Friday, January 27, 2012

Beer and football II — playoffs, week three
AFC Championship

The game: Ravens at Patriots
The beer: Shipyard Double Old Thumper Ale
The result: Win, 23–20
The commentary: It's not so hard to relate to a billionaire. Robert Kraft is suffering a pain I never want to experience, and the manner in which he continues to carry himself and so publicly express his emotions, affections and spirituality is remarkable. I know what it's like to marry your best friend, to be blessed together with the most amazing child in the world and to wonder every day if your love for the two qualifies as psychotic. There are many important things in life, things no one can bear to lose. Football is not one of them. I hope Kraft is OK.

Some thoughts on Sunday's victory:

The picture above was taken after the win. It's the best we got once we were able to coerce G. into looking at the camera with those beautiful blue eyes and the rosycheeksofloveIwanttoeatthem! I apologize that I'm a little blurry and drowsy-looking, I was pretty buzzed.

Speaking of buzzed, the eleven-percent-alcohol Double Old Thumper was quite delicious and probably would have kicked my ass if it weren't for some chili con queso and most of a bag of corn chips. I've written before that a sample of regular Old Thumper (an English-style pale ale) during a Shipyard brewery tour and a pint of Lost Sailor IPA (also a less-hoppy English style) at a Berkshire beer dinner opened my eyes (mouth?) to how tasty "hoppy" beers can be when ignoring the many American brewers who go batshit with the hops. I am forever grateful.

For maybe the first time this season I watched this game more or less live. As such I had to put up with the regular announcer-generated nonsense like Phil Simms's repeated assertions that the Ravens need a "drive starter." "That's not the drive starter I was looking for." "See, this is a good drive starter right here." "Drive starter!" Also, perhaps I missed it but when the hell did Gronkowski return after that injury? Thanks for bringing it to my attention, Phil! [Edit: Apparently his first play back was on Brady's crazy over-the-top touchdown, which is the first play I noticed him on. I was definitely watching live at that point and neither Simms nor Jim Nantz said "Holy moly, Gronkowski is back! A machine like no other!" Great work.]

G. thrust her arms straight up in the air five seconds before Torrey Smith's third-quarter touchdown. It was heartbreaking and I had to lock her in the closet for the rest of the quarter.

When Woodhead fumbled during the ensuing third-quarter kick return I said through the closet door "It only took sixteen games but they finally have to pull him off return duty now, right hon?" Wrong. The Human Touchback was out there later on following a Ravens field goal. I know nothing about football.

Tom Brady has never, ever had to quiet the crowd like he did after his initial fourth-quarter touchdown was overturned. The fans brought it for two weeks straight, even if they don't know when to keep the noise down. I loved it and I hope the bulk of them make the trip to Indy.

All season I've done a good job remembering there's a baby in the house and I should no longer yell and leap from the couch whenever the Pats make a big play. Tell that to Brandon Spikes—I yelled so loud on his interception that G. started bawling and I had to walk her around for a minute before she settled down. I was somehow able to contain myself after sitting back on the couch, resuming the broadcast and witnessing my near-death at the hands of Bernard Pollard, Jimmy Williams and Matthew Slater (!). (Later, G. cried for only a second or two when I yelled "He missed it!" She is my rock.)

This whole controversy with the scoreboard being off by a down (displaying third instead of fourth) is about the best excuse Billy Cundiff could have stumbled into. If this idiot, for whom the offense is trying to improve field position for the game-tying field goal, doesn't know the down and distance at every second of the drive then it's his own fault for having to rush through his "process." Screw him and his wide-left.

I watched the NFC game in the living room while putting together the new full-sized crib. It's the last time I'll ever assemble a piece of furniture outside of the room in which it will end up—that thing barely fit through the bedroom door.

Extracurricular observations:

A. and I heard "Thin Line Between Love and Hate" by the Persuaders the other morning in the car. It's like a parody of an R. Kelly song, thirty years early. "Are you hungry? Did you eat yet?" Lady, it's 5:00 in the morning and your man's just getting home! Also, did she poison his meal or something? It's not clear. Poor narrative structure.

So Pat Sajak drinks between tapings of Wheel of Fortune. Big deal. The only thing that would surprise me less is if he were a functioning illiterate who signs his paychecks with a big X.

