Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Classic card of the week

Gheorge Muresan, 1992-93 Classic Four Sport Collection

First of all, that is an offensive foul. You cannot use your non-shooting arm weapon to ward off would-be defenders whilst also utilizing your tree branch fingers to poke said defenders in the eye, mouth, or mustache. Second of all, it doesn’t even matter because you are simply delaying the inevitable if you call an offensive foul on Gheorge Muresan, unless you do that five more times, which would cause Gheorge Muresan to foul out of the game, thus delaying the inevitable until the next game. Also, the inevitable is Gheorge Muresan dominating your sorry ass in the lane all day long with his array of big man moves and arm weapon tactics. Third of all, this is the French League, and the first rule of the French League is: There are no rules. The second rule of the French League is: Get out of Gheorge Muresan’s way.

Let’s find out more:

Gheorge Muresan enters the NBA as an untested potential star.

This is the exact same way ever person who ever entered the NBA entered the NBA, assuming that they are referring to being tested in a basketball sense and by NBA standards. Either way, this anecdote is accurate regardless, as Gheorge Muresan literally never took a written test in his entire life, mostly because he was five-feet tall coming out of the womb and was immediately inserted into the starting lineup of the Romanian National team and thus, was never formally schooled. In addition, he was never able to fit inside of a car, and was never required to take a drivers test. In 1990 however, he was approved by the United Nations -- sans tests -- to wear a Smart Car on each foot as transportation.

America patiently waits to see this Romanian giant up close.

America, in fact, was so patient in its anticipation of seeing this Romanian giant up close, that one would almost think that America did not care that much about seeing this Romanian giant up close, especially considering that, for most of America, up close meant “on TV,” which is where America could watch him anyway, if they had the French League channel on their cable package, which almost every American did back in 1992. I, on the other hand -- bored with the raw athleticism and high-flying nature of the NBA at that time -- was brimming with excitement at the thought of a 7’7” Romanian person jogging briskly up and down the court for a full 48 minutes. I even recall, as a 14-year old, tugging on my father’s shirt several times a day and asking him when we could see this Romanian giant up close. “Be patient, son,” is all he would say.

I would now like to direct your attention to the Gheorge Muresan photo on the back of the card:

Here we have a basketball card hyping the arrival of Gheorge Muresan to the NBA. If you could pick one person on the planet, at that time, to assist in this transition, who would it be? Who could possibly provide this Romanian giant with the credibility he would need to adjust to the most competitive basketball league in the world? I have somebody in mind. And all I’m saying is, I probably wouldn’t have cropped him out. On the other hand, this could have been done purposely, so as to signify the eminent takeover of the NBA by one Gheorge Muresan, which is exactly what happened.

Did you know?
My father kept his promise when he took me to see My Giant in theatres. It was the sixth best day of my life.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Classic card of the week

Dikembe Mutombo, 1992-93 Fleer

I’m sorry -- I know this sounds dorky, but aesthetically, this has to be one of the ugliest series of cards ever made. And within that ugly series, this card may very well be the ugliest of them all. And that is saying a lot.

Imagine that you have absolutely no background in basketball whatsoever. Somebody hands you this card. What would you make of it? Would you enjoy looking at the multitude of flailing arms and assortment of atrocious colors? Would you know what the letters -- written vertically, so as to cause additional confusion for the uninformed -- signified? And if you were somehow able to distinguish that the letters formed the name of the moderately popular Congolese-American professional basketball player Dikembe Mutombo, would you be able to figure out which player featured on the front of this card was him? And let’s say, for arguments sake, that upon further detailed inspection you were able to determine which player was Dikembe Mutombo. Would you then be able to understand why he was wearing a rainbow-themed uniform? Then, after all of this exhaustive research that has caused you to drop out of college and has created a major rift in your most treasured relationships, would you then be able to explain why, in a series of cards that classifies itself as a “Slam Dunk” series, you are left holding a picture of Dikembe Mutombo blocking somebody’s shot?

These are rhetorical questions, of course. Let’s find out the facts:

It only took a year for Dikembe to establish himself as one of the NBA’s most intimidating centers.

Dikembe Mutombo is 7’2” with the wingspan of a football field. He talks like Cookie Monster and he played collegiately for one of the most popular basketball schools in the NCAA. He has 17 elbows. It took him three-and-half seconds to establish himself as one of the NBA’s most intimidating centers.

(By the way, it is not known whether or not, after blocking this feeble Derrick Coleman dunk attempt, Mutombo executed his famous finger wag, in which he awkwardly wags his 3-foot long finger in the direction of the player whose shot he just blocked, as if to say, in a Cookie Monster-type voice, “No thank you, sir! I will not be enjoying your dunk today,” while the other nine players run down the court and continue to play basketball.)

There’s even a song about his shot-block exploits, a reggae tune called, “The Dikembe Block.”

Add this to the list of things I did not know before today. This reminds of the Calhoun Tubbs character from In Living Color: ”Wrote a song about it. Like to hear it? Here it go!” Also, I couldn’t resist an attempt to look up additional info on this reggae jam, and while I couldn’t come up with the song in full, I was able to locate this little tidbit:

Hey mom,

I’m assuming they mean “mon.” Unless they are actually singing a song about Dikembe Mutombo’s blocking exploits to their mother, which would be weird.

Have you heard da word?

No! What is da word?

No more flyin like a Bird. No more Mail Delivery. He don’t come into da key.

An obvious swipe at Larry Bird and Karl Malone. Bird himself would return fire -- via John Cougar Mellencamp –- on the dis track entitled “This Is Ouuuuuur Country,” which appeared as a bonus track on Mellencamp’s 36th album. Sample lyric:

A little diddy, ‘bout Dikemebe Mutombo
Ain’t from ‘round here, but he'll foul ya' hard if you go down low
Trying to be a basketball star
But he can put that finger wag back in his cookie jar
Cause a little Birdy, just pooped on his head
This is ouuuuuur country

Did you know?
Upon reading this post, Dikembe Mutombo reveled in the irony that he can speak nine different languages and I have yet to master English. He then finger-wagged in the direction of his computer monitor.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Classic card of the week

Shawn Kemp, 1995 Upper Deck

When I think about the “Images of 95,” one of the first images that pops into my head is Shawn Kemp dressed as Santa Claus. An easier way to describe this image is: Santa Kemp.

Since I am, for the moment, rendered speechless, let’s immediately go to the back of the card:

Looking up at a six-foot ten-inch tall Santa may be hard to believe

Equally hard to believe: Looking up at any Santa. That aside, why can’t Santa Claus be 6’10”? He’s a mythical figure who rides a sleigh operated by eight reindeer -- one of which has a red nose -- and he delivers toys to every child in the world by sliding down a chimney at night, yet now we’re putting height restrictions on the guy? I think the “hard to believe” factor arises from the fact that, in this particular case, Santa plays power forward for the Seattle Supersonics. To wit:

The Seattle Supersonics All-Star forward has represented Santa proudly

This is -- for anyone familiar with the off-the-court exploits of Shawn Kemp -- arguable. Far be it from me to judge, but let’s just say that Mr. Kemp was renowned for his, well…potency. The easy joke to make here is that Santa Kemp is simply delivering presents to all of his own children. But I will not make that joke. Instead I will direct your attention to my absolute favorite part of this card: the picture of Santa Kemp on the back. For your review:

Nothing says the holidays like an exhausted Santa Kemp sitting in stunned silence on a leather couch, wondering why the heck he ever decided to become Santa Kemp in the first place. We can’t see the rest of the scene, but I imagine that Santa Kemp is surrounded by eight thousand screaming kids demanding more presents and incessantly asking him if he can still dunk in his Santa boots.

