2012 Pigskin Picks of Profundity…..Week 9

I am not feeling particularly verbose this week, so neither this intro nor my thoughts on each game will be extensive. I seriously pondered giving myself a bye week because hey…the football teams do it so why can’t I?? But at the end of the day I just couldn’t wuss out. There are several interesting games in both the NCAA & NFL, so you are getting bonus picks, which is quite magnanimous of me if I do say so myself. At any rate, I am 22-38 overall and hoping to slowly improve, so there is no time like the present.

 

 

NC St.                    at            North Carolina (-7)

Intrastate & regional rivalries are one of the coolest things about college football. Both of these teams are having decent years thus far (NC St. is 52, UNC is 5-3) and are in the hunt for a trip to the ACC championship game. When everything else looks fairly even I usually pick the home team, but my vibes are telling me the Wolfpack gets the mild upset this time.

 

 

UCLA                     at            Arizona St. (-6.5)

These are two more solid teams (both are 5-2) in the thick of a battle for the conference crown. Both still have games against USC, a foe they’ll have to slay to win their division. But first they face each other, and my money (proverbially) is on the Sun Devils.

 

 

Duke                     at            Florida St. (-27.5)

I never thought the day would come where I would even notice Duke football enough to pick one of their games. However, the Blue Devils are a respectable 6-2 and actually lead their division in the ACC. It looks like the oddsmakers aren’t buying into it though since they have made the 7-1 Seminoles nearly 4 TD favorites. I have no doubt that Florida St. will win, but I don’t think it’ll be by that much, so Duke is the pick.

 

 

Navy                      at            East Carolina (-3.5)

I had the Pirates at #18 in my pre-season rankings, so at 5-3 they have underachieved yet still have an opportunity to get there with a strong finish. Navy is a pedestrian 4-3, and I think they go down to East Carolina.

 

 

Seattle                 at            Detroit (-2.5)

The Seahawks are better than most expected, while the Lions have underwhelmed those of us who were convinced they were a playoff caliber team. That being said I think Detroit gets the win here.

 

 

Miami                   at            NY Jets (-2.5)

No one has really been impressive in the AFC East (not even the Patriots), but I think it is fair to say that most have been pleasantly surprised that the Dolphins don’t completely suck and have been bewildered by the circus that the Jets have become. I gave QB Mark Sanchez a pass a couple of weeks ago (pun unavoidable) and he came through. Then last week he fought hard before New England pulled out an overtime victory. Miami is riding a 2 game winning streak and I think it goes to 3 with a win this week.

 

 

New Orleans     at            Denver (-6)

Drew Brees vs. Peyton Manning. Does anything else really need to be said?? I think the Saints have things figured out after their atrocious 0-4 start and I’m picking them to get the win here.

 

 

Indianapolis       at            Tennessee (-3.5)

Neither of these teams has a prayer of catching the Houston Texans and winning the division, but this game is vital if they want to stay in the wildcard race.  Injured Titans’ QB Jake Locker is still on the shelf, and Colts’ rookie signal caller Andrew Luck is quietly have a rather decent inaugural season. I’m going with the rookie to get the upset.

 

 

NY Giants (-2.5)                at            Dallas

The Giants have looked impressive in defense of their Super Bowl title this far, and I see no reason why that won’t continue here. The Cowboys continue to be mired in mediocrity, something that is unlikely to change as long as owner Jerry Jones continues to run amok.

 

 

 

 

2012 Pigskin Picks of Profundity…..Week 8

I feel the need to be candid. There was a brief moment this past weekend when I seriously pondered the idea of ending this charade. You see, I am a person who probably takes sports a bit too seriously. Losses affect me very deeply. I do not have a wife or girlfriend. I do not have children. I do not have a lot of friends or copious amounts of discretionary cash. I enjoy simple pleasures, one of those being the success of my favorite sports teams. When my Pittsburgh Steelers, who I knew deep down in my gut months ago might be on the threshold of a downward spiral, lost on a last second field goal to the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night, I was extremely disappointed. Then Saturday came and my “other” favorite college team (the top dog being my alma mater’s Marshall Thundering Herd, who were enjoying a bye week), the Top 5 ranked WV Mountaineers, were inexplicably blasted by Texas Tech, I was devastated. To add to the frustration I am in five fantasy football leagues and am not doing well in any of them. So when the icing on the cake became yet another exasperating go round with these picks I entertained the notion of just quitting. After all, this is my blog. I write what I want, and am under no obligation to continue banging my head against a brick wall for no reason. I am not getting paid for this, as I have mentioned numerous times. But the truth is that I am generally not a quitter. The book of Proverbs tells that “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.” The football gods have humbled me, but I will move forward. Last week I went 2-7, with a few of those losses being games where I picked the right winner but they did not cover the spread. Overall for the season I am now a horrifying 19-34. Nothing much I can say to defend that.

 

 

 

 

LSU (-3.5)        at         Texas A&M

When picking South Carolina to defeat LSU last week I did say that “LSU might have finally gotten the wake-up call they needed” when they lost to Florida the previous Saturday. I was on the right track I guess. Meanwhile, the Aggies have quietly gone 5-1 in their inaugural SEC season, with the only blemish being a narrow loss to Florida in the first week of the season. Two things jump out at me here. First of all, the game is in College Station. Secondly, it is more than possible that the Bayou Bengals could suffer the proverbial “hangover” or letdown after such a huge win last week. One must also wonder whether LSU could be looking ahead to a showdown with #1 Alabama next week. It is for these reasons that I think this’ll be a real dogfight. Which is the real LSU?? Is it the team that destroyed the Gamecocks last week, or is it the team that struggled to beat Towson and Auburn?? The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle, and that is enough for me to predict the upset. Go Aggies!!

 

 

Iowa State      at         Oklahoma State (-13.5)

I didn’t think the Cyclones stood a chance against Kansas St. last week, but even though they lost it was by less than a touchdown. Oklahoma St. has been a rather prosaic 3-2 thus far, and are very surprising favorites in this game. I understand the concept of a home field advantage, but 13.5 points?? I don’t think so. The Cowboys might win, but it’ll be much closer than that.

