Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Saints 10-0, but somehow still suck

NEW ORLEANS — According to NFL analysts, the New Orleans Saints, one of two 10-0 teams in the NFL, don’t have what it takes to be 10-0.

Off to their best start in franchise history, the Saints have found themselves in the hunt for the one thing which has always eluded the team even in their best years: a whole new way to be completely and utterly dismissed by the experts.

NFL power rankings consistently feature the Saints and the Indianapolis Colts in the top two spots. Commentary generally praises the Colts for pulling off close wins, while questioning how long the Saints can last after blowout victories.

“Drew Brees is a monster quarterback, but it’s too early to put him in the class of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Brett Favre,” said Pat Kirwan of NFL.com, of the quarterback currently ranked No. 2 overall in the NFL, between Favre and Manning, and three spots above Brady. “And, boy, how about that Brett Favre!”

Kirwan then spent the next 30 minutes talking about Favre.

“Simply put, the Minnesota Vikings would blast the Saints anywhere at any time. Why? Two words: Favre. Peterson,” Kirwan said. “They drive that team to excellence. The Saints are simply too balanced to match that star wattage.”

Former St. Louis Rams head coach Mike Martz, also of NFL.com, voiced similar concerns about the Saints’ defense.

“And how about that New Orleans defense? They’ve given up 204 points already this season,” Martz said. “Moreover, they’ve completed just 20 interceptions and have scored only seven touchdowns in 2009. The Saints’ defense is, at best, a mediocre offense.”

Will Holt of Bleacher Report is even more blunt: “The Saints suck. They’re the cheapest 10-0 team in history. Their schedule is so easy, I’m pretty sure I saw some Pop Warner teams on there. Who have they played? The Giants? They lost four in a row after the Saints beat them. The Jets slid, too. Every time they’ve played an undefeated team this season, that team has fallen into a severe rut. It’s almost like New Orleans is literally generating losers every time they take the field.

“Name one team that the Saints have played that were better than them. You can’t do it. I rest my case.”


Some sports experts have more faith in the Saints. In its Nov. 16 issue, Sports Illustrated picked the Saints to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl in a glance box placed at the end of a six-page story on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. On the cover of the issue was New Orleans’ favorite golden-boy quarterback — Peyton Manning.

The Big Easy to Overlook

Football fans in New Orleans have endured decades of losing. In this notorious party town, winning has almost always taken a backseat to just letting les bon temps rouler. This combination of laissez-faire attitude and lovable losership has given a rough edge to even the most hard-core Saints fan, who even in the glory years always seems to be waiting for the countdown to collapse.

“I’ve been a fan since the first disappointing loss back in 1967,” said season-ticket holder Jeff Robideaux of Metairie. “And ever since, the Saints have always found a way to lose that keeps me coming back for more. But this year is unbelievable. I can’t believe how bad they are at losing! It’s at epic proportions. Bench Brees! Fire Payton! Who Dat?”

Analyst and native New Orleanian Marshall Faulk, at least, recognizes the Saints’ high-powered offense, its potent defense and the team’s ability to find wins even with several key injuries and huge deficits to overcome.

“New Orleans is the most complete team in the NFL,” Faulk said. “With that in mind, I don’t think it’s too early to forecast a Vikings-Colts Super Bowl.”

Former New Orleans head coach Mike Ditka, now of ESPN, thinks the Saints can run the table. “New Orleans can beat every team on their schedule. But they probably won’t.

“When I coached the Saints, they sucked,” he said, referring to his 1997-99 tenure. “I’ll bet Billy Joe Tolliver doesn’t even show up Monday night.”

And what a Monday night. In less than a week, the unproven 10-0 New Orleans Saints welcome the majestic, dynastic New England Patriots (7-3) to the Superdome in front of a national audience on Monday Night Football. The game is being touted as one of the biggest of the year, particularly because an undefeated season is on the line.

“Any game featuring the Patriots is going to be huge,” Pat Kirwan said. “When you think of perfection, you think of the Patriots.

“They went 16-0 in 2007,” he added.

As for the Saints’ prospects, Kirwan isn’t quite convinced.

“Sure, the Saints have come through every time in the clutch. They’ve won blowouts. They’ve won after overcoming serious deficits. They’ve never relinquished a lead all season. They’ve won with their Pro Bowl starters. They’ve won with their backups. They’ve won on the ground, in the air and on defense, at home and on the road. They’ve won pretty much every way there is to win.

“But still, we don’t know how New Orleans would handle a situation in which they take the lead, relinquish the lead, take the lead again and then find themselves down by five after a safety late in the fourth quarter removes the possibility of getting a game-tying field goal as time winds down. Until that happens, I can’t be sure this 10-0 streak isn’t a fluke.”

Staying humble

For their part, Saints players aren’t letting the attention swell their heads.

Head coach Sean Payton has kept his squad’s feet firmly on the ground since arriving from Dallas in 2006.

“We take it one week at a time and don’t live in the past,” said Payton, who famously buried mementoes of the superb 2006 season in a grave as a physical metaphor in 2007. “Maybe one day, everyone else won’t either.”

The team, much like its home city, is full of colorful characters and inspirational tales of redemption.

Defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove has made occasional Page 2 headlines for his comeback story. After a yearlong ban due to substance abuse and a stint in a halfway house, the defensive tackle has been a force for the Saints. He notched a key turnover against Tampa Bay and scored the game-sealing turnover touchdown against Carolina.

“I remain ever-grateful that the Saints gave me a chance to play,” Hargrove said. “I hope my story serves as an inspiration for others in my situation, as soon as anyone ever hears about it.”

As for quarterback Drew Brees, he isn’t listening to any of the naysayers.

“We’re trying to avoid the hype and just get out there and play the best we can,” Brees said. “It’s pretty easy, actually, the avoid the hype.”

(*-Quotes are not actually those of the analysts listed, though for the most part they've all said very similar things.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A potentially controversial post

Let’s face it. Much of the vocal opposition to President Barack Obama is racist in nature.

