Saturday, January 31, 2015

Beer and football V — playoffs, week four (bye)

The beer: Jack's Abby Smoke and Dagger Black Lager
The commentary: I liked what I did lo, these many years ago (three), one beer to one player. Berkshire Saint of Circumstance India Pale Ale is Tom Brady? Of course! Symmetry is an admirable life goal. But it's been done—it's been done!—and I'm just too tired this time. A favorite team's consistent success in spite of officious nitpickers will wear on a man. So read that one again, you like it so much—the "debased ethnic whore" joke still holds up. Blogging is in.

We are twenty-odd hours from the Super Bowl and it somehow hasn't sunk in. Minute-long media cycles will also wear on a man. "Belichick's press conference on Saturday was the largest middle finger Roger Goodell has ever had up his ass." Not so fast, Monsieur Biffington! "Unconditionally." "My guys." "Driven by media leaks." "Apologize." "I am disappointed in the way this entire matter has been handled and reported upon." Ladies and gentlemen, the owner of your New England Patriots. Goodell won't shit right for a week.

Kraft is right. How is this the biggest NFL story this year? More "real" news coverage than the league's response to video evidence of Ray Rice cold-cocking his fiancĂ©e, more sports headlines than two number-one seeds meeting in what is amounting to a fifty-fifty game for the ages (on paper). Almost two weeks later it's still leading the news, dragging in other non-stories like LeGarrette Blount "orchestrating his release from the Steelers in order to return to Foxborough" and "someone keeps pulling fire alarms at the Patriots' hotel." Tom Brady is looking to win his fourth Super Bowl title and solidify his position as the greatest quarterback of all time. The Seahawks are looking to be the first repeat champion in ten years on the road to becoming the dynasty of the decade. Gronkowski, Revis, Wilfork, Edelman, Vollmer, Ninkovich… Sherman, Lynch, Chancellor, Bennett, Thomas, Wilson… position to position, the best players from both teams could probably compete with the best players from the rest of the league. But fuck it, let's all talk about inflation levels. (Nah.)

During the NFC Championship I couldn't decide whom I wanted to win. (I completed the puzzle during the game, by the way.) Potent offense? All-star defense? All-start defense plus aggressive offense? Erm, go Packers! Oh well. The Seahawks do scare me because no one saw last year's Broncos getting blown off the field. Scoring early will be important for each team and whoever wins the battles over the first couple of possessions in each half will probably carry it. The game should be close—high-scoring favors the good guys, I think, and low-scoring favors the Hawks. We are left with questions:

How will Seattle defend Gronkowski?

How will New England contain Lynch?

Which is the bigger weakness: Seattle's offensive line or New England's pass rush?

Will Brady avoid Sherman's side of the field?

Will Revis follow a particular receiver?

Did Belichick squander the (illegal?) Solder play against an unworthy opponent?

Will Carroll instruct "Inject this between your toes"?

Will special teams be a factor?

I don't remember how I'd felt about an actual Xs-and-Os matchup before Super Bowl XXXIX. I was ten for XX against the Bears and, in retrospect, it's clear the team and the region understood that "squishing the fish" was our Super Bowl. Sure, I wore my powder-blue BERRY THE BEARS tee shirt like every other kid in school. But I didn't understand that Tony Eason. (That sentence did not end prematurely.)

I followed the team all through college and celebrated Parcells and Bledsoe as saviors of a pathetic franchise even as I don't remember much about the run-up to XXXI against the Packers. Too much beer, weed and Blues Explosion to have been surprised either way. Fucking Dave Meggett though.

XXXVI, as detailed here, came out of nowhere and I don't remember being overly engaged—even as I watched every game—until the Snow Bowl (watched at Hector's parents' house atop a snow-covered, slippery suburban hill). I will never forget that game or the treacherous conditions to get home afterward. A week later while driving to Bradley Airport and listening to the radio broadcast I cheered as Bledsoe saved our asses in whiny Pittsburgh. But the Rams? The heavily favored Rams? Who knows? Hector and his wife hosted a party at his house and it was all happening (Bill Simmons was right: this victory made anything possible). I held Ivan's infant daughter during U2's 9/11 performance as every other guy ogled the Victoria's Secret Halftime Show in the other room and A. still sulked the entire evening because I let a "Woo-hoo!" slip during a shot of the cheerleaders—she has since apologized for almost spoiling the victory for me. Yes, Vinatieri should have been MVP. Yes, I went to the parade.