Did you know?
According to a reporter on the scene, after one precocious child asked a visibly exhausted Santa Kemp what was wrong, Kemp responded by saying, "Mrs. Claus is giving me some sh%&."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Making holiday memories here in moderate AZ

Note: This column appears in the 12/18 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 12/19 issue of the Peoria Times

There were two reasons my wife and I thought twice about moving to Arizona. First and foremost: family. Was Arizona far away enough? (That was a joke.) The second reason was much less important -- though still relevant -- and actually in direct contrast to one of our main reasons for wanting to move here in the first place (the warm weather), and it was this: Christmas…in Arizona?

(Spoiler alert: We moved here anyway.)

Now granted, both of these issues are rendered moot when we travel back east for the holiday itself. But Christmas isn’t just a day. It’s a season, and it’s one that starts -- judging by my 2008 calculations -- three weeks before Halloween. I had my reservations about what it would be like here for those days and weeks, especially after my dreams of sipping hot cocoa by the fireplace (that we don’t have) were interrupted by the sign near our house that reads: Fire danger: Extreme.

Speaking of extreme, I wondered exactly how much I missed the extreme east coast weather as my wife and I watched the crowd at Rockefeller Center freezing their butts off during the tree lighting ceremony on TV a few weeks ago. Last Saturday night we wore jeans and a light jacket when we attended Glendale Glitters. We saw the lights, grabbed a cup of coffee, and just took in the whole holiday scene. Afterwards we went to our good friends’ house to test out their new fire pit. We had a few drinks and even made s’mores. It sure felt like Christmas to me.

A couple of weeks ago we went out to dinner with friends to a place we never would have found on our own. It was called Tutti Santi in Glendale, and, as you can imagine, it was authentic Italian cuisine. If there’s one thing a guy with Italian in-laws misses this time of year, it’s authentic Italian cuisine. Outside of the restaurant a live band played and the promenade was adorned with Christmas lights. Inside our waiter demanded that we try the crème brule. Strangely, it felt like home.

Sure, nothing is the same without family, but if you’ve noticed a common theme of our Christmas-in-Arizona experience thus far, it’s that we’ve got some great friends to share it with. Most of them are in a similar position to ours -- far from home but trying to make new memories here. Corny? Yes. Christmas-y? Also yes.

On our way home from Tutti Santi the other night my wife and I took the back roads home so we could see the lights on the houses along 91st Avenue. I have no idea how you get Christmas lights on a cactus -- or, for that matter, off a cactus -- but these people get it done. And it all looked so amazing amidst the clear, cool Arizona night sky. As we got closer to the house, our headlights revealed that the fire danger had been reduced to “moderate.” I asked my wife if we could get the fire pit going and have some hot chocolate. After all, it was a crisp 48-degrees. She said we didn’t have a fire pit.

Maybe next year.

I’m looking forward to it already.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Classic card of the week

Mel Blount, 1991 Pro Line Portraits

Scene: NFL studios is Los Angeles, California. Several executives are meeting with Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Mel Blount.

Executive #1: Thanks for coming by today, Mel. Listen -- I’m going to be “blount” (makes quote signs with his hands) with you-

Mel Blount: Stop right there. I will walk out of here right now.

Exective #1: I’m sorry…I’m sorry, Mel. I thought you’d appreciate that. Let me start over. Mel, I’m going to be honest with you -- we want you to do a Pro Line portrait. You’re one of the most popular players in the league, sort of, and it would mean a lot for our line of football cards to have you on board.

Mel Blount: I really appreciate that, guys. Really, I do. But I’m a busy man. Why can’t you just send out a guy to take pictures of me playing football?

Executive #2: That’s not how we do things over here at Pro Line portraits, Mel. We want the fans to get a taste of who you really are, off the football field. That’s what the football-card-buying public really wants to see.

Mel Blount: I thought they’d like to see me playing football.

Executive #3: No, that is a myth. They hate football. They want to see Mel Blount the person, the father, the pedestrian, the chef, the lounge lizard, the professor…whatever makes you who you are, that’s what the fans want to see.

Mel Blount: I’m a football player.

Executive #1: One day a week, you are, Mel. One. Day. A. Week.

Mel Blount: Alright, listen. I like the way you guys operate. I’m going to do this. (Conference room erupts in ecstatic “hoorays!” and awkward hi-fives.) But HOLD ON! Because this is how it’s gonna go down: I’m going to need a bow tie, a 12-inch belt buckle, a cowboy hat, and a horse. Not one of those mini-horses, either. A real, legit horse. And you’re going to fly me out to a remote ranch in northwest Kansas, and we’re going to do this in one take, because I don’t have a lot of time. We leave this afternoon.

Executive #8: Harry, can we do this?

Executive #12: I’m already on it. The private jet is on the runway. Carolyn is working on getting one of the horses from “Young Guns.”

Mel Blount: Let’s roll.

End scene

Wow, that got out of hand pretty fast. Let’s get back to reality here and have Mel Blount explain what this portrait signifies:

Football challenges the total individual – spiritually, physically, mentally, morally, and emotionally. The game exemplifies life.

Speaking of life, another thing I like to do in life is to hang out with my horse on our 50-acre ranch back home. That is what I imagine the next sentence will be.

It’s a true test of manhood.


I think that’s one reason the proudest moment of my life, as far as an accomplishment, was when I heard the news that I had been selected for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I shall wear my best bow tie to the induction ceremony! Also, still no mention of the horse portrait.

That was great news. I remember all the people I played with, worked with, and met while I was in the league. I love the game horses.

There. That explains it.

Did you know?
The urge to reference "Blazing Saddles" was resisted an estimated 26 times during the construction of this post.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Holiday movies teach us important lessons

Note: This column appears in the 12/11 issue of The Glendale Star and the 12/12 issue of the Peoria Times

The theme of almost every holiday movie is finding the true meaning of Christmas. Except, of course, for the movie “Jack Frost,” in which the theme is: if your absentee father dies, be alert, because there is a good chance he will come back to life in the form of a snowman, and finally teach you how to play hockey. This is another important holiday lesson.

Anyway, the true meaning of Christmas in these movies usually proves to be quite elusive at first, but is ultimately found in some form of non-materialistic love. That is why, I am sure, so many people like myself are suckers for holiday flicks -- because they make you feel good, and reaffirm what you already know to be true.

But let me ask you this: Have you ever tried, in real life, to execute a non-materialistic Christmas? Contrary to what the movies would imply (gasp!), it is quite difficult.

A few years ago, on the heels of Hurricane Katrina, my wife and I decided that we really didn’t need presents that year. So in lieu of gifts we asked some of our family to simply donate to a particular school in New Orleans. A part of us imagined that everybody would follow suit when it came to their own gifts, and we would all have one, big, giftless Christmas. But it didn’t necessarily go down like that, and two days later we were in Victoria’s Secret searching for those pajama pants that say “Pink” on the butt. It was almost as if our family learned nothing from the movie “Jack Frost.”

And what example is Santa Claus setting in all of this? I have yet to see him denounce the materialism of the holidays by replacing Xboxes with $100 United Way donations. (Plus he was a total insensitive jerk in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”) That’s why I often prefer to take it upon myself to force my agenda on others by making donations on their behalf without their consent. Take that, loved ones!

Rudolph, you idiot -- your hoof is on my toe! Your father should be ashamed...

Only a holiday movie can help us. I choose “Once Upon a Christmas,” in which former swimsuit model Kathy Ireland plays Santa Claus’s daughter and she has to save Christmas because her parents – Mr. & Mrs. Claus -- went on vacation to Hawaii (again, nice example, Santa.) Not that there is a lesson to be learned from that movie -- it is horrible – but if you buy it on DVD for someone they probably won’t want a gift from you next year. And that’s a start.

But, believe it or not, I have learned something over the years. While an all-out non-materialistic holiday would be quite a thing to experience, it’s not a reality, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For one, it could actually deprive others of the joy they derive from giving. For them, the look on your face after opening a thoughtful gift they couldn’t wait to give you is often the gift itself. And let’s face it -- gift-giving is part of our holiday culture, and the ultimate reason behind that is a good one. Finding the balance between helping those who really need it and giving to those you love may be the true, true meaning of Christmas.

That, or, spirit-inhabited snowmen. Either one.

