Wednesday, September 29, 2010

NFL Picks Week Four: In Which I Travel To Beautiful Minnesnowta

Don't worry. It'll only be October when I set foot in the great state of Minnesota this weekend so snow seems highly unlikely, though Saturday night's predicted low of 33 degrees does bring it within the realm of possibility. I suppose bringing my Northwestern hooded sweatshirt will now seem necessary.

Regardless of the weather, however, I'm awfully excited for the next trip in my journey, which, given how annoyed I am that Gary Ablett (The Genius!) showed up Friday night's Grand Final replay by announcing that he's taking his considerable footy skills up to the new Gold Coast club, is coming at just the right time. Seriously, what kind of economic system allows an expansion team to poach the best player in the league? It would be as if a new NFL team was allowed to offer a huge contract offer to Peyton Manning. And it's patently absurd.

I'm late to the Aussie Rules fandom bandwagon, but it's still a shame that my chosen team won't be seeing plays like this or like this from the best player on the ground anymore. At least I can take some solace in the fact that he's only 14 months older than me and he's already lost all of his hair.

But I digress. I only hope Geelong doesn't wind up experiencing the precipitous downfall Southampton FC did when I started following the Saints in 2002.


So yes. I'm going to Minnesota this weekend which I am enormously excited for. Now when I originally booked this trip I noticed that it would take me through the final weekend of baseball's regular season, and that it might possibly cause me to miss some crucial Mets games as they came through the final drive of the pennant race.

Man, what a hoot that idea was, huh?

Well, fortunately for me, the Mets dramatic fall from grace this season, replete with all the zany scandals, disappointing free agent signings, dubious player behavior and curious personnel decisions, is just about done. And it doesn't look like I'll be watching any of it. That may be just as well. The 2010 season has proven to be nearly as frustrating and disappointing as any of the last three were, with the team falling in a matter of weeks from potential dark horse to complete punch line. Literally.

As it stands, I will likely be missing a three-game collapse that will spell the end of Jerry Manuel's managerial tenure and, in all likelihood, the Omar Minaya era. The results of that era have been mixed to be sure, but what could have been a prosperous run that should have included a World Series win in 2006 -- or at least an appearance -- will instead likely be remembered for frustrating free agent signings and remarkable collapses down the stretch in 2007 and 2008.

Fortunately, I'll be in Minnesota and missing the end of that gong show. And that isn't the only reason to be excited for my trip to the North Star State. For one I'll be seeing my good friend Litterman. For another, I'll be seeing beautiful new Target Field on Friday night, where the Minnesota Twins will send Carl Pavano to the hill in a bit of postseason preparation against the Toronto Blue Jays. Originally I had been hoping the Chicago White Sox would keep the AL Central race close enough that the Twins might have a chance to clinch the division title while I was in the stands. Unfortunately, Minnesota's been too damn good since the All-Star Break and that hope went out the window. Instead I'll have to explore and appreciate the stadium with little regard for the action on the field since it's essentially meaningless.

Still, I'm excited. This trip will mark team No. 36 as my long, arduous journey continues forging forward from one stop til the next. Besides, I'll get to ask the locals if they're actually already ramping up for the inevitable need to find a new home for the Twins a few decades from now.

The other major stop of the weekend will be at the University of Minnesota, where the Gophers will be playing one Northwestern University. As NU shoots to start the season 5-0. While this a normal brand of excitement all in and of itself, the game has an added bonus in that it will a) be the first time I've seen my Wildcats in person in three years, which is much too long, and b) it will be at Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium, which, while a few years old, is supposed to be a tremendous facility, or at least as good as a college team can hope for this day and age. All in all, I should have a pretty fun 50 hours in Minneapolis.

Plus, it'll keep my mind off that disaster the Giants were involved in on Sunday afternoon last week. And no, disaster isn't too dramatic a description. But speaking of the NFL, disasters and me...

Last week: 6-10-0
Season: 19-25-4

NY GIANTS (-4) over Chicago***
ATLANTA (-7) over San Francisco
NY Jets (-6) over BUFFALO
Cincinnati (-4) over CLEVELAND
GREEN BAY (-15) over Detroit
TENNESSEE (-7) over Denver
ST. LOUIS (+2) over Seattle
Carolina (+14) over NEW ORLEANS
Baltimore (+2) over PITTSBURGH
Houston (-4) over OAKLAND
Indianapolis (-9) over JACKSONVILLE
Washington (+7) over PHILADELPHIA
SAN DIEGO (-9) over Arizona
New England (-1) over MIAMI

And there you have it kids. When I return Sunday night I will be ready to watch the Giants fluster me again, and I will be one step closer to the end of the line. Minnesota here I come.

***I will never learn.

Honda and the Future of the Automobile

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

CarScoop: 2012 Toyota Prius Alpha Hybrid Minivan Scooped?

Hmmm, interesting....
Carscoop reader Nick K. had an opportunity to snag what may very well be the first spy photos of the long-anticipated minivan version of the Prius, rumored to be called the Prius Alpha.

Spotted out in California following a new Lexus CT200h with its logos covered, the camouflaged minivan seen here - said by Nick to be "about the size of a Mazda 5" - appears to be wearing a Prius-esque front fascia and doesn't look to fit anywhere else in the lineup.

As you can see in our photo gallery after the jump, the minivan and the Prius also seem to share a similar design for the windshield, front window line and tail lamps.

If earlier reports from Reuters and Japan's Nikkei daily are correct, the Prius MPV will end up housing three rows of seats with space for up to seven passengers and be powered by in-house developed lithium-ion batteries (which may later be manufactured with help from Panasonic).

As we recently told you, Toyota Executive VP Takeshi Uchiyamada hopes to launch six new hybrids worldwide by 2012 (two Lexi and four Toyotas) on top of its current hybrid offerings. That means the Lexus hybrid family - LS, GS, HS, and RX - will likely gain another crossover of some sort and probably an IS hybrid.

Toyota - currently at three hybrids in the U.S. with the Prius, Camry, and Highlander - will likely get at least one more variant of the Prius, as well as three other models. Speculation on those is up to you all.

