Sunday, October 31, 2010

AiAA: The Curious Case of the Campaign Advertisement

In just a little over 48 hours, advertisements for male enhancement and light beer will reclaim the radio and television airwaves of America. Soon, across the country, junk mail numbers will infinitesimally dip. Our long national nightmare is almost over, as the end of mid-term election season is right around the corner.

2010 had its usual array of good and bad political ads. And, while I like to have some self-deprecating amusement with my mostly-unused marketing degree, I do remember enough from college to offer some non-partisan opinions on three campaign commercials that caught my eye.

Linda McMahon -- "Lunchbox"

"A lot of people ask me why I'm running for's why: this lunchbox." In this 30-second spot, McMahon uses roughly a quarter of the commercial's run time to set up a nonsensical analogy as a means of explaining her motivation. She spends the remainder of her time explaining the analogy in greater detail, at the expense of any substance. Whoever advised the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment that dehumanizing her potential constituency was a good idea probably had a hand in

Meg Whitman -- "I'm Ready"

"...and a billionaire with no government experience..." In the interest of full disclosure, I probably should mention that I won't be voting for either choice in California's gubernatorial election. According to the phenomenally prescient polling site,,
Whitman's chances on Election Day are slim. She's run a curious campaign with its major flaw exposed in the spot above. Until two weeks ago, Whitman made little effort to "introduce" herself and/or her family to voters. Say what you will about her opponent -- former California Governor Jerry Brown -- but, voters know him. Warts and all. Here, Whitman shoots herself in the foot by acknowledging -- and giving credence to -- her perceived disconnect with the working class and her empty political resume. Whitman should've been running these ads six months ago, so that she could better control the public narrative. Now, it looks like a reach for "sensitive extremism".

Christine O'Donnell -- "I'm You"

O'Donnell released this ad in response to recently-publicized
comments she made on Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect talk show in 1999. I'm no political adviser, but addressing the "witchcraft" controversy head-on was the only way to go. The problem, though, is O'Donnell's staggering lack of comfort in front of the camera. She only spends five seconds on the witch stuff, before artificially injecting some venom into her delivery for the "spending, trading favors..." part. And, what's with the "I'm you" addendum at the end? It comes across as a desperate catchphrase.

Wednesday morning can't get here soon enough.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

2010 NFL Pickery -- Week #8

Last Week:

Aaron: 10-4
Joe: 9-5
Tom: 9-5


Joe: 71-33
Tom: 63-41
Aaron: 57-47

Washington at Detroit

Aaron: It's going to take more than a week off for me to buy into the Lions as favorites over ANYone at this point – even at home. And, that's after watching JaMarcus McNabb set back the black quarterback movement 10 years with his performance last week. Doesn't he realize the media has been very desirous that a black QB do well? Pick: Washington

Joe: Detroit is home, healthy, and ready to step into its role as late-season spoiler for the NFC's playoff hopefuls. By all rights, Washington shouldn't be a playoff hopeful. Maybe this game goes a ways to correcting that. Pick: Detroit

Buffalo at Kansas City

Aaron: Seven years ago this week, the 7-0 Chiefs faced the 4-3 Bills in Kansas City. I was still writing my
weekly music news column at the time and I included a "lock of the week" prognostication from a young Joe Reid. He guaranteed his Bills would end the Chiefs undefeated season. Final score: Chiefs 38, Bills 5. Good times, Joe. Pick: Kansas City

Joe: You know, it's really creepy that you still remember that. Pick: Kansas City

Denver at San Francisco

These London games always seem to be played in lousy conditions as the field becomes quicksand by halftime. I'm taking the only team with a running game here and hope the British don't hold this unwatchable annual event against us. As The Simpsons foretold, they're gonna save our ass in World War III.
Just watch. Pick: San Francisco

Joe: There's nothing the 49ers have done this season that would lead me to believe they could win any game, much less a home-but-not-home game (my heart would bleed for you, Niners fans, but it's too busy looking up when the Bills play their Toronto game). Anyway, Cam's right -- this game will be played in soup, likely bringing Kyle Orton's improbable arm back down to earth. As far as difference-makers on the ground go, Frank Gore ain't bad. Pick: San Francisco

Miami at Cincinnati

So, Cincinnati scored 22 points in the third quarter against Atlanta last week – turning a blowout into nail-biter – and we're expected to believe the Bengals are back? Y'all know they lost that game and fell to 2-4, right? Did this not happen? Did someone push "reset" on the
Nintendo console just as Tim McGee or Eddie Brown was about to catch the winning pass from Boomer Esiason? Pick: Miami

Joe: Cincy's feistiness had me on their side, but Miami played Pittsburgh close last week, and I tend to underestimate teams that manage to win ugly. Not this time! Pick: Miami

Green Bay at N.Y. Jets

The lazy media storyline asks how the Packers will respond one week after a physically and emotionally draining victory over their intra-division rivals from Minnesota. My lazy blog storyline is Jets defense SMASH! Pick: NY Jets

Joe: The Jets are due for a good back-down-to-earth upset loss, but I still don't think Green Bay is healthy enough to do it. Pick: NY Jets

Carolina at St. Louis

Aaron: Both teams' starting RBs could be limited this week, which means choosing between each team's aerial attack. The Panthers are led by disgruntled, whiny WR Steve Smith. The Rams rely on undersized, but dependable WR Danny Amendola. Think of Smith as evil
Decepticon Starscream and Amendola as heroic Heroic Autobot. Yup…makes things MUCH clearer. Pick: St. Louis

Joe: While it's weird to me to realize that Autobots were apparently named after brands of lube, I'd rather not tarnish this rekindling of such a proud old-NFC West rivalry. Memories of Steve Buerlein and Tony Banks will be so thick, they'll have to brush them away from their faces. Pick: St. Louis

Jacksonville at Dallas

Aaron: There are actually some fantasy football "experts" recommending Cowboys QB Jon Kitna as a legitimate start this week based on the Jags' incompetence at pass defense. Did y'all watch Kitna shot-put passes all over the field last Monday? His arm looked so bad that even
Ron Washington wouldn't call on him. Zing! Pick: Dallas

Joe: However bad he is, he's a better bet than whatever Punt, Pass, and Kick champion the Jags have called up to play. I know I've been riding the "Dallas can't be THIS bad, right?" card for a while, but ... they can't, right? Pick: Dallas

Tennessee at San Diego

Watching my fellow San Diegans turn on this Chargers squad has been one of my favorite football moments since moving down here in 1995. It doesn't top all the playoff losses, the 1-15 season, LaDanian Tomlinson's renaissance with the Jets, Ryan Leaf or that this will be the third local blackout of the season, but it's in the class picture. Pick: San Diego

Joe: I haven't picked enough road teams this week. That's seriously my rationale. That's how little confidence I have in how good the Titans have looked and how bad the Chargers have looked. I ... guess that's how they are? Pick: Tennessee

Tampa Bay at Arizona

Here's what we know – the Cardinals have the worst passing game in the league and their starting QB is coming back from a concussion suffered last week. Their offense will rely heavily on a running back who's still trying to find his legs after missing the first few weeks with an injury. Also, the Bucs beat bad teams. Pick: Tampa Bay

Joe: So wait, there's NO way that we can make this game interesting by putting some MLB Spring-Training-based stakes on it? Loser gets the Steinbrenners? Something? Pick: Tampa Bay

Minnesota at New England

So, whose motivation makes the more compelling case? Erstwhile Pats WR Randy Moss was traded to Minnesota and might be tempted to give an all-out effort – all game – for the first time this season. The Patriots are at home and would like to show the world they can win without Moss. This could be…wait. New England has already won without Moss. Twice. Well, there you go. Pick: New England

Joe: The Patriots simply aren't getting enough credit for how permissive their defense has been all season. For as bad as the Vikes have looked this season, I wouldn't put it past them to produce one of those annoying Favre Ain't Dead Yet games. If this were only in Minnesota. Pick: New England

Seattle at Oakland

59 points the previous week and I still can't do it. Sorry, Aaron's favorite football team. Pick: Seattle

Joe: I'm sticking with picking against the Seahawks on the road, even if they do seem to have figured out a running game AND a passing game at the same time. Pick: Oakland

Pittsburgh at New Orleans

Aaron: Good of the NFL to schedule a Sunday night game opposite the World Series for the first time ever (I think). Really looking forward to another round of "NFL is the New National Pastime" headline revelations. It's been, what, two weeks since this was last in the news? Pick: New Orleans

Joe: I'm not going to say I'm reveling in baseball partisans getting all defensive about their sport's waning popularity getting rubbed in their faces, I'm just saying: it's nice that other fans finally know what hockey fans have gone through. Welcome to Your Marginalization! Down to business, though: New Orleans' struggles have been no joke, and that Steelers defense is not the worst I've seen. (It is the best I've seen.) Pick: Pittsburgh

Houston at Indianapolis

Aaron: The Colts opened as five to six point favorites against a Texans team that beat 'em in week one. Throw in Peyton Manning's recent run of unspectacular performances and the season-ending injury to TE Dallas Clark and I'd make Houston (+5) my as-yet-unsponsored pick of the week. Straight up? I wouldn't trust my picks for nothin'. Pick: Indianapolis

Joe: The Texans stopped being able to play defense about four weeks ago. I don't care if it's Peyton Manning, Pierre Garcon, and the senior class at Ball State suiting up for Indy, they're going to score a lot of points. Pick: Indianapolis

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Sirius XM Commute: Lil' Kim, Mack 10 & Master P

Every morning, after dropping my son Jalen off at school, it's just me and my satellite radio. During 12 minutes of surface streets and stoplights, I can hear at least three songs in their entirety.

