Thursday, November 24, 2011

2011 NFL Pickery -- Week #12

Last Week

Joe: 9-5
Aaron: 8-6

Current Standings

Joe: 103-57
Aaron: 99-61

Green Bay at Detroit

Aaron: The Lions – coming off a 49-point performance last Sunday and playing here in front of a raucous home crowd – will be the trendy pick to upend the undefeated Packers. And, speaking of trends: "undefeated Packers". Would you bet against Green Bay to score 50, if Detroit put up 49, again? Me neither. Pick: Green Bay

Joe: I'm just happy that the Lions are playing such a meaningful Thanksgiving game again. This is the NFL's reward for stubbornly sticking with the Lions as the Thanksgiving tradition and suffering through a decade's worth of blowouts. ...This one might still be a blowout. Pick: Green Bay

Miami at Dallas

Aaron: Remember that time when then-Panthers QB Matt Moore came off the bench to win three late-season games in 2009 (against Brett Favre's Vikings, Eli Manning's Giants and the eventual Super Bowl champion Saints)? Carolina made him the starter entering 2010, before realizing Moore wasn't that good – replacing him with Jimmy Clausen. Moore's now starting for the Dolphins and you want me to take him on the road on a short week? Nope. Pick: Dallas

Joe: I don't want to speak too soon, but DeMarco Murray's presence at RB really does seem to have filled out the Cowboys offense in a way they haven't had since Marion Barber's one great half-season. Please just someone end this infernal Miami hot streak. Pick: Dallas

San Francisco at Baltimore

Aaron: With all of the recent developments and owner concessions towards player safety, it's hard to understand why teams are still forced to play late west coast games on Sundays and then another on the east coast four days later. And, on the busiest travel weekend of the year! Pick: Baltimore

Joe: Baltimore's thus far been able to come up big against big opponents, but they've been giving up a lot of points lately. And the Niners have been charmed. Pick: San Francisco

Buffalo at NY Jets

Aaron: I assume my friend Joe has rearranged his travel plans so that he's back on the train from Buffalo and heading home to the city while his beloved Bills are playing this game. Out of sight, out of mind, yes? Pick: NY Jets

Joe: All my illusions about the Bills slump -- bad matchups against the Jets and Cowboys; bad luck; the offense needing a team it could out-gun -- were all blown away with that loss to Miami. It's over. Another mediocre (at best) season. The playoff drought continues. Oh, and the Jets are still a terrible matchup for the Bills. Pick: NY Jets

Minnesota at Atlanta

Aaron: During the Vikings v. Raiders game last Sunday, my seven-year-old son took a little too much pleasure out of seeing All-Pro RB Adrian Peterson leave with an injured ankle. I properly chastised my son, but the injury sure does make picking Vikings games a helluva lot easier. Pick: Atlanta

Joe: It's too bad because I was enjoying Christian Ponder getting his sea legs with the advantage of having AP running the ball. Hard to imagine the Vikes' offense will have the same zip. Pick: Atlanta

Arizona at St. Louis

Aaron: How soon after the season will Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald demand a trade to a team with a competent quarterback? There's no way he shows up for training camp next year, right? I haven't seen a holdout coming from this far away since Rickey Henderson turned the disgruntled late arrival into an annual event. Pick: St. Louis

Joe: I've never been more depressed to have multiple fantasy-football interests in one game. Pick: Arizona

Carolina at Indianapolis

Aaron: Now that the Colts have a two game lead in the race for worst record, there's some talk of them giving a competitive effort here. I can't imagine that an organization as smart and respected as Indianapolis would take that chance, though. The tanking continues. Pick: Carolina

Joe: I've never been one to hate on Peyton Manning and the Colts for winning dull, but honestly, even when they're tanking a season and chasing 0-16 they're boring. Pick: Carolina

Tampa Bay at Tennessee

Aaron: If the Titans really do intend to start QB Matt Hasselbeck – who injured his elbow (throwing arm) in last week's loss to the Falcons – then it's likely the team will need 2011 statistical cipher Chris Johnson to step up at running back. Trust me…I know how this story ends. Pick: Tampa Bay

Joe: Man, I just do not trust either of these teams. I guess I have to go with Tampa, who looked feisty against Green Bay and who probably are destined to be the team hanging around the bottom of that "playoff picture" graphic each network will be flogging until the season ends. Pick: Tampa Bay

Houston at Jacksonville

Aaron: The resurrection of relevancy for Texans QB Matt Leinart! I love the "even HE can't screw this up" narrative that's followed him around for two weeks since starting QB Matt Schaub was lost for the season. Sportswriters STILL seem irked that a young, handsome and available football player was more interested in being young, handsome and available than developing as a football player. Can you believe this guy?! Pick: Houston

Joe: Man, of the two of us, I was certain I'd be the first to bring up how handsome Matt Leinart is. Needless to say, I'll be rooting for Houston. Pick: Houston

Cleveland at Cincinnati

Aaron: I guess this is as good a place as any to squeeze in an overt reference to my fantasy football team. I'm in a four-way tie for first place in my money league and I have the Bengals' defense against the miserable Browns. If Cleveland QB Colt McCoy throws for five touchdowns, you'll know why. Pick: Cincinnati

Joe: Isn't this supposed to be when the hard part of the Bengals' schedule kicks in? Pick: Cincinnati

Washington at Seattle

Aaron: The week-to-week competitiveness of these two teams appears to be based on some sort of random number generator. So, which team will win here? Oh, let's say…Moe. Pick: Seattle

Joe: If Marshawn Lynch keeps running well, I'll keep liking the Seahawks as a spoiler. Meanwhile, after that hot start, the Redskins might be the worst team in football. Pick: Seattle

Chicago at Oakland

Aaron: Some troubling signs for my Raiders. RB Michael Bush – who took a tremendous pounding during his breakout game vs. the Chargers on November 10 – looked two steps slower last week vs. the Vikings (and most of his output was in garbage time). The penalty situation has reached a comical state of crisis. And, head coach Hue Jackson continues to be bailed out of indefensible play calls (running a QB keeper at the goal line with eight seconds left in the first half and NO timeouts). Even without Bears QB Jay Cutler, I'm worried here. Pick: Chicago

Joe: If Carson Palmer continues his charmed level of play, I'd say Jay Cutler's absence here makes a huge difference indeed. Pick: Oakland

New England at Philadelphia

Aaron: A Vince Young-led renaissance for the Eagles based off of the results from one game? Sure, why not? Pick: Philadelphia

Joe: Not buying it. Not buying the Eagles' defense putting together two straight strong weeks either. Pick: New England