 

 

Nebraska (-4.5)          at         Northwestern

The race for the Big 10 title is intriguing. Two of the top teams in the conference, Ohio St. & Penn St., are both ineligible for the crown and won’t be participating in postseason play. That really opens things up for other squads. Unfortunately for these two teams they play in the other division of the Big 10, meaning the woes of Pedophile St. & Tattoo St. are meaningless because they still must contend with Iowa and Michigan to go anywhere. The Wildcats have been impressive while going 6-1, and Nebraska less so while amassing their 4-2 record. If Northwestern wants to prove that they really belong at the big table with the good teams they have to win this game. It is telling that the oddsmakers have made the Cornhuskers the favorites, because it indicates that they really aren’t buying Northwestern as legitimate contenders. Wrestling legend Ric Flair used to say “To be the man you have to beat the man”, which is true. I am going to go way out on a limb here and take Northwestern to defy the odds, beat the man, and prove that they are legit.

 

 

South Carolina           at         Florida (-3)

We all know what happened to South Carolina last week at the hands of LSU, but I think it is way too soon to count out the Gamecocks, who only lost that game by 2 points. I personally haven’t given Florida much respect this season, but they have been impressive compiling a 6-0 record and skyrocketing to 2nd in the BCS rankings, meaning that if they win out they will play for the national championship. This game is at The Swamp, which explains the 3 point spread. Actually I am surprised it isn’t bigger. This game is also a big one for coach Steve Spurrier, who I am sure everyone will remember played & coached at Florida. I just don’t believe that Spurrier will let his team lose two weeks in a row. I think RB Marcus Lattimore will have a huge game, and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is a beast who I think will be spending a lot of time in the Gators’ backfield en route to a huge South Carolina victory.

 

 

Seattle                        at                     San Francisco (-7)

Are the 4-2 Seattle Seahawks for real?? What is wrong with the 4-2 49ers?? It is fascinating that we can look at two teams with identical records thru such vastly different prisms. Much was expected from San Francisco this season, and they really haven’t delivered as fully as most thought they would. Conversely, no one expected anything from Seattle and they have over delivered in a big way. I still think Frisco is the better team and will eventually win the division easily, but Seattle might atleast remain in the discussion for a wildcard spot. As far as this particular game goes, it is the Thursday night NFL Network game, and I’d be shocked if the 49ers didn’t respond…strongly…to last weekend’s loss to the NY Giants. Seattle will suffer the classic letdown after a tremendous win over the New England Patriots and lose this game by double digits.

 

 

Washington   at         NY Giants (-7)

So far it looks like the choice of QB Robert Griffin III in the 1st round of the draft was an excellent move. I couldn’t name a single wide receiver or running back on the Redskins’ roster, but it doesn’t matter. RGIII has singlehandedly re-energized the team and its entire fanbase. Meanwhile, the defending Super Bowl champion Giants are just plodding along at 4-2, neither looking like world beaters nor totally sucking. Because Griffin had such a standout effort last week I am picking the Giants this week. Rookie QBs are nothing if not inconsistent, and I just don’t think RGIII will shine again so soon. I believe he will be neutralized by the Giants’ pass rush, led by Mathias Kiwanuka & Jason Pierre Paul, and the Giants running game will dominate the time of possession.

 

 

Arizona           at         Minnesota (-6)

Two of the most surprising teams in the NFL this season go head-to-head. The Cardinals come into this game 4-2 with a share of the lead in the NFC West. The Vikings got victimized by RGIII last Sunday but are still a respectable 4-2. I feel like this is a total pick ‘em game, but the edge comes from the rushing attack. We don’t know who’ll tote the rock for Arizona, because their RBs keep getting injured. Conversely, the Vikings can count on the reliable Adrian Petersen, who isn’t averaging big numbers in 2012 but is a steady force that enables WR Percy Harvin to get open for big plays. That’s the difference and why I am picking Minnesota.

 

 

 

 

2012 Pigskin Picks of Profundity…..Week 7

I’m feeling a little frisky this week, and you know what that means…bonus picks!! Last week I was a respectable 4-3, with Florida, South Carolina, New England, & New Orleans all pulling through for me. Stanford won but didn’t cover the spread, while Air Force and the Buffalo Bills just plain stunk up the joint and made me look like a fool. Ah well…c’est la vie. My overall record for the season stands at 17-27, and I don’t expect to make up that deficit in one fell swoop, although one can hope.

 

 

 

 

Louisville (-3)         at            Pitt

What has happened to the Pitt Panthers?? While my WV Mountaineers have moved on to The Big 12 and are enjoying a fine season & a Top 5 ranking, Pitt is languishing in mediocrity with a record of 2-3. Meanwhile Louisville, who I ranked 20th in my pre-season Top 25, cruises into this game 5-0. It is telling that the oddsmakers are giving the edge to the Cardinals despite the fact that they are playing in Pittsburgh. Heinz Field may be a big advantage on Sundays for the Steelers, but on Saturdays the good citizens of The Burgh couldn’t seem to possibly care less about the Panthers and find other things to do rather than attend a football game. I’d be very surprised to see an upset, although I suppose anything is possible. Louisville has done nothing to dissuade my belief in them and I think they win easily.

 

 

Texas                    vs.          Oklahoma (-3)

Ahhh…The Red River Shootout…one of the best rivalries in college football. The Longhorns are 4-1 but coming off of a disappointing loss to WVU. Oklahoma is 3-1, with the only blemish being a disappointing loss to Kansas St. This game takes place at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, TX, meaning it’s not really a home game for either team. It really is a neutral site, with both campuses being about 200 miles away. Both teams probably expected and certainly atleast hoped to be undefeated coming into this contest, but since that isn’t the case I guess the question is who has the momentum. And to me the other question is whether or not Texas will lose two weeks in a row. I watched the Texas/WV game, and it was a dogfight. Just because the Longhorns lost doesn’t mean they aren’t a very good team. I haven’t had the opportunity to watch the Sooners play this season, and I am sure they are extremely talented as well, but my vibes are saying that Texas will win an exciting & competitive game.

 

 

Kansas St. (-7)        at            Iowa St.

