Friday, December 31, 2010

Revisiting LeBron

My dad’s a pretty old-fashioned guy, which is often a byproduct of being old. He was the only Knicks fan I knew who was stubborn enough not to want LeBron last summer. He didn't want to win that way. And of course now it doesn’t feel right for the Knicks to get Carmelo Anthony, especially if it means parting with promising young players like Landry Fields, Danilo Galinari, and Wilson Chandler.

Greg's Facebook upload from the game. I don't think it's very exciting either.
This Old School/New School divide, as he calls it, was on full display in our annual end-of-year trip to Fort Lauderdale, when we took our talents to South Beach to see the Knicks play the Heat -- the team that represents everything my dad thinks is wrong with the world. 

LeBron goofed around in warmups with D-Wade, high-fived and chatted up the front row bigwigs, and rooted for the Knicks to miss free-throws so everyone in the stands could get a free taco (a genius promotion, by the way). Everything about it was wrong…except the score. The Big Three were jovially beating the piss out of us.

After Landry Fields "promisingly" missed yet another shot, Chris Bosh corralled the rebound, threw an outlet to LeBron, who hit a streaking Wade in stride for a tomahawk dunk to put the Heat up by sixteen points. The ball never touched the floor. Evil had never looked so beautiful. 

“Alright,” he said to me, with a seemingly renewed sense of resolve.

“Let’s get Carmelo.”

Weekend Bowl Picks

Central Florida (+7) vs. Georgia (Fri, 3:30 ET). Don't sleep on the Knights, folks. They may not be in the SEC, but they're 10-3 ATS. 

Texas Tech (-9) vs. Northwestern (Sat, 12:00 ET). Northwestern lost their starting QB for the year, and with it all hopes of competing in this game. 

TCU (-3) vs. Wisconsin (Sat, 5:00 ET). Finally, TCU gets a chance to play someone other than Boise State. Look for them to make the most of it.

Oklahoma (-16.5) vs. Connecticut (Sat, 8:30 ET). Don't worry UConn, I still root for you in basketball. You're just way out of your league here.

Last Week: 1-2
Season: 40-42-3

Friday, December 24, 2010

An Early Gift From Santa Claus

I’m spending my first Christmas with Lindsey’s family this year, and so far it’s been fantastic. We got massages, took a limo tour of the Christmas lights, and ate Hibachi steak. But tonight was the part I was a little nervous about: Her parents' annual Christmas Eve dinner party: Over twenty-five guests -- most of whom Lindsey and Kristen didn’t even know.

However, I did know something they didn't: There was a football game on tonight: The Hawaii Bowl. The Hawaii Rainbow Warriors vs.... The Tulsa Golden Hurricane.

And where did I happen to be? That’s right: Tulsa.

Clearly, there is a Santa Claus.

I woke up early (we’d done a lot of napping with their three dachshunds in the previous day and a half -- I couldn’t sleep any more if I tried) and grabbed the sports section of the Tulsa World. Sure enough, there were game previews, subplots, side stories, and position-by-position breakdowns of the matchup. I made sure to discuss all of it with Lindsey’s father and grandfather, who hardly needed much prodding: They were fired up, too. In the midst of all the excitement, I slipped in the only question that mattered, and braced myself for a 'No': “Soooo, we can have the game on tonight with no sound, right?”

“Of course!”

When the people started coming, it was almost like the joke was on me. Everybody loved having the game on. And once Tulsa started winning? (The Golden Hurricane was supposed to lose by double-digits) Fuhgeddaboudit. 

I should’ve known. What Tulsan doesn’t love seeing their hometown team leave the mainland and kick some Rainbow Warrior tail on national television? There were even a few TU grads in attendance who walked in, saw the game on, and thought they won the Oklahoma Mega Millions. By the third quarter, I had twenty people watching.

Lindsey’s Dad (to his friend): “Our defense has been playing better lately.”
Friend: “The secondary’s been the problem, but look at them tonight. Five interceptions!”
Friend’s daughter: “See #41? That’s my friend’s older brother. He’s playing really well at linebacker."
Lindsey’s Grandma: "I don’t like watching sports. Too much spitting."

It was perfect: A room full of wonderful, proud people thrilled to spend Christmas Eve with family, friends, and the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. They just needed someone to turn on the television.

Toward the end of the game, Kristen looked around at all the people watching. One family had stayed a half-hour later than everyone else just to finish watching the game and see the players celebrate. She turned to me and said, “You know none of this would have happened if you weren’t here.” She paused to think about all the schmoozing she would’ve normally had to do, and smiled.

“Thank you.”

Weekend Picks

Cowboys (-7.5) @ Cardinals (Sat, 6:30 Central Time). Dallas plays well on holidays. Look it up. Actually, don't, because I made it up.

Rams (-2.5) vs. 49ers (Sun, 1:00 ET). Key divisional battle in the division no one wants to win. I trust St. Louis waaaay more.

Falcons (-2.5) vs. Saints (Mon, 8:00 ET). Don't go against Atlanta and Matt Ryan at home, even against the defending champs.

Last Week (actually two weeks ago, had no internet access in Uruguay last week): 2-1
Season: 39-40-3

Friday, December 10, 2010

Let Them Eat Steak

If your relationship is like mine, you’ve probably had a pre-dinner discussion similar to this one:

HER: “I’m getting the smoked salmon. What are you getting?”
YOU: “I think I’m gonna get the steak.”
HER: “Again?? This is a seafood place, babe. You can’t get steak.”
YOU: “Why not? It’s on the menu.”
HER: “Can’t you just try something different this time? You can get steak anywhere.”
YOU: “I don’t like seafood.”

There are a two ways we boyfriends can handle this. We can stand tall and be men of principle: Proud, dignified, with the right to watch football, pick noses, and order anything we want. We can have a lengthy, philosophical argument with them about our freedoms, and how much they should be cherished.

Or we can just take them to Argentina.

I’m in Buenos Aires for work right now, the land of the tango, Eva Peron, and Manu Ginobili (not kidding: I’ve had Argentine SportsCenter on for the last 45 minutes, and I think he’s the only person in this country). And when it comes to eating, there’s one thing I’m sure of: This place is known for its steak. When you taste it, you’ll see why. There’s so much flavor, you wouldn’t even consider putting sauce on it.

It's so beautiful.
With the exception of the first night (I stupidly ordered a cut of EntraƱa because I wanted the crispy risotto that came with it. NEVER SACRIFICE QUALITY OF A STEAK IN PURSUIT OF A SIDE DISH. It’s like choosing to watch an hour of Keeping Up With the Kardashians because Lamar Odom’s on it for 30 seconds. Oh wait, I do that every week. Darn it.), every steak was tastier than any cut I’ve ever had. Seriously. And I haven’t even been to La Cabrera yet, which is supposed to top them all. I have no idea why the meat here is so delicious (wait until you experience what chorizo can really taste like), but I’m certainly not complaining. This place isn’t known for its steak so that meat-eating boyfriends can have a safe haven, it’s known for steak because the steak is that damn good.

Even though girlfriends probably have a point in arguments like the one above, they still shouldn't be telling us what to order. I mean, it's not like we ever question what they want. But in the real world, this will never be the case. If you don’t order what you’re supposed to order, she will let you hear about it.

So say 'Buenos Dias' to Buenos Aires, and your problems will be solved.

Weekend Picks

Navy (-7) @ Army (Sat, 2:30 ET). Not sure why. It's the only college game this week.

Raiders (+4) @ Jaguars (Sun, 1:00 ET). Are the Raiders for real? Because I'm pretty sure the Jaguars aren't.

Ravens (-3) @ Texans (Mon, 8:30 ET). I have no idea why the Texans suck, but I'm tired of pretending they don't.

Last Week: 3-2-1
Season: 37-39-3 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Don't Try to Solve It: What Our Girlfriends Can Teach Us About College Football

(Lindsey and I talking on the phone after work...)

