Monday, October 29, 2007

Name Calling

Forget Manny, I’m sick of Papelbon being Papelbon; Brady being Brady; Matt Ryan being Brady; and I’m already tired of KG being, well, KG circa 1994 and his senior year at Farragut Career Academy. How the hell did this happen? When did Boston become Mecca for US sports? Did Ben Affleck sell his soul? Is this retribution for John Kerry and Michael Dukakis? Tea Party Part Deux? Seriously, what is going on in chowda-town?! Actually, I rather not know. I just saw a few clips of celebratory Sox fans in the streets of Boston and my heartburn just made its way past the Prilosec.

Matt Ryan does his best Tom Brady impression

This is truly a landmark day for Boston sports. I can only imagine the internal struggle amongst Halloween goers in Beantown – what jersey do you wear come Wednesday? And how about the sports editor at The Globe. Cleary the Sox are the lead story on Monday, but Colts Week began at about 7:15 PM Sunday afternoon – at what point does the cover story switch back to the Pats? Oh yea, the NBA season tips-off this week. Can you imagine if Garnett, Pierce and Allen drop 30 points-a-piece on the Wiz this Friday? Bill Simmons’ computer might start smoking.

Okay, enough venting. I’m man enough to admit that the source of this script is pure jealousy. I grew up in the New Jersey Metro and New York sports have always been a dominant force on the national stage. But even when the Knicks and Rangers swapped game seven stories in 1994, only one team came out with a title and both were upstaged by OJ. A-Rod did his best to pull a White Ford Bronco this afternoon by announcing that he was opting out of his contract, but the sad part is that Red Sox Nation will probably opt for World Series MVP Mike Lowell instead – and who could blame them? I’d choose a head first slide over a hand first slap any day.

So tonight I watch in awe of all that you’ve been able to accomplish this fall. Hopefully by the time you roll into Baltimore December 3rd, your luck, and all the beer in Boston will have run out. But one thing is for sure, even though Cheers closed its doors more than a decade ago, everyone now knows your name (AD). And they’re sick of it.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Week 7 - Heads or Tails

Buffalo, NY - 10/21/07.

Something didn’t feel right.

Maybe it was the windy weather we flew through on our way north to Buffalo. Maybe it was the fact that Canadian Football was on TV in the hotel room. Maybe it was the dozen wings I ate Saturday night (much more on that in a moment). Maybe it was the half dozen Labatt Blue’s I used to wash away the spice. Or maybe it was the fact that the temperature in Western New York felt more like West Palm Beach at kickoff (66 and sunny.) No matter the cause, the effect took the form of a loss that left the entire cast and crew feeling flat.

For starters, our takeoff took us into some gusts that gave everyone on the plane a moment of pause. Normally the turbulence comes and goes without much concern from the passengers, although Lauryn still hasn’t mastered the art of flying. On Saturday, however, just about everyone on board had the USC flight fresh in their minds and after we took a few dips and dives somewhere over Eastern PA, the casual conversations and commotion stopped as the plane went silent. To calm our nerves, the pilot came on the PA system and informed us all that we were through the worst of it. He didn’t know what lay ahead on Sunday.

First came Saturday night though and another culinary adventure for the RaveTV crew, Lauryn and I. The only goal of the night in B-Lo (does anyone really call it that?) was to get some authentic Buffalo wings in the birthplace of, well, little chicken parts marinated in spice. The crew followed the crowd to The Anchor Bar, which is said to have served the first Buffalo-style chicken wing. It’s hard to argue considering their street sign states that they’ve served 246.8 million of those little suckers. And with an average of 6 wings/chicken (according to our waitress), that’s like 80 million chickens. How does PETA not picket this city on a daily basis?

In any case, after getting slapped in the face by the smell of buffalo sauce when we walked in the door, we added another 60 to the grand total by inhaling the better part of 5 dozen legs, wings, and maybe even some heads and tails – its hard to tell under all that flavor. And although I would classify the cuisine as finger lickin’ good, they weren’t finger lickin’ great. I’d go with Old Bay Style any day, and I’m from New Jersey. (I recommend Coburn’s, Della Rose’s and Pickles if you’re in the mood.)

The night continued to the not-so-famous Chippewa Street and the bars of Buffalo. Apparently you can drink till 4AM in this part of New York and the 10 o’clock crowd paled in comparison to the mob scene at The Anchor Bar. We grabbed a few drinks, cringed at the twelve runs the Red Sox scored on Cleveland, and headed back to the hotel, unfortunately without trying another Bison City staple – chicken finger sandwiches. Speaking of cringing at the Red Sox, what is Kevin Millar doing throwing out the first pitch of Game 7? Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse for the Orioles…

Game day got off to a glorious start. No clouds. 66 degrees. A slight breeze. Lots of sun. Not what you’d expect so close to the Canadian border just 10 days shy of Halloween. The star of the day, and our Wired Raven this week, was Willis McGahee who was returning to face his old team and his former fans. The paparazzi were out in full force as every camera in Ralph Wilson Stadium awaited his first steps on to the field. As we filmed him walking down the tunnel a chorus of cheers and jeers greeted both the current and former #23. Bills jerseys, Ravens jerseys and even two fans that decided to go sans jersey, but still show their support for McGahee, filled the bench-style bleachers (the stadium is a little outdated).