Kansas St. is one of the biggest surprises of the season thus far, as they are 5-0 and ranked in the Top 10. Meanwhile the Cyclones aren’t too shabby themselves, coming into this game 4-1. I don’t know enough about these teams to intelligently comment on the ins & outs or strengths & weaknesses of either. Like most of my fellow Mountaineer fans I am a novice when it comes to the intricacies of The Big 12 and just learning as I go along. I do recall that the Cyclones had a huge upset over Oklahoma State last year when the Cowboys were the #2 team in the nation. And I know that Wildcats’ head coach Bill Snyder has been around a long long…long time. I suppose it is possible that Kansas St. could be “looking ahead” to a Top 5 matchup next week in Morgantown against the Mountaineers, but that is precisely why I would love to see the Wildcats win this one. Iowa State’s 2011 defeat of Oklahoma St. actually works against them here because no one will take them lightly or overlook them. Therefore I must go with Kansas St. to win & cover here.

 

 

Stanford              at            Notre Dame (-8)

Stanford is 4-1 and coming off of a rather close call against Arizona. The Irish are sailing along at 5-0 and enjoying their best season in recent memory. Brian Kelly is an excellent coach and it seems like he finally has things figured out in South Bend, although the musical chairs being played between QBs Everett Golson & Tommy Rees is a cause for concern and I believe will eventually become an issue. The point spread gives me pause because I have a feeling this might be a pretty close game. However, I am going to bite the bullet and go with Notre Dame. I’ll probably regret it.

 

 

South Carolina           at            LSU (-2.5)

The Gamecocks opened up a can of whoopass on the Georgia Bulldogs last week en route to a 6-0 record and a Top 5 ranking. Conversely, the other shoe finally dropped for LSU when they lost to Florida, a loss quite a few people saw coming a mile away. These are simply two teams headed in opposite directions. However, circumstances might be conducive for an “upset” (even though LSU is favored). South Carolina could conceivably suffer the classic letdown after winning such a big game, and LSU might have finally gotten the wake-up call they needed. That’d be the conventional wisdom anyway. But you know what?? To heck with conventional wisdom. I picked South Carolina to win the SEC and I am sticking with that choice. I’ll go with Spurrier’s Gamecocks here. I hope I don’t regret this one too.

 

 

Indianapolis       at            NY Jets (-3)

All the talking heads can yap about this week is whether or not it is finally Tebow Time in New York. No one seems to care that rookie QB Andrew Luck led his team to a huge upset of the Green Bay Packers last week. Regardless of whether or not Rex Ryan pulls the plug on QB March Sanchez and gives Tebow a whirl, the fact is that the Jets are a mess. A big freakin’ 2-3 mess. Sure the Colts are only 2-2 themselves, but I suspect the mood in Indy is far more jovial than in The Big Apple. The Colts are of course dealing with the health issues of head coach Chuck Pagano that has necessitated offensive coordinator Bruce Arians becoming the interim coach, but such adversity tends to motivate & galvanize a team. A win here for Indianapolis would add to the early success of Luck, while a Jets loss might seal the fate of Sanchez. As much as I would love to see the former occur, I shudder at the consequences of the latter. I think Sanchez lives to fight another day, while the legend of Luck will take just a little longer to build. I hesitantly choose the Jets.

 

 

Detroit                                 at            Philadelphia (-5)

I honestly thought Detroit would atleast be in the playoff conversation this year. Instead they find themselves 1-3 and at the bottom of what has suddenly become quite a competitive division. The Eagles certainly haven’t been boring thus far, winning three games by a total of 4 points, and losing last week to my Steelers on a last second field goal. I haven’t watched a Lions game yet, but I know that their running game is a mess and someone else besides Calvin Johnson needs to become a pass receiving threat. I am not feeling an upset here and will pick Philly to win, this time by a comfortable enough margin to cover the spread.

 

 

Dallas                    at            Baltimore (-3.5)

The Ravens are 4-1 and as good as advertised, although I’m not sure what in the world happened last week in Kansas City when they won a 9-6 snoozefest against the Chiefs. Dallas is a 2-2 hot mess, what with QB Tony Romo’s penchant for choking in big games & throwing passes to the other team’s players. Having said that, I must confess that if this game were being held at the palatial Jerry Jones shrine in Irving, TX I might have to ponder the possibilities. However, the game just so happens to be taking place in Baltimore, so that makes things considerably easier. I think Baltimore wins & covers without breaking a sweat.

 

 

Green Bay           at            Houston (-3.5)

This is the Sunday night game on NBC. I told you that they get all the cool games now…Monday Night Football is so yesterday (somewhere Hank Williams Jr. has a big ol’ grin on his face). This would be a lot more intriguing if the Packers had held up their end of the bargain and come into the game undefeated like their opponents. Unfortunately for cheeseheads everywhere their team has looked pretty ordinary so far in compiling a shockingly subpar 2-3 record. It’d even be more interesting if the game was being played on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. However, the Texans are hosting this party and have looked pretty unstoppable thru 5 games. I think Green Bay will eventually get things figured out and still believe that they’ll win their division and go to the playoffs. However, I don’t think that breakthrough will come this week, and I am confident that Houston will win & cover.

 

 

 

 

To Kill A Mockingbird

It has been said that everyone has a book inside them. I’m not sure who said it, and I don’t know if it is all that true, though I have always felt it to be so for me. Of course we live in a world now where lots of folks want to be famous, and even more want to be rich, and therefore they are always looking for ways to make that happen. I suppose writing a book is just as good of an option as any, and maybe even better than most (for example doing “reality TV” or making a sex tape). However, there are a couple of perils. First of all, our bookstores become polluted with crap that it is difficult to believe was ever published in the first place (much like the plethora of asinine television shows & movies that should have never been greenlighted). Secondly, authors who achieve success right out of the gate are encouraged to write more, oftentimes with specious results. Sometimes it really is better to quit while you are ahead.

 

In the annals of one hit wonders I think most folks would agree that author Harper Lee ranks right up there with Soft Cell, Mark Hamill, John Adams, and Dexys Midnight Runners. I am tempted to say that it is a shame that she only wrote one novel, but when that one novel is the Pulitzer Prize winning To Kill A Mockingbird then there is really nothing left to prove and nowhere to go but downhill.