Lindsey:  So, my meeting got moved to tomorrow.
Me:  So that's good, right?
Lindsey: No, it means the client has another day to pick at my deck and make changes.
Me: Oh...Well at least you have that dinner tomorrow with Liz, right?
Lindsey: Yeah, if I get out of work in time, which I probably won't.
Me: Well, just talk to your boss, I'm sure she'll understand.
Lindsey: Babe, the meeting. I have to get ready for the meeting. Don't you listen to anything?
Me: Won't it just be little tweaks at that point?
Lindsey: Just stop trying to solve the problem, OK?! Let me be upset!

Just let her be.
Of all the things I don't understand about women, conversations like these might be number one. Sometimes women honestly just WANT to be upset about things. They don't us want to fix it, they just want it to suck. I've dated Lindsey for three years now, and this still makes no sense to me.

Yet, as I listen to another year of bickering over who deserves to play for college football's national championship, I'm starting to think it explains the BCS system perfectly. I mean, what other good reason is there for us not having a playoff? Here are some of the ones I hear most often:

-It would make the regular season less important.
Really? How so? It seems to me the only change to the regular season is that MORE games would be important. How many more people would've watched Saturday's (amazing) Oklahoma-Oklahoma St. game if they knew the winner would make the 16-team playoff and the loser wouldn't? Tons.

-It wouldn't bring in as much money.
This is the reason everyone suspects is behind the BCS's shocking endurance, because as Americans we've learned that when something isn't fair, it's probably because of money. Strangely enough, this isn't the case here. Everyone stands to cash in from a playoff -- the networks, the bowls, the NCAA, the conferences, the teams, and if done properly, there's even a way it can even help the players.

-More games would give kids less time to study.
My buddy Marshall and I came up with a solution for this: Use the extra revenue generated to give football players an extra year of tuition. This would allow them to take lighter course loads in-season, knowing they'll have an extra year to catch up. (I'm sure there's a reason this can't work, but it sounded good at the time.)
-More people are against a playoff than you think.
There are lots of polarizing issues in this country, but this simply isn't one of them. The percentage of people who DON'T think college football should have a playoff is up there with the percentage of people who think the country should be run by goldfish.

So with all the other reasons ruled out, the only possible conclusion I can come to is that college football doesn't WANT us to solve their problem. They just want everyone to be upset.

Is college football secretly run by our girlfriends???

Weekend Picks

Eagles (-8) vs. Texans (Thurs, 8:00 ET). Houston finally played some defense last week...against Rusty Smith. It won't be so easy against Michael Vick.

South Carolina (+6) vs. Auburn (Sat, 3:30 ET). If Auburn and Oregon win, then there's not much to argue about this year. I don't think college football gets off that easy.

Oregon State (+17) vs. Oregon (Sat, 4:00 ET). Oregon just needs to win to play for the national championship, so I picture them winning this in unusually "civil" fashion.

Connecticut (+2) @ South Florida (Sat, 8:00 ET). A win here and UConn officially becomes the worst team ever to make a BCS bowl. I love it. Go Huskies!

Bills (+6) @ Vikings (Sun, 1:00 ET). Bills have quietly covered their last 6 spreads, and Steve Johnson is due for some divine intervention.

Rams (-3.5) @ Cardinals (Sun, 4:15 ET). St. Louis continues to be undervalued, and Arizona...yikes.

Last Week: 2-4
Season: 34-37-2 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Kristen: My Unlikely Ally

A few weeks ago, we were on Lindsey's couch watching Millionaire Matchmaker (It's in New York this season, if you were wondering. Patti's frustrated with the talent.), when I noticed Lindsey's younger sister and roommate, Kristen, surfing's basketball page.

"Kris,"I said. "What are you doing?"
He's not just Mr. Kardashian anymore...
"Oh," she answered, totally matter-of-fact. "I'm researching for my fantasy basketball draft."
My jaw dropped. "Huh?"

There was no, "Matt, you're not gonna believe this: I'm doing a fantasy basketball draft! This is as good as it gets for you, right? Every time you come over we can talk about Vince Carter's knee injury and Kevin Love's all-around improvement! Aren't you excited???" If I hadn't seen her screen, she might have not even told me. Unlike a certain big sister of hers, Kristen tends to downplay things.

But make no mistake, this was a big, big deal for me. I mean, imagine the potential! Kristen's heard of Kobe (because everyone has), Blake Griffin (because he went to OU), and Lamar Odom (because he's married to a Kardashian) -- and not much more. She'd need help, and what better place to turn than her sister's boyfriend who's over at the house all the time? During her draft, I helped her strategize and make picks, and now we happily discuss and root for her players together. It's not talking sports, it's bonding with the nearest and dearest sibling of the love of my life.

The topic just happens to be sports.

I'm not sure how this all will shake out yet. If Kristen's team drops a few games, she could lose interest pretty quick. But for now, I'm just gonna sit back, and enjoy getting frantic text messages like this one:

"Chris Paul's in a brace. Tyreke Evans rolled his ankle. Yao Ming has some 24 minute cap. Al Harrington has a foot injury! Have to see how it plays out but I'm sort of stressing!"

Ahhhh, so much to talk about.

Weekend Picks

Lions (+7) vs. Patriots (Thurs, 12:30 ET). The greatest day of the year is finally upon us. I hope the Lions and their fans are as excited as I am.

Cowboys (+3.5) vs. Saints (Thurs, 4:00 ET). I have a feelings the 'Boys might make a run now that it's too late. Seems like they like their new coach.

Alabama (-4.5) vs. Auburn (Fri, 2:30 ET). The one day of the year I wish I was in Alabama. 

Clemson (+3) vs. South Carolina (Sat, 7:00 ET). Tigers catch Gamecocks looking ahead to their first SEC Championship game ever. 

Oklahoma (+3) @ Oklahoma State (Sat, 8:00 ET). Linds and her friends are quick to point out that OU stinks in good games, but I'll take that over a team that's never been in one.

Colts (-3) vs. Chargers (Sun, 8:30 ET). Don't worry about eating too much tomorrow, and don't take the Chargers on the road. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Last Week: 3-2-1
Season: 32-33-2

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Disregard My Entire 11/5 Post

So happy things worked out for you, Michael.
Two posts ago, I wrote about how great fantasy was -- in some ways better than football itself -- because we foolishly think we can control it.

Then I go into Monday Night Football up 46 points with Ryan Torain going (or so I thought) against Michael Vick, only to find out that Torain secretly wasn't playing, and that even though no quarterback had ever scored 46 points in our league before, Michael Vick scored 51."I've had some great games in my day," Vick said. "But I don't think I've had one quite like this."
If you don't play or care about fantasy football, gloss over the italicized section -- it doesn't matter. It was, as Chad put it, "the most crushing fantasy loss I've ever seen". And from Robby: "I told Mom the chances of you losing were 1 in 100,000. I mean it." And as I sat in the hotel lobby (I'm in LA for work) sulking over six-layer chocolate cake, it became clear that even if there had been something I could do to prevent it, the level of pain I was feeling meant there was something very, very wrong with my approach.

Unfairness happens. Rain pours down on weddings, lead singers leave their bands, and quarterbacks score 51 points when you're up by 46. So what do we do? Do we change the subject and say, "Whatever, at least my six-layer cake is delicious"? That's not fooling anyone. Do we go for a walk along the Santa Monica pier? Sure, and what will we think about the whole time we're on the Santa Monica pier? There's really only one, simple way to prevent tonight from ever happening again.

Stop caring so much.

I need to learn to care less. I can still invest the time, I just won't invest the emotion. As Kate Hudson said in Almost Famous, "If you don't take it seriously, you never get hurt."

I realize this isn't a particularly profound concept. You're probably thinking, "No sh*t, FVG, you're just discovering this now? You're quoting Kate Hudson for God's sake! You really think you're blowing anyone's minds here?"

Whatever, I've had a rough night.

Weekend Picks

Boise St. (-30.5) vs. Fresno St. (Fri, 9:30 ET). TCU almost lost last week, and Boise smells blood.

Iowa (+3) vs. Ohio St. (Sat, 3:30 ET). Iowa caucuses their way to an upset home win.

Jets (-7) vs. Texans (Sun, 1:00 ET). I hope now we'll never again have to hear Tom Jackson say "Knock it Down!" on a hail-mary pass, because in the real world, catching it is your best bet. Anyway, count it another pass pattern Houston doesn't know how to stop.