Denver at San Diego

Aaron: Lost amid all of the Tim Tebow hullaballoo is that the Broncos' defense has been pretty terrific lately. The Chargers are essentially playing for their season here and have the talent for a gallant last stand. Curiously, I've written variations of that last sentence as it relates to the Chargers for at least the past three weeks. Pick: Denver

Joe: An excellent point about the Broncos defense. Even conceding the insane and hilarious magic of that final drive, Tebow put together ONE successful drive for Denver in the entire game. That's not nearly enough if the Denver D doesn't hold up. Not sure that magic holds up in San Diego. Pick: San Diego

Pittsburgh at Kansas City

Aaron: Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is expected to play despite a fractured right thumb. It seems the only thing that can keep him off the field is a league suspension for alleged sexual assault. That's the kind of toughness that inspires us all. Pick: Pittsburgh

Joe: A rematch of the epic 1994 AFC Wild Card round matchup, when future Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Marcus Allen led the Chiefs to victory and ultimately one game short of the Super Bowl. Into this proud tradition steps ... who's quarterbacking the Chiefs again? Pick: Pittsburgh

NY Giants at New Orleans

Aaron: It's high time we all accept that the 8-7 Giants will be playing the 8-7 Cowboys for the NFC East title on the final day of the regular season and all of the breathless around-the-clock coverage that'll come with it. The winner's eventual loss to Detroit in the first round of the playoffs will get decidedly less air time. Pick: New Orleans

Joe: The Giants sure picked a rough week to test their whole "This season's not going to end with a slump like so many others" theory. Pick: NY Giants

Thursday, November 17, 2011

2011 NFL Pickery -- Week #11

Last Week

Joe: 8-8
Aaron: 6-10(!)

Current Standings

Joe: 94-52
Aaron: 91-55

New York Jets at Denver (Thursday Night)

Joe: I have to admit, I'm probably getting sucked into exactly the narrative that the NFL wants me to get sucked into, but Tebow's backwards style of play really does add an element of interest into his games. Two completed passes in a win will do that. Meanwhile: same old Jets. They should be able to score on the Broncos, but Mark Sanchez is going to have to not screw it up. Enjoy, Jets fans! Pick: NY Jets

Aaron: With just about three minutes left in the third quarter during last week's Broncos v. Chiefs game, Tim Tebow had an open receiver on third down and short. Tebow spotted his guy and chucked a lawn dart that would've needed to travel another yard-and-a-half just to reach his receiver's feet. It was the worst non-pressure, unobstructed pass I've ever seen. Tebow might still finish the season as the starter and the Broncos might win a few more games, but tonight…the experiment ends. Pick: NY Jets

Buffalo at Miami

Aaron: The Dolphins have been perfectly respectable in November, beating up on a pair of bad teams and giving the Giants all they could handle on the road. I'm rooting for the Bills here, though, if only to silence the "Did Buffalo jump the gun by signing QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to a lucrative contract extension?" discussion. For those keeping track, yes, that talking point IS coming from the same people who thought it was a good idea three weeks ago. Pick: Buffalo

Joe: I hate everything. Pick: Buffalo [Ed. Note: For you new readers, Joe is a Bills fan, so...yeah.]

Dallas at Washington

Aaron: These intradivision NFC East games usually provide copious amounts of "zig" to the "zag" of our collective expectations. But, thankfully, the suck that Washington brings to the table is one of the league's few guarantees. Pick: Dallas

Joe: Yeah, it's tough to believe that a Cowboys team that looks good is going to keep looking good. And there's no bigger stumbling block than a road game in the division. But these clowns in Washington! What a bunch of clowns! Pick: Dallas

Oakland at Minnesota

Aaron: Despite last week's impressive road win in San Diego, I remain unsure about my Raiders in the short term. The run defense has been creaky all season and now faces the league's best running back here. And, QB/erstwhile retiree Carson Palmer will be uneven at times, even though everyone wants to forget the loss to the Broncos two weeks ago. This feels like the final score will be: Adrian Peterson-28, Oakland-24. Pick: Minnesota

Joe: I was hoping this would end up being a point of differentiation between us this week (since, as you'll see, we agree a lot). I underestimated the inability of a fan of a middling NFL team to trust that they won't blow it. Pick: Minnesota

Tampa Bay at Green Bay

Aaron: One of the unwritten agreements from the NFC's realignment last decade should've been the abolishment of this longtime NFC Central match-up. When I was growing up, it was the Ken Patera vs. Dino Bravo of football rivalries. Don't bother looking them up. I think the analogy is even stronger if you don't know who they are. Pick: Green Bay

Joe: Aw, the Battle of the Bays! Steve DeBerg! Chris Jacke! The classic cellar-dweller rivalry! Anyway, picking Packers games continues to be boring as hell. Packers. Always. Pick: Green Bay

Carolina at Detroit

Aaron: If the Lions don't quickly find some consistency -- and if the NFL season continues on its current path -- Detroit might be remembered as the only team that defeated Tim Tebow in 2011. How did we get here, people?! Pick: Detroit

Joe: The clash for pastel-blue supremacy rages on. Detroit has gone from being the upstart darlings of the league to its frustratingly inconsistent teenager who can't run the ball. Fortunately for them, Carolina can't stop the ball. Pick: Detroit

Jacksonville at Cleveland

Aaron: I learned my lesson from picking the Browns to defeat the Rams last week. And, the lesson is "always pick against Cleveland if their opponent has the best player between the two teams". Or, just don't pick Cleveland ever. Either one works. Pick: Jacksonville

Joe: The Jags, ever my Waterloo, will probably win this one just to spite me, but I think this is one of Cleveland's unwatchable 10-6 victories. Pick: Cleveland

Cincinnati at Baltimore

Aaron: Both teams are coming off losses. The Bengals loss to the Steelers might've been expected while the Ravens losing to the Seahawks was kinda-sorta inexplicable. The teams in the AFC North are among the league leaders in unexpected outcomes (not an official stat), so I'll assume putting two of them together will cancel out the confusion. As nonsensical corollaries go, this one's absolutely airtight. Pick: Baltimore

Joe: The Ravens have thus far been able to rebound from their unacceptable losses. Cincy's defense is going to be a tougher challenge than the Rams and the Cardinals were able to muster up. Still. Pick: Baltimore

Seattle at St. Louis

Aaron: Both of these terrible teams have wins against opponents (Baltimore and New Orleans, respectively) who may go on to win their divisions. The Rams beat the better of the two teams, so let's go with them here, 'K? Pick: St. Louis