 

Though they really aren’t all that similar it occurs to me that Mockingbird and the previous novel we examined…Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine…have a few things in common. They both take place in the same general era…Mockingbird in the mid-1930’s in the midst of The Great Depression, Dandelion Wine in 1928 just before the Depression. Both are set in a sleepy small town, the kind that we wax nostalgic about in 21st century America. And both have children as the main protagonists, allowing the story to be told thru the eyes of a child and therefore necessitating an accessible writing style without sacrificing literary elegance. But the comparisons end there.

 

To Kill A Mockingbird is an unflinching look at racism in the early 20th century, and though it is at times uncomfortable (especially when observed thru the politically correct prism that has almost become the standard in modern times) there is such an easygoing innocence from the point-of-view of the narrator that the rough edges seem much more palatable.

 

The story is about the Finch family in Maycomb, Alabama. There is the narrator…9 year old Jean Louise, nicknamed Scout…her older brother Jem…and their widowed father Atticus, a wise, even-tempered lawyer with a strong sense of morality. Scout & Jem spend their days in school and their evenings & summertime playing and hanging out with a neighbor boy named Dill. Scout, Jem, & Dill become obsessed with a reclusive neighbor named Boo Radley who for many years has been the subject of rumors painting him as some kind of freaky monster and hasn’t been seen by anyone since he was a teenager. Meanwhile, Atticus takes on the case of Tom Robinson, a poor black man accused of raping his white female neighbor Mayella Ewell. Robinson’s trial is a major event in Maycomb, and it exposes the children to the racist outlook of a town that they had heretofore only known to be filled with friendly neighbors & schoolmates. Eventually the two storylines intersect, although if you want to know how you’ll just have to read the book.

 

To Kill A Mockingbird is an important book. I wouldn’t hesitate to place it in the mix with The Constitution, The Declaration of Independence, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the works of Shakespeare & Dickens, and The Holy Bible as one of the most significant things ever written. That will sound like hyperbole only to those who have not had the pleasure of reading it. It embodies a time, a place, and an attitude that we still haven’t completely laid to rest. Yes we have made remarkable strides, but we cannot truthfully say that racism no longer exists. They may be fewer in number, but there are still people with an “us and them” outlook. The difference between now & then is that we are fully aware that it is wrong. To a certain extent the racism in Mockingbird is portrayed in such a matter-of-fact way that we can conclude that many folks back then didn’t realize how wrong they were. It was the way it was. There was a hierarchy and everyone had their place and played their proper role in society. Even the ethical hero of the book Atticus Finch employs a black housekeeper, something that we see today as a racial stereotype. When reading a story like this we are forced to confront our own views and one wonders how various people have been impacted as society has evolved over the past few decades.

 

I would be remiss if I did not mention the fantastic 1962 film based on the book and starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. Like most movies based on books there are some minor characters left out and substantial subplots that are shortchanged or eliminated, but overall it is a faithful adaptation and quality production.  As usual in these cases I strongly caution against skipping the book in favor of just watching the movie. The book is an almost breezy read, which is surprising given its gravitas. If you haven’t read it you really should. God knows it’s better than watching The Bachelor or anything starring a Kardashian.

 

 

 

Dandelion Wine

This is the first of several books by author Ray Bradbury that you will see here eventually (remember, I am way too undisciplined to give any kind of time frame or promise a schedule). I have to give a shout out to my friend The Owl for introducing me to Bradbury in college. I would love to be able to say that I am one of the many who enjoyed his stories from a young age, but unfortunately that isn’t the case. I vaguely recall a TV show called The Ray Bradbury Theater back in the 80’s, but at the time it didn’t seem like something that would frost my cupcake. I don’t think I developed good taste in much of anything…literature, food, music, movies…until I was a young adult. We lost Mr. Bradbury earlier this year, and I was struck by how profoundly his passing affected me. I wish I would have “gotten the memo” about his stuff when I was a kid, but I guess it is better to be late to the party than to miss it altogether. The great thing about authors (and I suppose any artist…actors, musicians, etc.) is that we can enjoy the fruits of their talent long after they themselves have left this mortal coil.

 

As the weather becomes blustery and we break out the fleece & turn on the furnaces, I want to turn back the clock just a little bit. I am not a fan of cold weather and think the only good things about autumn & winter are football, Christmas, and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Other than those few exceptions I would prefer a perpetual state of warmth & sunshine. At any rate, Dandelion Wine is Bradbury’s ode to summer.

 

Originally written as disparate short stories, they share enough common threads to be strung together into one congruent novel. The main characters are 12 year old Douglas Spaulding (based on Bradbury himself) and his 10 year old brother Tom. The setting is Green Town, IL, loosely based on Bradbury’s recollections of his boyhood hometown of Waukegan, IL (40 miles north of Chicago). Green Town has sort of a Mayberry feel to it, with just a tinge of mysticism & fantasy thrown into the mix. We are introduced to a variety of the boys’ family, neighbors, and townsfolk, but generally see things thru the eyes of the two youngsters. The summer depicted is 1928…a simpler, more bucolic time to be sure. The small town, the prism of childhood, the assumption of a more peaceful era…all combine to make this a fun, nostalgic, & easy read. The infinitesimal elements of what I suppose might pass as sci-fi or horror are non-intrusive, but enough to keep things interesting. Bradbury’s lyrical prose makes humble traditions of summertime…sitting on the front porch swing, eating ice cream, mowing grass, and enjoying Grandma’s cooking…seem monumentally important, which of course they are to a child. The boys are occasionally confronted with heavy issues like death, illness, fear, and the loss of a best friend to relocation, and Douglas is a deep thinker who waxes philosophical about life, but even the chapters that deal with these melancholy subjects retain a light tone. The stories are realistic enough to induce wistful remembrances of a bygone era, yet fantastical enough to sweep the reader away to the land of make believe.

 

I have always had a tendency to remember my own childhood as being far more idyllic than it likely was in reality, which is probably why I really like Dandelion Wine. Bradbury leans toward the sentimental, which is just fine by me. In our modern age of violence, callousness, and immorality it is nice to atleast pretend that it wasn’t always this way. Dandelion Wine may not belong in the same conversation as the greatest works of literature, and it probably isn’t even Bradbury’s best effort, but it is immensely enjoyable and a nice way to spend a couple of afternoons.