Bills (+5.5) @ Bengals (Sun, 1:00 ET). Red-hot Bills make it two in a row.

Bucs (+3) @ 49ers (Sun, 4:00 ET). Bucs somehow still not getting respect. They're 4-0 ATS on the road (and the Niners are 1-3 at home).

Patriots (-3) vs. Colts (Sun, 4:00 ET). To this point Indy's opponents haven't figured out a way to exploit their injuries. Bill Belichick will.

Last Week: 3-3
Season: 29-31-1 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Moving Night (not to be confused with Movie Night)

Lindsey called me on Wednesday from work, and I immediately sensed hesitation in her voice.

LINDS: "So, I'm helping Elizabeth move tonight..."
ME:       "OK"
LINDS: "...And I volunteered you to help too."

I wasn't the least bit upset. We were hanging out Wednesday night anyway, and as I've said many times, what we do on a QTN is up to her.

If she wants to pack boxes, just tell me how high.

Having moved myself into a new place two months ago, I'm now keenly aware of the differences between a male move and a female move. Here are a few:

-Women KEEP everything. Men don't have separation anxiety like women do. They'd rather move 800 boxes today than be without their Wonder Woman costume four Halloweens from now.

-Especially SHOES. I have a fascination with women's fascination with shoes. There were two other girls helping Elizabeth pack up her 50-60 pairs, and both of them immediately knew which ones were "sooo cute", and which ones could be thrown out because she only wore them once to a wedding. I felt like the little boy pointing at the naked emperor. What are you all seeing that I don't see? They all look exactly the same!!!!

-Women aren't dogs, and don't want to be packed with them. It was also obvious to every woman that night that doggy-bed stuff can't go in the same box as people-bed stuff. Seriously? As soon as you get to your new place your dog's going to sleep in your bed and pee on the carpet. Is this really the time to be nit-picking?

-Men might be better than women at opening bottles of wine, but I'm certainly not.

-Men only think about one thing. We were going on our third hour of packing, and I have to admit, I was losing it. I was alone in her bedroom, packing up junk from under Elizabeth's bed that she'd clearly never used (or knew she had), and this terrible Matt and Kim song had become too much to bear. So I got up, grabbed her boyfriend's iPhone from its speaker, and looked for the button to shut it off. But before I could find it, an incoming text message flashed on the screen -- a message that would turn my whole night around. A message that reminded me that whatever might have been happening in my life at that given moment, there was some other man in America thinking the exact same thing:

"Which two should I start? Bowe, Maclin, or Mike Williams (Tampa)?"

Weekend Picks

Idaho (+35.5) vs. Boise St (Fri, 9:00 ET). Can't count out the Vandals in this Potato State Showdown. You know, relatively speaking.

Florida (-6.5) vs. South Carolina (Sat, 7:00 ET). Gators beat their Ole Ball Coach's brains out yet again.

Lions (+3) @ Bills (Sun, 1:00 ET). When you bet against an 0-8 favorite giving points, either they win, or you win. Gotta like those chances, right?

Jets (-3) @ Browns (Sun, 1:00 ET). Mangini might've gotten the best of his old boss, but he's about to get pummeled by his old team.

Bucs (-6.5) vs. Panthers (Sun, 1:00 ET). Part one of teams that still somehow aren't getting enough respect.

Rams (+6) @ 49ers (Sun, 4:00 ET). Part two.

Last Week: 2-4
Season: 26-28-1 

Friday, November 5, 2010

FVG Makes a BIG Confession

I held out on fantasy football longer than most -- This is my fourth year playing, whereas most people I know started 7-8 years ago. I resisted because I worried fantasy would hurt my appreciation for the game. But more importantly, I worried it would overtake my love for my favorite team -- the Dolphins.

Well guess what? It did.

I spend more time thinking about my fantasy team than I do the Dolphins, and I finally feel strong enough to admit it. Man Code deems it wrong to think such a thing, so most of us pretend it's not true. But deep, deep down, I believe virtually every guy who takes fantasy seriously cares more about his fake team than his real-life team.

The real men are the ones with the guts to admit it.

There's a legitimate, rational, undeniably male reason why it makes sense to care more about fantasy: We can control it. When the Dolphins have a critical conference game against Pittsburgh stolen from them by the refs (and yes, stolen is the correct word), there's nothing I can do about it. When Darren Sproles drops an easy fourth-quarter swing pass to take a win from my fantasy team, I can replace him with someone who won't. There's less useless complaining in fantasy, and more taking action. It lets us take credit when we win, and take accountability when we lose. Guys like it that way.

Now let me be clear: This doesn't mean I love my Dolphins any less. I still never miss a play of any of their games, no matter how many fantasy players I have going at the same time. I still know their entire roster two-deep. I still go to Florida every year for a home game. And (most importantly for any true fan) I still perpetually think they're better than they are. My love for the 'Fins hasn't waned, it's just been passed by a runaway train.

Can't say I didn't see it coming.

Weekend Picks

Oregon (-35) vs. Washington (Sat, 3:30 ET). Giving five touchdowns to a team that was supposed to be good this year is insane. But the Huskies ended up being terrible, and the 2010 Ducks defy conventional wisdom.

TCU (-5) @ Utah (Sat, 3:30 ET). Taking the Christians over the Mormons here.

Oklahoma (-3) @ Texas A&M (Sat, 7:00 ET). This line seems fishy, but I'm willing to be a sucker.

Texans (+3) vs. Chargers (Sun, 1:00 ET). After all of San Diego's road difficulties, and without all their receivers (and probably Gates), they're still favored???

Dolphins (+5.5) @ Ravens (Sun, 1:00 ET). Miami Road Warriors are 4-0 against the spread AND straight up. Get on board, people.

Seahawks (+7) vs. Giants (Sun, 4:00 ET). Gotta love Seattle getting a touchdown at Qwest, especially when the G-Men had the whole bye week to hear about how good they were.

Last Week: 4-2
Season: 24-24-1

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Movie Night

Last Friday night, Lindsey and I had just gotten home from seeing "The Town", and sat down with Maria for a post-movie recap.

MARIA: How was it?

ME: Really good.

LINDS: Good, and so weird -- We were walking home, talking about the movie, and these people joined our conversation out of nowhere!

MARIA: Really?

LINDS: One was an editor and one was a director, and they were like, really into movies. They said the movie was bad because it wasn't believable.
ME: Why can't people just enjoy a movie? Why do they have to worry about whether it's believable or not?

LINDS: Some people feel really passionate about those things, like you do with sports.

MARIA: Wait, so who was the editor?

ME: He worked at this place called Number 6.

MARIA: Did he wear glasses and name-drop celebrities?

LINDS: Yes! Jeremy Renner, Justin Long, and Blake Lively.

ME: All in the span of one block!

MARIA: That's James. Definitely James.

ME: How do you know all these people?

MARIA: When I go to editing houses I try to meet all the editors.

ME: When I go to editing houses I try to keep my head down and eat lunch.

LINDS: I can't believe you know him. Such a small world.

MARIA: I'm gonna text him.


LINDS: It was a good movie, though. I'm glad I went.


MARIA: Everyone's posting about the Rangers winning tonight.

ME: Wait, the Rangers won?

MARIA: Yeah. Exciting, right?

ME: The Yankees lost?

LINDS: Uh oh.


MARIA: What?

LINDS: We just lost him for the night.

Weekend Picks

Oregon (-7) @ USC (Sat, 8:00 ET). I'm sick and tired of betting against (and therefore rooting against) the Ducks. They're ridiculous.

Oklahoma (-23.5) vs. Colorado (Sat, 9:15 ET). Buffs are 0-5 ATS in their last five trips to Norman. I don't think it gets any better this week.

Broncos (+2) vs. 49ers (Sun, 1:00 ET, in London). If West Coast teams struggle in early games when traveling east, this could be the worst game of all time.

Dolphins (+1.5) @ Bengals (Sun, 1:00 ET). If we didn't get HOSED last weekend by the refs, we'd be 4-2 and everyone would be talking about how good we are.

Redskins (+3) @ Lions (Sun, 1:00 ET). My gut tells me the wrong team's favored here. I'll take the points.

