Wednesday, September 29, 2010

NFL Picks Week Four: In Which I Travel To Beautiful Minnesnowta

Don't worry. It'll only be October when I set foot in the great state of Minnesota this weekend so snow seems highly unlikely, though Saturday night's predicted low of 33 degrees does bring it within the realm of possibility. I suppose bringing my Northwestern hooded sweatshirt will now seem necessary.

Regardless of the weather, however, I'm awfully excited for the next trip in my journey, which, given how annoyed I am that Gary Ablett (The Genius!) showed up Friday night's Grand Final replay by announcing that he's taking his considerable footy skills up to the new Gold Coast club, is coming at just the right time. Seriously, what kind of economic system allows an expansion team to poach the best player in the league? It would be as if a new NFL team was allowed to offer a huge contract offer to Peyton Manning. And it's patently absurd.

I'm late to the Aussie Rules fandom bandwagon, but it's still a shame that my chosen team won't be seeing plays like this or like this from the best player on the ground anymore. At least I can take some solace in the fact that he's only 14 months older than me and he's already lost all of his hair.

But I digress. I only hope Geelong doesn't wind up experiencing the precipitous downfall Southampton FC did when I started following the Saints in 2002.

I'M NOW DONE TALKING ABOUT AUSSIE RULES. YOU CAN START READING AGAIN.

So yes. I'm going to Minnesota this weekend which I am enormously excited for. Now when I originally booked this trip I noticed that it would take me through the final weekend of baseball's regular season, and that it might possibly cause me to miss some crucial Mets games as they came through the final drive of the pennant race.

Man, what a hoot that idea was, huh?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Apparently, Donovan McNabb Grew Up In Australia

Some might consider it unfair that I spend so much time making fun of Donovan McNabb. Not because he's a bad quarterback. He's not. In fact, he might just be a great quarterback and I was overjoyed to see that the Eagles traded him this offseason until I realized he would still be in the NFC East with the Redskins. No, his on-field skills are not to be argued. My mockery has come from an amusing incident two years ago when, after the Eagles tied the Bengals, McNabb admitted in a postgame press conference that he had no idea there were ties in the NFL.

This is, of course, patently ridiculous, but what you might not have known, and that McNabb perhaps did, is that not only are there ties in Aussie Rules Football, but they are, apparently, pretty pervasive. As McNabb opined, "I'd hate to see what happens in a Super Bowl ... if they settle with a tie." This was met with quite a bit of criticism because a) you should know the rules in the NFL if you're a perennial Pro Bowl quarterback and b) it is ludicrous to end the Super Bowl in a tie.

But that's not the rule down under. As I've mentioned more than once, over the last few years I have developed a big fandom for Aussie Rules over the past two years, and Friday night was the sport's big day, as Collingwood and St. Kilda met for the 2010 Grand Final. Bizarrely, and to protect how "unique" the championship game is, AFL rules actually stipulate that should the Grand Final end in a tie after regulation is finished, it will be ruled a draw and an entirely second Grand Final will be replayed a week later.

Leading up to Saturday morning's title game, only two Grand Finals had ever ended in a draw -- once in 1948 and once in 1977.

Well Saturday morning, AFL fans were treated to a wild championship bout, as St. Kilda rallied from 24 points down at half time leading to a frantic final few minutes. And when the dust settled, a lot of Magpies and Saints were kissing their sisters.

Friday, September 24, 2010

NFL Picks Week Three: In Which I Actually Watch the Giants On TV

Yes, it's true. This weekend is a slight change of pace from my apparently typical tradition of actually going to see the Giants play in person. I should note that prior to this season, that was, in fact, not usual at all. In fact, last season when I saw the Giants at home, in Kansas City and in Washington was a marked change from having simply watched them on TV every week for the past 18 years. The fact that I actually went to the new Meadowlands Stadium to open up this season and flew out to Indianapolis after a disastrous day of airport shenanigans was even more unusual.

And while none of you are probably going to watch what is actually the biggest football game of the weekend, I'm strangely looking forward to watching on the TV since football, really, is better presented that way, and it won't involve the stress of shlepping around public transit and dealing with arcane airport security rules. I am wary however because, as some people may have noticed, this week the Giants play one team that provides them an extremely bizarre kryptonite when they play once every four years.

Oh, the scourge that is the Tennessee Titans.

