Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Obligatory Christmas Episode

5:45 AM. Christmas morning.

My six-year-old son Jalen -- moving with all the grace of an inebriated rhinoceros -- stumbled downstairs, audibly gasped in the direction of the presents under the tree and applied a simple tactile test to each of the individual stockings before providing shrill, surround-sound confirmation that filled every room of Stately Bootleg Manor: "Santa came!"

I was awakened as soon as Jalen's feet hit the floor, but since I stayed under the sheets, my son felt obligated to act as our holiday alarm clock. And, even though Jalen's "wake-up-dad" tactic has been the same for as long as I can remember, it never fails to surprise and terrify me.

Jalen uses textbook two-handed CPR chest compressions to the side of my head when he's deemed I've had enough sleep. The first few times, in the panic of a darkened room, I assumed it was Mrs. Bootleg attempting to choke me out with her silk scarf -- the innocuous, yet omnipresent nocturnal hair-care accessory of the African-American woman.* This time, I violently lurched forward the moment my son laid hands to my head.

* -- Mrs. Bootleg is SERIOUS about her silk scarves. Once or twice a year, she'll have half a glass of wine and pass out on the downstairs couch. I've then heard her in our master bathroom, half-asleep, wrapping her hair as late as 3:45 AM; even though she gets up for work less than two hours later. Is there a white woman equivalent to this? There can't be.

Downstairs with Jalen, I groggily suggested he wait until his mother woke up before we started opening presents. The resultant look of exasperation on his face could've stood on its own, but then Jalen began pacing back and forth through our living room like an expectant father -- or those lions at the zoo that spend every waking hour plotting to devour their captors.

Fortunately, Mrs. Bootleg wasn't far behind and Christmas could officially begin for Jalen.

Christmas Cards of Awesome -- Those of you who read my Twitter feed already know that there was a two-way tie for the most incredible AND inappropriate Christmas cards we received this year. The former vice-president of my department might have the
greatest family portrait ever captured on film. Meanwhile, the staff at physical therapy posed for their card...while in the middle of a group spa treatment.

Alcohol! Detection! -- Not since Christmas 1982, when my brother and I found an Atari 2600 under the tree, have I wanted to try out a gift more than the Digital Alcohol Detector that Mrs. Bootleg bought for me. According to the ad copy, all I have to do is exhale and it "screens for the presence of alcohol and estimates blood alcohol content in seconds". Two more points: (1) The unofficial record for fine print is shattered with all the "this is NOT a police issued/administered breathalyzer" liability-eliminating language. (2) The device can't even replicate the simple technology of my son's digital thermometer which maintains a record of the highest temperature registered in its memory. Pretty sure that feature alone would inadvertently make this device the single greatest drinking game of all time.

A Mother's Gift -- It was bad enough that Mrs. Bootleg put a raincoat for Jalen in a gift box and then gift wrapped it before presenting it to our son as a Christmas gift. But, she went the extra mile by reacting as if Jalen just opened a briefcase filled with hundred dollar bills: "Wow! It's a raincoat! Now, you can stay dry in the rain!!!" (For the record, I abhor when writers use more than one exclamation point at the end of a sentence. Here, though, it fits the enthusiasm exhibited.) Jalen's impeccably dry response ("Really, mom?") made my morning.

Quick Quiz -- What are the two junk foods you'd least expect to find in a Christmas stocking? Go ahead and blurt 'em out...the first two that come to mind. Now, would Raisinets and beef jerky be more or less expected than the two you chose? Why, yes, that IS what I filled Mrs. Bootleg's stocking with.

Like Father... -- I only asked for one gift this Christmas. One gift that I absolutely, positively HAD to have. And, of course, Mrs. Bootleg came through. She bought one for Jalen, too. Did my son and I wear our matching
Perry the Platypus "face" t-shirts up to Ontario for Christmas dinner at my mom's house? Bet your ass, we did.

"...But, Tonight, I'm Cleaning Out My Closet." -- When I moved to San Diego in 1995, I left a lot of my life in one of the spare bedrooms at my mom's house. For the first time in years, I sifted through some of my mid-90s memories and found a not-so-surprising amount of purple. I was really hoping to find either my $79 double-breasted purple suit (here's a
reasonable facsimile sported by Heavy D.) or my bright purple jean shorts. Instead, all I could dig up were my old pair of Colorado Rockies-esque Nikes and these horrible purple and earth tone "all-terrain" shoes.

Like Grandfather... -- I had a melancholy conversation with my grandfather just before dinner. He came from a time when men-folk didn't go on and on about their medical issues and for as long as I can remember, all of my inquiries about his health were met with a cheerful, if occasionally insincere, "fine!". On Christmas, the two of us talked just out of earshot of the dining room revelry. Long story short, he needs a cane and he's finally decided to surrender a little bit of his legs to Father Time. My grandfather looked me right in the eye and said, "Y'know, I've never felt old before. I am old, but I never felt old. Now, I feel old." He'll be 85-years-old next month. That makes me sad.

Dinner -- Jalen had never had prime rib before and his default response to an unfamiliar meat is to ask what animal it comes from. Honestly, prime rib and horseradish are like peanut butter and jelly for adults. After annihilating a beautiful, bloody cut, along with an assortment of sides and my mom's homemade bread, it was almost time to leave. I volunteered to take my grandfather back to Long Beach -- turning my 90 minute drive into a three-hour road trip back to San Diego. Whatever. But, we couldn't leave yet. Jalen just asked, "Can I have some more cow?"

That made me happy.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

2010 NFL Pickery -- Week #16 (Now with More Xmas!)

Last Week:

Aaron: 10-6
Joe: 10-6
Tom: 8-8


Joe: 146-78
Aaron: 138-86
Tom: 137-87

Carolina at Pittsburgh (Thursday)

Joe: In this long, crazy season of multiple concussions and sub-.500 division champions and cell-phone wieners, we can at least count on the Steelers to beat the Panthers at home, right? Pick: Pittsburgh

Aaron: Other things we can count on this Thursday night include a large, loud segment of the league's fanbase bitching about the unavailability of the NFL Network; a larger, louder segment of fans over-criticizing color commentators Matt Millen and Joe Theismann and one of said color commentators looking out over the snow-strewn 22-degree field before proudly shouting, "This is FOOTBALL weather!" Pick: Pittsburgh

Dallas at Arizona (Saturday)

Joe: I'm not sure what the objectives are for the rest of the Cowboys' season (help Jason Garrett keep his job? Try out players for next year?), but if they want to win out the rest of the season, they shouldn't look past Arizona, a terrible team who can be maddeningly fortunate at home. Or maybe it's just that the only team bad enough to lose to the Cards anymore is Denver. Pick: Dallas

Aaron: So, you're going to leave ME to make the obligatory Jerry Maguire reference? Mainstream cinema is now beneath you,
Jay Sherman? Fine. Fun fact -- the NFL footage used in the final scenes of Jerry Maguire were from a Cowboys vs. Cardinals contest that took place on December 25, 1995. In real life, Dallas won the game, but in the movie, Rod Tidwell led the Cards to victory. Y'know, people don't read us for incisive football analysis, Joe. Pick: Dallas

Baltimore at Cleveland

The Ravens only won by a touchdown -- at home -- when these two teams met earlier in the season. Baltimore RB Ray Rice was returned to the Ravens last week, after spending a few months with...umm... Damn. I really wish I knew enough about HBO's The Wire to make a hilarious reference before the show turns into a pop culture security blanket for lazy sportswriters. Pick: Baltimore

Joe: This game's personal Christmas carol: "White Christmas," because of our favorite quasi-racist talking point on the Browns: whitey RB Peyton Hillis. With Cleveland in perpetual "play up/down to the quality of our opponent" mode, I'd take the point spread in this game, but picking straight up, I say Baltimore holds tight. Pick: Baltimore

N.Y. Jets at Chicago

Aaron: The Bears will be motivated by a possible NFC second seed in the playoffs, which means at least one postseason home game and a first round bye. The Jets, on the other hand, need to win every game from now through the Super Bowl if they have any hopes of quashing the national media narrative on their head coach's personal life. (Honestly, I'd have been a LOT more surprised at that sentence on the Bears, if you showed it to me at the beginning of this season.) Pick: Chicago

Joe:"Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" -- Cam makes a really good point about the Bears -- a first round bye followed by a home game in the wintry confines of Is It Still Called Soldier Field(?) might give them decent (but still not great) Super Bowl odds. This game comes down to Mark Sanchez in cold weather (speaking of narratives the Jets would like to quash) versus the lingering image of how the AFC's finest treated the Bears. Pick: NY Jets