Bucs (+3) @ Cardinals (Sun, 4:00 ET). Coach Raheem Morris thinks the Bucs are the best team in the NFC. They obviously aren't, but they are the best team in this game.

Last Week: 1-5 (so much for my hot start)
Season: 20-22-1 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Staring at the Standings

Exciting stuff.
Robby and his friend Tyler have been playing fantasy football together since the day they learned to use computers. One night -- around the time when they first started -- my mom and Tyler's mother Debbie were talking, and Debbie voiced concern over the inordinate and potentially worrisome amount of time her son was spending on his fantasy team.

"Don't worry," my mom assured her. "Robby spends his whole night researching too, and so does every other male in this country."
"But, he's not even researching", she countered. "He's just...staring at the standings."

The other day I caught my co-worker Marshall staring at his fantasy roster for 20 minutes straight. For the purposes of this blog, I timed it. And when I caught him, he wasn't even the least bit ashamed.

"Dude, look at my team! I'm 5-0, and I just got Miles Austin for basically nothing!"

As little as girlfriends may understand about fantasy, the idea of staring and staring at a static page has to be the most baffling. It accomplishes nothing, yet I'm willing to bet that any fantasy player reading this has done it, particularly when their team's doing well.

But why? It's difficult to draw a parallel, but the art world quickly comes to mind. When I think of museums, I think of people standing and staring at paintings silently for minutes at a time, and me being up ahead at the gift shop wondering what's taking so long. I don't get pleasure from looking at a painting, but others crave it. They're not staring, they're thinking. These artists have been dead for years, and it fascinates people to think about what they were trying to say.

Well when I stare at the fantasy standings, here's what they say to me:

-Good thing I started Joseph Addai instead of Danny Amendola
-I need to get my point total up or risk losing tiebreakers
-I like being in 2nd
-My screen could use a good dusting

As happy as I am about my 4-2 record, there's lots more work to do. Champions don't get complacent, and I know any time spent wistfully staring at standings would be better spent plotting my next move.

Oh yeah, or working.

Weekend Picks

UCLA (+26) @ Oregon (Thurs, 9:00 ET). Will the Ducks be the next AP #1 to take a tumble? Probably not, but holy crap: 26 is a HUGE number! UCLA is no Washington State. 

LSU (+6) @ Auburn (Sat, 3:30 ET). Les Miles is kind of an idiot, but his defenses tend to show up for big games. 

Oklahoma (-3) @ Missouri (Sat, 8:00 ET). Lindsey thinks all the OU love from the BCS is bad luck. Hopefully some more love from FVG won't make it worse.

Air Force (+19) @ TCU (Sat, 8:00 ET). Another big dog I like here. TCU's great, and will probably win, but Air Force is no joke -- they almost beat OU in Norman.

Panthers (+3) vs. 49ers (Sun, 1:00 ET). I know the Panthers are terrible, but does anyone seriously think the Niners are any better? As in good enough to be a road favorite?

Bucs (-3) vs. Rams (Sun, 1:00 ET). I swear this is NOT just because I'm starting Josh Freeman and Mike Williams in fantasy this week. Yikes.

Last Week: 2-4
Season: 19-17-1 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Chad's Honeymoon Report, Part 1

The vast majority of this information comes courtesy of Morgan's new blog, Tully in Training: Chad and Morgan's Honeymoon Adventure ( Given her top-notch insight and analysis into FVG matters (from the female perspective), one can only hope she continues writing when they return home.

Current Location: Fiji
Is today the day waivers clear?
Number of Days without functional ESPN: 7

Number of Dollars (per day) spent for the privilege of surfing 30 (I'd probably pay triple that, for the record, if I were in his shoes. These hotels must know things like that.)

Number of Transactions Made by Chad's fantasy team:  3

Number of Those Transactions Made by Chad (and not his designated "proxy"): TBD


-Chad, approximately 48 minutes into the honeymoon, chatting with a Newark Airport ticket agent: 
CHAD: … yup, going on our honeymoon…. Fiji, New Zealand, Australia...
TICKET AGENT: That is so great! I went on my honeymoon to Tahiti at this exact time last year. You’re going to really enjoy it!
CHAD: Tahiti, huh? What was the TV situation there? Were you able to catch any of the games?
GATE AGENT: Dude, it’s your honeymoon! You won’t be thinking about football.
CHAD: (smiles and turns away).

-Chad, approximately 45 seconds into their 45 minute drive to the hotel:
CHAD: (to driver) So, what’s the NFL football situation in Fiji?
-Chad, at 7am Sunday morning, trying to log into Ramsey’s DirecTV account:
MORGAN: (After watching Chad enter and re-enter the same password five times) What seems to be the problem, Chad?
CHAD: I can’t log in to Ramsey’s DirecTV account and ESPN isn’t working.
MORGAN: Well, it says that there is another used logged in.
CHAD: Dammit!!!!! F*cking Ramsey, giving his password to everyone!
-30 Seconds Later...
CHAD: Hello, is this the front desk? ESPN isn’t working on my television. Is there anyone who can help?

Weekend Picks

Arkansas (+4) @ Auburn (Sat, 3:30 ET). People dismissed the Hogs after they blew that late lead to Alabama. They won't after this one.
Ohio State (-4) @ Wisconsin (Sat, 7:00 ET). I really wanted to take the Badgers here, but then the line came out way lower than expected. Maybe it's because OSU's 5-1 ATS and Wisconsin's 1-5.

Western Kentucky (-2) vs. Louisiana-Monroe (Sat, 7:00 ET). Why include this game? Because the Hilltoppers are looking their first ever D-1 victory ever, and this could finally be the week they get it.

Hawaii (+7) vs. Nevada (Sat, 11:30 ET). And why include this game? Well, the late start helps. And I just like to think about being in Hawaii.

Rams (+9) vs. Chargers (Sun, 1:00 ET). Last week was all the proof I needed: The Chargers are not a good team on the road.

Broncos (+3) vs. Jets (Sun, 4:00 ET). As we saw in their opening game, the Jets are a team susceptible to Kool-Aid drinking, and I think they're a little overserved right now.

Last Week: 3-3
Season: 17-13-1 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Next Level

Every NFL scout at one point or another has asked it: He’s a great college player, but can he do it in the pros?” 

It’s true for players, and it’s true for boyfriends.

Any guy can date a girl from a big-time college football school and have little trouble getting her to watch football on Saturday. It’s what she knows. It’s what she’s learned to love.

But precisely because she ended up watching more football on Saturday than she could have ever imagined, the thought of watching football on Sundays too became more repulsive than her favorite Nordstrom’s catching on fire.

So the question to you, Mr. Hot-Shot Boyfriend, is: Can you take your game to the next level?

It's not easy, but here’s my three-step primer on how to do it.

Step 1: Keep your ears open.
Early on in our relationship, I was out to dinner with Lindsey, her sorority sister Emily, and Emily’s husband John: Three Oklahoma grads. At dinner, John told a funny (and inappropriate) story about OU tight end Jermaine Gresham. We all laughed hysterically, and a lightbulb went off in my head.

Step 2: Nurture Your Information
Gresham was an All-American, and a future NFL star. I knew one day he'd be playing on Sunday. So every time we watched him play with Lindsey and her friends, I’d retell the story, and we’d joke about Gresham and refer to him by his (inappropriate) nickname. I wanted Lindsey to know him, like him, and develop an interest in his career.

Step 3: Reap the benefits.
Now Gresham’s a Cincinnati Bengal, and when the Bengals play on Sundays, I’ll point out Gresham, and of course, call him by his nickname (OK, fine, it’s “The Black Mambo”, in reference to his privates). And lo and behold, Lindsey's at least a little interested, and watches a few plays with me.

I’ve also done this successfully for Tommie Harris (she took a class with him), Dusty Dvoracek (her sorority sister hooked up with him), and Sam Bradford (#1 draft pick, no back story necessary), among others.

Getting your college football girlfriend to care about pro football is hard work. It’s time and thought consuming. You might find yourself questioning whether it's worth it.

And that’s exactly when the scouts will be watching.

Weekend Picks

Nebraska (-11) @ Kansas St. (Thurs, 8:00 ET). I want to take the Thursday night home dog, but I think the Huskers are way too talented, and the crowd will be headed for the exits early.

