Monday, November 30, 2009
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Friday, November 27, 2009
Welcome in boys and girls, to another episode of "Sleeping with the Enemy." I've mentioned before that I've had some occasional difficulty getting Chargers fans to commit to participating in this feature, but on this go-around, we're thankful to have Loren S Casuto from Bolt Talk join us.
Looking forward to installment two of Chiefs/Chargers this Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium, we stoked the fire and and stirred the gravy regarding the current state of affairs in the AFC West, and we'd love it if you too, would join us, just after the jump.
Bankmeister: For starters, tell us a bit about your affiliation with the Chargers. Lifelong fan? Transplant? Bandwagon? What are your top three Bolt memories?
Loren S Casuto: I was born and raised in San Diego, so rooting for the Chargers was natural. I've been a fan since I was about 6 (1990), so I am one of the younger fans on Bolttalk and amongst the Charger population. That means my memories are more recent and I can't claim to have seen the great Air Coryell teams. With that said:
1. Dennis Gibson knocking down the pass to take us to the Super Bowl (standard for any Charger fan).
2. The 2007 Titans playoff game (first playoff game we'd won since 1995 -- basically I went from 13 to 24 in age without seeing a playoff win. Irritating isn't it?
3. The Draft trade that brought Philip Rivers to San Diego for Eli Manning (a bit more unique because I'm a draft nut and was there for the entire drama).
B: Those're pretty good ones. For what it's worth, I've gone from age 20-35 without one.
I’ve said for several years now that the AFC West has evolved into something of a shell of its former self. That is, none of the four clubs were ever a sure win against one another. For the longest time, Kansas City and Denver were big rivals, Oakland and Kansas City were big rivals, and Oakland and Denver were big rivals while San Diego seemed to sort of be the odd man out. Have you noticed any particular changes in the division? Which two teams would you say are the biggest rivals today?
LSC: Primarily I've noted over the last few years that there really hasn't been a division race; it's just been San Diego. I say that not to sound like a homer but since about 2006 we really haven't had much competition in the AFC West for division leadership. I'm sure someone is thinking 2008 but most Charger fans and media believe that the Chargers almost lost it more than Denver came to winning it. If we didn't take most of that year off and had a few things go our way, we would've won that division easily. But for the latter half of the decade we've been the class of the division, and while I think KC is at least making progress in the right direction, you guys are a few years away from competing. Denver, I don't know what they're doing and Oakland is chasing its tail (to be polite). So for the last few years and a few more years to come, I think the Chargers will remain the class of the division.
B: I suppose they don't say "Stay Classy, San Diego" for nothing.
LSC: I think of the three AFC West teams, Denver and Oakland are our biggest rivals. Oakland and us, it's been that way since the AFL and that won't change. Not to mention since we're in the same state with a big population of Raider fans two hours north of us, we come into contact regularly (whether we want it or not). Denver it's been because they've been the closest rival for the last part of the decade and because we keep getting into conflict with each other. In 2007 it was Jay Cutler's and Brandon Marshall's mouthing off on Monday night. In 2008 it was Ed Hochuli and the last game of the year. And now it's Josh McDaniels and his fifth-grade mentality. The Broncos and we keep getting into fights. I think most Charger fans prefer facing the Chiefs because 1) You're not insane like the last two fan bases, if anything you guys are by and large a good group and 2) We usually have good games without controversy or other idiocy.
B: Wow. That was a mouthful I couldn't have said better myself.
There are a number of rumors and speculations regarding the Chargers that I’d like to address. Let’s start at the top and work our way down. Comment as you see fit, and keep in mind that these are not necessarily my opinions, but rather fodder for the masses.
A.J. Smith is an asshole, and firing Marty Schottenheimer was a mistake and done in an unprofessional fashion.
LSC: With Marty and, especially in 2006, superior teams we couldn't win in the playoffs. He did it in 2004 and 2006 and couldn't get us over the hump in 2002 and 2005. AJ might have an ego and be a controlling guy, but he's been the reason we went from being a laughing stock to a Super Bowl contender every year. Marty had an equally as big ego and was equally as controlling (why am I reminding Chiefs fans of this?) and tried to force the owner to bring in his brother Kurt to be our new defensive coordinator. That's unacceptable. And furthermore AJ Smith can at least point to having built this team into the dominant one it has been since 2004. Marty hasn't been given a head coaching job since, any idea why?
B: No. None, really. I'm curious if he's been contacted, though.
Next question: Norv Turner is an incompetent NFL coach. He’s constantly on the brink of getting canned, and is responsible for the quote/unquote descent of this team.
LSC: Scoreboard. Since Turner has taken over he's not only gotten us into the playoffs every year he's been in charge but we've won a playoff game each time. Something Schottenheimer couldn't do. His early starts are infuriating and yeah the last three years he has come close to being fired by the midpoint. However if we continue the way we've been playing, we will win the AFC West for the third time (something that hasn't been done since Air Coryell) and ideally win another playoff game. So he's done what he was brought in to do. We can't argue with the results.
B: Well played. The defense, be it via injuries or not, is not nearly as feared as it was in earlier parts of the decade, and the decline of the play of Shawne Merriman is somewhat related to his cessation of PED consumption.
LSC: It depends on the area. Compared to earlier in the decade we are definitely not as good in run stopping (which was our bread and butter going back to the mid 90s). I'd say we are a little worse as well in pass rush from 2006 when Merriman and Philips had career years, though we blitz more effectively from different spots then just outside linebacker and are far better then we were early in the decade. Pass coverage I'd say we are alot better then in years past, ditto with ability to cause turn overs. So it's touch and go depending on the area. And regarding Merriman, I'd remind you that he had to have two knee ligaments repaired and reattached to his leg, an injury that takes a year to recover from and a year to get back to 100 percent. Find me someone who came back fully and quickly from that injury and I'll show you someone who is taking PEDs. Merriman is making good progress at a good rate. Not to mention he does have some sacks against the Chiefs.
B: Ouch. Okay...Philip Rivers is a punk and a boast. He, with the assistance of his teammates, claims that he never instigates smack talk, and absolutely never uses profanity.
LSC: He doesn't use profanity for one. It is astonishing for such a competitor but for the life of me, I can't find one instance (and neither can other Bolttalk members) of him actually cursing people out. Sure he talks but you can smack talk without using profanity. As far as being a "punk" I believe the person your looking for is one Jay Cutler. Rivers' reputation as a talker started when ESPN showed a few seconds of video of him, Shaun Philips and Matt Wilhelm talking back to Jay Cutler. What no one bothers or cares to report is that Cutler (by all accounts) was talking smack to the Chargers all game long. In fact in every game he's been in Cutler has constantly talked crap (including cursing) to the Chargers but he gets off looking like an angel while Rivers gets criticized. The other case is during a playoff game where he's talking back to fans. While I won't defend Rivers' action, which he later apologized for, let's not pretend that fans are completely blameless in mouthing off to players. They all do it, fans and players. It's not absolving Rivers of blame but it is at least noting that neither side was blameless. Nevertheless Rivers gets fired up and talks during games, something every quarterback does (including Matt Cassel). So let's not pretend that Rivers is that horrible for flapping his gums.
B: Okay. Sensitive subject perhaps. Moving on: The notion that an NFL running back’s career is proving true again with LaDainian Tomlinson, and Darren Sproles, due to his stature, can never be an every-down back.
LSC: I think LT has definitely lost a step. He's not as good as he was in the prime of his career, as is the case with all athletes. I still think he's one of (if not the) best running backs of the decade and that he can still run the ball very effectively. And I think he's still better then alot of teams' running backs (e.g. New England, Indy, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Green Bay, Tampa Bay, and possibly San Francisco). Who'd you rather have running the ball? Jamaal Charles or LT? Or Larry Johnson vs LT? Nuff said. He's definitely approaching the end of his illustrative career but he's not ready for retirement just yet. Regarding Sproles I happen to agree. I think he's a wildly talented scatback, returner and third-down running back, but yeah because of his size he isn't capable of carrying the rock 25 times a game regularly. Though some Charger fans would disagree I think its a consensus view on Sproles.
B: In your view, how does the Chargers fan base compare to those of other teams around the league? They’ve been accused of being less intense and passionate about their teams, but then of course there are YouTube clips of fans brawling with other fans in the cheap seats. Would you say a team’s identity or a team’s geography dictates more of the crowd’s personality on game day.
LSC: I think Charger fans can match up for passion, knowledge and intensity with any team's fans anywhere. Most people think Southern Californians are laid back and therefore Charger fans lack passion. While I think we are a pretty relaxed fan base, there are fans who have been with this team since its founding, who saw the old AFL Chargers, and people from all ages all who love their team. We can be fired up as a base but also still be mellow and friendly to opposing teams fans and to each other -- it isn't a requirement to be obscene or insane to be die hard. I don't know what videos you saw
and I won't defend Charger fans who fight with other fans. My only statement is that every team has fans that take it too far or are just punks, the only question is what percentage of those fans are said punks. So I don't see it as a Charger problem as much as its every team's problem.