The pre-game activities would prove to be the high point of the day as Brian Billick announced to the locker room that the captains for the game would be the trio from “The U” – Ray, Ed, and as Coach quipped, McGillis. When I heard that Willis was going to be walking out for the coin toss, I thought it was great news for the Wired crew. Little did I know (which, as Dustin Hoffman explains in one of the most underrated Will Ferrell movies, Stranger Than Fiction, means that there is an actual plot building) it would also result in a trip to mid-field for this mild mannered blogger.

Jeff Atkinson, RaveTV’s Director of Photography, waved for me to join him on the field as he finished filming the team stand at attention for the National Anthem. I sprinted to his side and watched Lewis, Reed and McGahee dance, sing and eventually form a former-hurricane huddle to allow Ray to thank the other two men in his circle for being with him on this day. The triplets began their walk to the center of the field and Jeff kept his camera rolling. I only wish it had been acceptable for me to take out my camera and grab a shot of the crowd from the center of the football universe. I’ve stood on the 50 before, I’ve even had Coffee on the 50 but never have I experience what its like to take center stage during a game, or in this case, just as the game was about to begin. The stands were full, the crowd was on their feet, the firework smoke had cleared and although no one was staring at me, they were all looking in my direction. I got so caught up in the moment that I didn’t even see if the coin toss landed on heads or tails.

The game itself was hard to swallow. Even harder than that 12th wing, which had gone cold and just sat in a pool of room temperature sauce for ten minutes, as the Ravens found themselves trailing the entire day. McGahee started slowly, but energized by the 12th man, he went on to rack up 114 yards, including a 46-yard touchdown scamper that landed him atop the NFL Rushing Race. Unfortunately the score took more out of him than I care to report – let’s just say you’d be able to tell how many wings he had Saturday Night.

As the time ticked away, Jeff, Lauryn, Larry and I had a front row seat for the fateful snaps that would bring the game to a close. The 9-yard strike to Quinn Sypniewski gave us hope and we looked at each other as if to say, well, maybe we can still escape this place with a win. Of course, that was not to be and instead we escaped to the locker room to pack up as quickly as possible.

I happened to get ready for the flight in what was Jonathan Ogden’s locker just moments earlier (our crew tends to wait until the big boys have left the building). As I changed I noticed a bag on the ground that was simply labeled “XXXXL”. That’s right, four X’s! I’m not sure what the package had contained – gloves, socks, a parachute/t-shirt, but it was a reminder of just how big these guys are. They are mammoth men and superior athletes that line up each week for one common cause – to win. As we approach the bye week, it’s still hard to tell how good this team can be. I’ve seen a dominating defense, an offense that features league leaders in receptions and rushing yards, and unfortunately three road losses that add up to a 4-3 record. Maybe it’s the injuries. Maybe it’s the quarterback carousel. Maybe it’s the lack of home cooked meals. Maybe you know. Me? I can’t make heads or tails of it.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Trash Talk?

I'll give Bills fans credit. They've developed a comprehensive marketing plan with a website, billboard, branded swag and even a jingle (i.e. the rap you hear on the home page) all tied to one single message - the ideal for all successful advertisements. But "Willis is Trash"? To paraphrase Seth and Amy, "Reeaaallllly? Willis is Trash. Really?"

Then explain this:

2007 NFL Rushing Leaders
1. Adrian Peterson
2. LaDanian Tomlinson
3. Ronnie Brown
4. Willis McGahee

Tell me - do 28 other teams in the NFL have garbage lining up in the backfield? I suppose Willie Parker (6th) is pond scum, Larry Johnson (15th) is filth, and the 19th leading rusher in the league (can you say Marshawn Lynch) would be considered rubbish, right?

Listen, I understand if losing 4 Super Bowls still burns. I understand the cold weather and gray sky summer sucks (I spent four years at Syracuse, I know). I can even understand being upset that McGame Breaker got away (Baltimore lost Adalius Thomas this past offseason and he's 6-0 already). But Willis is trash? That's garbage.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Week 6 - Gus Who’s Coming to Dinner

Baltimore, MD - 10/14/07.

“It’s Gus!” exclaimed Ed Reed, who was wired for sound this weekend as the Ravens battled the Rams. “It’s Gus. It’s Gus.”