New England at Buffalo

Aaron: I can't think of a better belated Christmas gift for Joe than his beloved Bills upsetting the Patriots in his hometown of Buffalo. Of course, that's because I didn't get Joe sh*t for Christmas, except my annual family Christmas card. A Bills win can't be better than a picture of my family's festive faces. Pick: New England

Joe: "All I Want for Christmas Is You" -- In this case, "you" is "the Bills wiping that smug look off of Pats fans' faces." Alas, much like Mariah, my own pleas are doomed to go unanswered. (What? You seriously think she was thinking about Nick Cannon when she recorded that song? He was, like, eleven! Sick.) Pick: New England

San Francisco at St. Louis

49ers head coach Mike Singletary spent most of this week refusing to name his starting quarterback and insisting the tactic had nothing to do with gamesmanship. I know that words like "uppity" and "truculent" are, to an extent, Jim Crow archetypes, but damned if I can find more appropriate adjectives, y'all. Pick: St. Louis

Joe: "Hard Candy Christmas" -- The Rams aren't asking for much. Just to not be the first sub-.500 team to make the NFL playoffs. Pick: St. Louis

Detroit at Miami

Aaron: In his first year as a starter, Dolphins QB Chad Henne was a .500 quarterback in 2009. And, Miami fans are disappointed he didn't turn into Dan Marino in year two? All those Florida Marlins championships really spoiled the fanbase, no? Pick: Detroit

Joe: "Jingle Bell Rock" -- A Christmas song that always feels like it SHOULD be better than it actually is goes out to the Lions, a sleeper favorite of pretty much everyone's this year, even though they hadn't really been winning up until recently. Three in a row seems like a bit much, right? Pick: Miami

Tennessee at Kansas City

Aaron: My Raiders need a Chiefs loss here to keep their comatose playoff hopes alive. Kansas City is 6-0 at home and Tennessee is starting Kerry Collins, 60, at quarterback. Thanks, Titans. Pick: Kansas City

Joe: "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" -- The Chiefs, and head coach Todd Haley, have decided to quit playing their bullshit reindeer games with Jamaal Charles and actually let him lead the way for a change. This is a smart decision. Don't think either the Jets or the Ravens are at all happy at the thought of having to travel to Arrowhead for the playoffs. Pick: Kansas City

Washington at Jacksonville

Way too much is being made of Redskins QB Rex Grossman and his team's near-win in Dallas last week. The Jags aren't an intra-divisional foe playing with nothing to lose (or gain). Look it up, if you don't believe me. Pick: Jacksonville

Joe: "O Little Town of Bethlehem" -- Just like Bethlehem lost out to Jerusalem in the great Christ-worshipping sweepstakes, so Jacksonville may end up losing their NFL team to Los Angeles. But at least they'll also have choked the division away to the Colts too! Pick: Jacksonville

Indianapolis at Oakland

Aaron: Yes, the Colts STILL have Peyton Manning -- which is the way his name appears in every predictive broadcast or write-up. But, reputation and resume only get you so far. The Raiders have been living on theirs for the last 25 years. I can recognize the end when I see it. Pick: Oakland

Joe: "Silver Bells" -- It could be a very silver-and-black kind of a day if the Raiders decide to play spoiler. But are they truly ready to destroy anyone's season but San Diego's (and, okay, my own suicide pool, tangentially)? Pick: Indianapolis

Houston at Denver

Aaron: I caught a lot of Tim Tebow's performance against Oakland last week. He wasn't nearly the "unfixable" and rigid work-in-progress that I expected. I don't know what his ceiling is, but "beating a Texans team that's quit on its coach and is fighting on the field during games" is a reachable goal for the week. Pick: Denver

Joe: "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" -- Really, any of the Christmas songs about celebrating the birth of the savior would apply to Tim Tebow. But I know the Evolutionary Doug Flutie when I see him! Pick: Houston

San Diego at Cincinnati

Here in San Diego, the fans and media are collectively looking past the 3-11 Bengals. But, the Chargers have unexpectedly stubbed their toes on a few of their scheduled cupcakes and snow is in the forecast with predicted temperatures in the 20s. I'm picking with my heart. Pick: Cincinnati

Joe: "Do You Hear What I Hear?" -- It's Cam, picking with his heart bile against the Chargers. I can't respect the Bengals after watching the Bills carve up their secondary a month ago. Pick: San Diego

Seattle at Tampa Bay

By the lazy, alliterative standards of the sports media, this "Baby Bucs" nickname ranks second in annoyance only to that "Baby Bombers" Little League team from the Bronx several years ago. This blogger suggested "The Tampa Boy Buccaneers", but was shouted down at the press club. Pick: Seattle

Joe: "Do They Know It's Christmas?" -- Both because the Bucs are already playing for next year, and also because no, I still don't understand how Christmas feels like Christmas when it's all temperate and shit. Pick: Tampa Bay

N.Y. Giants at Green Bay

A pissed off and embarrassed Giants team is playing for their playoff lives. The recently concussed Aaron Rodgers has been cleared to play. Let's hope he and his family celebrated Christmas on December 25 and aren't doing one of those "why don't we wait until after the game" against the New York defense. Pick: NY Giants

Joe: "Frosty the Snowman" -- Frosty was fragile too, and it never sat well with me how rough the town's children played with him. He was made of snow! He had no bone or muscle structure! Anyway, godspeed Aaron Rodgers. Pick: NY Giants

Minnesota at Philadelphia

Aaron: I literally turned on last Monday night's game just as the chalk outline of Brett Favre was being drawn around his frozen corpse on the field. His motionless husk still looked more competent at quarterback than his back-up, Joe Webb. Pick: Philadelphia

Joe: "Jingle Bells" (
this version). Oh, come on. If Michael Vick gets to actually own a dog again (for the kids!), I at least get to keep needling him ever so gently for having callously maimed and murdered so many of them, right? Pick: Philadelphia

New Orleans at Atlanta

Aaron: The Falcons beat the Saints in overtime earlier this season in New Orleans. So, in this season of gift exchange... Pick: New Orleans

Joe: "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" -- If the Falcons can get past this one and wrap up the NFC, they're free to rest their starters next week. I'm not sure if that's still something we're supposed to get worked up about or not. Just in case, a pre-emptive "cram it" to anyone making the "obligation to your fans" argument. Pick: Atlanta

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

2010 Final A'ssessment: The Bullpen

Andrew Bailey -- (25 saves, 1.47 ERA)

2010 Grade: B+

The Good: Bailey made the American League All-Star team for the second straight season and followed up his 2009 Rookie of the Year award with another solid campaign. He didn't give up a run in his first 12 appearances (through May 8) and surrendered just three earned runs in his final 25 innings (June 10 through September 17) while striking out 27. Also, his commercials for the
MLB 2K10 video game had a surprisingly high re-watchability factor.

The Not-So-Good: Bailey missed time with an injury to his ribcage that sidelined him for a stretch just after the All-Star break. Not long after he returned from that ailment, a sore elbow ended his season a few weeks early. His strikeout rate took a not-insignificant dip from 9.8 per nine innings to 7.7. Most of Bailey's struggles here were confined to the first two months of the season when he was playing through a minor knee injury.

And, the rest…: In his first full season in Oakland, Craig Breslow made 75 appearances and struck out 71 in 74.2 innings with a 3.01 ERA. Sidearmer Brad Ziegler remains a bit of an overrated novelty. He's a nice guy who's adored by the local media and revered by fans who still celebrate his record-breaking rookie scoreless innings streak. He's also horrible versus left-handed hitters (.317/.468/.567, 17 walks and 5 Ks in 78 PAs).

Jerry Blevins posted a 3.70 ERA in 63 games and struck out 8.5 batters per nine innings. These solid numbers belie the imaginary gasoline can he carried to the mound all season. His 1.48 WHIP and mediocre home run rate are better indicators of his performance. After his career year out of the 'pen in 2009, Michael Wuertz missed the first month of 2010 with an arm injury that may or may not have been caused by overuse. His innings were conservatively managed and save for a 20-game stretch in midseason (June 23-August 17, 1.56 ERA, 20 Ks in 17.2 innings), he never seemed right.

Finally, Henry Rodriguez and his uncontrollable 101 mph fastball were traded to Washington just last week.

More Baseball Stables

Last week's post comparing the Philadelphia Phillies pitching rotation with professional wrestling's Four Horsemen was – for some reason – one of the more polarizing pieces I've written in four years on the lightly-read blog beat. Some of y'all liked it and some of y'all hated it.

I expected more of a "liked it"/"didn't get it" split. It's not that the "stupid", "retarded" and "you don't know what you're talking about" barbs hurt my feelings. It's that none of these people could see this inherently absurd subject matter in the same way I see it. Be more like me, jerks!