Joe: Between Steven Jackson getting healthy and Brandon Lloyd giving Sam Bradford an acceptable target for once, the Rams might finally be the mediocre team we all thought could go 8-8 and win the West when this season started. Pick: St. Louis

Arizona at San Francisco

Aaron: Five of the 49ers last seven games are against the execrable NFC West. I can't think of a better way to prepare for New Orleans or Chicago or whichever team backs into the NFC East title in January than several late season scrums with Arizona or St. Louis or Seattle. Pick: San Francisco

Joe: I really do hope the Niners go 15-1 on their creampuff schedule and then get the rudest of awakenings in the divisional playoff round. Nothing personal against their fans, but (as always) the sports media is going overboard. Jim Harbaugh is not the secular Tebow, okay? He's just not. Pick: San Francisco

San Diego at Chicago

Aaron: If the Chargers' injury-riddled offensive line repeats their sieve imitation from last week, QB Philip Rivers might not survive to see the second half. Temperatures are expected to be in the 40s, so no one would blame Rivers if he chose not to come out of the locker room after halftime. I know I wouldn't. Pick: Chicago

Joe: It might just be a huge blind spot, but I'm not able to trust the Bears yet. But if the Chargers couldn't beat the defense-less Raiders and Chiefs, I can't see them getting past Chicago. Pick: Chicago

Tennessee at Atlanta

Aaron: Titans' RB Chris Johnson piled up 174 yards from scrimmage last week with a touchdown. Easily his best performance of the season and a faint ray of hope that gives me optimism for my money league fantasy football team. I might not have to shatter my son's piggy bank to afford Christmas gifts, after all. Pick: Atlanta

Joe: I so rarely find myself agreeing with Bill "Commissioner of Shaming the Participants in the NBA Lockout" Simmons that I feel like I should give credit where it's due when our opinions do align. Because at this point, the sabermetric community defending the Falcons going for it on fourth down in their own territory in overtime last week is the craziest shit I have ever seen. Pick: Atlanta

Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants

Aaron: Giants QB Eli Manning is on a pace to throw for 4,779 yards which would be the sixth highest single-season total in history. That number would top big brother Peyton's 4,700 yards thrown in 2010. This is the most surprising sports-related development among siblings since...oh, you know all know it's coming, so let's just get on with it.
Here's a clip of Owen Hart upsetting his brother Bret at Wrestlemania X. It's like Eli passing Peyton, but with more pink. Pick: NY Giants

Joe: As a fantasy investor in the NY Giants defense this week, I'm putting my vote in for a Vince Young appearance. Pick: NY Giants

Kansas City at New England

Aaron: A Monday night blowout with the ESPN broadcast team? Pass. Fortunately,'s Bill Simmons should have another 20,000-word column on the NBA lockout for me to read by then. Pick: New England

Joe: Ugh. Fatten up on empty calories, Patriots. Fatten right up. Pick: New England

Friday, November 11, 2011

10 Things I Learned as a Little League Manager

Three months ago, I agreed to manage my seven-year-old son Jalen's Little League team.

Three years ago, I could've never imagined myself agreeing to such a thing.

Little League managers are supposed to be patient and paternal. They teach without screaming and paint everything with positivity. (I could've assigned any imaginary standard and I'm still not sure how I'd stack up.) But, I gave it a go and I'm glad that I did.

If you're interested in wins and losses, the Blue Team finished 6-3.

If you're interested in the experience, you should keep reading. After all, I learned a lot.

How to Write a Lineup -- As Mrs. Bootleg can attest, my favorite aspect of managing was cobbling together the batting order on the mornings before our games. On game days, I'd wake up well before our habitually early-rising son, put on a pot of coffee and commandeer our upstairs office – statistically reconciling my players' previous performances at the plate with my managerial gut instincts. My wife accused me of "over-thinking" – obviously, an absurd allegation.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to making out a Little League lineup.
Last fall, Jalen played for a manager who kept a static batting order all season long in an attempt to maximize run production by having the more talented kids hit in the top half of the lineup. This past spring, Jalen played for a manager who mixed-and-matched the batting order for every game – regardless of individual skill level – up to and throughout the playoffs, where we were eliminated in short order.

My approach blended the grown-up accountability of the former with the kid-appropriate socialism of the latter – and an undetectable hint of nepotism.

On Opening Day, after using a pair of preseason practices to assess my team's talent, I penciled in Jalen as our leadoff hitter. After that – and in strict accordance with the Old South's wildly successful "separate but equal" initiative – I rotated the more experienced kids from first to sixth and the less experienced kids from seventh to twelfth. Before you judge me, know that this idea was driven by my son who struck out in his first at-bat as a leadoff hitter – swinging at pitches that were over his head. While he ended up 3 for 4 on the day and helped us to a 16-8 win; the value of first-inning runs at this level cannot be understated. Jalen hit sixth in our next game.

Now you may judge me.

How to Assemble a Coaching Staff -- After agreeing to manage my son's team in mid-August, there were two other fathers and a grandfather(!) who volunteered to be my coaches. Sometime between then and our first game on September 11, two of the coaches reneged on their commitments. ("I didn't know there'd be games on Sundays", said one. "I didn't know this would be competitive", said the other. "I thought it would be more fun…like t-ball.")

On the morning of our first game, I asked Mrs. Bootleg to be the team's bench coach. By the end of the season, her responsibilities included bench coach, electronic scoreboard operator, intermittent snack bar attendant and dugout disciplinarian. She did an awesome job at keeping the batting order intact and playing team parent, but she remained shaky on scorekeeping until the end. ("So, if the run scores from third base before they get the out at first base, it doesn't count? Is that a rule?")

How to Build a Blood Feud -- It didn't take long for my Blue Team to find a rival. In our second game of the season, we fell to the Orange Team on a Saturday morning marred by trash-talking from the opposing kids and melodramatic bellyaching from their coaches on every close call. In the top of the second inning, one of my players was tagged out at home plate on a bang-bang play. The Orange Team's manager sprinted from the dugout and argued that, in fact...the runner was out. Yes, you read that right. When I told him the runner was called out, he spat up a sheepish "Oh..." and sprinted back to his bench while pumping his fist -- more than a little
reminiscent of this.

In the season's fifth week, we met the Orange Team again. My kids didn't play well that day and --truthfully -- we deserved to lose. The plodding game pace meant that the top of the final inning began at 3:15 PM -- 15 minutes before the scheduled start time of the game following ours on the same field. As the visitors, the Orange Team sent their first two batters to the plate. Then, with a six-run lead, their manager pulled his team from the diamond -- citing the need to cede the field for the 3:30 PM game.