For those of you who frequent Rehoboth Beach in the summer, Ed wasn’t referring to the fried chicken hole-in-the-wall on the boardwalk. That would be Gus & Gus, where the smell of the fryer, old bay and vinegar combine to form a chemical compound that could probably clean the grease off a bicycle chain. Considering the residue left on your hands after finishing a meal resembles that very same substance, it’s hard to imagine who would eat such sweet slop. Well not that hard, considering my wife, the very same woman who ran the half-marathon on Saturday along with fellow Ravens runners, Reba Koppelman and Jeff Atkinson, is a devout diner.

Rather, Ed was referring to the St. Louis back-up turned starting quarterback, Gus Frerotte, who had the unfortunate fate of lining up against a hungry Ravens defense on Sunday. It is possible, however, that Gus had the team bus driver take a detour over the Bay Bridge to grab a greasy bucket before the game because the ball just seemed to slip out of his hands all day long.

Of course Ed Reed and Co. were nowhere near the surf and sand of the shore on Sunday morning. As fall settled in on M&T Bank Stadium, some of the team’s recently injured stars got back on the field a few hours early to test out their faulty parts. Todd Heap gave his hamstring a stretch, Samari Rolle zig-zagged across the field, getting his legs back after missing a month, and even Stephen Jackson of the Rams ran some sprints in the end zone before ending his day just before eleven o’clock. One healthy Raven appropriately basking in the morning sun was the California kid, Kyle Boller, who was apparently preparing for his second start of the season. With Steve McNair nowhere to be found, I felt like giving Rachel Nichols a call to let her know who would be lining up under center, at least according to blog reports, but for some reason I couldn’t seem to find her number. Oh that’s right, I don’t actually know her.

My pre-game private screening continued as I waited outside the locker room with Jeff and Lauryn for the team to make their way into the tunnel. Most of the men in purple had already departed before Reed began his walk with his eyes seemingly staring through the concrete at the enemy on the other side. His eye black streaked across his face, reminiscent of The Ultimate Warrior’s paint job, and added an element of fear to the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year. As we kept the camera focused on the fearsome one, I kept Jeff from back-peddling into the referees, who apparently text message one another across the country as one official commented to us that he heard it started to drizzle in Chicago.

Fortunately, there was no rain in the forecast for Baltimore, but the clouds rolled in real quick as the smoke machines filled the tunnel with fake fog. Out of the mist, the Ravens defense was introduced one by one, with players like Ngata, Scott and Suggs all savoring the sounds of the crowd. The last two men to make their entrance were Reed and as always, Ray Lewis. As Reed’s name was called, Ed spun through the smoke and out into daylight, with Jeff trailing closely behind. Unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, I got picked off trying to follow suit as security secured the area just as Nelly welcomed No. 52. Since I was ‘forced’ to stay back, I had a front row seat for the show that never ends as Ray reminded the 71,000+ in attendance that despite the breezy 68 degree temperature at kickoff, its still as hot as ever when Lewis is introduced.

While I was emerging from the residual smoke, I was making a case for receiving residual payments over on ESPN. According to my sources (i.e. fellow fantasy league general managers watching NFL Gameday) I made an appearance in the Ravens road-trip recap from our flight to San Francisco. The piece featured the flight attendants serving fresh pretzels, defensive drills in the hotel ballroom, offensive drills in the parking lot, Derrick Mason as your airplane tour guide and yours truly waiting for an elevator. Not my finest performance, but enough air-time to garner two shout-outs on the Yahoo message boards. Of course one friend missed the elevator scene and thought he saw “Ray-Ray scraping me off the bottom of his shoe” but I suppose it’s just nice to be recognized. And Brock, to answer your question, Lauryn and I sit in the ‘hood, but the nice part of the ‘hood with the KFC and a movie theater.

The game itself got off to a slow start, but just like Reba, Lauryn, and Jeff, whose fastest one-mile split was mile number 13 (8:02), the Ravens picked up steam as the game wore on and wore down Gus. Every time the defense would discuss the upcoming series, Reed’s remarks continued to ring true, “It’s Gus! It’s not Kyle. It’s not McNair. It’s Gus.” Of course Ed respects all his fellow league members, but Frerotte is 36, has played for 7 NFL teams and after four sacks on Sunday resembled a life-size bobblehead doll. (Okay, that reference was a bit of a stretch, but I had to find a way to work in the appearance of a Gerry McNamara Syracuse bobblehead in last week’s episode of The Office. My fictional friends at Dunder Mifflin reside in Scranton, PA, home of the legendary Orangeman. To add to the authenticity of the show, producers propped Dwight’s desk with the doll and my fellow Orange alum and Exit10’er, Dan Rapp, not only spotted No. 3, but immediately reported the finding to the proper authorities)