By Phil Alex

Source (with more pic's!);

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Apparently, Donovan McNabb Grew Up In Australia

Some might consider it unfair that I spend so much time making fun of Donovan McNabb. Not because he's a bad quarterback. He's not. In fact, he might just be a great quarterback and I was overjoyed to see that the Eagles traded him this offseason until I realized he would still be in the NFC East with the Redskins. No, his on-field skills are not to be argued. My mockery has come from an amusing incident two years ago when, after the Eagles tied the Bengals, McNabb admitted in a postgame press conference that he had no idea there were ties in the NFL.

This is, of course, patently ridiculous, but what you might not have known, and that McNabb perhaps did, is that not only are there ties in Aussie Rules Football, but they are, apparently, pretty pervasive. As McNabb opined, "I'd hate to see what happens in a Super Bowl ... if they settle with a tie." This was met with quite a bit of criticism because a) you should know the rules in the NFL if you're a perennial Pro Bowl quarterback and b) it is ludicrous to end the Super Bowl in a tie.

But that's not the rule down under. As I've mentioned more than once, over the last few years I have developed a big fandom for Aussie Rules over the past two years, and Friday night was the sport's big day, as Collingwood and St. Kilda met for the 2010 Grand Final. Bizarrely, and to protect how "unique" the championship game is, AFL rules actually stipulate that should the Grand Final end in a tie after regulation is finished, it will be ruled a draw and an entirely second Grand Final will be replayed a week later.

Leading up to Saturday morning's title game, only two Grand Finals had ever ended in a draw -- once in 1948 and once in 1977.

Well Saturday morning, AFL fans were treated to a wild championship bout, as St. Kilda rallied from 24 points down at half time leading to a frantic final few minutes. And when the dust settled, a lot of Magpies and Saints were kissing their sisters.

I am a big proponent of not judging a sporting culture I didn't grow up in, which is is why, among other things, I thought it was ridiculous when soccer fans called for the banning of vuvuzelas at this year's World Cup. Still, I can't help but think that this is a wholly bizarre quirk of the Australian sporting culture. The idea of ramping up and playing an entirely second, unplanned championship game replete with pregame entertainment, broadcast rights issues and ticket distribution is just a crazy concept, particularly when the Grand Final, which is played annually at the legendary Melbourne Cricket Ground in front of roughly 100,000 fans, has taken on Super Bowl-esque proportions.

Perhaps the eeriest part of this entire affair is that Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard apparently saw it coming. Gillard, who has struggled in recent weeks to pull together a governing coalition after national elections turned in a hung Parliament, joked at the traditional Grand Final breakfast that the two teams could not return a draw because, "A week without a premiership football team - I'm not sure our nation's strong enough to take it."

After predicting something that unlikely, I'd like to take the Prime Minister with me to Vegas.

In any event, even if Australia isn't tough enough to take it -- because apparently they didn't spend this offseason in Arizona with the Collingwood footy club -- they're going to have to, and if the Grand Final ends in a draw 30 years from now they may have to again. For the time being, the head honchos of the AFL say the Grand Final replay is here to stay. And not everyone seems too happy about it. St. Kilda boss Ross Lyon, who I suppose can still claim a better result than a year ago when the Saints lost to (cough) the Geelong Cats in the Grand Final, said afterwards that he thinks there should simply be extra time tacked on to determine a winner. St. Kilda superstar Nick Riewoldt also thought the notion was peculiar while Collingwood captain Nick Maxwell went a step further, calling a replay an "absolute joke".

At least Geoff Ogilvy appreciated it.

One would think the outcry might prompt a comprehensive review of both the logic, the cost and the embarrassment of having a drawn Grand Final, but I imagine that issue will, for the time being, be tabled and discussed more thoroughly a few months down the line when heads have cooled. But in the interim this is just a strange, strange situation that millions of AFL fans in Australia and whichever ones persist elsewhere around the world will have to deal with. Let it not be forgotten, however, that for some of us there is a silver lining in all of this.

We get to watch more footy before the year is out. In the end, that ain't half bad.

Friday, September 24, 2010

NFL Picks Week Three: In Which I Actually Watch the Giants On TV

Yes, it's true. This weekend is a slight change of pace from my apparently typical tradition of actually going to see the Giants play in person. I should note that prior to this season, that was, in fact, not usual at all. In fact, last season when I saw the Giants at home, in Kansas City and in Washington was a marked change from having simply watched them on TV every week for the past 18 years. The fact that I actually went to the new Meadowlands Stadium to open up this season and flew out to Indianapolis after a disastrous day of airport shenanigans was even more unusual.

And while none of you are probably going to watch what is actually the biggest football game of the weekend, I'm strangely looking forward to watching on the TV since football, really, is better presented that way, and it won't involve the stress of shlepping around public transit and dealing with arcane airport security rules. I am wary however because, as some people may have noticed, this week the Giants play one team that provides them an extremely bizarre kryptonite when they play once every four years.

Oh, the scourge that is the Tennessee Titans.

I ought to mention that I don't really dislike the Titans. I enjoy Jeff Fisher, a solid ground game and tough, physical defense, and those aspects have been a part of the Titans' game plan for more than a decade now. However, the two times the Giants have played the Titans in their current incarnation in the Volunteer State have ended in heart breaking disaster. I remember where I was, what I said and what I was thinking both times the Titans had a scrambling intangibles-full quarterback lead an improbable comeback to dash the best-laid plans of Big Blue.

Don't believe me? Let's take a look at the evidence.

Case one happened on December 1, 2002, when the Giants, gunning to improve their place in the standings ahead of the postseason, carried a 12-point lead early in the fourth quarter, only to see it disappear on a touchdown pass from Steve McNair to Frank Wychek and a game-tying two-point conversion with nine seconds left. Tennessee eventually pulled out a 35-32 victory with a field goal in overtime. Perhaps the only thing more remarkable than the loss is the fact that it wound up not being the biggest gut-punch Giants fans would suffer that season.

Case two, by far the more devastating, happened on November 26, 2006, when the Giants took perhaps the most brutal loss in a 2-6 stretch that some them drop from 6-2 and a Super Bowl contender, to 8-8 and relying on a stunning 200-yard performance by Tiki Barber in the season finale against Washington to earn a wild card berth. Big Blue seemed fully in control until a 21-point lead evaporated with 10 minutes left, as an unnecessary heave by a young Eli was picked off by the pre-lost soul Pac-Man Jones, turning the tide. The climax of all of this, of course, was the two pronged decision of Mathias Kiwanuka to inexplicably let Vince Young go when he had him sacked on fourth down, and Manning's second unnecessary heave that was picked off in the final minute, leading to a game-winning field goal that handed Tennessee a 24-21 win.