You're right Snowdad -- this isn't weird at all!

Smell of the week

Milk That’s Almost Gone Bad, But Not Quite Smell

I go in stages with my milk usage. Sometimes I drink more of it because I’m on a milkshake kick or I’m mixing it with my protein (due to my vegetarian status) instead of water. Other times, I’m just using it on my cereal. Either way, I generally try not to think about milk that much because -- not sure if you’re aware of this -- milk is a white substance that comes from a cow’s utters and is often made even more disgusting than that through various processes it endures on the way to the supermarket. I almost threw-up just writing that. Nevertheless, the inconsistency of my milk intake frequently leaves me with a dilemma: How much milk do I buy?

What usually ends up happening is this: I end up buying a whole gallon of milk. Then I get home and realize that there’s still a half-gallon left in the refrigerator. My wife rolls her eyes and tells me she told me we didn’t need milk and emphatically warns me that I better not waste any. Then when she is not home I dump out the old milk in the sink and hope she doesn’t notice. This is called: married life. (Btw: she always notices.)

Occasionally we have a back-and-forth where I will take out the old milk, open the cap, smell it, make a face, use the clichéd Chappelle line that “the milk’s gone bad, bitches!” and implore my wife to smell it for herself. Then she’ll take a whiff, then another, and then she’ll tell me that the milk is fine. And I’ll be like, “Then why’d you smell it twice?” and she’ll be like, “’Cause I wanted to make sure!” and I’ll be like, “If there’s any doubt, throw it out!” and then she’ll give me “the look” and I’ll put it back in the fridge.

(It should be mentioned that my wife is the same person who, when handed a loaf of moldy bread, will cut out the mold and use the rest. This is obviously unacceptable.)

If it were up to me, milk would be disposed of the second it starts to cake up near the cap, and you start getting those dried up milky flakes accidentally mixed in with your cereal. Man, I hate that. But that would be wasteful. We truly arrive at a crossroads when the milk begins to smell…but not bad enough.

Milk should be, essentially, odorless. But it does begin to acquire a smell the closer it gets to its expiration date. That smell can best be described as: the faint smell of sour milk. It’s a warning sign, really. Sometimes I even imagine that the milk is speaking to me through the smell, and it echoes: Hello-ello-ello! Be careful-areful-areful! The really strange thing -- besides that last sentence -- is that this smell has absolutely no effect on the taste. The milk is still delicious. But you wonder how much longer it will stay delicious.

It is up to the individual how long he or she is willing to take the risk. Personally, I don’t mess with milk. Once I encounter Milk That’s Almost Gone Bad But Not Quite Smell, I’ll give it another day or two at best. However, after all this talk about milk, I am fairly certain that I'm just going to give it up altogether. I am going to throw up.

The defect in this one is Milk That's Almost Gone Bad But Not Quite Smell.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Classic card of the week

Billy Ray Smith, 1991 Pro Line Portraits series

Let me ask you a question, and I want you to be honest with me: How many lightening bolts are on the outfit you are wearing right now? If your answer is: less than 800,000, then you are dead to me.

I feel like somebody is messing with me when it comes to this card. It doesn’t seem possible that this is real. Zubaz? Flowing mullet? Mustache? Billy Ray? Wristbands? It’s the wristbands that really take it over the top for me. Everything else is moderately feasible. I mean, did I personally ever own a pair of Zubaz? No. But I thought about it once. The mustache-mullet combination is a sign of the times, I suppose. And I would be less shocked if this guy didn’t have a two-name first name. But it’s the wristbands that make me question the integrity of this card. I don’t know what to believe anymore. Let’s hear what Billy Ray has to say:

Preparation is the key for me. I wasn’t blessed with blinding speed, or Herculean strength, but I spend a lot of time in the film room

I bet you thought that this was Billy Ray Smith’s gym outfit, in which case you are wrong, and also an idiot for even thinking that. This is actually Billy Ray’s preparation outfit. You see, contrary to what the front of the card implies, Billy Ray was not blessed with Herculean strength. And if you are never going to become as strong as Hercules, then there is absolutely no point to working out. Rather, Billy Ray Smith would simply throw on a pair of comfortable lightening pants, possibly also a lightening shirt, a pair of humongous wristbands (preparation is sweaty!), and head into the film room and break down an opponent’s offense until it was time for Step by Step, which was his favorite show. But why was Billy Ray so focused on preparation?

If the runner is coming at you, you better look for some offensive lineman who is pulling to trap you, because he is going to hit you in the ear hole.

I can picture Billy Ray Smith in the film room, watching game tape of the previous week, and rewinding the play where he gets hit in the ear hole, as he furiously jots down in his notebook, “Don’t get hit in the ear hole!!!” over and over again, his wrists sweating profusely.

Did you know?
A 1995 lawsuit claimed that Zubaz’s slogan -- “Dare to be different” -- posed a challenge that many people accepted under false pretenses; namely, that different = not horrible.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Touring Luke with a General and a rental car

Note: This column appears in the 12/4 issue of The Glendale Star and the 12/5 issue of the Peoria Times

We hosted an attorney general a couple of weeks ago.

That would be my uncle, a lawyer from New Jersey who was recently promoted to Brigadier General of the Air Force. I have no idea what this means, but it did result in a big family party back home, so I know that it is at least as important as graduating the sixth grade. Of course, since his promotion, I have come to understand that this is probably the greatest professional accomplishment anyone from our family will ever experience. Unless you count my blog.

Having family visit was great. It was my uncle, his daughter and her fiancé, and they couldn’t wait to see us. And by “us” I mean the New York Giants, who also happened to be in town that weekend. Go figure.

Anyway, what’s the point of having an esteemed family member if you can’t exploit their hard-earned reputation for your own benefit? With that in mind, we kindly demanded that my uncle give us a tour of Luke Air Force Base. The farthest we had ever gotten to Luke was hearing the jets fly over our house at night, so this was going to be a real treat.

In fact, my uncle was equally looking forward to it. He had stayed at Luke while fighting the first Gulf War, and had not been back since. He did however, want to keep a low profile, so we went just as it was getting dark that night, and never got out of the car. When my uncle flashed his credentials at the gate and didn’t get the salute we were all expecting, he claimed the security guard was a “civilian.” Whatever. We got through.

I had no idea how immense the base is. It’s its own city. We drove to the back of the base in hopes of catching a fighter jet landing or taking off, and while we just missed seeing one land, just watching the jets sitting in the hanger was awe-inspiring. My uncle talked about engines and the differences between the F-16 and F-24, and I sat there pretending to know what he was saying, when really I was just happy to put a face to the noise that made me feel safe when I heard it overhead at night.

We drove past building after building, getting a quick lesson on Air Force protocol. My uncle became visibly upset when a certain Airman walked out of his barracks without his flight cap on (though he put it on one second later). We joked that he was an angry old general and should have shaken his fist out of the window, though we were all amazed at the discipline and attention to detail involved in being a member of our nation’s armed forces.

“This isn’t just a training base,” my uncle said. “It’s a mission base.” Nothing stuck with me more on that tour than those words. I felt so honored just to be there.

Of course, this is still my family we’re talking about here, so our final stop on base was at the duty free liquor store so my uncle could pick up tax-free beer for our Giants-Cardinals tailgate party later that weekend. And as I stood there in the sunshine that Sunday morning, enjoying a beer and my freedom, I felt like one lucky civilian.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Classic card of the week

Bill Hanzlik, 1989 NBA Hoops

On one fateful day back in 1988, Bill Hanzlik crossed over James Worthy. Straight up crossed him. Worthy stood knee-locked for four seconds, not knowing where he was or what day it was or what a Laker is even supposed to be. Meanwhile, Bill Hanzlik -- who was more shocked at what had just happened than anyone else in the building -- drove past Worthy on a cloud of fear-induced adrenaline, hoping to reach the basket before Worthy gathered his bearings and recovered in time to use his superior athletic ability to smash Bill Hanzlik’s face into to the basket support as retribution for his public humiliation.

