Monday, November 15, 2010

Brady on Brady; or, Why the Titans Aren’t the Patriots

I watched the Tennessee Titans lose to the Miami Dolphins yesterday afternoon, 29-17. The Dolphins lost their first- and second-string quarterbacks—the two hanging Chads, Pennington and Henne—to injury during the game, yet the Titans couldn’t take advantage of the situation. Miami’s last QB standing, Tyler Thigpen, finished off the victory, looking savvy and determined and making me wonder—after the Chads return—if possibly the Dolphins could lend us Thigpen. See, the Titans have quarterback issues: the play of Vince Young and Kerry Collins is erratic, and injuries have set them back.

The Titans also have arguably the finest runner, Chris Johnson, in the NFL. When he gets loose, Johnson is as dangerous as they come, but alas, despite good numbers this season, he too has been erratic. Too often, Johnson gets bottled up, tending to spin his wheels in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage. His play has also given rise to suspicions that maybe the Titans’ offensive line isn’t maybe as good as everyone supposed.

The Titans’ defense also has some problems, but lack of effort doesn’t seem to be one of them. It can be fairly stated that if the Titans’ offense were more consistent, the defense would probably look a lot better.

Later yesterday, I watched the New England Patriots dominate the Pittsburgh Steelers, 39-26 (it wasn’t that close, really). They beat them in Pittsburgh, no less, and once again America saw why Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is the greatest coach of his generation.

He may seem surly and manipulative and ego-maniacal, and doubtless Belichick has his personal foibles and tics, but his ability to re-tool his team—dumping older players and finding rookies and youngsters and the occasional free-agent pickup to replace them—is simply uncanny.

Belichick is in his 11th season as Patriots coach. His first year, 2000, he was 5-11. He hasn’t had a losing record since. He hasn’t even had a .500 record since. From 2000 through 2009, Belichick’s regular season record is 112-48, with seven postseason appearances and three Super Bowl victories (plus one SB loss). The team is 7-2 in 2010. The only constants in this run of success are Belichick’s brain and the guts and right arm of Tom Brady, who, no matter what Peyton Manning supporters might say, can rightfully claim the title of best pro quarterback of his era.

Belichick and Brady proved it yet again Sunday evening. Belichick’s defense started four rookies. There’s almost no one left recognizable from their previous successful defenses. Those guys either retired or were let go or traded. A few of the down linemen—Wilfork, Warren—were familiar veterans, but otherwise, Belichick plugs in defenders, especially defensive backs, like new ecologically friendly light bulbs. Suddenly, a third-year linebacker like Jerod Mayo is playing like Mike Singletary in his prime. The D-team was all over Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, the original immovable object, sacking him five times.

On offense the Pats are the model of efficient system play. No Chris Johnson in the backfield? No problem. Just use instead a three-headed monster comprising the immortal BenJarvis Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead and Sammy Morris, who together gained 100 yards on 23 carries. Brady also does something that might seem downright innovative in Tennessee: He uses his running backs as pass receivers! All the time! (In their confusion this year, the Titans apparently forgot that Chris Johnson on the move, taking swing passes and screen passes, could be hugely dangerous and tough to predictably defend.)

Even after the Pats dumped receiver Randy Moss—who ironically is now a Titan—Brady just finds others to throw to. He still has Wes Welker, who is the best possession receiver in the game, and has somehow miraculously returned after blowing out a knee at the end of last season. After Moss left, the Pats reacquired Deion Branch, who played on two of their SB teams. They are also developing second-year man Brandon Tate, who didn’t catch a single pass in 2009 but seems to have a knack for getting open deep. (Hey, why pay Moss millions to do that when you don’t have to and can get the same results?)

And then there’s Brady, who, after rebounding in ’09 himself from knee surgery that scuttled his ’08 season, takes advantage gladly of an offensive line hellbent on protecting him. Whereupon he stands back there, smartly surveying the field and finding his open man. Sunday night was vintage Brady: 43-30, 350 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs and a QB rating of 117.4.

And it’s not just Brady’s accurate arm that matters. Like a truly great QB, he also handles the ball flawlessly, faking to his runners convincingly—Ever see Vince Young try that? No one is ever fooled—and operating the play-action to perfection, maximizing his options and unrelentingly moving his team down the field.

I don’t know if the Pats are the very best team in football in 2010. Certainly they will have their challengers. But if the Pats are the template for success, then the Titans, now 5-4, surely are NOT a viable contender for the Super Bowl crown. As Brady and the Patriots have proven for a decade, without reliably consistent and deftly executed quarterbacking, it’s almost impossible to move into the NFL’s upper echelon.

For Titans fans, that means more of the same: watching the physically gifted Young have his exciting moments, rise to occasional wondrous feats, win a few games...but falter as soon as he meets a first-rate defense, and just when it matters most.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Nats Win! Nats Win! (Sort Of): Rangers Offer Redemption for Aging Senators Fans

My brother Steve has a baleful saying: “We’re gonna die just in time...” It is his commentary on being a certain advanced age—older than 40, at least—while experiencing the absurdist, wrongheaded and presumably irretrievably corrupt sociopolitical state of the world in general and the U.S. in particular. In other words, things are so bad that death looks good.

Normally, I agree with this deliciously cynical observation. Except now that the Texas Rangers have made it to their first World Series, I’m going to have to pray for a definite reprieve. (Dear Lord, get me through at least to Nov. 1, after the World Series is over...)

No, it didn’t happen the way it could have, but there’s a twisted kind of joy that can be experienced now by anyone, like me, who, in the 1960s, rooted seriously for, and lived and died with, the Washington Senators, one of the worst baseball teams in history, but a team with an interesting, if somewhat offbeat, pedigree, and who, as of this morning, are the champions of the American League.

Quick history: Following the 1960 baseball season, Calvin Griffith, owner of the Washington Senators, longtime league doormat, took his team and moved them to Minnesota, where they became the Twins, and, just five years later, made it to the World Series, led by former Senators like Harmon Killebrew and Zoilo Versalles and Bob Allison.

In the wake of Griffith’s cruelty to longtime Senators fans, and in acknowledgment that it’s best not to piss off the political types in the nation’s capital, the American League granted Washington a new franchise, an expansion team made up of castoffs from everywhere else, plus marginal minor league prospects and fading demi-stars.

The expansion Senators, colloquially known as the “Nats”—borrowed from an old nickname, the Nationals, and easier on the newspaper headlines, e.g., “NATS LOSE AGAIN”—were terrible. You could look it up. Myself and thousands of local D.C.-area kids rooted for ’em, and so did foolish grown men and women.

Each of their first four years, the new Senators lost at least 100 games. Then they improved slightly when the late Gil Hodges took over as manager. He didn’t exactly spin gold out of straw, but Hodges took a very mediocre talent pool and squeezed some life out of them. They never hit the .500 W-L mark, but they were especially fun to watch in 1967, after which Hodges went to the Mets and won them a legendary World Series in 1969.

Meanwhile, the Senators tanked in 1968 under former outfielder and local fan favorite Jim Lemon, who didn’t get a second season at the helm, because new team owner Bob Short had the brilliant idea to recruit the great Ted Williams as manager. Ol’ Teddy Ballgame, full of piss and vinegar, came to D.C., and showed a somewhat talented club how to be better, how to draw more walks, how to choose pitches carefully, and flat-out how to get better results at the plate.

Eureka! Career ciphers like good-fielding shortstop Ed Brinkman batted .266 with 153 hits. Unreal. Free-swinging first baseman Mike Epstein hit 30 home runs. Wow. The wonderfully freakish Frank Howard hit a career-high 48 homers and actually drew 102 walks, and for the first time in his career did NOT strike out 100 times.

Williams handled a rather patchwork pitching staff pretty well also, and the team finished 86-76. What might be a disappointing season for other teams was near Nirvana for us Senators fans. Oh happy day!