Mercy. I can't even begin to imagine what kind of pain is in store this time. In the end I'm hoping It'll be a more positive result, or at least not as disappointing as it was last night when I found out the Giants have a 5,000 square foot museum in the new stadium that was never publicized until after I already plopped down $150 to see them beat up Carolina in the season opener and left without walking around. Of course, at least that situation is, one day, fixable. My other major disappointment this week came when the Twins clinched their division about two weeks earlier than I wanted them to, as I was hoping the White Sox would keep it close enough for me to witness the celebration when I'm at Target Field on Oct. 1.

Biggest non-shock of the week? The Mets were finally eliminated from postseason contention. A stunner.

Enough of my own depression. On with the picks.

Last week: 7-7-2
Season: 13-15-4

NY GIANTS (-3) over Tennessee
San Francisco (-3) over KANSAS CITY
MINNESOTA (-11) over Detroit
NEW ENGLAND (-15) over Buffalo
NEW ORLEANS (-4) over Atlanta
Pittsburgh (-3) over TAMPA BAY
CAROLINA (+4) over Cincinnati
BALTIMORE (-11) over Cleveland
Dallas (+3) over HOUSTON
ST. LOUIS (+4) over Washington
JACKSONVILLE (+3) over Philadelphia
Indianapolis (-6) over DENVER
ARIZONA (-5) over Oakland
San Diego (-6) over SEATTLE
NY Jets (+2) over MIAMI
Green Bay (-3) over CHICAGO

Are you comfortable with all those picks? Because I sure ain't. But it means a whole lot of nothing. The only thing that really matters is getting the chance to watch that Redskins-Rams blockbuster.

Who doesn't want to see those Goliaths?

Monday, September 20, 2010

That Did Not Go As Planned

Well, after a long, hellish day at Laguardia airport yesterday, I was treated to an even longer, hellish football game if you're a fan of the New York Giants. I had grown dizzy from watching numbers on the scoreboard go up faster than that sign on Sixth Avenue that announces our national debt watching the Giants lose to the Colts, 38-14 in Indianapolis last night. In fact, I have to imagine my buddy Dov is impressed that nothing in Lucas Oil Stadium was broken by me. Then again, after missing my morning flight to Indianapolis yesterday -- my ticket only said that the gate closed 10 minutes before take off and checked bags had to be in 45 minutes -- because I was three minutes late for the 30 minute check-in cutoff, being in a football stadium rather than an airport was a joy.

My big plans for yesterday after arriving around noon involved a number of possibilities, like touring the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, visiting the NCAA Hall of Champions or having dinner with the king of Indiana High School Football reporting, Pat Dorsey.

Instead, I missed my flight because of any number of minor items that would have saved me a few minutes. The seven took five minutes to arrive. The Q33 Bus just sat for 10 minutes before leaving 74th St and Broadway. I took an unnecessary shower. I made a sandwich from leftover roast beef from my grandmother's Yom Kippur breakfast spread.

Why did I feel the need to make a damn sandwich?

Clearly, any momentary issue or item from yesterday morning could have been skipped or altered to the point that I would have made my flight, arrived for a full day or touristy travel around Indianapolis, and not made Dov wait around downtown Indy by himself for six hours.

Alas, sometimes those best laid plans falter.

Indianapolis has never been very high on my list of vacation hot spots. I'm told the downtown area is actually a bit of fun, but considering my flight issues, I didn't really get to see it. Regardless, it'd be worth a trip back to the Circle City to see the Colts -- though preferably not with this outcome.

And why?

Well, I'll give it a full run down at some later point, but the atmosphere at Lucas Oil Stadium comes close to rivaling what I experienced at Lambeau Field, which I consider perhaps the best sporting experience in America. The crowd was almost obsessively enthusiastic and the building was as loud as any I've ever been to -- deafeningly so. When I received a text from one friend asking me if it was as loud as it was on TV, my only thought was that it had to be even louder. The building was absolutely deafening whenever the Giants had the ball, making it not hard to see why they might have been confused once or twice.

Also, and perhaps more pertinently, the building is beautiful. Football stadiums, because of the uniformity of field, are very difficult to make interesting as architectural artistry is concerned. Until recent years, this wasn't even a concern in most brand new stadiums. Lucas Oil Stadium is one of a handful of stadiums that changes that notion, using a brickface exterior similar to retro baseball stadiums like Camden Yards to give a significantly more palatable visual, which, in the case of Lucas Oil is reminiscent of an old warehouse. In many ways, the building reminded me of one of my favorite venues in any sports, Williams Arena (a.k.a. The Barn) at the University of Minnesota.

The inside has great sightlines, and there is an intimate feel that almost blinds you to the other impressive architectural choices, namely the retractable roof, and the gigantic glass windows on the north side of the stadium that allow natural light to shine in even when the roof is closed. Also, kudos to the blue seats that reinforce the color scheme of the Colts' classic unis. It helps to retain the dignity of the franchise that is lost by the, uh, suggestive antics of its mascots.

Also, I only sampled one food item -- the pulled pork sandwich -- and while the visual consistency of the pulled pork was a little disconcerting, it was both delicious and extremely filling, which is hard to find at a stadium for $8.

Other stadium curios I dug: the fact that they actually played scenes from Hoosiers on the jumbotron, the Colts logo in the seats of the upper deck, the giant Colts helmet with TV screens in the face mask, Northwestern alum Chris Hinton in the ring of fame and the halftime visit by last year's Butler Men's Basketball team, which nearly won a cinderella National Championship.

All in all, it was a great night at the stadium -- you know, if you ignore the game. Fortunately, I wasn't the only person frustrated, though I probably picked better means by which to express them. In any event, my time in Indianapolis was productive, even if the Giants lost, and even if I remained in the city for a grand total of 13 hours.

Only 87 teams left. You're next, Minnesota Twins.

Friday, September 17, 2010

NFL Picks Week Two: In Which I Atone For Week One

Yes, once again I've been neglecting to update but I actually have a really good reason this time. I swear.

