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FOOTBALL ROAD TRIPS: Quest to QWEST

Uncle Rico lives full time now in Bellingham, Washington. He came to visit me here in Cadiz back in early August so that we could ride Quads together out on the dunes and burn our Eastern European skins in the Mojave Turkey Roaster. He brought with him some of his homemade whiskey and on a hot, summer night in his Dodge Santana Campervan, we tipped back quite a few glasses of “Idaho Jockey-Box Bourbon” while playing a brisk game of Strip-Scrabble with our special ladies.

In the heat of that pregnant moment, we formulated a haphazard plan for the coming fall. We agreed it was time to make a noble sojourn to QWEST FIELD to take in a SEATTLE SEAHAWKS game together.

The time had come.

The pain had finally softened.

The news had just come down that NFL Referee, Bill Leavy, acknowledged that he had made “mistakes” in the Seahawks’ disputed loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2006 Super Bowl.

“I’ll go to my grave in regret,” Mr. Leavy said, “It left me with a lot of sleepless nights and I think about it constantly.”

No shit, Bill? No shit?

Even though Uncle Rico and I felt somewhat vindicated by Mr. Leavy’s admission and how it correlated to what we had seen that fateful day on our TV sets, we couldn’t very well get into our time machines and go back to Detroit, back to the Jerome-Bettis-Love-Love-Bill-Cowher-Love-Love-Iron-City-Love-Love-Festival for the Fix-is-In.

Love-Love.

We had to move forward with our lives.

Well, it just so happened that I had big plans to be in the Oregon Territories for a close friends’ 50th birthday party in late September. The news of this gave Uncle Rico a charge. Immediately, we scrutinized the Seahawks’ schedule together. The game to make would be in Week 3, when the Chargers were coming to town. Beautiful, the mighty Bolt from the south, and old hated American Football Conference foe. Perfect.

A toast then, to the vision of the two of us rejoicing as part of the 12th man on September 26th, 2010 at QWEST FIELD.

It was on like Atari Pong!

As plans go, with Uncle Rico and myself that is, things always seem to stay liquid. Therfore, by the end of August, when Uncle Rico sent me a somewhat nervous email detailing his concerns for procuring tickets, emphasizing that he had no real contacts, I began to have my doubts that this would ever happen. He asked me if we should try StubHub. So I searched the Internet link that he sent me and it only confirmed what I have come to suspect: that NFL Tickets are made solely for the Boo-Zhwha-Zee-Zee-Boob-a-lee-boob upper classes of these here United States.

Bohemian artists and Tupperware salesman be damned, you could watch games at the local Buffalo Wild Wings, if you really wanted to.

StubHub led me to conclude that $200 a ducat was the normal range.

“Screw it,” I wrote back, “We’ll scalp, and if we don’t find anything, we’ll watch it at a bar, near the stadium instead.”

And so that was where we left it, Uncle Rico agreeing half-heartily, insisting that our plans were not set in stone, but rather, that we would be “angling” to “perhaps” go see this game.

As the date grew near, I made my travel plans. In doing so, I splurged. I reserved a downtown hotel room in the Marriott on Pioneer Square, very close to QWEST FIELD. Maybe it was a way of forcing the plan into motion, but I figured what the heck, even if I didn’t go to the game, I would need a place to sleep; a place with good thread count in the sheets and a gym to stay toned.

On Friday, September 24th, before the crack of dawn, I left my sweet little home in Cadiz and drove solo in my Spaceship Toyota Prius, listening to Ross Tucker’s Football Today Podcasts on my new, 4-G IPhone (the phone provided for me by my SICKNESS.COM expense account, of course)(EDITOR’S NOTE: I gotta get me one of those.), stopping for the night in Roseburg, Oregon just in time to watch the Roseburg High Indians defeat the Thurston Colts, 35-33, and in the process see head coach, Thurman Bell, record his 300th victory, putting him first on the Oregon High School list of active coaches and third all-time behind Dayton’s Dewey Sullivan (352-84-2) and Kent Wigle (307-99-2) of Marshfield and South Umpqua. (EDITOR’S NOTE: And that is why it’s called Football Sickness.)

The Roseburg Indians play in the highest division in the state (6A) and are the biggest show in town on a Friday night. I’m here to report in these pages that while overall the players seemed somewhat slower and undersized compared to the ones back home in Cadiz; Football—Frisbee-Football-Throw-Ball-Spread-Offense-Style, to be specific—is alive and well in the state of Oregon in the year 2010.

Don’t believe me?

Well then, just ask JIM HARBAUGH and the boys over at STANFORD, or RICK NEUHEISEL and the men of WESTWOOD for an explanation!

My guess is that every football-loving kid in Oregon who straps it up nowadays, wants so badly to go on to play for CHIP KELLY and the NIKE DEATHSTAR in Eugene that they can just taste the swoosh, even if it might get stuck going down their throats.

Whoa dog, have you seen that glistening Corporation of Higher Education on the Hill of late?

Well, I have!

Whoa nelly, Dan Fouts! That place is green! Too green to control. Eugene, Oregon is a blossom of American success and intellectual fertility if ever there was one!