When he wasn’t busy crossing fools over, Bill Hanzlik was revolutionizing the bowl haircut + mustache + bowl full of weed combination.

Throw in the worst idea in uniform history and the overall fashion sensibilities of the late-80s, and you’re left with Bill Hanzlik: playa for life. Except, of course, when he was having back surgery:

Play limited due to back surgery…

Yeah, back surgery will undoubtedly limit your playing time under most circumstances. Hanzlik often told friends and family that he broke his back carrying the Nuggets for 82 games every season, something his coaches and teammates resented, but could rarely argue with:

Has played all five positions for Denver…

As the old NBA saying goes, “When a guy with a bowl haircut and mustache is playing every position for your basketball team, you probably need a new basketball team.” I just made up that saying, but you could see how it would be relevant here. Also, many people find this hard to believe, but Bill Hanzlik was from Ohio.

Did you know?
Bill Hanzlik defied Newton's scientific theory that a Laker sinks a Nugget.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A tradition unlike any other

Note: This column appears in the 11/26 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 11/28 issue of the Peoria Times

Thanksgiving traditions tend to change over the years.

My wife and I inadvertently initiated this holiday alteration when we decided to move here to Arizona all the way from New Jersey. And let me tell you something: Thanksgiving is quite different when you don’t eat meat and your family is thousands of miles away.

Back home, our tradition had always been this: Breakfast with my parents, then we’d spend the next few hours trapped in our car on the Outerbridge Crossing trying to get into Staten Island to see my wife’s uncle and the rest of the family for dinner, then back to NJ to my aunt’s house for dessert and our regular game of “which cousin got the drunkest?” It was always a busy day, but one of the best. My wife’s favorite, in fact.

Last year was slightly different. We simply couldn’t travel back home for both holidays, so we knew we’d be on our own. We wanted to make the best of it, so we decided to spend Thanksgiving in Sedona. The night before we left, we were lucky enough to get free tickets to see the early 90s hip-hop trio of Bell Biv Devoe in concert in downtown Phoenix. If your Thanksgiving holiday doesn’t start with Bell Biv Devoe, then you are doing something wrong. It’s how the Pilgrims did it. You can look it up.

We'd like to give a shout-out to all our peeps on the Mayflower...this next joint's for you. Hit it!
Do me babyyyy...

Thanksgiving in Sedona was beautiful, but bittersweet. We were accustomed to a loud, raucous, delicious dinner in which my wife’s uncle busted our chops for two hours straight for not eating meat, yet went out of his way to make us salmon on the side. In Sedona, we were the only two people sitting in a nice restaurant for an early dinner, eating our salmon without anyone making fun of us while we laughed to ourselves wondering what the family was up to.

As much as we missed our family, a funny thing happened over the course of the past year. When we realized that this year would present a similar situation for the holidays, we found ourselves really looking forward to our new “tradition” of spending Thanksgiving with each other in Sedona. When a Coldplay concert at Jobing.com Arena we had purchased tickets for way back in June got pushed back to the night before Thanksgiving, we knew our holiday formula of concert-then-Sedona was meant to be. Sure, maybe it’s a little untraditional. But it’s our tradition.

We even added one more guest to our new Thanksgiving tradition: our dog Mac. We’re now staying at a pet-friendly hotel in Sedona, and it should be interesting to find a restaurant open on Thanksgiving that not only serves fish, but that will let our dog join us. This will probably lead to all three of us eating our holiday meal outside of a Long John Silvers in 40-degree weather while we laugh to ourselves wondering what the family is up to.

Holiday traditions change all the time, whether due to marriage, people moving away, kids being born, or whatever. Adjusting to these changes is often difficult. But the one constant remains, and that is that we all have a lot to be thankful for. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to prepare for the holidays by packing some dog food and getting ready to enjoy some live British soft rock. I’m sure you’ll be doing the same.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Classic card of the week

Craig Ehlo, 1993-94 Topps

There are several ways one can choose to remember Craig Ehlo. One way involves the words: “Shot on Ehlo, GOOD! GOOD! BULLS WIN! BULLS WIN!” Another way to remember Craig Ehlo is this: super intense dribbler. I choose the latter.

Let’s go to the back of the card. But before we do, I ask all of you to graciously ignore the words “Spring shot” which randomly appear in red and blue lettering, and which – after hours of exhausting research – have no bearing on the overall content of this card. In fact, let’s jump right to “the buzz” surrounding Craig Ehlo. There is a lot of it, as I’m sure you can imagine.

Per minute, Ehlo ranked in the TOP 11% of the NBA in 3PM

Top 11%? That's almost top 10! Percent! This is a great stat to throw out if you are lucky enough to be invited to a Craig Ehlo-themed party. Or, you could also play the Craig Ehlo Arbitrary Statistic Game Where You Make Up A Craig Ehlo Stat That Nobody In Their Right Mind Would Ever Bother Looking Up (Milton-Bradley). Here, I’ll try one: Per possession, Ehlo ranked in the TOP 18% of the Eastern Conference in dribbling intensely. See? I just earned 14 Ehlo Points! Fun!

Back of the card, your turn!:

Hit 20/35 3PT FG’S (.571) in one early-March stretch.

Awesome! Except for “FG’S” being possessive (minus 20,000 Ehlo Points). Actually, I can build on that by mentioning that Craig Ehlo is seventh ALL TIME in the NBA in fruitful early March stretches. In contrast to that is Mugsy Bogues, whose career was ultimately defined by his mid-April lulls.

I hope you have all enjoyed playing statistical games with and/or about Craig Ehlo. Don’t forget to cash in your Ehlo Points at the nearest Shop Rite!

Did you know?
In 2003, the Craig Ehlo Camp For Intense Dribbling was shut down because the buzz on the street revealed that Ehlo was paying counselors under the table.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Paying it forward and not looking back

Note: This column appears in the 11/20 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 11/21 issue of the Peoria Times

I’m not much of a good deed type of person. It’s not that I don’t want to perform good deeds, it’s just that doing so is not as instinctual for me as it is for others. For example, last Saturday night my wife and I were out for a drink with friends. While we were standing around talking, a very drunk man fell off of his barstool behind me. My first instinct was not to help the guy up, but to make sure everyone else saw this happen, because I thought it was funny. By the time the bouncers were hauling him outta there, the look on my wife’s face said it all -- Good deed: Unaccomplished.

Because I am apparently not the type of person to spontaneously spring into action, my good deeds must be carefully plotted out. I must create opportunities, or, at this rate, I am going to be in big trouble down the line. But here’s the other thing: Good deeds are not always accepted with open arms (evidenced by the time I tried to give a homeless man $2…also, he was not homeless), and the last thing I need is any sort of backlash for my good intentions. What to do?

Well, a couple of years ago my wife was watching the news when a segment aired about a man who had offered to pay for the person behind him at the drive-thru window of a fast food restaurant. Apparently, this gesture continued throughout the day, each person paying for the person behind them. “Pay it forward,” they called it.

To me, this was perfect. It was the chance to do a good deed, without the risk of a potentially disastrous social interaction. In fact, after hearing about it, my wife and I tried it that very next weekend, at our favorite establishment: Dunkin’ Donuts. We had big dorky smiles on our faces as we happily paid for the man behind us at the drive-thru. It was a really good feeling and it only cost us a couple of bucks.

Based on the events of last weekend, I knew that a good deed was in order, so I wanted to try this again. Unfortunately, the local Dunkin’ Donuts does not have a drive-thru window, and I typically try to steer clear of fast food. Eventually I decided to undertake this good deed at that great light tower of the needy: Starbucks.

So there I was last Monday morning sitting on the ridiculously long line at the Starbuck’s drive-thru. I looked in my rear view and saw the car behind me. One woman. Good. Though I hoped she wasn’t getting treats for her entire office. (My good deeds have financial limitations.) For some reason I was so nervously excited. It cost me an extra $3.50 or so at the window, and I was happy to pay it forward.