So what was Reed trying to communicate to his friends? Maybe that the rest of the defense should get ready to receive. Gus threw 5 interceptions, a franchise-record for the Ravens, including one to Reed by the sheer laws of probability considering he is now tied for the NFL lead with 4 INT’s. Of course he wasn’t the only one talking after the play as his teammates teased the talented Mr. Reed with Corey Ivy questioning, “Why did you run so slow?” The Ravens defense is known for not only making big plays, but for getting the ball back and making a run at the end-zone every time they touch it. The peer pressure is real, just ask Kelly Gregg who responded to a question about his fumble return, “Yea, I got so nervous. The wind could have blown me over I was so nervous.” Not likely - Kelly is a stout 6’ 300 lbs – but his tree trunk arms not only allow him to keep his balance on fumble returns, but he can also carry his sons, one on each arm, as he displayed after the game when the lil Gregg’s were brought down on to the field.

After a dominating 22-3 victory over the Rams, the state of Ravens Nation is as strong as Gregg’s guns with purple power on display from Baltimore to Colorado. (I know the Charm City has tried to forget about America’s Pastime lately, but the Rockies have now won 20 out of 21 games and are just one win away from the World Series! The Rockies!! Must be the purple and black uniforms.) Next up next week is a trip north to see if the Anchor Bar’s wings can compete with Gus & Gus’ legs and thighs. Probably more important, we’ll see if Trent Edwards, another back-up signal caller, can imitate the inaccuracy of Gus’s arm. Here’s hoping for a bucket of spicy barbeque and a performance that will make you say, “Gus who?”

Monday, October 08, 2007

Week 5 - Such Great Heights

San Francisco, CA -- 10/7/07.

The Postal Service croon in their Garden State sensation, “Everything looks perfect from far away.” After 48 hours in the Golden State, I’d like them to reconsider. Things are even better up close. I’ll prove it to you.

On Sunday morning I woke up with John Clayton. Scary, I know. And not just because we’ve never shared a drink, let alone a conversation, but because Clayton’s morning report on ESPN can make or break a beautiful day before you even get out of bed. The Hall-of-Fame football writer offers up-to-the-minute insights and injury updates from around the league and as I eased my way into consciousness, I was startled by the news that Derrick Mason could miss the day’s game.

I shot up and asked Lauryn if she had heard anything? I can only assume all Ravens employees receive a text message from Brian Billick whenever a player’s status is in question. (I don’t know what Billick’s Verizon Plan is like, but he should really consider using Twitter instead). Lauryn’s phone sat silent, but I needed more intel. Not only was I concerned about the Ravens’ chances against the 49ers without their #1 wide receiver, but I had Mason starting on my fantasy roster against our league’s defending champion. Could we call Ravens GM, Ozzie Newsome, or even Derrick himself? We did have a phone list but opted to keep our jobs instead and as we headed down to the lobby, there had been nothing new from ESPN or Mr. Clayton. Where were his sources now? Maybe they’ll call me next time because as we prepared to leave for Monster Park I spotted Mason mingling with a few folks, giving his trademark smile (can you trademark a smile?) and practically playing hopscotch on his jaunt to the bus. This just in from Millbrae (our hotel was far away, more on that coming up) Derrick Mason is a go.

Now San Francisco is routinely regarded as one of the most inviting cities to visit in the country. However, our lodging in the Bay expanded the definition of the Area all the way to the airport. The hotel did feature room service and even a list of emergency tips in case of an earthquake, but San Francisco looks the same from Maryland as it does from Millbrae so Lauryn and I decided it was worth the trip into Frisco for the day.

After walking over the freeway to the closest train station, we were on our way. Of course we didn’t know which way we were on. Our planning stopped at dinner reservations so we just followed the crowd and departed the train at the station with the most activity – Powell St. Powell St. is the starting point for the world famous cable cars that still serve the city, however, the line to board the bus with no wheels went on for multiple blocks. It appeared that if we were going to see anything today, we would have to start walking. I grew up outside of New York and walked most of Manhattan in a day, how big could The City be.

On a map, Union Square and the Marina District are 2.8 miles apart. That is if you are looking at a map printed on the backside of a diner placemat. If you happen to have a topographical map in your back pocket, than you would realize that unless you plan on tunneling through Nob Hill, the distance is much more daunting. Of course, when Lauryn and I set out on our self-guided walking tour, we were using the diner variety and two hours later, found ourselves fighting for each step. Our tour took us through Russian Hill, Nob Hill, and I have to imagine at least part of Mount Rainer. Fortunately San Francisco might be one of the most picturesque places on earth so each climb around a corner brought with it an incredible view of the bay and at least one of the famed bridges. When we finally began our descent, we landed in a vat of Chocolate, at least it smelled that way when you closed your eyes, as we made our way to Ghirardelli Square, where they still give out free pieces of their cocoa.

