Wednesday, September 24, 2014

NFL Picks Week Four: On the New Year, God and football

I am not a particularly religious man. As a child I went to Hebrew school every Sunday from the age of eight all the way through my bar mitzvah and my confirmation at age 16, an event I find most memorable both for my horrid mutton-chop sideburns that I somehow thought were fashionable and the moment at which I walked back from the bathroom to sit down to lunch in the synagogue with my family only to have my dad lean over and inform me that my fly was open. Perhaps it was that open fly, perhaps it was the democrats or perhaps it was the undeniable influence of enlightened liberal arts education (or maybe it was just being a Mets fan), but somewhere between my bar mitzvah and the current day I lost the faith. I'd like to believe in a higher power, but the rational side of me has difficulty justifying it.

However, I do value tradition and customs and on a cultural level I feel overwhelmingly Jewish, likely as a justification for my family's loud dinners and neuroses, but also because I believe in the importance of connecting with your heritage. German-Jewish scholar Solomon Maimon once posited that Reform Judaism, my particular brand, was not so much a system of rules outlining how one ought to worship, but a forum for discussing the very nature of spiritualism and the almighty. This speaks to me, and while I may not believe in God, I like to think that if there is one, it is modest enough to value my general goodwill as a person above my dedication to praising its name. If you've ever read the Old Testament, this hope is probably foolhardy, but as a result of that, I may consider myself to largely be an atheist these days (though the best atheistic gospel of this week may have come from Keith Olbermann), but I still try to hold to some of the customs I was raised with as best I can. I am rarely in a synagogue and I can't remember the last time I attended a shabbat dinner, but I light my menorah, I fast on Yom Kippur, and tonight when the sun sets, I will party like it's 5775.


לשנה טובה, kids. 

Tonight marks the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the annual turning over of the Jewish calendar (though this is different from Simchat Torah, when we roll the scroll all the way back to Genesis). Many Jews mark the beginning of the high holidays by attending services in synagogue and having dinner with their family. Tonight I will be doing none of those things. The closest, I will get to observing the holiday tonight will likely be a few token Happy New Year greetings and an endless hunt to purchase a copy of this for my almost-nine-month-old nephew Sammy, which is probably likely to give him more happiness than the other gift I considered for him this week.

No, instead in my family, we celebrate these holidays on the actual dates if we can, but more often than not on the date when we can all manage to get together for them. This year, that means we'll be ringing in the New Year tomorrow on the second night of the holiday, which brings up a pretty profound quandary, as well as the entire reason I'm bothering to write about the Jewish holidays on this blog.

Friday, September 19, 2014

NFL Picks Week Three: I have nothing to talk about

Ok, just to be clear, that's almost certainly not accurate. There is plenty to talk about in the world of sports. I could tell you how I'm watching Sydney play North Melbourne on delay in the 2014 Preliminary Final, how Southampton looked phenomenal in beating up Newcastle United 4-nil last weekend, how I went to a Mets game on Wednesday night and it was unsurprisingly uninspiring or how despite a head-scratching loss to the Cardinals on Sunday afternoon, I'm still not that worried about the Giants .... yet.

But you know what? I'm really just too tired to go into detail on all of those things at the moment. Also, I'm pretty sure there is construction outside with a jackhammer incessantly banging away and it is really sapping my energy to be clever and informative on my day off, to say nothing of thinking clearly.

It's a ton of fun.

So, rather than try to strain my cortex to put something witty together, after all, only four or so of you are going to read this anyway, I'm going to skip through the razzmatazz and just get to what you're all waiting for: another attempt to see how bad I am at picking NFL games this year. I mean, it is definitely early in the season and those first few weeks are all kind of random anyway, but my start to the season has been less than good. Let's see if Week Three changes that, or, at the very least, if Northwestern finally wins a game and I stop caring about my picks as a result. I can dream, can't I?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

NFL Picks Week Two: To the Travelers go the Spoils

There are many aspects to planning out a road trip of the sort I returned from last night. One that I heed you all to consider if you're pondering a similar venture is to account for just how much sports-related crap you might find yourself coming home with. As you can see to the right, there were quite a few silly trinkets I came back with from my six-day jaunt through eight states and one province across two countries; that photo doesn't even include the multiple bottles of bourbon that were purchased. In the end I found myself somehow braving the subways yesterday with a messenger bag, duffel bag, three bottles of bourbon, one life-sized baseball bat, one mini baseball bat, one double bobblehead doll, one Cincinnati Reds stein, one terrible towel and an entirely superfluous Super Nintendo that was dragged along for inevitably no reason.