To be clear: we weren't going to win the game. But, some of my kids -- especially MY kid -- were champing at the bit for one last chance. I unsuccessfully argued that since the 3:30 PM game was the last of the day, the two teams involved could wait 10-15 minutes without concern for running out of time. In return, I received a dismissive "I don't think so" from their manager. Afterwards, as I seethed from the driver's seat, Jalen was busy reading my mind as he reminded me, "We've only got one more chance to beat those guys, Dad." My reflexive parental tut-tut in response came too quickly to be anything other than a lie. ("I don't care about wins and losses, J.")

How to Celebrate/Settle Down my Son -- My son has come a long way from last fall when he struggled mightily at the onset of the season. Jalen made enough consistent contact to ultimately settle in as the team's #2 hitter. His defensive fundamentals and throwing arm earned him semi-permanent residency at shortstop. My son, however, was most excited by the fact that many of his teammates wanted to imitate him. No, not the hitting or the defense. They were more impressed with J's comical scrawls of eye black and exaggeratedly-worn high socks.

Obviously, there's an inherently subjective curve that comes with any parents' analysis. So, let's bring my son back down a few pegs by pointing out that some of his throws from shortstop missed the first baseman by 50 feet, almost finding the faces of a few adults loitering behind foul territory. (Jalen's reactions were usually a 55/45 split between pride and embarrassment.) The high socks thing was an irritant from time to time, as Jalen would fastidiously adjust them after running the bases or playing the field or just sitting on his butt in the dugout. And, while I tolerated some of my son's diva tendencies; I drew the line when he once called time out after getting on base with a single, s-l-o-w-l-y removed his batting gloves and nonchalantly tossed them at my feet.

How to Teach the Game -- On September 30, immediately after our fourth game of the season, I was approached by the father of one of my players. His eight-year-old son was new to baseball but, by the end of the first month, he'd become a decent little hitter and was one of the few kids who wanted to play catcher. (Trust me: for a Little League manager, finding a child who wants to catch is akin to finding $50 on the street.) His father had previously emailed effusive praise my way, convinced that I had somehow "taught" his tall and naturally athletic son to play the game.

On this day, he introduced me to his friend -- who just so happened to have a son of his own who was new to the game. "Coach Aaron can teach anyone how to play baseball", the father beamed. This was all the sales pitch his friend needed. After a few phone calls and some roster-bending, the Blue Team had its newest player: a shorter, less athletic, FIVE-year-old version of the child I "taught" how to play baseball. The following week, I asked the little guy's father if his son had played any baseball before. "No", he replied. "But, he's played cricket." Great.

How to Hide a Child on Defense -- When I was my son's age, right field was where the defensively-challenged children roamed stood. But, since our Little League district requires a certain amount of positional rotation at this level, Coach Aaron had to get creative. Believe it or not, third base -- the hot corner! -- was a solid second option. Most of the balls hit on that side of the infield seemed to become the shortstop's property and our team had exactly two kids who could throw from third-to-first on the fly, so, defensively, it wasn't exactly a net loss. Sometimes, I also used a left field/right field combination for the less experienced kids and plugged in a certain overenthusiastic chocolate-brown kamikaze in centerfield to back-up on every fly ball that inevitably rolled to the wall. Call it the
Kelly Leak Technique.

How Not to Encourage Nicknames -- At an early practice, one of my players wanted me to refer to him by a new nickname he had given himself: "Psycho". This was during one of our always-challenging afterschool practices, where the kids -- confined to classrooms all day -- treated it as an extension of recess. Coincidentally, "Psycho" was wearing a tie-dyed tank-top with his baseball pants. I'd mention he was our only left-handed player, but I'm sure you already knew that. I politely refused his pseudonym, since I knew if it got back to his parents, seven-year-old "Psycho" would throw me under the bus.

Later in the season, while coaching first base, our dugout had gotten particularly rowdy and unruly. As I walked over for a half-hearted reprimand, one of my biggest and strongest kids met me at the fence. Nicholas appeared to be near tears. "Coach Aaron", he began. "Everyone in the dugout is calling me 'Nickel Piss'." I nearly collapsed a lung from all the laughter I somehow stifled. I'm convinced even the slightest titter from me would've branded poor Nicholas as "Nickel Piss" for life. (This could still happen, but it won't be on my watch.)

How to Hold It Together When My Team Nearly Blew a 13-2 Lead -- For the first five innings on October 22, my Blue Team put on a proverbial baseball clinic. Our bats were big while our defense bent, but never broke. My mother made the 100-mile drive south for the game and Jalen couldn't have been more excited to play in front of his grandma. At the start of the sixth and final inning, my kids led 13-2.

And, then our defense broke.

I'd stationed one of my more glove-dependable players at shortstop and watched him make three errors on balls hit by the first four batters. With the bases loaded, my catcher remained a squatting statue on a ball that was hit approximately 18 inches from home plate. Even the other team's worst hitters were reaching base. I know this because they're the kids who invariably received the loudest and longest ovations when they made even a modicum of contact.

As our lead continued to shrink, a small parade of my players' parents peered into the dugout and broke out the rhetorical comedy. ("Are you nervous yet?" and "Do you want ME to push the panic button?") With the score now 13-7, the middle of the order was due up for our opponents. I called out to Jalen in centerfield, "Move back! This kid can hit! Don't let anything get by you!" Sure enough, the batter lashed a line drive up the middle. Jalen charged the rolling ball while curiously waving his bare hand in the air.

To this point, I'd been pretty stoic about the baseball Chernobyl unfolding in front of me. But, when the ball predictably rolled right under Jalen's glove, I turned away in disgust. I caught a glimpse of the "7" on the back of his jersey as he pursued the sphere that eluded him. E-8. 13-9.

After we recorded the second out of the inning, our opponents pushed across their 10th run. My first baseman (Nicholas) had a chance to end it, but he ranged too far to his right for a ground ball and couldn't get back to the bag in time. Making matters worse, he had to leave the game because the baserunner stepped on his foot. (I should've laughed at his unwanted nickname when I had the chance.) This led to one of my favorite conversations of the season:

Me: [To the bench.] "Jason! I need you on defense!"

Jason: "Yeah! I'm FINALLY playing first base!"

Me: "Uh, no. You're going into centerfield. JALEN! You're playing first!"

Jason: "Aww, but I..."

Me: "Centerfield."