Contrary to what some critics might suggest, this isn't an easy allegation for me to make. I'm not a believer in the notion that every injustice against a minority is necessarily a race issue. Nor do I believe that all criticism of Obama is racist, or that everyone who opposes Obama is a racist by association. This allegation is not an attempt to trivialize any genuine, pressing concerns that anyone may have. But I do believe that many of the primary attacks made against Obama are inspired, at least in part, by an undercurrent of racism. And that such attacks undermine any real, healthy dissent that's part of every presidency.

This is most obvious in what critics choose to highlight about Obama. His birth certificate. His alleged Muslim upbringing. Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Michelle Obama saying she was proud of her country for the first time ever. Endless references to "Hussein," "Barry Soetoro" and "BHO." Then there are the caricatures: The monkey T-shirts in Florida. The depiction of Obama in whiteface as the Joker. The White House watermelon patch Photoshop circulated by a Republican official. The presidential portrait chart that illustrated Obama as a pair of eyes in the dark, also pushed by a GOP aide. The protest sign depicting Obama as a witch doctor. This is all a concerted attempt to prove Obama is Not One Of Us. This diverges wildly from elections past, when even the most caustic attacks fell along political/ideological lines. It even diverges from the other side of the 2008 election, when John McCain faced little scrutiny over his own birth in Panama.

Criticism of Obama's stances on the issues center mainly around expanding services to those on the margins, i.e., immigrants and the poor. The most common of these accusations is that Obama will impart socialism in the United States. Setting aside the fact that numerous government services (including the Armed Forces and the Postal Service) have always been socialist, the true flaw of this argument is its undercurrent: that socialism rewards lazy people as much as the productive class. Naturally, those who object loudest to supposed socialism are those who fancy themselves the productive class; conversely, they accuse advocates of social justice to be lazy themselves, or simply coddlers of such. It is from this stance that we often hear an admonition along the lines of, "When you get a job and pay taxes, you'll understand." As if the only people advocating for government support are freeloaders.

It's strikingly similar to the arguments against welfare, which accuse its recipients (usually in racially tinged stories) of government dependency. Terms such as “welfare queen” and “lazy people,” as well as the idea of dependency in general, are all intended to evoke minority stereotypes — blacks in particular.

It is, of course, uncouth to outright say that these programs (allegedly) coddle black people at the expense of the employed taxpayer, which is why such euphemisms, as thin as they are, exist. No one wants to be considered racist, at least outwardly, even if that’s exactly what they are. Their views are so repellent that even a free-speech society such as the U.S. largely condemns them. This inability to be direct has led to more than a year of creative (if not especially clever) ways to cover up the core prejudice.

To wit: this year’s tea parties.

The tea parties were billed as a nonpartisan protest against taxes in general. But not only was that stand a cop-out, it was a bad one. It would have served the teabaggers far better to take a firm stand against the president, because this was an anti-Obama movement at its core. No gathering of outraged conservatives and libertarians in 2009 can, or should, deny that. It's not only pathetic to deny such a connection, but it's also very telling about how even they view their beliefs. In brushing off the anti-Obama sentiment, those who spoke out came off as defensive and insincere in their intentions. And it afforded them scrutiny that ultimately derailed their legitimacy.

Facts don't back up the arguments the teabaggers made. If higher taxes really were the problem, these protests would have happened during the Bush administration, when the tax burden on the middle class increased. But the tea parties instead happened in early 2009, when President Obama and Congress had already passed income- and payroll-tax cuts on everyone earning under $250,000. Given that most of the protesters were not in that tax bracket, the basic premise of the tax protest had been undermined.

Furthermore, the idea that the government was too powerful and too spoiled with our money was disingenuous, given that nary a peep was made in the streets as Bush created the largest bureaucracy in U.S. history (Homeland Security) and that two wars and massive tax cuts ran up record deficits. Obama set a course to pare down the bureaucracy and reduce the scope of Bush's most controversial measures.

So what changed? What changed so diametrically that the same people who equated government dissent with treason suddenly saw it as a patriotic duty? As I've pointed out, it couldn't have been the tax burden. The only explanation is that a new president was in office. So what makes that racist?

Because if there had been any justified cause for that opposition, they would have been eager to admit it.

Even THEY realize that to take a stance on Obama based on visceral factors such as race is not socially acceptable. They have to couch what they say in more flowery language. It isn't about race. Hell, it isn't even about Obama, or party, or any specifics whatsoever. We just feel like we're Taxed Enough Already and that's that!

At that early point, Obama had yet to pitch, much less enact, much of his agenda. His most high-profile decisions had been the order to close Guantanamo Bay and the aforementioned tax shift.

Criticism of Obama has not shifted much since he first hit the national scene. It doesn’t show a particular flexibility as new issues and debates emerge. The buzzwords of ACORN, socialism, Obamacare, etc. were as prevalent a year ago as they are today, if more frequent now. All depict some sort of racial/economic bias perceived as a threat to the conservative power structure.

Then there’s the gun issue. Always a favorite when a Democrat is president, it has only ramped up under the Obama administration.

As it has been for more than a year now, sales of ammunition are up all across the country. Demand is so far through the stratosphere in some areas that some manufacturers have switched to a 24/7 production schedule, with one manufacturer saying he's never seen anything like it in his 30 years in the business. People say they are concerned that gun control legislation will curtail their ability to buy later, so they're stocking up now. But actions by Obama and Congress don't back up that fear; in fact, Obama recently signed legislation allowing concealed weapons in national parks. As far as rounding up all weapons goes, that's a pretty lame start. And Obama has never suggested a repeal of the Second Amendment; not only would that have eliminated him very early in the campaign, but virtually no Americans support it.

Additionally, some weapons owners have made a point of bringing loaded firearms to town hall meetings where Obama has been in attendance. They say they're doing this as an expression of Constitutional rights. But again, what's the point of such passive-aggressive action if it isn't an anti-Obama statement?

