October 2003 Archives

PILE OF SHIT: An Oral History of The Neal Pollack Invasion's Punk Rock Show and Book Signing, October 12, 2003

MONICA FITZPADRICK: The last time I saw Neal, I wore a T-shirt that read, "Neal Pollack Is A Son Of A Bitch." I knew I had to top myself this time. So I had Sean write on my stomach, with a black Sharpie, "Neal Pollack, You're Still A Son Of A Bitch!"

SEAN KEANE: Monica was pretty mad when I used an exclamation point instead of a period, but then again, it was almost 6 PM, so she'd been drinking pretty steadily for nearly seven hours. She took a couple of half-hearted swings at me, and then calmed down when I promised we could take some bourbon on the train with us.

MONICA FITZPADRICK: Sean really wanted to write on his stomach as well, but I told him it was a bad idea. Because he's a little heavy, you know? It's for his own good. And mine. And Neal's.

EVERY GODDAMN BOSTON FAN IN THE WHOLE CITY: We decided to get on the same train as Monica and Sean to ensure that neither one of them got a seat and that they were as late as possible to the reading/punk rock show, even though our game would be rained out. And it worked.

NICO: I didn't go to the show, because I'm dead, but if this had taken place thirty years earlier, I would have attended. Afterward, I would have seduced Neal and given him the clap.

COMMENT CARD #1: The only thing worse than the band is the singing.

SEAN: Neal was touring with a band to support his rock-and-roll-themed novel, Never Mind the Pollacks, which is relatively unprecedented in the literary world. Sure, John Updike used to do readings at New York Dolls shows, and Elmore Leonard lived and toured with the MC5 for nearly 18 months, but this is different. This tour is funded with website donations.

NEAL POLLACK: I do it to promote the books, sure, but I mostly do it for the music, for the kids out there who need to be rocked, the dads and moms who have forgotten how to rock, the comparative literature majors taking off their tops during our encores. And, of course, the smack.

MONICA: When I first saw Neal, I was enthralled, and a little afraid. Then I noticed something odd. Neal appeared to be wearing sweatpants, and in a non-workout environment. I was a little more afriad, but somehow, even more enthralled.


NEAL POLLACK: We were in New York City last night, and most of it went up our nose.

MALCOLM MCLAREN: The Neal Pollack Invasion was fascinating. Not since Bow Wow Wow had I seen a band with this kind of panache, and raw energy. I knew immediately I could get Neal signed and fored from record deals with four or five major labels, no sweat. If I could get them to dress in Communist uniforms, the sky might be the limit.

SEAN: When he did "Pile of Shit," the audience just erupted. New York City is a pile of shit/ Blah blah blah is a pile of shit/ Blah blah blah blah, pile of blah. I'm paraphrasing here. Monica was so enthralled she almost spat out her mouthful of nachos, right into her beer. Man was she drunk.

WOMAN IN THE FRONT ROW: He took money out of my purse. I thought it was part of the show, just a gag or something, and I'd get it back later, but he just pretended not to hear me when I asked for it. Then after the show, he gave me back a one, even though he and I both knew he'd taken a ten. He wouldn't even make eye contact with me. I tried to argue with him, but one of his goons pushed me away. Neal Pollack, you owe me nine dollars, you son of a bitch.

COMMENT CARD #2: I thought I knew what hell was.


MONICA: The enthrallment kept coming, and it didn't stop coming. Neal was radiant, a sweaty, fleshy ball of literary rock star celebrity that absolutely owned the stage in a way I hadn't seen since the Dropkick Murphys played Norfolk my sophomore year of high school. I drank a whole bottle of NyQuil and made out with a community college professor. Watching Neal sing brought back a lot of those same feelings.

LOU REED: Neal who?

NEAL POLLACK: I asked if anyone wanted to see me take off my shirt. No one responded. Then I asked if anyone didn't want me to take off my shirt. No one responded. So I bit the head off of a live bat.

SEAN: The bat thing was alright, but I was most impressed by this other dude in the band who did a cover of the Modern Lovers' "I'm Straight". Good stuff.

HIPPIE JOHNNY: Look, I've gone to rehab, worked on a lot of the issues from my childhood, and it pains me when people claim I'm "always" stoned, or "never" straight. The fact is that recovery is a process. "One day at a time" is not a cliche - it's a description of the daily struggle that is sobriety.

BOOK CRITIC: Neal's raw passion, both for literature and music, were breathtaking. At one point, he electrified the crowd, shouting, "This is the sound! This is the sound of me wiping my ass on your novel!" It was simply electrifying. Echoes of Salman Rushdie and Motorhead at the United Nations in 1987, more than anything else. Of course, when I later realized he actually had wiped his ass with a novel belonging to me, well, I was less pleased.

MONICA: The show was over, so we finished the nachos, and the bourbon, and went to greet Neal. He was dazed, barely intelligible, and attempted to lick my stomach when I revealed the slogan. Daily newspaper accounts claimed Neal's drooling and slurred speech were due to the massive number of Quaaludes he'd ingested, but I knew it was simpler. He'd left everything out there on the stage in the performance, with his vocals, his self-flagellation, his occasional vomiting. I posed for a picture with Neal and we headed home, a little older, a little wiser, and about five sheets to the wind.

WAITRESS: I don't think those little fuckers paid for their drinks. Goddamn rock-and-roll literary bastards. I'd like to whack 'em all upside the head with a copy of Mcsweeney's with a promotional CD inside. That'll learn 'em.

On my third day in Boston, the Red Sox and the Yankees faced off in Game Three of the American League Championship Series. It was Pedro Martinez vs. Roger Clemens. Boston vs. New York. Good vs. Evil. Expensive ringers vs. More moderately-priced ringers. Ben & J. Lo vs. Rudy & That Irish Guy Who Sings The Extra Verse To "God Bless America".