Thankfully, the third out came in short order, ending the agony as the Blue Team held on for a 13-10 win. Afterwards, I asked Jalen why he was waving his arm during his outfield error endeavor. "I was waving off the other fielders", he explained. "On a ground ball?", I asked incredulously. "Is Grandma still going to bake cookies tonight?", he responded.

How to Manage the Modern Ballplayer -- Two weeks before our final game, I received an e-vite to the birthday party of one of my better players. Earlier in the season, we played a game with a couple of no-shows. This required me to rework the batting order and adjust our defense on the fly. Joseph -- the soon-to-be birthday boy -- saw me struggling with the decisions and said, "You can put me anywhere on the field, Coach Aaron. I'm just happy to be playing!" I appreciated his overt team-first attitude and I let his parents know after the game what a wonderful little boy they're raising. And, that's why I felt so betrayed when I discovered Joseph's birthday party directly conflicted with the time of our final game. Obviously, Joseph was "...just happy to be playing..." with my emotions.

How to Win the Big One -- On October 29, we played the Orange Team for the third and final time. My bench would be completely empty as three of my kids were unable to attend. All of the absentees were fairly consistent hitters, so I suspected we wouldn't be able to out-slug the Oranges. Instead, I focused on defense by playing my Gold Glove group almost exclusively in the infield and rotating them through a handful of personnel permutations. What? This is how you win the big one! Our defense recorded three quick outs in the top of the first inning (including a terrific 6-3 putout). We scored two in the bottom frame: 2-0, Blue Team.

The Orange defense was matching us play-for-play as my kids could only stretch the lead to 3-0 by the top of the fourth inning. And, then our defense broke...again. I had to move some of my infielders to the outfield in accordance with the league's ambiguous, open-for-interpretation "every player must play at least one full inning in the outfield" rule. In the fourth and fifth innings, every groundball seemed to find one of my less-experienced players. They did not, however, find anyone's gloves. After the Orange Team finished batting in the top of the fifth, they led 5-3.

In the bottom of the fifth, the Blue Team rallied. We'd tied the score at 5-5 and up to the plate stepped Harshal. You might remember him from a few thousand words ago -- he's the cricket-playing five-year-old who's approximately half the size of my son. He popped a little infield single that somehow rolled into no man's land past the pitcher's mound. The go-ahead run scored and one batter later, we'd taken a 7-5 lead.

Top of the sixth inning. We were the last game of the day, so there'd be no time-limit tomfoolery. The first Orange batter smoked a liner down the first base line that Jalen caught with just a flick of his wrist. Once he'd completed his 15-second celebratory self-high five, he signaled to his teammates, "one out". The next two batters reached, but we got the remaining two outs we needed on the next two batters. A 7-5 win with invaluable contributions from "veterans" and "rookies" alike.


As it turned out, this was our last game of the season. Our November 4 game was cancelled due to rain, presumably freeing Joseph from the moral quandary of choosing between his teammates or cake and ice cream.

The day before the rainout, Jalen was sick and stayed home from school. He was still carrying a cold on the 4th when he told me over breakfast, "If it stops raining, I think I can play today."

"I don't think we're playing today", I admitted. "But, that's OK. We ended the season with a nice win."

"Yeah", Jalen said. "Remember that amazing catch I made last week against the Orange Team?"

"J", I responded. "I'll never forget it."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

2011 NFL Pickery -- Week #10

Last Week

Aaron: 10-4
Joe: 9-5

Current Standings

Joe: 86-44
Aaron: 85-45

Oakland at San Diego (Thursday Night)

Joe: I can't believe this matchup happens twice a year and you're still standing, Cam. The tempest that must be raging in your heart as you have to deal with a week's worth of San Diego sports talk about this game. Anyway, if last week's games were any indication, I wouldn't expect much in the way of defense in this matchup. Still, if Phillip Rivers can keep his pick-six total to under two this week, I'm pretty confident he can eke by Carson Palmer. Pick: San Diego

Aaron: The
news of dissension in the Raiders' locker room should be the final, perfectly-fitting puzzle piece to one of the most bizarre seasons in team history. And, there's still seven weeks to go. If the Raiders are sold in the offseason, it's conceivable that Hue Jackson could go from offensive coordinator to head coach to accidental General Manager/Director of Player Personnel to out-of-work in just 18 months. I won't go as far as to say I'm rooting for an uptick in the current 16.7% unemployment rate among African-Americans, but… Pick: San Diego

New Orleans at Atlanta

Aaron: The Saints haven't defeated a decent team on the road all season and just might be looking ahead to their bye week after this game. Although, I'm not exactly sure why anyone would be looking forward to a week off in New Orleans -- home of pirates, drunks and whores. New Orleans -- tacky, overpriced souvenir stores. Pick: Atlanta

Joe: I am actually ashamed it took us this long to go to the "Oh, Streetcar" place. Atlanta's been pretty steady these last few weeks, while the Saints' fortunes have descended wildly into madness. Pick: Atlanta

Houston at Tampa Bay

Aaron: The Texans boast a pair of running backs who could each rush for more than 1,000 yards this season. The Buccaneers, meanwhile, are 26th in run defense this year. Oh, sure...that might sound impressive, but there are only 32 teams in the National Football League! Pick: Houston

Joe: I have no idea if statistics will back me up on this, but doesn't it seem like Tampa is a hellish road game for teams? The Bucs are simultaneously an easy team to look past and yet good enough to pull an upset. And isn't there always a hurricane or awful humidity or something similarly inhospitable? Houston's been looking great, but aren't they due for a head-scratching loss? Pick: Tampa Bay

Arizona at Philadelphia

Aaron: Twenty years from now, I'm convinced we'll all look back at Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb and not believe he was a projected top 12 fantasy quarterback before the 2010 season -- ahead of Matt Ryan, among others. Similarly, those of us who were fans of the NFL twenty years ago still can't believe there were quarterbacks named "Bubby" and "Billy Joe" leading teams down the field. Pick: Philadelphia

Joe: I can't think of a more deflating, demoralizing loss than the one Philly took last week. Just when they were looking set to take the NFC East from behind. ...And you know what? I'm going to let that sentence stand as is. Pick: Philadelphia

Washington at Miami

Aaron: I'm pleased to pat myself on the back for picking the Dolphins to upset the Chiefs last week for their first win. Now, that I've set myself up for a hubristic fall -- a concept made famous by the 1980s Nintendo Entertainment Systems console game "Kid Icarus" -- I'll go all in on the Dolphins again. Pick: Miami

Joe: After watching the Penn State student body behave so poorly in the past week, I feel like an appropriate punishment would be to force them all to watch this game at 1pm on Sunday. Tough but fair. Pick: Miami