So what can be the real reason people are hoarding ammunition and carrying guns around the president? It's hard not to consider race, especially with the lack of other rationales. Anti-government paranoia, already high thanks to a combination of Reagan-prompted distrust and fears of a Bill Clinton planet, is reaching a new peak thanks to Obama. Whereas anti-Clinton rhetoric was based on the idea of black-helicopter encroachment (not entirely unjustified in the wake of Randy Weaver and Waco, if drastically overstated), anti-Obama fears have an almost supernatural bent. He's going to indoctrinate us. He's going to corrupt our children. He's going to redefine government. He took our cars and he's going to kill our grannies.

So the link between our first black president and record numbers of bullets sold cannot be explained away by any rational fears.

Then again, these are not rational fears. But they demand only the most rational attention. Far from being a favorite crutch of liberals, the race issue is very much a big deal with the Obama administration. Those criticizing Obama with the aforementioned notions would serve their cause better to focus on his actions rather than some caricature of what they think he is. It’s up to them not to play the metaphorical race card.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Flag football recap, 11/15

Here are the notes I have for the Nov. 15 SOFA game:

“50-40 half
91-90 final (FG)”

The rest of the notebook is waterlogged, because it was a wet one. Hoo boy.

I aired out the flags for several days after. On Friday night, I put them in my car. An hour later, my car smelled like death. Always the mark of good, down-and-dirty football game.

The Sopping Wet Saps (Tyree, Emily, Kenny, Jack) edged out the Dripping Wet Drips (Ian, Sam, Jerome, Stephanie), 91-90, once again with a last-play score. If you want know who scored, see the names above. They did. Pretty much everyone had a killer day. And an emotional one too. Rain and loud winds can do that.

The final score was a masterstroke of effective clock management, as Jack ran the ball out of bounds with two seconds left. This allowed Tyree enough time to chuck the game-winning field goal.

By then, Stephanie had already left. Again. The rain peaked shortly after her departure, so in this case her quitter attitude kind of makes sense. Kind of. SWS chose not to rotate players in and out to make up for the discrepancy. Which really means they should have won a lot better than this.

Game Balls:

Best sport: Kenny. At halftime, the Saints-Rams game (nearing its end) was in full tossup mode. Ian said, “I can’t believe the Saints are gonna lose to the worst team in the league!” Kenny said, “The Rams are my team. I grew up with them.” Sorry, Kenny. I know you wouldn’t have said that if the tables were turned. I have no class. But like I said later, the Rams did in fact play a very good game.

Most uncomfortable way to play: With an inch-thick stopwatch and its big steel clip in the pocket of your soaked-through beach shorts. Ow. Ow. Ow.

Scariest firsthand lesson in conduction: The Kickapoo High external power outlet is protected enough to not shock one dead when unplugging a radio surrounded by rain and wet notebooks.

Miracle of the week: Despite my dropping two CDs and two cassettes into a puddle of water, no permanent damage was incurred, even to the paper inserts, which did get wet.

I hate when I'm right

Recently I was invited - evidently through Facebook's ironic algorithms - to join the group "Nationwide Tax Day Tea Party." It's got 56,088 members, 27 videos and 2,060 photos.

The photo album is a particular source of enlightenment. For one thing, you don't see a single protest picture until you're 91 deep. Most of the first 90 are anti-Obama/anti-liberal graphics and T-shirts that are graphic, indeed. The gallery is open and spans across several groups, but this is still telling. (Though I don't know what the Tyra Banks obsession is all about.)

Then you see 22 protest pictures, most of which are anti-Obama signs. Then, more anti-Obama/anti-liberal graphics. Then, rattlesnakes upon which you shall not tread. Then, more protest pictures, nearly all of which are entirely anti-Obama.

After that, to be honest, I just stopped. I went through 33 pages of photos, about one-quarter of the gallery. The protests chronicled took place all through the year and took place in numerous different locations. The common thread in nearly every photo is anti-Obama talking points.

As long as we've been having these tea parties, I've been looking for proof of what I get told all the time: "This isn't about Obama or any president. This is about runaway spending in Washington, and how we're not taking it anymore." Circumstantial timing, I guess. But the more I look, the more I reinforce my own point that the protests are the work of people who simply hate President Obama for whatever reason (be it political platform or, seemingly more common, just because of who he is).

Frankly, I'd have a lot more respect for these people if they'd just outright say they don't like Obama. I didn't like George W. Bush, either as a leader or as the kind of person he came off to be. I had no problem saying that; I didn't pretend it was something else. I didn't couch my disgust in a pet issue that I suddenly cared about. I wish these people wouldn't either, because the fa├žade is about as thick as the Emperor's clothes.

If I'm wrong about the tea partiers' true motivations, then I'm open to proof. Until then, consider me unconvinced.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Confidential to the millionaire heir I talked to yesterday

Don't insist my politics are based on jealousy over how much money you make.

"Make." Huh. That's a joke! You say you work, and I'm sure you do, but let's face it - you inherited a fortune. All this talk about just providing for your family - and your sneering declaration that I'll understand someday - only hurts your cause.

And what is that cause? Why, lower taxes, of course. Apparently, I'm supposed to sympathize with your horrible plight. How dare Uncle Sam taxes your precious gift! After all, your daddy (or whoever) already paid taxes on that money. I'll avoid the tax-dodge nitpicks and assume he actually did. So? It's your money now! It's not double-taxation for that very reason. If someone leaves me a car, I have to pay a gift tax on it. Yes, even though the previous owner paid all applicable taxes as well. It's just how the system works. That's America.

Yes, America - you know, the nation whose economic system enabled you to amass such a fortune in the first place. Like it or not, you do owe society. We all do; that's why it's called society. You might think it's all about about the bootstraps (or, in your case, coattails), but there's no way you would survive without the same government works and protections that we all enjoy. Paying your fair share is not socialism; it's an act of citizenship. And, yes, you are a citizen, no matter how much more fun it is for you to sit atop your perch and point at the little people.

