Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Crappy New Jersey™, Travel Edition

I'm pleased to report that Mom, Bro, and Sis (in no particular order) are doing pretty well. And as is usually the case, no news is good news - but is perilously short to tell. One particular highlight was the chance to visit with the one and only Barking Spider, a fellow Blogspotter and a good friend going back to college.

The trip down was long and uneventful, save a peculiar maneuver I witnessed, up close, only an hour from my destination. I got cut off up front, and tried to slow down, only to be cut off from behind as well. There was no place to go. After about a quarter mile I snuck out from in between the two geniuses, and they both passed. It was then that I noticed that they were both fellow New Jerseyans.

I had to travel 1100 miles to be nearly rammed by next-door neighbors.

Maybe it's me. Maybe I should just move to where the weather suits my clothes. I stopped for gas and found nothing but good people who smiled and appreciated my business; I stopped for food and found people noticing my Joisey brogue and asking where I was bound, how I was doing, "hope to see you on the way back, now."

I'll be glad to see my friends again at the end of the return trip, and I'll miss my family, but I do not miss the Jersey attitude, and I won't be glad to see it again.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Big Time! and other notes

Ho Ho Ho.

I racked my mind for about an hour, and that's about the safest greeting I could discern. The Rule, as has stood for years, is "No specific mention of any proper festival, without mention of all such festivals." Rule 1-B is similar - "At minimum, one must mention the possibility of no festival, or of any Higher Power that causeth any potential festival."

White European Male that I am, I'm inclined toward "Merry Christmas." I can't think of any other reason to shop amid mad throngs of a size to make Cecil B DeMille envious. Nor would I so cheerfully drive to southern Florida to visit my mother, brother, and sister for less reason - any other time of the year, I'd postpone the trip if I couldn't fly. (Why not? Let someone else serve me soft drinks, while I drowse in a comfort-like setting and freeload on the in-flight with the headphones from my CD player.)

Nevertheless, I gladly extend Hanukkah wishes at the proper occasion, the moreso since I have Jewish cousins. I usually spend Christmastime with them and my aunt, but this year is a special exception. I haven't been "home for Christmas" in a month of Sundays, and, again, I like to be able to say so without punch-bowl-sized helpings of Silent Disapproval.

Think about it - what if people objected to "month of Sundays" the way they do "Merry Christmas"? Would you like to waste your time fumbling for a generic alternative?

"It's been a month of Sundays - or a dog's age, whichever you believe is truly long."
"I don't believe in Sundays and I own four cats."
"Oh." [ahem] "Well, it's been a long time."
"Really?" [sniff] "I hadn't noticed."

If we ever get that knicker-twisted, then all bets are off. Happy December.

UPDATE - if you're curious, stop back after the New Year. I plan on posting current photos of the clan, and accounts of our a-wassailing.

ITEM - nifty! I got quoted in the Corner! (Happy December to Me.) It reminds me to put an Official Link to the Cornery Goodness in the Hive's permanent collection, on your left. (I make regular visits there and subscribe to the Dead Tree Edition, so it's past time to correct this oversight, and apologize.)

ITEM - every time I think I've punted on the football, they keep roughing my kicker. I've been keeping a running tally for the "400/3/L Club" - quarterbacks throwing for at least 400 yards and three touchdowns in a loss. Well, yesterday Tennessee's Billy Volek became this year's first repeat member: 40-60, 492 yards, 4 TD, only 1 INT. He was sacked for a safety at the very end of his team's 40-35 loss to Oakland.

RELATED ITEM - ESPN.com is a neat place, but for simplicity's sake, I link to the Sports Guy, who is about the best thing going for them (if it isn't Tim Keown, already amply-hyped in this space. He's a regular Tuesday thing, although I'd wish he'd ignore the growing trend for sports reporters to toss political observations. He called Robert Novak arrogant today, for no apparent reason than to signal to half his audience that he is Right-Thinking. I don't care if I'm in that half, sir; I simply don't need or care to know.)

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

It was even more football

Last night the Titans' Billy Volek joined the unenviable 400/3/L club: 29-43, 426 yards, 4 TDs (with no interceptions) - and a big loss. He's the fifth member this season. I don't see this happen this often playing Madden.