 

 

 

 

A Pirates Fan Looks At 40

 

When one has a forum like this one feels obligated to comment on certain events and topics du jour. I mean really…why else would one have a blog, right?? And so I am duty-bound to pontificate on the milestone that is my 40th birthday.

 

I am not sure when or why turning 40 became this mythical landmark of epic proportions since it wasn’t all that long ago that 40 was old because people died quite young of a plethora of maladies, while these days more & more people live into their 90’s so 40 isn’t always “middle age”.  However, when one considers a couple of things I guess it kind of makes sense. First of all, even though it isn’t unusual for people to live into their 90’s the average American lifespan is still only 78 years, making 40 actually a bit past middle age (which is depressing). Secondly, and on a more esoteric level, by the time most folks are 40 the pathway of their life is pretty much set in stone. They are married or divorced or maybe even in their 2nd or 3rd marriage. They have children and possibly grandchildren. They are living where they are going to live because if they were going to relocate they likely would have done it long ago. Their careers…if they have what one can even consider a career…is on solid ground, whether that means an onward & upward trajectory or stuck perpetually in neutral. Their financial status is what it is going to be, whether that means they are secure or are likely to be continually poor. All this doesn’t mean that one’s life cannot significantly improve or change after 40, it just means that for the vast majority of people it is what it is, and the question becomes whether or not a person can accept and be happy with that or will choose to be unendingly dissatisfied and unhealthily miserable.

 

Personally I have waffled between those two choices for years but have finally begun to lean toward the former. I spent way too much time in my 20’s & 30’s beating myself up for poor choices both professional & personal. Would I like to have a wife & kids?? A high paying, satisfying, well-respected job?? A big fancy house and an awesome car?? Enough money to buy anything or go anywhere I want?? Sure…who wouldn’t?? However, when I look at things from a more positive perspective I can embrace how blessed I have truly been. I have a great family that I know I can count on. I have a roof over my head, food on the table, and enough money to go out to dinner, see a movie, or keep Amazon.com in business. There are lots of folks who aren’t that fortunate. When I was 33 years old I spent 6 months in a “skilled” nursing facility and had the opportunity to see what true misery is like. My Dad would always comment that if there is a sadder place on Earth than a nursing home he couldn’t imagine what it might be. He also used to say to me that the difference between me and most everyone else in that horrible place was that eventually I would get to go home. That experience changed me forever, mostly in a positive way. I am much more appreciative of what I have now. I don’t believe anyone who says that they have no regrets. We all make mistakes and we’d all change a few things if we could go back in time. But Back to the Future was only a movie, and so we must move forward, hopefully making better choices and learning from past mistakes. Each day…each moment…is a gift from God, and we should enjoy & embrace it.

 

I can think of no better way to mark this historic occasion than to revisit my bucket list. “You have a bucket list??” Yes…yes I do. About 5 years ago my friend Slack (who needs to get his head out of his tookas and start writing again by the way) did a list he called 45 Things to Do Before I’m 45. At the time he was approaching 40, and I have no idea how he ended up doing on his list (I’m an awful friend). I decided to do my own list (written from the confines of a hospital bed) which was first published on the old MySpace blog and then re-released here a few years ago. Well, as Bon Jovi might say, I’m halfway there, so I suppose now is a good time to re-evaluate and see where I stand. Unfortunately the results aren’t as good as I’d prefer.

 

 

 

Stuff I’ve Done

8. Get a dog

23. Eliminate credit card debt

36. Volunteer at a literacy organization

I have had my beautiful pug Rocco for 4 years now and he is the light of my life. Seriously…for anyone without kids I would highly recommend getting a dog. I also began volunteering for the local Literacy Volunteers organization about 4 years ago and now serve on their board of directors. I don’t really do much tutoring for a variety of reasons, but I am more than comfortable with my level of involvement. Five years ago I had significant (atleast for me) credit card debt for no real good reason, but have now got everything paid off.

 

 

Stuff I Am Unlikely To Do

1. Get married

2. Buy a house

3. Spread my seed

9. Rebuild my nest egg

12. Attend the Super Bowl

24. Atleast pass thru all 50 states (9 down, 41 to go)

I have finally come to accept the fact that I am unlikely to ever get married or have children. I am not rich & successful nor buff & sexy enough to satisfy the expectations of your average 21st century American woman. And since I doubt if there will ever be a wife or kids I see no need to invest in a house. Houses are for families, not single men. Due to my own poor choices and the fact that West Virginia’s economy went in the tank decades before the rest of America caught up it is unlikely that I will ever have a good enough job to have much of a nest egg, but I do trust that God will always make provision for my daily bread. I know people with lots of money who are still completely miserable, so to be honest it’s really not all that important to me to have a boatload of cash. This lack of resources combined with some other factors has convinced me that it is doubtful that I’ll ever see all 50 states. Ever since an auto accident about 15 years ago I don’t even enjoy driving down the street, let alone traveling the country in a car. Plus, I honestly believe that an adventure like driving across the country is something a person needs to do while they are young and have no responsibilities. A guy I used to work with did it right after he graduated from college, and I have always thought that was profoundly smart of him. Once a person gets a job or a family traipsing about like some kind of vagabond just isn’t an option. And even though I LOVE football and always watch the Super Bowl on TV I realize now that the chances of me ever attending in person are slim. The logistics just aren’t favorable. The vast majority of tickets are bought by corporate entities, and the small amount that are released to the public cost thousands of dollars, and that’s not even taking into consideration the cost of flights, hotels, food, etc. No thank you. I’ll just hang out here in The Bachelor Palace and watch it on my hi-def flat screen.

 

 

Stuff I’ve Lost Interest In

7. Continue my education (masters degree? law school? film school?)

38. Learn about home brewing beer

I long ago began to question the value of my bachelor’s degree, which hasn’t really helped me all that much in the job market, so why would I waste time & money to go back into academia?? Looking back I think the 4 years I spent in college may have been more wisely used traveling, maturing, and figuring out what I wanted do with my life. Instead it was spent drinking way too much and attending classes that never really prepared me for anything. And speaking of drinking, I haven’t had a beer in years. It’s just not my thing anymore. I’m more of a bottled water or skim milk kind of guy. The whole home brewing idea sounded way cool several years ago, but now I can think of a ton of things I’d rather spend my time doing.