Lastly, a big eye-rolling thanks to the MBTA for personally demonstrating to me how they remain in the red year after year. I bought one of those twelve-ride passes because A. and I now drive to and from work every day (I feel bad about that but public transportation is too unreliable to line up with daycare schedules; it's also fucking expensive), but occasionally I might take a train if I need to go in early, stay late, etc. The pass doesn't save anything compared to purchasing twelve individual one-way tickets but the convenience is worth the upfront money. Anyway, I now understand that this is the way to go because I've had one ride remaining for the last four or five trips, including this morning's, and it hasn't cost me a dime—apparently conductors, when they even bother to check at all for tickets during rush hour, don't want to be the one to void a pass by punching that twelfth ride. And here we go again with the fare hikes.

Up next: It's a Patriot-free Pro Bowl, which is just the way I like them outside of the Rod Rust era. I will not watch one second of it. Cheers!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Beer and football II — playoffs, week two

The game: Broncos at Patriots
The beer: Slumbrew Porter Square Porter
The result: Win, 45–10
The commentary: I'm sticking with the thumb-sucking theme, before and after versions. Again, these pictures weren't taken on game day—it was really Monday at the mall—and in the second one she's sporting the vacant stare of someone who wishes she hadn't just taken her thumb out of her mouth. The void left behind projects a dim-wittedness I assure you isn't there because she is the smartest baby but I like the inferred apprehension: "The Patriots played like world champions… against the Broncos."

I actually missed the first few minutes of the game—I was so wrapped up in the amazing Saints/49ers fourth quarter and its postgame coverage that I didn't switch over in time. I was under the impression the start of the second playoff game had to be held until the first was all-the-way over, due to the television contracts and the fat cats and all. But it wasn't so horrible to be proven wrong as I switched to CBS in time to see Hernandez rip off a forty-yard run, followed immediately by the Welker touchdown. G. turned to me and said "That's the game, I'm going to bed." She was right—bedtime for her is usually 8:30 or 9:00.

I have to assume it was Josh McDaniels who came up with the Little White Guy Mix-Up plays on Sunday. Put Welker and Edelman next to each other on the line or make one of them trace the other's route, sit back and watch the defense freak out when they can't tell which is Welker. I loved it. Hopefully this is explored even further next year when the team makes Edelman change his number to thirteen or eighty-two.

Unfortunately the Slumbrew was just OK. I'd read about this Somerville-based brewery in one of Patriots Daily's buffet spreads and filed it away to seek out. I should have known better—the label's kinetic red sculpture, straight out of Porter Square itself, brought back memories of Cambridge's… nay, the world's… most evil parking lot. Narrow spaces! No left turn! Crosswalk! Trapped! I'm not sophisticated enough to provide more criticism than "it didn't taste like much" (I'm quite certain that won't be a problem tomorrow, to the tune of eleven percent alcohol) and I was disappointed. Various porters are among my favorite beers and removing flavor, pleasant or foul, seems as though it would require a major effort when producing this style. Anyway, it wasn't nearly as bad as last January's godforsaken altbier. But what could be?

I've complained an awful lot the past few months about the defense in general, the defense in specific terms and each individual personnel decision the team has made since 2006. I'm all set with that, at least until Belichick trades out of the first round—twice!—in April (or, you know, if Ray Rice, Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin go apeshit tomorrow). The Patriots are in the AFC Championship and I expect them to win. Ed Reed might get his crazy athletic interception, Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis might get a couple of bone-crunching sacks and Haloti Ngata might eat Ridley and Green-Ellis for an afternoon snack. But they can't cover Welker and Gronkowski and Hernandez and Branch and Faulk (big game for him, I think), especially once Brady starts directing the no-huddle. Rice will give our appalling (sorry!) defense headaches even as they overcompensate in covering/shadowing him but Joeflacco's moustache will have to play from behind for much of the game, and its sloppy trim job will grow more unkempt as the evening progresses. (Any or all of McCourty, Arrington and Ihedigbo will still find ways to look foolish.) (Sorry again!) Hopefully last week's crowd shows up and honorary captains Troy Brown, Ty Law, Tedy Bruschi and Drew Bledsoe (I would like to have seen Ted Johnson, Lawyer Milloy or Willie McGinest, too) have big smiles on their faces as the Pats are awarded another Lamar Hunt Trophy. Final score: 30–24.