M'man Jon P. followed up on my "Ph-our Horsemen" post with a terrific e-mail that brought even more pitching staffs and pro wrestling stables together. I sent it around to some friends and thought it was absolutely worth sharing here:

I got to thinking about other factions which have their counterparts in the world of baseball. I came up with a few, although they aren't specified to a team's pitching staff. Even I have my limitations.

New York Yankees -- The Heenan Family: Admittedly, it worked better before this summer, but in the spirit...a continually threatening, scary-looking group backed by a rich loudmouth, whose games/matches can be a chore to watch. Only occasionally wins championship gold.

Boston Red Sox -- N.W.O.: After years of being #2 with a bullet, a massive push puts them on top for a time. Yet that passion/desperation allows what enabled them to win to eat the team alive. Also, backed by media of a sometimes questionable credibility.

Los Angeles Dodgers -- D-Generation X: Not talking the original, edgy D-X (Baseball, edgy? Good one.), but the recent retread. They provide some entertainment on a weekly basis, but rarely win the gold, and are legendary largely on their past.

This last one was tough, as I needed links with family, tragedy, and a short, yet intense fling with success. So I had to go a few years back.

Florida Marlins -- Hart Foundation: A large, non-American following,
familial connections, brief periods of major success, and a quick, sad decline due to an owner's choices, leaving a bad taste in the mouths of many fans.

So maybe there are more connections between the staid world of baseball and the wacky world of rasslin' than we thought. Now when do we set up the cage around home plate?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Five Days with the Black Amish

Two "behavior" calls in less than a week from my son's school. Teacher: "He's going thru a stage." Me: "I'm about to put him thru a wall." -- My Twitter response to Jalen's shenanigans.

My six-year-old son Jalen has spent about four months at his new school. It took him a few weeks to adjust, but today he sprints from my car to his classroom when I drop him off in the morning. After Mrs. Bootleg brings him home, he'll call me at work, beaming about the perfect score on his spelling test. And, I'm reasonably certain that Jalen has one of those adorable in-name-only "grade school" girlfriends.

Back in November, Mrs. Bootleg and I attended the first parent/teacher conference of the school year and it
couldn't have went better. Jalen was excelling in the classroom and monopolizing our dinner table conversation with playground tales of tag and soccer; before emptying his shoes of all the sand he unsuspectingly smuggled out of the school's sand box.

On Thursday, December 9, my wife called me at work to let me know she had spoken with Jalen's teacher. It seems Jalen didn't want to do his schoolwork that day. More specifically, Jalen hadn't finished all of his morning work before recess and he wouldn't be allowed outside until he did. In response to this innocuous requirement, Jalen initiated a small-scale academic strike.

I don't mean to trivialize J's inappropriate behavior -- and I'm glad it was brought to our attention -- but, my reaction was mostly mild annoyance. I was sure the situation could be resolved with one of my glares and two days of grounding. So, for the rest of Thursday and all day Friday, Jalen lost his assortment of privileges -- from our father/son baseball website visits to TV and Nintendo Wii.

On Saturday, December 11, Jalen's punishment was lifted. Coincidentally, this was the same day that ESPN premiered its phenomenal documentary
Pony Excess. For those who don't know, it's the story of the 1980s Southern Methodist University football program and their egregious repeat violations of college recruiting standards. SMU was infamously struck down with the "death penalty" -- an NCAA-mandated abolishment of football -- for continuing to break the rules after being caught (and punished) once before.

Just after lunch, on Monday, December 13, Mrs. Bootleg called me at work. Again. She let me know that Jalen's teacher had called. Again. I was already half-past pissed-off since I assumed it was another schoolwork issue. This time, however, the problem was on the playground.

Jalen's team lost at soccer. That was it.

And, Jalen didn't take the loss well.

His overemotional "sore loser" routine has become its own household tradition within the walls of Stately Bootleg Manor. So, imagine my pride when I discovered Jalen had taken his rage on the road. He even kicked it up a notch, as he slammed a gate closed out of frustration. When Mrs. Bootleg first explained the incident, she made it seem like Jalen had slammed the gate closed
on another boy's face. Thankfully, that wasn't the case, but for a few moments, I thought we'd be sued, too.

This time, Jalen lost his privileges through Friday -- which meant me and Mrs. Bootleg "lost" them, too, while Jalen was awake.

Tuesday, December 14 -- Mrs. Bootleg and I exchanged text messages the day before, while contemplating Jalen's punishment. We agreed on a week-long sentence, but between the two of us, we inexplicably failed to give Jalen the message. I mentioned it off-handedly to Jalen just before school and his resultant Lifetime Movie of the Week meltdown could've come straight from the mouth of Meredith Baxter. ("I just want my life back!")

Wednesday, December 15 -- Jalen is taking the loss of television, video games and the internet in stride. In fact, if anything, the removal of all that electronic noise has heightened my son's use of applied knowledge. This evening's lesson was apparently taught by his mother as Jalen proudly showed off his latest school project: age charts for me and Mrs. Bootleg. My chart read "40 years old". Oh, grow up, Jalen. Real mature.

Thursday, December 16 -- The segregation from his privileges continued with the help of basketball practice. Trust me, y'all...I'll be covering "Basketball Jalen" in greater detail, but I have to commend the league for bringing together a group of boys whose style of play is a throwback to those 1989-1990 Detroit Pistons teams that
negatively influenced the NBA for almost a decade. That's not sarcasm. Seriously, I can't wait!

Friday, December 17 -- Mrs. Bootleg was so pleased with Jalen's improved behavior that she's entertaining the idea of stronger restrictions when our son's time-wasting activities are returned. (Jalen -- if you're reading this -- and you learn nothing else from me for the next few years, remember
these five words. Teach them to your mother. Just between us, I really want my post-work beer(s), couch divot and DVR back.)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

2010 NFL Pickery -- Week #15

Last Week:

Joe: 11-5
Tom: 10-6
Aaron: 9-7


Joe: 136-72
Tom: 129-79
Aaron: 128-80

San Francisco at San Diego (Thursday)

Aaron: It's raining here in San Diego and by game time, the field at Qualcomm Stadium could be a marshy bog. I'd write more, but the half-inch of precipitation we've already received has me thinking I should leave work early to beat the traffic, y'all. Pick: San Diego

Joe: I hadn't actually looked at the Niners' schedule before predicting last week that they'd charge to an 8-8 division championship. Um. That's not going to happen. Pick: San Diego

Washington at Dallas

At week's end, the disproven rumors of Morgan Freeman's death are still more believable than the news that Rex Grossman will start for the Redskins at quarterback on Sunday. Pick: Dallas

Joe: So nice of Mike Shanahan and the Redskins to have thrown in the towel on the season just as I need them to beat the Redskins for Legitimate Reasons. Pick: Dallas

Buffalo at Miami

Aaron: The Dolphins' abysmal 1-5 home record is due in no small part to the number of good teams they've played in Miami this season. The Bills aren't good, but this is their second look at the Dolphins. And, using the "fool me once, shame on you..." rule... Pick: Buffalo

Joe: You'd think I would have much reason for optimism, but this is smelling like one of those "250 combined rushing yards from Williams and Brown" kind of laughers that remind you that the Bills are still pretty far away from being truly competitive. Pick: Miami

New Orleans at Baltimore

Aaron: WAY too much is being made of the Ravens' second half collapse against a strong Texans offense... in Houston and under a roof. The Saints haven't played well on the road in cold climates and -- unless I'm misreading the match-up --- this game is both of those things. Pick: Baltimore

Joe: This will be a good barometer of where the Saints are after sneakily sliding their way into the second-best record in the league. The Ravens have not looked especially impressive against the better teams in the league -- though it's worth noting that while they're 3-3 against teams in playoff contention, they've won all three by a combined 11 points AND lost the other three by a combined 11 point. Not sure what that means, but: statistics! Pick: Baltimore

Arizona at Carolina

Aaron: If the 1-12 Panthers were instead 0-13 everyone would be picking them to upset a mediocre Cardinals team here. Thankfully, the Panthers have their one face-saving win and "pride" left this franchise three or four quarterback changes ago. Pick: Arizona

Joe: Actually, the Panthers have quietly established a pretty successful running game over the last month or so, with Jonathan Stewart finally waking up and Mike Goodson proving to be a nice surprise. It was never going to be enough against teams like Atlanta and Baltimore, but at home against the Cards? It'll do. Pick: Carolina

Jacksonville at Indianapolis

Aaron: If the Colts lose, they could miss the playoffs for the first time since 2001. The Jaguars would then be in a position to win the AFC South and host a sure-to-be locally blacked out playoff game. The most prevalent position for picking the Colts is "Peyton Manning WON'T lose a must-win game at home in December". Keep right on believing that. Pick: Jacksonville