I was saving myself for lunch, however, as we waited to be seated at a hole-in-the-wall seafood spot I found on CitySearch. Not only did they offer ahi-tuna tacos and poke tuna topped salads, but it was right around the corner from Lauryn’s favorite girly store, Two Skirts. The prices kept me pacing outside, but as I spent time on the sidewalk I noticed a ground swell of people heading down to the waterfront. Either a whale was beached or we had stumbled upon something to do for the afternoon.

When the members of U2 sit down to write a song, do they think to themselves, “This would be great in concert,” or “This would be cool in an iPod commercial,” or “This would be perfect for the closing credits of the Olympics.” I have to imagine at some point all of these thoughts enter their creative consciousness, however, one idea I doubt receives much discussion is, “This song would be ideal for an Air Show. Especially an Air Show performed on a rare cloudless day in San Francisco, USA (they write their songs in Ireland, right?).”

Regardless of U2’s intentions, the Blue Angels of the U.S. Navy and the Lukin’s of Baltimore were treated to “A Beautiful Day” on a beautiful day along the banks of the San Francisco Bay. Lauryn and I didn’t plan on taking part in the Fleet Week festivities, but when six fighter jets fly by at more than 400 mph, you tend to take notice. The aerial event drew thousands of on-lookers who were not only treated to some high-flying trickery, but color commentary from an announcer, comments from the pilots themselves and a soundtrack in between sound barrier breaks. They probably could have just put the Kenny Loggins classic form Top Gun on repeat and been done with it, but the DJ dipped into some more recent tracks and U2’s timely tune stood out on what truly was a beautiful day. Don DiRaddo unfortunately did not see the show up close, but he did see the planes land back at the hotel, apparently an advantage of staying near the airport. I think he would admit that watching them with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background was probably a little more rewarding. No worries Don, I promised a YouTube clip and you got one:

After Lauryn agreed to the ridiculous idea of returning to the hotel to change for dinner, we took a cab back to the edge of the Embarcadero to dine at one of the most recommended restaurants in town, Boulevard. Any restaurant that has their own cookbook is probably worth trying and just the smell of the sauces was enough to satisfy our appetites. Well not really, fortunately the sauces come with food and we dined on scallops, crab-stuffed calamari, halibut, pork loin in peach chutney, and some sort of fancy s’more that cost $10 and was worth even more. As if they knew a blogger was in attendance, as soon as we finished our meal, a firework show broke out over the Bay. You can’t get that in a cookbook, another victory for up close viewing.

Unfortunately there were not many fireworks on the field during the Ravens 9-7 victory over the 49ers, but there was some serious action along the sidelines. Our wired Raven this week was Mike Flynn. Mike Flynn plays center, so we weren’t expecting any difficulties in tracking his movements. There were difficulties in tracking his sound though as the frequency carrying his feed had some severe interference. Don had to make a few trips up to the Sling Box Press Box – yes, they have a sponsor for their press box – and when he finally found a frequency that worked, we had to figure out a way to change the signal at the source (i.e. taped under Mike Flynn’s shoulder pads). Not so easy during the middle of the second quarter of a game, but technology stepped in and saved the show. For the first time in RaveTV history (I think, who has such records) we had a remote control on hand that sends out a sound signal to talk to the receiver and tell it what to do. I won’t use a wife joke here, but maybe a boss joke. No wait, that’s the same thing. Anyways, we got close to Flynn and fired away at the pads. We all looked over at Jeff who gave use the thumbs up. We were out of the Danger Zone (get it, Top Gun reference).

As luck would have it, as soon as the mic was mastered, Mike Flynn got injured. We literally filmed one series of action before the big guy went down. I wont tell you everything he said to the doctors, not just because of the privacy issues, but because they were laced with some not so sweet words, but Flynn was headed to the locker room. And that’s when things really got going. I’ll try to describe the scene at old Candlestick, now Monster Park. Apparently fans have access to the field. Not all fans, but a certain section sitting near the entrance to the Ravens locker room appeared to be allowed to use the restroom located on field level behind the bleachers. Remember, this stadium was built for baseball so the configuration is a little confusing.

As Dr. Leigh Ann Curl led Flynn off the field, Jeff, Lauryn and I continued to film. When we arrived at the tunnel entrance an unidentified fan heading to the bathroom made his way in front of Flynn, and get this, put his hand up and told Mike to wait a second so he could pass. The look on Flynn’s face was priceless. As he would later tell us on the plane, he was in his own world at that point and if he was more of a hot head, he might have gotten physical. A punch to the mid-section would have been fine by me. I’m sure it hurts, just ask my friend Parker who not only works on the animated comedy American Dad, but was written into the show last week, only to be punched below the belt by some sort of alien who talks like Brian from The Family Guy.