I ought to mention that I don't really dislike the Titans. I enjoy Jeff Fisher, a solid ground game and tough, physical defense, and those aspects have been a part of the Titans' game plan for more than a decade now. However, the two times the Giants have played the Titans in their current incarnation in the Volunteer State have ended in heart breaking disaster. I remember where I was, what I said and what I was thinking both times the Titans had a scrambling intangibles-full quarterback lead an improbable comeback to dash the best-laid plans of Big Blue.

Don't believe me? Let's take a look at the evidence.

Monday, September 20, 2010

That Did Not Go As Planned

Well, after a long, hellish day at Laguardia airport yesterday, I was treated to an even longer, hellish football game if you're a fan of the New York Giants. I had grown dizzy from watching numbers on the scoreboard go up faster than that sign on Sixth Avenue that announces our national debt watching the Giants lose to the Colts, 38-14 in Indianapolis last night. In fact, I have to imagine my buddy Dov is impressed that nothing in Lucas Oil Stadium was broken by me. Then again, after missing my morning flight to Indianapolis yesterday -- my ticket only said that the gate closed 10 minutes before take off and checked bags had to be in 45 minutes -- because I was three minutes late for the 30 minute check-in cutoff, being in a football stadium rather than an airport was a joy.

My big plans for yesterday after arriving around noon involved a number of possibilities, like touring the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, visiting the NCAA Hall of Champions or having dinner with the king of Indiana High School Football reporting, Pat Dorsey.

Instead, I missed my flight because of any number of minor items that would have saved me a few minutes. The seven took five minutes to arrive. The Q33 Bus just sat for 10 minutes before leaving 74th St and Broadway. I took an unnecessary shower. I made a sandwich from leftover roast beef from my grandmother's Yom Kippur breakfast spread.

Why did I feel the need to make a damn sandwich?

Clearly, any momentary issue or item from yesterday morning could have been skipped or altered to the point that I would have made my flight, arrived for a full day or touristy travel around Indianapolis, and not made Dov wait around downtown Indy by himself for six hours.

Friday, September 17, 2010

NFL Picks Week Two: In Which I Atone For Week One

Yes, once again I've been neglecting to update but I actually have a really good reason this time. I swear.

For the past three days I've been up in Boston covering some rookie games between the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders, in addition to snooping around No. 2 2010 NHL Draft Pick Tyler Seguin and the No. 5 selection Nino Niederreiter. If you don't believe me, I have plenty of evidence.

Also, I have to admit I spent far longer than I should have leering at the brand new Bobby Orr "Superman" statue that's been erected outside Boston's TD Garden. Because, let's be honest -- it's fucking awesome. I took a few minutes to really take a good look at it because it wasn't up the last time I made my way to the Garden 19 months ago, and it just may be my favorite of all the numerous sports stadium statues I've seen. In fact, the brilliant statue of Willie Mays outside PacBell/SBC/AT&T Park is the only one that comes close.

I also received another distraction when the Mets released their 2011 schedule and I immediately began plotting ball park trips for next summer. Does a sweltering trip that includes Texas and Houston in late June or a scenic drive from Arizona to San Diego in mid-August sound exciting to anyone else?

Ugh. Didn't think so.

But don't worry, dear readers. Or possibly reader. Because I will not neglect you. In the midst of what is an absurdly busy week -- Boston from Tuesday to Friday, Yom Kippur Friday to Saturday, Indianapolis Sunday to Monday -- I'm still going to give you an insight into just how poorly I'm going to predict this week's NFL action.

And why?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Back In The New York Groove

If you've ever been to a Giants game in New York, you've come to notice that after every touchdown they play the lesser known KISS classic "Back in the New York Groove". If you're Jeff Goldberg, and you just spent a handsome portion of your paycheck to see the Giants score 31 points against the Panthers, you get awfully sick of hearing "Back in the New York Groove". I was glad to see that the Giants brought this tradition over to their new stadium, which they opened yesterday with a big 31-18 win over Carolina that was typical mediocre Giant Football for the first 30 minutes and a dominant offensive and defensive performance in the second half that has Big Blue 1-0 on the young season.

If the traditions of the old stadium feel like they're making it into the new one that's probably because the old Stadium didn't a feel a whole lot different from the new one. As I got off the NJ Transit train to walk towards my team's new home, I noticed a Mrs. Fields cookie stand that was outside the new building and deduced that that must be what $1.6 billion gets you. Sure there are some obvious, noticeable differences. For one, the extend is covered with steel rods, which give it a slick and futuristic feel. As well, it better enables the stadium to project a blue or green presence depending on who is at home that day. To boot, the grounds on the outside seem much smoother, and neater.