Denver at Kansas City

Aaron: Here are the Chiefs' next six games: at New England, Pittsburgh, at Chicago, at New York Jets, Green Bay and Oakland -- with the Broncos as bookends this weekend and in the season finale. This might be your last chance to see your team upright and in the vicinity of the end zone, Chiefs fans. Pick: Kansas City

Joe: Can ANYBODY in the AFC West play defense? Pick: Denver

Tennessee at Carolina

Aaron: Even if we grade on the "backdoor cover" curve, only one of the Panthers' six losses has been by more than seven points. A win here would go a long way towards making Carolina (2-6) everyone's playoff sleeper next season. Yes, that's how it works non-football fans. No, I don't know why. Pick: Carolina

Joe: There are a LOT of games between two awful teams this week. So many, in fact, that Tennessee-Carolina is starting to look like one of the week's better matchups. I still feel like Carolina's defense will keep them from winning the games that Cam Newton makes competitive. Pick: Tennessee

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati

Aaron: The narrative surrounding this game seems to be, "If the Bengals can beat the Steelers, then I'll take them seriously." I'd argue that a 6-2 team doesn't necessarily need your respect, but, yeah...Cincinnati's cupcake schedule to this point has to be considered. Then again, this isn't [whatever year you last won the Super Bowl], Pittsburgh. Pick: Cincinnati

Joe: At some point this season, some team is going to rough Andy Dalton up enough that he starts playing like a rookie again, right? Pick: Pittsburgh

St. Louis at Cleveland

Aaron: A few weeks ago, the Browns hosted the Seahawks and won, 6-3. Why any of the non-San Francisco teams are allowed to play outside the NFC West, I'll never know. And, yes, I can appreciate the glorious irony of the Raiders fan talking trash about sh*tty divisions. Pick: Cleveland

Joe: Yet another marquee matchup. The Rams have to hope they can win another few games this year on the back of Steven Jackson. To say he'll be the best player on the field on Sunday is a massive understatement. Pick: St. Louis

Buffalo at Dallas

Aaron: While listening to's Bill Simmons this week, I learned that the Bills' loss to the Jets has effectively ended Buffalo's season. Simmons predicted an 8-8 finish for the Bills (currently 5-3) based on one home loss to a solid squad. Feel free to print this out and tack it to your bulletin board, Buffalo. Pick: Buffalo

Joe: Sigh. Such a thoroughly demoralizing loss last week. One that has more than just editorially-indulged sportswriters proclaiming the Bills' season over. The silver lining is that maybe the Jets just match up really well against the Bills and are uniquely suited to neutralizing Buffalo's strengths. In case you haven't noticed, that's a pretty terrible silver lining. Pick: Dallas

Jacksonville at Indianapolis

Aaron: And, here we are. Ever since the Colts were annihilated in week one, the experts have been pointing to THIS game as the one Indianapolis had a chance to win. It'd be nice to see the Colts show up -- if only to avoid the inevitable "Are the Colts Tanking the Season?" E:60 investigation, but since the Colts are tanking the season... Pick: Jacksonville

Joe: You know I hate Jacksonville. I'd love to see them hand the Colts their first win of the year. But they've been inexplicably competitive too often this season. Pick: Jacksonville

Baltimore at Seattle

Aaron: So, the Ravens beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh last week and QB Joe Flacco is "good" again. Am I doing this right? And, when he beats the Seahawks, he'll be "bad" again, because Seattle's a terrible team, yes? Back in my day, it was much easier to be in sync with everyone else's sports opinions. Pick: Baltimore

Joe: I haven't seen the mythical Seattle home field advantage much this season, and yet they seem to pull out the same number of unexpected upsets this year, just on the road. YOU figure it out. Pick: Baltimore

N.Y. Giants at San Francisco

Aaron: this a potential "let down" game for the Giants after last week's exhilarating win in New England? Or, is this possibly a trap game for the Giants with the Eagles coming to New York next week? And, is a "let down" game the same as a trap game or are these two distinctly different and ridiculous superstitions? Pick: San Francisco

Joe: There is no reason to think the Giants' excellent start to the season won't continue through the remaining games, right? Pick: NY Giants

Detroit at Chicago

Aaron: Looking for an underrated storyline that's worn out its welcome? Try the "Matt Forte is Grotesquely Underpaid" plot. The Bears running back IS underpaid by the standards of his position and production, but the season-long pregame show pity parties are getting to be a bit much. Isn't it time for some intrepid sportswriter to pen the obligatory "Forte Wants Fatter Checks as Americans Tighten Belts" tripe? Pick: Chicago

Joe: Want to spend an entire Sunday afternoon driving yourself crazy with uncertainty? Try this one on: are the Bears a good team? Pick: Detroit

New England at N.Y. Jets

Aaron: A Hall of Fame quarterback, a dependable wide receiver, production from the tight end(s) and not much else on either side of the ball. The 2011 Patriots sure seemed to turn into the 2007-08 Indianapolis Colts overnight, didn't they? Pick: NY Jets

Joe: I still have not gotten sick of watching the Patriots lose the kinds of regular-season games they've been winning for the past decade. Not a bit. Pick: NY Jets

Minnesota at Green Bay

Aaron: After the Packers defeated the Chargers last week, the local sports talk chatter here revolved around the rowdy and belligerent Green Bay fans in the stands at Qualcomm Stadium. This from the callers and radio hosts. "Rowdy" and "belligerent". Wisconsin. Come on, San Diego. Pick: Green Bay

Joe: Packers. Doy. Pick: Green Bay

Sunday, November 6, 2011

2011 NFL Pickery -- Week #9

Last Week

Joe: 9-4
Aaron: 7-6

Current Standings

Joe: 77-39
Aaron: 75-41

N.Y. Jets at Buffalo

Aaron: The Jets are 4-0 at home, 0-3 on the road. If that's too large of a sample, the Jets are also 0-2 after bye weeks during the Rex Ryan era. Sometimes, these games just pick themselves. Pick: Buffalo

Joe: I am once again scared sh*tless and considered abstaining from picking this game like Cris Collinsworth on Inside the NFL. If you look at the Bills' remaining schedule as often as I have, and you figure the games they should win and the games they should lose will probably even out, you see that the game against Dallas and the two games against the Jets would end up deciding their playoff fate. Objectively, there are things I like about this matchup (the home-field advantage, the fact that our defense came alive last week, Fred Jackson) and things I don't (Fitz's possible minor chest injury, the fact that our defense came alive against the terrible Redskins, Darelle Revis). Ultimately, I would feel like a puss for backing off my team now. Just ... oh God, please ... Pick: Buffalo