Joe: Look, at this point I've picked my horse. Plus, have the Jags beaten any good teams on the road this season? Answer: no. No they haven't. Pick: Indianapolis

Cleveland at Cincinnati

It's becoming increasingly apparent that, like a horror movie monster, Bengals QB Carson Palmer cannot be killed. The current narrative is that he just needs a" change of scenery". When did the equivalent of "I just need some space" become an acceptable sports excuse? Pick: Cleveland

Joe: Ah, the annual Ugly Orange Battle for Ohio. Cleveland is legitimately the better team, but they certainly manage to play down (or up) to the level of their opponent. Not much further down than Cincinnati. Pick: Cleveland

Houston at Tennessee

Aaron: I've learned a valuable lesson from this NFL season -- that whole "pick the team that fields the best player" rationale is a load of hooey when Chris Johnson and the 2010 Tennessee Titans are involved. Bet accordingly, kids. Pick: Houston

Joe: As last week's game against the Ravens proved conclusively, the Texans will play just well enough to barely lose. Also, speaking as someone who rode Arian Foster to a regular season fantasy championship followed by a first-round playoff exit, I can say that if Houston had actually given him the ball to start off that drive in overtime, they may or may not have won, but they wouldn't have thrown that damned pick-six to lose it, that's for sure. Jerks. Pick: Tennessee

Detroit at Tampa Bay

The Bucs beat bad teams. The Lions are bad. Got it. After this, though, Tampa Bay is home to Seattle and on the road against a Saints team that'll almost certainly be resting several starters.
Is an 11-win season within reason? Or, might this week be a trap game for the young Buccaneers? Maybe! Pick: Tampa Bay

Joe: Oh, no fair baiting me with that trap game nonsense. If you're in the mood for fantastical hooey, how about noting that just when it seemed like the Redskins were going to flout the "Bucs beat bad teams" wisdom, the football gods botched their extra point. Not THAT's some magical realism I can get behind! Pick: Tampa Bay

Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants

Aaron: Remember that scene in The Empire Strikes Back when C-3PO is blown apart and Chewbacca spends the next several scenes carrying the droid's assorted robotic body parts in a backpack? Welcome to your nightmarish cinematic analogy, Michael Vick. Pick: NY Giants

Joe: So when do Giants fans get to legitimately complain about being the overlooked Best Football Team in New York (That Plays in New Jersey)? It's now, right? Pick: NY Giants

Kansas City at St. Louis

Yes, the Chiefs' quarterback situation is a choice between one guy who underwent a recent appendectomy and another whose incompetence is well-established. But, the Rams have beaten just one respectable team this year (San Diego in week six) and haven't faced anyone as desperate for a win as this Kansas City squad. Pick: Kansas City

Joe: Bizarrely enough, Cassel's random injury seems to have taken all the wind out of the Chiefs' sails. Meanwhile, St. Louis is still in prime position to win the Division 1-AA championship. Pick: St. Louis

Atlanta at Seattle

Aaron: The Falcons have held on to the NFC's unofficial "best team" title for longer than most others this season. If they were putting that title on the line here, the Seahawks would be...oh, let's see. They're better than Glass Joe of Mike Tyson's Punch-Out fame, but not nearly as imposing as Piston Honda. Let's split the difference and call 'em Von Kaiser. Cool? Pick: Atlanta

Joe: As a fan of Don Flamenco, I find your snub sickening. Pick: Atlanta

Denver at Oakland

The news out of Oakland is that this game won't be on local TV since it's not a sellout. Not surprisingly, Raiders fans are getting bashed by the usual suspects: (1) media personalities who haven't paid to see a sporting event in years and (2) real football fans from all across the country who also aren't paying to see the Raiders on Sunday. Pick: Oakland

Joe: Well, really. Who is going to brave the sub-zero temperatures and the constant snowfall just so ... oh, 55 degrees? Well it's not like they've got anything to ... oh, two games out of first place in the division and they hold all the tie-breakers? Well, it's not like Raiders fans had all that great of a reputation to begin with. Pick: Oakland

N.Y. Jets at Pittsburgh

Aaron: While the recent play of the Jets has been breathlessly over-reported, has anyone noticed that the Steelers offense hasn't exactly been blowin' up scoreboards? They couldn't crack 20 against the Bills, they struggled against a tough Ravens defense and the godawful Bengals kept Pittsburgh out of the end zone all game. Prove America wrong, Mark Sanchez. Pick: NY Jets

Joe: I'd love for the Jets to pull it together as much as anybody (Rex Ryan is awful, but I've become attuned to petty, knee-jerk anti-New York sentiment when I hear it), but on the road in Pittsburgh has never been anybody's get-well prescription. Pick: Pittsburgh

Green Bay at New England

Aaron: The Packers defense will be up for the nationally-televised challenge, but without QB Aaron Rodgers at 100%, there's no way the Patriots lose at home. Knowing this, I won't have to waste my late Sunday afternoon/early evening rooting for a result that can't possibly happen. Pick: New England

Joe: Yeah, much like the rest of the NFL, I have decided to cede the rest of the regular season to the Patriots. They can't be beat! It's foolishness to even try! Best team of the millennium! Pick: New England

Chicago at Minnesota

Well, the visual of an NFL game outdoors in Minnesota -- in December! -- should make for some novelty viewing. Kind of like those wintry nature videos. And, then BAM! Sarah Palin kills the caribou. Sorry, Vikings. Pick: Chicago

Joe: Let's everybody pause for a moment and think about how fortunate we are that the Favre injury has kept the sports media from trotting out Minnesota's weather-mandated displacement as yet another excuse for the Gunslinger's shortcomings. There's a cold-weather/tiny-penis joke in there somewhere, but we all know he's not worth it. Pick: Chicago

The Four Ph-our Horsemen?

Today Yesterday just so happened to be the four-year anniversary of my lightly-read blog.

Don't worry...this isn't another "thanks for reading"
hostage video. I did, however, want to once again express my appreciation to everyone who takes time out of their day to check in with the never-ending adventures of Jalen, Mrs. Bootleg and me. I also want to thank y'all for tolerating the occasional post that you might not give a damn about.

This...is almost certainly one of those posts. Or, maybe it isn't. Either way, I won't be offended if you'd rather spend some time checking out my archives. I mean, there is FOUR YEARS of free material at your fingertips. Meanwhile, this post will attempt to bridge nearly a quarter-century. The subjects: baseball starting pitching and old school professional wrestling. Hey, I warned you.

It all began with m'man Sam -- one of my favorite TBG readers and committed Philadelphia sports fan. Since his beloved Phillies shocked the industry by signing the number one free agent on the market -- starting pitcher Cliff Lee -- Sam hasn't stopped smiling. In fact, he posted the following to my Twitter feed:

"I'm trying to decide if I like 'R2C2' or 'The Four Horsemen' better as the [Phillies'] new rotation nickname."

It took about R2C2 seconds for me to loathe the Star Wars play-on-words based on the first letter of the first names of the top four pitchers in Philadelphia's rotation (Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee). As for "The Four Horsemen"...this had potential. Via Twitter, I express my preference to Sam:

"You know which one I prefer. Someone stitch Halladay a Ric Flair robe/Phillies warm-up jacket immediately."

OK...for those of you who didn't heed my warning above, a brief history lesson: There were the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse who you all some of you might remember from the New Testament. There were the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame who comprised the backfield of the 1924 Fighting Irish. And, there were hip hop's Four Horsemen (Ras Kass, Kurupt, Killah Priest and Canibus) who released an album. Once.

There was a group of professional wrestlers in the mid-to-late 1980s who formed under the "Four Horseman" moniker. Quite frankly, this quartet is the closest match to the Philadelphia Phillies' foursome. After all, comparing Cole Hamels to "Famine" or "Death" is just mean and likening Cliff Lee to Kurupt or Killah Priest makes NO sense. Let's do this.

Roy Halladay -- Sam and I initially disagreed on this, but I will not budge. Roy Halladay is
Ric Flair. The similarities are glaringly obvious. Like Flair, Halladay is recognized as the most accomplished athlete sports-entertainer in his field. He threw 42 more innings and seven more complete games than any other starting pitcher on the Phillies' staff. In pro wrestling parlance, Halladay is the embodiment of Broadway. While Halladay doesn't have Flair championship pedigree, his 2010 regular season perfect game and postseason no-hitter is just as shiny as any big gold belt.