Nothing lasts forever, of course. And in Washington baseball lore, nothing apparently lasts for more than even one season. Team owner Short started making bad trades, and the Williams magic wore off quickly. By 1971, when the team was trying to make reclamation projects out of pitcher Denny McLain and outfielder Curt Flood—both of them baseball bad boys, but for very different reasons—fans had a disaster on their hands, to the tune of a 63-96 record. A team batting average of .230 said it all. So did McLain’s 10-22 W-L record. So did the unruly mob that interrupted the final game at RFK Stadium, forcing the Senators into forfeiting to the Yankees. Ugly.

The near-riot was evoked by Short’s announcement that he was moving the team to Texas, where they began life as the Rangers for the 1972 season. Nothing like getting slapped in the face hard twice in 11 years. Bye-bye baseball in D.C. Again.

Yet this is where it all comes full circle. Though the Rangers struggled for years, they actually got pretty respectable, and in the ’90s made fairly regular appearances in the playoffs, though greater success always eluded them.

Now the Rangers/Senators have defeated the Yankees, and they are going to the World Series. What little kid in Washington, D.C., in the ’60s could ever dream that the lineage of Coot Veal, Don Lock, Fred Valentine, Bob Saverine, Willie Tasby, Dave Stenhouse, Marty Keough, Jim Hannan, Chuck Cottier and Paul Casanova could ever lead to offspring Vladimir Guerrero, Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler, Cliff Lee and a journeyman pitcher named Colby Lewis, who prior to this season’s mediocre 12-13 record had a career record of 12-15 and had spent the past two years prior to 2010 playing in Japan? Yet Lewis shut the Yanks down twice in the ALCS with a 1.98 ERA—and that smacks truly of destiny.

(Colby, with those regular-season numbers, you might’ve been a Washington Senator once upon a time. Now, you are the MAN!)

So go Rangers!! Go old Senators!! Maybe there is, after all, redemption. Or something somewhat close to it. If only we live long enough to experience it.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Sucking Their Way to Respectability

It’s been a long time since this blog has seen any action. Let’s skip the whys and wherefores. Instead, let’s get right down to engaging in our favorite sport: knocking sports media.

There’s always so much to dissect and ridicule, but some tidbits from Saturday’s TV coverage should suffice.

It’s hard to know who to begin with: Cornball has-been Dick Enberg or super-weenie, speech-impedimented Josh Lewin.

It’s a toss-up, so let’s start with the venerable Enberg. At least, everyone else seems to consider him venerable, since he’s been broadcasting sports for about 50 years. Like politicians, old buildings and whores, sports broadcasters tend to achieve respected status if they’re around long enough. Even if they suck. (Remember Harry Kalas?)

Enberg—hold on to your uppers—is 75. (No wonder younger guys can’t get a leg up in the lucrative world of sportscasting. Between moronic ex-jocks who can’t talk and old farts like Enberg and Brent Musberger, both past 70, how would a recent broadcasting grad ever get a job?)

Check Enberg out on Wikipedia, and you’ll find a dude who is an achiever (it says he holds a doctorate in health sciences). Whatever. He’s also probably a millionaire many times over, after breaking in to TV and radio sports in the ’60s. He was with NBC-TV for years and years, doing football, and he’s always had gigs doing California pro and college teams in various sports. Enberg’s resume is impressive and long, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t probably the luckiest SOB alive.

Currently, he’s the main dude for CBS-TV’s broadcast of the U. S. Open tennis championship—and boy does he suck. Who else but cornball old Enberg would display his “eloquence” by referring to finalist Vera Zvonereva as “the 26-year-old Muscovite.” Or to women’s finals winner Kim Clijsters as “the 27-year-old mom from Bree, Belgium.” (Hard to know what to make of this style; it’s as if Enberg’s auditioning to do the play-by-play for a beauty pageant.)

Enberg is Mr. Pollyanna, and his make-no-waves, ultra-saccharine approach to sports is tough to take. Always has been. He’s a corporate shill masquerading as a fan, and he’s been pulling off this charade for decades.

Occasionally, Dick’ll show up wanting to do one of his “commentaries,” which qualify as the tofu of sports reporting—just godawful blandness and cheerleading and homerism, with Enberg never truly making an incisive point about anything or anybody, presumably for fear he might offend.

Many was the moment during the current U. S. Open telecast when one had to wonder what the heck Enberg was doing there, besides waxing faux-rhapsodic and pseudo-poetic about the New York setting, the weather, the enthusiastic crowds, and the little “heart-rending” tidbits he’d boned up on regarding the players and their loved ones, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseam.

Enberg is less a play-by-play guy than he is a publicity agent. He might be what is termed “obsequious.” Synonyms might be, courtesy of the Mac dictionary, “servile, ingratiating, sycophantic, fawning, unctuous, oily, oleaginous, groveling, cringing, subservient, submissive, slavish; informal brown-nosing, bootlicking, smarmy; vulgar slang ass-kissing.” Yep, those all work.

Enberg wrote a book once about himself. He called it Oh My!—after his big “catchphrase.” Eeeesh... I cringe whenever Enberg says, “Oh my!” I’m pretty sure the South Park kids would agree that that’s really gay.

Then there’s the strange case of Lewin, whom we have written about previously. If the Enbergs of the world won’t move over to let younger talent get a crack at the big jobs, even more worrisome is the fact that Lewin stays gainfully employed—perhaps the only play-by-play man in the history of broadcasting who has a speech impediment.

Honestly, no one wants to poke fun at anyone’s affliction. So I won’t do that. Instead, I’ll just pose a question: Under what circumstance would a professional sports franchise or major sports network hire a play-by-play guy with an oh-so-noticeable lisp? Lewin, who seems to go from pillar to post, a bona fide broadcasting whore, currently has a gig doing San Diego Chargers football and also Texas Rangers baseball, but he turns up nationally on FOX’s Saturday baseball broadcasts, too. (Ka-ching!)

Lewin is also really corny, as he attempts to cozy up to sidekicks like Mark Grace, who both know each other from their days with the Cubs. Lewin calls Grace “Gracie.” I guess a lot of people call Grace that, but when Lewin does it, it sounds really gay.

Lewin has an unpleasant, unmodulated tenor-y voice to begin with, and he uses it to pepper his narrative with phrases that sound memorized from The Gee-Whiz Phrases and Colorful Terms You Can Use When Doing Your Own Backyard Baseball Telecast Handbook. (Today, Lewin told us that Nate McLouth “hightailed it into third.” Wow. Colorful.)

But really, Lewin does have a lisp, and it sounds more pronounced now than it did 10 years ago. Coupled with his other failings, I can’t listen to the guy for more than about a minute, especially when he gets on a roll and likes to start speculating about stuff that he probably doesn’t really know anything about. And especially if what he’s saying has a lot of s’s and diphthongs in it.

He’s also one of those guys who comes prepared with stats, so he can find unnatural moments to throw them in to the broadcast, so he sounds “premised.” (Sorry, Josh, you just sound fake.)

What can I say...Lewin the broadcaster is as phony as a three-dollar bill. And he’s got this awful lisp, which ought to disqualify him from an on-air job. Why he continues to work is a mystery.

But don’t worry. Give it some time, and eventually Lewin will also reach the status of an old whore: Respected as a survivor, even if he’s been sucking for decades.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Strasburg Doesn't Disappoint in Nats Debut

In 1971, the Washington Senators broke my young heart when they up and moved to Texas to become the Rangers. The caliber of baseball pretty much sucked in hometown Washington, D.C., but I still loved the Senators. They were my team.

When I moved to Chicago, I got two teams for the price of one, Cubs and White Sox, and that was okay by me. Since I wasn't a Chicago native, I didn't bring any of that North Side/South Side rivalry stuff to the table, and I got my first exposure to National League baseball teams.

Now I'm in Nashville, home of the AAA Sounds, the farm club of the Milwaukee Brewers. The Sounds are cool, though I don't go as often as I should. And in 2005, when the Montreal Expos up and moved to Washington to become the Nationals, I felt childhood baseball longings creeping into my soul. At last! Baseball again in my hometown.