Up next: The Pats host the Ravens, and the winner moves on to face either the Giants or the 49ers in the Super Bowl. What year is this? Cheers!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Beer and football II — playoffs, week one (bye)

The beer: Founders Porter
The commentary: Last year at this time (I am not providing the link) I had a Berkshire Shabadoo all set to go for a second playoff contest that didn't happen. Never again, I vowed… until I was shopping for tonight's beer at Kappy's this morning and couldn't decide between options A and B. I stood staring at those bombers before remembering that no decision I made, then or ever, would affect the outcome of the game. So I walked out with a Divisional Round bomber and a presumed AFC Championship bomber. I still don't know which is which (one of them is eleven percent alcohol, is that better in the evening or the afternoon?) but it's a good problem to have. Unless, you know…

Demaryius Thomas. Slot him right behind Willis McGahee on the shit-that-can-go-wrong list. On Sunday I enjoyed a fine Founders while sitting slack-jawed in front of the television, wondering over and over "Who is that guy?" as Thomas made Ike Taylor repeatedly punch himself in the nuts with his own fists. Afterward Taylor tweeted "I apologize for playing the worst game at the wrong time. My goddamn nuts are killing me. Luv y'all to def. Please get me more ice." Poor guy. Poor Patriots, too, because he would start for this team.

A lot has been made of the whole Josh McDaniels thing. It does feel a little shady—I know if the Jets tried to pull something like this then Steve DeOssie's raw-steak complexion would turn a shade of red invisible to the naked eye—but I'm not sure how much it will matter. He might have drafted Tebow but did he ever even play him? What can he offer other than "I liked him at Florida and here's how I would have used in in a pro offense," which is a what-if game Belichick can already play? So I don't see a real significance in his past association with the Broncos. (The larger issue involves the Rams expecting Sam Bradford to be able to succeed on three offensive coordinators in three years. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for him to start yelling at reporters to knock it off.) Where McDaniels does pay off is by drawing up a handful of gadget and/or quick-strike plays that potentially result in the team scoring forty-something points instead of thirty-something.

On the other foot, congratulations to Bill O'Brien for accepting a temporary position at Penn State. I was listening to Sirius NFL earlier and someone made the point that you don't want to be the guy to replace Joe Paterno there, you want to be the guy who replaces the guy who replaced Joe Paterno. Pop culture history agrees: Jimmy Page was approached to join the Yardbirds after Eric Clapton pouted his way out of the group but he didn't want to replace him, instead recommending his buddy Jeff Beck for the job. When the moody Beck inevitably burned himself out (after a short, stunning term that produced "Heart Full of Soul," "Over, Under, Sideways, Down," "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago" and other gems), Page was all in, eventually transforming what became his band into Led Zeppelin. Similarly, when NBC gave The Tonight Show to Jay Leno instead of David Letterman and then changed their minds awhile later (as documented in Bill Carter's wonderfully salacious The Late Shift, a tantalizing book full of empty calories and remorse), Letterman arrived at the shrewd conclusion that he wouldn't be inheriting Johnny Carson's or Jack Paar's Tonight Show (which he coveted) but rather a failed Tonight Show with Jay Leno. So he created The Late Show. O'Brien can't exactly found a new university and develop a football program from scratch, but all this particular "promotion" does is white-wash Penn State's role in the sex-abuse scandal, a scandal that will not give him a single chance to succeed as a leader of men. In two or three years, after two or three losing seasons, alumni will have forgotten about Jerry Sandusky's crimes and will demand O'Brien's head on a platter. Someone else steps in (more in the mold of Pete "Rah Rah" Carroll than Bill "Fuck Off" Belichick), moving forward trumps looking behind and Penn State regains its "esteem." Bill O'Brien will be unemployable.