Sirius XM Channel: "Backspin" (Old School Hip Hop)

Some links may be NSFW, so click with caution, yo.

Lil' Kim featuring Lil' Cease and Notorious B.I.G. --
Crush on You:

Other than the opportunistic Puff Daddy, Ma$e and maybe Missy Elliott, no one dominated 1997 hip hop quite like Lil' Kim. Her success followed the release of her 1996 debut Hard Core. The album would eventually sell more than two million copies, yet I remain one of the few listeners who weren't impressed with the mostly pedestrian production and ghost-written lyrics that Kim couldn't quite deliver. Oddly enough, Kim's biggest hits from Hard Core were a pair of remixes -- this track and Not Tonight (Ladies' Night) -- that immensely improved on the originals. I'd go as far as to call "Crush on You" the second best commercially-released single in Lil' Kim's catalog. Her lyricism omits the over-the-top raunchiness for a more subtle, simplistic sexuality. Unlike a lot of her material from 1995-2000, she's not lifting Biggie Smalls' flow. And, I've always loved the Jeff Lorber Fusion sample. The song's one drawback is Lil' Cease. He's here because he's on the original version (while Kim is curiously absent). Sadly, there was room for only one moon-faced, marble-mouthed MC in 1997. You've probably heard of him.

Mack 10 featuring Ice Cube --
Foe Life:

By mid-1995, the west coast's run on the rap charts had become increasingly irrelevant. Death Row Records had grown complacent -- releasing compilation soundtracks and failing to capitalize on then-hot talent like Nate Dogg and The Lady of Rage. Ice Cube -- one of the angriest and most influential voices of the genre -- was making movies and passing the microphone to his protégé Mack 10. Like a lot of gangsta rap from this era, Mack 10's empty bombast hasn't aged well -- and, I'm almost certain his "TJ Hooker" reference was on life support 15 years ago -- but, this cut has its moments. The beat is quintessential California and Mack's drops lyrics that...well, they make ME smile. ("I'm broke as a mutha, so fool, buy my single/comin' from 'tha Ingle'/It's my jingle...") Besides, any song where the bad guy is thwarted by way of a Rottweiler biting his ass is OK on my iPod.

Master P. featuring Everybody --
Make 'Em Say Uhh:

I was still in college when I first heard this cut. This was late 1997 and the west coast was still coming to grips with Tupac Shakur's murder. Radio was retroactively running through the 1993-1996 material of the east coast's biggest acts, since California pop-rap died with Pac. After my first taste of Master P, I remember thinking -- for the first time -- that the industry was passing me by. P's No Limit Records ushered in those goofy jeweled-graphic CD covers and 24-track CDs that featured five or six guest rappers on a single three-minute song. Everything Master P touched was an oversized, over-produced posse cut that foreshadowed rap's eventual descent into drum machines and Auto-Tune. May God have mercy on his soul.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Three Baseball Guys: 2010 World Series

LCS Results (and Totals)

Tom: 2-0 (6-0)
Aaron: 1-1 (5-1)
Eugene: 0-2 (1-5)*

*EDIT: Or as Carrie quipped on Twitter -- "Luckily for Eugene, the domain '16percentsports' is still available!"

America certainly got the most compelling World Series match-up -- a true hitters vs. pitchers archetype that leans heavily on the respective league stereotypes. But, the country's collective yawn is already the storyline. An unwatchable Monday Night Football game between Tennessee and Northern Florida State out-Nielsened game three of the ALCS. ESPN -- one of Major League Baseball's broadcast partners -- has crapped all over the Texas vs. San Francisco series.

In a few days, ironically enough, it'll be the sports networks lamenting the inevitable ratings crater with insincere apprehension. After all, they're the ones who spend six months promoting the same 6-8 teams at the expense of legitimate talent on teams who don't have a "national following". It's your loss, America.

Texas Rangers v. San Francisco Giants

Aaron: Texas manager Ron Washington is a former coach with my Oakland A's, sounds JUST like pro wrestling personality
Theodore Long and inspired the phenomenal "UncleRon" hash tag/theme on Twitter. San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy was at the helm of the Padres when I first moved to San Diego in 1995. He was underrated and underappreciated by fickle locals who expected him to consistently win with Dennis Tankersley and Ruben Rivera, but still guided the Friars to four playoff appearances and an NL pennant. Yet, Bochy's postseason pedigree will endure another World Series defeat.

In 11 playoff games this year, the Rangers have scored less than five runs just twice. The Giants have scored more than five runs just once in their 10 playoff games. San Francisco's pitching could steal one or two wins at home – without the DH – but, to paraphrase legendary manager C. Montgomery Burns, the only way the Rangers lose this series is if all nine of their hitters fall victim to nine separate misfortunes and are unable to play in the Series. But that will never happen. Three misfortunes, that's possible. Seven misfortunes, there's an outside chance. But nine misfortunes? I'd like to see that! Pick: Rangers in 6.

Eugene: Call this the precursor to defeat for the Rangers, but I like them better in this series. Their hitters have been more consistent in October and they have the luxury of throwing Cliff Lee 3 times -- on short rest, he could pitch games 3 and 7 each on 3 days rest -- if the series goes the full 7 games. I think the Giants would be a little more hesitant to do that with Lincecum. Either way, Bengie Molina wins; he'll be getting a ring and playoff share either way. Pick: Rangers in 6.

Tom: I'll go ahead and say that if Ron Washington didn't pitch Cliff Lee on 3-days rest against the Yankees, I don't see any reason that he's going to suddenly decide to do it in the World Series. The funny thing about the Giants going in to the World Series is that, in the first season the NL has won the All-Star Game in forever, their best line-up/defensive combo is the one that gives them the opportunity to have Pablo Sandoval hit and Juan Uribe play third base... and in every other year they'd be able to get that line-up four times.

Personally, I was excited to see this series because it's the best pitchers in the NL vs. the best hitters in the AL. I don't know if I buy the argument about the Rangers' post-season run totals for this reason: The Yankees' and the Rays' games are based on having one ace and a bunch of slightly-above mediocre pitchers who win by the offense beating the bejesus out of the opponents. The Yanks were the top run scorers in the AL and the Rays were 3rd. That's not the Giants' game. The Giants' game is to scrape out a run and shut down the opposing offense. Isn't that the perfect format to face Cliff Lee and a bunch of other pitchers we've retconned in to aces? If the Giants scrape out two or three runs a game against guys not named Cliff Lee, you're telling me I should bet on Lincecum, Sanchez, or Cain giving up 4+ runs in multiple starts? In a ballpark where Josh Hamilton has to pull the ball 9,000 feet to hit a home run? Why? Because The American League Is So Much Better? We'll see, I guess. Giants in 6.

Monday, October 25, 2010

AiAA: Escape from Oz

I'm admittedly late in bringing this to the attention of the blogosphere, so you'll have to forgive me. It's just that I was a BIG fan of HBO's hour-long prison drama Oz. The series -- set within the fictitious confines of the Oswald State Correctional Facility -- ran from 1998 through 2003. During the early years of my weekly music news column, Oz was one of the first pop culture references I ran into the ground through overuse and repetition -- right up there with Lil' Kim and the multi-hued Huxtable kids.

After Oz ended, several of the show's stars moved on to even more prominent television roles. Harold Perrineau was an important cog in the mythology of Lost -- for awhile. Chris Meloni manages to maintain a straight face throughout every ridiculous plot twist of Law & Order: SVU. And, Edie Falco completed her cable television trifecta with critically-acclaimed turns on The Sopranos and Nurse Jackie.

Dean Winters played sh*t-stirring inmate Ryan O'Reily.

JK Simmons played neo-Nazi prisoner Vern Schillinger.

The below clip features both characters, but before you watch, keep in mind (1) the acting was frequently uneven and/or over-the-top -- without making Oz any less entertaining and (2) NSFW:

These days, Winters -- who landed post-Oz gigs on Rescue Me, Life on Mars and a well-received recurring role on 30 Rock -- can be found in commercials for Allstate Insurance:

I like these commercials. Really, I do.