Where we watched the game, a modest apartment in the middle of Boston's working-class "Southie" district, it was Joe vs. Brian. Joe, a young man with a shaved head prone to anxious chain-smoking, was a lifelong and thus long-suffering Sox fan. Brian, an Irish-American wiseacre with a fondness for whiskey, had grown up in Southie, but against all odds, remained a Yankee fan. That Brian was currently crashing on Joe's couch only heightened the drama of the afternoon's contest.

It didn't take me long to identify why Brian and Monica were friends. Like me, Brian is a slightly overweight, somewhat insecure Irish guy with an excellent-if-self-deprecating sense of humor. This is a prototype for male friends of Miss Fitzpadrick, also exemplified by professional funnyman Jimmy of New York City. In fact, when pint-sized Fitzpadrick friend Amanda first met me, she quickly dubbed me Monica's "West Coast Jimmy". Ludacris has hos in different area codes; Miss Fitzpadrick has comedic collegians in different geographic regions. I am the San Francisco/Berkeley version, Brian's the Boston model. It gives me great comfort to believe that somewhere in each of our nation's great metropolises, there's an Irish-American with a mild weight problem and a killer Christopher Walken imitation just waiting for Monica.

My comedic bonding/rivalry with Brian happened right away. After some half-hearted jibes about Derek Jeter's defense and Johnny Damon's hair went back and forth, I struck comedic gold with my supposition that, due to The Great Gatsby, there ain't no party like the West Egg party ('cause the West Egg party don't stop). A flurry of F. Scott Fitzgerald/hip-hop quips followed, including proposed ass-hugging flapper pants called "Daisy Buch's" and a heartfelt, sustained shout of "West Eggggg!"

Also, we are both unnaturally fond of former Yankees third baseman Mike Pagliarulo. It's fate, really.

The playoff game was incredibly hyped. Not only were these teams squaring off for the right to go to the World Series, but it was the last start for Clemens at Fenway Park, possibly his last start ever. His opponent, Martinez, had been the best pitcher in the league for the past five years. The game lived up to the hype, though not for the reasons everyone expected.

The first hint of madness came after Boston had taken a 2-0 first inning lead. Manny Ramirez attempted to steal second base in the first inning, and was thrown out by roughly 40 feet. Joe insisted it was important that the Red Sox remain "unpredictable". The Yankees slowly clawed their way back into the game, while Brian shook his head at Monica's gushing over Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar. He's become famous for bringing the ridiculous "Cowboy Up" slogan to Boston, along with his memorable karaoke version of "Born in the USA". Monica likes him because he hugs the other players. A lot.

The real madness began in the fourth inning, after the Yankees had taken a 3-2 lead. Pedro Martinez hit Karim Garcia in the back with a fastball, nearly missing his head. Garcia screamed, as did many Yankees on the bench, including 72-year-old semi-human Don Zimmer. Garcia took immediate revenge with a hard slide into second on a double play. He and second baseman Todd Walker pushed each other, the benches emptied, Clemes charged onto the field, and Pedro seemed to indicate that he'd hit each and every one of the Yankee players in the head if he so chose. In Southie, we were stunned and wildly excited. The baseball playoffs had lurched into WWF territory.

In the next inning, it only got crazier. On a pitch that barely missed the inside corner, Manny Ramirez exploded in anger, walking toward the mound and screaming at Clemens. Embarrased by the totally unjustified outburst, the Red Sox begrudgingly left the dugout, as the Yankees came out to defend the pitcher. Pedro was the last man out. It appeared that there would be no actual violence, just yelling, as neither Ramirez nor Clemens appeared eager to trade blows. Then, the unthinkable happened.

Semi-human coach Don Zimmer and his eleven chins came around the edge of the infield and charged Pedro. He lunged forward, swinging with his left fist, before Pedro grabbed his head and threw him to the ground. The best pitcher in baseball had just beat up a 72 year-old man in the middle of the biggest playoff game of the year, and I was getting drunk in Southie, right in the middle of it.

Joe insisted that Pedro had no choice. "Is he supposed to let Zimmer just attack him?" he asked. Brian reminded us for the first of what would be 20+ times that Don Zimmer is "SEVENTY-TWO YEARS OLD." Joe wanted Manny to get back in the box and stop embarrassing himself. Brian wanted the umpires to kick everyone out: Pedro, Clemens, Zimmer, Manny, Garcia, and both managers. "Let's see (Jeff) Weaver and (Bronson) Arroyo battle it out", he said. It took fifteen minutes and three beers for each of us before the game started up again. Manny struck out on an outside pitch while bailing out of the batter's box, while Brian asked if anyone wanted some whiskey. We were in business.

Lost in all the furor about inside pitching and beanballs was this: it worked. After the incidents, both pitchers were practically unhittable. Clemens got five strikeouts and surrendered only one hit in his last three innings. Pedro threw four perfect innings (no baserunners) after drilling Garcia. Pitching inside is controversial because batters get angry, but it's also fairly effective.

The rest of the game was a blur of chicken wings, pizza, Bud Light, and Joe Torre's loss of faith in any of his relievers not named Rivera or Contreras. Brian explained the difference in socio-economic backgrounds between Joey McIntyre and the other New Kids on the Block, using a comical walk. By the time Karim Garcia and reliever Jeff Nelson beat up a Red Sox groundskeeper in the Yankee bullpen during the ninth inning, it was almost expected. The Red Sox lost by a run, and Joe was quietly devastated.

I asked Brian if Red Sox fans in the area would be crushed by today's loss. He said, "Are you kidding? This is Southie. These people have no hope remaining." Joe was sad about the loss, but he still had hope. Most importantly, he had a karaoke machine. I don't think any of you need me to tell you that the best way to remove the sting of a painful baseball loss is to duet with your roommate on "The Gambler" by Kenny Rogers. And then "Love Will Keep Us Together" by the Captain and Tenille. Joe didn't even let it get him down during his tour de force rendition of "That's Life", when Brian snuck in a lyric about the game: "I say that's life/ And as funny as it may seem/ Some people get their kicks/ Throwing at Karim".