Roy Oswalt -- Acquired at the trade deadline from the Houston Astros, maybe Oswalt is more "mercenary" than "enforcer", but the
Arn Anderson comparison still stands. Oswalt went 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA down the stretch for the Phillies, but might be most remembered for coming in to pitch the ninth inning -- on the road, on two days rest -- in game four of the NLCS. Oswalt took the loss in front of a raucous San Francisco crowd, but for the single most intense moment of that series, the Phillies called on Oswalt. Yup, he's Arn.

Cole Hamels -- Honestly, this one's a lay-up. Check out any Tully Blanchard promo from 25 years ago and tell me it isn't "Cole Hamels v1.0". After Hamels was named World Series MVP in 2008, his face spent much of the next calendar year on my TV screen. Maybe he was selling
authentic baseball apparel or showing off his Barbie doll wife, but Hamels is a worthy successor to the original World Television Champion. In fact, here's the lovely couple from WAY back in the day! Or is it?

Cliff Lee -- The newest member of the Horsemen, Cliff Lee is
Barry Windham. Over the past few seasons, Lee has positioned himself to win a world championship. While he's pitched well in the spotlight and earned critical praise for his postseason performances, Lee has fallen short of the gold. His decision to sign with the Phillies this week was as surprising -- in storyline terms -- as Windham's defection to the Horsemen and, similarly, Lee joined at the expense of his relationship with a second-tier championship team.

Now, since Sam inspired this post, he should have the last word:

"We're in agreement that CC Sabathia is Dusty Rhodes, right?"

Monday, December 13, 2010

TBG Beats: "Kush", The Video -- Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Dogg and Akon

Some of the below videos may be NSFW, y'all.

Last month, Dr. Dre's "Kush" leaked online. Ever the front-running opportunist, I immediately
posted a review. As noted in my write-up, Dr. Dre seemed uncomfortable with the buzz this track had generated and -- in subsequent interviews -- halfheartedly distanced himself from his latest supersonic chronic anthem.

Dre's attempt at subterfuge-by-separation gave Interscope Records all the time they needed to measure the temperature in the room. And, it didn't take long for all parties involved to realize they had a hit on their hands. The big-budget music video premiered late last week.

A-list music video director Joseph Kahn successfully uses the stop-motion effects and sparse lighting to create a glossy, yet intentionally underdeveloped snapshot of one night in Los Angeles. The viewer will squint, scan and rewind in a futile attempt to single out every bit of amusing imagery that's built into the background.

I refuse to believe Kahn wasn't at least somewhat influenced by the excellent Eminem/Dr. Dre "Guilty Conscience" video. The stop-motion worked better as a storytelling device here, but then again, I'm partial to anything with an appropriately out-of-place Robert Culp cameo.

The dimly-lit sets on "Kush" reminded me of Dr. Dre's explicitly suggestive "The Next Episode" video. This one's grimier than "Kush", though. At the time of its 1999/2000 release, Dre was fervently attempting to reintroduce himself as a street-credible rapper after disavowing gangsta rap posturing several years earlier.

The video for "Kush" is terrific and shows that Dr. Dre has come a LONG way from the days when he shot "club" videos inside old storage units and tried to squeeze five full-grown men into a tiny booth.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

TBG Beats: Snoop Dogg -- "Wet"

M'man "NY Jon" dropped me a line last Friday:

Have you heard Snoop Dogg's latest single? What's the bigger surprise: that Snoop revisited his own atrocious Sensual Seduction sound or that "Wet" is actually WORSE than "Sensual Seduction"???

I had the same initial reaction after giving "Wet" a few listens...until I stumbled across an even bigger surprise: "Sensual Seduction" peaked at number SEVEN on the Billboard charts. During almost 20 years in the industry, Snoop Dogg has released five solo singles that cracked the top ten and "Sensual Seduction" was one of them. Sexual Chocolate! Sensual Seduction!

It was nominated for a GRAMMY!

So, it's not all that surprising to see Snoop Dogg reboot the ol'
Auto-Tune one more time.

In fact, looking back over Snoop's catalog, he regularly repeats himself when he finds a formula that works. After moving nearly 10 million units between Dr. Dre's The Chronic and the seminal Doggystyle -- leaning heavily on old school influences -- the first single off of 1996's Tha Doggfather was
Snoop's Upside Ya Head (one of the few tracks on the album that stayed true to Snoop's g-funk roots).

In 1998, Snoop's first single on Master P's No Limit label was
Still a G-Thang -- the flaccid sequel to his classic "Nuthin' But a G-Thang". Later, from 2002-2006, Snoop released three studio solo albums and, on each one, Pharrell Williams produced the lead single (From Tha Chuuuch to Tha Palace, Drop It Like It's Hot and Vato).

And, I'm not sure "Wet" is actually worse than "Sensual Seduction".

It's obviously not for those of us who stood in line outside VIP Records in Long Beach to pick up Snoop Dogg's debut release in November 1993. But, Snoop seems to know his (new) audience and their love for simplistic lyricism ("...drip, drip, drip...drip for me mami..."). I can tune out the vocals long enough to appreciate the minimalist beat from The Cataracs -- an up-and-coming duo originally from Berkeley, California.

I don't know if "Wet" will be Snoop Dogg's sixth entry into Billboard's top ten, but it'll be bumpin' in every strip club in the country by Christmas.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

2010 NFL Pickery -- Week #14

Last Week:

Aaron: 12-4
Tom: 12-4
Joe: 9-7


Joe: 125-67
Aaron: 119-73
Tom: 119-73

Indianapolis at Tennessee (Thursday)

Aaron: For those scoring at home, the "maybe Peyton Manning is playing hurt" retroactive excuse made it's mainstream media debut this week. And, a full six months ahead of all the 2011 fantasy football guides that'll install him as a top three QB selection with an identical rationale. I stuck with Manning all year - even as he drifted farther downstream - all while reassuring myself, "He's still good! He's still good!" Never again. Pick: Indianapolis

Joe: Not to be the Manning apologist that I totally am, but we're not going to lay big, huge chunks of the blame for the Colts season on their nonexistant running game? Like, single-digit yardage totals, we're talking about. This needed to be a priority for about three years now, and is hasn't been, and now here we are. Letting the New England Patriots re-establish AFC dominance. Bill Polian, what happened to you?? Pick: Indianapolis

Cleveland at Buffalo

Aaron: Assuming the season starts on time, I'm not sure which 2011 preseason narrative I'm least looking forward to: (1) The Browns as the chic "sleeper" Super Bowl pick, as everyone conveniently forgets the 2007-08 Cleveland seasons. Or, (2) Peyton Hillis awkwardly hyped as the first white running back to be the consensus first pick in the history of fantasy football. Boy, I hope ESPN has the resources to cover these stories from every angle! Pick: Cleveland

Joe: It's too bad this is such a meaningless game in the overall scheme of things, because I'd love to see it. Snow football in Buffalo! So pretty! Anyway, I have a weird feeling the Bills will pull this out, even though Steve Johnson appears to be following the head-case path I worried about last week. Pick: Buffalo

Green Bay at Detroit

Aaron: Continuing my admittedly d-bag fantasy football tactic from last week, I plucked Packers rookie RB James Starks off the waiver wire just so one of the playoff teams in my league couldn't benefit from him. This was not nearly as offensive as Lions QB Drew Stanton unleashing
The Dougie on a regional viewing audience, y'all. Pick: Green Bay

Joe: Sorry, Detroit. I'm done with you for the year. Pick: Green Bay

Tampa Bay at Washington

So, the Bucs have definitively established that they can beat bad teams, but not good teams. The Redskins aren't good, but the forecast is calling for rain on Sunday with temperatures in the 40s. Will Mother Nature be the difference-maker? I dunno, but for those wondering, it's supposed to be 88 and sunny here in San Diego on Sunday. If this game were here, I'd pick Tampa Bay. Pick: Washington

Joe: Damn it, Cam. Taking my upset pick before I can claim it. Ah well, maybe I'll roll with Tampa. Washington can't seem to defend the pass, this could be a Josh Freeman bonanza day, rain or no rain. Pick: Tampa Bay

Oakland at Jacksonville

Last week's upset victory in San Diego might've been my favorite Raiders win in almost 10 years. It wasn't so much who they beat (yes, it was) as it was their game plan. Oakland (5-6) played with a level of urgency and energy -- going for it on 4 and 1, naked bootlegs(!) and some soo-POIB play-action sleight-of-hand -- that the 6-5 Chargers inexplicably lacked. This reeks of a letdown game vs. the resurgent Jags, but I'm still on a residual high from last week. Pick: Jacksonville

Joe: I'm starting to wonder if my longstanding hatred of the Jags has blinded me to the fact that they're halfway decent. A horrible bet in the playoffs, sure, but probably a team I should pick once or twice. Pick: Jacksonville