For the past three days I've been up in Boston covering some rookie games between the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders, in addition to snooping around No. 2 2010 NHL Draft Pick Tyler Seguin and the No. 5 selection Nino Niederreiter. If you don't believe me, I have plenty of evidence.

Also, I have to admit I spent far longer than I should have leering at the brand new Bobby Orr "Superman" statue that's been erected outside Boston's TD Garden. Because, let's be honest -- it's fucking awesome. I took a few minutes to really take a good look at it because it wasn't up the last time I made my way to the Garden 19 months ago, and it just may be my favorite of all the numerous sports stadium statues I've seen. In fact, the brilliant statue of Willie Mays outside PacBell/SBC/AT&T Park is the only one that comes close.

I also received another distraction when the Mets released their 2011 schedule and I immediately began plotting ball park trips for next summer. Does a sweltering trip that includes Texas and Houston in late June or a scenic drive from Arizona to San Diego in mid-August sound exciting to anyone else?

Ugh. Didn't think so.

But don't worry, dear readers. Or possibly reader. Because I will not neglect you. In the midst of what is an absurdly busy week -- Boston from Tuesday to Friday, Yom Kippur Friday to Saturday, Indianapolis Sunday to Monday -- I'm still going to give you an insight into just how poorly I'm going to predict this week's NFL action.

And why?
Well, for one, I'm pretty sure I told all of you that I'd do it. That's almost certainly the biggest reason. But the other ones are valid, too. Those are that there are two things currently on my mind right now. The first is how I woke up early at my hotel this morning so I could watch the Preliminary Final between Geelong and Collingwood, which went, uh, not according to plan. The other thing on my mind is how the train I'm on right now is going through Rhode Island, and I'm seeing nothing but gorgeous ocean shore houses that I will never be wealthy enough to own.

I don't want to think about either of those things, so blogging it is.

Of course, I should note that this train ride is still better than the one I took to Boston on Tuesday. That one was delayed for an hour before our train finally left Penn Station, broke down in Queens and got hauled back to Penn Station so we could board another train three hours and 40 minutes after we were originally expected to leave. Amazingly, the best part of that ride was finding out that the girl I was sitting next to works with someone I used to date. At least that I could laugh about.

In any event, I'm getting stunningly off topic. Before I continue, I want to make mention of my next major excursion -- which I'm almost obscenely excited about -- and that is this Sunday in Indianapolis, where the indomitable Dov Turner will join me to possibly tour the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, scour the Circle City for cheap parking, and attend the main attraction: Manning Bowl II. Yes, Eli and Peyton Manning will be going mano a mano Sunday night on national TV, but instead of relying on my cable carrier to bring me the action, I've decided to pay way too much over face value to watch from the nosebleeds of Lucas Oil Stadium.

And more excited I could not be.

This will make the Indianapolis Colts team No. 35 in my quixotic quest to do nothing constructive with my life whatsoever. In addition to the attention that comes with Manning vs. Manning, this is also the Colts' 2010 home opener, which means during the pregame they'll be raising their 2009 AFC Champions banner, and while it isn't the banner they wanted in the rafters, the experience will still be one of the cooler visits I've made. Also, that stadium looks fucking awesome.

I can't get to Indianapolis soon enough -- which is as unusual a statement as I'll ever make -- but the wait, unfortunately, will seem longer than normal. Because Yom Kippur starts tonight at sundown, I'll be spending the 24 hours prior to my trip reflecting, counting down the minutes and, well, not eating.

Perhaps I can also spend the day pondering just which of my predictions is about to go wrong. And speaking of which, here are the picks:

Last week: 6-8-2
Season: 6-8-2

NY Giants (+4.5) over INDIANAPOLIS
ATLANTA (-6.5) over Arizona
Baltimore (-2.5) over CINCINNATI
Kansas City (+2) over CLEVELAND
DALLAS (-7) over Chicago
DETROIT (+6) over Philadelphia
GREEN BAY (-12.5) over Buffalo
TENNESSEE (-5) over Pittsburgh
MINNESOTA (-5.5) over Miami
CAROLINA (-3.5) over Tampa Bay
DENVER (-3.5) over Seattle
St. Louis (+3.5) over OAKLAND **
NY JETS (+3) over New England
SAN DIEGO (-7) over Jacksonville
Houston (-3) over WASHINGTON
New Orleans (-5.5) over SAN FRANCISCO

And there you have it. Which of these will I get wrong? Well that's all up for the fates to decide. That is why the play the games after all.

I'll check in again once I'm back from Indy on Monday. In the meantime have a good weekend, and for those of you observing, an easy fast.

**See last week's prediction for Cleveland against Tampa Bay.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Back In The New York Groove

If you've ever been to a Giants game in New York, you've come to notice that after every touchdown they play the lesser known KISS classic "Back in the New York Groove". If you're Jeff Goldberg, and you just spent a handsome portion of your paycheck to see the Giants score 31 points against the Panthers, you get awfully sick of hearing "Back in the New York Groove". I was glad to see that the Giants brought this tradition over to their new stadium, which they opened yesterday with a big 31-18 win over Carolina that was typical mediocre Giant Football for the first 30 minutes and a dominant offensive and defensive performance in the second half that has Big Blue 1-0 on the young season.

If the traditions of the old stadium feel like they're making it into the new one that's probably because the old Stadium didn't a feel a whole lot different from the new one. As I got off the NJ Transit train to walk towards my team's new home, I noticed a Mrs. Fields cookie stand that was outside the new building and deduced that that must be what $1.6 billion gets you. Sure there are some obvious, noticeable differences. For one, the extend is covered with steel rods, which give it a slick and futuristic feel. As well, it better enables the stadium to project a blue or green presence depending on who is at home that day. To boot, the grounds on the outside seem much smoother, and neater.

The interior no longer has blue and red seats, which made it feel like the Giants home, but when one considers that the Jets footed half the bill for the stadium, that probably makes sense. The inside is not a combination of charcoals and grays that make it seem almost astonishingly neutral. In my mind that robs the building of some of the character that the old one had. Then again, the old one probably didn't make a whole lot of sense if you were a Jets fan.

