NFL Postseason Preview: The Bears, the AFC South and the Perennial Patriots

“If you’re like me, you look forward to the day, like cycling’s Lance Armstrong, and baseball’s A-Rod before him, when Brady is exposed as the creative doper and career cheater that he is. I wrote it. Come at me bros.

Floatation therapy, my rosy red behind. The story of Tom Brady’s disgraced body coach and business partner Alex Guerreo is far from over, and there’s more to the quarterback’s anger surrounding it than the indignation of a close friend. But for now, we’ve no choice but to swallow the absurd notion that a 41 year-old man can take that many hits and stay at the top of his game, naturally, for 19 years.

While non-Patriot fans await the inevitable post-career schadenfreude that will accompany Brady’s public defrocking, as 2018 closes, we must wonder if any team can stop New England from marching through the playoffs. The Kansas City Chiefs still have a shot at the AFC’s Number One seed, and could end the Patriots Super Bowl hopes, even after losing their last two games. The team is that good.

And should the San Diego Chargers have to settle for Fifth Seed, I wouldn’t count them out of the Super Bowl running either. It would be quite satisfying to watch fellow old man Philip Rivers (37 years old), who led his team to six out of seven road victories this year, put the Patriots away at home.”

Read the full post at Contemptor.

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Penalties, Dynasties and Benched QBs: Inside the NFL

NFL

“I don’t think I’m alone in finding this NFL season rather surprisingly, terribly, excruciatingly boring. Maybe we lost interest before it started. Back in early May, the draft broadcast ratings were down 25 percent year over year. The Bears are not in contention, and my fantasy team is a hot steaming mess, but that’s the annual state of things. I still manage to have fun. But I’m not this year.”

Click here to read the full article on the Contemptor website.

 

Are We Still Ready for Some Football (October 9, 2014)

It happens each time I pull out my Chicago Cubs-branded debit card to pay for a transaction, especially if traveling somewhere outside of Illinois. The look of disgust, a glance of pity, perhaps even an outright laugh from the bolder amongst them. I’ve come to regret having ordered the damned thing from Bank of America in headier, more optimistic days.

As any member of Cubs Nation well knows, ours is a long-suffering lot. It was 2008 the last time the Cubbies made the playoffs, 2003 when we came close to the World Series (still so painful to recall) and 1945 the last time we actually appeared. And with the recent conclusion of the 2014 season, it has now been 106 years, longer than anyone living could possibly recall, since the Cubs won the World Series. As a child growing up in the 1980s, the whole “Lovable Losers” thing was all in good fun. But that’s also when bleacher tickets cost $10, and youth permitted indulgence of the “Wait ‘Til Next Year” fantasy shared by fans.

Many broken hearts, one upwardly mobile corporate takeover of the Friendly Confines and an elimination of David Berg hot dogs from the concession stand later, I found myself in search of a new fix for sports cravings. It wasn’t just the Cubs latest post-season embarrassment that broke me in the fall of 2008. It was years of corrupt performance enhancing cover-ups, the mid-90s strike which led to the cancellation of the 1994 World Series, etc. Baseball felt used up and broken.

I started paying closer attention to the NFL during the 2006-7 season, the last time the Chicago Bears made a trip to the Super Bowl. True we were humiliated in epic fashion by Payton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, but at least we were there! And of course many native Chicagoans of my generation are still huffing the contrails left by the glorious 1985 Monsters of the Midway. Some denizens of this fine city may never recover from the pinnacle of the Ditka/Ryan era. ‘Da Coach, a near Illinois Senatorial candidate in 2004, remains a Christlike figure wherever he travels across the state.

Bear fever aside, I wasn’t sure football could hold my attention. To begin, the game is insanely complicated. My track record for staying engaged in activities I don’t understand is rather spotty. I’ve been a devoted Sunday disciple for eight years and I still only comprehend 60 percent of what takes place on the field – on the best day. But the good news is I learned that I really don’t mind. The promise of future expertise gives me an ideal for which to strive.

Secondly, I can’t see the players’ faces during the action. This may seem like a bizarre reason for avoiding a sport, but as a writer, critic, former youth stage actress and singer, emoting is an important part of any experience. I need to feel it. My favorite childhood baseball moments: former Coach Don Zimmer kicking dirt at umpires while yelling his face off, the usually calm and professional outfielder Andre Dawson tossing equipment onto the field from the dugout after being unjustly ejected from the game, Ricky Henderson’s not-so-humble “I am the greatest!” proclamation.