Atlanta at Carolina

It's looking less and less likely that the Falcons will have to play outdoors when the playoffs start next month. If home-field advantage does lead to a Super Bowl berth for Atlanta, what'll be the over/under (in minutes) on the length of the inevitable sepia-filtered, tear-filled pregame feature that looks back on Eugene Robinson's ill-advised
to-go order prior to the last Falcons Super Bowl appearance? Pick: Atlanta

Joe: Atlanta is heavily favored for a reason, BUT this game could be dangerous. Late-season road games against inferior intra-division opponents are super dangerous, particularly when certain QBs don't seem to perform as well on the road. Pick: Atlanta

N.Y. Giants at Minnesota

Brett Favre vs. the Giants' defense. I imagine the postgame footage of Favre in the trainers' room will look a little something
like this. Pick: NY Giants

Joe: Beware, Giants. These nothing-to-lose Vikings will be all over your asses. I know I underestimated the Giants last week, and maybe they're officially righted their ship, but I'm thinking they've got one more late-season stinker left in them. Pick: Minnesota

Cincinnati at Pittsburgh

Aaron: The Bengals have lost nine in a row with seven of those setbacks by a margin of eight points or less. God bless 'em, but Cincinnati might be the most endearingly
stupid football team since Scott Bakula, Sinbad and Kathy Ireland made us laugh in Necessary Roughness. Not to be confused with the Death Row Records release of the same name. Huh...I never noticed the similarities between Sinbad and The Lady of Rage before. Pick: Pittsburgh

Joe: And if you're still reading after clicking away to all those links, I'll just say that Pittsburgh should take care of this one easily. Pick: Pittsburgh

St. Louis at New Orleans

Aaron: Their nine wins haven't always been pretty, but the Saints should hold serve at home against a rookie quarterback and a Rams team that is averaging just under 20 points per game on the season. New Orleans has put up 30+ points in four straight games. Numbers don't lie...unless it's the
announced weight of a professional wrestler. Pick: New Orleans

Joe: The more weeks go by, the more running backs who return to the Saints' active roster. Couple more weeks and we'll see if Dalton Hilliard can help them out for the playoffs. (Yes, I thought "Iron Head" Heyward was too obvious a reference, Zest commercial or no.) Pick: New Orleans

Seattle at San Francisco

Anyone else notice how big the cross worn around the neck of 49ers head coach Mike Singletary has gotten? I think it's safe to say that he's adequately protected himself from
Fat Tony and his goons whether they plan to take him out gangland-style or execution-style. Ironic, though, that the cross won't protect him from the unemployment line in roughly four weeks. Pick: Seattle

Joe: Now that the NFL seems to be so into making up new rules all willy nilly (18 game schedules! No tackling with your arms, legs, or body!), which proposed rule makes more sense: Everyone's theory that a 7-9 division champ shouldn't be eligible for the playoffs; or my theory that San Francisco should be able to exercise eminent domain on that Stanford QB and resurrect their franchise? Pick: Seattle

Kansas City at San Diego

Aaron: If the Chargers win AND the Raiders win, then Kansas City will hold a one game lead over Oakland with three games to play. If the Chargers lose, San Diego will be three games back with three to play and, for all intents and purposes, eliminated from the playoff race. This, my friends, is the quintessential win-win scenario for an unabashed Chargers-hater like me. Still, I'm obligated to root for San Diego here...if only to keep the Chiefs within reach. Pick: San Diego

Joe: That is a lot to consider (not to mention how cute it is that the Raiders are in "playoff contention"). I'm just hoping for a 100-total-points fantasy bonanza for my friends Phil Rivers and Jamaal Charles. That's all. Pick: San Diego

New England at Chicago

Aaron: The notion (floated by a certain New England-by-way-of-LA internet columnist) that this current Pats team is playing at a higher level than the 2007 squad that went undefeated in the regular season is laughably absurd. The notion that the Bears can win this game is almost as absurd. Pick: New England

Joe: Really? No chance the Bears can ugly this one up enough for a cheap win? Oh, fine. I'm done handing you games by picking against Destiny's Pats. Pick: New England

Miami at N.Y. Jets

Aaron: Just so I'm clear: according to this week's sports media narrative, the Jets' humiliating loss to New England last Monday night proves that New York is a fraudulent contender? Did the Jets beatdown of New England in week two not happen? Are future Biff Tannen and that damned sports almanac to blame? Pick: NY Jets

Joe: Look for an overly exuberant Rex Ryan to do everything short of taking a sh*t on the Dolphins logo at mid-field when the Jets win this one by 6 points. Pick: NY Jets

Denver at Arizona

The Broncos fired head coach Josh McDaniels earlier in the week. McDaniels was blamed for alienating players, fans and the media, but let's not gloss over the real reason for his failure: NFL head coaches should be named "Tom" or "Chuck" or "Bill" or "Vince". These are names that command respect. To me, "Josh" is synonymous with 8-10 kids answering "here" in second-grade homeroom when the teacher called role. Pick: Denver

Joe: I think Arizona is starting a rookie at QB this week. It's tough to tell, since any QB that attempts to take over from Derek Anderson either gets injured or cut or shunned for being a party boy. Maybe Derek was laughing on the sideline because he's so good at voodoo! Pick: Denver

Philadelphia at Dallas

If Cowboys WR Roy Williams hadn't gift-wrapped Dallas' loss to the Saints on Thanksgiving Day, the 'Boys would be undefeated since firing head coach Wade Phillips. Consequently, a lot more people would be showing some faith in Dallas here. I think. Pick: Dallas

Joe: Why sure! I will pick an offensive juggernaut against a team who can't seem to stop the ball when they need to! Pick: Philadelphia

Baltimore at Houston

Aaron: I've thoroughly enjoyed the third straight year of Houston's "kick ass in September" tease to Texans fans and prognosticators alike. It's time to send Houston into hibernation for the winter, Ravens D. Pick: Baltimore

Joe: The Texans officially lost me last week when they couldn't sustain their second-half comeback against Philly. Some of us could have used that win for completely legitimate purposes, Houston! Pick: Baltimore

Monday, December 6, 2010

TBG TV: FOX Animation Domination – 11/21 and 11/28/2010

Sunday's Rankings (5, 3, 2, 1 scoring)

(1) The Simpsons -- "How Munched is That Birdie in the Window?": Hard to believe that an episode centered around the family dog could not only win the week, but shine as one of the better efforts of the season...yet, here we are. Despite the obvious callbacks to previous "Santa's Little Helper" stories (the premise here is loosely tied to season two's
Bart's Dog Gets an F, while the ending paralleled season three's Dog of Death) this was still a nice little spin on the "boy and his dog" yarn. A cameo by racecar cheesecake Danica Patrick -- who has quietly passed Anna Kournikova in the "what has she ever won?" conundrum -- is wasted, however. And, don't think I didn't notice that Lisa's description of pigeons was lifted verbatim from Bob Uecker in Major League II. Come ON, writers!

(2) The Cleveland Show -- "Another Bad Thanksgiving": In a mild upset, an episode that lifts its title from the
music of my youth AND features a voiceover cameo from m'girl Niecy Nash falls short of the top spot. Donna's ostentatious showoff sister (Nash) gets some laughs, but the primary storyline involves one of the two-dimensional (oh, you know what I mean) background characters. Consequently, I stopped caring about eight minutes in.

(3) American Dad! -- "There Will Be Bad Blood": Credit where it's due -- this show does put in the effort to keep a modicum of continuity. Hayley's season-long "estranged, eloping daughter" storyline is paid off and there's an extensive follow-up to a past throwaway line involving Stan's half-brother. The half-brother bit has been done much, MUCH better
by others, so let's not hold that against them. But, all the done-to-death Native American gags here? Let's agree to hold that against them.

Lines of the Night

"Lay off Detroit. Them people is living in 'Mad Max' times." – The Simpsons

"I bought it because Catherine Zeta Jones told me to. What a fool I was." – The Simpsons

"Marriage means something to Holt. He's not a late-night host or the Governor of South Carolina or the world's greatest golfer." -- The Cleveland Show


(1) Family Guy -- "Brian Writes a Bestseller": The Brian-and-Stewie episodes are usually watchable and this one was surprisingly strong. The running joke about Brian's laughably awful novel is revisited, but this time the upright dog pens a successful self-help book. Really glad the writers have moved away from the unfunny "ambiguously gay Stewie" and slid him back into the more realistic "baby who talks (but, is only understood by a few characters) and does grown-up things". And, I'm in the minority on this, but I liked the Bill Maher segment. Yes, it ran on too long, but it's FAR from the
worst TV show to appear within another TV show or movie scene.

