complete jerks looking to accuse anyone who dislikes us of being racist. But the more guys like Milton and Dusty Baker complain about those big bad evil white people, the less white people are apt to trust us and treat us equally, which is all we really want.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

"You Don't Want It Bad Enough"

That was the sentence my fiancee said to me a few weeks ago when I was running down the list of excuses I have relating to why I am not currently pursuing a broadcasting career as I claim that I want to. It stopped me in my tracks. I sat in silence for a few minutes after she said it, and I'm sure she was wondering what was going through my mind. I just kept thinking how breaking into broadcasting is the thing I think about every day, dream about every day, the thing that I want as much as anything. Hell, I listen to three to six hours of sports podcasts daily while working, listening to different styles and rhythms, comparing what I want to do with what's being done successfully right now. There's a lot that can be said about why I'm not taking any steps right now to achieve this dream, but the last thing I thought anyone would say is that it's not something I want bad enough.

The truth is, I'm a pussy and I'm scared to jump into anything that is uncertain and unfamiliar and doesn't have a clear path to guaranteed success. That doesn't mean I don't want it bad enough. It means that, just like my pursuit of any woman or any job or any material possession, I am very careful when I don't have a clear path carved out to something because I'm so afraid of the unknown, not to mention failing spectacularly. (I have to write a post at a later date about all of the comically tragic things I did in a vain attempt to pursue my junior high school crush.) This fear is a bad thing, I realize, but like any other bad habit, it takes a tremendous amount of hard work to overcome it, and I haven't overcome it yet. I have to keep thinking about my successes in order to keep myself from falling into the depressing rut that I used to be in. There was a time six to twelve years ago that going back to school was not something I wanted to try for fear of failure, that proposing to a woman was laughable because I couldn't imagine anyone saying yes to me, that even taking a role speaking out at meetings at my job was something I couldn't see myself doing. I've done all those things in the last few years, so I'm getting there. But to overcome my fear of failure and fear of not being good enough to take the next steps needed to pursue a broadcasting career, it's going to take a monumental surge of self-esteem. That's because I don't have any contacts in the industry, so my next step will have to be some kind of leap of faith. The way I see it, I will either have to start my own webcast and hope that a dozen people someday listen to it, or I will have to intern at a radio station and hope that someone takes the time to help me break in. But that's not something I have the time to do because I am living check to check and I can't sacrifice the forty hours I work per week, and I'd like to keep my weekend hours free in pursuit of a side job to help pay my bills. It was in the midst of running down this list that my fiancee flatly said, "You don't want it bad enough."

So that's what's up with me right now. I'm square in the middle of this spot in my life where I want to go higher, but I have absolutely no idea how. It sucks. I even briefly considered looking into an opening in Tampa, a place I've never been in my life, for a P.A. announcer for Tampa Bay Rays baseball games. If I wasn't engaged and I could leave my job, who knows. All I can do is hope that I figure out my next move soon and gather the gumption to actually make that move. But anyone reading this, make no mistake: I may have a ton of reasons why I'm not on the air right now, but lack of desire is not one of them.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Super Bowl XLIV

New Orleans vs. Indianapolis (-4.5)