For me, baseball was all about the passion, the commitment..until it wasn’t. Though the sport is trying desperately to recover from two decades of fake records created by cynical, juicing bastards, it may have forever forfeited its special status as “America’s favorite past time.” And as I grew up, it became clear that Cubs ownership knew it was sitting on top of a sellout goldmine, so why spend money on trying to win? Schedule a game at the Wrigley Field, one of Chicago’s biggest tourist attractions, and they will come. Not exactly a great way to treat loyal fans left pining for competitive respectability.

At this point some of you may be thinking to yourselves: “Way to jump from the money grubbing frying pan to the fire Becky! The last time I checked the NFL was hardly a nonprofit operation, and they have plenty of violent, scandalous and cynical troubles of their own.” All true. I shall not disagree. My point is this. The 2014-15 NFL season is starting to look an awful lot like the MLB of the early aughts: a gut check moment of internal assessment and criminal player purging, leaving many a loyal fan wondering if all the concussions, abused women and children, bullying and weapons violations are worth it.

I can’t stand the Ginger Hammer of bald-faced moneymaking, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. He’s a huge part of the league’s current PR problem. Similar to the follies of the MLB, he’s been willing to look the other way at a laundry list of disgusting behavior until fans and the media alike were brought to attention by a disturbing video of Ray Rice punching out this then fiancée. But dollars decide and as long as Goodell continues proliferating them for league owners, he’ll remain in charge.

Rehabilitation of the NFL’s image is not off to a smooth start, but if the league wants to avoid the fate of previous favorite American sport, baseball, this season’s high ratings suggest there’s still time. We await your next move Ginge.

A Season of Creative Destruction (December 26, 2013)

Over the year-end holidays, as a society, we tend to take a break from things. The endless rat race of work, household chores, dinner, sleep and repeat is interspersed with welcome down time to focus on the important things. Broadcast television programs go on hiatus in deference to the absent viewer, away from the idiot box living life. Children are granted a reprieve from the structured format of the school day, and many of us quite willfully bedeck our living spaces with items we’d never consider aesthetically desirable the rest of the year – like fake trees.

But for yours truly, there’s one habit that never falls out of favor, no matter what date is displayed on the calendar. And that is clumsiness, or to capture it more broadly and accurately, I am drawn like a magnet to the snafu, even if I’m not the explicit instigator. So as I review the lovely holiday gifts I received from friends, family and co-workers, I must also take stock of items and intangibles I’ll strive to replenish in 2014, all the victims of unforeseen calamity.

The Top Layer of Skin on My Hands

A combination of lackadaisical maintenance and epically shitty winter weather, even by Chicago’s infamous standards, has conspired to completely zombify the palms of both hands. Of course the only way to minimize the suffering of pompholyx eczema is dedication and consistency. Generally I do both of these things well, but since I no longer have anyone’s hand to hold or a body to snuggle at night, I let things slide. However I wish not to remain a tactile pariah in 2014. So I’m backing to working on management in earnest.

Widmer Brothers Tulip Glass

In April of 2011, I visited a friend of mine who was, at the time, living in Portland, Oregon. Big fan of the weird, liberal vibe of that town (and its art deco, vintage signage) and one of the activities planned that weekend by my pal – a tour of the Widmer Brewery. Most people acquainted with me understand I am normally Team Wine, but when beer is a) local and b) free, who am I to stay “no, thanks?” My buddy was kind enough to let me take both souvenir Tulip Glasses back to Chicago with me. They survived a ride in my suitcase, various types of beverages and a near-miss or two from the antics of my furry babies.

One of the set however was no match for my anger at last Sunday’s utterly deplorable play from the Chicago Bears in a 54-11 road loss against the Philadelphia Eagles. The long-gestating rage I have borne against limp quarterback Jay Cutler came to a head (again), resulting in an ill-timed arm flailing which sent the glass sailing from my nightstand, crashing against a wall. Were I the crafty sort (I am not), I might have considered a sentimental repair job. However the 5,001 pieces that littered the hardwood floor of my bedroom hinted that I should just grab a broom and dustpan and get on with it.