 

 

Stuff I Think I Can Get Done

4. Become more well versed in The Bible

5. Complete & submit for sale my movie screenplay

6. Lose about 50-75 lbs.

10. Go to Vegas…11. Fly in an airplane…15. See the ocean…18. Take a cruise…21. Visit NY City…26. Go to the real 221B Baker St. in London…29. Be in Boston down by the Charles River watching the Boston Pops on July 4th…31. Spend New Year’s Eve in Times Square…32. Attend the Indianapolis 500…34. Visit Italy…37. Attend The Kentucky Derby…39. Go to Mardi Gras…40. Attend an NCAA basketball Final Four…42. Go to The Jimmy Stewart Museum in Indiana, PA…43. Attend a major college bowl game (Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, Cotton)… 45. See the Grand Canyon

13. Read the entire Shakespeare canon

14. Take a ride in a hot air balloon

16. Learn about astronomy

17. Write a novel

19. Get a job that I enjoy and can stay at for the biggest part of the next 30 years

20. Study photography

22. Learn about and begin the practice of fasting

25. Buy a suit specially tailored for me

27. Ride a train

28. Eat caviar

30. Try out for Jeopardy!

33. Become a decent chess player

35. Become a sufficient, competent, maybe even semi-talented culinary craftsman

41. Learn sign language

44. Work for a political campaign

A few of these things are in progress, and a few are kind of open ended. What does becoming well-versed in The Bible even mean?? I know I need to read & study more, but does there ever come a time when one can say “I’m done. I got it. I know it all.”?? I do feel like I am a better Christian than  I was 5 years ago, but again, I doubt if I’ll ever get to the point where I have it all figured out. I am in the midst of a weight loss effort, having lost over 22 lbs. since July 2012. But since I started on that journey about 60 lbs. bigger than when I originally wrote this list doesn’t that mean I have to lose over 100 lbs. to fulfill the original goal?? Math makes my head hurt. Anyway, I am working on it and doing okay. I have the entire Shakespeare canon here in my library at The Bachelor Palace, and I have formulated a plan to complete this goal and share my thoughts at The Manofesto. Expect that in 2013. The travel stuff is kind of complicated but I still hope to do it all eventually. I had plans of finally seeing the ocean this past summer, but circumstances changed. I sincerely hope to do it next summer though. Vegas & Italy are still dream destinations, with Vegas being something I could conceivably do right now if I could ever talk anyone into going with me. Of course if/when I make it to either place I’d be doing so in an airplane, and I happen to know a couple of places in Vegas that serve caviar so that’d knock out a few more goals. It is very likely that the Vegas trip would include a visit to The Grand Canyon as well. The Jimmy Stewart Museum is only a few hours from me, just north of Pittsburgh. Unfortunately my driving phobia has prevented me from making the trip, but I’ll make it someday. NY City, Mardi Gras, London (where one would find 221B Baker St.), and Boston (for the July 4th celebration) are destinations dependent upon convincing others to go with me as well, simply because I don’t think going alone would be as much fun not to mention rather unsafe, and since I don’t have a lot of friends with ample time, money, or similar interests it is kind of a tough sell, but I haven’t given up. Attending an NCAA Final Four, the Indy 500, the Kentucky Derby, or a major bowl game may seem analogous to The Super Bowl, but I think they are slightly more…accessible, which is why I haven’t given up on those ideas quite yet. I honestly haven’t worked on my movie screenplay or novel in a long long time, but that is just a lack of discipline on my part. I still have ideas floating around in my head…I just need to put the time & effort into developing them. I have been pondering the fasting idea for awhile now, and it would obviously dovetail quite nicely with my weight loss (although that is NOT the reason one should fast). I actually attended a balloon festival with my friend The Owl in Columbus, OH this past summer (which is where I ended up vacationing instead of the beach), but the rides were cost prohibitive and I need to do a little more preparation & research about accessibility, although I have done enough to know it is definitely possible. There was a brief window of opportunity to take a sign language class a couple of years ago but I failed to jump on it. I keep my eyes open for other chances though. It’s definitely doable. I almost had myself convinced to get involved in this year’s political campaigns, both on a local & national level, but to be perfectly frank I got lazy. Shame on me. I guess I haven’t found a candidate that I truly believe in enough to spend my limited time & energy. But hey, the opportunity is there every couple of years, right?? I can’t honestly say I am much of a cook. I watch a lot of the Food Network, but just don’t have the inclination, the space, or the resources to actually get into doing it myself. Or maybe I am just being lazy again. I think I have figured out that the only job I could get that would truly make me satisfied down deep in my core is being a writer. So the question I have to ask myself is this…does writing The Manofesto fulfill the requirement?? On a practical level the answer is no simply because I am not getting paid to do this and I still have to go out into the workforce and endure the daily grind in order to pay the bills. But in another sense I am happy to have this outlet and feel that it has become a very important part of my life.

 

I kind of feel like I had my mid-life crisis in my mid-20’s and am very thankful for that. My life hasn’t turned out the way I might have hoped for when I was 19 years old, but how many people can honestly say all their dreams have come true?? I accept full responsibility for everything I have screwed up, and give all the glory to God for how well things have turned out despite me constantly getting in the way. I can’t call myself content or satisfied, and I consider that a good thing because it keeps me alert and forces me to be aware of opportunities to improve. But I can honestly call myself happy and thankful for my many blessings.

 

 

 

 

2012 Pigskin Picks of Profundity…..Week 6

 

The old saying is that “close only counts in horseshoes & hand grenades”, and I am not a big believer in moral victories anyway. However, I must say that I came oh so close to going 4-3 last week but instead ended up 2-5. Usually I get myself in trouble when I pick with my heart instead of my head, but as it turns out picking the hated Hokies of Virginia Tech over the Cincinnati Bearcats was a bad idea. I was also very disappointed in the effort of Michigan St. RB La’veon Bell, a potential Heisman candidate who I thought would do some damage to Ohio St. but was instead held to a paltry 45 yards in a loss. And maybe it’s time to jump on board the Minnesota Vikings bandwagon. Of course as soon as I do that they’ll start to look like…well…the Minnesota Vikings. At any rate, for the season I am at 13-24, a deficit that cannot be made up in one week. In other words, I am like a football team that is down atleast two scores. But since I am more of a ground & pound guy instead of a run & shoot aficionado I’ll just hunker down, grind it out, and dig out of the hole one week at a time.