There's not a lot to break down in this game, so I'll be brief. These are the top two teams in the league. Indy was famously 14-0 before they made the conscious decision to quit trying to win until the playoffs started. New Orleans made it to 13-0 before faltering. It's so rare to get the two best teams against each other in the Super Bowl. I am so excited to see this game. And they're built similarly as well. Both use a wide-open aerial attack to establish leads in the first three quarters of games, then rely on a fresh ground game and opportunistic defense to lock the contests away. The Saints passing offense has Drew Brees and an endless supply of weapons. The Colts have Peyton Manning, the greatest commander of an offense I have ever seen, and an endless supply of weapons. So why am I taking New Orleans to win? A couple of reasons. The main one is that I simply trust the Saints pass defense to make a play late in the game more than I trust the Colts pass defense. I'm calling a crazy back-and-forth battle of offensive machines marching up and down the field, but I believe in Darren Sharper, Jonathan Vilma, and Will Smith to make the one play that changes momentum more than I believe in Antoine Bethea, Robert Mathis, and a hobbled Dwight Freeney. The secondary reason that I don't like the Colts has to do with my background betting horses. Not that I was ever much good, but one lesson I picked up is, before you fall in love with a horse's credentials and his streak of placing well in his last several races, check the class of those races. Make sure that you're not about to bet on a horse who has won his last three races on the claiming level but is now stepping up to allowance company. Or a horse riding high in lower allowance races who's now running in a graded stakes race. In other words, I absolutely hate the Colts pass defense in relation to the two playoff games they played. First, they got to hold Joe Flacco and the 18th-ranked Ravens passing offense to just three points. Then, they saw rookie Mark Sanchez and the 31st-ranked Jets passing offense, and even then, they let career underachiever Braylon Edwards get behind them and score an 80-yard touchdown. Ladies and gentlemen, the New Orleans Saints and the #4 passing offense in the NFL represent a major step up in class. If the New York Jets could throw for 257 yards in the AFC title game, what the hell are Drew Brees and the Saints going to do to them? Give me the Saints in an all-time gunfight at the OK Corral. Who dat?

My Pick: New Orleans 42-37

Sunday, January 24, 2010

NFL Conference Finals '10

The big day is here, the day where we find out which two teams will advance to play for the title. (Can I say play for the Super Bowl? There's so many lawsuits if you use that term without the NFL's permission, I'm not sure if I can even utter it out of my mouth without paying royalties.) On to my bad predictions!

New York Jets @ Indianapolis (-7.5)

Now where the heck have I seen this matchup before? It seems so familiar to me...oh yeah, now I remember! Week 16. Colts are 14-0, on the verge of a perfect regular season. Jets are fighting for their playoff lives. But the Colts have everything clinched. 1st round bye, home field throughout the playoffs--Indy has everything wrapped up already. Rumor is, they're going to yank their starters out of the game about halfway through so as to protect them from a freak injury, because we all know that starters can't get hurt during the 1st half of games. Middle of the 3rd quarter, Colts have just rallied to take a 15-10 lead on the Jets...and here comes something named Curtis Painter to play QB for the Colts as Peyton Manning looks on helplessly. Final score: Jets 29, Colts 15. Goodbye perfect season. Big middle finger to the fans who not only root for the Colts, but specifically the ones who paid good money to see this farce. Ironically, the Colts threw a game to the Jets in order to theoretically give themselves a better chance to get to the Super Bowl and win. And today, who stands between the Colts and the Super Bowl? It's the Jets. The same team the Colts could have killed if they played to win the game (hello?) in Week 16, because a loss would have knocked the Jets out of playoff contention. All karma points toward picking the underdog Jets to stick it to the Colts and beat their starters today instead of their junior varsity. I can't pick that. My thoughts on the Colts last week applies tenfold today--Manning and everyone else on that team have to feel like the Super Bowl is the only acceptable outcome to this season after pissing away a chance at perfection, and even more so today because to lose to the team that wouldn't have been in the playoffs at all had they beaten them would be a monumental boner. I'll call the game like this: The Colts had to rally to take a lead in a defensive struggle in Week 16. But to put the Jets behind means to make them rely more on QB Mark Sanchez through the air than RBs Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene on the ground. Therefore, if the Colts would have kept playing in Week 16, and not let Curtis Painter and the other scrubs in the game to turn the ball over and give up great field position, then the Jets would have had to come back using their passing game. Yes, the 31st-ranked passing game in the league. Don't know in what quarter, but I say Colts get a lead today and never give it up.