New Pair of Jeans

Early yesterday afternoon as I rolled up my cousin’s suburban Lincolnwood driveway, I thought briefly to myself: this is the year. 2013 will be the first when nothing unusually ghetto occurs at the extended family Christmas celebration. Certain problem people chose to abstain from the gathering. No one’s marriage was in trouble of which I was aware, and the litter of cousins in my generation has accrued careers, stable homes and in some cases, highly advanced degrees. There was every reason for optimism.

I underestimated the sudden, extreme microbursts of acrimony that often accompany sibling rivalry, however, and my relatively new, dark grey skinny jeans paid the price. My sister Jenny, a champion baker, contributed to the holiday table, among other goodies, some delicious vanilla cupcakes topped with fresh strawberry buttercream icing. They were as lovely to behold as they were tasty to consume. It turns out the cupcakes will also do as assault weapons in a pinch.

On a return to my chosen seat after victoriously scoring a bottle of red wine and a movie ticket in the annual white elephant gift exchange, I was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time between two first cousins waging sudden battle in an angry frosting fight. I heard the sickening tear of stressed denim on the left knee as I turned away. I was not quick enough. The elder of the dueling cousins stepped on my boot, causing my leg to lock. The battle yielded various admonitions, the loudest emanating from my 62 year-old Uncle, father to the warring cousins. As it happens, it was time for me to leave in order to return the rental car. Indeed.

Fresh Perspective

Early December witnessed the sudden (although perhaps not completely unpredictable) implosion of a long-term romantic relationship. The circumstances and details surrounding the breakup are murky, painful and in the end, largely inexplicable. I will never have the explanations and answers I desire.

Unfortunately, I succumbed to the logical fallacy into which I have habitually fallen in times of personal crisis: the inability to resolve serious conflict, the rejection from another wrestling with demons I will never fully understand means….there is something utterly, terribly wrong with ME. I put everything I had and more into this. I am unlovable. I am hopeless.

I am farther along in my learning in this regard, difficult as that may be to see, than I once was. I struggle to understand in a real way that I cannot control everything. Other people and their baggage are not my fault. There’s nothing I could have done “right” enough to make someone change if they are comfortable as they are. And most importantly: to be solo and experience pockets of loneliness is infinitely preferable to constant anxiety, dysfunction and drama. When I was a child growing up in a chaotic home, all I wished for was independence and a clean, quiet place to enjoy it. And now I have it. I won’t give that away on the cheap in 2014 – or ever again.

Manning the Transition (October 15, 2013)

For lovers of the NFL, one of the big stories of the season so far is the resurgence of Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. The 37 year-old has simply been on fire, and in the course of a career filled with numerous triumphs and milestones, the athlete is poised to turn in his best year yet.

For a number of reasons, not the least being his calendar age (in 2008, the average quarterback handed in his cleats at 29.1 years old), Peyton is a marvel. For comparison purposes, you don’t have to look farther than another branch of the Manning family tree. Peyton’s younger brother Eli is the two-time Super Bowl-winning QB of the New York Giants. The 31 year-old Eli “leads” the league this season with 15 interceptions in just six games. Turn on any Sunday game broadcast and you’ll hear commentators celebrate Eli’s “Hall of Fame” career as if he has already retired. Ouch.

But there’s another facet of Peyton Manning 2.0 that is every bit as inspirational as his longevity. And that is his almost bionic ability to rebound from serious injury.

In May 2011, four years after Manning’s Indianapolis Colts shamed the Chicago Bears at Super Bowl XLI, the superstar underwent neck surgery to deal with neck pain and arm weakness that had plagued him for several seasons. Just two months later, the Colts displayed confidence in their marquee player by signing him to a five-year, $90 million contract extension.

The first procedure unfortunately failed to yield the necessary results, and in September 2011 Manning underwent a second, much more serious surgery – a level one cervical fusion. The Iron Man had never missed a game before, but was forced to sit out the entire 2011 season during his recovery. Meanwhile the Colts had drafted the promising Andrew Luck and were getting antsy to put him on the field. And so in what may go down in hindsight as one of the most questionable and ungrateful moves in NFL history, Indianapolis released Manning on March 7, 2012.

Just over two weeks later, after the legend visited and worked out with several NFL teams (I will NEVER forgive the Bears for not trying to make the man a serious offer), he signed with the Denver Broncos on March 20, 2012. The rest, as they say is history and to invoke a second cliché, the moral of the story is: if Peyton Manning tells you his has gas left in the tank, believe him!