I sped away as fast as I could, fearing that this woman would chase me down on the highway and demand I roll down my window as she yelled, “What do think I am, poor?!” Once I knew I was in the clear, I smiled as I sipped my coffee and zoomed past a car with a flat tire on the side of the road.

“One good deed at a time,” I thought.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Classic card of the week

Uwe Blab, 1989 NBA Hoops

So let’s say you’re Uwe Blab. It’s 1977 and you’re living in West Germany. Your name is Uwe Blab. You are 15 years old and like, 12-feet tall and have red hair. You have never seen a basketball before. Somebody hands you a basketball. You eat it. Somebody hands you another basketball and explains how to use it. You think the sport is an efficient game, and you decide to make it your career.

You fear the western culture and multi-syllabled names of the United States, but you realize that America is the land best suited for your talent of being 7’1”. You would prefer to inhabit an area of this land that rejects popular culture and accepts dictatorship. You travel to Indiana to play for Bob Knight.

Your teammates struggle to balance the rigors of the season with their academic requirements, but meanwhile you have joined an exclusive fraternity and are on your way to graduating with a double-major in math and computer science, which -- considering that it’s now 1983 -- basically means that you invented the computer. You create the first known website after uploading videos of your jump hook shot directly from your camcorder to your computer, and you call this website: UweBlabtube.

You make it to the NBA, where you proceed to average just over two points-per-game for your career. You cannot shake the constant comparisons to Bill Walton. But all of that becomes trivial because during a trip back home in 1989, based on a dare posed to you by your best friend Lek Glurg, you symbolically dunk over the Berlin Wall, knocking it down entirely and uniting the country of Germany forever. You missed the dunk, but still.

Did you know?
After Uwe Blab refused to address speculation in 1982 that Bob Knight had hit him in the knees with a pipe during practice for failing to grasp the 2-3 zone, an Indiana Gazette headline read: Blab won’t blab.

Classic card of the week

Jeff Snyder, 1992 Upper Deck

You probably notice the Star Rookie in the above card as none other than Jeff Snyder, the guy with the white-sounding name who was not, as it would appear, white, and who played for those immensely popular early 90’s Hawaii football teams with the rainbow-colored pants. But on the slim chance you are unfamiliar with this Star Rookie, we’re going to let the back of the card provide us with some additional insight:

University of Hawaii slotback…

That’s what she said.

…Jeff Snyder offers the Eagles the versatility of a Keith Byars, but in a smaller package.

This was pretty much what every team in the NFL was searching in vain for at the time, and have been searching for ever since: a player with the versatility of Keith Byars, but not as annoyingly large. Teams in the NFL are always looking for smaller players, as evidenced by the steady regression in player size the league has witnessed over the past decade. But it’s not just that -- they need these small players to be versatile too. And when you talk about versatility in football, there is really only one player that comes to mind: Keith Byars. In fact, as you’ll notice from the above tidbit, Byars himself was so versatile that to even imagine someone that could approach his versatility was heresy, hence the suggestion that Snyder offered the versatility “of a Keith Byars.” Not the Keith Byars. Because that would be crazy. Keith Byars played every position for the Eagles while also coaching the team and singing the national anthem before home games. If it weren’t for the elephant-like nature of his physical size, he would be in the Hall of Fame.

But what did people in the know think about Jeff Snyder?

“Jeff’s an electrifying returner without any doubt,” says Eagles head coach Rich Kotite.

Listen, when Rich Kotite has no doubts about a particular issue, you can pretty much carve it in stone. Also, Jeff Snyder’s returning abilities were so electrifying, that they must have cut off the circuit over at Google, because I could not find any additional information about Jeff Synder. Unless you count this.

So, to recap:

University of Hawaii slotback…

“Jeff’s an electrifying returner…”

Synder was the lone receiver chosen by Philadelphia.

Man, that guy was versatile!

Did you know?
Rich Kotite once said of fellow NFL head coach Ray Handley: He's an electrifying coach without any doubt.

UPDATE: A literate commenter pointed out that Jeff Snyder's name is actually Jeff Sydner. This probably explains why Google returned no results. Also, I cannot read. I apologize for nothing.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Conquering fears by giving of yourself, literally

Note: This column appears in the 11/13 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 11/14 issue of the Peoria Times

Like anybody else, I have fears. I’m not a big fan of flying, for example. In fact, I will not fly by myself. When my wife was studying at NAU a few years ago and I came to visit her from New Jersey, I actually took the train. I spent five days in all on the train and 45 minutes visiting my wife. But it cured my fear of flying, so that was good. I am also scared of the clown from the Stephen King movie “IT.” If you have seen that movie, then you are nodding your head. Another thing that scares me is death. Death is a biggie.

Luckily, for whatever reason, I never developed a fear of needles. This is probably due to the fact that my mom is a nurse, and she was able to use me as a human pincushion when I was a kid and she was working her way through nursing school; my arm in her right hand, textbook in her left hand, needle in her mouth. It never bothered me. The fact that I do not fear needles enables me to rather easily do something that I think is very important: give blood.

Of course, the act of giving blood is not without its other implied fears. I just recently started to donate, even though for years I knew that giving blood is one of the easiest things a person could do. This is because I had always feared that one day I would donate blood, and two weeks later I would get this message on my voice mail:

Hello Mr. Kenny. Thank you for donating blood to United Blood Services. Unfortunately, we cannot use your blood. Because you have Dengue fever. Have a nice weekend.

This irrational fear was solved when my wife and I applied for new life insurance, and I was forced, against my will, to submit a blood sample. Thankfully, everything checked out okay. So when my boss encouraged our entire office to donate blood last year during the holidays, I was ready.

There was a pretty lengthy interview process beforehand, which included many personal questions, such as: Have you ever had relations with a goat in the Dominican Republic? If you think that was a joke, then you have never donated blood before.

The actual act of giving blood was surprisingly quick and easy. For one thing, I have an abnormally large and accessible vein in my left arm. As far as taking a needle in that vein, there is a 93% margin of error. Every time I have ever had to get stuck with a needle, the nurses call each other over and marvel at this vein: Hey Margie, get a look at this! I imagine myself as the Bigfoot of the medical profession, and only those who have actually stuck me believe that I exist. When I gave blood a few months ago, the head technician decided that my arm would be the perfect practice for one of their new students. “Bring it on,” I said. I was used to that.

I’ve only donated now several times, but I feel like a veteran of the process. And here’s the thing about donating blood: it takes a matter of minutes to do, and afterwards you’re sitting there eating free cookies and drinking from a juice box and everyone is calling you a hero. It’s pretty awesome.

But hey, maybe you’re scared of needles. Or maybe it’s a different fear. One way to think about it is this: Someday, somewhere, someone will be staring his or her greatest fear right in the face. And your donation can save their life. That should eliminate your fears quicker than, say, a five-day long train ride.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Smell of the week

Recently-cleaned-up-barf smell

Understand: we are not speaking of straight-up barf smell right here. That would be gross. What we are speaking of is recently-cleaned-up-barf smell. Which is arguably grosser. Nevertheless….

Hypothetical Scenario Based on My Own Personal Experience: You walk into your local convenience store where you always get your morning coffee. This place doesn’t smell too great as it is (Convenience Store Smell: coming soon!), but on this particular day you are immediately greeted with quite the pungent odor. “Who yakked?” you say to yourself. Could be anyone. Every single person you see looks like he just yakked 12 times in the past hour, plus half of them are buying hot dogs at 6:45 in the morning. You survey the grounds in search of the evidence. But as you realize there is no evidence to be found, your nostrils simultaneously detect a hint of a cleansing medium. Could it be 409? Fantastic? Liquid Comet? It’s difficult to determine because the “barf” part of recently-cleaned-up-barf smell is the dominant odor. You are three seconds away from barfing on yourself just from the funk, and you seriously consider going somewhere else because you do not want any of the barf smell getting in your coffee. Also, this smell does not leave the store for three months.