B: Fair enough. If there’s one thing I can say about this team, it’s simply that the notion of the slow start, then pick up steam and win the division, is an odd one. Why do you suppose this pattern has emerged of late?
LSC: Maybe it's Norv Turner or maybe the team gets its act together later then most teams or maybe it's something in the gatorade. If I knew the answer to this I'd be a rich man. No one has any idea why this is happening but the prevailing opinion is that its Norv Turner's coaching and until I see proof otherwise, that's what I'm going with.
B: I heard a Chargers beat writer say on the radio earlier in the week that he thinks that Philip Rivers will go into the history books with the same level of integrity, numbers, and sheer legend, as Brett Favre. He also predicted that Rivers will win at least one Super Bowl. Are these assumptions on target?
LSC: For now, yeah I'd say so. There's alot of time to go for sure but Rivers is a winner and a leader for a team that hasn't had one of those in a long time. He plays well, he's selfless in how the team decides to win (e.g. he can throw for 400+ yards and carry the team or, like over the last two weeks, he can throw 20 times and let LT run the show), he doesn't have an ego, he's spotless character wise and he's gutsy. He made an instant fan out of everyone when he went out in the 2007 AFC Championship game on one leg and almost led the team to victory. And his record as a Charger starter is ridiculous (33-15, '06-'08). He's basically what every team wants in a QB and has become the leader and the face of the franchise as LT winds down his marvelous career. While it remains to be seen if he can match Favre's iron man streak or his winning in the Super Bowl or his career, Philip Rivers is definitely on the right track.
B: Here’s an exercise I did earlier in the season with a Dallas fan regarding his take on NFC East teams: Give us a summary – be it a phrase or an entire paragraph – of your feelings during the week, and leading up to games against
the Denver Broncos:
LSC: Self-absorbed Punks. They haven't won jack in years, yet they strut around like they own the division. Doesn't matter if it's Jay Cutler or Josh McDaniels. If anything, Charger fans get more irritated by the Broncos than almost any team in the league.
B: the Kansas City Chiefs:
LSC: Good Rivalry and opponent. I don't have too many bad things to say about the Chiefs because by and large we don't have bad experiences with your fans or team. We do need to do some sort of cultural exchange at tailgates though, by which I mean a trade of carne asada tacos for bbq ribs.
B: the Oakland Raiders:
LSC: Pathetic Clowns. I don't like the Raiders. It's personal for me and most Charger fans, but after winning as many in a row as we have (15) and with the Raiders continuing to get worse, I think most Charger fans don't care about the Raiders.
B: Interesting. Have you paid much attention to the Chiefs in recent weeks, months, or years? Things have been pretty bleak for the franchise for some time, but the win against Pittsburgh was pretty big. Can this club return to contention in the immediate future, or are they going about it all wrong?
LSC: I've heard a few things about them here and there, primarily they are rebuilding. I think you guys need to decide exactly what kind of team you want to be and build to that. Are you going to be a 4-3 (Glenn Dorsey) or a 3-4 (Tyson Jackson)? Are you going to be a young team (Jamaal Charles, Matt Cassel, Tamba Hali) or a veteran-built team (Mike Vrabel, Mike Brown, Jon McGraw)? And ironically enough I think by beating the Steelers you sealed your fate against us. I think it was a hell of a win against a team that pounded us, but I think your only real chance was if we took you all lightly.
B: Finally, let’s have a score prediction for Sunday’s game.
LSC: By beating the Steelers, we will be focused on you guys and I don't think you can beat us. I think we will win 31-7
B: Hmmm. I'm gonna disagree with that pick, in that the score is too similar to our previous meeting (37-7). At the same time, I'm not going to make a prediction on the outcome because I really felt that we could hang with you all last time, and obviously we just got smoked. More importantly, though: Many thanks to you and your time. Let's do this again next year.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
School might be out, but there's always room for learnin'. Oh, come on. We've even thrown in a song to make the learnin' funner.
* Some football broadcast firsts today: The University of Texas and Texas A&M debuted the art of play-by-play broadcast today in 1920 down in College Station, Texas. Forty-five years later, the NFL gave the world the first color television broadcast in the form of a Detroit Lions/Baltimore Colts 24-24 tie.
* Speaking of the Lions, a Buffalo Bill by the name of Orenthal James Simpson rushed for 273 yards against them today in 1976.
* The year was 1981 when a cat by the name of Rollie Fingers became the first relief pitcher to win the American League MVP award. Fingers accomplished the feat via 319 votes, a solid 11 votes more than runner-up Rickey Henderson, who, by the way, is most definitely not Tony Gwynn, or the third-best hitter of the past 25 years.
* Today in 1983, Larry Holmes defeated Marvis Frazier by way of technical knockout in the first round of a heavyweight championship fight in Las Vegas, Nevada.
* Sources indicate that, today in 2002, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig met secretly with Pete Rose to discuss The Hit King's lifetime ban from the game.
And your Sports Illustrated quote of the day came from the mouth of...
...Florida Marlin publicist Chuck Pool, who, in 1994, witnessed an upper-deck home run at Joe Robbie Stadium. The jack, hit by Cincinnati Red outfielder Kevin Mitchell, prompted Pool to say, "There have been a plethora of guys to hit it up there, but that was the plethorest."
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Whoa. Wow. WTF? I cannot get my head around this story in which, allegedly, a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers kicked a 13-week-old puppy to death because the animal would not behave. I hope that bum gets the chair.
(props to Arrowhead Pride and Deadspin)
Posted by Blair Johnson at 10:01 AM
Monday, November 23, 2009
Now, now. We can't have this.
Let's play nice, boys. We can't have the Gene Wojociechowskis of the world saying "
This time, Broncos fans, they're sparing you the agony of the end-of-the-season choke." We also can't really have our coaches telling the other team's players "We own you." Can we?
I have spent much of the last two years inside this House of Georges being a crabby prick. That's not what I aimed for, initially. Honest. I'm not asking for any pity parties here, but life just ain't that easy when your sports teams seldom give you anything positive about which to write. When your Sunday is miserable, and that bleeds into your Monday, Tuesday, and sometimes Wednesday, and that happens in more weeks than not, you become a very miserable human being. There are two sides to yesterday's 24-27 overtime win against the Steelers at Arrowhead, and they are this: 1) It's important to not get too hyped up about one win. Period. Exclamation point. Etc. 2) As much as I'd like to pipedream about running the table, and stealing a division win, I know that the reality of the optimistic side of things is nothing more than this: That was, regardless of all details, a great win, the best victory this franchise has seen in a long damn time. A quick expansion of that second aspect, after the jump.
In 2006, the Chiefs lost to the Bengals in the home opener, gave a valiant effort in Denver in an overtime loss the following week, destroyed the 49ers in week three, and handled the Cardinals in week four. In the second quarter of the season, they had their Passion-Party embarrassment, defeated the Chargers, Seahawks, and Rams. For the third they dropped games to Miami and Cleveland, but beat the Raiders and Broncos, and in the fourth they lost to Baltimore and San Diego, but downed Oakland and fended off Jacksonville, in that epic New Year's Eve Day where no team has ever needed more help from more teams to get into the post-season, and gotten it.
There were some borderline good wins that season, but there were almost as many games lost that shouldn't have been.
Year two of the Herm Edwards regime went, uh, much worser:
After dropping two to Houston and Chicago, KC beat the Vikings and Chargers to even things up. They then lost to Jacksonville, but beat Cincinnati and Oakland before going on an epic nine-game losing streak, including a sweep at the hands of Denver, and season-concluding losses to the Lions and Edwards' former team in the Jets. All of those losses came after the bye.
The 2008 season is, of course, still fresh in everyone's memories: One home win against Denver, and one road win against the Raiders. Everything else was a loss, and most of them were not even close, save for the pair of San Diego games, which were both decided by a point. For the record, they got destroyed by Atlanta, Carolina, and Buffalo.
Through 10 games this year, the Chiefs have managed to contend in most every game, save the whooping dropped on them by Philadelphia, which was a 20-point loss, that, in my opinion, signified a lesson from Coach Haley for his players. One that can basically be summed up as "I don't care how bleak things look, this team will run the damn football."
Ultimately, it goes without saying that this run of 58 professional football games has been largely terrible. Not only is the number of losses overwhelming, but there aren't really any significant victories in there. You could make an argument for the final game of 2006, the win against Jacksonville that got the Chiefs into the playoffs, but what's the point, if you're just going to get embarrassed the following week to the eventual champions.
Yes, it's always fun to beat Denver, but nine years without a road win against them really takes the fun out of that.
So there's yesterday's game. Yesterday's overtime victory against the defending champions is, in my opinion, the most important win this club has earned in 58 tries. It's possible that we can look at the 2005 season, and make the stretch even longer, but that was a 10-6 season, so there's at least some positive in that fact alone.
Fifty-eight games, though. Fifty-eight games to get one significant win. I don't care who you are, that's darn brutal right there. Feels great to write about a win that means something, even if that something is on a scale smaller than winning Super Bowls.