So the Nationals, like their forebears, have sucked too, but like some dopey, blindly loyal kid, I don't care. I still root for 'em. And after right-handed pitcher Stephen Strasburg's debut performance for the Nats last night, I have a feeling that rooting for my favorite team just got a whole lot easier.

Strasburg, media-hyped to the max, and before a sellout Nation's Capital crowd, coolly struck out 14 Pittsburgh Pirates in a marvelous seven-inning stint. He gave up only four hits, and his one mistake—a home-run ball to Delwyn Young—almost looked like a total fluke: Young's golfish chip shot just looked like an accident, really.

Strasburg threw 97 MPH routinely, hitting 98 and 99 often, and, according to the MLB Network speed gun, hit 101 MPH at least twice. If that weren't enough, this guy has a wicked curve. A NASTY curve. (He calls it a "slurve," but whatever.) His changeup ain't bad, either. But the real tell-tale stat in this winning performance (final score: Washington 5, Pittsburgh 2) was the fact that Strasburg didn't walk a single batter. He threw 94 pitches and didn't walk a soul. Now that's notable. (By comparison, it took the great Koufax about seven years to overcome the control problems that threatened to make his eventual Hall of Fame career merely a mediocre one.)

To have an arm that live, to throw with that velocity, and to apparently have such control of one's arsenal is simply phenomenal, and bodes really well for a Nationals team that seems to be taking steps toward getting better.

Funny thing: When Strasburg was pulled last night for a pinch-hitter, the final two innings were entrusted to set-up guy Tyler Clippard and closer Matt Capps, who've both had their share of success this season, though anyone who knows this club knows there are no guarantees out of the bullpen. (Capps, for example, blew a late-inning lead versus the Reds over the weekend.) Clippard and Capps got the job done all right, but in the future, just to be safe, Nats manager Jim Riggleman might just want to let Strasburg finish his own games. (Just sayin'.)

On their way to respectability, the Nats got home runs last night from the heart of their batting order, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham, and as it came in support of the 21-year-old wunderkind Strasburg, it meant good omens all around.

Here's the reality check: Last night's victory brought the Nats' record to 28-31, tied for last in the NL East. Strasburg looks great, but this club still needs better starting pitching (from those not named Strasburg), better relief pitching, and more hitting punch, especially from the outfielders in their lineup. Plus, Strasburg won't face the likes of the mediocre Pirates all the time. There are the Phillies and Braves to contend with, among other better teams, and we'll be watching closely how the kid handles them.

For now, there is joy in Mudville. Mighty Stephen has struck 'em out.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Start Spreading the News: NFL Bosses Will Find Worm in Big Apple Super Bowl Decision

The worst thing that ever happened to this country was 9/11. Not only because thousands died in the WTC terrorist attack and Bush subsequently fought a stupid war, but also because that event put New York City back on the map in a real obnoxious way.

Increasingly, in the last couple of decades leading up to 9/11, Americans were more and more discovering the values of Sun Belt, or more southerly or less congested, living, or living in general that, via increased telecommunications and computer devices, commensurately diminished focus on New York as the be-all, end-all metropolis it used to be. No longer did the average person have to pay obeisance to New York's superiority in areas of culture or political or economic influence, because larger numbers of Americans were realizing that they didn't need New York, and they basically didn't give a hoot about the people who lived there. Appropriately, we all started concerning ourselves more and more with the people who lived where WE lived, or, for that matter, anyplace else in regional America where you could readily find sophistication and culture and interesting urban-style living and major sports and progressive ideas of any kind. Somewhat signaling this change even in spite of 9/11, the Arizona Diamondbacks, symbol of new-style, warmer, enlightened American living, beat the Yankees in the World Series in 2001, just weeks after 9/11.

New York City almost officially joined the Rust Belt it would have seemed. And that would have been fine with those of us who are tired of the undue power and influence wielded in Gotham.

But 9/11 gave the media reason enough to re-state the case for New York as the centerpiece city in the U.S.—a power source for finance and culture, symbol of American might. Bah! We all know what New York's financial wizards were doing to us all that time. (Bend over, America.)

The post-9/11 fallback position was to feel sorry for NYC, and to marvel at the town's grit in coming back from the Bin Laden attacks. Fine and dandy. No city should have to be airplane-attacked. Sorry it happened, New York.

One thing that never changed, before or after the World Trade Center, was ESPN's unending promotion of New York teams whenever possible. This continues without let-up, and last weekend, both on Saturday and Sunday nights, the network broadcast consecutive Yankees-Mets games. Why we'd have to watch two games in a row between the same two second- and last-place teams is beyond fathoming. Doubtless there were other mediocrities facing off who we might've watched, for variety's sake. Heck, there might've even been a first-place team playing somewhere that we'd have enjoyed watching. But no, we get the New York teams, two nights in a row, the Mets in last place at the time, the Yankees reeling from injuries and not really playing their best.

The endless promotion of New York teams is basically puke-inducing, since probably 95% of the country couldn't care less—especially about the Mets. Doubtless, there is some kind of ratings rationale for this state of affairs, New York being a populous region and guaranteeing a certain ratings share that would eclipse that achieved with a game involving, say, the Giants and A's. Maybe. But what if Tim Lincecum is pitching? So maybe not.

Yet ESPN can always make that argument, and thus deprive viewers nationwide the opportunity to see other, equally interesting teams. How about the Twins-Rays game—two first-place teams squaring off? But they don't do that at ESPN, the all-New York all-the-time network.

And now comes the most galling example of New York's privileged sense of over-reach: The 2014 Super Bowl, following the 2013 football season, will be in New Jersey, IN AN OPEN-AIR STADIUM.

Okay, granted, most of us don't have the bucks or pull to get to a Super Bowl, so the fact that the crowd in early February 2014 will be freezing their gonads off doesn't affect those of us who will be sitting at home. But really, what kind of lame-ass reasoning has placed the most important football game of any season at risk of utter disaster?

Sure, you can argue that the weather might comply that day. Maybe it'll be invigorating football weather. But what if there's a blizzard on the East Coast? What if airports from Washington to Boston are shut down? What if there's a record cold snap, with temperatures plunging well below zero? What if ground transportation is slowed to a crawl due to cold and/or snow? What if people who paid hundreds or thousands of dollars for tickets are stranded at airports, unable to fly in to the New York area?

Last but not least, what if the game totally sucks because it's cold as hell, the ball and the turf are frozen and hard, the snow on the ground makes footing impossible, the players have to huddle around heaters on the sidelines hardly able to think much less figure out the next play, and fans sit there having the most miserable time of their lives?

And this decision was made...why? This huge risk was taken...why? Maybe New York/New Jersey should have put a dome on their new stadium. DOH! Instead, they go open-air, and now lobby for NFL execs to give them a Super Bowl in February, potentially one of the worst, most weatherly treacherous times of the year in the Northeast.

It's madness, is what it is. It's the ol' New York suck-up—or strong-arm tactic—and it's a huge disservice to football. But actually, you can even leave the New York part out of this argument. What if Boston was granted a Super Bowl in an open-air stadium? Or Chicago? Madness. Stupidity. And we the fans will suffer, one way or the other.

Mark my words. Because this decision was made, you can pretty much bet that the weather will somehow complicate the 2014 Super Bowl. Stupid men; stupid pointless decision.

I'll take Manhattan...not.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

You Gotta Play to Win—The 2010 Kentucky Derby

By Steve Brady

The interesting thing about this year’s Kentucky Derby? The horse I think is best equipped to win it didn’t even get in. SETSUKO is only 1 for 8 in getting to the winner’s circle, but he has been showing steady improvement with each start, and has a powerful closing kick that I thought would give him a strong chance against this field. He also had one of the most visually impressive workouts in preparation for Derby weekend. But, because admission to the Derby is based exclusively on graded stakes earnings, Richard Mandella’s trainee did not earn enough to get in, and so will be running at Churchill the day before in the $175,000 American Turf Stakes. (Bet him with both fists at 4-1!!)