I trust that this scenario sounds familiar, although the settings may differ. In fact, recently-cleaned-up-barf-smell can be enjoyed most often in everyone’s favorite establishment: school. There are many teachers and educational administrators in our family, and each one of them would conclude that the greatest day of the school year is the day that every student can collectively refrain from barfing in the hallway for a whole six hours.

In fact, recently-cleaned-up-barf-smell is pretty much a staple of youth simply because of school. Although, things were a bit different in my day, and that leads me to a distant relative of recently-cleaned-up-barf-smell: slightly-suppressed-barf smell.

I remember walking the school hallways as a kid and getting a whiff of barf, though a slightly fainter whiff than usual. I would immediately look down and see a pile of…something. “That’s weird -- barf is not typically uniform in color, and the texture here appears different,” my very advanced 9-year old mind would say. Then I would realize that what I was looking at was actually one of the great mysteries of the modern world: barf covered in powder.

I cannot begin to explain this phenomenon. So instead I will provide a sample conversation between a janitor and a janitorial intern circa 1987.

Janitorial intern: Hey boss, I was just in the main office and it looks like little Jimmy O’Gillicuty threw-up in front of the biology room again.

Janitor: Oh, you mean Sir Pukes A Lot? What the hell is wrong with that kid? What are his parents feeding him, Lunchables?

Intern: Not sure. Anyway, just came by to get the mop and bucket.

Janitor: Mop and bucket? Pffftt. What are you talking about, rookie? Just throw some barf powder on it.

Intern: What?

Janitor: Barf powder. Did I stutter? Just scoop some out of that giant bin over there labeled “barf powder.”

Intern: But…what does it do?

Janitor: It covers the barf.

Intern: Yeah, but…then the barf is still there.

Janitor: Listen. Trust me on this one, okay? Just sprinkle some barf powder on it. Then go and get a sandwich or something. Come back in twenty minutes, and it’ll all be gone.

Intern: But how does that happen?

Janitor: Nobody knows, son. It’s magic.

In conclusion, recently-cleaned-up-barf-smell: Thumbs down!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Classic card of the week

Danny Ferry, 1990 NBA Hoops

When I was a youngster with dreams of playing in the NBA one day, this is exactly what I pictured my rookie card would look card like: Me, wearing a turquoise sweater, sitting in front of the Roman Colosseum, happy explaining the differences between The Cure and The Smiths to a crowd of intrigued locals.

Danny Ferry remains the Godfather of the Duke basketball stereotype: White, annoyingly intelligent, and a not-as-good-as-he-was-supposed-to-be NBA player. It’s often forgotten about now -- because no one besides me thinks about Danny Ferry in a historical context -- but Ferry pulled an Eli Manning back in the day:

Begins eagerly-anticipated NBA career after playing one year in Italy…Chosen by LA Clippers with No. 2 overall pick in 1989 NBA Draft before opting to play with II Messegero of Italian League in 1990…

In an embarrassing display on draft day, Ferry literally picked up his basketball, screamed, “But MOM, I don’t WANT to play for the stupid Clippers!” and then walked off the stage. Commissioner David Stern was forced to pose for pictures in front of a cardboard cutout of Ferry, which was awkwardly draped in a Clippers jersey. I find it humorous that the Clippers were actually saved from another ill-advised draft pick simply because said draft pick refused to play for them. I also imagine Danny Ferry landing in Italy, stepping off the plane expecting a hero’s welcome, only to see one guy with a mustache waving an American flag, and then asking him in broken English, “Is you Patrick Ewing?”

During his tenure in Italy, the Clippers traded his rights to the Cleveland Cavaliers, which convinced Ferry to return to the States, to the grand indifference of everyone! (Also: The Cleve > L.A., apparently.) He proceeded to play many years of okay basketball before shaving his head, winning a title with the Spurs, and becoming an executive, which is pretty much the required progression for white NBA players.

I hope that I have included enough stereotypes in this post.

Did you know?
Danny Ferry’s father, Judge Smails, also played in the NBA.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Finding a good cause and sticking to it

Note: This column appears in the 11/6 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 11/7 issue of the Peoria Times

I have been trying to be more charitable lately.

This may be a direct result of the guilt I felt after my wife and I recently purchased a new 42” flat screen television (not her idea), which now broadcasts -- in HD -- those commercials featuring starving children in foreign lands. But the truth is that I had been feeling the urge to be more charitable even before upgrading TVs, which makes the fact that we bought the TV anyway an indication that I’m not off to a good start.

I’ve always tried to give here and there. For example, every single time I’m checking out at our local Safeway and I’m asked if I’d like to donate to so-and-so, I’m like, “Sure, throw a dollar on the ol’ credit card there -- that should solve it.” (By the way, I would donate more if they would lower the ridiculous price of their tomatoes. Seriously, Safeway tomatoes are so expensive.)

But lately something has been tugging at me, imploring me to give more. It may have started at church a few months ago, when a man came to speak on behalf of a great organization called Esperanza. My wife and I decided to make a small financial commitment to them, and things started to snowball from there.

Wait, did I say snowball? I meant snowflake. Here’s what happened: I got so caught up in the spirit of giving that I made a promise to myself to never refuse a solicitation for a charitable donation, no matter how little I was able to give. The end result of this was me writing $2.78 checks to the Nebraska Crop Farmers Association.

The promise I made to myself lasted approximately ten days. Apparently, my thought process generated brain waves that traveled to every local charity organization within a 50-mile radius, and the following day I began receiving dozens of letters, all eagerly awaiting my reply, many of which contained pictures of sick children who were relying on me. Luckily, I needn’t worry about return labels, of which I now have three billion, and which I would simply stick on the reply envelope of whatever organization was next on the pile. It was quite a cycle.

I couldn’t keep up. Plus, I didn’t have enough time to research all of the organizations I was contributing to. Sure, they all had familiar names, but I wasn’t always certain how the money was being distributed. The last thing I wanted was my seven dollars going towards the production of more Snoopy-themed return labels.

This had to stop. A thought occurred to me: maybe I should focus on contributing to just a few organizations that I trust. I liked Esperanza and a charity called Food for the Poor, but I was also thinking about something more localized.

Last week I approached my boss with the idea of our paper teaming up with a charity for the holidays, and without hesitation he provided his suggestion: The Salvation Army. It’s one of the most trustworthy and recognizable (especially during the holidays) organizations in the country, and there are local branches in Glendale, Peoria, and Sun City. So be on the lookout for ways you can help contribute in the coming issues of the paper.

As for me personally, I feel like I’ve narrowed down my charitable commitments to those I feel comfortable with. And you can, too. It doesn’t even have to be a monetary donation – it could be time, food, clothes…whatever. Take us, for example. It suddenly turns out we have a perfectly working non-flat screen television to donate.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Smell of the week

Copy machine smell

This is one of my favorite smells, not because it is a particularly enjoyable smell (it’s not bad either…sort of asexual), but because it reminds me of the good ol’ days. Many smells are pleasant not because of their inherent smelliness, but because of their nostalgic nature. It’s a personal preference. For example, Andy Dufresne probably enjoys the smell of sewage because it reminds him of escaping prison. That is an extreme example, but still.

Anyhoo, copy machine smell reminds me of my favorite job ever: working in the mail room at “the law firm” (aptly named so as to protect the identities of the innocent). It was my summer job for two of the best and least productive summers of my life. I worked in the mail room with a few guys that I remain close friends with to this very day, and each summer day was a lesson in how to get as little accomplished as possible while also complaining about the few times that work was required. Also, this work involved sticking paper on top of a giant machine and hitting the “Go” button. The rest of the day was spent playing solitaire, putting sticky notes with graphic phrases or drawings on the backs of unsuspecting victims, and trying to scare the crap out of each other as we came out of the bathroom. Then we would go drinking.