My Pick: Indianapolis 24-10

Minnesota @ New Orleans (-3.5)

In the main event of the evening, two heavyweight offenses slug it out in the Bayou for the NFC title. In one corner, an offense in the Saints that seems capable of looking as good as any offense in the league when it's clicking. I talked last week about how awesome the Saints looked against New England earlier this season, but I couldn't pick them over Arizona because they hadn't looked that good since then. Well, last week they looked that good and then some. The bye week clearly did them good. In the other corner, an offense that seems to constantly be at odds with itself, but it didn't matter last week because the Vikings defense terrorized the Dallas Cowboys and didn't allow QB Tony Romo any time to operate. I was afraid of that happening when I picked Dallas, and sure enough, the front four of Minnesota dominated the Cowboys offensive line all day long. They're certainly capable of doing that today to New Orleans, too. But I think about the perfect storm of happenings that have to occur in order for the Vikings to get the job done today: Brett Favre's wild passes have to find Sidney Rice or any of his other WRs in perfect stride while the defensive backs aren't even looking for the ball (honestly, the Cowboys secondary looked like they had no interest in picking up the football in the air, and once it was caught, they had no interest in stopping the receiver from running away), Favre and coach Brad Childress have to co-exist knowing that they have widely differing viewpoints on how the offense should be run, the playmakers on the Vikings secondary that were playing at a high level at the beginning of the season have to get it going against one of the top offenses in the league, AND they have to do it in the Superdome, one of the toughest places for a visitor to play, even though the Vikes sported only a 4-4 road record this season. That's too many obstacles for me. Saints QB Drew Brees wasn't even called on last week to have a great game because the defense and RB Reggie Bush were so effective. So I can see Brees having a tremendous evening in the town that has adopted him in the last few years as maybe the best player in franchise history. And don't forget Favre's tendency to gag in big moments and start heaving up multiple interceptions in desperation. Ask the Jets how that felt towards the end of last year. I'm picking Saints vs. Colts in a very entertaining Super Bowl matchup.

My Pick: New Orleans 38-34

Saturday, January 16, 2010

NFL Conference Semis '10

A perfect 0-4 last weekend. Nice. Hey, I warned you to print my picks and bet against them if you want to make some money. You degenerate gamblers out there missed a beautiful four-team parlay betting against my dumb ass. So here's your opportunity to make some cash this weekend. On to my horrible picks!

Arizona @ New Orleans (-7)

It was Week 12 this season on a Monday night when the New Orleans Saints dismantled the New England Pats 38-17 in one of the most complete football games I've ever seen by one team. The Saints looked like the greatest team of all time in that game. They threw, they ran, they defended, they could seemingly do no wrong. Here's what they've done since then: Week 13, went to overtime with the putrid Redskins, winning 33-30; Week 14, could only beat the Falcons by 3 in a game where the Falcons were missing their starting QB and RB; Week 15, fell to Dallas at home on a Saturday night; Week 16, fell at home in OT to the Buccaneers, one of the worst teams in the league; Week 17, resting star QB Drew Brees, got blown out by the Panthers. This is called whatever the opposite of momentum is. I'm afraid to pick the Cardinals, however, because the Saints are still the biggest socioeconomic happening in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated the area. Big games at the Superdome since then have taken on this feeling of something much more than just a football game. They've seemed like celebrations of the spirit of New Orleans, what with the U2 pre-game concerts and the announcers hyping it up and the fans taking their fandom to another level. But I'm going to have to go with my instinct and say that the Saints haven't played good football in so long that I'm not confident at all in their ability to flip the switch and get it done this afternoon. The Saints defense has to hold Arizona somewhat in check in order to have a chance, and I don't see it happening because they don't have a great pass rush to disrupt the phenomenal Kurt Warner from throwing wherever he wants, and the secondary may be talented, but it's also old. A hidden x-factor may be Cards RB Beanie Wells, who is getting better and better in his rookie campaign. Give me the Cards in a wild aerial battle.

My Pick: Arizona 40-30

Baltimore @ Indianapolis (-6.5)