(photo courtesy of The Kansas City Star)
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
Greetings and welcome back in for another installment of "Sleeping with the Enemy," where we wax pigskin of a fan of the opposing team.
Today's special guest is none other than Haliwood, who's a long-time friend, a Canadian, and, yes, he thumped me soundly in fantasy football in week two of this season. Given my fantasy track record, though, that ain't sayin' much.
Either way, our chat proved interesting in that 'Wood happens to have a special place in his heart for both clubs squaring off this weekend. See who gets the edge in his book, after the jump.
Bankmeister: For starters, give us your football-fan background. Am I correct in assuming that your both a Steelers and a Chiefs fan? Tell us how this came to be.
Haliwood: Born in Pittsburgh during the Steel Curtain days. We moved away earlier than I remember, and moved often, but no matter where we were it was always a Steeler household. I moved to KC at the start of high school where I played h.s. football and entered into my formidable drinking years...a Chiefs fan was the next obvious step.
B: I see. Can you give us, then, your three favorite Chiefs and three favorite Steelers memories?
H: All of my fondest Chiefs memories are of the pregame tailgating. I've still yet to attend a sporting event that smells so damn good before the game. Getting drunk on beer, BBQ and bloody mary's probably explains why I don't have many memories after kickoff. I sure loved watching DT play. Hungryman pot pies, pinky casts and “...so good you can eat it on ice cream”. As for the Steelers, two of the three would be the last two Super Bowl victories in the last three years. The third I'll reserve for learning to swear at the TV with pops.
B: That's good stuff. Let's talk Pittsburgh for a minute. It's well accepted that Bill Cowher was one of the better coaches in the NFL leading up to his retirement. How do you think Mike Tomlin compares so far? I like to say that he's the best black coach (or bloach as we say here in the House) the league has ever seen. Will Cowher return?
H: First thing I'd like to say about Cower is how happy I was when he was chosen to succeed Chuck Noll. I was definitely a fan of his as the Chiefs D coordinator. Fast forward to the bloach...I'm not sure if I could say anything more that you've probably heard a thousand times as broadcasters' talking points. About what a no-nonsense, stand up kind of character he is, a regular player's coach. In short, a guy who fits perfectly with the values of the Pittsburgh Steeler organization. Best black coach? Perhaps. I guess I've never thought about that sub-category as a group, but even then there's some quality acts there. I'm psyched to have Tomlin as the head coach even though I can't say I knew anything about him before he landed the job. I think those Rooneys know a thing or two about what they're doing. Cowher back as a head coach? I'd personally bet on it, though I'm not looking forward to having that jaw pointing at me from the other side of the field.
B: What about Big Ben? When he's not raping girls, and he's out there on the field, how does he compare to his NFL quarterback counterparts? Top 10? Top five? What do you think are his strengths and weaknesses.
H: I love Big Ben. Like most of the players/coaches on this team he just feels like he belongs. Ben's play isn't the most precise or fancy, it's got the grit of the Steel City. Cheesy, sure, but you know what I mean. His ability to improvise, extend the play, or stand tall when all around him is collapsing is fun to watch. It is easily his biggest strength and weakness. Top five quarterback currently playing in the NFL, easily. Not necessarily top five fantasy QB, but much better this year as he's taken command of this offense.
B: Eh. Fantasy. The Pittsburgh running game has been a dominant force for years now. It looked, for a minute, like Fast Willie Parker would follow right in Jerome Bettis' steps and just dominate run defenses. But he's continuing to prove that he can't stay healthy. Has this year suggested that Rashard Mendenhall is now the number-one guy, or does the job continue to go back to a healthy Parker. How about Mewelde Moore? He's a pretty solid back as well. Without looking at numbers, is he a better rock-toter than his days in Minnesota?
H: The running game is a result of the Steelers' commitment to hard-nose football. That has always been the case whether or not they've got a pro bowler in the backfield. I definitely miss having a bruiser like The Bus back there, but Fast Willie Parker has been fun to watch...one helluva fast mutha. As for FWP's future, honestly, I think he's probably done being the feature back. I thank him for his efforts and his contributions in the last two Super Bowl victories and hope he continues to have success. I just personally feel that a feature back can only last a few dominating years in today's NFL. I'd certainly still support him as RB1 if Rashard was out. So what do I think of Mendenhall? I dig him. I see great promise, but above all, I trust Tomlin. Mewelde's a stud backup. That's it in a nutshell and something I felt even when he was back in Minny. True, he's got a deserved spot in as a 3rd down back for both his catching and blocking skills. Mostly, I'm just glad to have him there to fill in if needed. Just like Charlie Batch...he's a stud backup too.
B: The receiving corps has also been pretty strong, dating even back to the Plaxico Burress days. Between Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Limas Sweed, and Heath Miller, it makes defensive game-planning tough, considering the tight running game. Are the Steelers one of the premiere passing teams in the league, or are they a touch overrated?
H: I wouldn't classify them as either. They get the job done, and it all starts with Hines Ward. “Cheapest player in football”? Give me a break. A fucking baller is what he is. And it's been neat to see how he influences the young guys. He dared Santonio to be great for the last SB, and boy was he great. I really like Heath Miller and wouldn't trade him for any other TE in the league. Mike Wallace deserves some props here too. The biggest story this year for me is, as I said earlier, Ben's command of the offense and especially the passing game. I was sad to see Ken Whisenhunt go (kinda thought he deserved the head coaching job at the time), but think that Ben and Arians have developed a great rapport.
B: Wow. Ride that Hines train. Anyway...the Steelers have long been associated with ferocious defense. What makes it so that this club can field a crew of frustrations for offenses year in and year out? Scouting? Defensive coordination?
H: Dick LeBeau and the Steeler's heritage. Again, hard-nosed, blue-collar football. Simple as that. I love all the defensive starters, the ones they've lost and the ones that are ready to fill in.
B: What about Jeff Reed? He's got to be the most famously idiotic kicker in NFL history. Have you kept up with all of his shenanigans?
H: Oh ya, he's a great drunk. At least he can make the odd FG in Heinz Field in the wind and snow.
B: What about the Chiefs? Your thoughts on the new regime...Were Pioli and Haley good hires? What about the Matt Cassel signing? Is this guy gonna pan out? Will he prove he's worth $63 million? And Larry Johnson? Got an opinion on his departure?
H: Ya know, I can't say. I think there are all those questions and more that could go either way. And that's probably more disconcerting than anything. I've never had to bear with a team undergoing such a regime change. LJ is an easy one... move on and good luck with that. No ill will, really, I'd just rather move on. Freaking hilarious that he was dropped before he could break Holmes' record... I'm still laughing about that one. Even in his prime, I'd rather have LJ on my fantasy team than in my football organization. I'd like to believe Cassel is the real deal but he's gonna need a lot more support. Haley's cool but he's still got a lot to prove and Pioli I don't know jack shit about.
B: I see. How many more contests, if any, will the Chiefs win this season? And next?
H: Two more victories this year...the Browns and one of the Broncos matchups (that's right Donkey fans, suck it). Maybe they can beat the Bills, too. Next year they double this year's victories...I do think it's an team that has nowhere to go but up.
B: Finally, the game: Will the Chiefs be embarrassed like they were after the Passion Party? Gotta score prediction? Who do you root for in such meetings?
H: As I said before, it's always been a Steeler household no matter where I've lived, so they come first. That doesn't mean I won't have a proper KC-style BBQ for the event. Sorry to say, but I feel bad for the Chiefs this weekend. The Steelers have some things to work out after dropping their second to Cincy last week and might take it out on KC. Steelers win 28-3...great googly moogly.
B: Nice Zappa quote, there. I'm leaning toward heavy agreeance with you on the score. My modification to it: Pittsburgh 26, Kansas City 9.
Here's to a good game. Thanks for dropping by the House.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
We're back again, and in case you're new to the House, this HoG25 thing we've been doing for the past few months has included NFL quarterbacks, American cinema, baseball hitters, readin' books, starting pitchers, television shows, and wide receivers.
And in case you missed the first chunk of this segment, you can find it here. Anyway, today's segment is the Top 10, but in this particular instance, it's not synonymous with the best 10.
Keep that in mind, and enjoy.
10: Andrew Sullivan
Old No. 7: Gay. Catholic. Conservative. HIV-positive. These seemingly incongruous labels all describe Andrew Sullivan, a British citizen who blogs almost exclusively about American politics on his must-read Daily Dish.
That "conservative" portion of Sullivan's resume is pretty nebulous, as he supports many positions that have been associated with the far left such as gay marriage and climate change regulation. He also championed the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama, preferring Obama's leadership style to the scattershot maverickiness of John McCain.
I often agree with Sullivan, yet nearly as often I'm at odds with the positions he takes. He generates a lot of heat for moving around on issues, but I see that as a sign of an open mind. I personally reevaluate my opinions on many topics all the time -- I once felt Josh McDaniels was a moron, now he's a genius. Trey Hillman, the exact opposite.