(2) The Simpsons -- "The Fool Monty": Every few seasons, Montgomery Burns loses everything and then gets it all back in around 22 minutes. I enjoyed the wink-nod "It's been done" line in the climactic scene, but the same could've been said for the entire episode. Mr. Burns runs over the townspeople?
Check. Mr. Burns has a bunch of diseases? Check. Mr. Burns isn't of sound mind? Check.

(3) The Cleveland Show -- "Fat and Wet": I suppose there are two ways to receive this episode. It was either a lazy, uninspired succession of fat jokes or it was a means of getting ALL the fat jokes out of the way, so the writers could move on to less obvious and more intelligent comedy for the remainder of the season. You make the call. And, for what it's worth, the heavyset safe haven used here couldn't have been more inappropriate. Did you know that Milwaukee, Wisconsin placed 11th amongst the fittest cities in America? Hey, a
magazine said so.

(4) American Dad! -- "White Rice": This show works best with family patriarch Stan playing the oblivious, boorish boob or the alien Roger spinning one of his over-the-top manipulative schemes. It doesn't work as well when the focus is on the Stan/Francine relationship. Both characters are unapologetically superficial, so it's hard to see their marriage as anything more than a repetitive punchline. It's revealed here that Stan's been using a hypnotist to repress Francine's memories for 20 years. Of course, she inevitably remembers everything, leaves Stan and tries her hand at stand-up comedy. Yup.

Lines of the Night

"FOX News: Not Racist, but Number One with Racists!" – The Simpsons

"Who says swimming pools need to be in the ground...or look nice?" – The Cleveland Show

"I should've done this before the plunger." -- The Cleveland Show

"Writing is the only thing that gives your alcoholism any credibility!" – Family Guy

"You have 'talent herpes'. I have 'regular herpes'. Thank YOU, Mindy Cohn." -- American Dad!

Current Standings

Family Guy -- 22
The Cleveland Show -- 21
The Simpsons -- 18
American Dad! -- 14

Thursday, December 2, 2010

2010 NFL Pickery -- Week #13

Last Week:

Joe: 11-5
Tom: 10-6
Aaron: 9-7


Joe: 116-60
Aaron: 107-69
Tom: 107-69

Houston at Philadelphia (Thursday)

Aaron: We have a new nominee for least convincing sports conspiracy theory of the year. In the past few days, there has been a simmering media narrative that would lead us to believe the NFL did not suspend Houston WR Andre Johnson for his role in an unseemly on-field fight last Sunday because he is a marquee player who'll be featured in a nationally televised prime time NFL Network game this week. THE Andre Johnson. Can't bring in the casual NFL fans without him. Pick: Philadelphia

Joe: Also WHAT casual viewer? I don't know if I mentioned this before, but half the football fans in America don't get NFL network. Anyway, everybody expects Philly to rebound against Houston, and on the merits I guess I do too (Michael Vick versus the awful Houston D after all). But Andy Reid Eagles teams are streaky. They lose when they're on top of the world and they only start winning again when they're being counted out. That'd take at least another loss. But ... I can't do it. Home game, short week, bad defense -- too much tips in Philly's favor. Pick: Philadelphia

Chicago at Detroit

Despite decades and decades of evidence to the contrary, there are still several widely-read, highly-paid sports "experts" who believe professional athletes never evolve. A-Rod will always be a postseason choker. Peyton Manning and John Elway will never win the big one. Pfft…idiots. There is only ONE absolute among pro athletes: Jay Cutler. And I, for one, cannot wait to bet against him when/if the Bears are 7+ point home favorites in the playoffs. Pick: Chicago

Joe: Why wait till then? I know, I'm back to my foolish faith in the Lions, but they ARE better this year, and they ARE at home, and they essentially won this game in Week 1 and ... ugh, I can't feel good about this one with Drew Stanton at QB. Pick: Chicago

New Orleans at Cincinnati

Aaron: Less relevant -- the Bengals' Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco wide receiving corps or Drew Brees' "Sportsman of the Year" award...from Sports Illustrated? Pick: New Orleans

Joe: You have to like the Saints' position right now: steadily getting healthier and looking better while nestled comfortably behind the Falcons where nobody is talking about them. Pick: New Orleans

Jacksonville at Tennessee

Aaron: Yes, yes, we've all heard the "…when Kerry Collins is an upgrade…" derisiveness that's been making the rounds in the sports media this week. The Jaguars are the chic pick, but even if you don't believe Jacksonville's due for another December collapse, believe this: Titans RB Chris Johnson won't finish an entire game with just five yards rushing, again. Pick: Tennessee

Joe: Ah, the bland, uninspiring middle of the AFC. These games have become increasingly impossible to predict, but all the marginal advantages (home field, best player, best defense) go to the Titans. Perversely, they could end up tied for first place after this week. Pick: Tennessee

Washington at N.Y. Giants

Aaron: So confused. The Giants are clearly the better team, but does talent always win out in these NFC East intra-division battles? The Giants are at home, but the Redskins have won two or three road games that no one expected them to win this season. My "Chris Berman Caricature Kit" suggests I end with…"that's why they play the games". Pick: NY Giants

Joe: Yeah, much as I enjoy the Giants, I'm not sure that 2nd-half salvage job against the Jags last week signals that the Giants have halted another downward spiral. The Redskins tend to stick around to be a gnat at the ass of the NFC East even when you'd like to count them out. Pick: Washington

Buffalo at Minnesota

Aaron: The desperate, seven-loss Vikings should pull one out against a feisty Bills team. Call it "Favre's Last Stand" because next week Minnesota plays the Giants. In seven days, we could witness the most welcome death scene since Tyra Banks delighted audiences with her hackneyed demise at the end of Higher Learning. Pick: Minnesota

Joe: So on the subject of Steve Johnson's angry tweet against God: 1) It's about time that, after years of getting thanked for every Grammy award, stolen base, and found pair of car keys in the universe, God's getting his share of the blame as well; however, 2) Wide receivers are mercurial, maddening, ego monsters whose psyches rest on a fragile thread, and my worry, as a Bills fan, is that last week turned Stevie from an up-and-coming monster WR, emblematic of a feisty bunch of can-do losers in Buffalo, to a drop-prone head case. Prove me wrong, Stevie! Prove me wrong! Pick: Minnesota

San Francisco at Green Bay

Aaron: I've already been eliminated from playoff contention in my non-money fantasy league. Consequently, I've angered the remaining contenders by spitefully cherry-picking the waiver wire and purposely stashing away the few reasonably productive players who weren't yet on a roster. Welcome to my fantasy scout team, Brian Westbrook. Pick: Green Bay

Joe: Oh man, can I bore you with my story of Frank Gore's season-ending injury threatening to ruin my best fantasy season in history? I managed to leap all over Westbrook, at least, but between Gore and Hakeem Nicks, this is shaping up to be the greatest tragedy in the history of professional sports. Call me, ESPN's 30 for 30! Pick: Green Bay

Denver at Kansas City

Are the Chiefs for real? I can't say I'm swayed by back-to-back wins over NFC West teams. But, it's the thirteenth week; Kansas City sits in first place at 7-4 and they're 5-0 at home. And, let's not forget: the Broncos are terrible. Pick: Kansas City

Joe: Yeah, the boomerang effect off of that 50-something point blowout a few weeks ago will probably be severe. The Chiefs can't lose here! They're got to win long enough to lose to the Chargers and just miss the playoffs by the skin of their teeth! Pick: Kansas City

Cleveland at Miami

Last week, the Browns needed a last-second missed field goal to beat the hapless Panthers, while the Dolphins exploited injuries and inexperience in the Raiders secondary to win in Oakland. Sour grapes from a Raiders fan and the one idiot in America who picked the Panthers? Probably. Pick: Cleveland

Joe: You guys, I have to apologize. I'd been so busy focusing on the novelty of Peyton Hillis as that rare beast, the white NFL running back that I had totally neglected to mention how he's also a wicked hot no-necked piece of tail! I know, I know, save the homoeroticism for the "Oz" references. Pick: Cleveland

Oakland at San Diego

I don't get the national shock n' awe at the Chargers impressive win in Indianapolis last week. San Diego has owned the Colts in recent years and, this season, Peyton Manning hasn't exactly been Peyton Manning. Enjoy your personal Super Bowl this week, Chargers fans. Meanwhile, I'll be rooting for Magic Johnson to make the
finest steal of his career. Pick: San Diego

Joe: ...So am I an idiot for actually drinking the San Diego Kool-Aid? Like, the Steelers can shut them down, but I can't see any of the other AFC defenses stopping them. Yes, Cam, add me to your personal "Told You So" Card list. Pick: San Diego