Indy is a big blind spot for me because of my admiration for the QB, Peyton Manning. I've had a chance to pick two Colts playoff games on my blog since I started posting my predictions, and both times I took the Colts, and both times they shit the bed. (This isn't counting my correct prediction of the Colts to beat Da Bears in the Super Bowl, because Stevie Wonder could have seen that one coming.) But I will take the Colts once again, because it's just too hard for me to overlook the most poised quarterback I've ever watched play the game. I started talking about Manning for MVP halfway through the season, and I didn't think it was close. What other QB would have led that group of wide receivers to 14-0? I know Reggie Wayne is as good as it gets, but who the bloody hell is Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon? I love Jay Cutler, the Bears QB, but he had better receivers than that on his team and couldn't do anything with them. And if you took Greg Olsen off the Bears and put him at tight end with Peyton Manning throwing to him, he'd be All-Pro. Instead, it's Dallas Clark making every catch thrown his way, because it's put in a perfect spot for him to catch it. The fact is, no one, and I mean no one, commands his offense the way Manning commands his. He's been in the system so long that he is the system, and anyone that comes on his team had better configure their skill sets to work in his system, or else they will not see the football come their way. Judging by last week's slaughtering of the Patriots, the Ravens still have what it takes to bust a QB in the mouf and screw up his game plan and make a mess out of the situation. But Peyton and the Colts have a unique motivational factor--throwing away those last two games of the regular season after finding a way to win every game prior to that. You could tell that Peyton and the rest of his teammates were very unhappy when they were yanked in the 3rd quarter of the Jets game in Week 16 so that Curtis Painter could come in and show the most ineffective leadership this side of the Republican Party. But this playoff run, starting tonight, was why the move was made--so Peyton and the rest of the team could be fresh and ready to make their big run towards the Super Bowl, the only thing that matters according to the Colts upper management. They can't come out and throw up in the very first playoff game after all that, can they? Well, they can, but I'll pick them not to.

My Pick: Indianapolis 24-16

Dallas @ Minnesota (-

The smallest spread this weekend, this is the gamblers' favorite for an upset of the better team, and I will reluctantly go along with the wiseguys on this one. I just hate the feel of the momentum going into the playoffs for the Vikings, even more than what I feel about the Saints. Bickering between the coach and QB, throwing a game away in Chicago on purpose to prove a point about whose style worked better (and the game mattered, too, because if the Vikings win that game, they would have finished the season with the same record as the Saints, and through tie-breaking measures would have gained home-field advantage throughout the playoffs)...and the coup-de-grace is that same coach, Brad Childress, thought to be on the hot seat before Brett Favre descended from on high and gave the Vikings the great season they had, deciding that the team was sick of him and he was sick of the team, so they had the entire bye week off so that they could spend time away from each other. Ladies and gentlemen, that don't sound like a team ready to unite and make a long playoff run. Not even a little bit. Now, to pick the Vikings to lose means that I now have to jump on the Cowboys bandwagon. Someone pass me the Alka-Seltzer. But hey, I can't deny that the Cowboys at the moment look like the picture of a unified team performing at its peak. Ironically, it started with the aforementioned upset win at New Orleans a month ago, and the 'Boys haven't stopped since, shutting out the Redskins and Eagles back-to-back to end the regular season, then repeating the domination of Philly last weekend. The pass rush is storming the gates, led by all-world LB DeMarcus Ware, and that allows the linebackers and secondary behind them to play great football because the opposing offense doesn't have time to execute the game plan. Meanwhile, QB Tony Romo may not look like a Hall-of-Famer, but he's not making mistakes, and he's got a devastating running game to rely on when the Cowboys take a lead, with Marion Barber's heavy, punishing style softening the defense up for Felix Jones to come in and sprint away from the pack. The Dallas Cowboys are ignoring the fact that the hapless Wade Phillips is their coach and Romo is their QB, and they are playing to their considerable abilities. The Vikings are arguing whether it's better for the 40-year-old QB to throw it up every play or for the young, talented RB Adrian Peterson to get more touches. And the Vikings' best CB, Antoine Winfield, was banged up and beaten badly on many plays the last few games of the season? Looks like the Cowboys are definitely the play here.