But the reason I read Sullivan is not his political slant, it's his mastery of crafting an argument in the English language. After a long career in magazines and books, Sullivan started the Dish back when no one knew what a blog was. He grinds out dozens of posts a day, and they are almost universally lucid and compelling. He gets the immediate-reaction facet of the medium, but he also has a reporter's eye for factuality and supporting data. And when he decides to break out with a long-form essay instead of a quick paragraph post, it's always worth your time.
By the way, of you're ever glancing at Sullivan's work on the Atlantic site, please take a few minutes to also check out Ta-Nehisi Coates. Simply one of the most talented up-and-coming writers around, just don't hold the fact that he's a Cowboys fan from Baltimore against him.
9: Sanyika Shakur
Cecil: Sanyika Shakur, nee Kody Scott, aka Monster, was/is a member of the Eight-Trey Gangster Crips of South Central Los Angeles. He has, to the best of my knowledge, only written two books: one a work of fiction creatively titled T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E., the other his autobiography, Monster. I have no idea if his novel is worth the time it would take to read and have no desire to find out -- but he isn't on this list because of it. Nope, he's here because Monster, a book he wrote whilst incarcerated at lovely California penal institutions San Quentin and (shudder) Pelican Bay, is an absolute literary elbow to the throat.
It's not an easy read. He describes how, as a 6th grader, he dropped out of school to become a full-time gangbanger, how he nearly stomped a man to death as a 13 year-old. How he committed murder upon murder in the name of defending a few blocks of southern Los Angeles real estate from...well, from other kids like himself. The parts that take place in prison are enough to make any wannabe suburbanite criminal put on a tie and go straight to church. But through it all, his voice resonates. Largely self-taught, Shakur writes with force and confidence, even when his subject matter makes your skin crawl; his is a perspective that journalists simply cannot achieve.
Monster is powerful, illuminating and, ultimately, tragic--even his ultimate conversion to Islam and (supposed) renunciation of gang life weren't enough to change his fate. He's currently serving time under California's Three Strikes law, for robbing an acquaintance in 2007 after he was released from prison, and will probably never be a free man again. While he may not be a worthy human being, he remains a hell of a writer.
8: Russell Banks
Bankmeister: I don’t really have much to say about Russell Banks aside from this: He may be the best working/living fiction writer in America. While he has published a ton of work, I’ll point to three works in our window. They are these: Continental Drift, Cloudsplitter, and The Darling. In our HoG books installment, I believe I said that Cormac McCarthy was, as far as fiction is concerned, the most important writer of the 20th century. It is impossible to compare the 21st, young as it is, with the one it succeeded. And it would be irrelevant to do so anyway. As far as fiction is concerned though, I put Banks high up there, close to McCarthy for what he’s doing literarily.
He has, in my opinion, the seldom-achieved ability to hit both the traditional fiction-reading market, and, for lack of better words, the wifey, book-club reading market. And that’s important. Mind you, it’s not important in terms of the market itself, the notion of being a successful publishing author, but it’s important because it means you’re doing really well at your trade.
The reason that Banks is, for now, able to achieve this is two-fold: On the one hand, he’s gifted. On the other hand, he has centered his strategy and philosophy on the notion of a stool. That’s right: a stool. The old-fashioned wobbly wooden kind. The kind that is a metaphor for his type of story. And that metaphor is this: Every good story is like an old wooden stool, standing firmly on three legs, telling, basically, one main story, and two back stories. It doesn’t matter which story you like the best. Chances are you’ll like the main story as it’ll get most of the novel’s pages. But these three stories, legs if you will, all come together at the seat, the platform, and they are bound by the most important, least visible element to any good story: theme.
I don’t include Russell in here because you’ve read him, or because you’ve heard of him, but because you will. He’s that good.
7: Bill James
Old No. 7: I said all I needed to say about James when I nominated his book for a spot in the HoG25. I think he's just the frog's pajamas, obviously. What I still can't get my head around is the idea that some so-called baseball "purists" continue to hold out against advances in sabermetrics. You usually see this in fat middle-aged baseball writers, but occasionally an everyday fan will jump on a soapbox and attempt to beat up the disciples of Bill James.
My father-in-law is a retired school principal who now does consulting work in education. A huge part of his current gig is working with schools who use data collected from standardized tests and No Child Left Behind policies. He's always harping on administrators and teachers who insist on doing things the way they did 40 years ago, with no new methods, no accountability and no path to measurable improvement.
We watched a lot of baseball and drank a lot of beer this summer, and in the course of pursuing these fine hobbies he started a rant about how no one can execute a sacrifice bunt anymore. I pointed out that a sacrifice is almost always a bad play, that it's rarely advantageous to give away your most precious commodity (one of your 27 outs) for a marginal increase in your chance to score a run. He continued on, saying that this kind of thinking was killing baseball. That we worry too much about the stats and the percentages and exploiting matchups and that the random beauty of baseball is in danger of being lost.
I wholeheartedly disagreed, and I told him as much. No amount of number-crunching can replace the sights and smells of a ballpark. When I watch Albert Pujols swing a bat or Tim Lincecum deliver a pitch or Ichiro field his position, the last thing I'm thinking about is the probability of certain outcomes. I'm in awe of their abilities and of the perfection of the game itself. Statistical analysis brings me more understanding of and appreciation for the game, not less. Aside from the Devil's bargain we're forced to make in playing fantasy sports (occasionally rooting for a player who's facing your favorite team), Rotisserie baseball also heightens my fandom. And reading the work of James, Rob Neyer, Nate Silver, Jonah Keri, Tom Tango, Joe Posnanski and others brings me to an entirely different level of connection to the sport.
That's when I brought up my father-in-law's own work in education, how he's attempting to get school districts to move into the 21st century by using data to improve the performance of students. Actively opposing sabermetrics and openly dismissing those who attempt to research the game is the exact same thing as resisting education reform. It's also akin to holding on to creationism in the face of the evidence of evolution. Resisting civil rights because they disrupt "tradition." Ignoring advances such as cell phones, DVRs, vaccines, and Internet pornography because change is frightening.
I've had a further conversation with my father-in-law about the expansion of instant replay in baseball, which he tentatively supports. The technology is there, he says, to make the game better, why not use it? He's making my point for me, you see.
I love sabermetrics, yet I don't spend my evenings poring over spreadsheets and inventing new algorithms about baserunning efficiency. I let Bill James and his progeny do that work, and then I read it and enjoy baseball more.
6: Anthony Lane
Cecil: Anthony Lane has been writing movie reviews for the New Yorker since '93, a job he shares with the easily dismissable David Denby (who is such a sap that he managed to be victimized by a Nigerian confidence scam; who wants to read a review by a guy who honestly believed that the Right Honorable David M. Ngidabala was really planning to wire him 150 million dollars once he found refuge in Switzerland?). Lane is anything but easily dismissable. Oh no. He's the critical equivalent of Bolo Leung.
You know Bolo Leung. He was the villain in Bruce Lee's "Enter the Dragon," not to mention about 50 B-level kung fu flicks, and played the indestructible badass Chong Li in "Bloodsport" alongside a pre-lame Jean-Claude Van Damme. Bolo Leung is an actor, but he is also a guy that, even at age 71, can rip your skull out from inside your face. I mean, I would rather run into any group of MS 13 members (link here) in a dark alley than have to hold a brief, friendly conversation with Bolo Leung. I may get stabbed in the one situation, but I would at least hopefully keep control of my bowels; whereas the very sight of Mr. Leung would cause my drawers to quickly fill with warm brown terror.
Anthony Lane brings that kind of heat. He's so good, so cutting, so funny and so effortlessly better than basically everyone else in the world who does his job (admittedly, I have a soft spot for Mr. Ebert) that reading him is almost intimidating. I can't make a multi-level pun that seamlessly weaves together Sunset Boulevard, Tom Waits and an orange Tastee-Freez, nor can I hold fire on my lede for five graphs without pissing off the reader, nor am I British. Anthony Lane, man, he's got it all.
5: Jay Glazer
Bankmeister: This is my crapshoot of the round, my roll of the dice. I don’t intend to dazzle you with words or include a bullet-point list of things Jay Glazer has done as a writer. Conversely, I don’t even know what they are. My point in taking Glazer is this: change.
What does that mean? It means that, back in the hallowed halls of print journalism, when you and your father and his father awoke to the newspaper in the driveway for you news, and that was really the only way of getting it, being a beat writer had a different meaning. That is, if you scooped the story, and your story made the edition, your job as a reporter, and yes, a writer, was a successful one. You’re sitting here reading the House of Georges right now, which, I’m guessing, means that you don’t take the local paper. I do. I know Old No. 7 does, and Cecil at least used to.
Truth of the matter is that you don’t come to the House of Georges for scoops and breaking news. You come here for wise-crackery, perhaps to peep a photo, or on the rarest of circumstances, maybe to learn something. And I’m here, writing this specific entry to learn you this: Jay Glazer, is the man, when it comes to getting and delivering today’s scoop, regardless of the means in which he does it. Now, maybe a lot of the scoops he gets are delivered to the masses via his Twitter page. I mean, I’m sure that folks follow him on Twitter, get his tweets, and then go to his page on FOX, which, if you click to follow and see, is full of breaking news. Maybe you don’t like that page. Maybe you want it delivered quicker, swifter, and more concisely. You can go to his scoop page, if you please.