 

 

 

Arizona                at            Stanford (-9.5)

Stanford wasn’t even on my radar at the beginning of the season. I just figured that they’d fade a bit after losing QB Andrew Luck and a few other pieces to the NFL. Instead they have gone 3-1, complete with a victory over media darling USC. They stumbled last week at Washington, but I will assume that was just a hangover loss after the high of defeating the Trojans in the previous game. I also looked over Arizona from the outset because it usually takes Fraudriguez a couple of years to install his offensive scheme. However, the Wildcats have looked more than decent thus far in compiling a 3-2 record. This game marks the halfway point of a murderer’s row of 6 straight ranked opponents for Arizona, and I think maybe now we’ll see what we usually see in inaugural Fraudriguez seasons. Stanford may possibly be looking ahead to a matchup at Notre Dame next week, but otherwise they hold all the cards here so I am picking them to win and cover.

 

 

Navy                      at            Air Force (-8.5)

I really like watching the service academies play football. Maybe it’s the fact that they aren’t the big, athletic NFL prospects that we see on so many other teams. They are legitimate student athletes who retain the essence of what amateur sports should be. Or maybe it is the knowledge that these young men truly have a higher purpose and will all go on to do something meaningful and, to varying degrees, heroic with their lives. And I suppose it has a lot to do with the old-fashioned style of football played. Navy is 1-3 and among the top 25 rushing teams in the nation. Of course they rank near the bottom in passing yards & points scored, so I guess they need to mix it up a little more. Air Force leads the nation in rushing and is near the bottom of the barrel in passing yards, but they are averaging 37 points per game. Their defense has really let them down though, so they are only 2-2. I expect to see lots of running here, and probably a high score. I’ll take the Falcons to get the victory and cover the spread.

 

 

LSU (-2.5)            at            Florida

I have picked two favorites thus far. Will the trend continue??

In my pre-season Top 25 I put the Bayou Bengals at #17 with the logic that they have a target on their backs and opponents will be especially psyched to take them down. That has been true so far…kind of. LSU is 5-0 and ranked 4th in the polls, but they have slipped a spot each of the past two weeks after lackluster victories over Auburn and Towson. A subpar effort won’t cut it this week though against the 10th ranked 4-0 Gators, who have been impressive in wins over Texas A&M, Tennessee, & Kentucky. So this looks like a contest of two undefeated & highly ranked teams that are going in opposite directions…one on the rise, and the other on the verge of being knocked down a peg or two. The boys in Vegas apparently didn’t get that memo since they have made LSU slight favorites even though they are venturing into decidedly unfriendly territory at The Swap. I think that is the difference here. I just can’t have much faith in a team that struggles to beat Towson and is now faced with the daunting task of playing a Top 10 team in one of the most…spirited…venues in college football. Florida gets the upset.

 

 

Georgia                at            South Carolina (-1.5)

I suppose it isn’t all that shocking that we get the pleasure of seeing two SEC teams face one other who happen to be 2 of the top 6 teams in the country. The ESPN Gameday crew will be in Columbia slobbering all over themselves and fellatiating the SEC, but as much as I hate to say it the praise has been earned. Both teams come into this game undefeated and in the hunt for a national championship, but at the end of the day one of them will pretty much out of the running. The Gamecocks are slim favorites only because of the home field advantage. I picked South Carolina #3 in my preseason rankings, while I left the Bulldogs off the board entirely. The latter may have been a mistake, and this game will decide if the former was an egregious error as well. I don’t think it was. I stand behind my choice and will go with South Carolina here.

 

 

Denver                                 at            New England (-6.5)

Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. That’s enough to sell this matchup. Brady leads the rivalry 8-4, and unfortunately I think he’ll extend the lead this week. I picked both of these teams to make the playoffs and the Patriots to make The Super Bowl. At this point I am not ready to back off of either prediction, but will say that both teams have looked much more…ordinary…than I thought they would. That being said, I think right now New England is a more complete team and Manning is still knocking off some rust. It makes me physically ill to pick the Patriots, but I think they’ll win and cover.

 

 

Buffalo                                 at            San Francisco (-9.5)

Who would have thought at this stage that the 49ers would NOT be in 1st place in their division?? Though they are 3-1 they are behind the undefeated Arizona Cardinals (although as I write this it looks like the Cardinals are going to lose their game). A stunning defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings left the football world abuzz, but I think it is much ado about nothing. If anything it just means that the Vikings are a lot better than we thought, but it almost certainly doesn’t indicate that San Francisco won’t be as awesome the remainder of the season as most of us believed they would. Buffalo currently sits in a 2-2 logjam in the AFC East and needs to do anything possibly to keep pace with the aforementioned Patriots, who are undoubtedly better than their record. I think this will be a defensive struggle, and the spread makes me a little nervous. San Francisco should win, but by how much?? Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is inconsistent at best, but has occasional flashes of being an actual NFL quarterback. Will he have a good week?? Word on the street is that both of Buffalo’s banged up running backs…Fred Jackson & CJ Spiller…will be ready to go for this game, but I’m not sure how much that’ll help against San Francisco’s stout run defense. I guess it can’t hurt, right?? But I really think it comes down to the play of Fitzpatrick. My vibes are telling me that Buffalo will study the SF/Minnesota game film and figure out a way to atleast keep this close, so I am picking the Bills.