But, the origins of this lightly-read blog lie within Oz character landmarks like Adebisi's
teeny knit hat and Jaz Hoyt's enormous...uh, enormity. I don't want them selling me insurance.

JK Simmons has coincidentally landed an
equally irreverent ad campaign for insurance. Schillinger! He played J. Jonah Jameson in the Spider-Man movies and appeared regularly on the Law & Order franchise and TNT's The Closer. Now, Farmers wants me to "come study with Professor Nathaniel Burke"?


I hope we'll always have Oz, y'all.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

TBG Eats: The NEW BK Breakfast Ciabatta Club Sandwich from Burger King

Current Weight: 169.4 lbs.

This past May marked the 15-year anniversary of my first (and last) date with a young woman I'd met during an evening of bar-hopping throughout Los Angeles.

Even though I wasn't making much money at the time, we went to a pretentious seafood restaurant on the beach. There was an ocean view, valet parking and -- unlike the seafood eateries I grew up with -- one of the cross-streets wasn't Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.

Unfortunately, the evening fell apart in rapid fashion.

I didn't mind all the time my date spent fiddling with her mid-1990s cell phone/cinder block. I was mildly bemused when she put sugar in her wine. And, by the time she made a scene in front of our server regarding the concept of "a la carte", I was pretty sure this was the last I'd see of her.

Of all the things, though, it was actually her palate that annoyed me most.

She sent back three separate side dishes after a single bite, each time with a more demonstrative display than the last. Having grown up poorer than most of my peers, the thought of rejecting any food seemed downright rude to me -- whether it deserved to be discarded or not. My date's dictatorial attitude towards the servers was just additional ammunition for my opinion.

After moving to San Diego, I met the future Mrs. Bootleg.

Like me, she wasn't exactly raised in affluence, but like my date from the aforementioned ill-fated evening, she can be pretty particular about her food. The difference is that my wife's capable of endearing herself to anyone on Earth. Friends, family, co-workers, cashiers, doesn't matter. No one seems annoyed by any of her specific preferences.

Her steak MUST be at least medium-well. She'll eat around any pink she sees and leave the remains for me. If we're dining at an especially nice steakhouse, I'm practically rooting for a screw-up (or, as I call it, "dessert steak").

And, Mrs. Bootleg's standards remain the same, regardless of the restaurant's quality. When we first met, one of her guiltiest pleasures was McDonald's Chicken McNuggets. And, the ONLY way she'd eat them is with honey. Not honey-mustard, not sweet and sour, not barbecue sauce and not plain...only with honey. I've seen her drive all the way back when it was inadvertently omitted from her drive-thru order, y'all.
For these!

She saves her most specific ordering for breakfast. Mrs. Bootleg rarely deviates from her usual order, but I always get a kick out of the emphasis she applies to all the adjectives:

"I'll have a SHORT stack with a side of SCRAMBLED eggs -- scrambled HARD -- and bacon that's not too CRISP and not too SOFT."

I know it sounds like my wife would be a difficult customer, but invariably her order comes up just as she asked. Most of the time, Mrs. Bootleg and the server are on a first name basis before the check comes with both of them laughing at my wife's explicit breakfast preparation instructions.

My own food and drink caveats are pretty limited. Let's see...there's my Starbucks one ("Grande Pike, no room."); there's my cocktail one ("Manhattan, on the rocks, no cherry."); there's my casual dining restaurant one ("1,200-calorie entree salad, dressing on the side.") and my pizza and burgers blue-collar catch-all ("Oooh, can I get that with avocado?")

I certainly wouldn't expect my limited food preparation preferences to be tested by Burger King. Fast food expectations were established centuries ago. This is why we rightfully mock those who walk to the counter and inanely ask, "How big is a large?" and "What's on a Whopper?" Besides, BK is in the middle of a big marketing push for their new expanded breakfast menu that positions the "most important meal of the day" as "man food".

Nonsensical? Perhaps, but it hits all the basic notes of TV advertisements (identify your audience, make the message memorable -- good or bad -- and some good ol' objectification laced with two double entendres). In fact, I was so appalled by the transparent sexuality that I waited until last week to try BK's new Breakfast Ciabatta Club Sandwich. From Burger King's website:

Ciabatta made with whole grain surrounds smoky ham, crispy bacon, fresh tomatoes, melted cheese, and rich, smoky tomato sauce on a bed of fluffy eggs.

This is a good-sized sandwich that doesn't bear much resemblance to the version in the BK ad copy, but still dwarfs your run-of-the-mill McMuffins and breakfast biscuits. It can't, however, escape a myriad of taste and texture limitations.

Two kinds of cured pork should, by themselves, be enough for an easy "3" score, but the ham is paper-thin and obviously a cheap deli-style knockoff. The bacon might've once been "crisp", but BK ladles on so much smoky, creamy tomato sauce that all the ingredients become saturated underneath this oddly-sweet, off-tasting spread. The whole tomato slices seemed especially out of place, for some reason, while the eggs and cheese did nothing to save this sandwich.

The ciabatta bread itself was actually the most disappointing aspect. It's made with whole grain and the overwhelming wheat flavor was unappetizing for an avowed white bread aficionado like myself. Additionally, the bread appears to be toasted around the edges, but the consistency is soft and almost uncooked.

Foiled by my own food preference? It would appear so.

Grade: 1.5 (out of 5) Calories: 480 Fat: 23g

Saturday, October 23, 2010

2010 NFL Pickery -- Week #7

Last Week:

Joe: 10-4
Tom: 10-4
Aaron: 8-6


Joe: 62-28
Tom: 54-36
Aaron: 47-43

Cincinnati at Atlanta

The new collaborative reality show starring Bengals WRs Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens pulled in a 0.1 rating this week. I hope this puts to rest – once and for all – the notion that my fellow African-Americans will watch ANYTHING. (Soul Plane and any movie from The Wayans Bros., notwithstanding.) Pick: Atlanta

Joe: It makes me wonder what a tragedy it is that classic Atlanta Falcons Deion Sanders and Andre Rison missed out on the Golden Age of reality TV. They'd have pulled down at least a .2 -- a .5 for the "Left Eye burned my house down" two-parter. Pick: Atlanta

Buffalo at Baltimore

Aaron: In their last four games, the Buffalo defense has allowed 34, 38, 38 and 36 points. During their four-year reign as Intercontinental AFC Champions, the Bills gave up 34+ points just seven times in 64 regular season games. Keep making history, Joe's favorite team. Pick: Baltimore

Joe: So the 2010 Bills are ... worse than the early-90s Bills? I'll make a note of it. Pick: Baltimore

San Francisco at Carolina

Aaron: Well, the "Jimmy Clausen Experience" couldn't have been scripted any better – zero wins as a starter, alienated his team's best player (WR Steve Smith, before his ankle injury) and left Panthers fans wistfully pining for the "Chris Weinke Experience". Pick: San Francisco

Joe: I know the pro game doesn't put as much stock in margin of victory, but the Niners should have beat the Raiders way worse than they did. They were facing Jason Campbell. JASON CAMPBELL! Pick: Carolina

Washington at Chicago

It's rare when I use thoughtful statistical analysis to make my picks. But, finding out the Bears haven't converted a third down in their past two games AND that 41% of their offensive plays from scrimmage have resulted in zero or negative yards this season… I mean, that's bad, right? Pick: Washington

Joe: What Aaron said, plus the fact that this game is shaping up to be one of those ugly games what Washington wins without actually looking impressive. They LOVE those games! Pick: Washington

Pittsburgh at Miami

Aaron: With the end of the 2010 New York Yankees season, the Steelers are a worthy successor as "the most unwatchable winning team in sports". Pittsburgh's bludgeoning, methodical style is fine when it can be filtered down to a 30-second highlight package on Sunday night's Sportscenter. For three hours? I'd rather watch the first four innings of an ALCS game. Pick: Pittsburgh

Joe: Hey, your Yankees taunts can't hurt me. My guys were up against the juggernaut of Bill Simmons's not-at-all-childish Twitter-based reverse jinx. Can't fight magical realism. Pick: Pittsburgh

Philadelphia at Tennessee

Aaron: The Titans' QB-eating defensive line is capable of ending the Eagles' latest quarterback controversy before it can begin…again. Run, Kevin Kolb, run. Oh, wait…you can't. Pick: Tennessee

Joe: The Eagles probably have me fooled -- and it's not like I don't know that the best time to pick against the Eagles is when they're riding high. But watching the Titans get fat on the Cowboys and Jags doesn't have me thinking they're suddenly great. Pick: Philadelphia

St. Louis at Tampa Bay

Aaron: Two weeks ago, I got a little carried away with the Rams' two-game winning streak and picked them to beat the Lions in Detroit. Remember that episode of The Simpsons when Lisa's science fair exhibit asked Is My Brother Dumber Than a Hamster? Well, I'm the hamster. Pick: Tampa Bay

Joe: Weird to think that the winner of this game (especially if it's the Rams) gets vaulted into the playoff picture. Nelly's gotta be on pins and needles! Pick: Tampa Bay [Ed. Note: That's TWO Nelly/St. Louis jokes from Joe this season. I'm assessing a one win penalty from his total.]