Whatever you do, do not turn into his television program, or watch clips of it on the InterWebs. It’s terrible.
That’s okay, though. We’re not here to criticize the man for being a goofy television figure. We’re actually not even here to examine his participles, and measure his literal cadence. We’re here to acknowledge the guy for one thing: access. He is, above and beyond, the leading sportswriter with access baggage in this country, and it is he, above all, that brings us the NFL news that we so ravenously desire.
Stupid pick? Maybe you think so. I disagree, and remind you, that a significant portion of the NFL news you’ve heard was made possible by the investigative writing and reporting of no one other than Jay Glazer himself.
4: Malcolm Gladwell
Old No. 7: I have seriously struggled with this entry on Malcolm Gladwell. In fact, I've missed my deadline for submission by almost a week, and the Administrator is threatening to pull my tickets to the Broncos game at Arrowhead. Because I value nothing more than watching bad football with fat people, here it is.
My main hangup here is the widespread scorn faced by Gladwell the author. I have no doubt that much of this stems from his success -- many of the writers who go after Gladwell or his readers have published books themselves yet have sold far fewer copies. But is there something more substantive to this strain of thought, beyond mere jealousy? Am I, as someone who religiously reads Malcolm Gladwell, the victim of a hoax?
If you have the time, read this. It pretty much covers all the bases of Gladwell criticism but is thorough and fair instead of nasty. And, again if you have the time, read Gladwell. Most of his articles from The New Yorker are online, and his first couple books are available in paperback for a pittance.
Gladwell's writing makes me happy, and the more I examine this happiness I've realized that it's because it makes me feel smart. I have no idea if I am truly smarter having read what he's written, or if I've simply been duped by a master of manipulation. But at the end of the day, who cares? Good music is good music, and good food is good food, because it makes us happy.
3: John McPhee
Cecil: There are plenty of inimitable practitioners of that inimitable practice known as Literary Journalism: Tom Wolfe, Paul Theroux and Gay Talese, for instance. Even early, pre-dissolution Hunter Thompson. Excellent craftsmen, all. But for my money -- which, admittedly, is made of wood and carved in the shape of a pendulous tit -- the best among 'em is John McPhee.
Now, I know the "within the last 25 years" conceit behind these here lists of ours unfortunately disqualifies some of his best work, particularly the sprawling and spectacular Coming Into the Country, a first-person account of the Alaskan frontier circa the mid-1970s that introduced America at large to Sarah Palin's political hero, Alaskan separatist Joe Vogler, who would a few years later die in what the New York Times described as a "plastic explosives sale gone bad." (You know, as opposed to all the ones that end with beers and backslaps.) It also forces me to expunge The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed (experimental aeronautics), A Sense of Where You Are (basketball, Bill Bradley) and Oranges (oranges) from my case, here. But it's a measure of McPhee's greatness that, even leaving aside such efforts, he's still a lock for this list.
Try on Assembling California, for instance, one of his many books dealing with the practical and human impact of geology, or The Founding Fish, an historical look at the importance of shad to early Americans. Peruse "In Search of Marvin Gardens," originally published as a long-form piece for the New Yorker, a brilliant piece of writing that I'm simply not qualified to describe in anything other than the most basic terms: it's about both the game of Monopoly and the game's actual, physical representations in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
McPhee is not a showman like Thompson or a personality like Wolfe. He's not flashy, he doesn't become the story, his subjects are rarely the raw material of history. What he is, though, is the greatest living nonfiction writer in America.
2: Joe Posnanski
Bankmeister: Most any angle I take writing about the writer that Joe Posnanski is will fail in some sense. So take what you are about to read with a grain of salt. Joe Posnanski is the best working writer in America. I’ve had the luxury of reading him for over a decade, and his work has educated me, inspired me, and humbled me on every occasion in which I have encountered it. Posnanski has been a large reason why I was drawn back into baseball. He’s refueled my tank on many needed occasions when my hope for success with the Kansas City Royals has coasted on less than fumes.
He has immersed himself with personalities like Priest Holmes, George Brett, and the late Buck O’Neill, and done so in a fashion that leaves me with but one word: perfect.
He has embraced, or so it would seem the technologies of the modern writing world, and taken to Tweeting and blogging. He has continued to write about the sports nature of his native city of Cleveland, while living in Kansas City, which I admire. He has covered the Olympics, graciously accepted a well-deserved position as a senior writer with Sports Illustrated, while vowing to still write occasionally for The Kansas City Star, which I also admire.
He has won countless awards for his craft, and through it all, he has remained, or so it would seem to an outsider, a heck of a human being, father, and husband. He, as a figure, is my lone duplicate from our books entry, and I have zero shame in admitting that. Posnanski has, for whatever morsel it might be worth, has existed as a modicum of aspiration in this sense:
When a young person says they want to be a doctor, a lawyer, an athlete, a cop, a teacher, what have you, the formula for achievement is tangible. It’s laid out, drawn up, and gridded like a map. When someone says, however, I want to be a writer, the next piece of conversation is either non-verbal, like a shrug, or silent, like a still prairie night. As if the listener doesn’t have the heart to say, “I’m sorry to hear you say that. Good luck.” Joe Posnanski and his career are the qualifier that eliminate awkwardness from that conversation, for the speaker can simply point to his body of work and say, “Like that.”
1: Michael Lewis
Old No. 7: I get really bummed out every time I see the trailer for "The Blind Side." It's based on the book of the same name by Michael Lewis, but apparently the folks that made the movie decided to target it to my wife. Sure enough, when she saw the trailer she got a little teary-eyed and said she wanted to see it, because she loves Sandra Bullock movies where everyone speaks in cliches.
Problem is, The Blind Side is not really about Leigh Anne Tuohy, the real-life person played by Bullock. And it's not really even about Michael Oher, the first-round draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens, although he serves as the book's center of gravity. Fundamentally, The Blind Side is about the evolution of the left tackle position in football -- how the quarterback became the sport's most important player, which then made the guy who rushes the quarterback the next desired commodity, which then made the guy who protects the quarterback...you get the idea.
Lewis is at his best in breaking down complex subjects -- pass protection schemes, MLB scouting, software development, financial derivatives -- and allowing his readers to engage with the people that inhabit those worlds. I guess that's how Hollywood was able to build a movie around Leigh Anne Tuohy. Even though she was a secondary player in Lewis' book, she was fully developed and fed the underlying narrative.
One of these days Joe Morgan is going to accidentally read a Michael Lewis book or magazine article and thoroughly enjoy it. And all levels of ironicality will have to be recalibrated.
There you go, faithful readers. Another one down. If you must the first installment of this piece, find it here.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
It's a gloomy day in Kansas City. That is, it's raining. Either snow or rain has been falling consistently for three straight days now, and sporting news hitting the CyberStands doesn't look much better. In case you've not heard, Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe has been suspended by the NFL for four games for violating the league's performance-enhancing substance policy. Word is that he'll not appeal the suspension, that it'll start immediately. Speculations are that, as Bowe came into training camp 30 pounds overweight, he used a diuretic to help shed some pounds, which, if correcty, translates to off-season laziness. This means no Steelers at home this weekend, no Chargers on the road in two weeks, no Broncos and no Bills for the first part of a three-game home stand. Thank God for the Chris Chambers signing, as our playoff chances were looking threatened there for a minute.
In NCAA news, Kansas Jayhawks Head Football Coach Mark Mangino is going under the scope. I don't mean surgery, and I don't mean they're going to try and place the big fella on a slide for examination. I mean that the school is investigating allegations of questionable conduct in the form of "yelling at and making contact with a player earlier this season." But that's just a few clouds on a figuratively bright day for KC sports...
...because Kansas City Royal Zack Greinke has won the American League Cy Young Award, by count of 25 of 28 votes. When the chatterings began, I had little faith that Greinke would actually win it. The case for Zack tried to make itself inevitable, though, as the regular season drew to a close, and the playoffs began. But today, a certain someone's prediction rang true.
On the evening of April the 8th, of 2009, I texted Old No. 7 that KC's number two starter had looked real sharp in a 2-0 shutout of the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.
His response was something to the tune of, "Part of a little Cy Young campaign I like to call Gettin' Stanky with Zack Greinke," which made me chuckle. Of course I liked the notion of it, but never did I think it would come true, some seven months later. Well played, sir, and well deserved, Mr. Greinke. Three cheers for good news. Hell, three cheers for great news.
While the rough focus of this blog has always been the rivalry between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Denver Broncos, the purpose of this blog is to entertain, via our hilarious, occasionally inconsistent ability to smith words. Naturally, that makes this installment of The HoG25 an important one. For that reason, we haven't ranked them as we have in others; we've simply included the order in which they were drafted. We ask, then, that you consider coming back if you find yourself without time to read everything we've compiled. Normally, we try to treat those of you that suffer from IADD (Internet Attention Deficit Disorder) and include bright pictures, clever links, and entertaining StubTubes. What you have here is words, and many of them.