After this, Monica and I had an engagement at a pinko bar in Cambridge, so we had to bid farewell to the boys. I snuck in a rendition of Extreme's "More Than Words", and we were gone. On the walk back ot the T station, a drunken Sox fan shouted something unintelligible to us. I cocked my ear back to try and catch what he said, but all I could hear was the sound of broken dreams and the echo of Don Zimmer's body crashing to the Fenway turf.

That, and the intro to "Mack the Knife", still emanating from Joe's apartment.

"MIT has many people who are amazing, brilliant, and totally without social skills. There are guys who invented electron accelerators at 16, but they can't walk down the fucking street. Harvard, it tougher to tell what anyone's particular 'thing' is. You've still got people who wrote their own operating systems when they were 14, but there's also a guy who interned for a Senator during his summer vacations. And the kid from 'Home Improvement'."

"I heard he was gay."

"No, he had a girlfriend who went to Brown. He used to visit her every weekend."


"There were some guys who used to throw eggs and fruit at his dorm windows. I think he left after a year."

On my first night in Boston, I attended an event celebrating a book done by Monica Fitzpadrick's roommate's GSI, in conjunction with Howard Zinn. We didn't get to meet Zinn, just snack on pastries and enjoy the housemaster's quarters until we got bored. Our next stop was purportedly a cocktail party thrown by a Harvard ladies' society. Much to my surprise, it was actually a meeting of the Cambridge, Massachusetts Teen Girl Squad!

I was introduced to Legacy, What's-her-Major, Political Daughter, and The Ugly One right away. They offered me a "cocktail," meaning, a glass of pink wine.

"Hey guys, let's go drink some WHITE ZINFANDEL!", shouted Legacy.

"SO GOOD!", shouted the others, and the cocktail party was on. I sat there, stunned and nodding, as the best and the brightest of our nation debated hairstyles and Friendster profiles. Political Daughter thought she should straighten her hair. She explained, "I think I have a chance with this guy from Tufts," before a large sack labelled "NO YOU DON'T" fell from the ceiling and smashed her.

Monica, a possible initiate into the ladies society, listened patiently as What's-her-Major talked music. "Don't you think the soundtrack to 'Forrest Gump' is SO GOOD?" she asked. Monica blinked away tears and poured another glass of the Zinfandel.

What's-her-Major wasn't done yet. Her "Public Schools Please" T-shirt heaving, she continued. "I like this song about San Francisco. You're from San Francisco, right?" Before Monica had a chance to suppress her usual drunken drawl, a large bird squawked "IVY LEAGUE'D!" and carried What's-her-Major off towards UMass.

I had had enough. I grabbed the thoroughly soused Miss Fitzpadrick and yanked her to her feet. Behind me, The Ugly One was discussing her high school education. The last thing I heard before the door shut behind us was, "If you go to a second-rate boarding school, you die of starvation."

It was over!

The pilot announces our approach to Logan International, and instantly I am awake. The word "Boston" caresses my eardrum like the tongue of an ambitious lover. I grab my carry-on bag from beneath the seat and walk down the aisle, towards my destiny. "Thank you for flying America West," smiles the flight attendant, as she shoves a heaping spoonful of clam chowder into my mouth. "Go Red Sox."

From the airport, it's onto the T, Boston's version of "BART", or the "subway". I step towards the agent, but before I even take out my wallet, John Ratzenberger tosses me a token and winks. "Little-known fact," he says. "Boston kicks all kinds of ass." I feel my affinity for Boston grow.

Everyone on the train is wearing Red Sox caps. They view my backwards-facing SF Giants cap with apprehension and distrust. Still, in my pink cheeks, pale skin, and pretentious demeanor, I imagine they can almost recognize me as one of their own. I cautiously ask, "How about that David Ortiz?" Immediately, the car is full of laughter and applause. A tall Jewish man in a tweed jacket offers me a sip from his flask of whiskey, while two intellectual-looking lesbians high-five. The taste of Boston burns my throat and warms my heart.

I exit the boisterous train at Harvard Yard, the chants of "Yankees Suck" echoing behind me like a grand reverberation of sound. It was just as I'd always pictured it. Sons of politicians walking hand in hand with daughters of captains of industry! Well-read bums dispensing wisdom about life, not just books! Number 4 Bobby Orr parking his car in Harvard Yard discussing plans to drink Cutty Sark after dark with Marky Mark! I swallow another spoonful of chowder and head for the campus. Outside Dunkin' Donuts, an angry Southie youth asks me how I like dem apples, and I reply that I like them just fine. We hug for a long time.

The grand campus stands before me invitingly, brick buildings that seem to say, "Hug me. Love me. JFK went here." I pass the Lampoon's Castle. I see the home of Hasty Puddding. I go to take a picture of John Harvard, but Robert Urich, TV's "Spenser: For Hire" stops me. "People pee on that," he warns me. Then he feeds me more clam chowder.

When I arrive to meet my friend Monica, she is not there. I sneak into her building, like a character from a classic movie like "Love Story," or "Stealing Harvard." It is chilly in the hallway, but my passion for Boston won't let me freeze. Through the window I see the Charles winding its way into poorer sections of the metropolis, and my heart nearly bursts with love. The Chuck is beautiful in the hazy early-afternoon glare. Already, I love that dirty water. Boston, I whisper, you're my temporary home.

My sister Molly's current favorite movie is "Old School", replacing previous favorites "Slackers", "The Breakfast Club", and "Ice Castles". She adores the film, going so far as to dub her own stomach "Frank the Tank" on memorable Santa Barbara evenings. "Old School" has also brought a new dimension to my and Molly's relationship.