South Carolina (+7) vs. Alabama (Sat, 3:30 ET). I've had this one picked out for a while. I think it's where Bama gets a scare and hopefully (and finally) falls.

Florida (-6.5) vs. LSU (Sat, 7:30 ET). Don't be confused by LSU's ranking -- this team is lucky and overrated. And I think the Gators come out hungry after getting smashed by Bama last week.

Bills (+1) vs. Jaguars (Sun, 1:00 ET). I know this sounds crazy, but I just have a feeling B-Lo sneaks into the win column here.

Texans (-3) vs. Giants (Sun, 1:00 ET). I think I've picked Houston every week now, and this line reminds me a lot of the Dallas game where they got blown out. Oh well!

Oakland (+7) vs. Chargers (Sun, 4:00 ET). The Chargers are great at home...and stink on the road. Take the points.

Last Week: 3-3
Season: 14-10-1 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Honeymoon Phase

One of the biggest issues a fantasy league faces is finding a night where everyone can draft. The problem our league had was that Kevin was getting married in late-August, and would be on his honeymoon for pretty much the entire drafting period. Short on time and options, I sent Kevin a g-chat and sheepishly asked the unaskable:

Me:       I know I probably shouldn't ask this
Me:       and feel free to immediately shoot it down
Me:       but is there ANY way you can draft from your honeymoon?
Me:       maybe she'll excuse you for a couple hours?
No response for two minutes, then:
Kevin:   dude
Kevin:   come on

Next week, it's Chad's turn to go on his honeymoon, relinquishing control of his fantasy team during a critical three-week juncture of the season. I can promise you no one in this world will feel more out of sorts than Chad without a fantasy team in the middle of football season. But he's doing it, trusting his team to a friend from work.

"You think Beanie Wells is inactive again this week?"
It's become very, very clear to me that the thought of maintaining ties with the football world during your honeymoon is third rail. It's a given that when you take off on that plane for Fiji, Tahiti, or whatever fantastical, once-in-a-lifetime place you're going, you're leaving your other fantasy behind.

But why? I beg you to come up with one good reason why I should have to give up football completely when I go on my honeymoon. In the meantime, I'll give you some reasons why I shouldn't.

You're with her for 2-3 weeks straight with pretty much nothing to do but relax, read, and talk to each other. OK, maybe you go hang gliding or swimming with dolphins one day, but it's a pretty good bet that most of the time will be spent at your luxury hotel lounging by the pool drinking mojitos. So when she pulls out her InStyle or Girl With The Dragon Tattoo book, are you really expected to counter with the latest and lamest Dan Brown novel? Sure, maybe ten years ago you didn't have a choice, but that brings me to reason number two...

Internet makes it easy to stay in touch wherever you are. It's true for emailing your parents, and it's true for tweeting Jahvid Best and asking about his turf toe. You don't even have to watch the games: Just look at the stats, do a little research, and add/drop as needed. Your luxury hotel will have WiFi, so you can do this all right from the pool. If necessary, point the screen away from her and tell her you're researching dinner options.

This question just in: Isn't this 50% my honeymoon, too? Shouldn't I get to do at least a little bit of what I want?? I'll have just spent the last 8-12 months at her beck and call doing whatever she needs for the wedding, no questions asked, because the wedding is all about her. I get that. But the honeymoon? That's my dream vacation just as much as it is hers. And for me, a dream vacation includes at least the minimal amount of time it takes to maintain a fantasy football edge.

My friend Scott had a long-term relationship years before I did, and when I'd tease him about some of the ridiculous things his girlfriend (now wife) made him do, he'd smile and say: "One day you'll understand."

To this point, he's been right on about everything. I guess one day I'll understand.

Weekend Picks
Games of the year in the Big 12, SEC, and Pac-10 on Saturday...and I'll be missing all of them.

Oklahoma (-3.5) vs. Texas (Sat, 3:30 ET). If I keep picking it, one day, it'll happen.

Alabama (-8) vs. Florida (Sat, 8:00 ET). Unfortunately for Greg, who's going to this game (and not to mention the Gators), I think this game ends up looking better on paper than it will in real life.

Stanford (+7) @ Oregon (Sat, 8:00 ET). Ducks' offense has been unstoppable, but Stanford quietly keeps racking up quality wins.

Browns (+3) vs. Bengals (Sun, 1:00 ET). Cleveland's 0-3, but they've played good teams and look ready to break through.

Bears (+4) @ Giants (Sun, 8:20 ET). Bears D looks to have that swagger back. G-Men look like they're ready to quit.

Dolphins (+1) @ Patriots (Mon, 8:30 ET). Probably another "homer" pick for me, but I really think Miami's starting to put things together offensively.

Last Week: 4-2
Season: 11-7-1

Friday, September 24, 2010

FVG Discovers Podcasts

In my never-ending quest to be perfectly efficient, I finally -- two to three years late -- embraced podcasts. I typically resist new technologies as long as I can and hope they go away, until I realize they're here to stay and worth the hassle of learning how to use them. But podcasts made too much sense to continue ignoring. I have 15 minutes of walking each way for my commute, and other than somewhere between three and six burned calories, not much to show for it. If you're telling me I can use that commuting/walking time to listen to a half-hour of Fantasy Football Focus, I just need to know where to sign.

The problem was, I had no idea how to get set up. I had no iPod (yes, I have no iPod), so Lindsey gave me her old one (no, I'll never download a song to it). Then I had to "sync" it to iTunes (which actually wasn't too difficult), and then went to the iTunes store to fill it with content.

This last part was more fun than I'd ever imagined. Pretty much every podcast is free, and you can "subscribe" to them -- meaning they automatically download to your iTunes every time a new one comes out. And there's a podcast for everything! Not only did I get ESPN Fantasy Focus, I got Dolphins OnDemand and Dolphins 'Finsider, too. And while I was at it, I got some newscasts and favorite political shows, which could potentially replace newspapers and magazines for me if all goes well. Who knows, I may never read again!

There's a good chance you're reading this and saying, "No sh*t, FVG. Podcasts are awesome. Welcome to the 21st century." And you're right. But in case you're a fellow boyfriend with limited fantasy research time (and a very late adopter like I am), allow me to suggest podcasts as an efficient way to consume that much more football content without having your girlfriend kill you.

At least, until she realizes you forgot how to read.

Weekend Picks

SMU (+18) vs. TCU (Fri, 8:00 ET). June Jones is turning SMU into the new Hawaii. Except it's not quite as awesome there.

Oregon St. (+18) @ Boise St. (Sat, 8:00 ET). Boise would HAVE to cover this spread to prove their worthy of a shot in the title game. I think it's unlikely.

Arizona St. (+12) vs. Oregon (Sat, 10:30 ET). Linebacker Vontaze Burfict has a cool name, and a defense with the speed to slow down the Ducks.

Chiefs (+2.5) vs. 49ers (Sun, 1:00 ET). I think the wrong team's favored here. Chiefs 2-0 start has to count for something, especially the way they're playing defense.

Lions (+11.5) @ Vikings (Sun, 1:00 ET). What exactly has Minnesota done this year to prove they're 11.5 points better than Detroit?

Houston (-3) vs. Dallas (Sun, 1:00 ET). And by the same token, what has Dallas done to make people think they can hang with what's become one of the top five teams in the league?

Last Week: 3-2-1
Season: 7-5-1 

Friday, September 17, 2010

Ironing, Backrubs, and Other Golden Tickets

Late last season, I was talking to my co-worker Kara about weekend plans, and I asked if she and her husband ever argued over his football-watching.

"Football?" Kara asked.

Yes, football. The sport.

"Ohhhhhh. You mean 'ironing'?"

Apparently many, many seasons ago, Kara and her husband Karl made a deal: Karl could watch all the football he wants, as long as he ironed clothes while he did it.

Genius. Absolute genius.

Karl found his golden ticket: The benefit he can offer his wife in exchange for unlimited viewing pleasure. Karl watches football, which he loves. And Kara never irons again, which she hates. Everybody wins.

But if you hate ironing (as I do), allow me to suggest an alternative: The Backrub.