So far in this series we've covered NFL quarterbacks, American cinema, baseball hitters, readin' books, starting pitchers, television shows, wide receivers. Here's to hoping you enjoy reading this post as much as we've enjoyed assembling it.
25: Tina Fey
Cecil: Now, the fact that Tina Fey made this list might seem incongruous, seeing as she's notable more for being a television personality and actress than for her years as head writer for "Saturday Night Live," but we at the HoG don't live in your little box of a world. We're past the veil, through the looking glass, unafraid of the cliche.
Fact is, Fey is as sharp as anyone working in her medium. Her years with SNL saw the show slowly raise its figurative comedy-head about the muck of mediocrity, blink and look around for the first time since Chris Farley and Adam Sandler were hawking Schmidt's Gay ("If you like to drink beer, and you're gay, try Schmidt's Gay"). She's sharp, unfraid of sacred cows and, well, kinda hot in those glasses.
Wait, wait, that's sexist. What I meant to say was: her nimble touch with dialogue, alongside her gift for textured characterization, combine to elevate her work a plane above that of the mass media hoi polloi. Her current efforts on 30 Rock are emblematic of some of the best writing in modern television. Also, the glasses. Rowr.
24: Dave Krieger
Cecil: The reasonable sports columnist is a rare thing, like a Faberge Egg or a post-matrimonial blowjob. Normally, your local newspaper/website/blog/streetcorner opinionator is either a lazy, fact-averse blowhard (Woody Paige, Bill Plaschke) or a self-important contrarian (Mark Kiszla, Jason Whitlock). Dave Krieger stands out by simply being competent.
That's it. He's no great stylist, no modern Grantland Rice, just a capable journalist who knows how to craft a well-written, well-organized column. It's unbelievable, really, how hard that is to find--perhaps because journalism instructors tend to steer their more talented students away from sportswriting (which sounds like a myth but totally isn't), perhaps because the industry itself is diluted, with more and more high school benchwarmers deciding they want to be Rick Reilly when they grow up. I dunno.
One thing that Krieger has going for him is that he spent years on a beat, specifically the Nuggets'. Beat writing is a different animal altogether, one that rewards hard work and shies away from bloviation. Whereas a dude like Paige, who's been writing a column since the '40s, has no memory of what it was like to get a few quotes and bang out a game story on deadline, Krieger still has that workmanlike attitude, and it shows through in his stuff. We're lucky to have him in Denver, even if he did make a big show of indignation about the closing of the Rocky when he knew he had a job waiting for him at the Post.
Hey, I never said he wasn't an asshole.
23: Tom Marshall
Bankmeister: When I think of great pleasures in life, things like accomplishments, memories, sports, sex, writing, and music come to mind. The only thing that could top any of those single items is to marry a pair together. Given that I’m likely never going to bust a nut while watching the Chiefs celebrate a Super Bowl championship, the focus of this entry is the marriage of writing and music. It’s one thing to hear a fantastic instrumental, and another to read or listen to a great piece of writing. On the rare occasions when a truly great piece of music is created with original, profound lyrics, the result is a magnificent wonder, and that’s the best way to describe Tom Marshall.
Marshall has, for some 25 years, been the primary lyricist for the band Phish. He’s penned the words for upwards of 100 tunes for the foursome, and has, from time to time, been compared to Robert Hunter and the role that the poet played -- “China/Rider,” “Dark Star,” “Friend of the Devil,” “Help/Slipknot/Franklin’s,” and “Terrapin Station” just to name a few -- for The Grateful Dead. If you’re not a fan of either of these two bands, then hopefully, in your own archives of musical favorites, some of your top acts have had an external member that has contributed to the vault in a fashion similar to the way Marshall has for Phish. There are nearly 100 tracks from which I could sample, but here are some song-excerpt samples of what I’m talking about:
• "The Squirming Coil," from 1990’s Lawn Boy
“I’d like to lick the coil some day,
Like Icarus, who had to pay,
With melting wax and feathers brown,
He tasted it on his way down.”
• “Chalkdust Torture,” from 1992’s A Picture of Nectar
“But who can unlearn all the facts that I've learned
As I sat in their chairs and my synapses burned
And the torture of chalk dust collects on my tongue
Thoughts follow my vision and dance in the sun
All my vasoconstrictors they come slowly undone
Can't this wait till I’m old?
Can't I live while I'm young?”
• “Silent in the Morning,” from 1993’s Rift
“The target that I shoot for seems to move with every breath.
I tighten all my arteries and make one last request.
Divine creation hears me, and he squashes me with fear.
I think that this exact thing happened to me just last year.”
• “Lifeboy,” from 1994’s Hoist
“And when the line is breaking,
And when I'm near the end.
When all the time spent leading,
I've been following instead.
When all my thoughts and memories are
Left hanging by a thread.”
• “Character Zero,” from 1996’s Billy Breathes
“I was taught a month ago
To bide my time and take it slow.
But then I learned just yesterday
To rush and never waste the day.
Well I'm convinced the whole day long
That all I learn is always wrong.
And things are true that I forget
But no one taught that to me yet.”
• “Wading in the Velvet Sea,” from 1998’s The Story of the Ghost
“I took a moment from my day
And wrapped it up in things you say,
Mailed it off to your address.
You’ll get it pretty soon unless
The packaging begins to break
And all the points I’ve tried to make
Toss the thoughts into a bin,
Time leaks out my life leaks in.
You won’t find moments in a box,
And someone else will set your clocks.”
• “Dirt,” from 2000’s Farmhouse
“I'd like to live beneath the dirt.
A tiny space to move and breathe
Is all that I would ever need.
I wanna live beneath the dirt,
Where I'd be free from push and shove
Like all those swarming up above.
Beneath their heels I'll spend my time.
I'll wriggle in the earth and dew,
And sometimes I will think of you.
And if you ever think of me
Kneel down and kiss the earth,
And show me what this thought is worth.”
• “Twenty Years Later,” from 2009’s Joy
“I can hold my breath for a minute or so.
Five days without food is as long as I'll go.
I didn't sleep once for four days and three nights.
I once didn't stop for seven red lights.
I jumped into water that's fifty degrees.
I've rowed in a kayak in thirty foot seas.
I've stayed in the woods for a week with a knife.
A flint, when I lost it, nearly cost me my life
Twenty years later, I'm still upside down.”
Removed from context and stripped of music, they don’t hold similar value to the foreign ear, but for those familiar, and maybe even for some who are not, they are epic lines.
22: Cheryl & Bill Jamison
Old No. 7: I wouldn't normally label cookbook authors as great writers, even if they produce excellent cookbooks. No one is truly original when regurgitating recipes, everything's borrowed and handed down and tweaked. It's like an extension of American folklore, or knock-knock jokes.
The Jamisons, a married couple, are an exception for me. That's because they unlocked more secrets to barbecue in one book -- Smoke & Spice -- than I'd figured out in a lifetime of looking.
I love me some barbecue, but the places I've lived in my life made it extremely difficult to satisfy that jones. As much as I bag on Kansas City and its football team, the denizens of that town are blessed with the finest barbecue in all the land. I've been to Memphis, and I've been to Alabama and North Carolina, and I've spent a ton of time in my dad's home state of Texas. No one does the smoked meast like KC.
I long ago quit looking for well-made ribs and brisket in Colorado and tried to 'cue up my own. After flailing about and wasting a lot of time and a lot of good pork, I finally stumbled across the work of the Jamisons. I now own a half-dozen of their cookbooks, and their attention to Southwestern cuisine is exceptional. But Smoke & Spice is mandatory for the shelf of any chef who takes his barbecue seriously.
A quick confession: I cheat regularly to make my barbecue. It's true. I do pulled pork in a crockpot, and I make ribs in the oven, and I liberally use Liquid Smoke to artificially add smoked flavor. When I have the time and the right wood to properly smoke my flesh, it's an immensely satisfying experience. But rarely do I have an entire day to tend to a fire, and the proper hardwoods are difficult to come by in my neck of the, uh, forest.
Scrub oak and mesquite? No thanks. The Jamison's recipes for rubs, glazes and handmade sauces, however, never fail to make the cut. And their way of demystifying normally impenetrable secret processes with clarity and wit just plain work. If I was in al-Qaeda, I'd look for a handbook on bomb manufacture written by Cheryl and Bill Jamison.
21: Mark Kurlansky
Cecil: I've written about Mark Kurlansky before, in our HoG 25 installment on books. Funny how these things go together. So no need to revisit it, beyond saying, again, that he's probably my favorite nonfiction writer working today.