Seattle at Dallas

Aaron: I honestly had no idea that Cowboys QB Tony Romo is 31 years old. He's older than Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Jason Campbell -- three quarterbacks who all feel like they've been playing longer than they have. Erstwhile Eagles QB Donovan McNabb had a much more impressive resume than Romo, yet he was hustled out of Philadelphia at the age of 33. Not looking forward to the "Raiders Acquire Romo" headline three years from now. Pick: Dallas

Joe: I know nobody wants to hear about other people's fantasy football stories. The only thing more boring than someone else's fantasy football story is hearing over and over that nobody wants to hear about other people's fantasy football stories. But seriously, last week, going into Sunday night, I needed twenty points and I had THREE players remaining. Do you know how easy it is for three players to get you 20 points? You'd almost have to be in a coma NOT to get 20 points. I guess what I'm saying is, DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant, and Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey, y'all OWE ME. Pick: Dallas

Cleveland at Houston

Aaron: Remember the 2007 Browns team that won 10 games with three of the most famous flash-in-the-pan players in recent memory? QB Derek Anderson, WR Braylon Edwards and TE Kellen Winslow, Jr are all pleased, proud and privileged to welcome 2010 Peyton Hillis into their collective one-hit wonder club. Pick: Houston

Joe: It's not a perfect bit of poetic justice, but after having to put up with Peyton Manning in their division for their entire existence, I'm happy that the Texans have been handed a suddenly pitiful division and home games against teams like the Browns. Pick: Houston

Atlanta at Indianapolis

Aaron: I hadn't realized that the "Peyton Manning for 2011 NFL MVP" movement was a semi-serious thing until I read Peter King's column on earlier this week. Major League Baseball will be glad to know that they no longer have a monopoly on voters who can't define "valuable". Pick: Atlanta

Joe: Matt Ryan, this would be an excellent game to throw some touchdowns. Pick: Atlanta

Miami at Kansas City

Aaron: Last week, a banged-up Chargers team nearly beat the Chiefs in Kansas City before losing on a fluke fumble. The Dolphins, meanwhile, were on the wrong end of some shaky officiating in their three-point loss to the Giants on the road. Now, this is a trap game, kids. Pick: Miami

Joe: Not sure if the Chiefs clawing their way back to the top of the division is a testament to them or an indictment of San Diego, but I'm not sure a team that started as poorly as they did will be looking past anybody. Pick: Kansas City

Tampa Bay at New Orleans

Aaron: Now that the Saints successfully ruined every suicide pool in the universe with last week's inexplicable loss to the Rams, it's time for New Orleans to obliterate their next opponent just to f*ck with those of you who lost money on them. With my fantasy football season in shambles, schadenfreude is all I've got left. Pick: New Orleans

Joe: I'm told by Important Football Stat Folk that the Bucs are a bad team just waiting for their record to catch up with them. That may well be true. But for the record, I'm basing this pick of old-school ephemera like "bounce-back game!" and "dome team at home in a dome." Pick: New Orleans

San Francisco at Washington

Aaron: From Norv Turner (1994-2000) to Steve Spurrier (2002-03) to Mike Shanahan (2010-present)...has any NFL team generated a greater cumulative gap between "expectations set by hiring a new coach" and actual results? Discuss. Pick: San Francisco

Joe: How about every team that's hired Bill Parcells since New England in 1997? TAKE THAT, PARCELLS! Pick: San Francisco

Denver at Oakland

Aaron: Even as a Raiders fan, I can't help but find a grand amount of gallows humor in newly-acquired QB Carson Palmer being hastily inserted into his first game just days after arriving in Oakland. He reportedly only knew a fraction of the playbook and was explicitly told he would NOT be playing by the coaching staff. This week – reportedly at Palmer's behest – the team signed the remains of his former teammate TJ Houshmandzadeh. With RB Darren McFadden out, this game has the potential to bring my seven-year-old son to tears. His dad, too. Pick: Denver

Joe: I'm sorry, Raiders fans. Y'all didn't deserve this. Meanwhile, I'm actually going to do the unthinkable and recommend a Deadspin article about
the recent outrage over anti-Tebow mockery. Hey, it's our job to encourage anything that isn't AJ Daulerio writing vengeful hit-pieces about obscure ESPN sex scandals. Pick: Denver

Cincinnati at Tennessee

Aaron: Has anyone considered that the NBA's ownership might've observed what happened to holdout Titans RB Chris Johnson after getting a fat contract? Maybe that's why they've drawn such a hard line with their players. It's admittedly a stretch, but I have to believe Johnson has ruined more than just my fantasy football season. Pick: Cincinnati

Joe: I am man enough not to resort to childish reverse-jinxing when I pick my own team's games. I am, however, completely immature enough to try to juju our wild-card competitors. Pick: Cincinnati

St. Louis at Arizona

Aaron: The Rams scored 7, 3, 10 and 7 points in the four games before rolling up 31 on the Saints last week. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have allowed 30+ in their last four games. So, by applying one random pattern to would appear to be Arizona's turn to be good or something. Pick: Arizona

Joe: Ahh, yes. The two crappy teams I kept insisting weren't that crappy. Time to not lose, guys! Pick: St. Louis

N.Y. Giants at New England

Aaron: There seemed to be an awful lot of "surprised" broadcast analytical time spent on the Patriots' performance in their loss to Pittsburgh last week. Just so we're clear, is this because everyone agreed New England's loss in Buffalo never happened? Similarly, did we forget that Dolphins QB Chad Henne threw for 416 yards against the Pats on opening night or that the Chargers marched up and down the field in New England before each of their ill-timed pratfalls? The injuries on the Giants' side are all that keeps me from picking them here. Pick: New England

Joe: Yeah, kind of a bummer when you're missing your best RB, your best WR, and countless defenders. So good news, Patriots fans! Your Week 9 win in this game will totally make up for that humiliating and deflating Super Bowl loss, won't it? Pick: New England

Green Bay at San Diego

Aaron: I'm enjoying this Chargers season as much as anyone else who despises the team and their fanbase, but I'll continue to maintain they're not nearly as bad as they've looked. However, this stretch of opponents (Green Bay, Oakland (Thursday night) and at Chicago) and their end-of-season schedule (Bills, Ravens, at Detroit and at Oakland) will test my theory. I so hope I'm wrong about them. Pick: Green Bay

Joe: Pick the Packers til they actually lose. Seems like a solid plan to me. Pick: Green Bay

Baltimore at Pittsburgh

Aaron: Oh, there you are, "low-scoring AFC North intra-divisional game in prime time"! I hope you brought inclement weather and both of your punters! Pick: Pittsburgh

Joe: I know Pittsburgh has really managed to right their ship. I know the Ravens alternate between playing well and playing shockingly terrible. I know that these AFC North slugfests usually end up evening out. And yet ... I am somehow picking the Ravens here. Pick: Baltimore

Chicago at Philadelphia

Aaron: 25 years ago, the city of Chicago was a
nightmare for the Dream Team. I don't expect history to repeat itself. Pick: Philadelphia

Joe: I'm going to be bummed when all of the hoopla around the Eagles' slow start and all that "Dream Team" talk ends up crowding out the flashbacks to the Fog Bowl. Pick: Philadelphia

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

TBG Eats: Ben & Jerry's "Fair Goodness Cake!" vs. Baskin-Robbins' German Chocolate Cake

Current Weight: 167.0 lbs.