I have a bad habit, not just with Molly, of becoming distracted by the printed word during conversation. Uusually, I am able to fake my way through the conversation with a well-placed, "Yeah?" or "Oh?" to disguise my lack of attention, but Molly is too smart to be fooled.

In "Old School", Vince Vaughn's character has a novel method of swearing in front of his young son. When he says "earmuffs", the kid covers his ears, allowing adults to use whatever profanity they want. Molly has redefined this term. If I'm reading, she accuses me of having put on virtual "earmuffs". Which is why our conversations, especially if I'm in front of a sports section or a computer screen, are often punctuated by Molly screaming, "You're 'muffing me! Stop 'muffing me, Sean! What did I just say? Don't 'muff me, dammit!"

Happy Birthday, Molly!

The summer before Molly turned seven, our cousins came to visit us. There were three of them, Nick, Ben, and Cassie, who all matched up well in age to us. As a result, the day of their visit was a blur of dirty jokes, outdoor games, and quiet enthrallment at the amazing 8-bit Sega Master System they'd brought with them.

Though I would have been content to play Space Harrier and Rambo for the entire day, and well into the night, my parents were much like the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer when it came to video games. The controllers, colors, and scrolling game play confused, and frightened them. When the explosion sound effects and glassy-eyed stares of their children got to be too much for them, they unplugged the machine and forced us to do something else.

What they suggested was Hide-and-Seek. There were many rooms and closets to conceal oneself in. We had a healthy sense of rivalry, and bragging rights for best hiding place were at stake. Best of all for my parents, Hide-and-Seek forces particpants to be quiet, at least temporarily. With seven kids in the house, Mom and Dad would take "temporarily" in a heartbeat.

Molly was the youngest, and accordingly given little thought as we sized up our Hide-and-Seek opponents. We Keane kids had an advantage due to home turf - we knew which coat closets gave the best cover, which beds one could hide under, how to silently open the sliding glass doors. Our cousins didn't stand a chance, we thought, as Cousin Nick became the first "It".

Even as an outsider, Cousin Nick found most of us with ease. I was discovered behind the drapes, and the rest of my siblings and cousins were soon flushed from their hidey-holes. All except Molly. We couldn't find her anywhere. She wasn't outside. She wasn't in my bedroom. She wasn't in a closet or the bathtub. Cousin Nick even lifted the lid of the big toy box in the girls' room, but only saw a jumble of plastic musical instruments, stuffed animals, and a doctor kit.

After about fifteen minutes of searching, we gave up. "Olly-olly-oxen free" was called, but to no avail. Where was Molly?

As concerned siblings and relatives, our next move was simple. Plug in the Sega, and forget all about Molly. Which we did, for at least half an hour. Then we heard a noise from the girls' room.

We ran into the room just in time to see Molly pushing open the lid of the toy box. She had been concealed in the impossibly-small box for nearly an hour. Molly had climbed in there and, ingeniously for a six year old, pulled a layer of toys over herself for camouflage. When we took forever to find her, Molly fell asleep.

This was by far the most impressive Hide-and-Seek performance in the history of Stevenson Drive, if not the Western world itself. Molly was duly congratulated for her Hide-and-Seek excellence, until someone made her cry and we had an excuse to turn on her and call her a baby. But to this day, her feat remains legendary. Almost as legendary as Phantasy Star. Man, was that game fucking cool.

Happy Birthday, Molly!

I grew up with three sisters, no brothers. This wasn't really a bad way to grow up. As a result, I am probably more polite. I learned how to Frnech braid hair. I can name nearly a dozen My Little Ponies, and discuss the Baby-sitters Club series of books at length. Still, there were times that I pined for a brother.

The main way I dealt with this was to coerce my younger sisters, Kelly and Molly, into elaborate sporting activities. I'd force them to field grounders, creating endless imaginary simulated baseball games. During the 1992 Summer Games, the three of us would shoot hoops in our driveway, while adopting the personas of Olympic athletes (Molly was always Charles Barkley). One memorable week, we arranged garbage cans and lawn chairs into a backyard obstacle course, which resulted in many bruised shins and the final nail in the coffin for our decrepit metal trash receptacles.

We'd also play hours and hours of soccer. One favorite game was called "Hangin' Goalie", in which I defended our makeshift swingset goals by hanging from the monkey bars as Kelly and Molly took shots. During one of these epic contests, when Kelly and Molly were around nine and seven years old, respectively, I blasted a kick off of Kelly's chest.

She doubled over in mock agony. "Owww, my boobs!" she exclaimed.

We convulsed in laughter. She said "boobs"! Oh, it was comical. But not so comical as what happened a few minutes later.

Another ball ricocheted off the swingset, catching Molly right on the upper thigh. Imitating her older sister, Molly also fell to the ground in mock injury. She rolled onto her back and moaned, "Owww, my nards!"

As we wept with laughter, Molly joined in, but slowly quieted as she realized there'd been a subtle shift from "laughing with" to "laughing at". We brought it up another twenty times that day as Molly fumed, and probably a thousand more times retelling the tale to family members, Molly's friends, strangers at the grocery store, whatever. Still, at that glorious moment of unintentional sibling comedy, I think I stopped wishing for a little brother. After all, I already had a sibling with nards.

Happy birthday, Molly!

belated nfl review, week 5

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Introductory paragraphs? We don't need no stinking introductory paragraphs!

49er Game: San Francisco 24, Detroit 17:

The 49ers snapped a three-game losing streak by defeating the lowly Detroit Lions. Previously, Zembla had stated that San Francisco's season would be over with a defeat at the paws of Detroit. Thankfully for the squad's smoldering ember of playoff hope, the team maintained their slim lead for the entire fourth quarter, holding off a half-hearted Detroit comeback with some extremely mediocre second-half play. The fans booed, the team made some defensive stops, and I fell asleep in the third quarter.