On the drive that ended with the winning score for Kansas City, the Titans' rookie lineman, Travis LeBoy, was whistled for a phantom personal foul on Chiefs QB Trent Green - he was getting ready to steamroll Green during the follow-through, but obviously pulled up, hands up in the air. The bump was minimal, and he avoided Green's helmet. Too bad. (Not that Tennessee has much to complain about, seeing as how they allowed 35 points up to that point, and would surrender 14 more in the final 40 seconds of the game.)

It occurs to me that they give quarterbacks helmets and pads for a reason. I'm not saying he should have been ploughed under, but he wouldn't have been given two free throws in an NBA game for that sort of contact - why give him fifteen free yards?

A small aside - yeah, I'm sick of writing about football for a little while. I'd rather write about the Lord's Own Hockey, but that news gets more depressing each day. (Tonight, America's Team will miss their 29th game of the season, at Toronto.)

Monday, December 13, 2004

What it was, was football...

On Friday, Big Al dropped off the office pool.

There’s nothing philosophical about it. Circle your winners, rank each game from 16 down, and watch them play. At the end, most points wins the pool.

That’s pretty much never me at the end. In Week One this year, I won for the first time ever – in fact, the only time ever, and often because the Seahawks have blown a big lead. (More on THEM later. For now, suffice it to say that even at five bucks a shot, Mike Holmgren owes me about a week’s pay.) But if it really bothered me, I wouldn’t spend the money. Where else can five dollars last an entire Sunday?

In any case, that was just a springboard for me to start wondering about what’s going on in the NFL. I tend to wonder out loud – lucky you.

1. Some people say the Giants are too predictable. Some of those people are Giants. I think that’s silly. The real problem is that they’re one-dimensional: Tiki Barber is the only viable option they have to reliably gain yards. Given this tidbit, you’d think that they rely on him in big spots more often, but no. In Kurt Warner’s last game, on their last drive, the Giants went EMPTY BACKFIELD on both 3rd and 4th down – with only two yards to go. You may as well put out signs reading “Free Beer with Your QB Sack.” Fast forward a couple of games, and it’s first and goal, and Eli Manning is … throwing a fade to Jeremy Shockey? He’s fast on his way to becoming Brian Bosworth with better hair. How is this preferable to lining up and trying to power your way in with one of the best five backs in football this season? (Going into yesterday's games, Barber led the entire NFL in total yards from scrimmage.) The Giants aren't predictable, they’re just not that bright. (Not that good, either.)

2. Have the Saints fired Detective Medavoy yet?

3. The Seahawks went one better than their week five El Foldo against the Rams – they managed to gack TWO ten-point leads against the Cowboys’ awesome offensive machine. The second of those was entirely after the two-minute warning. Ye gods. Matt Hasselbeck’s final line: 28-40, 414 yds, 3 TD, 0 INT, and a big fat L. But this is the eminently reasonable outcome for the league after restricting defenders trying to cover wide receivers. Hasselbeck became the fourth different guy this year to pitch for 400 yards and three scores while losing the game. The others:
Kelly Holcomb, CLV (v. CIN 12) 30-39, 413, 5-2
Jake Plummer, DNV (v. ATL 8) 31-55, 499, 4-3
Peyton Manning, IND (v. KC 8) 25-44, 472, 5-1
Manning gets special mention – the week before, against Jacksonville, he put up this line: 27-39, 368, 3-0. The Colts lost. And now, just yesterday, Brian Griese threw for 392 yards and 3 TDs, but he also threw 3 INTs, including one returned for enemy points. (Against whom? The
San Di-e-go...Chargers!)

UPDATE - of course, the 'Hawks beat Minnesota, 27-23, with a big rally, in Minnesota. Who took the Vikings because he didn't trust Seattle anymore? Five more bucks, Mike.

4. You’d have to look it up, like I did: the Colts backup quarterbacks/Maytag repairmen are named Jim Sorgi and Joe Hamilton. They have four total passes this season, all Sorgi’s. Center Jim Saturday has one more pass than Hamilton this year.

5. Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated’s Paul Zimmerman reports that Cleveland’s new coach, Terry Robiskie, tried an odd motivational ploy before his first game – he asked for anyone to step forward if he thought of himself as a leader on the team, and set a bucket of ice and a shovel before them. “If I had to dig a hole to hell and fight the devil with nothing but this ice,” he asked, “who would come with me?” (When you click, scroll waaayy down to #30 out of 32 to find the report. Dr. Z may have overestimated them a touch.)

Leave aside the dippiness of the metaphor – was he expecting to actually find the leaders of the Browns by asking them to put themselves forward? Only showoffs and loudmouths nominate themselves like that. The leaders are the ones their teammates look to without having to have them pointed out. Besides, Robiskie has been an assistant with the team all year. If HE has to ask, then he’s either not the right man for the coach’s whistle, or his team doesn’t have leaders.

UPDATE – Apparently, Jeff Garcia subscribes to the Nightfly theory. And now he has to have his leadership questioned because he didn’t buy into that prefab silliness in the clubhouse? He’s hurt, he’s getting crushed every week, and the team is foundering from the front office downward; what you look for there is someone to admit that and then move on. Going all rah-rah when your team is 3-9 is patronizing, especially from a guy who is going to be replaced at the end of the year. “Come on guys, we can do it! I’m right behind you – far behind you, in fact!” Uh, thanks, Coach. Garcia, who was chased out of San Francisco by a guy who promptly bolted the city himself, chose to come to Cleveland, and deserves better than to have these questions pop up again – and from a coach who has NO SHOT of being retained after this interim gig is done.

UPDATE II - Robiskie started rookie Luke McCown for his second game, and got rolled by the Buffalo Bills. The Browns gained only 17 yards of net offense for the whole game. This is beyond embarrassing - "and now, you are 3-10," as TMQ would say. Garcia played one series, got sacked, and left with a damaged knee. Time to raze this ballclub and start over.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Keown's two for two

Once again, I dip my wings to ESPN.com's Tim Keown, who is right on with the steroids-in-baseball story.

Of course, still a story, although not a surprise. I'm old enough to remember when even catchers weren't as big as Sammy Sosa. And after Lyle Alzado died, hearing about Ken Caminiti was sad, not shocking. In essence, what they were doing were trading the last 10-30 years of their lives for a shot at extending their athletic primes for three-to-five more seasons. Would you do that if it didn't work?

It's not just All-Stars either. Even everyday players face pressure to keep up. Could any shortstop today hit .230 and keep his job with flawless defense? How many players are suddenly hitting 20 homers a year? (Answer for 2004: 93.) How many did it 15 years ago? 36.

Here's some raw data, courtesy of The Baseball Archive, for 1987-1990. (They aren't sortable tables, so I went through and did the counting, with the year-by-year totals, per league, as follows:

Year AL NL
51 27 [Only the ball was juiced this year.]
27 16 [Neither the Padres nor Phillies got ONE guy over 20.]
20 16
21 22

In 1990, the entire St. Louis Cardinals finished with 73 homers. See what I mean? And anyone in a rec league of any kind has heard the jokes about that one guy who suddenly seems a hell of a lot stronger in the paint/along the boards/at the plate.

Return of the Buzz

Sorry, folks. Spent Thanksgiving at relatives, and came home with a weird sequential illness. Instead of getting everything at once, I got one symptom at a time for a week. I wasn't quite sick enough to miss more than one day of work, but had little energy left over. Much of that went into comments at other blogs rather than here. For example, the prodigious Tim Blair got a good bit of my attention.

I do have a segue. He posted a "thread on nothing," similar to my own little hiatus, save two features: first, it only lasted a day or two; second, the thread generated over 140 comments. The difference between the bigs and the sticks, cyberspacially.

But I also think that it's just a bit too involved to regularly comment around here unless you're a fellow Blogspotter. You have to register, unless you wish to post anonymously, and the registration thing is a deal-breaker for many, not least of all because many sites sneak cookies into your PC. In fact, even I was finding it a lot easier to stick very small snippets there (or at the Dacha) than here in the Hive.

Then again, it helps to have original content, and on that count I was lax and feeble. I may as well warn you now, I'm out of state for Christmas - my first Yule with my immediate family in about ten years. This doesn't mean "no posts," just not three or four a week as I'd been doing while healthy.