Sunday, August 29, 2010

When nothing else will do, a pair of haiku

It's hard to admit
Jay Cutler was sacked four times
He's not worth the dough

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Rookie quarterback
Last year he played college ball
Can he save the Bears?

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They bit, they chewed, they swallowed and seemed to like it. To paraphrase the song, disappointment is my closest friend when it comes to the Bears. Not much else to say.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Cubs and Bears

There are a pair of notable departures this week that I wish to touch on.

Best wishes to Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee, who accepted the trade to the Braves. As with most entertainers, I often wish athletes would not say very much. At all. Smile and wave, says I. The very well spoken Derrek Lee is an exception to this rule. My fingers are crossed that he gets the chance to play beyond the regular season. If he has to go, then I am glad he gets to go big with Atlanta, who are in first place. I look forward to hearing him speak about how things are going. Kudos to the fans for giving him a standing ovation when he returned in a Braves uniform days later -- a great show of thanks for seven years of solid ball.

Lou Piniella was going to retire as head coach of the Chicago Cubs at the end of this season but announced today that today would be it, wanting to spend time with this ailing 90-year-old mom. Lou devoted his entire adult life to the sport of baseball and baseball loved him back. Cubs fans are rabidly devoted and showed their love by giving the coach a standing ovation as he bid them farewell. Mr. Piniella was a great addition to the landscape that is Chicago baseball.

Last night in Soldier Field against the Oakland Raiders, the Bears played something that actually resembled professional football. Matt Forte ran for 89 yards, points were scored, and, even though they lost pretty thoroughly, they looked like an NFL team that could win a game sometime, maybe even this year. Next week, the Arizona Cardinals take the trip up Mount Olympus to have at the gods, followed by the gods twirling off to Cleveland for the final pre-season game on August 28. I suggest they keep their momentum but I mean the momentum of improvement. Perhaps Arizona will be bedazzled by our lakefront vistas and be thinking about the views and the interesting stadium (which looks like an alligator in a kangaroo's pouch from several angles). The weather on Mt. Olympus is especially nice in late summer. Maybe these distractions will be enough to produce a win or an anti-loss.

I didn't feel as disappointed as I did last week. Perhaps it was because I spent most of the day with my dearest friend and her family and we talked some politics and watched some White Sox and ate some dip that had guacamole, sour cream, salsa, and shredded cheese and then was topped with all sorts of olives -- black, green, green with pimento -- and is eaten with round, thin Tostitos and had to come from the snack kitchen in the bowels of hell because there is nothing really good for you in it but dang, that is some tasty, tasty dip that makes ones feel satisfied and like life can offer surprises after all. I still wasn't disappointed as I spent the second and third quarters driving home, listening to the Bears on the radio. It actually seemed like they were thinking about playing hard unlike the week before. What they need to remember is that they are there to play a good game and also win and that they are not gods but men. I am belaboring that metaphor but I like it so very much. Perhaps it will go away at the end of the season. (Do not hold your breath.)

I think about this on occasion: We got Jay Cutler; Denver got Kyle Orton. Did we really get the better of that deal? Then I think about something else, like birthday cake or what color I would paint the living and dining rooms, were I in a decorating mood.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Bears play games; swimming the distance

On Saturday night, the Chicago Bears played their first exhibition game of the new NFL season against the San Diego Chargers. The Chicago Bears, gods from Mt. Olympus sent via airplane to play at Qualcomm Stadium, had my interest for all of about 5 minutes and then I started twirling around the TV dial, devoted to network television channel surfing. I came back to see injuries, plague, pestilence or maybe you call them injuries, penalties, and sacks. All three QBs got sacked but the money god, Jay Cutler, was taken out way early so they'd still be able to pluck him from Olympus for the opening game. I hope the injuries were neither career- nor season-ending (some of those guys were rookies). The bigger question is, why did it lose my attention?

A few years ago I realized I can't go to baseball games because if they lose, I take it personally. During the winning game of Stanley Cup finals, I was very, very, very nervous because if the Hawks lost I was going to just be so very upset. I don't bet money so I've really nothing to lose, but I have emotions vested in each game I watch and I don't like a let down.

Yup, I don't like a let down and those Bears are cruising to break my heart and they pretty much bit. Last night, as I fell asleep, the TV still on, I swear I heard a commentator say, "It was a great game but I can't say I'm not disappointed." Our Bears were lightly spread on toast points and then were ingested by what seemed to be a real football team, the final score being 25-10. Disappointment is a reserved term for it because, dang, they really stank up the field.

Maybe I am being too nervous too early in the season or maybe I just think Chicago deserves a team that kicks ass, breaks through lines, takes names, and lets the game be more evenly played by offense and defense. The defensive line has to be exhausted and fans who actually know something must be, too. The Bears have been saved time after time by its kicker. This time Robbie Gould, he of the golden leg, the Can-Can god, knocked one of the Chargers out of bounds when no one else could catch that Charger (who was, let's agree, charging). Gould looked delighted that he pushed the guy out of bounds! I suggest each Bear team member look hard at Mr. Gould and wonder how he is so good and they are so not-as-good. I don't cry myself to sleep every night because I know Robbie Gould knows how to play football as part of a team.