I don't want to tear you down. But I also ask that you don't tear the rest of us down. As it is, you're on thin ice lecturing me on the value of hard work. I know the value of hard work. But I'm not sure you do. If you did, it might go a long way toward erasing your unjustifiably superior attitude - an attitude which, by the way, makes me glad to be among those who work hard and appreciate that which I've earned and which I've been given.

I'll take that over your attitude any day. Thank you for the reminder.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Not to belabor the point...

Peyton Manning is officially in Tom Brady territory with me.

I can see why people like Peyton, both on and off the field. I do too. I even initially thought after the Colts' comeback win over the Patriots on Sunday night that the Colts might just be the best team in the league right now. But after some more thought, I changed my mind.

Yes, the Saints played a sloppy game against a 1-7 Rams squad. But they played without three of their four starting defensive backs, and kept St. Louis in the game mostly via turnovers. And the Saints, as always, found a way to win. A scary, perilous way, but still a way.

The Colts mounted an impressive comeback over the Patriots long after the game seemed settled. They deserve credit for that. But if Bill Belichick had punted on 4th and 2, all bets would have been off. Even the fluffiest of puff pieces note the Colts' lack of running game. They don't approach the Saints' point totals. Their defense isn't known for its pick-sixes. They are known for going to the Super Bowl three years ago, so that's good, I guess.

Again, though, it's now that matters. And I think the Saints are still the better team, at least for now. Even in their worst games, they're making smart personnel decisions that will benefit them when it counts most. And they're somehow still flying under the hype radar, which is a lot less pressure to deal with. They're grounded.

In any case, I'm watching both teams closely, and hope they can meet in Miami. If both can keep up the rhythm, of course.

Flag football recap backlog

These are for the players who cannot read them through the social networking sites, where I tend to post them on Fridays or Saturdays. Starting with the newest one, I will start posting them here when freshly written. Enjoy.

11/8: The nail-biters continued this week at SOFA as, for the second week in a row, it all came down to the final play.

Nov. 8 brought out 12 players and two fans for a fine afternoon of action. Among them, three new players, two of which we hope will return (Dustin, you’re too fast).

Six-Cylinder (Dustin, Stephanie, Chad, Jerome, Kenny, Sam) beat Sixth String (Nathan, Joe, Ian, Emily, Jack, Aaron) 48-47. But that isn’t such an achievement when you consider that the Cylinders once had a 30-point lead. There’s a lesson to be learned there, kids. And the message is this: you should never be complacent even when life hands you a 30-point cushion. But you’ll probably win anyway.

Nathan, a newcomer to SOFA but in no way a stranger to the gridiron, scored a touchdown on the very first play of the game. That would set the Strings’ pace in the second half. Unfortunately, there was a first half first.

Dustin, a new guy nobody knew about, came in and lit up the field. He was so fast...(how fast was he?) he was so fast, even Ian couldn’t catch him. (That’s fast! And humbling too!) Dustin amassed two touchdowns in the first half, and Joe bat .500 on field goals to make the score a surprisingly sparse 18-9 at the half for the Cylinders.

It gets a little fuzzy after that. But soon enough, the score was 42-12. Jerome was undoubtedly involved. This much is clear: the Strings got burned playing man-to-man defense.

But then two momentous things happened: Stephanie had to leave. And the Strings went to a zone defense, rotating out a player in every series. SOFA teams who rotate players are 767-2 all-time, so this seemed like a safe bet.

Tide, consider yourself turned.

From there, 42-12 turned into 48-27. Then 48-33. Then 48-41. On the final drive, the Strings scored one more TD to make it 48-47. One final PAT would decide it all.

The two-point conversion failed.

I’m sure it involved some heroics on someone’s part. But I don’t remember who. And they don’t write these things anyway. So there! Good game to you. Or should I say, good first half of the second half.

Game balls:

Inspirational comeback of the game: Ian. While trying (and succeeding) to get open during a failed point-after, Ian’s much-maligned right ankle caught a divot, sending him to the turf. Jack and Nathan had to all but carry him off the field, and he sat on the sidelines for the next series. But then the pain went away as quickly as it arrived, and Ian swiped a pass right out of Jerome’s intercepty hands for a long TD, making the score 48-39.

Best completion taken out of Jerome’s hands for pay dirt: See above.

Best newcomer: We’re all winners here. But Dustin...damn. Two first-half TDs that I recollect, many runs I don’t because it’s hard to see things at warp speed. Nathan and Aaron also came through in the clutch with important runs and stops.

Best distraction for the Strings: The music. Jack took time out of an offensive drive to blast the radio station to which Ian’s boombox was set. Specifically, the song playing was “Lucky Star” by Madonna. Ian was quick to point out that the station played Springfield’s widest variety of music, and even they don’t know what they’re going to play next. So stay tuned! When “My Sharona” by The Knack came on, Jack relented. Wouldn’t we all?

Luckiest drive for the Strings defense: Sam caught a pass and ran nearly full-field and nearly to the house. But Ian didn’t give up and ripped his flag about 10 yards from the end zone. The defense then held on downs to avert a score.

Luckiest drive for the Cylinders defense: Anything in the first half of the second half (tie).

11/1: Last Sunday’s SOFA matchup was a thrilling game that came down to the wire. Depending on who you ask, though, that wire could have swung either way. Or whatever it is wires do when they flip-flop. I just woke up.

The official version is this: Down 59-54 on the final drive, deep in their own territory, Team We Won (Tyree, Ian, Jack, part-time Stephanie) led a quick, nail-biting, long-bomb drive down the field with mere seconds to spare. This led to a last, Hail Mary toss from Jack to a double-covered Tyree in the end zone, which Tyree turned into a touchdown and a 60-59 victory.
But others dispute this official account. Namely, Team No, WE Won (Joe, Jerome, Emily, Kenny). According to Joe, a two-point conversion by Jerome on one of their final TD drives actually had them up by seven points, not five, and thus WW should have gone for the points after.

This is possible because the actual score was mostly lost in the tumultuous final few minutes of the game. However, Ian kept track of the deficit, which both he and Jack (in separate recollections) remembered being five at the end. Going back to the last concrete score I remember, it was 47-40, then 53-40, then 59-47, then 59-54, then We Won won 60-59 on the last play.