Other notables missing from this year’s Derby are former favorite ESKENDEREYA and Sunland Derby winner ENDORSEMENT. Both were thought to have good chances, but both are now sidelined due to foot or leg injuries.

Oh well, we can only handicap the 20 that are running, and, although not the strongest field in memory, this looks like a decent betting race. I’m changing my format a bit this year, and breaking the contenders down by their chances to win—or at least end up in the money.

Strong Chance

LOOKIN AT LUCKY 3-1 ML (Trainer: Bob Baffert; Jockey: Garrett Gomez)
I’m going against my annual tradition, and picking the favorite this year. This son of Smart Strike would actually have been my pick even if Eskendereya was running. With Eskendereya out, I like him that much more. Despite his unlucky third in the Santa Anita Derby, Lookin At Lucky is the most battle-tested of these runners. He faced trouble and a wide trip and lost by just a nose in the Breeders’ Cup Juve. That might have been a fortunate technicality for him, as BC Juve champs almost never go on to win the Derby. He also had to overcome adversity in the G-2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn, and then again in the Santa Anita Derby, where he got squeezed on the rail and had to slam on the brakes, almost losing rider Garrett Gomez. Unless he just has a propensity for finding trouble, he should get a cleaner trip—especially after the scolding Baffert gave Gomez for putting his prize colt at risk.

AWESOME ACT 10-1 ML (Trainer: Jeremy Nosada; Jockey: Julien Leparoux)
My top two picks have a few things in common. They both had bad racing luck in their last outings; they are piloted by the two winningest jockeys in the nation; and both will be rolling late. While Lookin At Lucky’s bad trip was obvious to even the most casual viewer, Awesome Act’s misfortune can only have been seen with the help of a zoom lens. He kicked his front shoe off at the break of the Wood Memorial, and was easily beaten by Eskendereya. Still, that’s like trying to run a 100-yard dash with your shoe untied. It’s amazing he ran as well as he did. I’m ignoring that race, and focusing on his previous steady improvement and his impressive recent workout at Churchill Downs.

ICE BOX 10-1 ML (Trainer: Nicholas Zito; Jockey: Jose Lezcano)
This is the only true late closer in the group, and with the pace expected to be very fast early, I expect this guy to be passing them in the late stretch, and he might catch Lookin before the wire.


NOBLE’S PROMISE 12-1 ML (Trainer: Kenneth McPeek; Jockey: Willie Martinez)
Despite four straight races without getting his picture taken, there’s a lot to like about Noble’s Promise. He’s keeps ending up behind Lookin At Lucky, but aside from the Arkansas Derby (where he had a shaky start), he’s usually right there at the wire.

PADDY O’PRADO 20-1 ML (Trainer: Dale Romans; Jockey: Kent Desormeaux)
Although I’m generally suspicious of speed horses this year, I still think this colt has a chance. He hasn’t raced on traditional dirt since his first race on a sloppy track, so the surface is a question mark. But he sure has been firing bullets in his recent workouts.

DEVIL MAY CARE 10-1 ML (Trainer: Todd Pletcher; Jockey: John Velazquez)
Filly in the Derby. She’s part of the Todd Squad, subbing in for Eskendereya (and picking up his rider). We’ve all become aware in recent big races that the girls can certainly compete with the boys, and she gets the 5-lb weight break for being a girl. She’s also one of only three here who’s ever gotten a 100 Beyer figure. Hmmm…I wonder if I’m rating her high enough.

JACKSON BEND 10-1 ML (Trainer: Nicholas Zito; Jockey: Mike Smith)
I hope I’m not being a sucker here. I’m kinda going by past reputation and who he’s been beaten by. This is one of the other horses with a 100 Beyer, but that was six and a half months ago at Calder, and JB hasn’t cracked 95 since then. Hall of Famer Smith jumps on for the first time. He’s workin’ fast at Churchill. Don’t ask questions. I think he’s got a shot.

Outside Shot

SIDNEY’S CANDY 5-1 ML (Trainer: John Sadler; Jockey: Joe Talamo)
I’d love to root for this horse as my top pick. I’ve watched him race all year at Santa Anita; love his trainer; it's a second chance for jockey Smokin’ Joe (after I Want Revenge’s late scratch as the favorite last year) in the Derby; and Jenny Craig owns him and named him for her late husband. (Yeah, Jenny Craig! The weight loss lady!!) Sidney's Candy’s the second favorite on the morning line, but I don’t think he’s gonna win. I’m not even sure he comes in the money. It looks like he’ll like running on real dirt, but I just don’t think he’s gonna get one of the carefree trips he’s been getting at Santa Anita. He’s coming out of the 20-hole, and he’s gonna have to bust his ass to get to the lead, and then they’re gonna be on his back all the way around. I’m afraid to toss him completely, but I just don’t think he’ll hold up. I’m sorry, I feel bad saying that.

AMERICAN LION 30-1 ML (Trainer: Eoin Harty; Jockey: David Flores)
Here’s another one that, if I were consistent, I’d be tossing out. He’s gonna be toward the lead on a fast pace, and that’s not a good game plan. Still, he sure perked up when he went to real dirt in the Illinois Derby, and he hasn’t needed the absolute lead in most of his races. What the hell—at 30-1, I’m leaving him in the trifecta. I’m big that way.

CONVEYANCE 12-1 ML (Trainer: Bob Baffert; Jockey: Martin Garcia)
Another speedball I’m giving a chance to. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t. But I’ve been watching Baffert and Garcia team up for stakes wins all year, and based on works, this guy certainly seems to like the track. I’m operating on pure fear.

DUBLIN 12-1 ML (Trainer: D. Wayne Lucas; Jockey: Terry Thompson)
Despite his inability to close the deal his past several races, I’m giving this guy a chance. Dublin has the late-running style that this race sets up for, and Lucas has won four Derbies. I’m keeping him in.

SUPER SAVER 15-1 ML (Trainer: Todd Pletcher; Jockey: Calvin Borel)
Part of the Todd Squad; also part of the early speed. But I’ve been hearing nothing but how good this guy looks in the morning, and disregarding “Bo-Rail” cost you a couple hundred on a $2 bet last year, didn’t it? Leave him in!!


MISSION IMPAZIBLE 20-1 ML (Trainer: Todd Pletcher; Jockey: Rajiv Maragh)
Another part of the Todd Squad, but doesn’t really belong in this field. He hasn’t really beaten (or been beaten by) anybody, and his Beyers don’t stick out. He’s just going to add to Pletcher’s gaudy Derby loss numbers.

DISCREETLY MINE 30-1 ML (Trainer: Todd Pletcher; Jockey: Javier Castellano)
Okay, now we’re getting into some big longshot numbers here. No Beyers over 95; he beat no one special, and he’s gonna get burnt out on the lead. He ain’t gonna be 30-1. The morning line guy was being nice. At least fitty!! Fitty to one!

STATELY VICTOR 30-1 ML (Trainer: Michael Maker; Jockey: Alan Garcia)
He won as a 40-1 longshot in the Toyota Bluegrass Stakes. The Bluegrass is run on synthetic surface; the Derby’s on dirt. Before that, he’d barely cracked an 80 Beyer. He seems to be working okay, but there’s nothing to raise expectations that he’ll make a radical move forward. Hope, I guess. (A guy based a presidential campaign on that recently, didn’t he?)

LINE OF DAVID 30-1 ML (Trainer: John Sadler; Jockey: Rafael Bejarano)
Nice upset shocker in Arkansas. His Beyers are improving. Still, he didn’t get much pressure up front there; it’s gonna be a whole different picture in Louisville. At Santa Anita, I have a rule: if Rafi’s odds go up, bet him. These odds will go up, and I’m not betting on Rafi today.

HOMEBOY KRIS 50-1 ML (Trainer: Richard Dutrow; Jockey: Ramon Dominguez)
Fun trivia: Joe Torre owns a piece of this horse. Dutrow can train; Dominguez can ride; the horse had a nice workout the other day. I just don’t see anything in the record, though, to suggest he’s got even an outside chance here. This is the kind that ends up biting you in the ass.