Beyond those key characteristics, aside from looking neater, there isn't a whole lot else about the building that sparks any interest unless you happen to be holding one of the outrageously expensive club seat tickets. Of course, those seats do provide some advantages -- particularly if you managed to spend an ungodly amount of money on the seats that allow you to literally stand on the sidelines some 46 feet away from the field. How these people are seeing beyond the legions of players, coaches and team employees that stand between them and the actual playing surface is a mystery to me, but the other exciting and noticeable addition to the new building is that even if you don't get to see the play live, you'll have no problem catching a replay. Fortunately, this isn't because the Giants and Jets decided to add a new gigantic video screen that can hang over the middle of the field and interfere with play like some foolish teams.

No, instead the New Meadowlands Stadium features four video screens in each corner of the stadium, which may not seem too big from your seat, but if your seat happens to be right next to one you realize that they're fucking massive.

So all in all, the new home is nice, if not completely necessary, but despite the expensive Personal Seat Licenses -- as a Season Ticket Waiting List member I was offered a pair of seats that only would have run me $23,000 in the first season -- the new building was put together with private funds, so it's hard to criticize the organizations for charging an arm and a leg when tax-payer money didn't factor into stadium's construction.

Also, and perhaps most importantly, the Giants, you know, "won". I'm not one of those silly people who thinks Big Blue got revenge on Carolina for beating them in the finale of Giants Stadium. That kind of logic is silly, the king of those situations being when the Mets swept the Cardinals in the opening series of 2007, "avenging" a loss in the 2006 NLCS.

Uh, I'd rather have won the World Series.

It's a new season, a win is a win and there's no better way to start off the season for the Giants than a solid victory of a Panthers team that may or may not prove itself worthy of the playoff hunt. Now because it's a new season it is, obviously, too early to get too excited, but starting off with a victory is as good as can be hoped for, particularly in your new house. And particularly when a much more challenging foe awaits in week two in Indianapolis.

That opponent got a little more tough to face when the Colts lost their season opener to the Texans yesterday. One week's game doesn't necessarily have any bearing on the next's, but I simply can't see a team as loaded as the Colts losing its first two games of the season. After all, this is a team that won every game it tried to win last season with the exception the Super Bowl, and it's not as if they laid a dud. Peyton Manning was still his classic self with 433 yards and three touchdowns. Were it not for a monster day by Arian Foster, Indy probably would be 1-0. As it stands, the loss may leave them tough to beat in their home opener next week against Big Blue, a game which I will rather excitedly be attending at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Even if the Giants lose, they got a small bit of help in the division this week to give them some early breathing room. Despite letting Mike Vick put on a show in the second half in place of the injured Kevin Kolb, Green Bay dealt the Eagles a nifty loss that may have brought a little bit of a sully to those totally sweet 1960 NFL Champion throwback unis the Iggles had on. Personally, I would have preferred the Vince Papale/Ron Jaworski Super Bowl XV duds, but these weren't too shabby. Either way, the Eagles are 0-1, which really can't hurt.

Even with those outfits they still managed to lose the competition for most exciting uniform development in the NFC East yesterday, when the Redskins took the field for their surprising win over the adorably dysfunctional Dallas Cowboys. For the past several seasons the Redskins have been pairing their maroon jerseys with white pants, which is a tasteful if unprovocative combination. In recent years, the Skins have taken to wearing their white jerseys at home with maroon pants for the single reason of forcing Dallas out of its comfort zone and into its seldom used navy uniforms. But by and large the pant color has remained the same.

Until last night. Last night Washington changed the game, making their unis infinitely more impressive by breaking out the golden pants. These pants are truly stunning. Not only do they make a more striking visual or create a link to their past, but they're just all sorts of totally awesome. Aside from being way cooler than the all-white or all-maroon combinations Washington has trotted out in the past, they bring up reminders of the totally awesome throwbacks that Washington has trotted out in the past decade. Last night's fashion almost made me think I was watching Super Bowl VII. You know, if they were playing the Cowboys and the footage was grainy.

The pants were so awesome that I was completely distracted from the fact that yesterday I found out one of my favorite teams of all time had released an absolutely horrifying video. It also made me almost forget that I, you know, hate the Redskins. Therein lies the rub. I enjoyed the uniform changes made by the Eagles and Skins yesterday, but the sight of both teams makes my blood boil. I take some solace though. With the Eagles losing, and the Redskins, whom I don't expect to be competitive over the long run, beating the Cowboys, whom I do, yesterday worked out pretty much as well as it could have. Even if I don't think next week will.

But you never know. That's why they play the games. And as it stands, I'm kind of irked I don't get to see the Giants play again for seven more days. But at least I'll knock a new stadium out of the way when I do.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

NFL Picks Week 1: Justifying Ineptitude With An Elementary Gambling Lesson

Happy first day of football season everyone! Yes, tonight is the big night the Vikings and Saints kickoff the 2010 NFL campaign with a rematch of last year's NFC Championship and I, for one, could not be any more excited. For those of you who used to read my old, horrendous Xanga from about six years ago, you know that I have an awful tendency to show how inept I am at predicting football games by making NFL picks every week and then tabulating my record for the course of the season.

This is a terrible idea.

Vegas, you see, sets the lines. And Vegas is awfully good at splitting the action. People often misunderstand the concept behind a Vegas betting line and assume that when the Giants are favored over the Panthers by, say, seven points, which they are this week, that it is an assumption that the Giants are a touchdown better than Carolina and should win by that amount. But in actuality that's not the case. The purpose of a betting line isn't to provide a more-than-likely prediction for the end result of each of Sunday's games. The point is to split the action.

Vegas isn't trying to give you an indication of how much better one team is than the other with any certainty. They're trying to create a situation in which half of the population believes Team A will win by X or more points and the other half of the population believes it will win by X or fewer points. So, really, the Giants aren't likely to win by seven points or more on Sunday. Half of the population just thinks they will.

Of course, half of the population thinks they won't. So, really, it's a 50/50 shot either way, which means that picking any game, with any certainty, at least at the pro-level, is more or less a coin flip.

Now of course there are betting strategies that enable you a better than 50% chance at making money, and various parlays that can help you reap a profit on a more likely scenario than a standard betting line, but for those of us who can't be bothered to really investigate betting with any real intensity or who simply don't care enough to do so, like myself, it is really, really, really unlikely that you're going to do better than 50% over the course of 256 regular season games by any margin that is statistically significant.