Now, you say, look. We all know you don't read fiction. Why not just say 'writer'? Oh...OK, maybe you didn't really say that. Maybe I was just employing a tired device to move this blurb along from points A to B. Haaa, guilty as charged. And fuck off. But, to answer theoretical you and your nonexistent question, no, I probably don't need the qualifier, but it's hard-wired in me. I like thinking about things in ways that are easily divisible: fiction/nonfiction, conservative/progressive, Raiders/Broncos. Intellectual complexity is for PhDs and total fags.
So, Kurlansky. The guy's got a gift for taking odd, marginal subjects, like the history of salt, and crafting expansive, informative tomes. He also loves basques, and food writing. He, like the best craftsmen in his genre, doesn't contemplate his own literary navel; he didn't write a book about Mark Kurlansky and salt, he just wrote the book about fucking salt. Did I mention he likes the Basques? Evidently some anti-Basque types think he's as bad as Hitler, which is odd and yet somehow totally rad. Mark Kurlansky, OG.
20: Robert Stewart
Bankmeister: It was completely and utterly inevitable that we would get through any and all of these categories without our fair share of homer picks, and selecting Robert Stewart is most definitely of that variety for me in this round. Stewart is a poet, a professor, the Editor-in-Chief of New Letters magazine, and a lover of crisp, concise written language.
When one returns to the educational setting years after college, and one is already well on one’s way into the fourth decade of one’s life, one is some blend of hungry for knowledge, and somewhat convinced that one already has a significant portion of said knowledge stored in the mental files. It is when one learns how to fine-tune, accept and understand the need for constant improvement, and continuously strive to perfect that one truly grasps the value of education.
I’m not going to use this space to talk about Stewart’s poetry. I’m not going to include excerpts from his editor’s notes from volumes of Letters. And I’m certainly not going to suppose that my words here, or in any other HoG post are a direct reflection of tutelage under Stewart. I will, however, note that my writing, at least in my opinion, improved tremendously after working extensively with him. His instruction helped me eliminate pieces of “useless clutter” –- one of his favorite phrases. It helped me refrain from using cliché and euphemism. It showed me the importance of direction, and of course, editing. Writing, as it’s been said, is the easy part. It’s the editing that’s the hard work.
Having been lucky enough to, for many years now, read the writings of my colleagues, a craftsman like Stewart was nothing shy of a graceful blessing, an opportunity every writer should seek and cherish.
19: Michael Schur
Old No. 7: I'm nominating Michael Schur here, even though his current project is awful. Have you seen "Parks and Recreation"? Don't.
No, Schur makes this list on the strength of his work writing for "The Office," and his run on "Saturday Night Live". And let's not forget his powerhouse performance in the blogosphere posting for the late Fire Joe Morgan, under the nom de plume Ken Tremendous.
Schur is proof that people educated at Harvard are simply smarter than you and I. Every time I wonder why my writing career has gone nowhere, and I spend my time making Mike Cox jokes in the House of Georges, I remember: state school. Three of them, actually. My educational arc closely followed that of noted intellectual Sarah Palin.
Does this mean I'm a moron? Not hardly. I am, in fact, incredibly brilliant and awesome, as you by now know. But I'd be more brillianter and awesomer had I not slacked in high school and been accepted into Harvard. If I had challenged myself instead of ditching class and getting baked all the time. I'd be able to remember stuff, and say things that were actually funny once in a while. But instead I proudly matriculated at The Fort Lewis College with Banky and Cecil, and then we started a blog where we praise the genius of guys that went to Harvard.
18: David Quammen
Cecil: David Quammen is far from a household name (but then, we could say that about a fair number of the writers we're discussing, here. If you want the chalk, go back to school, bitches). In fact, unless you read Outside magazine regularly over the past two decades, you've likely never even heard of him. And since Outside is now nothing but a celebrity-centric gear-pusher of a publication, his column has vanished from its pages.
Which is just as well. His literate, nimble take on science and nature writing wouldn't fit well next to a breathless piece on Harrison Ford's Five Favorite Greek Islands. Quammen is, as he wrote in the re-issue of his classic 1985 collection Natural Acts, no scientist -- he's a chronicler of scientists, a layman with some base understanding who wants a more complete view of the inner workings of the natural world. His turn of phrase is applause-worthy -- one of my favorite lines: "Biology offers great potential for vulgar amusement" -- and I always pick up a new word or two from his stuff. Anything to boost my Scrabble game.
More, though, his style is empathic and human. Science writing can be clinical and harsh; Quammen's work doesn't merely state facts like a field report, it attempts to put them in some sort of worldly context. He has a soft spot for rebels and weirdos -- take his piece "The Megatransect," about a headstrong outsider of a botanist walking across equatorial Africa -- and is naturally, effortlessly funny. David Quammen may not be well-known, no, but in his arena there simply isn't anyone better.
17: Kevin Smith
Bankmeister: I know a guy that would fashion himself a film critic. He’s a guy that says Kevin Smith movies are stupid. They are all the same and the overlap of cast is dumb and uninventive. I couldn’t disagree more. That said, when I refer to Kevin Smith the screenwriter, I’m mostly talking about “Clerks,” “Mallrats,” and “Chasing Amy.” I enjoyed “Dogma.” “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” wasn’t horrible, and I didn’t see “Clerks II” or “Zack and
Gerg Miri Make a Porno.” It is the first three that I’d like to discuss, and by “discuss” I mean sort of briefly cover.
This is what makes Smith’s writing brilliant, and no, I’m not afraid to call it that: To take nuggets in the form of profound, direct statements on life, and ensconce them in leaves of hilarity, pelt them with things about life that you personally like might be the exact reason that good writing needs to exist for human beings. We all have experiences, visions, thoughts, and opinions. How we express those things while still doing the more-or-less mundane things we do every day is what defines us. I like that there are stoners in these films. I love the fact that Jay is lewd and bold. I cherish the fact that hockey plays a part in these flicks, especially in the United States, where it’s largely treated like the country’s molesting step-brother.
The audacity to repeatedly use similar cast members, and even reference those characters and some of their anecdotes in other movies is genius. Good authors sometimes do that and when we’re reading, we love it. If a Hollywood writer does it, why is it different? Anyway, there’s also a good amount about relationships and sex, which goes well with the hysterical profanities. Nooooge…
16: Nate Silver
Old No. 7: I always like people who can excel in more than one field. Like Ted Williams, who was a Hall of Fame outfielder, an ace fighter pilot in two wars, a celebrated angler, and credible spokesman for the cryogenics industry. Or Deion Sanders--he was great on the gridiron, pretty good on the diamond and All-Pro in the arena of marketing hot-dog cooking devices.
If you're at all interested in the field of baseball sabermetrics, you know Nate Silver. He invented PECOTA, the formula for predicting the statistical output of ballplayers, while working for Baseball Prospectus (this also made possible the creation of former Royal Bill Pecota's omnipotent character in The Dugout). He's part of a pack of guys who were legitimized by Bill James and have taken an old game into modern times through mathematical analysis. Unlike most of his egghead counterparts, however, Silver's prose is sharp and concise.
Silver is also a political junkie, and for a while he posted his breakdowns of elections and polls on the Daily Kos under the pseudonym Poblano. When he realized that the same good-old-boy's network and folksy tradition existed in both politics and baseball, he started FiveThirtyEight.com, the Interwebs' most detailed location for projecting the outcome of electoral races and public issues. Silver can see right through the huckster condescension of James Carville as quickly as he does with Tracy Ringolsby. This stuff is not magic, it's math, and getting the information to the people with minimal subjective filtration is what our connected era is all about.
15: Tim Cahill
Cecil: Tim Cahill is another Outside magazine vet, except that, unlike David Quammen, he's still there. Possibly because he was one of the founding editors (thanks, Wikipedia!), but also, I expect, because they pay him a lot of money. At least, I'd hope so, because Tim Cahill is a funny, engaging MFer.
I'd be at a loss if you asked me to describe any one thing he's written, even though I've read metric tonnes of his stuff over the years. His work is a kind of witty gonzo adventure travelogue without beginning or end; his various books (Jaguars Ripped My Flesh, A Wolverine is Eating My Leg, Pecked to Death By Ducks, among many others) the natural outgrowths of his "Out There" column in the mag. Unlike some travel writers, coff coff Paul Theroux coff, Cahill never comes across as a smug outsider gallivanting through the lives of the less fortunate. Nope, he's always deep in the mix, doing shit like setting the world speed record for driving the length of the American continents, from Tierra del Fuego to Prudhoe Bay. When he talks about a wolvering eating his leg, he ain't speaking metaphorically.
I also learned, in the course of my Cahillian researches, that he was friends with Boz Skaggs and Steve Miller in college. The things you can find on the internet...
14: Oliver Stone
Bankmeister: I’m completely underqualified to write about this guy. Not because he’s some untouchable Mecca, but I’m just not high-brow enough with the movie business to take on a dude whose body of work is so serious. But, he wrote down the bones for some important films and I felt like we should give him a nod. You may be wondering why a guy like this, one mostly thought of as a director, has been included in a category devoted to writers. If it makes you feel any better, I’m wondering the same.