My Pick: Dallas 36-24

New York Jets @ San Diego (-7)

I must have yelled four or five times at my TV during the Bengals-Jets game last Saturday, "God, neither of these teams deserve to be in the playoffs!" Then Jim Mora called and said that if I excitedly yelled "Playoffs!?!" one more time, I would have to pay him royalties. But I digress. For those of you that watched that abomination of a game without digging your eyeballs out, congrats, and you can testify to the homeliness of Jets football: Run on 1st and 2nd down regardless of field position, keep your overrated rookie QB from having to throw as much as you can, and rely on your Pro Bowl cornerback to keep the other team's star receiver on Revis Island away from the footballs flying five yards over his head. And even with all that, the Jets should have lost because their TE Dustin Keller shouldn't ever be that wide open, and the "star" WR Braylon Edwards should be able to catch wide-open passes in the end zone, and against a real playoff team, dropping TDs loses games. Well, San Diego is a real playoff team, having won their last eleven games in a row, and Philip Rivers shouldn't miss his receivers by five yards, not only because he's better than Bengals QB Carson Palmer, but because his receivers are all about nine feet tall. Vincent Jackson, Malcolm Floyd, Legedu Naanee, and the great TE Antonio Gates--seriously, Rivers is flinging it to a bunch of Jolly Green Giants. That said, I can't go with the Chargers to cover a touchdown. For some reason, I see the Jets hanging in there. I think they're playing with that attitude you see some teams adopt, that "no one believes in us, so screw everyone" attitude, and that's always dangerous. Even with that, I see the Chargers and that big-time passing game putting the Chargers in the 20s or 30s, and the Jets having to play catch-up, which means more throwing for rookie QB Mark Sanchez and less running for the #1 rush offense in the league. Should mean disaster, yes? Maybe not. Sanchez did hit his receivers when asked to throw last week (as I mentioned, Edwards dropped a sure TD). The Chargers can allow some passing yards if they get in a shootout. And in the most random factor I've ever pulled out, Sanchez is playing on the West Coast, where he enjoyed great success in college at USC, so perhaps he will relive some of his glory days. I'm pretty much taking the Jets to cover because they look like the least likely playoff team playing this weekend, which means no one thinks they have a shot, which sometimes emboldens that team to play at a level they wouldn't think possible, just to prove loudmouths who know nothing (like me) wrong.

My Pick: San Diego 26-20

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Wild Card Weekend '10

Happy happy joy joy! Playoff football is here, and I am no longer working weekends so I get to watch the games live in their entirety instead of at 2A on tape after praying that I could get home from work without accidentally hearing guys talk about the games and spoil the results for me. (This happened. One Sunday a year or so ago I was walking down the street after work hoping to get home to see a Bears game that I taped, and some drunk strangers walked past me yelling about that awesome Bears win. I silently weeped.) And now, without further ado, here are my picks for the weekend. Print and bet against me if you want to make some cash:

New York Jets @ Cincinnati (-2.5)

I have to refer to ESPN writer Bill Simmons, who summed up the Jets brilliantly in his most recent column: "...everyone likes the 'red-hot' Jets to upset the Bengals this weekend, conveniently forgetting that they dropped six of seven games midseason before beating the Panthers to end the Delhomme era (Jake went out in style with four picks), winning consecutive road games over the 6-10 Bills and 2-14 Bucs, then mustering seven points at home against the Falcons in Week 15. From there, they whupped the Colts' second string and the Bengals' second string to sneak into the playoffs. Suddenly they're an enticing underdog pick. Huh???? They can win a road playoff game with a rookie QB who finished with 12 touchdown passes and 23 turnovers?" My thoughts exactly. Look, the Bengals don't exactly inspire confidence either--would it surprise anyone if Chad Johnson Ochocinco killed himself falling out of a pickup truck while filming a Chris Henry biopic?--but the Jets were one of four or five teams trying to make the AFC playoffs in the last week of the season, and none of them are any good. It's been said that the Bengals lost to the Jets last week knowing that the Jets would have to come play them in Cincy, and they would rather see Mark Sanchez and his 23 turnovers than the Houston Texans with the best wide receiver in the game, Andre Johnson. Perhaps. I saw a lot of dropped balls by the Bengals, so I don't think they were trying to lose necessarily, but they had a really bad game on the road in a hostile environment with their 1,000-yard RB, the great Cedric Benson, inactive. There are a lot of factors swung in the Bengals' favor today, so I'll take them to barely cover in the ugliest game of the weekend.