And yet, I still make these picks every week, just to open myself to unnecessary criticism. With tendencies like that, it's a wonder I haven't decided to get into politics yet.

So, now that I've prepared you for the explanation of why I'm inevitably going to be wrong nearly half the time this season, I think it's time to talk about all the big games this week, particularly the biggest footy match of them all, the semifinal between Geelong and Fremantle that bounces tomorrow morning at 5:30 ET. After last week's gut-wrenching loss to St. Kilda, the Cats face a win-or-go-home matchup with the upstart Dockers that could send them home or send them one step from another Grand Final appearance.

After a shoddy performance last week, much of the hope lies with young Joel Selwood, who wears the best number in the world, coming back into form and hopefully putting the Cats back on track for a potential showdown with Collingwood next weekend. It hasn't helped that coach Mark Thompson has had to fend off speculation all week that he'll leave Geelong for his old stomping grounds of Essendon, but after an emphatic "No" this week, hopefully that has been put to rest ahead of the biggest match of the year.

Still with me? Probably not. If you are, however, tune into tomorrow morning when you wake up to watch some breakneck footy.

And now time for my NFL picks -- that is to say, the football you actually care about. Lines are accurate according to as of Thursday morning.

Last Week: 0-0-0
Season: 0-0-0

NEW ORLEANS (-6) over Minnesota
NY GIANTS (-7) over Carolina
Miami (-3) over BUFFALO
Detroit (+3.5) over CHICAGO
TENNESSEE (-6.5) over Oakland
NEW ENGLAND (-4.5) over Cincinnati
Atlanta (+2.5) over PITTSBURGH
TAMPA BAY (-3) over Cleveland **
JACKSONVILLE (-3) over Denver
Indianapolis (-2.5) over HOUSTON
Arizona (-4) over ST. LOUIS
Green Bay (+3.5) over PHILADELPHIA
San Francisco (+3) over SEATTLE
Dallas (-3.5) over WASHINGTON
NY JETS (-2.5) over Baltimore
SAN DIEGO (-5) over Kansas City

**If it were possible for both teams to lose against the spread, that would be my pick.

And there you have it, kids. My almost certain to be completely right in every way predictions for Week 1 of the NFL season. Get ready for the excitement. Kickoff is just nine and a half hours away.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

2010 NFL Preview: Starting Off The New Year With The New Year

Those of you who know me know that I am an extremely reform observant of the Jewish faith, which gets its big celebrations underway tonight at sunset with the dawn of year 5771 for Rosh Hashanah, and the wishes of good health in the New Year are coming in from all the right people.

שנה טובה to you all.

This year, in a quirky twist of fate, the Jewish New Year happens to coincide with Thursday night's NFL Opener between the Saints and Vikings. And lest you think of the NFL, like most sports, as being a not-so-Jewish domain, let it be said that there is no endless list of Jews trying to convince you otherwise. One of these Jews happens to be, Marc Tracy, an editor for the Jewish news site Tablet Magazine, which last week had its annual NFL Preview on its podcast Vox Tablet, which included a discussion of, among other things, a guessing game of how many Jewish owners in the NFL there are -- the answer, depending on who you want to believe for Denver's Pat Bowlen is 11.5. Here's a written breakdown if you have no speakers.

That .5 you can credit to my beloved New York Giants, who are owned by the tandem of John Mara, who comes from a staunchly Catholic family, and Steve Tisch, who is Jewish and also holds the remarkable distinction of being the only person to win a Super Bowl and an Oscar thanks to his producer credit for Forrest Gump.

In any event,  most of the podcast circulated around which team should become the official team of the podcast due to its Jewish connections. Unsurprisingly, the winner of the discussion was the Washington Redskins because of the two characteristics that a) it is owned by prominent D.C.-area Jewish philanthropist/control freak Dan Snyder and more importantly b) it's the favorite team of Tracy, the podcast's host. They do note that this essentially only supercedes the Vikings because they recently traded Sage Rosenfels, who is of Jewish descent if non-practicing, after Brett Favre returned for a 20th season. Apparently this is enough to supercede the fact that Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, a resident of my hometown in Short Hills, NJ, is a Jew born in Germany to two Polish Holocaust survivors.

Uh, That's pretty significant, no?

Curiously, the Redskins are somehow more worthy than the Patriots, whose owner, Robert Kraft, is such a major benefactor to the  Israeli Football League that his name is in the official logo (see above), or my beloved Giants, who are a) owned by the already-mentioned Steve Tisch, b) play in the largest Jewish community in the World outside of Israel, c) the Giants once employed Jewish Hall of Fame quarterback Benny Friedmann, who, as charted in the recent book Passing Game, fundamentally transformed the game of football in the 1920s and 30s because he was so good at throwing the ball.

Oh, and the Giants are also the team that acquired Sage Rosenfels. So that's gotta be worth something.

In any event, I've gotten almost excrutiatingly off track here. Just know that it's the Jewish New Year tonight at sundown, and among things I'm thankful for is that my football team doesn't produce Jewish paraphernalia that is emblazoned peculiarly with the symbol of another religion. Yet another reason to be disheartened that St. Kilda knocked off Geelong in the Qualifying Final last week. But I suppose it's ok. Geelong got the better of them last year when it mattered most.

Of course, at this point, I'm fairly clear I've lost you all, so I'm going to go back to American Football. On with the Picks, which, of course, are meaningless.

AFC East
1. NY Jets - The Jets remind me of an SEC team that just complains loudly about how good it is until we all believe it. Then again, they actually are pretty good. 12-4.
2. New England - Tom Brady being uncomfortable with his contract: Surprising. Randy Moss being uncomfortable with his contract: Not Surprising. 10-6.
3. Miami - For purposes of keeping the Jewish theme, I'm still irritated that Jay Fiedler is no longer the quarterback here. 7-9.
4. Buffalo - Welcome to the JV team, C.J. Spiller! 5-11.

AFC North
1. Baltimore - If the Ravens only win that one Super Bowl, I wonder if 20 years from now they'll get the credit they deserve for being one of the League's best franchises for the past decade. Hopefully people will at least remember this.11-5.
2. Cincinnati - Chad Ochocinco says the Bengals are so loaded that there is no excuse for them to not win a championship this season. On a related note, Chad Ochocino is insane. 9-7.
3. Pittsburgh - SI's Peter King picked the Stillers to win the Super Bowl this year. Did no one tell him Ben Roethlisberger is missing a quarter of the season? 8-8
4. Cleveland - Mike Holmgren will get this team turned around. In 2013 or so. 4-12.