But if Joe is correct about “a two-point extra conversion with Jerome bobbling it on the ground, but finally brought it in,” then the score after Tyree’s TD was, in fact, 61-60 NWW, and a two-point conversion was in order. You know WW would have gotten it, though.

Game notebook: Remind me to bring the notebook tomorrow. I forgot it last week, and the only note I had was the halftime score I had to scrawl on a leaf. 34-23, if I’m reading the leaf correctly.

And his Joey Porter...and T.J. Houshmandzadeh...and Chad Ochocinco... Both during and after the game, Tyree said that he “was getting his Michael Crabtree on.” He excelled at all positions on the field Sunday, and especially wanted his pal Gerald to know this. Gerald, like Tyree a former MSU football player, has played with SOFA in the past. “I can pass, I can catch, I throw field goals...I’m a complete player. Gerald isn’t. He couldn’t throw those passes like I could.” Sounds like a challenge, Gerald.

10/25: After this week’s SOFA game, Ian met with Jack to watch the Saints-Dolphins game. After a brutal 24-3 thrashing for most of the first half, the Saints found their groove and won 46-34. “Hmm,” Ian thought (as did Jack, in between cries of “NOOOO!!”), “Where have I seen that score before?”

As further proof that SOFA has a cosmic foothold on the universe (as if you needed any more evidence), 46-34 was also the tally of Sunday’s game! True, it was nothing like the Saints’ inspiring comeback, because the outcome was almost never in doubt. Also, unlike with the Saints game, the wrong team won at Kickapoo High. Also, I lost my knit cap, which I have yet to do at a Saints game. Really, the only thing that was the same was the score.

JErK (Jack, Erin, Kenny) beat Sam’s Club (Sam, Stephanie, Ian) and made it look easy. At least that was true at the beginning, when Erin drew first blood with a long TD. Sam immediately responded with a kickoff return for pay dirt. This would the last time SC responded immediately to anything.

After a futile series of turnovers on downs and a pick by Kenny against the Ian-led SC offense, Kenny scored a pair of unanswered touchdowns for JErK. This made the score 22-6. JErKs.

Ian sort-of redeemed himself not long after by intercepting a Jack pass batted by Sam in the end zone, running it the distance for the score. That would been even sweeter if anyone had chased him. But apparently he was too fast or something. Yeah.

Of course, this game being the case of embezzlement that it was (one for you, two for me), the JErKs scored two more touchdowns (and a Jack field goal) to make the score 39-12 at the half.

JErKs.

Sam’s Club, not content with scoring only on kickoffs and defense (occasionally), decided to shake up Ian’s patented Bend But Don’t Score offense by giving Sam some snaps. This opened up the game a bit, as both Sam and Ian were able to find targets. Stephanie made several key catches, and Ian was able to find Sam in the end zone (and vice versa). Still, the effort was too little, too late.

But then again, somebody had to be the Dolphins on Sunday.

Game Balls:

Player of the game: Kenny. Nearly invincible, Kenny consistently evaded coverage on his way to scoring numerous touchdowns. He also had an impressive day on defense. Way to go, Kenny. No, really.

Incriminating phone message of the game: Pete. Once a SOFA mainstay, Pete has been on Whipped Reserve since getting a girlfriend (admittedly, a very long list). During the game, he drove past the field and called Ian, but only to get Tyree’s number. Pete has not been suspended, but he’ll probably serve it out anyway. Come back, Pete!!

Speaking of Saints-Dolphins... During one SC red-zone drive, Jack crept up on Ian. Jack was wearing a Dolphins cap. As Ian ran his route, he said, "Get that ugly thing out of my sight!" to which Jack replied, "It's beautiful!" Ian reacted to that by catching the touchdown pass from Sam. Now THAT was beautiful.

10/18: Put another nail-biter into the SOFA almanac.

Heat Wave (Jerome, Emily, Ian, Leann) weathered a shootout to top the Chad Sacks (Chad, Sam, Stephanie, Joe) 44-42 in a game that came down to the final point-after.

Chad had particular impetus to bring his A-game, as his family was in town for a visit (they came down from Michigan just for the game). He didn’t disappoint, scoring three touchdowns, two of them long bombs, and having a consistently solid game on both sides of the ball.

He also unwittingly helped Emily nab a crucial interception, after a pass by Joe intended for Stephanie bopped off the top of Chad’s head straight into Emily’s hands. Oh, it was pretty. Chad helped everybody today. Such a good reporter, showing no bias on the field like that. If only all of us were so selfless.

Ian handled most of the quarterbacking duties for Heat Wave, finding Jerome, Emily and Leann nearly equally. Hey, when you have weapons, fire ’em. Football-wise, I mean, not literally.

The score at the half was close, 28-22. This in large part was due to Ian being somewhat absorbed in the Saints-Giants game playing out on the radio he had brought. So he didn’t get to score all the touchdowns that he normally does. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

Not long into the second half, Sam turned up in a big way for CS, taking a deep pass from Jerome intended for Ian and turning it into a nearly field-length pick-six. In a related development, Sam’s name is now Darren. Official SOFA directive.

The final drive of the game was Chad Sacks’ chance to tie it up and force overtime. Sure enough, they found the end zone, and went for two (as common sense dictates). However, Chad was unable to secure the pass due to strong coverage by Emily, Jerome and Leann, and the game was over. Heat Wave win.

Afterwards, Joe asked Ian if the Saints game was over, but really, it was over at halftime.

Game balls:

Player of the game: Chad. Three touchdowns and a lot of hustle on defense.

Most memorable first down: Stephanie, because it was the only first down important enough to make it into my notebook.

Hands of the week: Emily. Several consecutive catches down the middle helped Team A score on a critical drive near the end of the game.

Hamstrings of the week: Joe and Leann (tie) for staying relatively unhurt.