In an ironic twist of fortune, every serious job I have held thereafter has contained within its walls an omnipresent copy machine. In fact, I am sitting in front of one right now. When I started this job over a year ago, the copy machine got jammed and everyone was all in a huff, and I was all like, “I’ll handle this,” and I started opening all types of secret doors and crap and pulling out crumbled-up documents from the mid-90s and my hands were all black and I almost caught on fire but I got that baby back up and running. That’s what we in the field like to call “experience.”

At first I thought the copy machine was there as a constant reminder of my current place in the real world. But on the contrary, when I get a good, solid whiff of that copy machine smell every now then -- that sweet aroma of paper and ink, with a dash of…rubber? I have no idea -- it takes me back to that precious time of a worry-free, work-free, money-free existence. And it makes me smile.

Important note about copy machine smell: You can’t experience it by just standing at the copy machine. You have to get it on that perfect copy, usually midway through a large job. You’ll also get it when it jams and you open the big door and smoke is coming out. Then it’ll hit you right in the freakin’ face.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Theme change: different stuff, coming soon!

The nice thing about having a blog called “So, do you like…stuff?” is that it enables me to write about pretty much anything.

Sure, since its inception over four years ago (!), it’s basically been a sports blog. In fact, you may notice the side bar mentioning how this blog has been nominated for “Best Sports Blog.” Well, I don’t mean to brag, but I was nominated by Peter Gammons my cousin Cara. And so far I have exactly one vote. And that’s because I voted for myself. Thanks everybody!

Anyhoo, I have been absolutely burned out from writing about sports. Don’t get me wrong -- I love sports. Always have and always will. But writing about sports -- even for a blog that nobody reads -- has become a chore. I mean, what else is there to say? There are SO many outlets now to read about sports, and almost every relevant sports topic now is draped in negativity. Much of it is speculative, voyeuristic, often pithy, and downright pointless. (I exclude myself from none of this, by the way.)

Maybe my passion was lost now that I no longer have my favorite teams to write about for the paper (and thus, the blog.) But I doubt it. I’d feel the same way if I were making Plaxico Burress jokes every week instead of Matt Leinart.

Another point, as far as this blog and the newspaper are concerned: I have received some of my best and most positive feedback on the non-sports related items I have written. People seem to like reading about family trips to Florida or how I collapsed during a road race more than Kurt Warner’s penchant for fumbling. I can take a hint.

So last week I approached my publisher with the idea of switching up the theme of my weekly column. My intention is to make it more positive, more proactive, and quite honestly, something that I can be more proud of on a different level than whether or not it’s funny. But of course, I am still going to try and make it funny, because that’s the whole point.

This may seem like a strange coincidence coming off this post, and the “media firestorm” that ensued. But to be quite honest, this is a change I have been thinking about for a while now. Sure, maybe the feedback on that post was what spurned me to action. Actually, it probably was. Nevertheless, this has been something I have wanted to do for some time.

Oh, and not to worry -- the Classic Cards will still be in full effect. Thems my favoritest.

So anyhoo, from this point forward, the weekly columns are going to be different. If you feel so inclined, let me know what you think. It’s going to be a gradual process, but hopefully I’ll eventually be able to find my niche.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Classic card of the week

Tyrone Calico, 2005 Topps

The only thing better than one Tyrone Calico is two Tyrone Calicos. (Three is just too much Tyrone Calico, as you could imagine.) That is why this is probably -- maybe, haven’t quite decided yet, because there are so many to choose from, but probably -- my favorite Tyrone Calico card. This card speaks to me. And this is what it says:

I’m Tyrone Calico, wide receiver for the Tennessee Titans. Don’t believe me? Check the inset. That’s me. Now stop staring at me. I hate you.

Whoa, Tyrone Calico! Why the animosity? Maybe the back of the card can explain:

Tyrone led the Titans in receiving in the 2004 preseason, but then hurt his knee.

The end.

For real though -– Calico pretty much never played after that. The Titans honored the short career of Tyrone Calico by first, a) cutting him, and then, b) never using a wide receiver ever again. Also, the back of the card fails to mention how he hurt his knee. Thankfully, Wikipedia exists:

After a knee injury caused by a horse-collar tackle from Roy Williams, he was cut by the Titans.

Geez. How many freakin’ careers has Roy Williams stalled or straight-up ruined with his horse-collar tackling ways? Terrell Owens. Donovan McNabb. Tyrone Calico…what the heck? Legend has it that while he was filming his United Way commercial where he pushes kids on a swing, Williams yelled “Cut!” and then grabbed three of the kids by the back of their shirts and threw them to the ground, ruining their acting careers. Also, one of them was a girl.

But what else about Tyrone Calico? The back of the card poses a fun trivia question:

What year was the National Football League formed?

My answer was: “2002…by Tyrone Calico.” That was wrong. The real answer is 1920. Maybe you got the answer correct because you saw the cartoon man carrying a flag that reads “1920,” in which case you are extremely perceptive and clever and also literate, so congratulations, you sleuth! And yes, the NFL was formed in 1920, during a classic inauguration ceremony that featured a housewife-slash-cheerleader who looked like Olive Oil holding hands with a fat man smoking a cigar and wearing a mink coat, holding a flag confirming that yes, it was 1920 on that day. Then a team comprised mostly of Irish prisoners played two-hand-touch against 10 agitated goats. And that was how the NFL was born. It made more sense back then. Trust me.

Did you know?
ESPN's Chris Berman sued Roy Williams for $2 billion in 2004 for depriving him of the opportunity to use the phrase "Tyrone 'the Calico Cat'" because of the injury. The case was settled out of court.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cards take road baggage on the road again

Note: This column appears in the 10/30 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 10/31 issue of the Peoria Times

Last Sunday, after the St. Louis Rams were narrowly defeated by the defending Super Bowl champions New England Patriots, the headline for the game recap on cbssportsline.com was: “Faulk grab lifts Patriots over Rams; St. Louis streak ends” I found this amusing because the “streak” being referred to was the two-game winning streak the Rams had enjoyed under the tutelage of newly anointed head coach Jim Haslett, which is the absolute bare minimum of consecutive wins that can logically be considered a “streak.” Not exactly DiMaggio-esque.

Meanwhile, the Arizona Cardinals are on a streak of their own -- a brutal one-game losing streak. They are also on a one-hundred game (approximation) road-losing streak, which is why this upcoming game on Sunday in St. Louis has to scare you if you’re a Cardinals fan.

As dumb as the aforementioned headline was, the Rams are a vastly different, and much better team than they were during the season’s first few weeks. At rock bottom they were a team that couldn’t score and couldn’t defend. Scott Linehan mysteriously benched Pro-Bowl quarterback Marc Bulger, which was ultimately the point where he lost his team for good, as well as his job. Since then, the Rams have shocked the Redskins and Cowboys, and almost beat the defending AFC Champions (I love saying that) during a game in which they didn’t even have their stud rusher, Steven Jackson. Bulger has regained his form and even has a new receiving threat in the rapidly emerging Donnie Avery. Plus, the team expects to have Jackson back in time for Sunday.

You're right coach, Bulger IS stupid! And why DOES he spell his name with a "C?" Oh, wait...shhhhhh! He's coming...

None of this refutes the fact that the Cardinals are the better football team. The Rams’ strength is their offense, and few teams, if any, can match up offensively with the Arizona Cardinals. A unit led by Karlos Dansby and Darnell Dockett is leaps and bounds ahead of anything St. Louis has to offer defensively. Come Sunday morning, I’ll be surprised if the majority of the hundreds of thousands of pre-game “analysts” aren’t picking the Cardinals to win. But Cardinals fans know better.

So we're all picking the Cardinals. Hey wait -- who farted?

This is, after all, a road game. At the risk of beating the dead horse that was the theme of last week’s column, the Cardinals do not win on the road. This is also a divisional matchup that has the potential to drop the Cards to .500, which would leave the rest of the NFC West suddenly breathing down Arizona’s collective neck.

Well, enough. I’m as sick of writing about the Cardinals road woes’ as you are of reading about them, and if a win on Sunday doesn’t exactly exorcise the road demons, it will at least be a start. Winning at Carolina may have been a tall order, although it was a feat that most certainly could have been -- and should have been -- accomplished. Beating the once hapless and now rejuvenated Rams in St. Louis is something a potential playoff team simply has to do.