AFC South
1. Indianapolis - Does this need any explanation? 13-3.
2. Houston - The Texans had their first ever winning season a year ago and missed the playoffs. I don't care if they get their first berth this season, but I'd love it if they were the best team in Texas. 10-6.
3. Tennessee - You'd think a team with Chris Johnson and Jeff Fisher involved would have better prospects for the season. Apparently not. 8-8.
4. Jacksonville - Only five head coaches have been at their current jobs longer than Jack Del Rio. Jack Del Rio once lost a punter after encouraging players to swing an ax in the locker room. 5-11.

AFC West
1. San Diego - Year One of the Post-Tomlinson era will probably be pretty similar to the last year of the Tomlinson era. 11-5.
2. Kansas City - I know, this is an odd choice, but have you seen how weak the second half of that schedule is? 7-9.
3. Denver - Kyle Orton has a 29-19 record as a starter in the NFL. How is the FBI not looking into this? 6-10.
4. Oakland - But Al Davis will always be No. 1 in our hearts. 2-14.

NFC East
2. NY Giants - Biased? Sure. Wrong? I don't think so. 10-6.
3. Philadelphia - Hope that whole "trading the most underappreciated player in NFL history while he's still great" thing works out for you. Well, actually, no I don't. 8-8.
4. Washington - I'm very scared of Mike Shanahan turning the Redskins into a contender and making this tough division even tougher. I'm not scared of him doing it this year. 5-11.

NFC North
1. Green Bay - Aaron Rodgers is crazy good people. For serious. He's pretty much the reason you never hear about any other quarterbacks in this division. 12-4.
2. Minnesota - Brett Who? I bet Tarvaris Jackson is running that team by week 3. 10-6.
3. Chicago - The one thing I couldn't stand about living in Chicago was how convinced Bears fans were that each year was their year. At least most of them realized Rex Grossman was, you know, bad. 6-10.
4. Detroit - It's going to be another long year in Motown, but with the pieces they've started drafting, it won't be long before they reach that light at the end of the tunnel. 4-12.

NFC South
1. New Orleans - It's Drew Brees' world. We're all just living in it. 13-3.
2. Atlanta - I'm guessing Matt Ryan bounces back from a rough sophomore season. The key is seeing if the rest of the team bounces back with him. 8-8.
3. Carolina - Sure, losing one of the best defensive ends in the League won't hurt them one bit. 6-10.
4. Tampa Bay - When you type in a Google search for head coach Raheem Morris, the first suggestion that comes up is "Raheem Morris underwear". 3-13.

NFC West
1. San Francisco - The glory of the great Niner tradition is back! Sort of. 9-7.
2. Arizona - Someone asked me recently if Matt Leinart had supplanted Ryan Leaf as history's greatest bust. I'm pretty sure Leinart has done better than Leaf has. Also, he's totally hotter. 8-8.
3. Seattle - I was reminded this week that Shaun Alexander's extension signed in 2006 was eight years long. Did the Seahawks really think their bruising running back would be playing in 2014? 5-11.
4. St. Louis - Apparently Sam Bradford has looked pretty good in the preseason. He also plays for the St. Louis Rams, who haven't looked good in any season for a few years now. 2-14.

AFC Playoffs
(3) San Diego over (6) Houston
(4) Baltimore over (5) New England

(1) Indianapolis over (4) Baltimore
(3) San Diego over (2) NY Jets

AFC Championship
(1) Indianapolis over (3) San Diego

NFC Playoffs
(6) Minnesota over (3) Dallas
(5) NY Giants over (4) San Francisco

(1) New Orleans over (6) Minnesota
(2) Green Bay over (5) NY Giants

NFC Championship
(2) Green Bay over (1) New Orleans

Super Bowl XLV
Indianapolis 35, Green Bay 28

And there you have it kids! I'm taking the Colts to win the big one this year and avenge the ghosts of last season's Super Bowl let down. This doesn't necessarily go in accordance with the Rosh Hashanah theme, but Colts owner Jim Irsay's father was Jewish.

Of course, he was also a fuckcrazy drunk who stole one of the League's great franchises from its historic home. But those are minor details.

Enjoy the season and the holiday everyone. It's time to party like it's 5771.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Reason No. 841 That The NFL Is Superior to College Football

Don't get me wrong. I love college football. Seriously -- I can't get enough of it. As a child growing up I was somewhat ambivalent towards what I considered an inferior brand of gridiron, though I did fancy myself a Florida State fan after watching the 'Noles take a National Championship by topping Nebraska in the 1994 Orange Bowl. But it wasn't until I went to Northwestern and was fully immersed in the weekly craziness of the Big Ten that I truly fell for college football as an institution.

However, the NFL, beyond it's generally superior level of play and far more rational means of determining a champion, would never allow what you see to the right to happen.

I'm no big fashion enthusiast, but a good friend of mine once explained that sometimes you have to push the limits of acceptable fashion so that more subtly progressive advances in style seem less dramatic and thus more acceptable to mainstream society. But they never dreamed up the horrific duds Nike forced the Broncos and Hokies to trot out last night in what was otherwise a phenomenal game with wide-ranging National Championship implications. The only thing more disturbing than these uniforms simply existing is that it's almost impossible to pinpoint what, exactly, is the worst aspect of them.

Do we start with the random dark gray patches on Boise State's jerseys that were inexplicably placed in the worst possible location for an overweight offensive lineman? Why not bring up the peculiar circuit-board designs that made Virginia Tech's jersey numbers look like costumes from the movie Tron? Should I opine on the bizarre grayscaled Boise State logo that appears on only one sleeve and one hip? Or the fact that only one of the sleeves on the Boise State jersey is blue? Or the awkward "B" on the left knee of the Boise State pants?

Compared to all of that, Virginia Tech's shoulder-striping pattern looks downright normal, and I thought I had seen the worst of it with TCU's ridiculously busy outfits this weekend.