My Pick: Cincinnati 16-12

Philadelphia @ Dallas (-4)

Ah, the Eagles, the team that I absolutely cannot predict to save my fucking life. Since I'll get it wrong anyway, let's make this quick: I had Philly going into Dallas and whipping them last week to win the NFC East and get a 1st-round bye. They completely gagged it up, meaning the Cowboys won the division, and the Eagles happened to draw the Cowboys in Big D again as a playoff opponent, the second of three rematches this weekend from Week 17 regular season games last Sunday. The same theories apply this week as to why I liked the Eagles last week: Cowboys coach Wade Phillips and QB Tony Romo have atrocious track records in big games, especially late in the season and the playoffs, the Cowboys passing game would appear to be relatively easy to handle once you realize that there's one NFL wide receiver on the whole damn team (Miles Austin), the Eagles defense is underrated and capable of dialing up big blitzes and creating turnovers, and it would seem that this is the best core of receivers that QB Donovan McNabb's ever had, and they should never be out of any game with Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson, Jason Avant, and TE Brent Celek running around. Give me the Birds in a Lone Star shootout.

My Pick: Philadelphia 41-37

Baltimore @ New England (-3.5)

Now I'm really going to get special on you: I'm going to use statistics to completely contradict myself. Pay attention. I like New England because Baltimore isn't young and talented enough on defense to overcome their rough, heavily-penalized style of football. The Ravens were tied for second this season in most penalties per game with 7.2. 7.2! I cannot take the Ravens to come into New England with their pop-gun passing offense and a highly motivated Patriots team playing their first playoff game since the David Tyree Bowl waiting for them, knowing that the Ravens are good for three or four silly penalties minimum in each half. The Ravens are so predictable on offense that even the Pats' subpar defense should be able to recognize: Run with Ray Rice, throw it up for 94-year-old WR Derrick Mason, occasionally try to hit 95-year-old TE Todd Heap on a seam route, lather, rinse, repeat. And Rice can be a weapon out of the backfield in the passing game as well. But the Patriots have the real weapons on offense in this game, with a (somewhat) healthy QB Tom Brady throwing to fellow Hall-Of-Famer Randy Moss. Moss seemed to be miffed earlier this season at the amount of balls being thrown to WR Wes Welker, who is much more willing to catch short passes over the middle for first downs than Moss. Mr. Moss no longer has to worry about Mr. Welker; he tore his knee up last week and won't be playing football anytime soon. This should result in a huge game for Moss against an exploitable Ravens secondary that at times this year looked old and decrepit. And don't be surprised if something named Julian Edelman makes a lot of those over-the-middle first down catches in place of Welker. He seemed to thrive in that role when replacing Welker earlier this season.

My Pick: New England 27-21

Green Bay @ Arizona (-1)

And now for the contradiction: Who led the league in penalties per game? That would be the Green Bay Packers at 7.4 (but hey, only 5.3 in their last three games!). And yet I will gladly take the Pack and all those penalties on the road. The matchup seemed like a slam dunk to me last week when I picked the Pack, and even though the Cardinals had nothing to play for and rolled over for Green Bay, I think Arizona is too old and beat up to turn on the juice and beat the Packers this week when it counts. This ain't quite the same Cards team from last year, when they shocked the world and got all the way to the Super Bowl. The parts are the same, but they're a year older, and some of them won't be playing anywhere near 100% this Sunday. Stud WR Anquan Boldin didn't practice all week and is a game-time decision. Top cover corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is banged up, and that's the wrong passing offense to be facing when your best cornerback is banged up. This seems too delicious. It's the 7th-ranked pass offense of the Pack against the 23rd-ranked pass defense of the Cardinals. And whatever comeback ability may remain in aging Cards QB Kurt Warner's arm should be curtailed by the much improved Green Bay defense, led by defensive MVP candidate Charles Woodson creating all sorts of chaos in the secondary. To top it off, Green Bay should be able to hold on to a lead late because RB Ryan Grant has lost his fucking mind lately. Yards per rush for Grant his last four games: 6.9, 4.6, 6.1, 4.6. That's Adrian Peterson at Oklahoma numbers, and he won't get much resistance from the Cardinals to keep that up.

My Pick: Green Bay 38-27