Saturday, December 20, 2014

Beer and football V — week fifteen

The game: Dolphins at Patriots
The beer: Northampton Humbug Ale
The result: Win, 41–13; Natalie, 4–2–1
The commentary: Nine o'clock: I knew something was wrong when I queued up Patriots Gameday, which I only record for its three-minute segment with Mike Reiss. "OK, fast-forward through this Steve Burton crap. Fast-forward through Dan Roche's fantasy crap." Hey, why is the screen black? Why isn't the little progress tracker moving? Oh no. The game. The game! Black. None more black. This has happened in the past when shows mysteriously would seem to record—they would be listed right there alongside The Simpsons and six-month-old documentaries on Penn Station, they would take up space on the DVR drive, but "playing" them resulted in the void. "At least it wasn't the Pats game," I would tell a nonexistent Keith Morrison. "I can live without your carnage."

Not this time. All day we're running around, eating breakfast, shopping for Christmas (we're hosting for the first time ever), avoiding the news. (Yes, it's also a matter of time until my media blackouts are sabotaged during a self-imposed eight-hour game delay.) After trying to skip ahead, rewind, delete, restore, restart… the so-called recording was only watchable in some alternate reality. I deleted it for good, pouted for a few minutes, watched the rest of Friday's Patriots All Access (fast-forwarding through Scott Zolak and Christian Fauria's "Teaching U Repressed Homosexual Tension" crap) and resigned myself to the fact that I would not make it to Solution (x) without learning what happened. Out comes the phone and the score reveals itself, a twenty-eight point hat-and-tee-shirt victory by the good guys. Great! Rats!

I then set about ways to watch the game and found that the best option—and the lone legal one—was to sign up for a free trial week of NFL Rewind on The rub was that no week fifteen games would be made available until the primetime game was over, which meant Patriots–Dolphins would be my own non-Saints, non-Bears Monday Night Football affair. I'll take it. Until then, I could boost my spirits with the knowledge that the Chiefs had won earlier, and I would have taken them had I not already won my knockout pool. It felt significant as I collected the lone deadbeat's forty-five units yesterday. Meanwhile, my "week sixteen pick" Eagles lost to the Redskins today. I am now properly motivated to win again next year.

Monday night—Monday Night—I navigated an unusually seizure-inducing NFL app interface on my dusty Xbox 360 (because it wasn't available to stream on our Roku) (because… why exactly?) and eventually figured out how to use the controller as a remote control. It was awkward all around but the quality was decent, and I could appreciate how beneficial the package would be to someone who wants to watch a bunch of out-of-market games each week. People without jobs. Just remind me to cancel by Sunday night.

I knew of the game's ups and downs from skimming Monday's headlines and understood the first half would be ugly. I'd already seen highlights of Collins's field goal block and Harmon's interception and was curious how I'd have felt were I watching live. Likely, outside of fifty–fifty hindsight, it would have been one of those where I'd felt comfortable up by a point at halftime after the way they were playing. I wouldn't have guessed they'd turn it around so thoroughly in the third quarter—I know nothing about football—but some improvement had to be expected. This felt like a playoff game, even if it was played against the opposite of a playoff contender. Can Brady play this way for two quarters against the Ravens or the Broncos and expect to win? I'm not sure. But I don't rule it out.

Survivor XXIX was a good season. Even Logan Ryan doesn't create as many opportunities for me to yell at the television as Survivor or Project Runway. (Also-Rans finale coming soon!) Oh, Natalie. I'm impressed by her win but she maybe (maybe not) made it harder than it needed to be. Two weeks ago when Jon won immunity, she decided against (and, onscreen, never considered) voting out Jaclyn in order to cripple him. Pardon me? She then excellently knocked him out the following week and was lucky to have the opportunity. Wednesday night, Keith wins immunity so she masterminds Missy's Baylor's exit, which is a brilliant strategic startling mindfuck maneuver. I'm not sure Baylor would have gotten a single vote in the end, even from her mom. After that—knowing Jaclyn really had no chance to win—she had to choose between Keith (who, it turns out, would have won had Natalie taken him) and Missy (who A. and I grossly overrated as someone people would vote for) instead of Keith and Baylor, which would have been a no-brainer. Oh well. She won and she deserved to, but probably could have used less antiperspirant if it were her, Jaclyn and Baylor in front of the audience. I know nothing about Nicaragua-based reality television competition. And Alec knows nothing about breathing through his nose.