In totally-other sports news, later this month, right about the time she turns 61, Diane Nyad, the great long-distance swimmer, is set to make another attempt at swimming from Cuba to Key West, a distance of 103 miles. When she made the attempt in 1978, she was pulled out of the ocean after 42 hours. In 2010 I hope she walks out onto the shore at Key West, triumphant as the only person to ever swim this particular stretch of open sea.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A few best of 2010 thus far

Friday evening I went to dinner at a local hamburger joint with family members, most of whom are appalled by my admitted interest in sports, and one who seems to think it is what it is (because it is). While we dined, several soundless television sets were on, each showing a different program. One had a sports-themed show and I glanced at it only once but its topic gave me considerable pause. It was a top-ten-thus-far-or-maybe-it-was-top-ten-for-2009-but-it-was-nevertheless-a-top-ten list of things in sports.

I enjoy some talking about sports but as my headline says, I know nothing of sports. I have given some thought to this, however, and have "Southwest Corner's Top Few for 2010 thus far that I can recall."

The Stanley Cup on its way to the rally
1. The Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup. Then they took the Stanley Cup everywhere -- bars, restaurants, the Crosstown Classic between the Cubs and Sox, Gay Pride Parade, to name just a few. The Hawks brought such magic with them that I willingly went with my supervisor to stand on the street and smile and wave when they went from the United Center to the rally at Wacker and Michigan. Thinking about the whole thing still makes me smile.

2. LeBron James switches teams. This is a classic tale of defection, disappointment, greed, and conceit. I am glad the Bulls didn't get him. There isn't enough room in Illinois for his ego and that of Rod Blagojevich, former governor, even if Rod goes to prison. No offense to Miami fans, but I hope the Heat get knocked to the curb. I hope the Cavs kick major booty but that the Bulls ultimately beat everyone.

3. Tiger Woods gets some. The man believed he was the greatest and that he could betray his wife and family and fans and act like a jerk and stick it wherever it could be stuck and that there would be no consequences. You really can't, sir, because it will suck the mojo out of your game, you lose focus, and people will think you are nothing but a megadouche with little regard for anyone other than yourself and that personal porno you were starring in between your ears. It also turns you into entertainment news, which is not news at all.

4. Vuvuzelas and FIFA Soccer. Which of Satan's demons came up with the vuvuzela? Toots aside, I learned a lot about soccer during the games, mostly from an online friend who answers all my questions with great patience. I've decided why soccer isn't as popular here: the networks and cable channels will have none of that not-breaking-for-commericals stuff. Soccer goes without stopping. No commercial breaks means not as much sponsor dough. It also made me wonder if the American attention span is that long. Maybe not, but it could be trained.

5. Southwest Corner's Toughness Rating. Soccer players race up and down the field -- hundreds of yards -- nonstop for 45 minutes, then another 45, then some overtime. Hockey players race up and down on skates wearing pads and helmets and are constantly getting slammed into the wall and/or head first onto the ice and then they get up and do it some more. Football players hold lines and maybe run a bit. So here is my toughness rating: Soccer (for cardiovascular superiority) and hockey (for cardivascular toughness and strength) tie for first and football is after that because compared to soccer and hockey, football is a tickle party. There are other sports but those are powerpuff rallies featuring pillow fights. Okay, boxing. Fine. Very, very, very tough. Not a tickle party. Promise you won't hit me. I rerate: 1. BOXING. 2. SOCCER and HOCKEY. 3. FOOTBALL. 4. Most everything else.

6. Tom Izzo stays at Michigan State. Go right through for MSU. Go green; go white. I tangentially know about this as an MSU alum. In four years of college and another two of living in the East Lansing area, I attended zero basketball games and two football games. I attended a bunch of hockey games as my roommates had season tickets. We were so into it we drove to Ann Arbor to see U of M play MSU. On that occasion, U of M won (results are not typical). So when I say tangentially, that's pretty true. See? Here? I twirled off on a tangent.

This concludes my few for 2010. I swear on a stack of MSU hockey game programs that I will pay better attention for the remainder of the year. Or not.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Thing Who Wouldn't Leave

The Thing Who Wouldn't Leave is a short book by Edward Gorey about a quarterback who enjoyed a long and successful career then retired but came back for another season then retired again and then, oh, came back for another super successful season even considering his age and who now alleges he may play another season unless he retires. No, wait. That's Brett Favre. (The Gorey tale is about an unwanted house guest.)

Brett Favre is still about, y'all, and I really want to put my ugly mug in his and ask, "How can we miss you if you won't go away?" However, if what Brett really wants is to complete 20 seasons in the NFL, then I say good, great goal. go for it. He might also nut up and say, "I have been thinking about it long and hard and if it's in me, I want to do another season. I like this job too much to leave it just yet." He might also stop toying with his fans, his frenemies, his opponents, and me. He's a fine specimen of quarterbackihood but I am tired of hearing about it.