As I alluded to, Flynn and the rest of his teammates were able to watch highlights of the game as we flew back East since Lauryn brought enough equipment to edit the show on the plane. Flynn watched the replay of his injury and the fan incident, which we shared with teammates making their way down the aisle. Chris McAlister took a listen, as did Ed Reed, who offered up some production tips for my Manager of Broadcasting. Does he know about the Emmy’s? He did agree to be wired for Yoga, yes, Yoga, later this week. Of course it was two in the morning at that point so we’ll see if he remembers. At 35,000 feet, it sounded like a good idea. But as this weekend proved, up close is when you really reach great heights.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Quarterly Review: Don’t Miss TV

I’m pretty sure I’ve used the Bueller quote in this forum before, the one about taking a minute to smell the roses, but Matthew Broderick’s mantra has stood the test of time, or at least the last 20 years, and once again proves to be a valuable pop culture reference in the sports blogoshpere. (Can you believe it’s been 21 years since we saved Ferris?) In any case, whether it’s your senior year of high school or the start of the NFL season, it’s important that we heed his advice and take a moment to stop and look around. And after four games and a full month of football, here are ten things I think you may have missed:

1) A Baltimore Ravens wide receiver has the second most receptions of anyone in the league. Derrick Mason has amassed 33 receptions over the first quarter of competition, tying him with Antonio Gates for second place behind the Bengals T.J. Houshmandzadeh (39).

2) A Baltimore Ravens running back ranks in the top ten in the league in rushing yards. Willis McGahee sits in seventh place thus far this season with 375 yards, ironically just 5 yards ahead of our former feathered friend, Jamal Lewis (8th, 371).

3) The Office is back with four straight weeks of one-hour episodes, staring with last week’s “Fun Run”. Despite the brilliant writing and Emmy award winning acting, I have to say that one of the best aspects of the show is the swag it produces. Less than a week after Dwight debuted his new duds, you can now pick from 52 different “Schrute Farms Beets” products for your own Rabies Run.

4) Brett Favre is 37. Tony Romo is 27. And age doesn’t mean a thing as both are tearing up the National Conference. Considering the fact that the two teams that made it to the NFC Championship game last year are a combined 1-6, it’s a good bet that these gunslingers will have a showdown next January. (Okay, I know this one isn’t a secret since Chris Berman declared that “Rooting for Brett Favre is like rooting for America” and the Cowboys are America’s Team, but they are dominating their divisions at this point, which makes it pointless to talk about most of the other teams on that side of the ledger.)

6) .Devin Hester has already returned TWO kicks for a touchdown. Maybe teams took Spygate to heart and threw out ALL their tapes, but how does anyone kick to this guy?

7) Donovan McNabb is a big fan of Ryan Howard. Besides the fact that an unidentified man showed up at an Eagles game wearing a Ryan Howard Eagles jersey (it said R.Howard #6) the success of the new Sultan of South Philly has taken the heat off D-Nabb for at least a week or two. The same cant be said for the Broncos, as the regular season finale for the Rockies on Sunday attracted just one quarter of the audience garnered by the Colts-Broncos game, which Denver lost to fall to 2-2.

8) Prison Break is back for its third season (yes, somehow they were able to make it to a third year despite the premise of the show pretty much running its course in season 1). Surprisingly, Scofield and Co. have picked up some steam in the first two episodes, however, not as surprisingly is the fact that it took a return to prison to provide the drama.

9A) Fantasy Footballers are depressed. Larry Johnson and Stephen Jackson have combined for 0 rushing touchdowns (Sammy Morris has 3!). Drew Brees and Marc Bulger have combined to throw 3 touchdowns (Derek Anderson has 9!). Laurence Maroney has 0 catches. Reggie Bush has rushed for 80 yards TOTAL, tying him for 52nd in that category with Jason Campbell of the Redskins, yes, their quarterback. Sorry if I sound bitter, BushMaroney’07 may need some new names on the ticket real soon.

9B) Fantasy Footballers are delighted. Kevin Curtis put up 200 yards against the Lions. Wes Welker is on pace for more than 90 receptions. Jon Kitna is going to throw for 4,000 yards. Tom Brady has hit Randy Moss for 7 touchdowns – I think Chad Johnson should have handed that HOF jacket over to Moss on Monday night, it seems like he’ll actually need it. The Giants Defense recorded 12 sacks against the Eagles. And how about Duante Culpepper pulling a Tim Tebow and rushing for 3 touchdowns, while throwing for 2 more on just 12 passes in a Raider victory at Miami.