When the Pats missed the playoffs the following year I assumed (as a half-assed fan of a fair-weather variety) that the ride was over. I had my tee shirt. A. and I watched the Buccaneers throttle the Raiders at an empty (due to snow) Johnny D's in Somerville over margaritas before driving back to my bullshit sales job the following day. (Oh Suzy Spivey, how your patronizing bullshit nearly ruined me. Fact: you are the worst boss I ever had.) A year later, on Super Bowl Sunday, A. and I moved in together in Cambridge—our (my) priority was to set up the TV and the couch (Comcast had already been arranged), to call in a pie from Harvard House of Pizza and to find a good spot for Steve to settle in with us. The fourth quarter of that game is where it was at (I watched a highlight package in the last couple of years and I'd forgotten how sloppy a game it had been)—the Snow Bowl was the first step but I was neck deep after XXXVIII.

Clock-Killin' Corey Dillon was aboard to repeat. I'll put the 2004/2005 Patriots against anyone—thanks to Freddie "Eleven Yards" Mitchell, this was the first time I reveled in the hype leading up to the big game. Down to Hector's house again (I should call him) during another snowstorm for the divisional round game against the Colts. Fully submerged. Another night I will remember fondly for as long as I'm able. I was nervous against the Steelers and my dad said "Really?" Once more to Hector's for a XXXIX party. I genuinely admired Terrell Owens's effort and lost all respect for Donovan McNabb (and Andy Reid) from that day on. Compared to every Super Bowl since, even ones the Patriots haven't participated in, I'm amazed at how minimally engaged I was throughout. I spoke intelligently as a fan and didn't miss a play but I didn't live and die by any of it. Tomorrow I will record the game, re-watch big plays, explain things to A. and G. as they happen (then rewind to make sure I missed nothing), restrain myself from outbursts (positive or negative) once G. goes to bed… and delete that shit as fast as possible should the Seahawks win.

Let's keep going. (Do we have to?) In 2007 I was not only submerged but pushed out the other side. Win after win—I couldn't get enough coverage. I devoured Mike Reiss's coverage and analysis. I searched iTunes for a Patriots podcast and found PFW in Progress, of which I've been a fan ever since (Mike Reiss, too). When A. and I attended the Thanksgiving weekend game against the Eagles (thanks to my brother- and sister-in-law) I didn't think twice about how difficult a victory it was—indeed, the season was never again easy or automatic. Confidence reigned—the Friday before XLII I left work with a friend and we discussed the parade, which would (ahem) swing by the office on Tuesday. I told her "I can't wait to get my '19–0' shirt." And then. Sitting on the same couch we moved in with, I hung my head and told A. "It's over" when Burress caught the touchdown over Hobbs. I turned it off, all of it, before the '72 Dolphins made an appearance. I mourn what never was.

Four years later against the same goddamn Giants, documented here as the first Super Bowl of my beer-and-football saga, I was only slightly less confident. Days before I reasoned "I think the Patriots take six out of ten games against these Giants, and since they've already lost to them once this season the odds of winning in Indy increase to sixty-seven percent." (I guess it's seventy-five percent now. Drag.) As with 18–1, I was never comfortable on my (new) couch: it's all there in that March 2012 post. I try to be efficient with my words and that second paragraph is among the best things I've written. What's left out is that, having become a father, I wasn't as crushed. My team lost, it sucked and I probably didn't sleep too well. But my little girl was asleep in her new crib and maybe she needs to be tucked in a little better. Change all those instances of "With time" at the beginning to "With G." and you get the idea.

And now? NFL Pickwatch, collating "expert" predictions across all media outlets, is essentially split down the middle. For the first time ever I am not as optimistic. The Pats will need some quick first downs with short passes and long runs to build an early lead, then open up the field and see just how healthy the secondary really is. Otherwise, Lynch and Wilson will do what they do and control the clock knowing theirs is the kind of defense that gives Brady and his O-line fits. Will Brady succumb to pressure or will he get the ball out quickly in spite of it? Will Seattle shut down the play-action or be made to respect the run? More goddamn questions.