The interior no longer has blue and red seats, which made it feel like the Giants home, but when one considers that the Jets footed half the bill for the stadium, that probably makes sense. The inside is not a combination of charcoals and grays that make it seem almost astonishingly neutral. In my mind that robs the building of some of the character that the old one had. Then again, the old one probably didn't make a whole lot of sense if you were a Jets fan.

Beyond those key characteristics, aside from looking neater, there isn't a whole lot else about the building that sparks any interest unless you happen to be holding one of the outrageously expensive club seat tickets. Of course, those seats do provide some advantages -- particularly if you managed to spend an ungodly amount of money on the seats that allow you to literally stand on the sidelines some 46 feet away from the field. How these people are seeing beyond the legions of players, coaches and team employees that stand between them and the actual playing surface is a mystery to me, but the other exciting and noticeable addition to the new building is that even if you don't get to see the play live, you'll have no problem catching a replay. Fortunately, this isn't because the Giants and Jets decided to add a new gigantic video screen that can hang over the middle of the field and interfere with play like some foolish teams.

No, instead the New Meadowlands Stadium features four video screens in each corner of the stadium, which may not seem too big from your seat, but if your seat happens to be right next to one you realize that they're fucking massive.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

NFL Picks Week 1: Justifying Ineptitude With An Elementary Gambling Lesson

Happy first day of football season everyone! Yes, tonight is the big night the Vikings and Saints kickoff the 2010 NFL campaign with a rematch of last year's NFC Championship and I, for one, could not be any more excited. For those of you who used to read my old, horrendous Xanga from about six years ago, you know that I have an awful tendency to show how inept I am at predicting football games by making NFL picks every week and then tabulating my record for the course of the season.

This is a terrible idea.

Vegas, you see, sets the lines. And Vegas is awfully good at splitting the action. People often misunderstand the concept behind a Vegas betting line and assume that when the Giants are favored over the Panthers by, say, seven points, which they are this week, that it is an assumption that the Giants are a touchdown better than Carolina and should win by that amount. But in actuality that's not the case. The purpose of a betting line isn't to provide a more-than-likely prediction for the end result of each of Sunday's games. The point is to split the action.

Vegas isn't trying to give you an indication of how much better one team is than the other with any certainty. They're trying to create a situation in which half of the population believes Team A will win by X or more points and the other half of the population believes it will win by X or fewer points. So, really, the Giants aren't likely to win by seven points or more on Sunday. Half of the population just thinks they will.

Of course, half of the population thinks they won't. So, really, it's a 50/50 shot either way, which means that picking any game, with any certainty, at least at the pro-level, is more or less a coin flip.

Now of course there are betting strategies that enable you a better than 50% chance at making money, and various parlays that can help you reap a profit on a more likely scenario than a standard betting line, but for those of us who can't be bothered to really investigate betting with any real intensity or who simply don't care enough to do so, like myself, it is really, really, really unlikely that you're going to do better than 50% over the course of 256 regular season games by any margin that is statistically significant.

And yet, I still make these picks every week, just to open myself to unnecessary criticism. With tendencies like that, it's a wonder I haven't decided to get into politics yet.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

2010 NFL Preview: Starting Off The New Year With The New Year

Those of you who know me know that I am an extremely reform observant of the Jewish faith, which gets its big celebrations underway tonight at sunset with the dawn of year 5771 for Rosh Hashanah, and the wishes of good health in the New Year are coming in from all the right people.

שנה טובה to you all.

This year, in a quirky twist of fate, the Jewish New Year happens to coincide with Thursday night's NFL Opener between the Saints and Vikings. And lest you think of the NFL, like most sports, as being a not-so-Jewish domain, let it be said that there is no endless list of Jews trying to convince you otherwise. One of these Jews happens to be, Marc Tracy, an editor for the Jewish news site Tablet Magazine, which last week had its annual NFL Preview on its podcast Vox Tablet, which included a discussion of, among other things, a guessing game of how many Jewish owners in the NFL there are -- the answer, depending on who you want to believe for Denver's Pat Bowlen is 11.5. Here's a written breakdown if you have no speakers.

That .5 you can credit to my beloved New York Giants, who are owned by the tandem of John Mara, who comes from a staunchly Catholic family, and Steve Tisch, who is Jewish and also holds the remarkable distinction of being the only person to win a Super Bowl and an Oscar thanks to his producer credit for Forrest Gump.