The most progressive change in NFL uniforms at any point in the last 20 years or so has been the dramatic changes wrought by the Denver Broncos in 1998. From the typical orange jerseys and blue helmets that they had worn for decades, the Broncos stoked a huge amount of aesthetic debate when they debuted their current dark blue unis and helmets. The dramatic change here came in the orange stripe emanating from the collar, which completely broke the mold of traditional NFL fashion sense.

Of course, it did pay off immediate dividends. Arguably.

Those changes are now considered relatively acceptable, and they're completely tame compared to what Nike is now trotting out for specialty nationally televised games these days -- though it should be noted that Denver's newest version of the logo is, uh, questionable at best. One can only hope that Boise State and Virginia Tech, after putting on a tremendous show last night, opt to keep those jerseys in the closet -- even if Boise State's helmets were kind of cool. At least Northwestern's new uniforms are subtle and tasteful so I don't have to be ashamed as an alum.

Northwestern which is 1-0 on the season, I might add.

In any event, I bring all this up because this is where my mind rambles to when it's that first glorious week of college football, you spend Saturday consuming every moment you can and then prepare for the traditional follow up of the pro game on Sunday -- and there isn't one.

Curse this first, teasing week of college football.

Fortunately, I only have to wait five more days to watch my New York Giants -- in person -- as they open up their new home against the Carolina Panthers to start the NFL season, thus bringing the best time of the year -- fall weekends -- into full swing.

And I can assure you they'll be wearing uniforms far more palatable than what we saw last night.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Triumphant Return From the West

If any of you spoke to me in my zombie ramblings yesterday and thought I seemed a bit out of it, that probably has something to do with me having gotten very few hours of sleep thanks to two insufferable crying children on my redeye back from Los Angeles Wednesday night. The true shame of this comes from Virgin America's low mood music and deep, soft purple lighting, which should knock anyone on the plane out in fairly short order. But they simply didn't account for parents who are disinterested in calming down their children now did they?

Of course not.

Well, it's a day later, I'm refreshed, and there's much to discuss over here in Kalanville. Perhaps it would seem prescient to start with the obvious, which is that the1920s gold prospector from Chicago you see in the top right corner smoking a cigar with me got married this past weekend.

It really just looks like a standard tuxedo until you include the pocket watches. They take them to a whole new level.

So, I suppose my brother's wedding was probably the most important thing I did in my third trip to the west coast in the past five weeks, but don't worry, there's actually plenty that was relevant to this blog that happened, too. My sister and I decided that following this wedding would be a perfect time to make a drive down the coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles, which for her purposes meant beautiful scenery and the chance to see her friend Lily. For mine it meant the chance to visit one of my favorite Stadiums -- AT&T Park -- and the chance to see a new one -- Dodger Stadium.

Some of you may recall my brutal near-miss in my attempt to see Dodger Stadium in July following my weekend trip to the San Diego Comic-Con. This time no force on heaven or Earth was going to stop me, which I'm sure caused my sister more than a little anxiety as I sped wrecklessly on I-10 East in Los Angeles.

I would have been on time for the game, too, were it not for the obnoxiously long line to pay for parking.

No matter. We got the game in and despite the lack of excitement from the action on the field Wednesday as the Phillies knocked off the Dodgers, it was still a lot of fun to see a new building, which, while not my favorite, has a lot to like about it nonetheless, namely it's color scheme which looks just how you'd expect a building from 1962 to look, and the beautiful view in the outfield. When I give this jaunt the full written rundown I'll give much more insight into its delightful antiquated charm, and moreover, despite the claims of one Evan Hung, the Dodger dogs are actually pretty decent.

Don't worry, Evan. San Francisco still has its superior garlic fries.

In fact, the garlic fries are extremely necessary since San Francisco, for some reason I can't possibly explain, irrationally relishes the fact that it is always mid-fall and chilly in that city. Aside from being a kind of bizarre place, I'd actually rather like the City by the Bay were it not for every day feeling like October 24th there. Monday night when we attended a Giants-Rockies game that had me frustrated for not starting Jonathan Sanchez on my fantasy team the same night I saw him throw eight-plus shutout innings in person until the Giants lost in spectacular fashion in the ninth inning, it was somewhere between cool and freezing. My sister was prepared with a scarf and later bought a knit hat for the occasion, I came with a long-sleeved shirt and jacket, and all of my Bay Area cohorts came layered, including Stacy who had gloves with her just in case it was particularly nippy.

It was August. Late August is still August.

In any event, the trip was a good one had by all, and I now get to enjoy a whole 12 days in New York before I head to Boston on Sept. 14 and then go to my next new sporting venue, Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, for the Manning Bowl on Sept. 19.


Speaking of the Giants, with the season getting underway for Big Blue on Sept. 12, I made sure to have my tickets earlier today for the first regular season game ever held at the Giants and Jets brand-spankin'-new and totally necessary Meadowlands Stadium. I won't know for sure until they arrive, but I'm hopeful the tickets will be the fancy shmancy laminated commemorative ones that most season ticket holders are getting.

Getting those tickets was a nice uplift after seeing (Warning: Dave is about to talk Aussie Rules Football) Geelong play well beneath its abilities for most of Friday's Qualifying Final with last year's Grand Final opponent St. Kilda. The loss was a particularly brutal one as a questionable foul with 61 seconds left nullified what would have been a game-winning goal by captain Cameron Ling, the huffing-puffing fire-headed chap you see to the left.

This doesn't end the Cats' hunt for a fourth Grand Final trip in as many seasons and a third premiership in that span, but it doesn't make it easier. With a win Geelong would have gotten two weeks off until a win-or-go home Preliminary Final with a berth in the big game at the end on the line. Instead the Cats will have to win a match this weekend against either Fremantle or Hawthorn (which famously upset Geelong in the 2008 Grand Final) to reach the semis.

Then again, as a fan of the Mets (who have to deal with being attached to Snooki), the Giants (who never make it easy), the Devils (who apparently need six weeks to sign a free agent), Northwestern (which wears purple), Southampton FC (relegated twice this decade) and the Knicks (Do I need to explain this one?), I'm used to taking the long road to victory. And with Northwestern opening its season tomorrow night against Vanderbilt, I'll get a quick reminder on how long a season can be if the Wildcats get upset by the 'Dores.

But since I don't cross the Mississippi again for two and a half months, at least I won't have to deal with jetlag by the time I experience that collapse.