10/11: Another game, another hamstring pull. The Oct. 11 game saw Joe go down in agony after a snappy interception and swift return. His play set up a touchdown from Ian to Kenny on the very next play. Other than that, there wasn't much hope in the second half for Half Fast (Ian, Kenny, Emily, Joe), as Tyree and Three Other Guys (Tyree, Chad, Jack, Blue?) Tyreed their way to an 85-58 rout.

The first half of the game saw two very balanced teams with a lot of hustle. Kenny, in particular, deserves defensive kudos for breaking up more passes than were possibly even thrown. Emily notched several sacks and a key interception as well. Yes, it seems ironic to tout the defensive exploits of a team that got shellacked 85-58, but sometimes history ISN'T written by the winners. Hah!

All members of HF scored touchdowns as well, including a late mini-surge. So what happened? Tyree. That's not to take away from solid play by Chad and Jack, both of whom put many yards and points on the board (Jack had a key interception on HF's goal line). But Tyree was just ridiculous. He gained a key first down on 4th and 18 to keep one drive alive. He was also Ian's top receiver at quarterback, notching about 94 pick-sixes. Tyree called that amount "lies, lies." And it was. But not by much.

10/4: Team Talent (Jerome, Sam, Joe, Emily, Stephanie) beat Talented at Other Things (Leann, Ian, Jack, Trey, Chad) 46-27.

The game got off to a controversial start even before it started, when Ian pumped up the football, rendering it uncatchable to those used to catching an underinflated ball (all of us).

Dropped passes made the difference after a close, low-scoring first half (14-7 TT) yielded to a mutual score-fest. Jerome was unstoppable for TT, taking advantage of his previous bye week to recover from a performance in which an unusually capable Ian shut him down. Stephanie also made phenomenal catches and scores for TT.

TOT, however, went down fighting. A comeback effort in the second half fell short, not helped by Leann's hamstring scare that forced her to sit out the rest of the game. Trey, a SOFA newcomer, said he "felt out of shape," which made us all feel a little older inside. He turned 20 two days later.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

When bottom lines clash with yard lines

OK, so the NFL fined Chad Ochocinco $20,000 for jokingly offering an official $1 to overturn a decision. It was an obvious joke by a guy so committed to keeping it light-hearted that he legally changed his last name to his uniform number. If the NFL.com message board is any indicator, the joke went over well among most fans, even those who weren't necessarily riveted by his past pranks.

On the other hand, Tommie Harris punches Deuce Lutui in the face and is fined $7,500.

I love football and the NFL, but these fines prove more than anything where Roger Goodell and the rest of the league management have placed their priorities.

Since becoming commissioner, Goodell has had a reputation as a fine-happy disciplinarian. He has largely been praised for this, although not by me. When Pacman Jones, Michael Vick, Plaxico Burress and seemingly the entire Cincinnati Bengals team were making waves on the crime scene, Goodell was all too eager to punish them. Fair enough. You don't want to look soft on players who violate the law; you want to make an example of them.

Then the league began restricting its access to fans. YouTube fan videos? Forget about it! Monday Night Football? Moved to ESPN! Want to see pretty much any NFL footage ever? Join the NFL Network! (At least there's lots of free access to recent clips on NFL.com. I'll give them that.) Protecting the product, I guess. I hate how this attitude has swept America, but I at least can see it from their perspective.

Then came the tougher quarterback-protection rule, know rightfully so as the Tom Brady Rule. It gives the officials immense latitude in calling a roughing-the-passer penalty. They say it's to protect the quarterback. But everybody knows it came in the wake of Tom Brady's season-ending injury last year, which sidelined one of the NFL's hottest players. The league doesn't want to lose one of its most popular properties again, because that could cause a decline in revenue. (At the very least, the league should enforce this penalty consistently, such as when the Falcons made illegal helmet-to-helmet contact on Drew Brees, causing him to fumble and the Falcons to recover for a touchdown. I guess Drew Brees has yet to fully resonate with the key viewership demographics.)

This past week's twin fines show just how out-of-hand this has become. And while I'm hardly privy to the insights of NFL officials and owners, I can only assume that the levied fines originate from the same mentality held by those on the fan forums who hate Chad Ochocinco:

In order to be a good football player, one must also be a solemn, serious individual, outspoken and distinguished only insofar as such traits don't disrupt the increasingly stiff standards imposed by the league. It's a variation of the old notion that "you think you have to be a prick to get things done," to paraphrase Robin Williams as Patch Adams.

I've always had a problem with this notion of sportsmanship. As I've said here before, being anonymous and emotionless is not the opposite of being Terrell Owens. Say what you want about the antics of T.O. and others like him - they keep the fans entertained and abuzz for years, even (and sometimes especially) if they hate him for it. These kinds of things should be dealt with on the field or in the locker room, not in some corporate boardroom.

This goes double for someone like Ochocinco, who ranks among the most good-natured and well-liked players in the league. He's not vicious like T.O. was; he's looking for a laugh that even his opponents can appreciate. I've known hundreds of athletes in my life - scholastic, college and pro alike - and there's always someone who is upbeat and jokey, on or off the field. Ochocinco strikes me as that kind of guy. It's almost like he can't help it. Nobody's getting hurt (unlike Harris' punch), the fans dig it and - perhaps most of all - Chad's one of the league's best receivers. He backs up his antics, if indeed his antics were the kind that needed backing up.

In short, he's the very kind of crowd-pleaser that the NFL is so afraid will alienate fans, they just might alienate them anyway with their twisted logic.

At this rate, I'm surprised they even let players wear names and numbers anymore. But then again, I guess numbers are what it's all about.

Tuesday will be my Black Friday

I went to the mall today. I never go to the mall.

Stopped by a crowded Borders to get Sports Illustrated. SI picks the Saints to win it all, yet has Peyton Manning on the cover. No respect.

Guy in front of me in line to cashier: "Is the new Sarah Palin book out yet?"

Hippie-chick cashier: "No, it's out next Tuesday." She's got this down by now.

Inaudible conversation. Then, guy says, "Runnin' for president in 2012." I don't bother to glimpse clerk's reaction.