Gronk and Blount are the keys to this game. If those matchups don't pan out in our favor then it will be tough to overcome. 21–20, bad guys.

(Danilchuk Auto Body though? They're feeling pretty good. Maybe they're right.)

Up next: XLIX. Cheers!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Beer and football V — playoffs, week three
AFC Championship

The game: Colts at Patriots
The beer: Mystic Descendant Suffolk Dark Ale
The result: Win, 45–7
The commentary: It went down as it was supposed to… and then some. Luck forced a couple of throws that, as against Denver, went the other way. What say you, Mike Wells of ESPN Indianapolis? Did these amount to "basically punts" as well? That is the rosiest of rosy assessments, and I live in Homer-ville USA.

Especially now. The fake Patriots fans who couldn't name their backup quarterback (well, until this year) are all "Witch hunt! Witch hunt! Everyone does it! Pink locker rooms! Deer antler spray! Um, videotaping!" Somebody did something. It probably wasn't Belichick. It probably wasn't Brady directly but I'm guessing he's behind it. Maybe it really was the conditions (though it was mild that night). Big deal. Belichick's press conference on Saturday was the largest middle finger Roger Goodell has ever had up his ass. Almost everybody (aside from the homers and a few non-retards—like me—who are wondering where is all this proof against the team) is criticizing Belichick's role in society as not a scientist. Fuck them. Bring on the Seahawks.

Up next: A bye week full of several thousand more ball jokes. Cheers!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Beer and football V — playoffs, week two

The game: Ravens at Patriots
The beer: Slumbrew My Better Half Imperial Cream Ale
The result: Win, 35–31
The commentary: The divisional-round game was the first this season that I watched live all the way through. G. cooperated with some rare nap action and then mama was kind enough to give her dinner. We then promised to begin Tangled after the game. Bless them both for tolerating my paternal selfishness.

The cream ale, purchased in Salem (and producing the non-answer "I don't like cream ales" when I asked the clerk if he'd tried it), was unopened until the second half. As much as I needed that beer, that imperial beer, I just couldn't leave the living room—I feared my legs would give out. Having an actual halftime, due to said real-time viewing, allowed me to decompress after the Ravens took a two-touchdown lead, the Pats tied it and then an awful Brady interception led directly to an end-of-half shitstorm. As I've told myself so many times this season, these past several seasons, we were lucky to only be down by (x) and Brady could still win this. (But Christ, imagine if either of Amendola's or Edelman's fumbles hadn't been recovered? If neither had? No chance.)

The cream ale was smooth and didn't make me too swimmy—that dude should give it a chance because we're not talking about Genesee here—but did help take the edge off when the Pats were suddenly down by two touchdowns again. So much for the improved defense? And then beautiful things started happening: the multiple first-down conversions, the eligibility misdirections, Gronk, the double pass, McCourty's (unfulfilled) interception, the crowd. (Seriously, the crowd! It had to have been every single person who was there for AFC Championship against the Ravens three years ago because that's the last outstanding Gillette crowd I remember.) (Also, look at G. then! I was half drunk on Double Old Thumper and thought it would be a great idea to assemble her crib/toddler bed. Which is still standing, by the way.) (And what is it with Ravens players and coaches not understanding football?) Patrick Chung's sterling pass defense Owen Daniels's appalling drop in the end zone. Brandon LaFell's Randy Moss impression, clutching the ball at the last second. Duron Harmon's (!) near-game-ending interception.

Near-game-ending interception. I thought it was over… but look! NBC's poorly designed timeout indicator called bullshit on that. The imperial-ness prevented me from determining if a called timeout prevents the clock from expiring. Cursed math. Would time remain? Were the refs getting anxious about not calling pass interference all quarter? How long would G. be able to hold out? Pajamas were donned, teeth were brushed, mouth was thumbed (how we didn't get scolded by her dentist last week is beyond me). Rapunzel's hair was getting longer by the minute.