The Saturday morning after leaving Roseburg, I drove north to Eugene for breakfast. When I pulled off the highway and into town, the first thing that I came face to face with was the future.

Say goodbye, folks, to the cozy confines of the once venerable Oregon Pit and say hello to the DEATHSTAR Space Station at the new Matthew Knight Sports Arena:

Holy shit, Prefontane! At first I thought I was driving past the Eugene Airport Terminal, but I quickly came to realize just where I was and that the mighty O.U. Ducks are sure to be a powerhouse in all major sports for as long as you and I are wearing Nikes, which I think will be just about forever.

So get used to the 1001 uniforms.

This is no flash in the pan.

The Oregon DIY (Do it Yourself) movement is a blazing firebrand.

And like it or not, Phil Knight is your material leader!

After breakfast on the DEATHSTAR, I made my way to Sandy, Oregon and the STARGAZER Farm, where that afternoon the darling Ms. Isabel Cruz, the best chef in these here United States of America, was turning 50.

If you don’t know much about Isabel and what she does from here to VIAND…than you really need to come west and check it out…here’s the way in.


Isabel’s STARGAZER Farm is where she grows the organic produce for her restaurant kitchens. It used to be the world famous (in certain circles) Oregon Bulb Farm. It’s the place where the world famous Stargazer Lilly was created. Hence the name as a tribute. It’s located on the Sandy River, down in this valley (right).

The next 10 hours or so at the farm were filled by old friends in new places, Zebras with French-looking showgirls riding them like ski-dos and handing out H’orderves, jugglers, planes with wing-walkers, whippets, chickens, deer, sword-swallowers, fire-eaters, dancing bears, hot-air balloon rides, harmless flirtations, chanterelle mushrooms, smoked elk, rabbit loins, butterfish, peach crisps with crème anglaise, and God only knows what else off the top of my profligate head.

Oh and of course, there was the Desolation Ale! Or what I like to call, the Beerijuana! A microbrew that came in a keg straight from Amnesia Brewing in Portland.

Forget all your worries and your cares and go there sometime, really you must.


I drank probably too much of it that night.

Because when I awoke early Sunday Morning I couldn’t feel my left arm any more, most likely on account of the sad fact I had been lying on it against the ground right where I had fallen sometime near dawn and probably hadn’t moved since. This was not far from the spot where I completed my drum dance that I had learned from the Maasai Tribe years ago back in Northern Tanzania.

The Maasai showed me how the sound and the rhythm of the drum express the mood of the people. The drum is the sign of life; its beat is the heartbeat of the community. Such is the power of the drum to evoke emotions, to touch the souls of those who hear its rhythms. In an African community, coming together in response to the beating of the drum is an opportunity to give one another a sense of belonging and of solidarity. It is a time to connect with each other, to be part of that collective rhythm of the life in which young and old, rich and poor, men and women are all invited to contribute to the society.

At the STARGAZER Farm that night, we beat the drum and came together!

Sincerely, I tell you all of this not so much so that you will wish for my lifestyle (although you probably do by now), but rather because, as background for what followed, it’s all very important to the mission.

Nevertheless, a little secret if you will… my lifestyle is the way it is, most simply put, because my dossier is always the most complete.

“Leave nothing out,” my SICKNESS editors always say.

I do my damnedest not to disappoint.

Sunday morning, as I said, and this is when the mission turned most serious. The first thing that I did when I stood up off the ground was to try and wipe the dirt of my sweatshirt, which only turned it into mud.

Then I thought to myself, “Where did this sweatshirt come from?”

I could have sworn I was wearing my pink African Dashiki when the night started. Until I remembered the sequence of events, the sweatshirt was given to me at the party by some sort of souvenir vendor dude who had been working the grounds all night looking for tips. I think I traded him my Dashiki for it.

Oh well, the sweatshirt was dark green with a big, bright yellow “O” across the chest.

“Nice,” I told myself.

The next thing I did was to check my cell phone.

Apparently, at some point in the night I had received a text message, it was from Uncle Rico.

Go figure.

It said simply that he could not make it to the Seahawks game because he had to “travel immediately to Denver, Colorado for an emergency Counter-Jihad Conference.”

It was starting to rain. The farm was quiet. People were sleeping all over the place. It looked like a Civil War battlefield, or the day after Burning Man.

“Uncle Rico’s loss,” I thought, not so much out of anger, but certainly out of some twisted vengeful motivation.

With no further thought and with my work done on the farm, I stepped into the Prius, pressed the go button and started heading north like a salmon swimming up the Columbia, which I would cross in no time.

I don’t know why I didn’t go inside the farmhouse, find a warm place to lie down and sleep the whole day away. The game called to me, I guess, and Uncle Rico’s absence only urged me on with more determination.

The sky spit rain—surprise, surprise—from Portland to Seattle, which is about a 3-hour drive if you are moving at a good pace, translate: FAST.

Still, it was a longer drive than the time I spent sleeping the night before.

The weather did nothing to excite my desire to sit out in the wet and watch an NFL spectacle in a stupor of dehydration and exhaustion. But just north of Olympia, still a good hour from Seattle, I started seeing the cars full of drivers and passengers with Seahawk game jerseys on. This intensified with each mile that I drew closer.