Prediction time? Something like 45–27 good guys. Belichick will travel to Pittsburgh to personally thank Dick LeBeau for demonstrating—throughout the entire game—which defensive scheme does not work. The Pats go big on the defensive line to try to stop the run, entrust Ninkovich to escort Tebow wherever he goes and ensure that no passes are thrown behind Chung and (probably starting at safety again) McCourty. On offense it's all about an early lead, even if it means electing to receive should they win the coin toss. I'd like to see Ridley and Green-Ellis move the chains—the Pats have to dominate time of possession and score almost every time they have the ball, which is exactly what Denver will try to do. Mix in some big Welker, Gronkowski and Hernandez gains and give Tebow no choice but to win with his arm, then it's all over but the shouting.

Around the league, the 49ers are up by a field goal at the half and the game could go either way, but I like the Saints to pull it out. The Ravens will end Houston's improbable run despite more horrendous play from Joeflacco—people say Mark Sanchez hasn't developed? And I think the G-Men will eke one out in Green Bay. Just remember that I know nothing about football.

Technicolor Web of Sound, my go-to internet radio station, has gone the way of a Remo Williams sequel. Suddenly it's not available to stream on iTunes, the website produces an error and someone blogged of its mysterious death. I was upset at first because the station introduced me to a lot of great sixties bands like Ant Trip Ceremony, Dragonfly and especially Blue Cheer, and it's been a part of my work day for the better part of eight years. Unfortunately the guy running it tightened up the playlist (causing it to repeat too often), focused too heavily on the Jefferson Airplane family tree and thought those old radio spots and other ephemera—including Illinois's one-time Emergency Broadcast System test tone, for crying out loud—would continue to amuse his audience after hundreds of listens. "I can't make it, Jim." Well I can't either. I'm sorry… I'll always love you for showing me that the Monkees made some amazing music and that the Pretty Things recorded soundtracks to soft porn films under a different name. But it's time to move on. WZBC has a reliable stream and I'm a month behind on PFW in Progress anyway.

Up next: Kick-off in two hours. Please don't make me write a "system failure" post next week. Cheers!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Beer and football II — week seventeen

The game: Bills at Patriots
The beer: Samuel Adams Vixen Chocolate Chili Bock Lager
The result: Win, 49–21
The commentary: I'm cheating with this picture as it was not actually taken during the game, or even on game day, but rather the following morning as G. snuggled her loveys and fought sleep with every inch of her little body (a battle she eventually won in fussy fashion). At the time I was certain those eyes could see a thousand years into my future. I am madly in love with her.

Fitzpatrick? Still not the bearded droid Bills fans are looking for. Stevie Johnson though? I'll take that guy! I understand why the refs had to throw the flag on his HAPPY NEW YEAR display but it's not like he wrote MY BROTHER'S GONNA SHIT or anything. He might lack maturity but he seems like a good guy, I don't know. Belichick simply has not drafted/developed a young wide receiver since the team started not winning Super Bowls, so I'll be pleased if he uses this year's picks to stock the defense with cyborgs after outbidding the rest of the league for Johnson.

Lately there's a lot of backlash against local media hotheads who cannot stop criticizing the team. I understand it since Notable Fucktards A, B and C latch onto any available negative angle while refusing to acknowledge a bright side. However, these clowns have a point. There really is no redeeming quality with this defense: Wilfork does a fine job but rarely dominates; Mayo either isn't talented enough to blow plays up or isn't being used correctly; Chung, when healthy, is a superstar when measured against Sergio Brown and Matthew Slater. Then, because Belichick's draft résumé from 2006 to the present is more luke-warm water (McCourty, Mayo, Maroney) than fire (Gronkowski, Hernandez, Mankins) with way too much ice (Meriweather, Darius Butler, Chad Jackson), no hotshots with limitless potential are in place to come in off the bench. I have been spoiled rotten for ten years since the Tuck Rule—sustained success, heightened expectations and so forth—yet I do not overstate their weaknesses.

What keeps the team competitive year after year, of course, is consistent excellence from the quarterback and the head coach: Brady is still playing out of his mind and Belichick's in-game adjustments the past few weeks have been outstanding. It's possible to see the brilliance as well as the flaws unless you're some kind of apologist homer; ergo, I like my boys against anyone. Who's with me? How about six-time all-pro tight end and veteran NFL analyst Randy Cross, who chucked self-respect in the gutter on Sunday and observed "Like the old Road Runner cartoons, you heard 'beep, beep' and the Patriots were gone." (That, my friends, is why a man with thirty-five years of playing and color-guy experience gets paired up with a stiff like Don Cruiqui week after week to announce games that have no significance. Also, Randy, it's more of a "meep" sound.) They won't always come back, particularly against the likes of Baltimore and a healthy Pittsburgh in the playoffs, but I'll take my chances on Brady stringing together a few hot starts when it counts. If not? Then Kyle Arrington, Julian Edelman and Ron Brace will make opponents pay!