DEAN’S KITTEN 50-1 ML (Trainer: Michael Maker; Jockey: Robby Albarado)
On the pace deal, I think this one’s got a better chance than the Pletchers. Still, it took him a long time to finally break a 90 Beyer, and he did that on a synthetic surface in a race that doesn’t usually produce Derby winners. Doesn’t seem realistic.

MAKE MUSIC FOR ME 50-1 ML (Trainer: Alexis Barba; Jockey: Joel Rosario)
I don’t even know why this horse is in here. Probably just to mock me. A short while ago, I had him pegged as a horse to watch. He didn’t deliver for me then, and now he’s just in over his head. I hope running in a brutal contest like this doesn’t ruin whatever career he might have had.

BACKTALK 50-1 ML (Trainer: Thomas Amoss; Jockey: Miguel Mena)
He got beat by American Lion by 14 lengths in the Illinois Derby. He won a couple of graded sprints early in his career. (Those two-year-old sprints earnings should not count towards the Derby.) The longest race he ran well in was a mile. He simply doesn’t belong in here. The 50-1 is another gift.

Betting Strategy

I feel good enough about Lookin At Lucky that I’m going to suggest a fairly risky bet, which would pay off very handsomely: A Trifecta using Lookin At Lucky on top, all of those horses I said were okay in the 2nd slot, and then Awesome Act in third. Then, make the same play, but switch the horses in the place and show slots, putting Awesome Act in 2nd this time. So, when placing the bet, it would look as follows:

1 /with 2, 3, 4, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 17, 20 / with 16
and then
1 / with 16 / with 2, 3, 4, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 17, 20

Each bet would be $10. So, for a total of $20, you could potentially make thousands. I think it’s worth a shot.

[Steve Brady is Sports Media America's Los Angeles-based horse-racing handicapper.]

Monday, February 22, 2010

His Heart Belongs to Daddy

Sometimes the smallest little news items can grab your attention. Such as the AP story today stating that Kevin Gilbride Jr., son of New York Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride Sr., has been added to the Giants' coaching staff.

This kind of blatant nepotism wouldn't be so bad if Jr. had a competitive resume. I mean, really, isn't making it into the NFL coaching ranks the dream of many a college assistant? Even college head coaches? And what're the odds? Seems like the tumblers have to fall into place, and not everybody can get a sweet "in" like Gilbride Jr.—not even assistants at big-name colleges.

Now, besides being his daddy's son, Gilbride Jr.—who will be the Giants' new offensive quality control coach, whatever the f&%k that means—brings to his position a football coaching background of three seasons as wide receivers coach at Temple. Prior to that, Gilbride coached receivers and tight ends and "did some work on special teams" at Georgetown. Before that, he was a grad. ass. at Syracuse.

Syracuse, Georgetown and Temple. Except for Temple's modest resurgence this year, that program's been terrible for years. Ditto Syracuse. Georgetown? That program isn't too far removed from its club football days. So you can't say Jr. has exactly been distinguishing himself with kickass college organizations. But now he's an NFL assistant.

One more lesson in "It's not what you know, it's WHO you know," and daddy's the best one to know.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Heart Update

Walked 1.2 miles this morning. Day 11, Nicotine Clean.

Tiger, Tiger, Burning Not So Bright...

Poor Tiger Woods. So talented. So rich. So pheromonal.

So messed up.

Media reaction to Tiger’s apologia publica Friday has ranged from astonished praise to outright cynicism. As for me, I’m trying to find the middle ground, though it’s not that easy to do. Like newspaper writer and TV bigmouth Stephen A. Smith, I am tending toward mistrust on Tiger’s mea culpa.

It’s not that I don’t think Tiger wants to be apologetic, or try to put a better foot forward, regarding revelations about his marital infidelity. But the whole 14 minutes, despite a few moments of possible credibility, smacked of theater—and not a very convincing brand, either. More like community theater, at best.

One post-show pundit said, “He’s not an actor,” as if that excused Tiger from his awkwardnesses and helped to affirm the authenticity of his address and the feelings behind it.

But the more I watched—CNN and ESPN showed the “press conference” repeatedly—and with his wife, Elin, thunderously NOT present, the more Tiger’s words became "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" [Macbeth, Act V, Scene V]. Even those carefully scripted crescendos intended to chastise the press for exploiting his wife and kids seemed like somewhat lame attempts to boost his own chivalry despite his obviously most unchivalric situation. Which just made it all look curious.

There was a side of me that actually wondered if Tiger weren’t coming across as sociopathic. Certainly he registered pretty high on the narcissism scale.

Ultimately, I just think this came off as a bad idea that really didn’t work very well. If he had faced a battery of reporters and answered their questions straightforwardly, he’d’ve had a better chance to come off as honest, even if he proved reluctant to answer some questions or even just pled “no comment.”

At a time when Tiger needs to look more human and humble than ever, he came off as robotic and sometimes churlish. (The perfect passive-aggressive cocktail of emotion.)

He made some headway in explaining his situation with Elin—if you believe him, that is—but he still struck out in explaining himself.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Heart Chronicle (Part 5)

So I’m finally at home, rebounding from cardiac surgery and the shock of it all, glad to be within my own four, very dingy, walls. Then my friend, singer Stacey Shaffer-Bishop, calls me, and says she’s coming over with stuff for me to eat. And gosh darn if she doesn’t bring me a big, big pot of homemade chicken soup (no salt used in its preparation), coffee, matzo crackers, salad greens, some Girl Scout cookies(!), and other assorted sidebars. Most all of this stuff is good (or not bad, anyway) for one’s heart.

The matzo crackers, for example, have almost freaking nothing in them: no fat, no trans fat, no cholesterol, no sodium. They are bland to the taste, yeah, but you can put some organic cream cheese on one (Stacey brought me that, too!), and it’s not bad at all.

Then a few days later, my friend Deanna brought over two kinds of homemade soups—the Soup Sisters rule!—plus a box of stone ground sesame crackers and a bottle of sparkling cranberry drink. Fantastic!

And now I’m an oatmeal freak. (No one in my past life would ever believe that.)

As I’ve pointed out previously, I don’t think, pre-heart attack, I would have fallen into the category of horrendous eater, but clearly I wasn’t doing myself any good. Basically I was doing what too many typical American males do: Eating exactly what I wanted when I wanted. That has to change, but complete denial of the goodies can be avoided if I’m smart about it. (And it was very wonderful to learn through my experience that I am not diabetic. Those folks face real challenges.)

With a little help from my friends, I’m already learning things about fat and sodium and cholesterol and trans fats, etc. Watching one’s daily allotment for intake of potentially harmful substances pays dividends, I’m sure, and I can guess that, once it becomes habit-forming, also becomes a little easier to parse through. I say this with all cautious optimism, ‘cause—dammit!—I love to eat sometimes...

Meanwhile, I’ve been investigating some food-biz movies of the recent era, documentaries and docu-dramas like Fast Food Nation and Super Size Me and Food, Inc. Now I’m not going to go all wild-eyed political here on the state of food in this country. You can do that for yourself once you watch these well-known flicks, if you haven’t seen them already.

Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock’s journey through a McDonald’s-only diet, can be viewed in 10-minute increments on You Tube. The other two are available through NetFlix or wherever.

These flicks are only tangential to the personal heart-attack experience—after all, we’re each responsible for our own body, right? Yet they do help shine some light on the culture of food in America, with a special spotlight on the nexus where profitability and health meet and then diverge.

In corporate America’s desire to maximize profits in food, they essentially exploit two things: humankind’s addictive tendency; and poverty. These are huge things for our society to consider and confront. Not to mention where capitalism fits into the whole scenario, where thousands of workers earn their livings from the business of foisting crap on their fellow citizens.

Like many things in America, it’s not really about class or race or education—it’s mostly about money: who has it and who can afford to spend wisely and healthfully on food. Anyway, within this general subject heading, there is much for the average person to learn about healthful eating.