Beyond simple admiration for Manning’s talent, temerity and professionalism, I am invoking the player this week as an inspirational figure. For myself. In the last several months, life has been turned upside down by chronic pompholyx eczema that is slowly taking over my hands. Burning, painful itch and disfigurement has pretty much consumed my waking hours, affecting my career (often my extremities are too swollen and uncomfortable for typing), my self-esteem and beloved, therapeutic exercise routines (adieu, Russian kettlebells). I am still coming to terms with the reality that my once soft, unblemished hands are never returning. Mitigate and workaround is the best I can do. Too often we don’t realize how much we’ve taken something for granted until it is gone. I am an Italian woman who no longer uses her hands demonstratively in conversation. The sense of touch is limited to the hours of the day free from plastic gloves, and restricted to those certain not to recoil from my frightening looking appendages.

Though I am making peace with and saying goodbye to certain elements of my former existence, I have to believe that new opportunities will present themselves, else I’ll give into the temptation to wallow (and yes, I will have those days). My talented hairstylist and friend Linda told me last week she was surprised that there isn’t more awareness of pompholyx eczema, given the incredibly debilitating and depressing nature of the condition. She then pointedly added “I know a great writer who could change that.” While I’m not sure I’m ready to be the “face” (or hands) of pompholyx, Linda got me thinking of how I might ultimately put my suffering to good use.

I’m still sorting it out, but as a source of comfort and motivation, I’m seeking identification with a post-Colts released Peyton Manning. We’ll never know exactly what was going through Manning’s head in the moment, but I can imagine the loss of support from the team he built hurt a great deal. Maybe he experienced moments of doubt about his playing future. Perhaps he wondered if he’d ever return to champion form, before promptly silencing all of those internal questions and external detractors with mind-boggling productivity.

Maybe there’s a Becky 2.0 waiting to be unleashed: a little older, slower to heal, more deliberate and thoughtful in her movements. Trades have to be made. Chances have to be taken. Unproductive days have to be anticipated and respected. But perhaps my Denver Days are still ahead.

Fantasy Football Fraud (August 28, 2012)

Football Charlie Brown

 

 

There are numerous forms of sexism which irk me: the assumption on the part of some that we are mentally and physically the weaker gender, the presumption that women should be overruled when it comes to decision-making power over their reproductive cycles, the corporate glass ceilings that still exist which often permit women to do the same work for less pay, with fewer opportunities for advancement. These are among the more obvious examples and there are plenty more from which to choose. But as a lifelong sports fan about to welcome the official start of the football season, I am reminded again of the generally-accepted prejudice when it comes to women and sports. And I am not talking about small-minded attitudes about our individual athletic ability, although that rankles as well. My personal tale for the week revolves around a male-dominated office environment and a 2012 NFL Fantasy Football League.

I was born into this cruel world a Chicago Cubs fan and an ardent student of professional baseball, mentored by a statistic-loving father. Baseball will always be my first love in the sporting world, but several years ago, my enthusiasm for that particular game met its match when I gave football a serious look. Up to that time, I had written off the occupation as unnecessarily violent and complicated, code for “It makes me feel dumb.” I could sing-rap every verse to the 1985 Chicago Bears’ playoff anthem, “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” but I didn’t understand the roles of the men on the field that weren’t quarterbacking or field goal kicking, nor did I care to try. It seemed like too much  investment.

But decades of disappointment experienced at the hands of The Loveable Losers (Where were you during “The Bartman Incident?” Every Cubs fan has a memory.) and some initiation into the world of office sports pools turned this woman into a hyper-competitive gridiron addict. I have written about my up-and-down emotional journey with a Pick-a-Winner (PAW) contest in which I have participated for the past six years. I join New York Jets fans the world over in detesting Brett Favre. Long story short, after a deep immersion in the NFL for more than a half-decade, I know my shit.

This season in addition to regular participation in PAW, I am branching out my sports wagering empire to include a Fantasy League Football team through my current workplace, via Yahoo! Sports. Last year, my company was a little less ambitious, containing efforts to a weekly, straightforward pool, during the course of which I CLEANED UP! I won far more money than any other male participant, and it would be positively indecent to discuss the can of whoop ass I opened up during the special Super Bowl edition. But do you think this success buys any respect or even an admission that I might just be a real football fan? Nope, instead I was treated to the requisite, unimaginative jokes about women selecting winners based on the attractiveness of a club’s uniform color.