Opinions vary around here. Did Belichick mismanage the clock? Hard to say since I don't know what the alternative could have been. Should McDaniels have called actual running plays from their own twenty? Given the backs' lack of success that evening I'm not sure it would have eaten up much more time. (And as the PFW in Progress guys pointed out, they were ice cold and probably not reliable at that point.) Should Danny Aiken have snapped it through the end zone on fourth down for a safety? That crossed my mind but Torrey Smith, Joeflacco and Justin Tucker made me nervous. Everything turned out alright and the good guys won, but it does feel like the hail Mary scenario was somehow avoidable. (Andy Reid and Mike Smith are sitting in a bar somewhere still wondering why Belichick didn't call timeout himself.)

McCourty's volleyball spike (though Gronk was initially credited) sealed it. Fourth straight AFC Championship. Is this the year? I'm set to drink another bomber tomorrow and that's all I can ask. Were I to be so bold I'd say I know which six-pack to break up during the bye week because it's already in the fridge as part of some Christmas generosity (I tend to drink twelve-ouncers or pints as my "beer of the week" during a bye; even week ten's Samuel Smith (shudder) was "only" an imperial pint). And then there were one, an electric brew to which I will run for miles and seek sanctuary. Got that?

Grown-up puzzle anecdote: A. and I bought a cute thousand-piece puzzle with a festive theme for our guests to work on Christmas day. We got the idea when everyone kept gathering around one on Thanksgiving at the in-laws'. Turns out we didn't need a social crutch and forgot all about it. Drag. So New Year's Eve, the two of us sat down (at our new dining table) to start and complete the border. Well done! That's half the battle so let's keep this go– Babe? Where are you? Um. So… I've been the only one working on it ever since and I'm now fifty or so pieces from finishing. It's too bad I'm a team of one but I do find it soothing to focus on the task. It's easy to ignore all around you such as a dirty litter box or a seven-point halftime deficit. Hand me a glass of wine (or a cream ale, apparently) and I haven't a care in the world… unless Logan Ryan gets called for interference. Can't promise the holiday village square or the new table would have survived.

Adorable puzzle anecdote: The other night I was "helping" G. with a new fairy princess puzzle she got for Christmas. She worked her way down from the top (no edge- and corner-seeking for her) and as she was trying to cram one portion of a castle spire onto a cluster I thought to be totally unrelated I gave her a "Hmm, I'm not sure that goes there, hon." Ignoring me, she turned it ninety degrees and dropped it where it belonged. I was so happy and proud I exclaimed "Wow, you made it fit!" and she responded "That's because I'm magic!" followed, before I could say it myself, by "You're so cute!" She is just It.

Up next: LeGarrette Blount and Jonas Gray run all over Indy's defense. Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen return the favor. Rob Gronkowski is the difference. Cheers!

Friday, January 9, 2015

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

The beer: Berkshire Raspberry Barleywine-Style Ale Henniker Working Man's Porter
The commentary: It came during the bye week so the media didn't pick up on it, but after five (regular) beer-and-football seasons I finally called an audible. The BBC barleywine was a gift to the Christmas hosts and I cracked it open Saturday night while coming to terms with the Ravens defeat of the Steelers. It poured an odd pinkish orange that made me cringe.

I tried to keep an open mind after the first sip but I still had like twenty-one ounces left. Could I handle it? A. sometimes likes fruity beers, could she even handle it? Probably not. Drag. Instead of re-capping it like Ty Webb ("Whoa!") and re-gifting it to someone with a better appreciation I dumped it down the drain. What a waste. What an asshole.

It's all for the best. After my date with the sink and the recycling bin there were two bombers, one ongoing football weekend and an additional guaranteed football weekend for me and the Patriots. Had the barleywine qualified for the bye I would have had a bomber each for the divisional round and the presumed conference championship. Was I so bold? Didn't this almost happen last year? No thanks, just drink the damn porter. If/when the good guys win—and I expect them to in a close one—I'll buy a single bomber next week. In this scenario, should they defeat the Broncos or the suddenly sexy-pick Colts next Sunday, I'll buy two more to fill out the season. The one reserved for XLIX is the same stout I talked about a year ago—it's sort of a package deal and I look forward to writing about it. Unless Brady and company get rolled by the Seahawks. Then I'll just bitch about my smartphone or something.