What can I say? I love a Big Mac, too. And the fries. And eating those once in a while isn’t going to destroy my health profile. But really, more thoughtfully, why would you put that stuff into your system when you don’t have to? Something to think about always when the fast-food, or quick-food, decision is before you.

And seriously, if everyone in the U.S. got healthier in their eating, I guess thousands of people at McDonald’s and Burger King and the candy companies and farmers cranking out high-fructose corn syrup and fattening up hogs and cows and chickens in suspicious ways would soon enough be unemployed. (Okay, I’m not getting into government subsidies for agri-products, but that subject needs to be discussed, too.)

Hell, once I get my ticker back in shape, I could very well eat myself a naughty burger. Believe me, I approach all of this stuff with humility. But if my thinking about it gets others to think about it, too, then that’s cool.

The Heart Chronicle (Part 6) is up next: Smoking.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Heart Chronicle, Part 4: Mostly for Men Only

I received three particularly interesting phone calls within a day or two of my surgery. All were from males. All were non-smokers, right around 50 years old. All lived alone. All expressed their concern for my brush with mortality, but I perceived something else behind their words and their cautious attitude.

Suddenly, I was doing the listening. And I guess that was okay because I had endured my crucible and survived and now I could be a kind of father-confessor for these “men of a certain age.” Each guy told me his feelings about his own current health, whether he ate well enough or exercised enough or worried about his blood pressure or had some family health history that gnawed at him.

It was really quite endearing, and I started to see how my heart attack was already serving a broader purpose: it had created awareness among guys who probably would just rather not think about these things.

Hell, I never wanted to think about ’em. I love cigarettes and coffee. I like rich foods. I love sugary citrus drinks. I like salting my French fries. I love a Fat Mo’s burger [local reference]. I like everything with a Reese’s candy label on it. I can devour a box of deluxe LU dark-chocolate cookies in one sitting. I like sodium-rich canned chicken corn chowder. I like to make my own tacos, and be generous with the sour cream. I put butter on everything. The list goes on.

Alas, like boxing, all that is a young man’s game. So, even if you’re a guy who does not smoke, there are things that demand your vigilance. It doesn’t take much time or effort or expense to get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked out, just to see where you’re at—and where you OUGHT to be at. (For the record, my numbers weren’t shockingly bad, but they were elevated, and combined with smoking, well...yeah.)

Making modest dietary adjustments can make a huge difference, and you can still have some of your favorite junky foods often enough. The exercise angle is also not that demanding: Just get out two, three, four days a week, WALKING. You’ll feel better as a matter of course—like a tiger, I hope—but also you’ll be doing ongoing maintenance on your cardiovascular system. (And thus helping yourself to avoid a costly, time-consuming trip to a hospital.)

Such changes can be interpolated pretty easily into one’s weekly routine, without a lot of denial. And here’s the fact: Males encounter cardiac difficulties 10 years earlier than women, on average. By age 45— whether you smoke or not—you are in a risk category, and that’s just the way it is.

Yes, fear is a psychological player in this scenario. Yes, it COULD happen to you. And even supposedly healthy people have heart attacks. But, you know, knowledge is power. Maintenance reaps good results and provides you a feeling of control. And really, the odds are on your side.

I guess, coming from a nicotine fiend like me, it sounds disingenuous, but... living healthy is its own reward. That’s a really good lesson to learn—and you don’t have to have a heart attack to learn it.

The Heart Chronicle (Part 5) is coming soon. Stay alert!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Brad Paisley's Crappy Happy Talk

A few words about Brad Paisley’s video, Welcome to the Future, which I continue to see in rotation on CMT, though it’s been more than six months since its release. How about “Yuck”? Or “Ugh”?

Paisley, well-respected as a country artist, has finally jumped the shark. About as "country" as a shopping mall in Minnesota, Paisley unselfconsciously strives to use his considerable podium as a way to “transform” country music, to truly expand its influence to a broader popular market—$$$!—while also attempting to hold on to the things that make the country market “country.”

Paisley wants to have his cake and eat it too: Pretend that he’s the scion of the music of Hank Williams, but also a cool, contemporary (and sexy!) rockin’ cat not too far removed from the teenage concerns of his supposed audience, redneck or otherwise.

But popular music—never mind “country”—is in the shitter, methinks, when we have a song with lyrics like, “I’d have given anything to have my own Pac-Man game at home...” or “I was on a video chat this morning with a company in Tokyo...” Now that’s poetry, man...

All of this is in tribute to the technical age we live in: “Hey, glory, glory, hallelujah / Welcome to the future...” Wow. Brad Paisley meets George Orwell. Or at least hints that he might know who George Orwell is. Or what the future is. Pretty rad for C&W, right?

Of course, this is the good future. Squeaky-clean and upbeat. Where classic country music never necessarily went.

In Paisley’s world, kids with artificial limbs and in wheelchairs smile and look forward to competing in athletic events, the video style of director Jim Shea limning the candy-coated drek of public service announcements ad nauseam. It’s all blessedly One World. Apolitical. Unrealistic. Video crystal meth for ostriches.

Paisley's also got one de rigueur early verse about “My grandpa was in World War II...” Yah, let’s not forget to play the war card, Brad—it’s a country song, remember?—and war SUCKS, but it’s okay to celebrate it if Gramps “fought against the Japanese / He wrote a hundred letters to my grandma / Mailed ‘em from his base in the Philippines...” Those words are devoid of rhyme or inspiration but gol-dang if it doesn’t connect pretty-boy Brad to blood and guts (which he’ll never have to spill, for anyone). In case you didn’t know, this is called MANIPULATION.

Then Paisley throws in two verses about racism—”They burned a cross in his front yard / For asking out the homecoming queen...” plus “From a woman on a bus [Rosa Parks, in case you didn’t guess] / To a man with a dream...” (Doh!) Were those lines written by the “Family Guy” manatees on “South Park”?

Yeah, let’s head racism off at the pass with that one. It’s ALL good, now, folks, ’cause Everyman Brad says it’s so.

Now, I have no problem with our world becoming ever more Paisley Perfect. What I resent is crappy, uninspired, formulaic, warmed-over music with vile lyrics that have no heart and are designed to get the sheeple out to buy CDs and attend concerts. ‘Cause, you know, like, everything’s fantastic!!

Only in your world, Brad. Only in your world.

P.S. According to Wikipedia, "Paisley played the song at the White House for President Barack Obama." That may help explain a lot of things.

The Heart Chronicle (Part 3)

[This is the third installment of a multiple-chapter essay on my recent heart surgery. Scroll down to read Parts 1 and 2.]

In the early morning of Feb. 13, about nine hours before my release from Vanderbilt Medical Center, I became increasingly emotional. Sitting there in the dark, my roommate asleep but snoring on the other side of the partition—my short-term ordeal coming near to its end—I began to weep.

I was overcome by sadness. I had had this physical event and survived, but I started thinking, I guess, about my life—now so much nearer its end than its beginning. I thought about my failures, especially as a husband and father, and about how I’d blown a lot of important personal stuff, including as regards earning a sufficient living—starving artist-ism being all well and good if you eventually make it big and then don’t have to worry about paying off costly medical bills.

I also thought about my bad personal habits, especially cigarette smoking, which I count as THE major contributor to my heart attack. Something I could’ve controlled.

My family history does not tend toward heart disease. I have forebears who lived into their eighties and even beyond. Generally speaking, I appear to be in trim-enough shape. I’ve eaten my share of bad calories, of course, but I don’t think I've been the worst kind of abuser. I have a fairly sophisticated palate, and I can’t eat junk food consistently without running very readily to “real food.” I’d say that my pre-cardiac overall eating patterns were not that un-healthy, in relative terms.

Nevertheless...too much caffeine? Probably. Too many sugared drinks? Yes. (I’m a sucker for flavored lemonades.) Lots of beef and cheese, plus fries, with extra salt? Yes, maybe, but I always pulled back too, with a salad and soup, and usually I have avoided junk food in consecutive meals, on consecutive days. And, despite the generally sedentary nature of my work, I feel I have stayed active enough. (Though maybe not, it turns out.)