God bless the New York Jets. For three years we Patriots fans have been waiting for them to implode and this perfectly average 8–8 finish (more degrading than 7–9?) is extremely rewarding. They'll be back, sure, but so long as Keller and Holmes (if he's still around) keep not being targeted then they will accomplish nothing. I'm the only one who still thinks Sanchez is pretty good—it's not his fault the offensive line sucks and he's being asked to throw fifty times a game—but if I'm wrong then look out, fat boy, because your team might actually suck. Speaking of rival quarterbacks, I love ESPN's James Walker's take on reports that free agent Chad Henne would love to return to Miami: "Anyone up for a Henne vs. Matt Moore quarterback battle in training camp? I doubt the Dolphins are."

In other AFC East news, I can't believe that Brian Schottenheimer (the one asking Sanchez to chuck the ball and absorb huge hits every other play) and Bill O'Brien (who does nothing except yell at players in an effort to get television exposure) are head-coaching candidates, even though I called it three weeks ago. Whoever hires them will get what they deserve: a search for a new head coach in 2015 after three consecutive losing seasons. But what's the alternative? Brad Childress or some diddling college coach? God save the NFL.

A. and G. dozed on the couch while I paired the bock (I didn't think I liked that style… maybe drenching it in chocolate is the answer) with some corn chips and chili con queso, followed by a chocolate chip cookie. That's what happens when you haven't been to work in ten days and won't return for another two. A. called the vixen on the bottle "scary." I call her flavor country. Care to guess what I have in my refrigerator for the playoffs? Not a thing! Yet.

Up next: The Patriots must survive a harrowing bye week that no one enjoys, except for people who've been meaning to hang window blinds for a month. Next week? Bring on the fucking Steelers. Cheers!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Beer and football II — week sixteen

The game: Dolphins at Patriots
The beer: Ipswich 20th Anniversary Imperial Pale Ale
The result: Win, 27–24
The commentary: Crazy Christmas Eve. And that's right, my daughter sucks her thumb! And grabs her nose in the process! Is she beautiful or what? (Also, dig our similarly posed Christmas card on the fridge. Meta!)

This is going to be a short one, with kickoff just over an hour away. I missed most of the first half of last weekend's game: our goal was to leave in time to arrive in Connecticut around 12:30 so we could settle in before I started aw-shucksing "Um, can we put the game on?" But G. had her own ideas and, admittedly, her mom and dad should have finished packing and gift-wrapping the night before. It's just so hard, Ringo.

Luckily, even with an obligatory Starbucks stop, we cruised down with no traffic at all. The TV was on almost immediately and when I saw what I'd missed I pulled up the Fios app on my phone and deleted what I'd so far recorded of the game (I'm glad we elected to go with Sonik Truth II playing the Greatest Holiday Playlist Ever—six hundred twelve songs and counting!—in the car instead of the radio broadcast). No need to watch a bunch of punts and defensive miscues after returning home, right? Anyway, we now know that the second half was the one to watch, in spite of Miami's late touchdown that served as yet another reminder to non-believers that this defense is real-deal atrocious. (I drank the delicious Ipswich while watching two weeks worth of Patriots Football Weekly the other night. During the game and up through the party that evening I alternated between Lagunitas IPAs and some stunning Southern Tier Double Milk Stouts, both of which were my contribution, of course. Fortunately for me there were no big drinkers around and I got to enjoy most of it myself.)

I had a nice week off. On Tuesday I took G. to the mall to try to return a bunch of stuff and to see if I was at all capable of changing her diaper in public by myself. Success! She did well for awhile but before long I cut the trip short, swung by Starbucks again (d'oh!) and took her home. As a parent it was the mature, responsible thing to do—needless to say my new year's resolution is to continue to set such reasonable expectations.

Up next: Remember 2003? Happy new year!