10) The Ravens are 2-2. Not 1-3. Not 0-4. And yes, if you want to be inclusive, we’re not 3-1 or 4-0 either. But only three teams in the entire AFC have 3 wins or more, and the Ravens have a better record than both the Chargers and Bengals right now. The point is that four games does not a season make and if fans stay focused on the final record or the looming triple header following Thanksgiving, you might miss some really good football in between. Or at least some really good television from Scranton and coming soon, from Utica, NY. Either way, there’s some must see TV coming this fall, don’t miss it.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Week 4 - To the Left

Cleveland, OH -- 9/30/07

Neo took the red pill. Indiana Jones choose the plain cup. Clemens picked the Yankees. And the Ravens chartered busses made a left (instead of their usual right) when leaving the training facility on Saturday afternoon sending the team, and the broadcasting department, in the wrong direction for the rest of the weekend.

Despite the atypical turn, we did land in Cleveland on schedule. However, upon our arrival, the only thing more startling than the unusually long ride to the team hotel was Yamon Figurs’ plaid pants. I’m sure the rookie received his fair share of shots from the rest of the Ravens, but how many people could legitimately pull off plaid below the belt? I’m thinking athletes, actors and the occasional hip hop artist looking to amplify his wardrobe. But what do I know? The closest I come to running in those circles is the fact that I was rocking, or would it be rapping, the new Kanye West album aboard our chartered flight. I have to imagine at least one of the players parked in the 32 rows in front of me was singing some “Stronger” along with Kanye and I.

Back to the ride to the hotel as the busses bristled past the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Jacobs Field and then through some of the underdeveloped areas of the Forest City (ironic considering we didn’t see a tree for at least 20 minutes). The hotel was brand new and nicely appointed, but the distance to downtown would demand a taxi cab or two to take us out on Saturday night, which would prove to play a prominent role in the evenings events.

Cleveland is apparently known for its polish cuisine and micro-brews, however, one restaurant has become a ritual for RaveTV over the years and the tradition continued this weekend with a ten-top table at Sushi Rocks. I don’t want to know where they get their fresh tuna from but the soft shell crab, shrimp tempura and even one roll topped with kiwi covered the table for all to consume. The reviews were all positive after the feast was finished, but the tastes were just a tease for what hopefully lies ahead next weekend in San Francisco. I can only assume that the fish is fresher when you can actually see where the seafood is caught. For all my west coast readers, recommendations are welcome.

Our next stop of the night was at a local sports bar called The Blind Pig. Being a Saturday night in Ohio, all of the TV’s were fixed on the Ohio State-Minnesota game, which was pretty boring for anyone not born in the Buckeye State. By my reasoning, I would have to believe that just about everyone else in the bar was bred within the Columbus city limits as a cheer went up from wall to wall whenever OSU would score. Seeing that none of us cared about the Big Ten match-up, and our respective rooting interests had all lost that day (Syracuse, Rutgers and Penn State to name a few) we decided to pick up and head to the hotel for a few hands of poker. Now this is where the night really got started.

Enter Harry. Harry was our cab driver. Harry is the man. Harry didn’t know what he was getting into when he picked up the 7 of us that still remained on the streets of the Warehouse District. That’s because our first thought upon stepping into the cab was if we were going to play cards, we would need some refreshments. Harry knew just the place and didn’t even start the meter until Don Barto Jr., our audio technician and self-certified beer aficionado, returned with two twelve packs. But Junior wasn’t the only one who needed Harry’s help as Don DiRaddo, Director of Broadcasting and newly appointed Secretary of Energy, realized that our shoot on Sunday would be sabotaged without a new supply of 9-Volt batteries. Okay, a beer run followed by a battery run doesn’t sound real exciting even as I’m writing this, but the laughs we had…

So where can you find batteries at eleven o’clock in Cleveland? Apparently nowhere. Harry, what a saint, radioed in to headquarters (?) and asked dispatch where to find a CVS in C-Town. The response was 15 minutes away in Lakewood, OH. Now I trust Harry, who wouldn’t, but this seemed a little odd. Our hotel was not only 20 minutes outside the city, but it was 30 minutes from Lakewood. Just another wrong turn taken on the road to 2-2.

Not to be mistaken for a group of high schoolers fleeing from a homecoming dance; Don, Junior, Jeff, Matt Brevet, Scott O’Hara, Lauryn, Harry and I were just cruising around the suburbs looking for a pharmacy in the middle of the night. At this point we had all grown close to Harry and he was talking up a storm about the city, the Indians and eventually the Browns. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

All of a sudden, through the trees (maybe they meant to give the nickname to Lakewood?) and picket fences of suburbia, I spotted the neon lights flashing in the window like a beacon calling out to us. “Open 24 Hours” read the sign on the side of a CVS and Don was able to secure over 100 volts of electricity for just under $100. Unfortunately Matt was unable to secure a bathroom during the purchase and as he hopped back in the cab, you could tell he wasn’t going to make it through the road trip without another stop. Who knew it would be on the side of the highway. I hope Harry doesn’t get fired for all this; he really was a sweet guy. Although he was a big Browns fan and he kept talking about Jamal Lewis.