I pay for my magazine. I consider asking jokingly about Sarah Palin, but decide against it. People in the heartland aren't always as they look. And even if she actually is a hippie chick, she'd probably take me seriously. Can't have that. Anyway, the look in her eyes suggests weariness. At this point in her shift, she's probably cursing Gutenberg in her head.

As I leave, I hear the guy behind me ask, "Do you have the new Sarah Palin book?" He rhymes "Palin" with "pallin'," as in with the terrorists, which makes me almost laugh out loud. I bail before I make a well-deserved scene.

Another thing I noticed is that the cashiers were asking every customer if they wanted to donate to a particular charity. The people asking for the Sarah Palin book were declining. They didn't even ask me. They may have mistaken me for a recipient. Or one of those. Harsh.

On my way out, I stop in the men's room, which is equipped with a supercharged hand-dryer. A panel on the dryer explains how it saves energy and paper waste, and gives quick stats on each. On this dryer someone has written, in adolescent cursive, "All Gore bull shit."

I wanted to write, "Your spelling is bull shit" or something equally dorky yet zingy, but I didn't have a pen. Also, many of the guys in the bathroom looked like potential teabaggers and I didn't want to arouse their ire.

I think I'll go back to Borders Tuesday, to truly get the gist of rogue-going. And then, a few days later, I think I'll hit the library, because there's no way I'm buying that book, even if it does give the last one a run for its money.

I audaciously hope so, anyway.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Eye for an eye? Not I

Does anyone else find it ironic that the U.S. government executed a former Army sharpshooter on Veterans Day?

Maybe it isn't so ironic, especially in light of the recent Fort Hood shootings at the hand of Nidal Malik Hasan. Some say the common thread is Muslim extremism. But I think the causes lie less with their particular religion than with the simple reality that overwhelming stress, combined with woefully burdened military counseling, is in danger of raising an entire division's worth of psychologically tormented killing machines. How many potential Tim McVeighs, John Muhammads and Nidal Hasans will arise from America's continued pursuit of some abstract notion called "victory?" Not many, I hope. We've had at least three too many already.

Funny thing about Tim McVeigh - he was so sure the government existed only to kill, that he went out and murdered 168 people just to make a statement. Then the government killed him, guaranteeing him martyr status to those who think democracy is a bloodsport.

What exactly does the death penalty accomplish? Does it bring back victims? No. Is it cheaper than a lifetime in prison? No. Is it disproportionately applied to black males? Yes. Have innocent people been executed? Yes.

There is no justice in execution. The practice is about revenge, plain and simple (and, no, justice and revenge are not interchangeable terms). There is not one intellectual argument in favor of the death penalty. Even the more reasonable ones ultimately come back to vindictiveness.

"But Ian," you say. "I think you would see it differently if your loved one was brutally raped and murdered." But that proves my point, doesn't it? I'd have to be blinded by rage and broken of rational thought to find execution to be a good idea. There's an old saying that the widow doesn't sit on the jury. Rule of law cannot prevail when our basest instincts take over. Would I want to kill someone who killed a family member? Probably. But I'd be put on trial just as fast if I took the law into my own hands after the fact. Two wrongs...

But the reason I'm against the death penalty above all else is because I fear Big Government. Yes, that notion might shock some of you. But understand that I'm not defining Big Government as Social Security, Medicare, welfare and other programs that help people in times of need, as the "Don't Tread On Me" types do. Simply put, I don't want the government to decide who lives and who dies - which is why I favor legal abortion and oppose execution. No government horror stories can even approach that in my view.

Funny how those who scream the loudest against so-called "death panels" and fear bureaucracy above all else are the ones who cheer the loudest when the government executes an inmate. Especially since the death-panel thing is a complete fabrication and death row is very, very real.

We like to pretend we're civilized, but never does that pretense appear so thin as when we lord it over someone who deserves to die. In that case, the best thing to do is not to kill them. Why? Because we're not like them, and we shouldn't inspire more like them.

Aren't we better than them? Than this?

Monday, November 09, 2009

Blending sports and politics...something I've never, ever done before

(*-I know this is similar to my last entry, but it bears repeating.)

As some of you perhaps know, I am a bit of a fan of the New Orleans Saints. I was born the year of the 1-15 Aints, so there was never a question that it would be in my blood for life.

With that being the case, I've seen how little respect the Saints get even when they're racking up wins like Glenn Beck racks up batshit crazy. Witness the Week 10 NFL Power Rankings at theonlinewire.com:

NFL Power Rankings: Week 10

1. Indianapolis Colts - Colts keep on winning and have the ring that proves they are legit.

2. New Orleans Saints - New Orleans still has big questions on defense but is still good enough for #2 in the week 10 NFL power rankings.

Now I'll admit that the Saints have a lot of respect these days, even from historically hardcore haters. And that I had to dig this deep into the power-ranking pool to even find one that had the Saints as low as No. 2 is an encouraging sign indeed.

It's not the ranking I have the issue with; it's the ring.

Specifically, the fact that the Colts' winning of a past Super Bowl is the reason they're ranked higher than the Saints here. And, let's face it, that's about the only reason they might deserve to be. Indy is an exciting team to watch, yes, but they do not light up the scoreboard quite like the Saints, and are winning by margins as thin as the logic in Glenn Beck's head.

Funny thing about the Super Bowl is, it has no bearing on future performance, no matter how much people like to pretend it does. So the Saints were losers from 1967-86, and again from 1993-99, and again in 2005. Are they those teams in 2009? No. As I always say, that's why they play the games and don't just consult an almanac.

I watched Super Bowl XLI - pitting the Colts against the Chicago Lucky Fluky Care Bears in rainy Miami - from a hotel room in Springfield, Missouri. Why? Because I was in the process of moving there that very weekend. I had just taken the job I currently have, relieved that I was able to find a gig in my field after an exhaustive year-and-a-half of searching. Come Super Bowl time in February, I will have been at my job for three years. It's been a long, sometimes difficult, always educational journey. Just long enough for everything to change, from the president to The Price Is Right. And in that time, there have been 41 Any Given Sundays. And a whole different Manning (and a whole different Kurt Warner-led team) winning the Super Bowl.