Cleveland at New Orleans

Aaron: If this game were in Cleveland – outdoors on the submerged October turf – I'd probably talk myself into picking the Browns. Thank you for saving me from myself, anonymous NFL schedulers. Pick: New Orleans

Joe: If I'm a Browns fan, looking at the last year of New Orleans Saints football has to be like watching some poor hick family holding an oversized lottery check on the evening news. Keep the dream alive, woebegone NFL franchises! Pick: New Orleans

Jacksonville at Kansas City

Aaron: Just so we're clear, Jacksonville fans – If I'd told you six months ago that you'd be 3-3 and contemplating (1) playing Trent Edwards, (2) playing Todd Bouman and (3) selling the team to Magic Johnson and moving them to Los Angeles…you'd have drafted Tim Tebow, right? Just for the revenue and goodwill? Right? Pick: Kansas City

Joe: There are Jacksonville fans? Seriously, though, who ever thought giving THAT bustling metropolis a pro sports franchise could ever backfire? Pick: Kansas City

Arizona at Seattle

Wait, wait, wait…Seattle head coach Pete Carroll was an unadulterated disaster when he held the same job with the New York Jets and New England Patriots during the 1990s. I've learned from experts like's Bill Simmons that professional athletes and coaches are ALWAYS what they were in their first few years. They cannot evolve or improve. (See: "Peyton Manning will never win a Super Bowl" or "Bill Belichick never coached the Cleveland Browns".) How can Pete Carroll be? Pick: Seattle

Joe: My favorite thing about this Seahawks team is that they're like a foster home for wayward players. Mike Williams? Marshawn Lynch? They're the juvenile delinquents, and Pete Carroll is Whoopi Goldberg masquerading as a nun who inspires them to be the best rapping church choir they can be. Pick: Seattle

New England at San Diego

The 2010 AFC West Champions are gloriously banged-up and sit at 2-4 with the cupcake portion of their schedule now behind them. With the Patriots this week; the Titans' terrific running game and defensive line next week; the Texans on the road after that; Denver's prolific passing, and then on the road in Indianapolis to round out November, the Chargers could be…could be…oh, I can't contain myself! Pick: New England

Joe: You guys, we all know hubris when we see it. Let's just not make a very big deal of it. Pick: San Diego

Oakland at Denver

Marc Wilson didn't debut with the Raiders until the mid-1980s. Todd Marinovich's first year was 1992. I think Rick Mirer was starting games for us in 2003. With Kyle Boller in line to get the start for Oakland, at least we're getting our "worst Raiders quarterback of the decade" trivia question completed early. Pick: Denver

Joe: Denver riding out the current hot streaks of Kyle Orton and Brandon Lloyd feels like that Seinfeld episode where Kramer tries to drive the dealership car as far as he can on an empty tank of gas. And yet...Oakland on the road. Come back to the five and dime, Bruce Gradkowski, Bruce Gradkowski. Pick: Denver

Minnesota at Green Bay

QB Aaron Rodgers has NEVER led the Packers to victory over a Brett Favre-led Vikings team. And, what did we learn earlier? That's right…professional athletes are always what they were in their first few years. They cannot evolve or improve. Ever. Pick: Minnesota

Joe: While that sample size of two is indeed intimidating, I'm sticking with the home team. Pick: Green Bay

N.Y. Giants at Dallas

Aaron: I've previously declared my indifference towards the Dallas Cowboys, but I can't lie: I'm really looking forward to the steady stream of befuddled Wade Phillips faces followed immediately by Jerry Jones' calcifying face. Pick: NY Giants

Joe: I've said it before, and I'll say it again: it's been beyond gratifying to see the rest of the world come around to my deep and abiding hatred of Wade Phillips. Still, one of the most infuriating things about Wade was his ability to win just enough to keep himself employed. Pick: Dallas

Thursday, October 21, 2010

TBG TV: Running Wilde

When/Where: FOX -- Tuesdays at 9:30 PM

10-Word Premise: "I'm conservative and she's liberal. We're the original Odd Couple!"

Starring: Will Arnett as Jack Handle, a retired cop Steve Wilde, billionaire...he owns a mansion and a yacht. Keri Russell as Emmy accurate depiction of all those eco-friendly women who shave their legs and wash their hair regularly. Stefania Owen as Puddle Kadubic...the obligatory child actor who's always the "realest" person in the room. Peter Serafinowicz as the white guy playing an...Arab? (Recent history indicates...
this won't end well.)

The Best Thang: With the show teetering on the brink of cancellation (its audience has dwindled from the 5.9 million who tuned in for the series premiere five weeks ago to 2.9 million for this week's episode) the writers and producers should be lamenting their biggest missed opportunity. The comedic chemistry between "Steve Wilde" (Arnett) and "Fa'ad Shaoulin" (Serafinowicz) is terrific. Their characters' mutually obtuse rivalry -- based on tiny horses one week, perhaps chest hair the next -- generates legitimate laughs. Focusing the show on two oblivious, wealthy caricatures might've been risky given the national economic climate, but their offbeat banter deserves more screen time. Their (poorly) premeditated "fake psychiatrist" bit killed me in the pilot.

The Worst Thang: It's just...lazy. Two primary characters with divergent social views somehow see eye-to-eye in the final scene every week. There are "dirty hippie" and "insensitive capitalist" digs with a small orbit of annoying secondary characters floating in and out of every scene. Most disappointing -- considering the show's incessant "from the creators of Arrested Development" hype -- is the quality of the writing. I'm still groaning from Keri Russell's lament in the pilot ("You don't do charity for an award. You do good for nothing. [Pause] I guess you still are.") See what she did there? See? Ugh.

The Verdict: I'm glad I got this review in before the official ax fell. There are still a few new shows sitting unwatched on my DVR, but none of them could be worse than Running Wilde. The FOX network has been in the primetime television business for almost 25 years. One of these decades, they'll stop picking up pilots with the broadcast philosophy of filling dead air between
Duet and The New Adventures of Beans Baxter.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

TBG Beats: Redman -- "Lookin' Fly"

Longtime readers surely remember m'man Nick. Back when I wrote a weekly music news column, Nick carved out some creative real estate within my work by way of a feature known as "Nick'a Please".

He was the first one of my readers I ever met. We narrowly escaped arrest during an "open container" incident when he visited Southern California several years ago. Thanks to a steady stream of friends and family who wouldn't answer their damn phones, he was the first person I reached to share the news of my son's birth. (And, thanks to Mrs. Bootleg's c-section-mandated anesthetic cocktail, she didn't find out about Jalen until 24 hours later.)

I flew out to the east coast for his wedding. I got thrown out of the hotel bar at the wedding reception's after-after-party. And, Nick and his lovely wife were the primary reasons
the TBG Travel Diary was invented.

So, when Nick sends me an email with the subject line "Reggie Cameron", it's probably going to be blog fodder:

Redman is starting to look like YOU in HIS old age...explain this please. Check link to Lookin' Fly video. You need to make this goatee happen.

Go ahead and tell me the guy in this video didn't just whisper a Bootleg blog!

Let's process this one piece at a time.

"Reggie Cameron"

Redman's real name is Reggie Noble. Considering his commercial longevity -- he debuted on EPMD's Business as Usual album in 1990 -- a case could be made that he's the most underrated rapper of his era. Of course, you MIGHT know him better from
this or... this.

Redman is starting to look like YOU in HIS old age...

Let's check out
the link to his video again. Redman is featured in the upper left-hand corner. Now here's me in an exact replica of Red's 10-year-old leather jacket -- probably purchased at one of the since-liquidated Wilson's Leather stores -- cheap white t-shirt and knit hat. You be the judge.

You need to make this goatee happen.

Really? I mean, it would complete the package, but Redman and I already share that light-skinned kindred spirits thing, along with our receding hairlines and wrinkly foreheads whenever we change our facial expressions. I think three out of four common characteristics is sufficient, no?

Oh, right...the song.

It's a decent little snippet that encapsulates Redman's entire career: irreverent, sometimes ill-fitting, but undeniably charismatic. Of course, the Michael Jackson homage is nonsensical; but even if you've only listened to a little bit of Redman, it wouldn't make sense any other way.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

TBG Eats: The NEW XXL Chalupa from Taco Bell

Current Weight: 171.4 lbs.