You see Harry had a few opinions about the big storyline for Sunday’s game (i.e. J. Lewis vs. R. Lewis). In Harry’s words, “You made a big mistake letting him go,” as if Matt was staring at a Yahoo Draft Tracker in early spring and decided to take Willis McGahee over J-Lew. Of course the media made the story a bit sensational earlier in the week as they used Jamal’s quote about knowing the Ravens strengths and weaknesses to get Ray fired up. And as the Ravens took the field on Sunday, it seemed to work. (By the way, I felt 1000 words about how RaveTV spent their Saturday was more than enough for most of my readers, but to sum up the rest of the night: the cab fare was $38.00; Lauryn won what seemed liked the first 10 games of poker despite needing a tutorial before each hand was dealt; and by the end of the night, the beer was gone and we were reduced to playing a game just a notch below War in terms of the mental skill required – you could call it “Higher or Lower than a Seven”.) As you can tell, it was long night, but according to the Ravens scouting department, who apparently scout the craft services in addition to the cover-2, Cleveland’s press box has “the best coffee in the NFL.” We were going to need a few pots to recover.

There really was a game to play on Sunday and the Brownies were out in full force to root on their team. An hour before kickoff, the dawg pound was already fired up taunting McNair, Bart and Derrick Mason who returned the favor by pointing out one Browns backer who shouted out to Mase – “I have you on my fantasy team so don’t suck too much!”. And I’m not kidding when I say that that was the nicest thing anyone said us to all day. Grandma, cover your ears, but the fans in Cleveland didn’t like anyone wearing Purple, including Jeff and I who had to venture within reach of the pound to get shots of Terrell Suggs, our wired Raven for the week. Comments ranged in vulgarity and included one that may have been dirtier than most with an emphatic, “Film this!” (Don’t worry, we didn’t turn around.)

Fortunately, Ray seemed unfazed by the fans and after inviting a few new faces to help him lead the pre-game huddle; he took over the linebacker meeting and told Suggs and Co., “Every time you hit Jamal, ask him where the weaknesses are!” Powerful stuff, and going by the run defense on display, they listened. J. Lewis finished with just 64 yards, with 28 coming on one play, but one play was all that he needed to claim victory over his former teammates (not to mention drive off in style with what looked like a brand new Rolls Royce leaving the players parking lot). But that one play should have been reversed. I was there and faithful followers of the blog, I swear to you, he wasn’t in.

For the second time in three weeks, I found myself standing at the spot of a controversial touchdown call and once again I was sure he wasn’t in. Of course no one bothered to ask my opinion, but other than the ref standing on the goal line, I can’t imagine anyone had a better view than I did. It is possible that the line judge is a fan of Coffeeonthe50 and read about my missed call on Todd Heap’s twinkle-toe touchdown against the Jets, but I didn’t miss this one. On a second and goal from the one, Jamal took the hand off and jumped over the pile into a wall of purple. He bounced back and landed two yards away from pay dirt, but the ref proclaimed that #31 broke the plain. I was stunned. I wanted to tell someone. The ref ran away from me and Billick seemed so far away, so I told Jeff. Jeff agreed with me, but unfortunately they don’t let cameramen challenge the calls. The touchdown stood.

So the game didn’t quite go as planned, none of the defeats do, but there was a silver lining in the loss. It goes a little something like this:

Now Watch Me Do
(Crank Dat Soulja Boy)
Now Watch Me Do
(Crank Dat Soulja Boy)
Now Watch Me Do
(Crank Dat Soulja Boy)
Now Watch Me Do
(Crank Dat Soulja Boy)

Don’t worry, you don’t need plaid pants to enjoy this one. And when I say this is what all the kids are listening to, I really mean all the kids, as more than fifty youth football players lined the sideline before the game on Sunday and when this song came on, every last one started dancing in step with each other. The “kids” at Texas know what I’m talking about.

And so do the “kids” on the Ravens as Bart Scott and Sizzle not only enjoyed the show, but showed off step #5 in the Crank That routine called, “The Superman”. (Click here to learn the moves.)

The little soulja boy’s were not only hard to ignore, but hard not to like. Most of the kids were from the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights, but all of them stood in awe of the Baltimore players and as they headed into the locker, they were rewarded with a wink and a wave from Ray Lewis. How cool is that. I know I’m looking for a thin sliver of silver, but this is what the game is really all about. The kids from Shaker Heights dream of meeting their NFL heroes. Bloggers from New Jersey dream of watching the game from the sidelines. Women of all ages dream of seeing Luke Perry in person (random, I know, but Dylan McKay was on hand to lead the crowd in a rendition of “Hang on Sloopy” to start the fourth quarter). Even Phillies fans dared to dream of making the playoffs. On Sunday, all of those dreams were achieved. So despite boarding the plane with another loss, it would appear that some things turned out right on Sunday, despite starting the weekend to the left.