 

 

San Diego            at            New Orleans (-4)

Anyone who read my NFL Preview might recall that I said “I do not believe that a team can go through the turmoil that the Saints have experienced this offseason and not be affected.” That might be the wisest prognostication I’ve made all season. But not even I thought they’d start the year 0-4. Will they drop to 0-5?? I also predicted that the Chargers would go 6-10 and said that “the party is over in San Diego and head coach Norv Turner will soon be enjoying an early retirement”. That hasn’t been so accurate thus far, as the Chargers are 3-1 and in 1st place. Are these trends solid or just a mirage?? I’ll go with the latter. I don’t think New Orleans is THIS bad, nor do I believe San Diego is that good. I think the Saints win & cover here, and I still think they can make it to the playoffs.

 

 

 

 

 

Just Another Losing Season…or Not

Oops…they did it again. They played with my heart. They lost a lot of games. But hey, I should have known better so I’m not completely innocent.

 

One year ago today I wrote here in this space that there was reason for optimism but that I had very little faith that the front office of the Pittsburgh Pirates is capable of putting together a winning team. I begged them to prove me wrong. They didn’t.

 

Oh sure they had a lot of folks fooled for awhile…even me. On August 8, 2012 the Pirates were 16 games over .500 and in the thick of the hunt for an NL wild card. It looked like the worst case scenario was a 3rd place division finish, narrowly losing out on a playoff berth, and finishing with a winning record for the first time since the Bush 41 administration. I think most fans could have lived with that. I wrote back in the middle of July that “I just hope they don’t fold like a cheap suit like they did in 2011”, but also apprehensively noted that the general consensus seemed to be that that would not happen. The general consensus was wrong. I began to get a bad feeling in the middle of August when the Pirates dropped 2 out of 3 to the San Diego Padres, a team even worse than the Buccos, at PNC Park. Then they lost 3 out of 4 to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Less than a week later they were swept by the Padres in San Diego. That’s when I knew it was over. Winners don’t lose games they are supposed to win. That is how quickly it all fell apart…within two weeks. I thought the past 19 years had been painful, but now I am not sure which is worse…knowing for sure that a team is horrible and has no chance to be competitive, or believing there is a chance for some small sliver of success only to see it inexplicably implode.

 

So now even the “worst case scenario” isn’t happening. The Pirates will finish 2012 with a losing record for the 20th straight season. They will finish in 4th place in their division. There are individual bright spots. Outfielder Andrew McCutchen is a star who is going to narrowly lose the National League batting title. The long awaited debut season of young OF Starling Marte has given fans reason for optimism. Pitchers Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole are still in the minors, but I would not be shocked to see them both on the big club sometime in 2013. However, at this point it is difficult to get excited about anything when it comes to the Pirates. There seems to be something systemically wrong. I used to blame owner Kevin McClatchy, but new owner (since 2007) Bob Nutting has been only marginally more successful. I used to blame managers, of which there have been several in the past two decades (Jim Leyland, Gene Lamont, Lloyd McClendon, Jim Tracy, John Russell, and now Clint Hurdle). But Leyland (who did lead the Pirates to three straight NLCS before Barry Bonds left Pittsburgh and all this futility began) has gone on to be quite successful with the Detroit Tigers (where McClendon and Lamont are on his staff), even leading them to one World Series. He also led the Florida Marlins to the World Series championship in 1997. Jim Tracy now manages the Colorado Rockies. The Rockies are about as good as the Pirates these days, but back in 2009 in Tracy’s first year they were good enough to get him named NL Manager of the Year. The evidence seems to support the idea that it doesn’t matter how good a manager is…he cannot be successful in Pittsburgh. One cannot help but wonder which lucky team will win a World Series with Clint Hurdle at the helm after his inevitable departure from the Pirates.

 

I don’t buy the “small market” excuse either. The Pirates have always been one of the least wealthy teams in MLB, yet they still won World Series in 1909, 1925, 1960, 1971, and 1979. They have won multiple division crowns and league pennants. Other small market teams like Oakland, Tampa Bay, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Baltimore, and Seattle have all been more competitive than  Pittsburgh the past two decades.

 

The question then is…if it isn’t ownership, management, or the economics of baseball, then what the hell is the problem?? Why haven’t the Pittsburgh Pirates been able to put together atleast a couple of successful, winning seasons in the past 20 years?? Dear Lord…even a broken clock is right twice a day for Pete’s sake!!

 

Quite honestly I don’t know the answer, and I am not inclined to waste time & energy trying to figure it out. One of the saddest things I see on TV is the sight of post-game analysts Kent Tekulve (who was one heck of a closer in his day) & Paul Alexander, not to mention game announcers Tim Neverett, Bob Walk, Greg Brown, John Wehner, & Steve Blass, trying to resolutely stay professional & upbeat while continuously having to explain away the latest loss and point out anything remotely positive. Holy cow that job has to totally suck. I mean really…how does one come up with the words to put an optimistic spin on a loss 82+ TIMES?? One of these days when someone asks a goofy question on the Ask Teke segment of the post-game show I half expect Tekulve to go postal, throwing down his microphone and screaming “What the hell do you want me to say?? There’s nothing more I can say!! They suck!! This is not a major league team!!”. That would be the most entertaining thing I’ve seen on a Pirates broadcast since 1992, which of course means it’ll never happen.

 

Unfortunately the Pirates have the nicest baseball stadium in the country and fans keep flocking to it, meaning the owners are making a profit each year despite losing a ton of games. As long as that is the case I doubt very seriously any kind of significant money will be spent for any major upgrades. That means, fellow Pirates fans, that what you see is what you are going to get for the foreseeable future. The only hope we have is that the young players they have drafted develop into legitimate stars. Can a team with McCutchen, Marte, Taillon, & Cole and a bunch of role players right the ship?? I’m not holding my breath. I think they need atleast two more position players who can hit and one additional pitcher, and the powers-that-be have demonstrated an inability to make good trades and an unwillingness to sign anything other than subpar bench warmers in free agency. A pattern is beginning to develop. The PR machine will try to get the fanbase excited in the spring (“This is our year!!”). The team will show signs of life clear thru July and maybe into August. And then the inevitable implosion will happen, complete with lame excuses like “So & so got inured” or “The pitchers arms got tired”. Lather, rinse, repeat. I hate to say this ladies & gentlemen, but after 20 years we might only be halfway thru this losing streak. I hope I am wrong, but I honestly don’t think I am. I’ll say what I said one year ago to the Pirates brass…prove me wrong. I don’t think you can.