In conjunction with the start of Major League Baseball's postseason, Taco Bell introduced a new ad campaign for their XXL Chalupa. Most of you have probably seen the spot featuring New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi and closer Mariano Rivera:

As with everything else in the internet age, America couldn't wait to share its collective opinion of this commercial with the world. My unsophisticated five-minute web search has determined that
you guys think (1) Rivera is a terrible actor and (2) the staid Yankees tradition was somehow "above" shilling for cheap eats.

Of course, the second point
couldn't be more preposterous. As for the Panama-born Rivera, it seems a little silly to criticize the stiffly-delivered English of someone who doesn't use it as his primary language.

Since my marketing degree from San Diego State University is valid for a few more weeks, I'll offer that – by the admittedly low-standard of celebrity advertisements – Taco Bell's is reasonably effective. The celebrity should never overshadow the product. Fortunately, the casual recognition gap between shortstop Derek Jeter and the rest of the team's current roster is undeniably wide. By my unofficial stopwatch, Girardi and Rivera are onscreen for less than half of the 30-second runtime.

The commercial hits its target audience (men) and gently twists our inherent competitive dials by implying weakness if you can't finish a XXL Chalupa.

"But, I'd NEVER eat at Taco Bell", you rudely respond. And, since this is ostensibly a super-size version of a long-established menu item, you're NOT in the target audience, I'd politely retort.

For those of you who aren't sold on my half-ass advertisement analysis, let's be honest: this isn't anywhere NEAR the worst Taco Bell commercials featuring professional athletes.

Not long after Shaquille O'Neal signed a multi-million dollar free agent contract with the Los Angeles Lakers – and a few months before unleashing
Steel on an unsuspecting public – he teamed with Taco Bell for the infamous "Taco Neck" ad campaign:

More recently, everyone's favorite unfunny, quasi-controversial, Teflon NBA talking head dropped this abominable spot during last year's Super Bowl:

In both cases, there's too much celebrity, while the products are an afterthought.

Now, before y'all can say the same about this review, let's get into it. From Taco Bell's website:

An XXL-sized crispy Chalupa shell packed with seasoned ground beef, crispy lettuce, fiesta salsa, a blend of three cheeses–cheddar, pepper jack and mozzarella–and nacho cheese sauce, red strips and topped with reduced-fat sour cream.

After opening the enormous box, the first thing I noticed was the Chalupa shell, itself. It curves upward at the ends which make the XXL Chalupa look like a chewy refugee boat. It also leads to a challenging first bite, as deep-fried crispiness fills your mouth well before the filling can find its way in.

Beyond that, if you've ever indulged with multiple Chalupas in a single sitting, then you won't be overly surprised by the size here. The ground beef and nacho cheese sauce is the same as it always was – solid enough, if overly familiar. The shredded cheeses and fiesta salsa make for a decent blend of tastes and textures with the greasy pillow enveloping the ingredients within.

The notion that it's too big is a bit of a fallacy, though. I ordered one along with a platter of
Volcano Nachos and – in a fit of TBGluttony – crushed them both. That's gotta be the equivalent of a 10-inning complete game, Girardi.

You know the Yankees haven't had an emaciated innings-eater like me in their rotation
for 20 years.

Grade: 4 (out of 5) Calories: 650 Fat: 39g

2010 NFL Pickery -- Week #6

Last Week:

Joe: 9-5
Tom: 7-7
Aaron: 5-9


Joe: 52-24
Tom: 44-32
Aaron: 39-37

Seattle at Chicago

Joe: Bears beat bad teams. Seahawks can't play on the road. Predicting stuff is easy, you guys! Pick: Chicago

Aaron: I think we all liked Joe a LOT more when I was beating him in the football pools from 2006-2008. Pick: Chicago

Miami at Green Bay

So Aaron Rodgers isn't playing, Jermichael Finley joins Ryan Grant on the "injured for a f*ck lot of time" list, and in general, nobody has a whole lot of confidence in those early-season Super Bowl picks. If Miami is any kind of a good team, they win this one. So ... they are? Pick: Miami

Aaron: As of this writing, it appears Rodgers will play Sunday. But, Joe's spot-on about the potential cumulative impact of all the injuries in Green Bay. I'm far enough behind him, though, that I have to be the contrarian out of sheer desperation. Also, the two teams Miami beat this year are a combined 1-8. Pick: Green Bay

Kansas City at Houston

Joe: Both teams have a lot to prove. Both teams have running backs on my fantasy team. One team can't defend against the pass. The other one can't pass. One team is at home. Pick: Houston

Aaron: The Chiefs stymied Colts QB Peyton Manning for most of the game last week, but a succession of Kansas City dropped passes on offense and a fourth quarter defensive collapse gifted Indianapolis with the win. My point? Matt Schaub ain't Peyton Manning, y'all. Pick: Kansas City

Cleveland at Pittsburgh

Joe: Listen, NFL, if everybody agrees that Colt McCoy is a joke, why in the world would anyone draft him at all, much less so early? Just stay away! Meanwhile, Ben Roethlisberger is back from his suspension and is expected to violate the Browns, pressing his offense further towards the end zone in flagrant disregard for any kind of defense. Pick: Pittsburgh

Aaron: Quit hogging all the alleged rape jokes! Pick: Pittsburgh

New Orleans at Tampa Bay

This could be the official "Things Is F*cked Up" game in the NFC South if Tampa wins. I'm not sure the NFL is ready for the Bucs to surge this far ahead quite yet. Pick: New Orleans

Aaron: The Saints haven't lost two in a row since they lost three in a row back in December of…wait, 2009? Why…that was just last year! And, one of those three losses was to Tampa Bay? At home?! (There's your pregame storyline, ESPN NFL Countdown. Looking forward to Chris Berman's contrived vocal inflections at all the italicized parts.) Pick: New Orleans

Detroit at N.Y. Giants

I hereby apologize to the Giants' defense for doubting them. It's a good thing Detroit got all that offense out of their system against the Rams. Pick: NY Giants

Aaron: For those who don't know, Joe actually lives in New York and couldn't be swayed to believe in the Giants' defense, despite having a ringside seat to their Mortal Kombat-ian
flawless victories over TWO Chicago quarterbacks in a single game. Joe's Street Fighter bias is clearly to blame. Pick: NY Giants

Atlanta at Philadelphia

Joe: Oh, I hope the media can make this game all about Michael Vick even though he won't be playing and it's not in Atlanta! Pick: Philadelphia

Aaron: With apologies to's Bill Simmons, here's my baseless reasoning: the energy of the city, with the Phillies playing the San Francisco Giants at home later in the day in the NLCS will carry the Eagles to victory here. Besides, the Eagles haven't won a home game all season, so they'll show up for THIS game just to make sure the Giants will be intimidated -- you'll see it in their eyes -- later tonight in an unrelated baseball game. Pick: Philadelphia

San Diego at St. Louis

Joe: St. Louis is bound to look better at home than they did in that road shellacking at Detroit. But remember the rules for the Chargers: lose, win, lose, win, lose ... that's right. Pick: San Diego

Aaron: Another rule for my least favorite football team -- 2-0 at home this year, 0-3 on the road. And, the level of competition hasn't seemed to matter.
Hee! Anywho, the rumblings out here in the 858 (sorry, Rey Mysterio, but some of us live north of the Interstate-8 Freeway) is that RB Ryan Matthews is finally going to be unchained, set free Emancipation Proclamated and handed the keys to the running game. Pick: San Diego

Baltimore at New England

Joe: Good thing the Patriots got rid of their malcontented all-star wide receiver who wouldn't be nice. Now they get to bring their offense full of undersized white guys and WRs who will be nice to Tom Brady home to face that pushover Ravens D. Pick: Baltimore

Aaron: What...undersized white guys can't overcome insurmountable odds? Were you even alive
in 1987? Pick: Baltimore

Oakland at San Francisco

Joe: Law of averages. Law of averages. Law of averages. (By the way, it's ugly to brag when I'm ahead in the standings, but calling that Oakland win last week was the highlight of my season. I can't imagine anyone watching that game was more overjoyed than I was. No one!) Pick: San Francisco

Aaron: Oh, it WAS glorious, Joe, but I like to think I'm one of the world's few rational Raiders fans. I got an up close look at QB Jason Campbell and reports of his panic attacks as the pocket slightly collapses are accurate. While the point spread (49ers (-7)) is insane; this has the look of "last second field goal" + "letdown game" against/for my favorite team. (Also, kiss my black azz, Chargers fans.) Pick: San Francisco

N.Y. Jets at Denver

Joe: It's weird -- given how much people want to hate Mark Sanchez, you'd think they'd have been all over him on Monday for his first subpar game of the season. Must be nice to have Brett Favre as your own personal rodeo clown. Pick: NY Jets