Seriously though, there is a series of cinematic pieces in which Stone was heavily involved, and in varying degrees. I can assure you that the concept of taking an idea, putting it on paper with pen, and moving forward with it in one direction or another, is just what Stone did. Those films are “Platoon,” “Born of the Fourth of July,” “JFK,” and “Natural Born Killers.”
The first two, are of course about war. War in Vietnam to be specific. In all of the history we learned in grade school, middle school/junior high, high school, and college, war is a pretty darn predominant subject. We learned about the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, both World Wars, Vietnam, and if you’re lucky, the Korean War. Assuming you’re roughly the same age as my colleagues and I, textbooks and articles taught you the strategery of war, the reasons for why wars started, what the end results were, and how a particular war affected human existence long afterwards. Casualties are mentioned. Numbers are crunched and conveyed. Outcomes are described.
I posit, though, that nothing, barring some type of replicated, vertual-reality simulation, will ever convey what war was actually like, or what a soldier’s life was like afterwards. Starting in the ‘70s, screenwriters and filmmakers began seriously tackling war as a topic. That theme exploded in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and is popular still today, what with all of the wars in which the Bush family has engaged. Tackling something as serious, intense, and graphic as the Vietnam War, though, in the fashion that Stone did, is worthy of endless applause, fantastic end products of what originated as script.
And because I don’t want to labor the same points with “JFK” and “Killers": I will never presume that the death of one man has been or was more important than the masses of lives lost in any war or all wars combined, but for nearly 35 years, I’ve been told over and over again that the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy quote/unquote changed this country forever. And I’ll leave it at that, as it’s a nice segue into “Killers,” which I’m not going to touch on either, since I can just mention one word and that will suffice: murder. I don’t know what the purpose of life on this planet is. God and I ain’t tight enough yet for him to’ve shared that with me, but I do know that, aside from being a hermaphrodite or something really odd like that, there’s one thing that separates humans into two categories, and it’s not gender. It’s killing.
The world of film is a massive creature, one we relish and covet. But it goes without saying that most, if not all cinematic endeavors begin with a writer, and Stone, for his talents, screenwriting contributions, and projects, gets a mark of phenomenal in all the above categories.
13: Bill Simmons
Old No. 7: One of my favorite aspects of this series is picking someone who's universally reviled and crafting a logical, objective, reasoned argument as to why they're great-- in spite of the fact that everyone hates them. My sections on Barry Bonds, Michael Irvin and Pol Pot are among my favorite entries in the Hog25.
So now I'm tasked with celebrating Bill Simmons, known to ESPN.com visitors as The Sports Guy. This one's gonna be tougher than most, since Simmons is abrasive, cocky, ubiquitous and biased as a mama bear. He's also a founding father -- the Godfather, if you will -- of this thing we call "sports blogging." And since I play the role of sports blogger from time to time, with very little polish or class, I think it's only right to recognize the contributions Simmons has made to the science.
Just know that I'm no apologist for Simmons. I know that the quality of his writing has gone downhill in recent years, and that it wasn't exactly Pulitzer-caliber to begin with. I know that he's sporadic when compared to his once-prodigious output. I know that he leans on a few tired themes and beats them to death. These are all legitimate complaints. The loudest beef I hear on Simmons is that he's not objective, and I think that's a silly thing to be hung up on. His whole thing is that he's obsessive about his teams, his Boston clubs. That's his gig. It's no different than what we do here writing about our teams. The red flag comes up when that biased opinion appears on a supposedly neutral national outlet like ESPN, instead of a hopelessly homerized shill site like the House of Georges.
I ask you this: is that Bill Simmons' problem, or is that ESPN's? The Worldwide Leader employs hundreds of writers, they could easily hire the New York and Chicago and Denver and Kansas City versions of Bill Simmons in order to provide Fox News-style "fairness" and "balance." Or they could just issue an edict that their writers will play it straight and not favor one team over another. They do neither, and there's a damn good reason for that: Bill Simmons is good at what he does.
He draws ungodly amounts of traffic, and while a lot of that is surely haters looking for another reason to hate, you don't regularly read somebody who stinks. I have completely stopped looking at what emerges from the typewriter of Woody Paige, he's terrible. Yet I still take in my weekly dose of Peter King, because for all of his flaws King continues to cover a subject I love with a fair amount of skill.
Beyond that, Simmons is genuinely funny from time to time. I don't mean Dane Cook funny, I mean actually funny. Comedic writing is a gift possessed by only a few. Combine that wit with an encyclopedic memory for games, teams, and the oddball freaks that make sports so enjoyable, and you get a writer whose whole is greater than the sum of his parts.
12: Gary Smith
Cecil: Sports Illustrated has counted among its scribes some of the best sportswriters in recent memory -- titans like Roy Blount Jr., Leigh Montville, Frank DeFord and Joe Posnanski. And, yes, Gary Smith.
Smith's kind of an acquired taste, admittedly. If you don't like digression, interminable set-ups and lots of second-person perspective, you probably won't really like his stuff; if you do, you'll probably think of him as the second coming of Faulkner, another writer whom you've gotta kinda want to read. His strength is in the long-form profile, in exhaustive examination -- he's not a guy who throws out memorable zingers, ala Rick Reilly, but then, once you finish reading one of Smith's pieces, you don't feel the need to break an empty bottle of Old Granddad over his head. So maybe not the best comparison.
Whatever, he's indisputably one of the best sports journalists of the previous 25 years. His piece on Mike Veeck, the prodigal son of the legendary baseball huckster, is one of the best such works I've ever read. For that alone I'll forgive him for being named as an influence by Scoop Jackson.
11: Gary Snyder
Bankmeister: When the Iron Triangle was making these selections, I struggled with the idea of having two poets on my draft board. Being a fiction guy, I still don’t like the idea, but these two fellas were too important to leave off. And before we get any further into this entry, let’s get it out of the way: If reading Gary Snyder, liking Gary Snyder, and drafting Gary Snyder all make me a hippie, then fuck it: I’m a hippie. Snyder has been an important literary figure for a long time. Decades, even. He hasn’t been remarkably well-read, and it’s plausible that his heyday was long before our little niche here -– 1974 Pulitzer for Turtle Island –- but I don’t care.
What Gary Snyder stood for then has translated, transcended, and transplanted into today, a time on planet Earth when awareness of the planet is more important than it’s ever been. So who is this dude? Initially, he was considered a beat. If you’ve ever been into the beats and read Kerouac, you’ll recognize the name Japhy Ryder, the character based on Snyder in Kerouac’s (in my opinion) best novel The Dharma Bums. If you’ve never read any Snyder, but you’ve read that book, you might have a sense for what kind of mind Snyder has. Now, in terms of the times in which he’s been writing, I break into two parts: the first being an establishing of an awareness of one’s role with the planet; the second being growing that relationship into a proactive one.
I’m not gonna get all earthy and shit on you here, but I do have a simple philosophy on the matter of sustainability: Do what you will, do what you must. I don’t care what it is, but you’d better be doing something to minimize your planetary impact. Even if all you ever do is recycle, we’re good. But you can’t just consume and contribute to landfill space and energy spending. The other, and initial thing that got me into Snyder was a eastern thought. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but it wasn’t until I was a junior in college that the concept and I first ran into each other. I say I’m embarrassed for this reason: American culture, for all of its strengths and greatnesses is just that: an embarrassment. We, argue it as you might, are so wrapped up in individual success and Westernizing any and every thing possible, that we scarcely stop for two minutes to learn about what’s going on, rather what’s been going on on the other side of the globe for the last 2000 years. And I don’t mean current events or child labor or watching “Slumdog Millionaire.” I’m talking about taking a minute to figure out who those people are, what they stand for, what they covet. Something that distorts that Chinese-are-good-at-math-and-gymnastics/Japanese-take-rots-of-photos mentality. I’m talking philosophy, religion, belief, culture.
It was Snyder’s interest, slightly intertwined with his efforts to get Kerouac into the same, in eastern thought that really grabbed me by the balls (Editor’s Note: See that, women? I can say “balls” whenever I damn well please. I can mean it to refer to courage, the weather, or my actual testicles. You, on the other hand, disgrace yourselves and your gender every time you say that word when not referring to a piece of sports equipment, tightly packed snow, or a hard piece of gum.) and alerted me to the vastness of otherworldliness.
Anyway. The Practice of the Wild, A Place in Space, Mountains and Rivers Without Ends. Pick one. Read one. Catch my drift and dig it. You won’t regret it. I'll leave you with a few Snyder quotes.
"All that we did was human,
stupid, easily forgiven,
Not quite right."
"Find your place on the planet.
Dig in, and take responsibility from there."
"All this new stuff goes on top
turn it over, turn it over
wait and water down
from the dark bottom
turn it inside out
let it spread through
Sift down even.
Watch it sprout.
A mind like compost.”
"There are those who love to get dirty
and fix things.
They drink coffee at dawn,
beer after work,
And those who stay clean,
just appreciate things,
At breakfast they have milk
and juice at night.
There are those who do both,
they drink tea."
And there you have it, folks. Come on back by in the morning for the Top 10. We'll have coffee and doughnuts.