On Saturday we drove to Northampton to get dinner at the Brewery, sell more CDs at Turn It Up and, apparently, buy a pink and purple stuffed kitten before heading to "Bright Nights at Forest Park" in Springfield, by some accounts the most depressed city in the country. I printed a coupon and everything. We hit traffic within a quarter mile of exiting 91 and, despite G's pure rage, turned around to go home, offering vague promises of returning by year end (probably the weekend after Christmas). On that note of disappointment, in between last week's company Christmas party at the InterContinental Vagina and next week's acronym subset one at a Mexican joint—and in honor of new family member "Spotty Kitty"—I present 2014's playlist to enjoy while trying to pry your wife and daughter out of Thorne's Marketplace. Set it to repeat for as long as necessary.

1. Lightnin' Hopkins – Santa
On my iPod I break Christmas songs into three playlists: "Christmas," appropriate for family events with Perry Como, Jimmy Smith and friends; "Xmas," introducing newer pop stuff like Belle & Sebastian and Yo La Tengo that A. and even G. would enjoy; and "Xmas Blues," of which around fifty percent is blues, twenty is soul/funk, fifteen is punk/metal, ten is rap and five is psychedelic (only because there isn't that much out there).

2. Kenny Burrell – The Little Drummer Boy
It was this or Beck's "The Little Drum Machine Boy," up there with "In a Cold-Ass Fashion" from the Jabberjaw series as one of his great unknown contributions to Western culture. Burrell's brass punctuations in the last forty seconds won over the Youth Percussion judging panel.

3. Bing Crosby – Looks Like a Cold, Cold Winter
I heard this in Crate & Barrel the other day while browsing the cutlery section. I am forty years old.

4. George Harrison – Skiing
Presented as "Ski-ing" on 1968's Wonderwall Music sleeve but that looks odd. Trust me, George, to understand that "the act of traveling over snow on skis as sport or recreation" is not pronounced skeeeng. Featuring a soon-to-be-irrelevant Eric Clapton.

5. Vashti Bunyan/Twice As Much – Coldest Night of the Year
Sound Opinions aired its annual Andy Cirzan holiday playlist last week a good fifteen days after I downloaded "Coldest Night of the Year" from the Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind compilation. I guess you don't have to dig through dusty Alabama record bins for everything.

Up next: Thee Geno Smith. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Beer and football V — weeks thirteen and fourteen

Week thirteen
The game: Patriots at Packers
The beer: Smuttynose S'muttonator Double Bock Lager
The result: Loss, 26–21; Colts win, 49–27
The commentary: Super Bowl preview? Perhaps. I'm curious how this game would have turned out on a neutral field, but the Packers played better than any Wisconsin advantage provided. I never understood the Aaron Rodgers mystique and, as an infrequent viewer, had a hard time believing he belonged on a tier with Brady and Manning (even though he was throwing sixty-yard touchdowns whenever I did tune in). I get it now. He's probably still a prick but watching him buy time, scramble and hit his receivers in the hands was something to watch… until reaching the red zone, that is. That's why I hope it really was a Glendale preview.

I thought I'd sewn it up with the Colts. I didn't know until afterward but Bruno went bold with the Rams over the Raiders in a game that might have meant something in 1983. I admire his strategy of saving stronger teams for when you really need them but does he realize there are only four weeks left in the regular season? Ask me next week.