So easy, a boyfriend can do it.
Not long after Lindsey and I started dating, the backrub became my golden ticket. It was inherently agreed upon that if I was rubbing her back, I had carte blanche with the remote. Football, basketball, SportsCenter, you name it. She doesn't care. She doesn't hear it. Think about when she gets a massage at the spa. Think they have Rachel Zoe playing in the background? Of course not. When she's getting Extreme Backrub: Home Edition, your soft hands are all the sweet music she needs.

Sometimes (OK, rarely), a Mets player will hit a double into the gap (or something of that equivalent in other sports), and I'll get so excited I'll forget to rub for a few seconds. That's the only thing that brings Lindsey out of her trance. I quickly apologize, and go back into mine. I've rubbed for entire halves of football games without even noticing. I can backrub on autopilot.

If, for whatever reason, massages aren't working for you, keep searching. There has to be a skill you can offer her that's sports-watching-friendly. Maybe she hates doing laundry and you don't mind making trips between innings. Maybe she hates paying bills and you make it a Monday Night Football tradition. Maybe you have an unobstructed view from your kitchen, and can watch the game while you cook.

Not everything works (dishes make loud clanking noises, gardening means being outside, etc). It may take some trial and error. But eventually, you'll find your golden ticket. And when you do, nurture it, master it, cherish it, rename your sport after it.

Because "Ironing" beats Real Housewives any day of the week.

Weekend Picks

Arkansas (+2) @ Georgia (Sat, 12:00 ET). Georgia's at home, but Arkansas has better players, and a better coach. Underdog's won four of the last five in this series, too.

Nebraska (-3) @ Washington (Sat, 3:30 ET). Jake Locker gets the Heisman hype, but watch out for true frosh Taylor Martinez in this one.

Iowa (+1) @ Arizona (Sat, 10:30 ET). The Hawkeyes have BCS aspirations this year, and deservedly so.

Ravens (-2.5) @ Bengals (Sun, 1:00 ET). Even though they only scored 10 points, I was impressed with Baltimore's offense last week. They're loaded on both sides this year.

Lions (+6) vs. Eagles (Sun, 1:00 ET). I think Vick will be much less effective when a team has a week to prepare. Too many points.

49ers (+6) vs. Saints (Mon, 8:30 ET). Remember when everyone thought the Niners would be good this year? It was one bad game ago. Look for them to bounce back as home dogs on Monday night.

Last Week: 3-1
Season: 4-3-1

Friday, September 10, 2010

Ramsey Moves Out, and a Special Friend Visits

Ramsey was moving out of our apartment, and in with his girlfriend Annie. But to where? Would she come join him in New York? Or would he go join her in Philly? I went to Dempsey's -- one of our favorite local pubs – to have a beer and mull it over.

As hard as I tried to consider both sides, the decision seemed obvious. Not only are all of Ramsey’s friends are in New York City, but New York's just better. Who cares if Annie's anxious about moving to an overwhelming city she’d otherwise have no interest in? She'll learn to love it, right?

Then I hear a rumbling sound, and the ground starts to shake. Wait a minute. Is that....


….Lee Corso?!?!?


"You've got a lot to learn, young man!"
CORSO: Not so fast, my friend!

ME: You don't think New York is the obvious choice for Ramsey?

CORSO: Not only is it not the obvious choice, it’s the wrong choice.


ME: Please explain.

CORSO: You know football started this week, right?

ME: Right.

CORSO: And you write a freaking blog about it, so you know there's lots of “football vs. girlfriend” arguments coming up, correct?

ME: Correct.

CORSO: And your goal is to win the majority of those arguments, right?

ME: Of course. Where are you going with this, Mr. Corso?


CORSO: Son, Ramsey has two choices: The first is convincing Annie to live in New York City, but feeling guilty about it the entire time, knowing he asked her to do something she didn’t want to do. And since Annie made the ultimate sacrifice for Ramsey, she automatically wins every football vs. girlfriend argument.

ME (horrified): Automatically?

CORSO: Or they can live in Philly, making Annie happier than a $8000 gift certificate to Forever 21. Now Ramsey’s the one making the sacrifice, meaning he automatically wins every football vs. girlfriend battle.

ME: Fair enough, Lee. But won’t that wear off at some point?

CORSO: Of course! With women, everything does. But football will be over by then, most likely.

ME: Most likely.


CORSO: And besides, it’s the right thing to do.

ME: Well I guess I know which headgear you're putting on, then.


"Mets stink! Mets stink!"
CORSO: If you’ll excuse me…


ME: I guess Ramsey’s moving to Philly.

Weekend Picks

Michigan (+3.5) @ Notre Dame (Sat, 3:30 ET). After running circles around UConn last week, consider me convinced that Denard Robinson is the real deal. I don't see the Irish having any better luck.

Tennessee (+12) vs. Oregon (Sat, 7:00 ET). The Ducks are good, and have really cool uniforms. But 12 points on the road to an always tough SEC team?

Dolphins (-3) @ Bills (Sun, 1:00 ET). My little brother made me put $50 on this game about two months ago, so I've gotta roll with it.

Packers (-3) @ Eagles (Sun, 4:00 ET). Green Bay living up to the hype begins here, hopefully with a Mason Crosby field goal or two for my fantasy team.

Last Week: 1-2-1
Season: 1-2-1

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What's In a Name

Every August, we spend absurd amounts of time preparing for our fantasy drafts. Sure, there's money riding on it, but not nearly as much money as the jobs we're neglecting. We read and re-read '32 Questions', check injury reports, and do endless, pointless mock drafts. Finally, we get to the point we feel like we're ready, put down our pencils, and triumphantly sign our teams up for our leagues, where we're first prompted to type in our team name.

Uh oh.

The Team Name. The ultimate measure of creativity. In some ways just as important as the team we draft, because like the players we ultimately pick, everyone's judging. Creativity can be scary and daunting, and this is coming from someone who does it for a living. Why think about a team name ahead of time and give ourselves something else to stress about? We'll just figure out a name when the time comes.

I did some research on the topic -- both on the internet, and past leagues I've been in on Yahoo! -- where I found quite a few recurring types of names that consistently succeed.

So if you're stuck staring at a Team Name prompt and a blinking cursor, here are some options to get you started.

The 'Play on Words Based on an NFL Player's Name' Name
EXAMPLES: Skittles Taste Dwayne Bowe, Texas Chainsaw Massaquoi, Vick in a Box
So much potential here. NFL players tend to have great names, and also seem to do stupid things on a daily basis. This well never dries up.

The 'Play On Words Based On Your Own Name' Name
EXAMPLES: The Jack Attack, Cleveland Stephens
You're restricted to your own name, and your non-headline-making life. But it still works, and it's often funny. And the bonus is that everyone immediately knows it's your team, avoiding any potential confusion.

The 'Making Fun of Someone Else in the League' Name
EXAMPLES: Chet's Gay, McGee Pees Sitting Down
Another tried-and-true technique, but to my point above, beware of confusion. "Chet's Gay" might be you, but people's brains will always go to Chet. And Chet may be a lot less willing to do in-season trades with you, putting you at a competitive disadvantage.

The 'Over the Top Vulgar' Name
EXAMPLES: (Not included, this is a family blog)
Quite popular in my league. If you're planning to go this route, make sure you have an understanding girlfriend, because she WILL find out at some point, whether she means to or not.

Inside Jokes
EXAMPLES: (I could put some, but you wouldn't get it)
My favorite example of this: My little brother and his friend Chris (who were ten years old at the time) were asking me about Alcatraz for a book report. I explained that it used to be a prison, but now it's defunct. They had no idea what defunct meant, so I explained that too. Things quickly got boring, so we started talking about something else. A month later, Robby told me Chris' team name: "The Defunct Alcatrazes". Don't even try and tell me that's not funny.

The 'I'm Not Creative so I'm Not Even Gonna Try' Name
EXAMPLES: The Punishers, Jeff
I actually have heart for this strategy, and in a weird way, I end up finding these names funny. These people know who they are, and they're not ashamed of it. No complaints here.

The 'Name You Used Last Year' Name
EXAMPLES: (depends)
A monster cop-out, and I'm ashamed to say I've been guilty of it. It's tempting if your team has a good year (or a good name) to want to keep it. But trust me, it loses its luster. Anything different, no matter how bad, is better than the status quo.