If you are plotting a trek like the one I just finished, account for these acquired articles in your pre-trip packing. It somehow escaped me.

Of course, that really only makes the trip more fun in the end. In a span of just six days I saw five old friends, went to four new stadiums, three bourbon distilleries, two sports halls of fame, two breweries, the world's most famous horse-racing track, one baseball bat factory, countless regional fast food chains and one incredibly wet boat ride around Niagara Falls. To cap the whole thing off, somehow my friend Dan and I didn't kill each other over the 30 hours and 2,500 miles we spent alone together in a car thanks to a steady stream of satellite radio and hearing the first 15 seconds of Florence + the Machine's cover of "Addicted to Love" about a billion times.

So, yeah. I recommend it.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

NFL Picks Week One: The Road Trip Begins

The months of February through August are, no doubt, a bleak time on the calendar. The brutal cold of winter's depths chills us to the bones, the sweltering humidity of summer soaks us through our clothes, and that cole slaw at the Memorial Day BBQ always seems to have just a bit too much vinegar in it. These are universal trials and tribulations, pains we each endure as we await our savior when it arrives on the first Thursday of September. Rest assured, though, after waiting patiently and counting down the minutes, that wonderful day is here.

The NFL is back tonight. Life has found meaning.

Unfortunately for some of us, the wait is a little longer than we might like it to be. The Giants don't play their season opener until Monday night at 7 in the first half of ESPN's annual Week One Monday Night Football doubleheader. The extra 30 hours will make the wait almost that much more interminable, but on the plus side I can be excited by the fact that when the Giants kick off their hopefully-slightly-better-than-mediocre 2014 campaign, I will be there to see it in person.

As I mentioned on Tuesday, I am setting off tonight on a whirlwind sports road trip of epic proportions. My friend Dan and I will set sail (or drive, more accurately), from Jersey City this evening to embark on what will be a veritable orgy of bourbon, sporting events, sports museums and a highly unhealthy amount of greasy food. As you will note, I have planned it down to the minute to maximize the fun, though I have not been dragging any guide books to parties.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

2014 NFL Preview: Birth of the Road Tripstravaganzapalooza Spectacular

Surely, you all noticed last week when I expressed my excitement over the start of Northwestern's 2014 season with the notable caveat that the team would likely break my heart at some point during the next four months. Well, if you read the funny pages on Sunday, you probably saw this year's rendition of the Wildcat Shakedown wasted no time in, well, shaking itself down. In perhaps the most colossal screw up I've seen since I first started following NU (Note: the loss to UNH in 2006 is not as bad given it was one of the best programs in Division I-AA and boasted all-time great receiver David Ball, though the Cats were a noticeably more talented and well-trained outfit), the Cats decided to be generous and spotted California-Berkeley a handsome 31-7 lead before finally realizing there was a football game going on and closing it to within 31-24 in the fourth quarter.

Of course, you don't get wins for trying super duper hard when you realize you've got to try super duper hard super duper late, so despite opening the season at home as 11.5-point favorites against a team that failed to beat any Division I opponents last season, Northwestern is 0-1 in 2014. This was frustrating on multiple levels, not the least of which was that it ruined an opportunity for that ultra-rare alignment of stars known as the Football Hat Trick Day, a term I had the foresight to make up on Saturday morning, after I noticed three different teams I follow across three different codes of football all had games in a 12-hour span. The Geelong Cats took care of business against Brisbane despite it being a relatively meaningless home-and-away-season finale and now have an opening-round Finals match against big-time rivals Hawthorn Friday morning (naturally you're all counting down to this), and just a few hours later Southampton picked up its first Premier League victory in which it trailed on the road in 20 years when the Saints scored three times after falling behind 1-nil at West Ham. The two most difficult hurdles in the race out of the way, heavy-favorite Northwestern (words I never thought I'd see in that order) seemed a safe bet to complete the circuit.

It's a good thing the bar had beer.

Fortunately for me, rather than wallow in the tears of that unfortunate misstep, I get another distraction this weekend when the NFL, at long last, gets underway. Sure, the New York Giants don't exactly look poised to dominate the NFL, compete for a Super Bowl title or, if they continue to struggle with the offense, even earn a playoff berth. But, ever the optimist, I have faith Eli Manning will get a handle on the new scheme and somehow the Giants will eke out nine wins in their 2014 schedule. As we've seen in the past, sometimes nine wins is all you need.