Given my general profile, it is my belief that cigarettes alone brought me to the abyss at Vanderbilt. Decades of smoking can precipitate heart attack. You didn’t hear it here first, of course, but as I embark on this new phase of living, it is the mantra I must continue to repeat.

About 25 years ago, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing British novelist Anthony Burgess (A Clockwork Orange, etc.) at a book convention in Manhattan. My own father, a novelist himself and a longtime smoker, had recently passed away. Burgess, born only 33 days after my dad, and hence his living, breathing contemporary, was smoking, and I joined him.

Somewhere amidst our discussion of dystopian literature, social engineering, politics, the age of celebrity and so many other wide-ranging topics that Burgess expounded on with brilliance, I asked him about cigarettes. I remember his response to this day with crystal clarity: “It’s such a delicious addiction.” It is that.

Back in my hospital bed, the tears and sobbing stayed steady for awhile, then were dispersed by a sudden cry in my head of “Fuck!”—as if cursing a heart attack, or all my guilt, could chase them away. Nah, it just makes you feel a little... energized. Though that's not a bad thing to be when your daily life is about to be turned upside-down.

Let the search for new "delicious addictions" commence.

Up next: The Heart Chronicle (Part 4): Mostly for Men Only

Monday, February 15, 2010

Separated at Birth?

Actress Starina Johnson (Stuck!)

NASCAR's Danica Patrick

The Heart Chronicle (Part 2)

[This is the second installment of a multiple-chapter essay on my recent heart surgery. Scroll down to read Part 1.]

Following my surgery, I have some vague recollection of being wheeled somewhere and perhaps even of being on an elevator. (Wondrous sedatives keep the new heart patient in a heavenly guessing game.) By the time I got my mental bearings, and some physical clarity, I found myself in Room 7016, Bed B, in Vanderbilt Medical Center’s cardiology unit, which actually spans several floors.

Before I learned exactly what had happened to me, I was approached by a registered nurse named Heather Jones, who soon enough let it be known that she was not only blessed with good nursing and charming people skills but also—well, how else to say it?—was simply a beautiful angel of mercy walking. She oversaw the work of another very earnest young nurse’s assistant named Brittany (didn’t catch the last name), and the evening and early morning shift was handled by one Rachel Fowler, who was wonderful to me.

The exact sequence of early events remains a tad fuzzy, but at some point doctor(s) came to inform me that I had what was classified as a “mild” heart attack, but nonetheless one with real concerns for the future and potential negative outcomes that demanded forestalling by lifestyle changes.

Like former president Bill Clinton that very day, I’d had a stent placed into a blood vessel in my heart. Let’s skip exactly how this is done, though it is a wonder of medical science, if by now a fairly routine procedure. The stent opens the sluggish vessel and allows blood to flow more freely. Even better for me, the vessel of concern was not a “major” one—all things being equal, you understand—but rather a tributary connecting the heart’s outer wall (left, from my POV) to a major vessel.

I am a lucky one. Well past 50, and having been a heavy, and heavier, smoker since high school, I’m frankly surprised that my heart didn’t give out a lot more. (Really, if I tell you how old I was when I took my first drag on a cigarette...well, it’s just not right, though it certainly is a testament to the essential resilience of the human body.) My two different roommates were facing really serious triple and/or quadruple bypass surgeries, some of the details of which I overheard on my side of the partition. One gent was even going over his will on the phone. Poignant stuff.

Meanwhile, I felt surprisingly and increasingly chipper. Nurses brought me food, which I picked at, mostly because I was too damn excited to focus on eating, though eventually I found my appetite. Then my phone started ringing, as friends and relatives began to call, and things started to feel almost sociable. The fact that my blood pressure kept dropping and all other vital signs were stable certainly improved my spirits, and it crossed my mind that maybe—just maybe—I'd dodged a major bullet.

I had a few important visitors in my first 36 hours in Room 7016, including filmmaker Glen Weiss, sportswriter/radio host Henry Nichols, writer/library official Deanna Larson, theatrical producer Ken Bernstein and actor Ian Jameson. These awesome folks all played a role in elevating my spirits and getting me safely home by early afternoon on Saturday, Feb. 13.

Yet the heavy lifting was still ahead of me.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Heart Chronicle (Part 1)

Today is Day 4 in my new life as a heart attack patient.

I entered Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Emergency Room at approximately 3:30 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 11. I had driven myself to the hospital after experiencing strange chest discomfort and increasing pain, of a sort that would make any aware person realize that action was needed. I wasn’t exactly sure what was wrong, of course, but I had a suspicion, and besides, when we’re talking about pain, then understanding exact cause is irrelevant.

Vandy’s ER team rushed into action, and, unlike TV medical shows—where glib professionals preoccupied with their personal lives offer pregnant-with-meaning commentary while dealing with medical challenges—these folks attended to me only, with determination and focus. (Really, I don’t think even one of the medics was thinking about his/her orgasm.)

I am moved when I think about what I witnessed. I wish I had names, but alas the event was a blur of bodies lurching left and right of me, as wires and tubes, laptops, oral medications, monitors, IVs, EKG stuff—you name it—were brought to bear on the case. Whoever you all are, you are simply, indescribably amazing, and whoever taught you your craft should be incredibly proud.

Finally, about two hours into all of this, after a combination of nitroglycerine pills and morphine brought my pain into a manageable state, a Dr. Mark Glazer told me that he was recommending immediate heart surgery for me—to not only isolate the exact cause but also to relieve the problem at the same time. This was the first time in this whole experience that someone had used the term "heart attack."

I am uninsured. I visibly glitched. No one was saying how much any of this would be costing. But I already knew generally how much an ER heart workup costs, ’cause I had one nine years ago at the same place, when I managed to transform a simple anxiety attack into a several-thousand-dollar ER visit, in which I found out that my heart was just fine, thank you. It took me a few years to pay that off. This was different, though. Surgery?

Dr. Glazer appeared slightly perturbed, his face expressively seeming to say, “Well, duh, we KNOW it’s your heart, dummy. Do you wanna try to get it fixed, or should we just send you on your way??”

I can still see the look of exasperation in his eyes, sort of like Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive, the moment before Harrison Ford leaps into the waterfall, surely plunging to his death.

Finally, after excruciating seconds passed, a nurse to my immediate left—rather cute and African American, as I recall—chimed in with, “Well, $10,000 versus your, uh...” My what??

I caved. Bring it on.

I was whisked into a surgical unit. I stayed alert enough to experience an incision made into my inner thigh near my groin. Then a kind of twilight-sleep sensation overcame me. Next thing I knew, I had awoken in a surgical holding area, in a most blessed kind of blissfulness. (Damn, those drugs are good. Really. No, REALLY!)

Part 2 of The Heart Chronicle coming soon.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Hattiesburg or Bust: Where the Horny Sports Guys Go

Hattiesburg, Mississsippi: Home of the University of Southern Mississippi, Brett Favre’s college career...and horny disgraced sports figures.

Until today, I had missed the story about former Mets GM and former ESPN baseball guy Steve Phillips’ sex addiction travails. I wondered (sort of) where Phillips was on ESPN hot stove coverage, though I was never a fan of his bluster and I can’t say that I missed him. I always thought Phillips' analysis sounded fake and uninformed, which is saying a lot for a guy who’d GM’d a major league baseball team for six years (1997-2003). (Full, objective disclosure: Phillips was the Mets’ GM in 2000, the year they went to the World Series.)

Anyway, a career dating back to the early ’90s with the Mets, plus six years with ESPN. That’s earning a lot of decent coin, especially for a guy who never played MLB—and a lot more money than the rest of us Average Joe sleazebags have to blow on skanks.

Phillips was accused of sexual harassment in 1998, so there were, uh, signs of his, uh, proclivities, which apparently run toward homely chubby chicks. And get this, Phillips has a degree in psychology from Michigan. (Burp.)