In closing, there's probably nothing you can think of that hasn't been thought of already, so don't beat yourself up over it. I think the most important thing is to write something you'll enjoy saying all year. If you set the bar too high, you're just gonna drive yourself nuts. 

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a fantasy team name to think of.

FVG Picks are Back!

Utah (-3) vs. Pittsburgh (Thursday, 8:30 ET). No better way to start off the year than betting against Dave Wannstedt.

USC (-21) @ Hawaii (Thursday, 11:00 ET). USC had a rough offseason, to put it lightly. Trojans take it out on the Rainbows in a big way.

UConn (+3) @ Michigan (Saturday, 3:30 ET). Ridiculous. How much does one team have to overachieve and the other underachieve before spreads start reflecting it?

Boise State (PK) vs. Virginia Tech (in Landover, MD, Monday, 8:00 ET). Why do they always play these "neutral site" games 5 miles from one team and 3,000 miles from the other? It makes no sense. Anyway, I still like Boise. V-Tech's rebuilding on defense, and this isn't a good place to start.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Don't Blame Canada

It's not much of a secret that American sports have a July/August problem. They get away with it because the weather's great, and most of us are out of the house anyway. But still, if an alternative was out there -- say, a legitimate, entertaining football league that started in late June -- we'd all be a lot happier.

Little did I know, it already exists.

You just have to think north of the border.

This week my job took me to Vancouver, and Vancouver took me to a magical place I had heard about, but never really experienced: The land of the CFL. Don't laugh. By being a reader of my blog, I assume you consider me a legit football fan, and I'm telling you, the CFL is a real-deal July/August band-aid until NFL and college football start. Here's why:

1) Passion and Tradition. According to a recent Sporting News article, Canadians are more passionate about hockey than ANY country is about ANY sport. That means potential. Hockey can't be year-round, and in the summer, something has to fill the void. Everywhere you go, sports bars are packed, and stadiums are filled. And don't mistake the CFL for an XFL-type fad. They've been around since 1958. Many of their teams pre-date ours.

2) Quality of Play. You don't need to take my word for it, just use your memory. Remember All-American wideout Adarius Bowman from Oklahoma State? Jarious Jackson from Notre Dame? They play here. And when you watch Cam Wake rack up 12+ sacks this fall, remember that before he was a Dolphin, he was a B.C. Lion.

3) Awesome Team Names. Some of the Lions' opponents this year include The Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Edmonton Eskimos, Saskatchewan Rough Riders. Aren't those great? Would ANY team name not sound awesome after "Saskatchewan"?

4) You Can Watch It. The NFL Network carries CFL now. But if you're like me (and the rest of the world) and can't get the NFL Network, you can still watch every game for free on your laptop with (which also lets you watch ANY live sporting event, for that matter -- a prospect so mind-blowing I still haven't wrapped my head around it).

5) You Can Bet on It. I don't need to waste time explaining why (budgeted and within reason) betting changes everything. In fact, had I lost on the Rough Riders my first night instead of winning, it's quite possible I would've never written this column.

6) Innovative Rules. Bigger fields with more players (wide-open action), three downs instead of four (more risk-taking), up to five players in motion before the snap (more offensive possiblities), points for drilling punts through the uprights (more scoring), and my personal fave: every roster must have at least 12 Canadians (more Canadians).

7) More Fights. Fights come with the territory here in hockey country, and there's nothing the league could (or would) do about it. I wouldn't want this for the NFL, but it's pretty darn entertaining nonetheless.

So when you're sitting on the couch on another sweltering July/August evening, sulking because your favorite baseball team sucks, blame your team for sucking. Blame baseball for being miserable. Blame the NFL for not starting sooner. Heck, blame yourself for not searching harder for a solution.

Just don't blame Canada.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Last Untucked Year

He must be 30...
I turned 29 yesterday, and as Lindsey declared years ago, that means the period from now until August 5th, 2010 for me is The Last Untucked Year. You might think this is some sort of metaphor for the last before I have to get my act together, but it isn't.

It literally means I have 364 more days before I have to start tucking my shirt in.

I've heard of bucket lists, but I had no idea any sort of 'before-30' lists existed. Apparently you also can't ask friends to help you move anymore, or have a bottle opener on your keychain. Sure enough, also recently posted a "Top Ten Things Men Shouldn't Do After 30" list. It's overly-general and rather uncreative, but sure enough, number 1 is "Stop dressing like a slob." If nothing else, my girlfriend is prescient.

Anyway, back to what this means for me. I have longish legs and a smallish torso: When I tuck in my shirt, I look and feel stupid. Will I feel any different a year from now? What if I don't? Will I feel stupid every day? Should I just get rid of my mirror?

I guess it's all part of falling in love, though. I mean, I relinquished control of my hair long ago, and I still haven't gotten used to how Lindsey likes it. But she clearly cares more than I do, and let's be honest: There are more important battles to fight.

Now I face a lifetime of shirt-tucking purgatory, which -- amongst other things -- means I can no longer get away with wearing my little brother's old high school football belt every day. It's daunting, and it makes me nervous every time I think about it.

So I just think about preseason quarterback rankings instead.

Friday Night Lights Season Finale Pick

Dillon (-14) vs. East Dillon (8:00 ET): I know it's a TV show, but come on, East Dillon couldn't even field a team a few weeks ago, and Luke Cafferty isn't playing. I hope I'm wrong, but I think the Panthers roll.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love Fantasy Football

I work in advertising. I'm fully aware of "targeted" ads that know terrifying amounts about us and suggest products accordingly. But I got one on Facebook yesterday that definitely got my attention. It said:

"Matt, you've watched enough sports this summer. Time to take her to see 'Eat, Pray, Love'!"

And then it had a "Like" button, and listed my friends that "Like" the movie.

The first thing I thought was: Wait a second, I've watched enough sports this summer? Do you read this blog? Hang out with me this fall, Mr. Web-Targeting Smarty Pants, then you'll know what "enough" sports is. Second, my girlfriend does NOT want me to take her to this movie. She wants to go with Val. Or maybe her sister. Perhaps even both. Basically, anyone but me. So again, you're barking up the wrong tree.

Third of all, even though it won't work this time, I've got to hand it to you: We don't see enough of this outside-the-box thinking in advertising today; this "reverse-boyfriend/girlfriend" targeting strategy. I think it has real potential.

In fact, I went ahead and came up with one for Lindsey:


You've watched enough 'Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami' this summer. Time to dedicate the next month and a half of your life to helping him prepare for his fantasy football draft! You see, he's decided Draft Preparation season officially starts today (because he's sick of waiting, and because the Mets haven't scored in a week). He's going to need a minimum of four (4) fantasy preview magazines, as well as a college football preview magazine for when he needs a break!

Also, he's not going to be thinking about much other than his fantasy draft for the next 45-or-so days, so he's gonna need you to not get annoyed with him, ever! If you catch him deep in thought and ask him what he's thinking about (like girlfriends often do), be ready for an answer like "I'm wondering if Ben Tate can really win the Texans' RB job" and then remain even-tempered, because that's what a good girlfriend would do!"


Sunday, July 4, 2010

To Bike or Not to Bike?

A few weeks ago, when Lindsey told me her roommate Maria was getting a bike, I instinctively grabbed my phone to text her something obnoxious. I've never been a fan of bikers.

But I’m also trying to be more open-minded lately. And in two months, I'll be moving to Stuyvesant Town: A nightmare crosstown-bus commute from my office. Was it time to stop being stubborn and give it a shot? To become what I've despised? Let's consider the pros and cons, shall we?

PRO: It’s efficient.
Maria recently started at the same agency as me.  She says her commute by bike is twenty minutes. From their house it takes me almost forty. That’s a difference of an inning of the Mets, half a quarter of Monday Night Football, and perhaps even getting home in time to see what breathtakingly ugly suit Walt Frazier wore to the Knicks’ game.

CON: It’s inefficient.
This goes with why I don’t like driving: You can’t accomplish anything while you do it.  You can't read, write, text, talk on the phone, etc. It’s pure wasted time. (For the record, I don’t count listening to music as accomplishing something. And even if you do, I don't recommended biking through NYC without the ability to hear an oncoming hybrid cab.)