If the Cardinals don’t do anything stupid this weekend -- like, oh, I don’t know…fake a field goal on 4th-and-14 – my guess is that they pull this one out. In fact, I sense a headline coming: “Rams losing streak continues; Cards’ streak hits one.” A Cards’ win would also, by the way, end of my own personal streak of consecutive columns written about how the Cardinals can’t win on the road. That would be nice.

Monday, October 27, 2008

I can't believe it any more than you can...

...but nevertheless, for anyone interested, I'll be appearing on the Andrew Tallman Show on 1360 AM at around 5 o'clock this afternoon to discuss this post. You can listen online here.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Classic card of the week

Michael Cage, 1990 NBA Hoops

I’d like to begin the 2008-09 NBA season by paying respects to a team that is no longer with us: The Seattle Supersonics. It is appropriate, then, that we present to you the undisputed greatest player ever in Seattle Supersonics' history: Michael Jerome Cage.

My friend Eric sent me this gem months ago, under the subject title: How about some jheri curl action? To that question, I responded, in my head, “Well alright, sure, I guess. I am not certain what that means at this present moment, but allow me to click on this email and possibly discover what it is that Eric is referring to…” Then it was like, splid-OW! Jheri curl action. In my face. All the time. I was happy.

It has been said, “Once you’ve seen one jheri curl, you’ve seen them all.” (-Plato) Michael Cage would beg to differ. In fact, this is probably my favorite of all time. Why? Because it’s the one I’m looking at right now. I’m very fickle when it comes to my jheri curls; one day it’s Melido, the next day it’s Michael Cage. It really depends on what kind of mood I’m in. Today I’m in a “non-mullety, with extra jheri juice” type of mood. I don’t know what else to tell you.

As for basketball, Michael Cage was a rebounding machine. The back of the card elaborates:

Led league in rebounding in 1988, pulling down 30 in final game of season to edge out Charles Oakley.

Something tells me that Oakley is still pissed about that one. Unless, of course, he has simply taken the stance of, “Yeah, okay. But at least I never had a jheri curl.” Touche, Oak Man. But this wouldn’t be a “Classic Card” if we didn’t allow Wikipedia to chime in:

During his career, Cage earned the nicknames “John Shaft” and “Windexman” (as in “cleaning the glass”) for his rebounding prowess and hard work on defense.

I was not aware that fictional detective John Shaft was such a notorious hard worker and rebounder. As for being called Windexman, I had two very lame jokes for that. I will now list them:

-The website fails to mention that Windexman was a double entendre, as it was Windex that gave Cage’s hair that glossy shine.

-Ironically, each time Cage went up for a rebound, the glass would, literally, need to be cleaned. With Windex. Because of his jheri curl juice.

Sorry for everything, Seattle.

Did you know?
Michael Cage's catchphrase after grabbing a particularly fierce rebound was, "Oops, pow, surprise!"

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cards remain reluctant to become road warriors

Note: This column appears in the 10/23 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 10/24 issue of the Peoria Times

I have to admit, I have been curiously amused by what now has become an almost indisputable fact: that Ken Whisenhunt made a crucial mistake a month ago in keeping his team on the east coast for two weeks instead of coming home, which ultimately resulted in a 56-35 loss to the New York Jets.

The idea that grown men who play football for a living cannot adequately function after “unnecessarily” being deprived of the comforts of home for an additional week is ludicrous. I also love how labeling this a mistake implies that the Cardinals would have beaten the Jets if they would have just come home first. As if the Cardinals deserve any benefit of the doubt when it comes to winning on the road.

The reason the Cardinals lost to the Jets is not because nobody was around to tuck them in at night the week prior -- it’s because they haven’t yet learned how to win on the road. It’s the same reason they lost to the Redskins earlier this year; the same reason they lost six of eight road games in 2007, ultimately costing themselves a shot at the playoffs.

The end result of this has been an inability to sustain any kind of momentum. What’s interesting now is that the Arizona Cardinals are, quite possibly, at the very peak of their momentum pole. Not only did their last game witness them beating the hated Cowboys in shocking and dramatic fashion, but they’re also coming off a bye week in which they’ve had plenty of time to rest, heal and yes -- enjoy all the comforts of home.

Now that they’re heading back to the east coast to face the Carolina Panthers, I am, as everyone is, intrigued to see how the team responds. Unfortunately, I have a decent guess about how it’s going to turn out.

Let’s do a gambling analogy, shall we? It could be argued that the Cardinals are playing with house money in this game. They stand at 4-2 with a two game lead in a division that appears ready to fold. Wow, I surprised myself with that analogy! In fact, let’s do another one: Take the Panthers. And the points.

No disrespect to the hometown team here, but until the Cardinals prove they can win on the road, I’m not buying into the fact that they will. Sorry.

Maybe they can prove me wrong. (It’s happened before. No, really!) There is no way that Whisenhunt and his staff are treating this game in “house money” style, but I wonder if -- coming off of the most important win of the Whisenhunt Era -- this team won’t fail to notice that this game is the biggest challenge of their season. Because it most certainly is.

The Cardinals, with their immense talent, new stadium, and burgeoning fan base, have already established themselves as the team that nobody wants to face in Glendale. They are 9-2 at home since the beginning of last season. Over that same span, they have won exactly three road games, against the 49ers, Rams, and Bengals, three of the league’s worst teams. The Panthers, on the other hand, are good.

Funny thing is, I think the Cardinals are better. Though I’m not sure they’ll be able to prove it. For Cardinals’ fans sake, I sincerely hope I’m wrong. This team has made major strides towards contender status, and it’s about the time they took it to the next level. Because ultimately, if the Cardinals can’t win on the road, then what’s the point?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Classic card of the week

Wade Boggs, 1999 Fleer

I’m uncertain how many more “classic” baseball cards I’ll be able to squeeze in here before the season is over. And if this is going to be one of the last ones of 2008 -- or, possibly the last -- I wanted to go out with a bang. So with that it mind, I decided to post this amazingly exciting card featuring Wade Boggs putting his batting helmet away. Can you even stand it?!

There are so many exciting things going on here. For example, look at all those bats! All different colors, and lengths, and possibly weights. Which one would YOU choose? It’s so hard to decide. Also, look who is standing next to Wade Boggs -- none other than the Crime Dog himself, Fred McGriff! And he’s just standing there like nothing is going on -- like he’s NOT standing right next to Wade Boggs! And there’s ol’ Boggsie, acting like HE’S not right next to Fred McGriff! I’ll tell ya' -- baseball players are so freakin’ cool. Also, if you look really hard, to the right of Boggs in the background is an unidentified man wearing a button-down shirt and pants…who could it be? Is it “Cheaters” host Joey Greco? Or is it Malcolm Jamaal-Warner? There are a million possibilities. But it’s probably Joey Greco.

The formula for Fleer on this one was a no brainer: 50-year-old Wade Boggs + dark dugout + Crime Dog + miscellaneous possible celebrity + lots of bats = best baseball card ever. This card was worth $8,000 before the stock market crashed last month. Now it is worth $7,500.

The other reason I chose to post this card is because it seems to represent how far Tampa Bay has come. In 1999 they were the Devil Rays, and they featured a balding Wade Boggs and an aging Fred McGriff wasting away finishing off their careers whilst making millions of dollars whilst being like, the worst baseball team ever. Now they are the Rays and they’re in the ALCS and feature a group of young studs that will probably have this franchise on top for the foreseeable future.

But then you look at this card, and you say to yourself, “Boy, those WERE exciting times back then, weren’t they?” Yes, they were. Ol’ Boggsie. Crime Diggy-dog. Greco. Helmet racks. Posing no threat whatsoever to the Yankees…


Did you know?
Fred McGriff was dubbed "the Crime Dog" because he was often confused with a cartoon dog that encouraged children to solve crimes.