Aaron: Yup, another contrarian pick. But, I'm stealing Joe's "L-W-L-W-L...what comes next" corollary, since the Broncos have followed the same pattern this season. I'm using his powers against him! Like that episode of the Superfriends when they
meet Dr. Frankenstein! No, you're a dork. Pick: Denver

Dallas at Minnesota

Joe: Speaking of the suddenly rather pathetic Mr. Favre (doesn't it just seem like things got no fun for Brett awfully fast this season? He's playing like anything but a kid out there!), this game has been hyped as a do-or-die affair for both teams. Dallas always seems like the better team in these matchups, huh? Maybe away from the so many damned penalties. Pick: Dallas

Aaron: And, for five weeks of mediocre prognostication...I now have to root for Brett Favre. Leave him alone,
Deadspin! Leave him alone! Pick: Minnesota

Indianapolis at Washington

Joe: Indy hasn't looked impressive against anyone but the Giants this year, but the Redskins can't win ugly-looking games they probably should have lost every week. Pick: Indianapolis

Aaron: I'd like to thank Peyton Manning for offering up his worst performance of the season last week and torpedoing not one, but TWO of my fantasy teams. If any of you know him, could ask him to throw better tonight? Pick: Indianapolis

Tennessee at Jacksonville

Joe: Jacksonville is 3-2 and still might be one of the 4 worst teams in the league. I'm going to keep saying this until their record reflects reality. Pick: Tennessee

Aaron: TWO black quarterbacks in the same game? Remember these salad days of athletic civil rights when you're all voting Republican in November. Pick: Tennessee

Friday, October 15, 2010

Three Baseball Guys: 2010 ALCS/NLCS Predictions

LDS Results

Aaron: 4-0
Tom: 4-0

And, fresh from the bottom of prognostication's mine shaft...

Eugene: 1-3

Despite a perfect run o' pickin' during the Division Series, there were still some surprises that filtered out of the first round. In New York's sweep of Minnesota, national sportswriters continued to push the lazy, unfounded notion that the Yankees were "in the Twins' heads" -- even though DH Jim Thome, 2B Orlando Hudson, SS JJ Hardy and 3B Danny Valencia weren't even with Minnesota in their previous playoff losses to New York AND guys like Hudson, OF Denard Span and OF Delmon Young actually had a solid series. The 2010 Yankees won like they have all putting a nation to sleep with long, Moneyball at-bats.

In the National League, there were people who didn't expect Braves manager Bobby Cox's patented brand of playoff incontinence to make an appearance. Playing platoon splits by intentionally walking 500-pound Pablo Sandoval with two outs and a groundball pitcher on the mound in game one? Letting 2B Brooks Conrad (who'd made two errors on the day) take the field in the ninth inning of game three with a one-run lead? Leaving an obviously gassed Derek Lowe (96 pitches on three days rest) in to face one more batter in game four?

Yet, Teflon Cox remains exempt from criticism. His old-school "goin' with my gut" style is comfort food to the stodgy, sycophantic writers and broadcasters who cover the game like it's still 1960.

New York Yankees v. Texas Rangers

Aaron: The Rangers and Yankees played each other eight times during the regular season, splitting the series 4-4. Included in that, the Bombers swept a three-game series at Yankee Stadium back in mid-April, while the Rangers returned the favor with a three-game sweep at home in September. The obvious x-factor for Texas is SP Cliff Lee, but he won't be available until game three in the Bronx and – if necessary – game seven. This puts extra pressure at the top of the Rangers' rotation (CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis). These are two terrific offenses and it wouldn't be surprising to see early departures from starting pitchers on either side. If that happens – and it boils down to bullpens – the Rangers can ride a few old-fashioned slugfests straight to the pennant. Pick: Rangers in 7.

Eugene: Since I didn't pick these teams, I was planning on a Ray/Twins LCS. The Rays pitching is much better than the Twins hitters, who are stretched thin. Since neither made it, I guess I should look at the Yankees and Rangers. I give the edge in pitching to the Yankees. CC and Cliff Lee are a wash; Texas really doesn't have much to counter Andy Pettitte and his track record in October. Hitting wise, I'd say a wash here. Pick: Yankees in 7.

Tom: I am stunned that Ron Washington is holding Lee until Game 3. I find it interesting that two managers have not been willing to roll the dice on 3-days-rest Cliff Lee. I thought Lee's start would be totally dependent on the outcome of Game One. Presuming the Rangers won game one, Lee would be held until game 3. If not, going to the Bronx down 2-0 seemed like suicide. That said, CC Sabathia is, by a wide margin (zing!),
at his worst on 6+ days rest. That leaves them stealing Game 1 from CC, taking Game 3 with Lee on the mound, taking Game 4 from AJ Burnett, and then taking Game 7 with Lee on the mound the 2nd time. None of those four things sound unreasonable, do they? Rangers in 7.

San Francisco Giants v. Philadelphia Phillies

Aaron: The Giants are actively downplaying the news, but reports of San Francisco SP Tim Lincecum's bothersome blister can't be candy-coated. At least some of The Freak's mid-season malaise (4.61 ERA in 18 starts from late May through late August) could be attributed to previous blister issues. And, if this collection of Phillies hitters can strike early, it's capable of rolling over any All-Star arm from any team. The Giants have enough depth in their rotation to give the Phillies a fight and possibly take two of three when the series shifts to the Bay Area. But, the "good pitching beats good hitting" myth only goes so far, San Francisco. Pick: Phillies in 6.

Eugene: Man, this will be a good series. Both rotations are top of the line, even with Lincecum's blisters (maybe he should avoid the Josh Beckett "Super Glue" medical remedy). The edge in hitters goes to the Phillies. Buster Posey and Aubrey Huff isn't enough to get the job done for the Giants. The Phillies only really have holes at catcher and third, if everything is working; even those holes aren't the worst option in the world. Pick: Phillies in 6.

Tom: The most comical part of this series will be watching Fox try to extend a 2.5 hour Halladay/Lincecum game in to their normal 3.5 hour broadcast mess. In my
football picks column this season, I've taken a $1500 budget and placing bets to see how the season worked out. When I originally looked at this series, the Giants were 3-1 dogs. I have to say... +300 on betting on Lincecum and Cain to go 4-0 was, well, tempting. I wrote the bet in to this week's football picks column before checking Pinnacle today to see the price had fallen to +220. That's less tempting, but still... I think this series is much closer than people seem to think. I mean... their season series was split 3-3. In equal parts going against the grain and the reflexive desire to root for the team my football team was named after... Giants in 6.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

TBG Eats: The NEW Pastrami Grilled Sandwich from Jack in the Box

Current Weight: 171.4 lbs.

From my
What Aaron Won't Eat post:

"Whenever I tell someone that I really don't like pastrami or corned beef [deli meat], their response is ALWAYS the same: "You've never had GOOD pastrami or corned beef."

That could be true…to a point.

Y'see, I was very young when my mother first introduced me to corned beef, but my memories of those innocuous meals are written with indelible ink – as are almost ALL food-related recollections from my morbidly obese adolescence. When money was especially tight, my mom would build dinner from a can of
Mary Kitchen Corned Beef Hash and a few fried eggs.

In my five-year-old mind, I can still envision the hash when it first hit the skillet: the perfectly micro-diced potatoes, the cold gelatinous fat holding the contents of the can together and the over-processed corned beef that smelled saltier than seawater.

Back then, we ate LOTS of meat that came from a can – from
Vienna sausages to deviled ham – and my mother had a knack for turning cheap eats into an event. "It's breakfast for dinner!", she'd declare. I was big into superheroes back then, so my mom would carve out the fried eggs' hard yolk, set the greasy egg whites atop the greasier entrée and insist that our corned beef hash was wearing a mask. (I only hope that one day, my six-year-old son Jalen has an equally awesome/embarrassing anecdote to share about me.)

Years later, canned corned beef hash was one of the first meals I made for myself when I moved out of my parents' house and into my own apartment. After one bite, I'd determined the only thing from my childhood that had aged worse than my sepia-and-sodium-toned memories of canned hash was the once-popular concept of
sitcom character catchphrases.

Since then, I've sporadically enjoyed homemade corned beef and cabbage -- courtesy of everyone from my late grandmother to acquaintances who enable my family's freeloading ways. It's decent eatin', but nowhere near the exalted "last meal before lethal injection" level.

My relationship with pastrami was similarly dysfunctional. And, since my dad was a Georgia-born, Marine Corps-loyalist whose lunch pail reflected his uncomplicated tastes, the only mid-day meats my mother would buy were bologna, ham and that ol' African-American standby,

Of course, my mom's purchasing tendencies leaned towards whatever was on sale at the supermarket or pictured on the front of an expiring 60-cent coupon. There were rare pre-packaged pastrami and roast beef cameos in our refrigerator, but California's lack of old-school delicatessens had me convinced that pastrami was the overly-salted, overly-peppered red meat that wasn't worthy of the Oscar Mayer seal it was stacked behind.