This is not an exciting football team. Jeff Garcia can't loft the ball more than 15 yards in the air. His patented leap-in-the-air-and-throw-the-football-straight-at-the-ground move has become increasingly more frequent, and increasingly more desperate. The offensive line allows him to get hit a lot. The result is that the Niners are limited to runs and short passes only, leading to a rather boring, limited offense. All the same, with all of their home divisional games remaining, plus a game against the Cincinnati Bengals, the team is poised to finish 9-7, sneak into the playoffs, and get blown out by the Eagles or Buccaneers in the first round.

Terrell Owens Surliness Update:

At a pregame breakfast, Owens and Garcia reportedly "settled their differences", which is a relief, considering that both men will be receiving millions of dollars this season for their football play. But, thanks to this wonderful, big-hearted effort, fans can rest assured that a schoolyard conflict will not undermine the footballing season.

Terrell Owens Fanciness Update:

1) After his first-quarter touchdown catch, Mr. Owens did an intricately-choreographed celebratory dance. He seemed upset when teammates high-fived him, distracting him from his dance.

2) During a timeout in the second quarter, TV cameras caught Mr. Owens lying supine on the turf, chortling as a trainer lovingly stretched his thigh muscles.

3) Mr. Owens wore a diamond earring approximately the size of a watch band for the entire football contest.

Terrell Owens Wussiness Update:

Lions defensive back Dre Bly made in interception in the second quarter because Mr. Owens both failed to complete his pass pattern nor make any attempt to break up the pass.

Strength of Schedule:

The 49ers have notched their only two wins this season against the two worst teams in the NFL this season, Detroit and Chicago. Unimpressive? Yes. But, they can take some consolation. Unlike their cross-bay rivals, they did not lose to the league's worst team, the Chicago Bears.

It must have been quite a Monday morning at the police stations of Oakland. Hungover, still-beligerent fans waking up in the drunk tank with no memory of the alcohol-fueled acts of rage that landed them in the slammer, recalling only similarly-drunken Raiders placekicker Sebastian Janikowski's crucial missed extra point in the Chicago game. Perhaps one drunken fan will make eye contact with the also-hungover desk sergeant, lips silently mouthing "Kordell Stewart?" over and over. The fans will eventually get bailed out by their girlfriends, call in sick at the refinery, and sleep deep into the afternoon, waking up just in time to attend the A's-Red Sox game and throw batteries at Johnny Damon's ambulance.

Dante Hall's Inferno of Touchdown Goodness:

Do not kick to this man! He has four kick returns for touchdowns in five games. If your team scores a touchdown, consider an onside kick. On fourth down, you might as well go for it. Turning the ball over is still preferable to giving up a touchdown going the other way. Punting out of bounds versus Kansas City will soon join the pantheon of chicken-out sporting decisions, along with the Barry Bonds intentional walk, the Shaquille O'Neal off-the-ball foul, and any heavyweight champion fighting a Caucasian. If Dante Hall takes one back this week, Dick Vermeil is going to be sobbing.

Cooking with Dick Vermeil:

I think this would be a good show. Coach Vermeil coaxes great flavor out of underappreciated ingredients, ingredients that often become disappointments in other chef's recipes. Also, every recipe involves chopping onions, so he's basically in tears the whole time.

NFL Coaching Reunion Tour 2003:

Thomas Wolfe wrote, "You can't go home again," which proved to be a prescient sentiment as three formerly-great coaches returned for road games against their old teams. Of course, even Wolfe couldn't have anticipated that Tampa Bay would blow a 21-point lead in just under five minutes.

Steve Mariucci reminded me of my sister's ex-boyfriend, that everyone in the family loved. Of course, he's heavier than he used to be, and she's moved on and is dating a tattooed drywall specialist, and Mom has stopped hoping they'll get back together. Even so, you can't help but root for him and wish him well at junior college. Still, you feel sorry for him, grimacing involuntarily as he talks about souping up another classic car, or paces the sidelines in a too-tight light blue team shirt.

Mike Holmgren took his undefeated Seahawks team to Green Bay on Sunday, and Brett Favre took their lunch money and their sneakers. Coach Holmgren left Green Bay for Seattle after two consecutive Super Bowl appearances, desperate to prove his genius away from Favre, his Hall of Fame quarterback, and Ron Wolf, the meddling General Manager. He even took Favre's old backup, Matt Hasselbeck, with him, and traded running back Ahman Green (now a star with Green Bay).

It's as if George Martin had left the Beatles and formed a new band, taking with him Pete Best and Stu Sutcliffe. And then, every few years, the new band had to compete against the Beatles in a Battle of the Bands, with predictable results. This year, Holmgren and the boys had been rehearsing a lot, made a great new single, and were totally poised to win the Battle. But then Best broke his sticks, and Sutcliffe got distracted by a German photographer, and Hasselbeck threw a crucial third-quarter interception, and the band lost 35-13.

Finally, Tony Dungy took his new team, the Indianapolis Colts, to face his old team, Tampa Bay. Countless other sources can describe their unreal comeback from 28 points down, capped by a partially-blocked game-winning field goal in overtime that ricoheted off the right upright and still went in. Here's what stood out to me about the contest:

1) Monday Night Football miked outspoken Tampa Bay wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson (look out, Terrell!), which captured an unbroken stream of high-pitched whining, capped by NFL's Most Expressive Coach Jon Gruden lecturing him, "Keyshawn, Keyshawn, you gotta take some criticism, Keyshawn."

2) Batshit crazy color commentator John Madden referred to one Colts block as a "triple dipper chipper".