Up next: The Ravens try to beat the Patriots at home for the fifteenth straight time, apparently. I don't know, I'm almost convinced. Cheers!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Beer and football V — weeks sixteen and seventeen

Week sixteen
The game: Patriots at Jets
The beer: Stone Coffee Milk Stout
The result: Win, 17–16
The commentary: It's rarely easy with these teams. I spelled it out after the Pats won in October's first meeting, and adding this one to the pile the Pats come out three cumulative points ahead from 2013 to 2014. Three wins, one loss… three points! I still don't know what happened with that fourth-quarter "first down" by Amendola. Rex Ryan thought he was short and challenged the spot… why? It is fourth down, stupid! Oh. Oh? Weird sequence, with vague officiating and confused broadcasters keeping it foggy. I wonder what will become of this generally competitive rivalry should Ryan be shown the door.

The stout was purchased at a charming local shop we like to support. Unfortunately I'm pretty sure it was skunked because it had that essence of temperature/storage/sea-level fluctuations my in-laws favor with the Sam Adams they buy for me whenever we visit still stock after buying a case for me three years ago. The dusty bottle and general desperation as the lone stout in the fridge—behind several new arrivals—was a sign unto me that I ignored. Even A. was unimpressed, and she goes batshit over coffee-flavored stouts and porters. What a woman!

Week seventeen
The game: Bills at Patriots
The beer: Wachusett Winter Ale
The result: Loss, 17–9
The commentary: We hosted nine family members for Christmas. It was the first time we formally hosted a dinner party, formally hosted a exo-July holiday party (we used to rage on the fourth: Guitar Hero, pounds of shrimp and giant bottles of Evan Williams with which to spike one's Coke for the walk to beachfront fireworks), formally or otherwise cooked anything resembling an actual turkey (do two bone-in breast-meat carcasses count?), etc. My homemade stuffing was popular but a little too sweet for me because of the apples—I decided against adding onions because I thought they would make it too greasy but I should have tossed in a few tablespoons. Garlic too. The chili (merry Christmas?) was also popular as it should have been because it's fucking delicious.

The day was a total success, and not only because of all the wine everyone brought. G. was a star and it's amazing how patient she was while A. and I assured her "Honey, we have to wait to open presents" while scrambling to get everything ready. I woke up around six because I'd never gotten around to making the stuffing the night before (following an adorable ride home with G. on the train) and I was concerned with how long it would hog the oven—the oven that so desperately needed to begin cooking the birds as soon as possible. Preparation took three times longer than it needed to, as always, because I'm not very coordinated in the kitchen and we have deceptively little counter space.

Next were the potatoes, which would take four hours in the slow cooker. No way I synch everything up correctly but fuck it, no one would care. They would have been happy with frozen pizza if it came down to it so long as they got to watch G. work on puzzles and dance around, often at the same time. Hours and hours of my award-winning Christmas playlist would fill in any lulls. There were none.

The main course went in a little later than I wanted, even after cutting few available corners with the herb butter. Those extra minutes counted though since I wasn't convinced they were fully thawed out after forty-eight hours in the fridge—the huge chunks of ice I removed from the cavities were one indication. Shit. Panic? Nah. Frozen pizza would be done in half an hour. After a spell of wondering where to put all the wine (a great holiday problem) and if the meatballs were hot enough (ditto) I called my dad into the kitchen to see what he thought about the turkeys. I mean, they looked like turkeys, but what do I know? "Probably going to be awhile," said without the least bit of skepticism or concern. Not the news I was hoping for, though the delivery was appreciated. (Anyone for pizza?) We opened another couple of the Wachusett Winters he brought, which are actually defined as Scotch ales on the label. I almost bought some myself but feared it wouldn't be crowd-friendly if it leaned more toward the overly spiced Harpoon seasonal and away from the wonderfully restrained Sam Adams one, and so got an IPA and a smoked black lager (crowd-friendly?) instead. But. The Wachusett is one of the best new beers I've tried in a long time. With all the beer we still have it's graduated to an elite drink-everything-else-first-and-save-these-for-later tier reserved for only the best. Another great holiday problem. Anyway, the turkeys turned out nicely. They popped about when I was hoping and probably could have cooked another hour but that's the takeaway. Next year's will be better. And so will the stuffing.

What's that you say? The Bills won at the Big Razor for the first time ever? You must be kidding. See you in the playoffs.

Up next: Re-watching the first season of Dexter because A. and I only ever saw the edited episodes on CBS. It's fun to root for a consistently good team. Happy new year!