Yup...Oscar Mayer. In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably let you know that my first taste of Philly cheesesteaks were from the mid-1980s national introduction of
Steak-Umms. Don't judge me.

It's time for me to establish some deli credibility. Thankfully, Jack in the Box -- a local mom-n-pop operation known for deli sandwiches that are hand-crafted with humility -- has introduced its newest Grilled Sandwich, made with: pastrami, Swiss cheese, pickle strips and deli mustard on grilled Artisan bread.

Jack in the Box has had an exceptional track record with their Grilled Sandwich line. The
Turkey, Bacon and Cheddar sandwich nabbed a perfect score back in March. A few months later, JitB's Grilled Breakfast Sandwich scored 4.5 out of 5. And, the streak ends at two.

During the few bites when the pastrami wasn't absolutely overpowered by the other ingredients, it brought back unpleasant memories of the mass-produced, commercial meat that I never developed much love for. Most of my sandwich, however, featured just two strong tastes through and through. This wouldn't be a problem if mustard and pickle sandwiches are acceptable to your palate.

Personally, I'm a "light mustard" and "no pickles" guy, but I held out hope that these condiments would work well with the meat. Instead, they took the pastrami out back to the alley and kicked the p*ss out of it. The Swiss cheese flavor was equally nonexistent, while the grilled bread -- usually warm, toasty and buttery -- was dry and stiff.

In all seriousness, I'm well aware that Jack in the Box isn't synonymous with "delicatessen". But, if this was pastrami's last attempt to win me over to its blue-collar, working-class deli symbolism, then I'll be sticking to MY blue-collar, working-class deli symbolism: white meat turkey breast with just a single strip of skin left on, avocado (sliced, not mashed), pesto spread and not-too-ripe tomatoes on a crusty roll. Oooh...and a teeny-tiny cup of the seafood bisque.

Don't forget where you came from, kids.

Grade: 1 (out of 5) Calories: 616 Fat: 32g

Monday, October 11, 2010

The LL Chronicles #2: More Moments from Fall Ball

Before we begin, I wanted to express my sincere appreciation to everyone who enjoyed the first installment of "The LL Chronicles". Now that my six-year-old son Jalen has reversed his early-season struggles at the plate, he's asked more than once over the past few days: "Are you going to write about me on your blog, again?"

So, yeah…I hope y'all don't mind. Jalen's team had back-to-back games this past weekend and currently sits atop our district's Fall Ball standings with a 6-1 record.

(1) Lil' Josh Gibson -- Jalen has long maintained an excited curiosity about catching. He loves squatting behind the imaginary home plate in our living room – just in front of the center of our love seat – and flashing a complex combination of signs with every finger on his hand. He gets a kick out of wearing the catcher's gear whether it's during a game, under my watchful eye, or in a sporting goods store, behind my back.

Earlier this season, it was Jalen's turn to catch the pitching machine for an inning. It was a bloodbath. Fastballs bounced off every part of his body except his glove. Here is an
amazingly accurate reenactment of the beating he endured. J looked at me after the inning and declared, "I don't wanna play catcher, anymore." He caught twice more this past weekend and each time turned the backstop into a lopsided dodgeball contest.

(2) The Rivalry -- Our team was undefeated (4-0) as the kids took the field against the Blue Team on Saturday, October 2. We'd beaten this squad twice before, but something felt off as we went through warm-ups. There was no organized practice in the week leading up to the game – save for an optional session at a local batting cage that immediately devolved into several spirited periods of unsanctioned aluminum bat field hockey and/or lightsaber wars.

We played our sloppiest and most unwatchable ballgame of the season in a 19-10 loss. Jalen – fresh off his 2 for 3 performance in the previous game – went 0 for 3 with three strikeouts, as he fell right back into all his bad habits at the plate and obnoxiously "called his shot" before his last at-bat, gesturing towards the centerfield fence. Meanwhile, I noticed that the Blue Team's coaches were (too?) enthusiastically waving runners home from third base when up by a dozen runs at one point. Of course, I'm new to Little League's "unwritten rules" and since none of our coaches complained…

(3) Bad Dad -- The day after our first loss of the season, I took Jalen back to the baseball diamond in an attempt to "fix" his hitting. In almost six-and-a-half years of occasionally spotty parenting, this would go down as one of my more embarrassing episodes. It was an uncommonly muggy Sunday morning and the entire field was weighted down by a blanket of immovable moisture. Compounding the problem, I was using a new bucket of balls for batting practice that were still shiny and slick from the factory. The humid conditions turned them into slippery, uncontrollable projectiles.

I accidentally beaned Jalen so many times that he began bailing out on the few pitches I could get over the plate. He hung in there until the last hit-by-pitch when I finally noticed the tears welling up in eyes that he'd probably been fighting like hell to hold back the entire time. We both decided to call it a day.

(4) Mother Knows Best -- Thankfully, Mrs. Bootleg is always available to fix my infrequent f**k-ups as a father. A few days after I'd gone all
Darth Vader on Jalen, the wife had him back at his weekly baseball skills session and was able to articulate to the instructors precisely what he needed to work on. Our next game was Saturday, October 9 and Jalen went 2 for 2 – including his first extra-base hit, an opposite field double – in a 10-1 win.

(5) The Squeeze Play -- Jalen spent the first inning of Saturday's win playing catcher. The leadoff hitter for our opponents was a cute little ponytailed lass named Danica. As I stood in the far end of the fenced-off dugout – closest to home plate – I could hear some of the famously casual hitter-catcher chatter that's been a part of the grand old game for generations. Jalen to Danica: "Hey…what's your name?"; Jalen to Danica, again: "Haven't I seen you before?" and Jalen to Danica, one more time: "NICE swing!" I'm pretty sure Jalen is the first hitter in baseball history – at any level – to go 2 for 2 and 0 for 3 in the same game.

(6) Squeeze Play, the Sequel -- One of our players has an older, teenage sister. Before games, we'll take the team out along the left field line for warm-ups and yesterday this young woman was leaning against the outfield fence, fiddling with her cell phone. She was giving off the kind of uninterested indifference that's worthy of the redundancy. While waiting his turn for soft-toss, Jalen walked right up to her, introduced himself and said, "I play baseball. I had two hits yesterday." She politely chatted with him for a few minutes, as…wait. Did Jalen just drop a pick-up line that worked?

(7) Re-Gifting the Beatdown -- Yesterday's game was against the Blue Team, as our boys set out to avenge their only loss of the season. We dominated on offense during a 20-11 victory that included a loud and caustic argument between…whoops, that's the next paragraph. Jalen had the best day of his Little League career, going 4 for 4 with an RBI.

(8) The Rivalry II -- As stated earlier, I'm not intimately familiar with Little League's meticulous rule book. In particular, on base hits that reach the outfield, there's a restriction at this level that prohibits a baserunner from advancing to the next base if he hasn't reached the previous base before the ball is thrown back to the infield. (For example, assume there's no one on base. If a batter gets a hit to right field, he can only advance to second base on the play, if the right fielder hasn't thrown the ball back to the infield before the batter touches first base.)

During yesterday's game, the Blue Team had runners on first and second. The batter knocked a solid hit to centerfield. The centerfielder quickly got the ball back to the infield, but the baserunners had already advanced and made wide turns around second and third base, respectively. Our head coach screamed that the runners couldn't advance beyond second and third base. He then directed our shortstop to tag out the runner who'd gone too far around the bag at second and hadn't yet returned.

I assumed the act of "sending baserunners back" was the loose equivalent of a "dead ball", where play stops and ostensibly "resets" for the next hitter. The Blue Team's head coach was livid when the out at second base was upheld, which got our head coach fired up, for some reason.

Before I knew it, the coaches were arguing the rule book with each other from opposing dugouts. Fortunately, the kids seemed completely oblivious to the scene. For what it's worth, I thought the other team's coach was right. The play is either live (and the runners advance at their own risk) or its not (and the runners are forced to return to the previous base) – it can't be both.