Regardless of what this season brings, after Super Bowl next year (roman numeral something-or-other), the next time I hear about you, Brett, I want it to be when you're inducted into the Hall of Fame. Not until. Stay cool. Keep quiet.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The NFL is back

Greetings, fans of football and other people who are probably sane. American football season is upon us.

Over the past few years I have become enamoured of the brand of professional football played in these United States, in particular the Chicago Bears. I've no clue why it happened. It certainly embarrasses my family members. Only friends who live in far-flung suburbs watch it or care that I pay attention to it. I am not so proud of it but it is what it is.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to drive over 130 miles round trip to experience the Bears Training Camp in Bourbonnnais, IL. I am not a fan of most solo car trips. My dearest friend lives 50 miles from me but I see her perhaps three times a year because, dear god in heaven, it is one hour in a car. My personal limit is 45 minutes. My friend, as great as she is and as nice as her family might be, doesn't offer potential gridiron excitement so I ignored my rule and drove to a village near a lot of corn fields in order to experience the birth of another season of Bears. Plus we'd get to sit on metal bleachers in unbearable heat as the sun beat down while also looking into the sun, thereby messing up any chance to get a picture.

We entered the training camp as the Bears left the locker room and walked toward the practice field. No, I correct myself -- as the gods descended from Olympus to grace the mortal world with their unearthly presence. No waving at the fans; no happy anticipation of the workout to follow as viewed by the fans; no acknowledgment the fans were there. We allow a smidge of slack here because it was 2pm and they were going to be working for about three hours and that kind of stress is terrible on anyone, I say with lots of sarcasm.

Not likely to be sacked today
Two friends in attendance were Lord and Lady Football who had driven 250 miles roundtrip and were pleased to be there. Good Lord Football really knows everything there is to know about the sport and about the Bears. The gods ran scrimmages and plays. Horns blew. Adjunct gods held up pieces of paper. Men wore shirts with numbers but not names and the quarterbacks all wore orange. I did not get to ask a lot of questions because Lord Football -- who is very generous with his knowledge, explaining things simply and concisely -- was sitting on the metal bleachers while I retreated from the sun's rays to a nearby tent and quaffed water in the shade, thereby surrendering my acquisition of knowledge for the day. When I ventured out again, I got a seat right at the edge of the field but I mostly didn't know what the heck was going on. I was next to three young men who addressed every issue possible (how great a bubble bath feels, who cares what people think if you want a bubble bath, Cubs scores, Sox scores, how tall that one Bear is, how hot it was in the sun, etc.) but appeared to know nothing about football. The gods pressed on wearing full pads but the significance of said pads was lost on me. My own take is solely that the quarterback throws the ball to his bitch (fine, wide receiver) and he seems to be auditioning new bitches (fine, wide receivers) this year. And that one bitch (fine, except this bitch is a tight end) really looks like he bleaches his hair.

Then it was over! The gods strode toward the locker room and the supreme gods rode in a golf cart to avoid making direct eye contact with mortals. Some of the gods signed their names and numbers on pieces of paper, hats, shirts, signs, posters, and pennants mostly for men. How long each signed seemed governed by caprice. Who came to which part of the field seemed similarly governed but I assertively thrust my paper at two players for their signatures (thanks, 26 and 35). I rolled away (literally, as I got my lazy ass on a golf cart) just in time to miss Lovie Smith, the Wrangler of the Gods of Olympus (fine, Head Coach). Good Lady Football (the Footballs are a lovely match) advised that Mr. Smith was humble and great and signed and signed and signed his name. "Hey, you missed Lovie Smith. He came right when you left." Of course he did, said I.

I believe when the gods ascended Mt. Olympus that night, they ate very rare steak and mashed potatoes and no veggies at all because they don't have normal innards and don't concern themselves with evacuating their colons or simply having a poo while reading maybe a travel magazine or the sports section from the Sunday paper. I believe these gods discussed how eating fruit of any sort is for loser mortals.

Was this experience worth it? Yes, because I'd never done it before and I wanted to see it first hand. Also, no, because the Bears don't seem to realize that they dwell not on Mt. Olympus but in Illinois; that they are as mortal as me or you; that they should get on their hands and knees and thank the fans for putting them on pedestals/shrines/altars and worshipping them; that it could all be over for each of them in the flick of a wrist; that the money they make constitutes obscene wealth and perpetuates the myth among young men of marginal talent that they should only exercise their bodies and not their minds.

But yes, because I got to share the excitement of Lord and Lady Football, and all the other lords and ladies in attendance, all thrilled to be there to support their favorite team in its earliest seasonal form. And yes, because I never have to do it again.

The final yes is because, as I left Bears Training Camp, I realized the one thing that would make me truly satisfied with my trip to Bourbonnais would be coming across a car wash. Yes, I found one. It was huge, automatic, and had serious dancing fringe and hot blowers. Afterward I drove through the corn field toward the freeway and home, pensive about my almost total lack of comprehension of football and how that really is what it is.