In any event,  most of the podcast circulated around which team should become the official team of the podcast due to its Jewish connections. Unsurprisingly, the winner of the discussion was the Washington Redskins because of the two characteristics that a) it is owned by prominent D.C.-area Jewish philanthropist/control freak Dan Snyder and more importantly b) it's the favorite team of Tracy, the podcast's host. They do note that this essentially only supercedes the Vikings because they recently traded Sage Rosenfels, who is of Jewish descent if non-practicing, after Brett Favre returned for a 20th season. Apparently this is enough to supercede the fact that Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, a resident of my hometown in Short Hills, NJ, is a Jew born in Germany to two Polish Holocaust survivors.

Uh, That's pretty significant, no?

Curiously, the Redskins are somehow more worthy than the Patriots, whose owner, Robert Kraft, is such a major benefactor to the  Israeli Football League that his name is in the official logo (see above), or my beloved Giants, who are a) owned by the already-mentioned Steve Tisch, b) play in the largest Jewish community in the World outside of Israel, c) the Giants once employed Jewish Hall of Fame quarterback Benny Friedmann, who, as charted in the recent book Passing Game, fundamentally transformed the game of football in the 1920s and 30s because he was so good at throwing the ball.

Oh, and the Giants are also the team that acquired Sage Rosenfels. So that's gotta be worth something.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Reason No. 841 That The NFL Is Superior to College Football

Don't get me wrong. I love college football. Seriously -- I can't get enough of it. As a child growing up I was somewhat ambivalent towards what I considered an inferior brand of gridiron, though I did fancy myself a Florida State fan after watching the 'Noles take a National Championship by topping Nebraska in the 1994 Orange Bowl. But it wasn't until I went to Northwestern and was fully immersed in the weekly craziness of the Big Ten that I truly fell for college football as an institution.

However, the NFL, beyond it's generally superior level of play and far more rational means of determining a champion, would never allow what you see to the right to happen.

I'm no big fashion enthusiast, but a good friend of mine once explained that sometimes you have to push the limits of acceptable fashion so that more subtly progressive advances in style seem less dramatic and thus more acceptable to mainstream society. But they never dreamed up the horrific duds Nike forced the Broncos and Hokies to trot out last night in what was otherwise a phenomenal game with wide-ranging National Championship implications. The only thing more disturbing than these uniforms simply existing is that it's almost impossible to pinpoint what, exactly, is the worst aspect of them.

Do we start with the random dark gray patches on Boise State's jerseys that were inexplicably placed in the worst possible location for an overweight offensive lineman? Why not bring up the peculiar circuit-board designs that made Virginia Tech's jersey numbers look like costumes from the movie Tron? Should I opine on the bizarre grayscaled Boise State logo that appears on only one sleeve and one hip? Or the fact that only one of the sleeves on the Boise State jersey is blue? Or the awkward "B" on the left knee of the Boise State pants?

Compared to all of that, Virginia Tech's shoulder-striping pattern looks downright normal, and I thought I had seen the worst of it with TCU's ridiculously busy outfits this weekend.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Triumphant Return From the West

If any of you spoke to me in my zombie ramblings yesterday and thought I seemed a bit out of it, that probably has something to do with me having gotten very few hours of sleep thanks to two insufferable crying children on my redeye back from Los Angeles Wednesday night. The true shame of this comes from Virgin America's low mood music and deep, soft purple lighting, which should knock anyone on the plane out in fairly short order. But they simply didn't account for parents who are disinterested in calming down their children now did they?

Of course not.

Well, it's a day later, I'm refreshed, and there's much to discuss over here in Kalanville. Perhaps it would seem prescient to start with the obvious, which is that the1920s gold prospector from Chicago you see in the top right corner smoking a cigar with me got married this past weekend.

It really just looks like a standard tuxedo until you include the pocket watches. They take them to a whole new level.

So, I suppose my brother's wedding was probably the most important thing I did in my third trip to the west coast in the past five weeks, but don't worry, there's actually plenty that was relevant to this blog that happened, too. My sister and I decided that following this wedding would be a perfect time to make a drive down the coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles, which for her purposes meant beautiful scenery and the chance to see her friend Lily. For mine it meant the chance to visit one of my favorite Stadiums -- AT&T Park -- and the chance to see a new one -- Dodger Stadium.