If only there was a way for the coaches to appropriately settle their differences. But, we'd need a steel cage, some pyro and a contrived play-on-words for
Fall Ball.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

2010 NFL Pickery -- Week #5

Last Week:

Joe: 11-3
Tom: 11-3
Aaron: 7-7


Joe: 43-19
Tom: 37-25
Aaron: 34-28

N.Y. Giants at Houston

Aaron: A few plays before the Giants' swarming, suffocating defense knocked out Bears QB Jay Cutler last week, I turned to Mrs. Bootleg and remarked, "New York's D might kill someone tonight." After injuring Chicago's second-string QB Todd Collins, the Bears practically surrendered when their third-string QB (Caleb Hanie) threw short and over-the-middle on fourth and long late in a two-possession game. Perhaps having the Giants defense take the month of September off was a wise move, after all. Pick: NY Giants

Joe: Yeah, but Houston can run the ball where the Bears really couldn't. The Giants can win this game, but it's going to have to be with their offense. Pick: Houston

Jacksonville at Buffalo

Aaron: 15 years ago, my hometown of Los Angeles lost both the Rams and Raiders. With the removal of the near-weekly TV blackouts, LA fans were assured of an NFL doubleheader every Sunday afternoon. Remember that when you successfully persuade either the Jaguars or Bills to relocate by the end of this decade, LA. Pick: Buffalo

Joe: Meanwhile, I'm told this game will be blacked out in Buffalo, a relative rarity even for a franchise as moribund as the Bills. It's a shame, because this might well be their one win of the season. Pick: Buffalo

Chicago at Carolina

Aaron: The Panthers haven't won a game since naming Jimmy Clausen the starting quarterback – and this was WITH their best player (WR Steve Smith) on the field. The story out of Carolina is that Smith will miss this game with an ankle injury. The truth? I don't think he wants to face a pissed-off Bears' defense that just might act out the opening scene of The Last Boy Scout on the hapless Panthers. Timely. Pick: Chicago

Joe: Did you make that Last Boy Scout reference just so you could use it in your promotional tweet? Because ... respect. Pick: Chicago

Atlanta at Cleveland

Aaron: How long is the "novelty" meme that follows every white non-QB, non-OL offensive player going to last? The black quarterback story died somewhere between Doug Williams and Donovan McNabb. The black head coach thing was scuttled once and for all when Tony Dungy's Colts met Lovie Smith's Bears in the Super Bowl. The juvenile nonsense surrounding Cleveland's white FB Peyton Hillis is ridiculous. Besides, my own "black guy who likes baseball and craft beers" bit is infinitely more interesting. Pick: Atlanta

Joe: If you're not going to let me make my Matt Suhey/Nick Goings jokes, I'll just take my business elsewhere. Pick: Atlanta

Tampa Bay at Cincinnati

Aaron: All season, I've been able to identify the games that have a bit of an upset buzz while getting burned by NOT picking the upset. (See: last week's win by those jerkface Cleveland Browns.) The Bucs are coming off of a bye week and there are some prognosticators who think Tampa Bay has a chance here. As for know the drill. Pick: Cincinnati

Joe: This Tampa team seems like they'd be fun to root for. No expectations but enough talent to pull through every so often, so every win must seem like a total triumph. Still not sure I have a handle on this Bengals team, besides the fact that they're not that great. Pick: Tampa Bay

Kansas City at Indianapolis

20 years ago this week, the Colts defeated the Chiefs 23-19 in Indianapolis. And, while Peyton Manning could retire today as a certain Hall of Famer; the journeyman, role players and short-time superstars from 1990 simply can't be beat. That KC/Indy game alone featured Steve DeBerg, Christian Okoye and Barry Word for the Chiefs. Meanwhile, the Colts were led by Jack Trudeau at QB with an eager-to-learn Jeff George waiting in the wings. Unpopular, flat-top haircut, acid-washed jeans Aaron misses those days. Pick: Indianapolis

Joe: Of course you do -- your Raiders were in the midst of a 12-4 season where they'd win the AFC West and make it all the way to the AFC Championship game, where ... hold on, let me look this up ... sorry, my internet's kinda slow, I'll get back to you. Pick: Indianapolis

Denver at Baltimore

Aaron: It's the Broncos' top-ranked passing game vs. the Ravens' top-ranked passing defense. When the teams are this evenly matched, it's time to go to each city's representative sitcoms. Denver is arguably best known for
Mork & Mindy (which actually took place in Boulder, CO, but really...same city) and Roc put Baltimore on the map. Hmmm...Robin Williams vs. Charles S. Dutton. Pam Dawber vs. the middle-aged black woman in TLC's Waterfalls video. Wow. Surprisingly, no contest. Pick: Baltimore

Joe: I know the Broncos won last week when I said they were terrible, but I'm still not buying this "evenly matched" stuff. Joe Flacco's been playing well the last two weeks, despite failing Bill Simmons's crucial "looks like an awesome guy" test. Pick: Baltimore

St. Louis at Detroit

Aaron: The Rams haven't played a team that currently has a winning record, but their defense is now fourth in the NFL, y'all. With rookie Lions RB Jahvid Best limited and still nursing a toe injury, is a road game in Detroit really that dangerous for a young Rams team? (Assuming, of course, that the Rams' pre-game/post-game security motorcade includes plenty of
ED-209's.) Pick: St. Louis

Joe: If Detroit can manage to not let the intensity drop too much from facing the Packers to facing the Rams, I'm thinking this is the perfect opportunity for win #1. St. Louis is an up-and-coming team, but they're not "pick 'em on the road" good yet. Pick: Detroit

Green Bay at Washington

Aaron: That Green Bay bandwagon seems to have slowed down a bit. Should a loss to a fired-up Bears team in Chicago and a lackluster two-point win at home against the last-place Lions be any kind of cause for alarm? Not this week, as Redskins QB Donovan McNabb is reintroduced to his good friend, the letdown game. Pick: Green Bay

Joe: Not to mention that after the quick 14-0 first quarter lead against the Eagles, neither McNabb nor the Redskins looked all that impressive anyway. As for the Packers, I have to wonder how in the world they let the Seahawks make that trade for Marshawn Lynch. This is a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations and their one glaring weakness is at running back, and they managed to let Seattle take Lynch for a 4th round pick? Is a Super Bowl title not worth a third-round draft pick? A second-round pick? For a running back who's better than the guy who got injured in the first place? I know I have a self-interest in seeing my team get a better draft pick, but they're just gonna stand pat with Brandon Jackson? All right, then. Pick: Green Bay

New Orleans at Arizona

Aaron: The Saints' three wins have been by a margin of five, three and two points. The Cardinals have surrendered 41 points in two of the past three weeks. If you had to pick one of these two trends to continue, which would it be? No, no...take your time. I'll wait. Pick: New Orleans

Joe: Cam comes at you with stats, I come at you with this: the Cardinals' two wins have come against the Raiders and Rams, and their starting quarterback does the Bills the favor of making Ryan Fitzpatrick the second-least likely starting NFL QB. Pick: New Orleans

Tennessee at Dallas

Aaron: I still can't believe the Cowboys opened as seven point favorites against any team with a running game like Tennessee's. But, then again, the Dallas defense is strong enough to befuddle boy-genius QB Vince Young and force another Kerry Collins relief appearance on America. Pick: Dallas

Joe: (You guys, no one tell Aaron that this is another one of those times he's recognizing upset potential and then picking against it.) Pick: Tennessee

San Diego at Oakland

Aaron: It'd be nice if you could win a game against these guys, Raiders. It's not easy living here in San Diego when you lose. Year-round, temperate 72-degree sunshine and avocado served on everything, aside. Pick: San Diego

Joe: The Raiders have to like San Diddy's win-one, lose-one approach to the season. This game worries me as a Phillip Rivers fantasy owner. Also, my early-season picks lead has made me reckless. Pick: Oakland

Philadelphia at San Francisco

Aaron: Eagles QB Kevin Kolb got lots of postgame props for his fill-in work versus the Redskins last week. His 22 for 35 completion count was solid enough, but I'm going to judge him with my own eyes and ears. I only caught his final drive, when he was overthrowing everyone in the stadium and the always-tolerant Philadelphia fans were letting him have it. And, based on those four plays... Pick: San Francisco

Joe: I have to agree. Kolb was looking Edwardsian (as in "Trent Edwards-ian") last week, and the Niners are getting waaaay too much hate for a team that nearly beat the Saints and Falcons. Pick: San Francisco

Minnesota at N.Y. Jets

Aaron: Honestly, I love that the shocking concept of "Randy Moss, malcontent" (and his resultant trade to Minnesota) can dominate the sports-news cycle. Moss was peeved and disinterested for four weeks in New England versus the two entire seasons he took off in Oakland. The media's reaction reminded me of Johnny Damon's "shocking" free agent departure from Boston several years ago. Has stuff never happened until it occurs within a 300-mile radius of Bristol, Connecticut? Pick: Minnesota

Joe: Look, I hate Boston and ESPN as much as the next guy, but the fact that a future Hall of Famer was such a disruption that he caused a mid-season trade in the NFL somehow shouldn't have been a huge story? Personally, I'm just angry that more people weren't talking about how, with Moss, Favre, and Jared Allen, the Vikings have managed to wrest "Most Hateable Sports Franchise" away from the Miami Heat. (...What's that? People are still buying the Poor Poor Cleveland storyline? Fine.) Pick: NY Jets