3) Expressive Coach Gruden is known for his dedication to his job. Supposedly, he wakes up every day, without fail, at 3:30 AM. By the end of this epic Monday Night battle, Gruden may have been 20+ hours into his day. I haven't heard this mentioned anywhere else, so let me suggest that it may have been Gruden's sleepiness, or even just mild crankiness, that ultimately cost Tampa Bay the victory. Since there seems to be a camera trained on Gruden at all times, waiting for some grotesque facial expression or filthy explosion of profanity, one could easily review the game tapes and see if there was any eye-rubbing or yawning. What do you say, Science?

slide, jeremy, slide! revisited


Game 3 of the Oakland-Boston Division Series was eerily reminiscent of the 2001 Series against the Yankees. In both games, glaring baserunning errors cost Oakland a chance to score early, in a close, low-scoring game ultimately decided by a home run. In 2001, the A's lost in nine innings; in 2003, it wasn't until the 11th that the A's went down. Even with to the egregiousness of the mistakes, it is my contention that the errors of this Game Three will not be remembered as severely as that of 2001's. In that game, with the A's holding a 2-0 series lead, and returning home to Oakland, Terence Long hit a double with a man on first. Shane Spencer made an errant throw home, but Derek Jeter cut off the throw, scooped to the catcher, and when runner Jeremy Giambi failed to slide, he was out at the plate. The A's went on to lose Game Three 1-0, as well as Games Four and Five, with Giambi's non-slide being blamed for the defeat.

It has become one of those legendary post-season gaffes that take on much greater stature in memory than their actual game significance. Bill Buckner's notorious error in Game Six of the 1986 World Series came after the game was already tied, and on a play where the speedy Mookie Wilson may well have reached even had he fielded the ball cleanly. A wild pitch tied the game before Wilson hit the grounder. If Buckner had come up with the ball, at best the Red Sox would have gone to extra innings tied at five-all, on the road. Even so, the Red Sox had a chance to win Game Seven the next night. Bill Buckner is no more responsible than Bob Stanley for blowing the game, and much less so than Calvin Schiraldi, yet he's the eternal goat because his gaffe was so memorable.

What people don't remember about Game Three of the 2001 Series is that, at the time, the score was Yankees 1, A's 0. Giambi's run would only have tied the game, not won it. But, the combination of brilliant defense (Jeter) and glaring fundamental error (Giambi) is what makes the Giambi play stand out. No one talks about the bizarre decision to begin hitting Miguel Tejada second in the postseason. No one mentions the errors by Jason Giambi or Eric Chavez in Game Five, each costing the A's one run in a game they lost by two. The most memorable play will always be seen as the most important play, regardless of the true significance.

Jeremy Giambi may rest a little easier, because in Game Three of this year's American League Division Series, two different A's in one inning made baserunning lapses that dwarf Giambi's failure to slide (on a play where he was out by inches, if that). In the sixth inning, Eric Byrnes collided with Boston catcher Jason Varitek on a play at the plate, while the throw went past Varitek to the backstop. Byrnes never touched home, not on his initial crashing of the plate, and not afterward, as the ball bounced around behind home and he busied himself with grabbing his knee and shoving Varitek. The runners all moved up two bases, but Byrnes was tagged out where he stood, inches away from home.

Two batters later, Ramon Hernandez grounded a ball under the glove of shortstop Nomar Garciaparra. Miguel Tejada, running from second, bumped into third baseman Bill Mueller as he rounded third. The umpire raised his hand and called obstruction, at which point Tejada simply stopped running. He stood there, arguing and pointing at Mueller, until he too was tagged out, within spitting distance of home. Later, the umpires said that they were prepared to award Tejada home plate on any reasonably close play, but when he made no attempt at all to score, they had no choice but to call him out. The two plays cost the A's at least two runs, possibly more - two putouts at home have a way of killing a rally. This wasn't Jeremy Giambi making a bad judgment call on a close play. This was two players in one inning choosing to fight and argue rather than simply touch home plate. Giambi is an oaf and Giambi should have slid, but at least he tried to touch home.

Will this nightmarish sixth inning of baserunning go into the annals of postseason embarrassments, along with Tony Fernandez's misplayed grounder in 1997, Lonnie Smith's baserunning in 1991, and Fred Snodgrass' muffed fly in 1912? There are a few reasons why I don't think it will. First of all, there were two guys who screwed up. Multiple goats means that the blame is diffused by its distribution over two people. There's also a decent chance that Tejada or Byrnes will make a great play later in the series, earning them a pass from later criticism. Second, these mistakes were complicated and difficult to understand upon fisrt viewing. There's no single moment that can be shown in a blooper reel. It's easy to say that the A's would have gone all the way in 2001 "if only Jeremy had slid." It's a lot harder to say, "The A's would have won it all in 2003, if only Byrnes hadn't thrown a temper tantrum, and Tejada had had a clearer understanding of the subtleties of Major League Baseball's obstruction rule." Thirdly, the Red Sox still aren't going to win this series, so the point will be moot. And Jeremy Giambi, out for the year but still part of the Red Sox team, will retain his legendary goat status.

A Poetic Look at the First Two Games of the National League Division Series Between the San Francisco Giants and the Florida Marlins

By Sean Keane and William Blake

Accompanying woodcuts forthcoming.