I snagged the Smuttynose while shopping for clementines and gingerbread muffins to bring to G's preschool on Monday as part of my "parent of the day" duties. I really didn't know what to expect with the bock after a college run-in with a blue-bottled Samuel Adams Triple scarred my gag reflex (though their Chili Bock was a hit three seasons ago) but A. and I agree it was fantastic. Should this "Super Bowl preview" be realized I might heavy-handedly compare the S'muttonator to Brady, Gronkowski or Revis during the bye week à la 2011/2012. My reader (!) can hope.

Week fourteen
The game: Patriots at Chargers
The beer: Victory Headwaters Pale Ale
The result: Win, 23–14; Lions/Jarrod win, 34–17
The commentary: "Lions for the win." So I stated in my email to the knockout pool… commissioner?… on Thursday, cautiously optimistic that I'd be the last man standing by Sunday evening. Never mind that I'd also emailed "Colts for the win" seething pure arrogance the Thursday before. Who cares, because this time I was right: after the Lions' performance against the Patriots two weeks ago scared me off of picking them against the Bears on Thanksgiving, that performance (and the overall ugliness of the Buccaneers since, oh, 2002) told me it was time.

And Bruno? And Bruno! Bruno, who never took the Patriots or the Ravens. (Or the Cowboys, whom I don't trust either.) Bruno, who didn't realize that the 49ers almost broke up my marriage two weeks ago, didn't sweat like I did while following their typographic progress on a five-inch screen. As much as I know I got away with something in choosing Ryan Fitzpatrick in week one (and as much as I would still take the Bengals over the Bears last season) I realize it will only lead you so far. After the Texans? Patriots, Saints, Chargers, Packers, etc. All teams that were expected to win handily, even the then-winless (and now hopeless) Saints, without crippling me as the season progressed. Bruno started off poorly with the Bucs losing at home to the Panthers, then bought back in for an opportunity to suss out the first of three total Redskin wins this season. OK. Since then he and I basically shuffled the same teams—even lining up in weeks four, five, nine, ten and eleven—and followed the same philosophy of playoff contenders against weak opponents (I went against the Redskins and the Vikings three times each) through November. So what happened?

As noted above, Bruno picked the Rams last week. I compare it to when the Pats are first and goal at the two after a big play and McDaniels outsmarts himself by hurrying Brady to the line before the defense is set so he can hand off to Shane Vereen for minus one yard. You got this far, why turn cute? Why not continue what's worked? It reeked of him saving his best options for a late-December showdown that, it turns out, is never to be. On to Sunday: the 49ers haven't scored more than seventeen points in a month and topped that (with twenty-four) once since mid-October. Not researching this trend two weeks ago was my fault and it almost cost me, but I was looking more at a terrible opponent (Redskins) flying across the country. If that game were available on Sunday, knowing what I knew the morning after I would have steered clear without temptation. Not Bruno. Not coming off a blowout, shutout win a week earlier by a sparky basement-dweller against… hey, it's the Raiders again! Niners all the way!

Who am I to criticize a man's methods when they line my undefeated wallet with hundreds of units? Especially after I learned he was also considering the (hopeless) Saints. It's like he grew bored of stress-free winning. See you next year, Bruno. See everyone next year, since the Bears—the Bears!—knocked out four of you idiots. (Sorry to break it to you, dude who lost with the Bears in week one and then bought back in to get knocked out by the Bucs in week two, but you suck at this. Maybe save your dough for pornography or something.) Incidentally, I was planning to take the Chiefs over the Raiders, the visiting Eagles over the Redskins and (probably) the Falcons over the Panthers to close out the season if necessary. It's not. You're goddamn right.

Up next: The Dolphins solidify their standing as a mediocre team by keeping things interesting in Foxborough long enough for writers to declare them a team to watch in the playoffs… until they get blown the fuck out at home against the Vikings next weekend. Cheers!