But now he’s joined superstar golfer Tiger Woods as a graduate of the Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services clinic in Hattiesburg, which seems like an odd place for sexed-up, out-of-control sports figures to congregate. Well, it’s Mississippi, so maybe the blues link is appropriate. And Mississippi, in general, is kind of desolate, too, which might keep a guy out of harm’s way. But I’m sure USM has tons of hot, young chicks—chubby or otherwise—to inveigle the Tigers and Steves to sneak out of the clinic at night. Sort of like Jack Nicholson and all the inmates in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. (Road trip!! Woo-hoo!!)

Anyway, now Phillips is unemployed and takes his place in line as yet another poster boy for sex addiction, joining Woods and other celebs in this club honoring a most dubious distinction, which, in fact, probably plagues most all of us guys—if only we had the money and opportunity to work it right.

So here are the pics you’ve been waiting for: [Top] Phillips in Clintonian pose with Brooke Hundley, the former ESPN production assistant (she got fired, too), who went all Fatal Attraction on the Phillips family. (Eeesh!) [Middle] Rosa Rodriguez, subject of Phillips’ harassment case. (Eye roll.) [Bottom] Marni Phillips,

Steve’s wife, who’s been putting up with his shit for years and might be divorcing him.

There’s one thing Tiger and Steve have in common: Apparently they like boinking chicks that are LESS attractive than their spouses.

Must be the easy pickin’s.

Now, if ESPN wants to forestall stuff like this happening in the future, all they have to do is stop hiring women. It’s an idea whose time has come. Otherwise, bookmark that Yahoo Maps page for Hattiesburg. Y’all come down!

Saints, Sinners, Losers, Winners: Super Bowl-ing in Nashville

Nope, I have no problem with the Saints winning the Super Bowl. Good for them, and always cool to see a previous non-SB winner join the esteemed club.

Now let’s get working on the Browns, Lions, Eagles, Bengals, Titans, Texans, Jaguars, Panthers, Falcons, Chargers, Vikings, Bills, Cardinals and Seahawks. (Man, that’s a LOT of teams who have never won a Super Bowl in a supposedly parity-rich league.)

But pardon me if there are lots of things about the event that require correcting. Like bandwagon sportwriters saying how “brilliant” Sean Payton’s second-half-opening onsides kick was.

Things are always brilliant when they work. If it hadn’t, and Manning takes the Colts down for an immediate score, and the Colts go up 17-6, then Payton looks like a complete dumbass who just short-circuited the little bit of momentum his team had built at the end of the second quarter when they got lucky and got a chance to kick a field goal that they should’ve kicked four minutes earlier but didn’t because their “brilliant” coach decided to go for a touchdown on 4th and goal in a very close game—and failed.

If you want to say that Payton’s aggressive stance overall turned the tide in the Saints’ favor, I won’t disagree. But really, it was probably the Saints’ defense that won the game, forcing Manning and the Colts to punt at times when they normally might have put points on the board. The FG miss by Matt Stover didn’t help, either. There’s irony there, too, since Stover was acquired as a fill-in for Adam Vinatieri, and he was never expected, at his advanced age (42), to be hitting long field goals. Stover proved still very good within 40 yards, and he helped the Colts a lot this year, but he’s not the guy you want attempting 51-yarders. Big games turn on little things.

Funny, Joseph Addai was running lights out for the Colts—13 for 77, with a TD and some punishing yards—and one wonders why the Colts didn’t press the game on the ground. It probably never occurs to them actually. Maybe it will next time around.

The Saints’ running stats were lame, by the way—51 yards in 18 attempts. Overall, the Colts yielded 100 fewer yards than the Saints, and their D seemed to be exerting maximum effort. But, like in love and in getting a cool job, timing is everything.

The Saints played well, and when Manning threw the INT—he does do that from time to time, and the law of averages caught up with him—it was over. What happens if Manning drives his team down the field for a game-tying TD, possibly forcing overtime, is a question we’ll never get answered.

On the media front, I was relieved of hearing Jim Nance’s play-by-play due to a glitch with my cable that gives me picture but no sound on CBS. Fine with me. Fact is, I don’t think Nance is any good. Yeah, he’s handsome and has that warm, resonant voice, but truth is, I don’t think of him as a “sports guy.” He’s always filling up the air with personal sidebars and shit that some PA probably handed to him earlier in the week. Then they send Nance-y Boy down onto the field afterwards to pass out the hardware. He’s soft. Like those “legacy” speeches he makes about the Master’s while tinkling piano music plays in the background. (Those make me ill, too, actually.)

So I listened to the radio while I watched the telly, and you can’t beat Marv Albert and Boomer Esiason on Westwood One’s national feed. Marv may be an acknowledged sex pervert—for which I would never judge him—but he sure calls an intense game. He even makes an incomplete pass sound good. And Boomer is not bad as an analyst. Marv just lets Boomer go on his merry way and sticks to the play-by-play, and the effect is great.

Now, as to half-time entertainment, well, I left my house around then to get a burger and some other necessary game supplies. I only, thankfully, caught about a minute of The Who, and I’m here to say definitively that I hate geezer rockers, and that if the best the SB committee can come up with is a 45-year-old non-American band, half of whose original members are dead (Moon and Entwistle), then our pop culture is in really sad shape. Worse still, over the weekend, I heard moron Mike Golic state on ESPN Radio that he was hoping they’d get Kenny Chesney for next year’s SB halftime in Dallas. God help us all.

Allrighty then! See you at the draft in April.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Kiffin Bolts Vols...and Good Riddance

Nashville's latest sports radio talkathon is happening on weeknights on WNSR, 560-AM, 6-9 p.m., with up-and-coming nattering nabobs Jeff Thurn and Henry Nichols offering an alternative brand of gab and opinion. Two nights in and the young duo's chemistry and penchant for chatty wisecracking definitely sounds like a good idea. The twosome banter and take phone calls, and if that doesn't so far strike anyone as revolutionary, at least they seem willing to head for an anti-establishment tone.

Unlike Nashville's rank-and-file radio sports vets—no names please, Obsequious George (Ooops! That slipped!)—these guys actually seem to have a sense of humor. That certainly served them well as Thurn and Nichols chortled over Lane Kiffin's surprise exit from Tennessee to become USC's new head football coach. Thurn and Nichols fairly gushed, too, about Kiffin's prospects for success on the West Coast.

Dragging his daddy, defensive guru Monte, with him, along with veteran assistant coach and recruiter Ed Orgeron, Kiffin bails on Knoxville after one season filled with hoopla and high hopes but average results. He also comes off looking like a first-rate carpetbagger in this neck of the woods, all of 34 years old, spouting off like an immature newbie from the get-go, instead of keeping his mouth shut and his essentially untried ass quietly to the grindstone while attempting to build a program at his first major college head coaching job.

Funny, in my 10 years living in Nashville, I've never been a Vols fan. Usually, I root for Vandy for about 4 games then lose interest as their fortunes fade. But suddenly I feel like UT's been dealt a raw deal, and it's my hope that, instead of feeling all wounded, the school will look upon Kiffin's exit as an opportunity to find a coach who fits their lofty goals and who wants to hang around these here parts for a while, no matter what. And more power to the Vols if they do something bold during this stressful time, with big recruiting decisions nigh. They could even be excused if they do something controversial. (Mike Leach, anybody?)

As for Kiffin, I'm not buying his act just quite yet. Here's a guy with a 5-15 record in the pros with the Raiders, and a 7-6 record with the Vols in a single season. Yeah, he might be young and blonde and California-friendly, but this guy has yet to prove that he's a kick-ass head coach. He's noted as a recruiter, and, yes, that's a large part of college ball. But what Kiffin has yet to prove is if he's a leader and a shaper of disparate parts into a consistently winning team. The Kiffin-USC experience will be especially interesting to watch if the school is penalized for recent rumored program violations.

Fact is, Kiffin never looked like a keeper in Knoxville from the beginning anyway. So good riddance, and let's root for UT AD Mike Hamilton in his hurry-up search for a replacement.