Game of Innocence (Giants 2, Marlins 0)

The Tournament of Revenge

Each year brings a new rival, but memories are long
Fans think of past teams with hearts quite sober
For nothing makes a rivalry, no hatred e'er so strong
As being beaten by a rival in October

But with last year came payback, for some old playoff scars
The Braves were scalped, revenge for '93
Next, for '87, they beat LaRussa and the Cards
And Candy Maldonado yelped with glee

The next teams on the vengeance list, for you payback proponents
(Since the Mets and Angels sucked so hard, you know)
The Marlins and the Cubs, two potential opponents
Spelled Giants doom six and five years ago

If SF runs the table, and returns to the Series
They'll get to take one last bit of revenge
Bay Bridge Series, Nineteen Sixty-Two, and, less seri'us
Nineteens Twelve and Twenty-Four, to avenge

The Favored Child

My father got tickets from his co-worker Stan
And, lo, we ditched work for the game
We met at the gates just according to plan
As Renel announced Jason Schmidt's name

Dad printed a scorecard as in days of yore
We ate sandwiches out in the sun
Delight in our eyes as Florida failed to score
A kind father, and his favored son

The Portly Right-Hander

Each pitch proving the Pirates wrong
Trading him for Ryan Vogelsong
An unhittable fastball on ev'ry pitch
And to the umpire each man would bitch
Just strikes, no balls, and but three hits
Flor'da no rallies, merely fits
Last fourteen hitters all made out
Vict'ry's what this Schmidt's all about

The Gold Glove Right Fielder

Jose Cruz, defensive star
In right field ranges near and far
Countless pitches lifted into the breeze
Become seven putouts, made with ease

The #5 Hitter

Be wary of the IBB to Bonds
Your fear can lead to trouble
For when Barry's the man on first
He'll score on any double


The fans all dislike it when pitchers walk Barry
There are signs, catcalls, even a chicken dancer
The sign reading "No Balls" is not quite as merry
Flor'da's Mike Lowell had testicular cancer

Game of Experience (Florida 9, San Francisco 5)

The Tournament of Nightmares

Lo, the Florida Marlins
One hates them with such zeal
How could a title e'er been won
By a baseball team in teal?

I'd thought ahead to Sheffield
And the looming bat of Sammy
But now the road to the NL title
Is running through Miami

The More Favored Child

Game 2 brought more tickets, but not for the son
Sister Kelly attended with Dad
Not as much joy on this day, nor as much sun
For the Giants' pitching was quite bad

Father and daughter still bonded that day
Regardless of the final score
The reason that Sean could not come to the game
Is simple: Dad loves Kelly more

The Other Portly Right-Hander

The Giants, every other year
Acquire a pitcher, who looks fond of beer
Livan Hernandez, four years hence
For one sweet year, it made good sense
Then his ERA and waist did bloat
And in last year's playoffs, was the goat
Jason Schmidt in '01 became the ace
Despite his rather rounded face
Sidney Ponson, large Aruban knight
Was brought in for the playoff fight
Opposing hitters, down he'd shut
If his heart 'twere as large as his gut
In Game 2, Ponson took the hill
To add a victory to the till
Today, no match for the Marlin bat
'Twas also his curveballs that were fat
And by the sixth inning, Sir Sid was gone
Is he the new Schmidt, or the new Livan?

The Gold Glove Right Fielder

Bases loaded, fly to right
A falling Cruz, a sorry sight
A two-run error, the Giants are beat
Did Cruz wear the Gold Glove on his feet?

The #5 Hitter

When it comes to lineup protection
Alfonzo's doing fine
But he needs to hit more doubles
If the pitchers give up nine


The signs are less exuberant, on this losing playoff day
One constant remains: No one's quite sure how to spell "Fillet"

nfl review, week 4


The cream is rising to the top of the NFL, and the 49ers are sifting to the bottom. Their offensive line looks weakened, as if by osteoporosis, and the offensive play-calling has, well, curdled.

49er Game: Minnesota 35, San Francisco 7

No comment.

Terrell Owens Surliness Update:

From ESPN's game summary

Owens, who criticized the play-calling and pass protection in a post-game rant last week, stormed off the field after Kevan Barlow was stuffed for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-1 at the Minnesota 31 late in the third.

Owens flung his helmet on the sideline and continued to scream. He was still frustrated afterward in the locker room -- lamenting the Vikings' ability to involve their star receiver, Moss, while his team continued to struggle getting him the ball.

"Why wouldn't I want the ball?" Owens said. "Is that being selfish?"

After the game, Owens also said that the 49ers had no heart, and hinted that the team would be better off with backup Tim Rattay at quarterback, rather than Jeff Garcia.

While Owens is probably still correct about the direction of the offense, and the inability of the starting QB to throw the ball further than 15 yards, one wonders what he's trying to accomplish, beyond lowering his potential signing bonus from whatever team he signs with in the offseason. He might be frustrated at his lack of passes, but the team lost by 28 freakin' points. Was a more involved Owens going to cut the margin of victory to 21? 18?

The team seems to be on the brink of panic, but they're still only 1-3. They still get to play the Arizona Cardinals twice. Many injured offensive lineman are going to return, as is injured defensive back Jason Webster. There's a lot of season remaining. In a way, this extended tantrum from Owens might prove helpful, as attention is going towards the potential locker room strife, and away from the piss-poor on-field performance. Of course, if they lose to Detroit at home next week, the season is over for the 49ers.

Gus Frerotte!?!:

Daunte Culpepper was injured, so Minnesota started journeyman Gus Frerotte at quarterback. Frerotte has played for five different teams in his career, amassing a quarterback rating of 75.9 for his career, which is just slightly below average. Last year, he lost his starting job for the NFL's worst team, the Cincinnati Bengals, and only played in four games. Frerotte is probably best-known not for his skills as a passer, but for suffering the stupidest football injury of all time, just barely nosing out kicker Bill Gramatica tearing his ACL celebrating a routine field goal.

On a third-and-goal play from the 1, he had rolled out of the pocket looking for a receiver. When he saw a clear path in front of him, Frerotte dashed toward the goal line and just managed to get into the right front pylon of the south end zone ahead of two Giants defenders.

Frerotte kept running toward the corner of the stadium. First he spiked the football against the wall, then he stopped momentarily and continued celebrating his team's first score by butting the top of his helmeted head into a padded wall. He clearly recoiled after the impact.