Atlanta at Tampa Bay

Aaron: The Falcons own the NFC's best record, but they haven't exactly steamrolled over teams who can play some defense and run the ball a little. Besides, the NFC's "best team, right now" title seems to change hands every 1-2 weeks. Pick: Tampa Bay

Joe: Tampa beats bad teams. Tampa doesn't beat good teams. Pick: Atlanta

St. Louis at Arizona

Aaron: Before everyone writes off the Cardinals after last week's in-game evisceration and
postgame embarrassment, keep in mind that Arizona beat the Rams -- in St. Louis -- back in week one. Everyone keeping that in mind? OK, now write 'em off. Pick: St. Louis

Joe: I have to thank Derek Anderson, because he brought out my "favorite" passive-aggressive complaint from sportswriters: the "I guess I'm foolish for thinking the athletes care as much as we do" lament. Always a crowd-pleaser. Pick: St. Louis

Carolina at Seattle

Much like those "players only" meetings that always seem to work, from now on I'm saving my "Seattle is the most underrated home field advantage in the NFL" nonsense until the Seahawks' are playing one of the worst teams in the league. Why, hello there, Panthers! Pick: Seattle

Joe: Carolina's been sneaky-crafty for the past few weeks, and the running game has suddenly come alive. Seattle, meanwhile, seems to have deflated despite the fact that the NFL is seemingly forcing a playoff berth upon them. Pick: Carolina

Dallas at Indianapolis

Aaron: I can't remember the last time Peyton Manning played with desperation in the regular season, but here we are. The national justification for picking Indy seems to be "Manning CAN'T lose three straight games". Really? Against an extra-rested, energetic Dallas team that should've beat the Saints on Thanksgiving Day and is playing with nothing to lose? Oh, yes he can. Pick: Dallas

Joe: Come on, Peyton. You're making an idiot out of me. Pick: Indianapolis

Pittsburgh at Baltimore

Aaron: Four of the last five regular season meetings between these two teams has been decided by a field goal (and the other was a four point margin). With the Steelers offensive line in shambles, I'm thinking hobbled QB Ben Roethlisberger will be intimately familiar with what the Ravens defense will do to him. Pick: Baltimore

Joe: This one feels like it should be played in a rainstorm, right? No touchdowns, fumbles galore, football the way it should be played! Ugh. Pick: Baltimore

N.Y. Jets at New England

It's all on you, Patriots fans. Your team needs you. Boo the Jets as often as you can, as it's been
regionally proven to make professional athletes crack in pressure situations. No, seriously, booing! I'll be looking into the eyes of Mark Sanchez and LaDanian Tomlinson -- beneath facemasks and black visors -- for that telltale sign of...something. You've done it before, New England. Now, do it again. Pick: New England

Joe: Mark Sanchez? Get ready to throw that powder up into the air. Pick: NY Jets

Monday, November 29, 2010

How Bacon Saved Thanksgiving

For as long as I can remember, Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday.

It might be oversimplified to make the correlation between my love of a food-centric celebration and my morbidly-obese adolescence but, this explanation isn't entirely inaccurate. More to the point, however, Thanksgiving has always been the closest thing to a family reunion that I've ever known.

For one day, my Marine Corps father wasn't working the second or third shift and could eat dinner with us. My grandparents could devotedly spoil their grandkids and my always-dialed-in aunt could stealthily share the latest inappropriate jokes for dissemination on the fourth-grade playground.*

* -- "Did you know there were computers in the Garden of Eden? Eve had an Apple and Adam had a Wang!" (I remember laughing uproariously at this in 1984, even though the only word in the punchline that I remotely recognized was "wang" – and not in an electronic sense.)

My most memorable Thanksgiving was in 1995.

I came home from my first semester at San Diego State University. After spending three months trying to feed myself with a no-frills, bare-minimum meal plan; I carried just 155 lbs. on my six-foot frame. The colossal holiday spread remains – 15 years later – the greatest meal I've ever eaten. Everyone from my endearingly dysfunctional family met at my parents' house and I clearly remember regaling them with tales of my new girlfriend.

My grandmother passed away in December 2001, my parents divorced around the same time and – in the blink of an eye – Mrs. Bootleg and I were spending our first Thanksgiving as a married couple alone on a rainy San Diego turkey day in 2002. Believe it or not, this wasn't nearly as depressing as it sounds. We'd barely been married for two weeks, so Mrs. Bootleg broke out some of our wedding china and turned our claustrophobic condo into a romantic nook.

For the past few years, we've hosted Thanksgiving at Stately Bootleg Manor. Since most of you are familiar with
the guest list, let's get right into the events of last Thursday.

12:30 AM -- Thanksgiving cannot officially begin until Mrs. Bootleg pulls a pair of sweet potato pies from the oven. In keeping with both family tradition AND traditional black woman tendencies; she makes as much noise as possible during the late Wednesday night/early Thursday morning mixing, baking and unnecessarily exaggerated oven door opening/closing process. This is her not-so-subtle reminder of my minimal contribution to the preparation process. And, if every Thanksgiving from the previous decade is any indication, Mrs. Bootleg will SWEAR this is her last holiday as head chef before the day is over. It's as predictable as cranberry sauce, y'all.

8:30 AM -- Mrs. Bootleg is baking a small batch of cornbread as part of her homemade dressing.** Several weeks ago, she ruined -- beyond recognition -- a sheet of cornbread that was supposed to be the accompaniment with her secret recipe chili. She found a way to over AND undercook it before the cornbread collapsed on itself like a gritty, gooey shanty. My wife pulled her Thanksgiving batch from the oven and, amazingly, had achieved an identical "black on the outside, batter on the inside" consistency. Turns out she set the oven for 500 degrees, instead of 400 -- no small feat, considering our stove has a digital temperature display. Of course, I took my disappointment
to Twitter.

** -- African-American Fun Fact: We always call it "dressing", never "stuffing". I'm sure there's an explanation for this that dates back to slave days...or at least back to when Big L was still alive.

8:45 AM -- I was genuinely worried that my 15-year streak of making unplanned trips to the supermarket on Thanksgiving morning was in jeopardy. Thanks to Mrs. Bootleg's oven escapades, here I was with all the other unwashed, unshaven men standing a dozen deep in the "15 items or less" line. It was 42 degrees when I left the house and I was forced to brave the cruel, cloudless elements with only a pair of shorts and a long-sleeve t-shirt. Enough already, autumn!

9:45 AM -- Not long after I return, Mrs. Bootleg solemnly shows me the expiration date on a bottle of paprika that's been resting comfortably in our pantry. Since, I'm familiar with the outrageous suggested retail price of spices and have no desire for a one-hour reunion with the supermarket cashier, we agree to use the old exceptionally aged seasoning.

12:15 PM -- My family arrives. My grandfather presents Jalen with two $50 bills that have been bent and folded into a pair of exotic shapes ("Negr-origami"?) and a handful of the shiniest silver dollars I've ever seen. (Thirty years ago, I was happy to get one of those "drummer boy" quarters from him so I could buy a Chunky Bar at the liquor store down the street. I'm just sayin', Grandpa.) Meanwhile, my mother is wheeling a cooler that's roughly the size of our refrigerator.

12:30 PM -- An "appetizer table" has appeared out of nowhere. The sheer amount of "not-the-entree" eats would've been embarrassing if America weren't already the king of superfluous food. My mother's deviled eggs never last more than a few minutes and this year she debuted a deviled filling with finely diced bits of bacon. These would've landed the coveted "500 (out of 5)" in a TBG Eats feature. Salty, eggy and awesome.

3:30 PM --
Damn it, Roy Williams! Don't you realize how far back in the pool I am?!

4:00 PM -- I've previously written about my
contempt for Brussels sprouts. It's one of the few foods that I'd completely given up on. But, my mom whipped out the skillet and tried something different: baby Brussels sprouts (which I'd never had) tossed with baby carrots and sautéed in a butter, onions and bacon bath. Glorious. It reminded me of a mildly-sweet fried cabbage with the bacon perfectly comingled with the mild vegetable flavors. Aaron and Brussels sprouts. This is the most shocking turn in years. Or months. Or, at least since this.

5:00 PM -- I finished the evening with a bomber of Shipyard's Smashed Pumpkin Ale. While bacon had saved Thanksgiving, it wouldn't have been the worst thing in the world if it hadn't shown up. Mrs. Bootleg baked her best batch of dressing ever. Her collard greens killed -- as usual -- and won the approval of my Alabama-born grandfather, who knows a thing or three about African-American southern cuisine. And, her turkey died a heroic and delicious death.

Almost on cue, my wife declared that we'd be spending NEXT Thanksgiving with my in-laws in Utah...presumably so Mrs. Bootleg could be free from kitchen duty.

I'll pack your "road jersey apron", m'dear.