My mom has been in my thoughts a lot lately. She turns 60 next month and I'm at that familial fork-in-the-road where I'm now sharing her with her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Bootleg and her grandson, Jalen. Around Stately Bootleg Manor, my mother has ascended to "grandma" status. It's what we all call her – with Jalen unleashing the appellation in concentrated interrogative bursts ("IsGrandmaHere? IsGrandmaHere? IsGrandmaHere?") any time she's scheduled to visit.

The recent memories of my mother are mostly those that involve my son. Two weeks ago she came down to see Jalen play baseball. As most of you know, Jalen plays the game with a certain level of freneticism that usually ensures a relatively early bedtime once his heart rate returns to normal and his eye-black-enhanced, at-bat scowl morphs back into a seven-year-old's soft countenance.

That evening, my wife and I went to the movies and stopped for drinks and a late dinner, afterwards. We got home just after 11:00 PM and discovered Jalen – wide awake – watching DVR'd cartoons on the upstairs television. Approximately six of the two dozen chocolate chip cookies my mother had baked remained on the kitchen counter and when I pressed them for additional information on the confectionary whereabouts, both my son and my mother – in strict adherence with black America's "stop snitching" philosophy – pled mutual ignorance.

I was reminded of my mother again when the Baskin-Robbins ice cream chain recently brought back their German Chocolate Cake flavor. It's a seasonal release that usually appears in September/October. But, when I was a morbidly-obese pre-teen living up in Long Beach, my local Baskin-Robbins only sold it in November. I remember this because on Sundays my mother would go to the supermarket and shop for the rest of the week. I would often go with her so that I could select an appropriate cereal based solely on the quality of the prize inside (YAY! – Officially licensed
superhero trinkets or baseball cards. BOO! – Terrariums or other educational knick-knacks.) Afterwards, we'd stop at the Baskin-Robbins on 4th and Cherry for a cone.

Back in the mid-1980s, "cookies and cream" ice cream had taken the nation by storm. If you're too young to remember; you'll just have to trust me when I say it put the "chocolate chip cookie dough" ice cream craze from the following decade to shame. Cookies and cream was my go-to scoop from 1984 through 1986 and I never strayed. Oh, sure, I'd ask for a teeny pink plastic-spooned sample of other flavors, but that's not "edible adultery". It was more like an "edible booty call" with my ice cream wife's closest friends and co-workers. Harmless. Victimless. Delicious. But, I always came back to
the one I loved.

Until I tasted German Chocolate Cake ice cream.

It was obvious that I'd rushed into my first ice cream commitment with cookies and cream. I pulled the ripcord on that relationship and 25 years later, I've never looked back. Yes, I experimented with frozen yogurt just like everyone else in the 1980s. I can say I've purchased my share of pints from Ben & Jerry's -- with their Oatmeal Cookie Chunk coming this close to being christened my third ice cream wife. But, I am nothing if not loyal to...wait, what? Ben & Jerry's recently introduced their take on German Chocolate Cake ice cream?! Good thing I didn't finish that "...nothing if not loyal..." sentence, eh?

Ben & Jerry's version is called "Fair Goodness Cake!". (Do I really have to make the obligatory reference to The Simpsons here? Fine. [Inhale.] And, like the
Be Sharps, the name is witty at first, but seems less funny each time you hear it. Happy?!) It's described as "chocolate ice cream with German Chocolate Cake pieces and a coconut caramel swirl".

Before we continue, I suppose I should call attention to the ironic elephant in the room. I'm really not a fan of plain chocolate ice cream. If it were ever put to a vote, chocolate would finish fourth in my personal Neapolitan district. To me, most chocolate ice creams have an underlying bitterness that flies in the face of everything ice cream should be. Y'know...sweet.

Unfortunately, "Fair Goodness Cake!" stumbles out of the first-taste gate with a pronounced absence of sweetness. The caramel tries its best to balance everything out, but that leads into my second issue: there's not enough "everything else". Ben & Jerry's is synonymous with plenty of toppings IN the ice cream, but here, the coconut caramel swirl is, relatively speaking, a thin wisp. Each spoonful produces a mildly sweet finish, but before the next bite, the bitterness returns to bombard your taste buds. And, the chocolate cake pieces are left as an obvious redundancy, failing as a flavor accompaniment/contrast or textural lift.

Admittedly, it's inherently unfair to compare the look of a hand-packed pint with one that's prepackaged, but LOOK at how much better Baskin-Robbins' German Chocolate Cake ice cream LOOKS!

That's ooey-gooey caramel on top and it's spooled throughout, pooling beneath the surface every few centimeters. The chocolate ice cream has more of a milk chocolate quality -- rich, decadent and filled with guilt. But, my favorite part(s) just might be "everything else". Baskin-Robbins lifts Ben & Jerry's gimmick by blending in lots of walnuts and chocolate chunks. The walnuts cut some of the sweetness from the ice cream and caramel while their texture on the tongue is terrific. The chewy chocolate chunks are a wee bit bitter, but work as a background ingredient and lend some complexity.

Ben & Jerry's "Fair Goodness Cake!" has been promoted as a "limited batch", but it's been well-stocked in my local supermarkets for months. As the "plan B" to my all-time favorite ice cream, it's an acceptable substitute when Baskin-Robbins' German Chocolate Cake isn't available. Thankfully, my wife came home with a $13.99 three-ton tub from Baskin-Robbins earlier this week.

I'm good until Veterans' Day.

Grade (Baskin-Robbins' German Chocolate Cake): 500 (out of 5)

Grade (Ben & Jerry's "Fair Goodness Cake!"): 2.5 (out of 5)