The point being, time has passed. Judge Indianapolis on its own current merits, not because the Colts won three years ago. Similarly, don't assume the Saints will fail just because, well, that's what they do. It's 2009. They're both 8-0. Let's start from there.

Speaking of pointless expectations... (How's that for a smooth transition to politics?)

I hear a lot of Republican pundits crowing over the results of the recent spate of elections, as if it's a referendum on President Obama's performance thus far. Easy, tigers. It's gonna take a lot more than a few shoo-in local races to get Sarah Palin in the White House. Let's see how that health care thing turns out before declaring the Democrats toast. Or, better yet, try standing for something rather than obstruction, GOP, and maybe then you won't have to pin all your political hopes on what the opposition does.

Again, I repeat myself. But so does the news.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Rule #148: Wait 'til this year

Tradition means nothing in modern pro sports. You can't say the Yankees won the World Series this year because they've won 26 times before; they won because they played well in 2009. Or, more importantly, because they could afford to assemble the best team with their obscene payroll.

This doesn't happen in the NFL because of parity. Having the highest payroll all these years never helped the Saints win a championship, or any other team. The Patriots have won Super Bowls more times than should be legal, but it had more to do with a consistent, competent lineup. And videotaping.

Tradition is also the reason so many are choosing the Colts over the Saints as the best team in the NFL. "Peyton Manning's won the Super Bowl," they crow. "The players know what it's like to go be there and win. They'd thrash the Saints!" Really? Personally, I'd rather see that for myself. I know the Colts destroyed the Saints the last time they met in 2007, but that was two years ago. It's smarter to look at the trends now. And the trends show that that would be an exciting Super Bowl. If it happens for either team, that is, because there's still much of the season to be played. And the past won't help or hurt either team, beyond the direct effects of recent personnel decisions.

Same goes for the Yankees. Babe Ruth wasn't an Angel in the Outfield for this year's winners any more than losing for their first 40 years hindered the Steelers from their own Lombardi Trophies.

That's why they play the games, and don't just consult an almanac.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

"Plan? There ain't no plan!"

You probably have something to vote for today. If you do, go.

Today at the Springfield polls, the major issue is whether or not to approve a 3/4-cent sales tax to help defray a shortfall in the police-fire pension fund. Due to bad investments and the economic meltdown (among other complicated factors), the fund is $238 million short. This is money that legally has to be paid, and previous attempts to introduce a tax have failed. As a result, the city has had to make severe cuts to a lot of services, such as shutting down fire stations in rotating shifts and not hiring for vacant police positions. Which, I suppose, is one way of ensuring fewer pensions to pay in the future.

Of course, these drastic cuts still aren't enough to convince the anti-tax crowd that some kind of capital source is needed to shore up the fund. Or that any kind of tax is useful, ever. Not that anyone ever refuses the services, as far as I'm aware. Or has an alternate plan, apparently.

For the past few days, a local anti-tax group has blitzed the airwaves with ads, the central message being, "Vote no. Tell them we want a better plan."

What is the better plan? They don't know! Like most of today's conservative obstructionists, they haven't outlined an alternate plan that I'm aware of, and I've been following the issue very closely. My suspicion is, they don't have a plan, and they may not even care. Just as long as the tax fails, because taxes are bad, even if some very dire public consequences result from not having them. And, sadly, that attitude might just be enough for this proposal to fail. I hope I'm wrong.

It's funny how firefighters and police officers are such heroes to us, but we can't bother to support them with our hard-earned 3/4-cents. I'll vote to do so. Fire bad!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Rule #147: Grain of Salt

When discussing health care, wars or any other issue, we must consider the source. In recent years, the idea of what constitutes truth has been skewed, largely by the media, to mean two opposing sides - even if the two sides represent apples and oranges. Or, more likely these days, apples and unicorns.

One example of this is the evolution vs. creationism debate. Somewhere along the line, many people began to equate the two as competing theories of our beginnings, both worthy of scientific weight. Never mind that only one has any basis in empirical study at all, and that the other one is as quantifiable as any of the other millions of mythical creation tales out there. Every story has two sides, right? No more, no less.

Same thing with the health care debate. The top two voices of dissent on the issue are John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, whose criticism seems more like campaigning than healthy dissent. They know what their roles are in the GOP, and that role is striking down health care reform for political purposes. As transparent as this should be, many people nevertheless take their words as those of experts on health care as opposed to the rhetoric of partisan PR agents. (I'd include Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid in this criticism, if either were nearly as effective as their Republican brethren.) It's precisely because such attacks are given equal weight to those advocating health care reform that our national debate is so ridiculous.

Another currently vaunted source of information is Gen. Stanley McChrystal. He's calling for a tremendous troop boost in Afghanistan. Fair enough. But does that mean we should honor his request, no unpatriotic questions asked? No. Why? Because McChrystal's role in the war as a military leader is to figure out how to win it, if such a thing is possible. It's not his call to ask the broader questions. His job is to ask, "How many troops do we need to secure Kabul," not, "Is this war a good idea?" His input deserves to be heard and considered, but only as part of a comprehensive debate from a variety of diverse sources. Sources whose individual interests are taken into account.

Maybe then we could get somewhere and stop treating thinking people and transparent obstructionists with equal gravitas. And stop perpetuating war because the war machine says it's necessary.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Passing thought

The woman behind one religious-conservative blog I occasionally read is currently on a trip to the Grand Canyon, and raving about it. I can dig it; I myself have been there. It lives up to the hype, in my opinion. I do, however, find it interesting that the very existence of the Grand Canyon - as well as its status as a national park - goes against everything for which religious conservatives stand. Ken Burns put it best on The Colbert Report recently, saying that without the national park designation, all of these beautiful natural monuments would have long ago been closed-off developments owned and enjoyed only by the super-rich. Also, the Grand Canyon pretty much disproves creationism by virtue of existing. Do they ever consider these points?

I have the same question about creationist biology students.