On Tuesday nights, I attend a kickboxing class, my favorite release of physical aggression, and the Commissioner of the company’s league scheduled the draft to begin right around the time I’m jumping rope with my fellow students. I understand that not everyone’s itinerary can be accommodated so rather than just rely on the chancy auto pick function, which makes team selections in the event of absenteeism, I asked my boyfriend to stand in for me. Regardless of the lamentable fact that he is an Indianapolis Colts fan, I trust him completely. He understands the seriousness with which I take this and we have been discussing the draft, the order in which I’d like my positions selected and who I would ideally like to fill them, for weeks. It must be mentioned that JC takes his assignment so ardently, he is logging on before the start of the madness to do some additional research. Perhaps a training injury took place this week of which we’re not aware. It’s really gratifying to have such a partner.

But instead of congratulating me for capable delegation and the investment in a relationship of equals, I am dealing with predictable accusations that I have secured “a ringer.” Sigh. Sometimes the chauvinistic ignorance is nearly too much to bear.

I realize that some of the “teasing” is a legitimate attempt to drive me from the League, to turn it into the non-threatening boys’ club it was intended to be. Sadly it really stings a certain section of the male populace to lose to a girl, as if that somehow inverts their masculinity. I’m hardly Susan B. Anthony or anything, but I feel I’d be doing a disservice to myself as well as my gender to run from these attitudes simply because they’re unpleasant. So once the draft concludes, I suppose I’ll have to keep making my point with understated, superior management skills. The “Woman’s Curse” is not menstruation. It is dogged, multi-tasking competence and willful patriarchal arrogance.

Bearly Watchable (January 23, 2011)

“Somebody needs to tell the Bears this isn’t a preseason game.”

– Terry Bradshaw, NFL Fox Analyst, 3:30 PM today

At the risk of alienating my rabidly “Bear Down” family any further (please stop the bitter posts on my Facebook wall!), I must acknowledge the Bears miserable play in today’s NFC Championship Game. But I will not say I told you so.

The final score of the home advantage matchup against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, 21-14, really doesn’t tell the story. If there are kudos to be handed around, they are reserved for the members of the Bears’ defense, who kept the tally board from reflecting the lopsided mess in play that really occurred. Pro Bowler Brian Urlacher had a particularly effective day. A solid golf clap is also owed to third string quarterback Caleb Hainie, who honestly got the Bears back in it when it seemed all but impossible.

Hainie’s surprisingly able play does not excuse the drastic mistakes in coaching that occurred, underscoring my season-long opinion that, division championship notwithstanding, it is time to show Lovie Smith the door. The inexplicable time-out call in the fourth quarter, on a huge fourth down and three yards? Also, by playing Hainie before the conclusion of the third quarter, benched alternatives Jay Cutler and Todd Collins lost their eligibility to return to the game. What if Hainie had been injured?

Not that we missed either one of the former sorry asses. I expected nothing from second stringer Todd Collins, and with two near picks in a matter of minutes, I was not disappointed. But you Jay Cutler – you. Everything Denver Bronco fans said is 100% accurate. You are a sissy, a quitter and a quintessential pouter. When you left the game shortly after a pathetic first half with the flimsy “knee” excuse, I wanted to call Jo the Super Nanny to slap the puss off your face before you sat for the rest of the game on the naughty bench. After two unbelievably lackluster seasons, I wonder if we were really not better off with Rex Grossman, the Bears’ 2007 Super Bowl QB. We had more money at least.

As a Chicago native, a passionate sports fan, and an adrenaline addict, I am deeply saddened by the Bears ejection from post season play, no matter what my critics may believe. In this case, if not others, I am terribly sorry to have played the Cassandra-like spoiler to the conclusion of the Bears’ idiosyncratic ascent.

But if I am being honest and gracious, the better team won. A couple less concussions for Rodgers and the standings in the NFC North may have looked very different. The Bears had the luckiest run of any organization this season. I will go to my grave saying it. I wish the Green Bay Packers well in two weeks. It may make today’s debacle sit easier if it was dealt by the hands of the Super Bowl champs.