As Frerotte trotted back toward the bench area, he winced as he tried to get his helmet off.

The 49ers defense made this no-talent ass clown look like a Hall of Famer on Sunday. True, throwing the ball to Randy Moss has made mediocrities like Jeff George and (late-career) Randall Cunningham look like superstars, but Frerotte was stil lfantastic. Four touchdown passes, no interceptions, and a final quarterback rating of 157.25, just slightly below the maximum possible score of 158.33 (yes, the QB rating scale makes no sense at all). More importantly, he didn't head butt, kick, jump off of, or run into anything. Every dog has his day, and on Sunday, mighty Gus Frerotte was that dog.

NFL Commentator of the Week:

Rush Limbaugh resigned from his job on the Sunday NFL Countdown show after saying that Donovan McNabb was overrated by the media because he was black. ESPN received a deluge of protests in the last few days, although no one challenged Limbaugh's assertion on the television program itself, and Rush quit under pressure. While reporters will no doubt debate the appropriateness and validity of his claims ad nauseum for the next few days, the larger question is, What the hell was Rush Limbaugh doing on the Sunday NFL Countdown in the first place?

Dennis Miller was a bad idea, too, but at least Dennis Miller used to be funny. The only thing Limbaugh brings to the table, besides a healthy appetite, is the ability to make controversial statements exactly like the one he was just fired for making. Does Rush Limbaugh look like he'd ever played football? Does he have any football credentials at all? This "story" is no surprise at all.

The hiring and firing of Limbaugh represents a disturbing trend in ESPN broadcasts of making the reporting of sports more of a story than the actual sports themselves. ESPN's baseball announcers routinely refer to stellar defensive plays as "Web Gems", after a promotional feature on their own site. ESPN has gradually replaced broadcasts of sporting events with programs featuring ESPN personalities and sportswriters arguing with one another. Broadcasts of this year's baseball playoffs often returned late from mid-inning breaks so that a studio host could interview "expert" Bobby Valentine about game strategy, even though there were already four announcers working the game in question. ESPN even premiered an hour-long show about the making of Sportscenter.

This is likely a result of Disney's purchase of ESPN and ABC. The new corporate overlords clearly want more "branding" of the ESPN name. This was especially evident tonight, when, after a day with three baseball playoff games, including a 12-inning war between Boston and Oakland that was punctuated by a two-out, bases-loaded bunt single by the catcher, the lead story on Sportscenter was... the resignation of an ESPN employee, Rush Limbaugh, accompanied by commentary from other ESPN employees about what this meant for Rush and for ESPN.

Dom Capers, Hero:

In the final seconds of the Houston-Jacksonville game, Houston had the ball on the Jacksonville goal line, trailing by three points. A field goal sends the game to overtime. Houston coach Dom Capers keeps the offense in, and they win on a quarterback sneak.

Too often, it seems like coaches make decisions to cover their asses, rather than to win football games, even when the odds are in favor of the unconventional move. It's as if reaching overtime is considered a moral victory, even if the team later loses in the extra period. Houston had about a 50% chance of winning in OT, slightly less because of the chance their field goal could be blocked. Pushing in a score from less than a yard away was clearly a much better gamble, but I'm sure that if it had failed, Capers would have been criticized for months.

My dad mentioned this after watching the 49ers lose to the Rams in overtime, after rallying for a game-tying touchdown at the end of the game. "Why not go for the two-point conversion and try to win right then?" he complained, and I'm inclined to agree. An NFL team generally succeeds on about 40% of their two-point conversion tries. For an above-average offensive team like the 49ers, the odds are probably in the 40-45% range. On the road, against a great offensive team like St. Louis, the 49ers' chances were not great in OT. But they kicked the tying extra point, and then promptly lost when St. Louis scored on their first possession.

Coach Dennis Erickson would have been railed if the two-point try had failed and the team had lost. But, they lost anyway. Regulation losses and overtime losses count exactly the same in the standings. Risky decisions are interesting. Watching a Gramatica brother jog on to the field to decide the game's fate is really lame. This is why Houston coach Dom Capers, is an NFL Hero.

Da Bears:

Chicago opened up a new stadium on Monday night, while Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers opened up a can of whoopass. Chicago lost 38-23, bringing their record to 0-3. They have lost their three games by a combined score of 111-43. They are the worst team in football. I asked Bill Swerski's Super Fans for their take on the team.

Bob Swerski: I'm Bob Swerski, filling in for my brother Bill, who had a heart attack following a suicide attempt during halftime of the Packers game. We're here to talk about the sorriest NFL franchise there is, Da Bears.

Superfans: DA BEARS!

Bob Swerski: First of all, let's look ahead to next week's game, where Da Bears are hosting the defending AFC champion Oakland Raiders. Predictions?

Carl Wollarski: Raiders, 84. Bears, 10.

Todd O'Connor: Raiders, 108. Bears, 3.

Pat Arnold: Raiders, 61. Bears, 0. Game called at halftime due to Bears' forfeit.

Swerski: Some optimism for Da Bears this week, I see. Alright, now what if Da Bears were facing Mount Carmel high school's junior varsity team this week instead?

O'Connor: Is Kordell Stewart the quarterback?

Swerski: Yeah.

O'Connor: Mount Carmel, 31. Bears, 24.

Swerski: OK, how about if Da Bears played the Washington Generals?

Arnold: In football, not basketball?

Swerski: Yeah, football.

Arnold: Generals, 43. Bears, 2.

Wollarski: Generals, 24. Bears, 0.

O'Connor: Is Dick Jauron still coaching Da Bears? (Swerski nods.) Generals, 56. Bears, 13. Man, what will it take to get that guy fired?

Arnold: Firing's too good for him. They ought to give him Da Chair.

Super Fans: DA CHAIR!

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