PRO: It’s good exercise.

CON: It’s really not.
As Britney Spears once said, ‘Sometimes I run’.  And sometimes I bike. The former is hard. The latter isn’t.  That is, unless you’re doing hills, which 1) suck and 2) aren't in Manhattan.

PRO: It’s cute, like a little pet.
Maria’s bike is adorable: It's a 1993 BMX Mongoose that's way too small and has pegs for doing tricks. She said that in just one ride downtown, she got hollered at three different times by potential suitors. If you get the right bike, you will attract interest. There’s no doubt about it. It’s a steel-framed French Bulldog puppy.  

CON: It’s a pain in the ass, like a little pet.
While you’re looking for a place to keep your bike, I'm either taking your place in line, drinking the last of the milk, or getting the better seat for the game. And, unlike a pet, your bike can’t love you back.

PRO: It saves money.
A 30-Day Unlimited subway pass is $89 and getting higher by the month. Biking continues to be free.

*CON: It costs money. 
I was gonna write that bikes are expensive, but I checked online, and they’re really not. You can get one for 1-2 months worth of subway passes (then tack on another month's worth for a helmet and bike lock). Three months of biking makes your money back, then it's all savings from there.** Hence the asterisk.

**The asterisk to the asterisk represents the impulse buy you'll inevitably make after getting overexcited about your new means of transportation. For Maria, it was this $45 portable bike basket.

PRO: It’s kinda fun.
In the right scenario (good scenery, no hills, a nice breeze, someone to bike with, a silly-sounding bell), biking is an enjoyable alternative to walking/running.

CON: It’s kinda hard.
I have legitimate trouble 1) stopping, 2) starting, 3) switching gears, and 4) taking my hand off the handlebars without veering into traffic. Perhaps this is all what my roommate Ramsey would call a “you problem”, but still, you have to admit…

CON: It’s legitimately dangerous.
Civilian NYC drivers are in a permanent state of road rage. Cab drivers navigate the streets like they’re playing Grand Theft Auto. Pedestrians refuse to walk where (and when) they’re supposed to. All of them are doing something on their cellphones. Even if you are obeying the laws of traffic (which would make you the first biker I’ve met to ever do so), you’re still a two-wheeled accident waiting to happen. 

PRO: Mayor Bloomberg and environmentally-responsible people everywhere will love you.
When people pick up a newspaper and see a picture of you riding in the bike lane on 23rd street, they’ll think, “Wow, now that city's doing it right.  I’m proud of that person.”

CON: Everyone else will hate you.
When people in real life see you riding in the bike lane on 23rd street (or more likely, going the wrong way down a one-way street, running a red light because it 'looks clear', or -- my personal favorite -- weaving your way through the sidewalks)....well, you don't want to know what they're thinking.

THE VERDICT: It was definitely closer than I thought, but for now, FVG will continue to remain bike-less.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Revenge of Brian Allen

Of all the soccer games I’ve ever been to (not many), the most memorable by far was one of my brother’s third-grade rec games, when his best friend Brian was being persistently harassed by a bully on the other team. This bully pushed Brian around any chance he got, and it was driving him nuts. He kept complaining to the refs, but they refused to do anything about it. Finally, Brian spontaneously combusted. He gave himself a 30-foot head start, sprinted toward the (much) larger bully as fast as he could, and barreled into him with all his might.

And bounced off of him, onto the grass. 

Now Brian was really steaming. Everyone was staring at him, and he didn’t know how to react. So he did the unthinkable. He grabbed his ball (and his dad was the coach, so it actually was his ball) and ran home -- past the field, through the trees, down a road behind the school -- crying and yelling third-grade-level obscenities the entire time.

It was the single-greatest temper tantrum I’ve ever witnessed.

And the best part? Once everyone had recovered from their unadulterated shock over what just happened, they realized the ball Brian ran off with was the only ball on the field!  Not until Brian’s mom got in her car, drove around searching for him, and finally found him a half-mile down the road could anyone play again. Until then, everyone just stood around, not sure what to do next. Whether young Brian had realized it or not, he had exacted the ultimate revenge not just on the referees, not just on the bully who’d been fouling him, but on the entire game and everyone associated with it. 

Which brings us to this morning, and yet another goal taken from the U.S. soccer team by the 100%-worthless FIFA referees. Sure, bad calls are part of the game. And the U.S. can and will continue to fight back. The way we came through in extra time today to advance was too good for words. Americans take pride in overcoming adversity, and this morning, we did it in a big freaking way. Our players have handled themselves with class, and in my opinion, have been an absolute treat to watch this entire tournament. 

But in order to the win the ultimate prize – for U.S. Soccer to really “arrive” on the global stage – we have more games to win. And I just fear the powers that be won’t let it happen. I wrote an entire post a few weeks ago about the various ways this sport isn't fair, but I wasn’t even factoring in officiating biases against certain teams. We’re playing 11-on-15 out there, game after game. Eventually -- and I hope I'm wrong -- it’s too much for even our guys to overcome. 

And if and when that happens – if we get screwed again on the world’s biggest stage – I think it’s time for us to adopt the Brian Allen strategy. It’s time for us to pick up our ball and go home. Enough is enough. If you don’t want us to be good at this sport, FIFA, then fine. We’ve got other ones. We’ll be fine. You can have your “beautiful” game. 

But good luck finding another ball. 

Friday, June 18, 2010

On Cab Drivers, Cleveland, and LeBron's Big Day

July 1st is right around the corner.  And every fan in New York knows what that means: It’s the day LeBron James’ contract with the Cavs officially terminates, and The King takes his first steps toward joining our beloved Knicks.  At least, that’s what we think.  For a more objective, nuanced opinion, I wanted to hear what the other side thinks.  And with a work trip to Cleveland on this week's docket, I had a perfect chance to do some primary research.

It's not just another day in Cleveland.
One thing I quickly found out for sure: Cleveland’s trying. A flash mob of 200 people gathered at Tower City yesterday (pictured) for a massive song-and-dance sales pitch.  In nearby Akron (James’ hometown), a huge rally is planned tomorrow for “LeBron Appreciation Day”.  And on the day he becomes a free agent, an Indians’ minor league team – the Lake County Captains – is changing its name to the LeLake LeCounty LeCaptains, and every player’s name will add a “Le” at the beginning.  Cleveland wants us to know they’re fighting, and that they fully expect to win.

But the word on the street?  Not quite as hopeful.  Granted, I only spoke to a small sample -- and a large proportion of it was cab drivers -- but still, the results were surprisingly unanimous:

“He’s going.  To New York.  More money.”

“I didn’t think he could say no to the extra $30 mill (he'd get for staying in Cleveland), until Izzo turned down the coaching job.  He must've known LeBron's leaving.”

“I don’t know.  It's tough.  I think he’s leaving.  Probably Chicago.  Maybe New York.”

"You know what?  He's gonna do what he's gonna do.  Bye."

"I'd go if I were him.  He'll make twice as much in New York in endorsements."

"New York?  They buy him?  I heard that.  Guess how old I am?"

This all, of course, was exactly what I was hoping to hear.  But I have to admit, at the time, I felt a little guilty.  Like we were stealing from these people.  People who hadn't experienced a championship (in any sport) in the last 50 years.  I liked Cleveland.  I think it's underrated.  It's quiet.  It's clean.  The people are nice.  One night we went to an Indians game (who by an incredible stroke of luck, were playing the Mets).  Another night we went to Lola, a delicious new restaurant on East 4th Street, which was like a smaller, cleaner, G-rated Bourbon Street.  We walked along the Cuyahoga.  We passed the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Cleveland's a proud city.  Tough, yet polite, seemingly just waiting for its big break.

On my way to the airport, I talked up the cab driver again.  I asked him if he'd watched last night's spectacular Celtics-Lakers Game 7.  I figured it'd be a good lead-in.

"Nah," he said.  "I watched the History Channel."
"Really?" I asked.  "The History Channel?"
"You already know what's gonna happen," he said, very matter-of-fact.  "You know who wins, and you know who loses.

"That way you can't get your heart broken."