By the time I reached SEATAC, the Seattle Tacoma International Airport, I must have been the only person on the highway not wearing a jersey.

It felt like something was building.

Like a wave.

QWEST FIELD is not a colossal stadium.  Compared to some of the other monoliths around the country, it’s more like a jewel, built on what was once nothing but the mudflats of Elliott Bay.

Yet when you see it from a distance, it looks like a giant crown.

It’s beautiful. Alluring.

Nestled beside SAFECO FIELD in the SoDo (South of Downtown, originally South of the ­­Dome, as in, the Kingdome) section of Seattle’s Industrial District, QWEST is easy to get to from the junction of Interstate-5 and I-90.

The I-90 dropped me right down onto South Royal Brougham, which runs east and west between the two stadiums. I investigated the crowd of people, almost all of them dressed in Seahawks jerseys. As I inched along I searched the multitudes for any possible scalpers. No sign.  It was already 12:30.

I made my way to the west side and turned north onto First Avenue. If there was any tailgating going in, I never saw it.

Up First Avenue I gassed it, right on to Cherry, east to Second Ave, and voila! On the corner was my hotel, the Courtyard Marriot in the beautiful old Alaska Building, the first steel-framed skyscraper ever built in Seattle!

Who knew, right?

Quickly, I gave my keys to the valet, hurried to the front desk, asked the man there if I could check-in early. No problem, the good people of Marriott abided me and before I knew it I was entering my room, which I discovered was on the south corner of the 8th floor.

The room was huge, more like a suite really, with a couch, a coffee table and tall picture windows. I threw my luggage down and pulled open the large drapes to get my bearings.

Whoa, Jim Zorn!

Lo and behold check out what was hiding behind the curtain where Carrol Merril was standing!:

The crown jewel of the NFL!

That was it. That was the clincher. That’s all it took. Even though I did lie down on the bed just to test it, and I did feel my bones seize up and sleep just hanging at the edges my soul, I decided right then and there that there was no way that I could be this close and not try to get into the game.

No way.

It was 12:50 PM by now.

Game time was 1:05.

A splash of water on my face and off I went back down to the streets. From the hotel I followed the herd of fans back down through Klondike Park toward QWEST FIELD.

I bought a ticket from the first scalper that I saw. It was easy. He showed me the ticket. It was a $96.00 face value. He showed me where it was on a map. He asked me what I would give him for it. I told him $70.00. He said “Deal!” I said, “Thank you,” and it was done.

Of course, I only needed to walk about 25 yards further down the block, closer to the stadium, when a couple walking with a third dude appeared, all dressed in their Seahawk jerseys, full regalia.

The third dude held out a ticket and he asked me if I wanted it. I asked him what he meant. He said I could have it for $10.00; that it was his wife’s but that she couldn’t make it the game this week.

I stopped, I looked at the ticket, it also had a $96.00 face value on it, and the seat was in roughly the same location as mine. In a flash, I started playing the savage businessman in my mind. I would buy this ticket from them and then I would turn around and sell it to the next chump and I would get my money back and go to the game for free.

But before I could even get the thought completed, some other, smarter, more eager, nimble-minded businessman appeared and he jumped like a hungry wolf at the beautiful offer.

Oh well, I already had a ticket of my own at least, and I was still coming in under budget, so I let this little setback go and I moved on.

The closer I got to the Stadium, the more people I saw selling tickets. 30, 40, 50, maybe more, all plying their Sunday trade.

Where do all these dudes come from with all these tickets?

They’re just movin’ product out there on the streets like it’s popcorn.

Is it really profitable, I wondered?

How do I buy a $96.00 ticket for $70.00 and someone makes money from that?

This must be an inside job by the team, by the league.

You gotta know it is.

The crowd was swelling as I walked down Occidental Avenue and neared the gates at the north plaza. Game time was fast approaching now. As if the Gods of Abundance didn’t have enough fun with me, a Youngman—he was northwest blonde, big and burly, in his early 20s—dropped his ticket on the ground right in front of me and just kept on walking. No one else seemed to notice this. I knelt down and picked the ticket up and almost got run over by the surge behind me. By the time I was walking forward again, the Youngman was a good ten yards ahead of me. I looked at his ticket more closely. $140.00 face value. An upgrade!

Don’t think that the thought didn’t cross my mind to turn around and sell it to the next schmuck coming by, but it was too late for that, we were very close to the entrance gate and the security was now dividing us by gender (not sure why) and checking our belongings and metal wanding us, and besides, it wouldn’t have been the right thing to do. It sounds so noble now to hear it, but really that negative shit always comes back to me somehow.

So I moved through the crowd and when I reached burly blonde, I tapped him on his shoulder and handed his ticket back to him and then faded out of view before he could even thank me. Not that I was looking for a reward, but Karma is supposed to work that way, if there is such thing as Karma…even I know that much.

I didn’t wait for his thank you. Instead, I waited for the Karma.

My Karma came to in the next 3 and one half hours of mega theatre football!

Now I’m not gonna sit here and go into every detail of the game. I hate that kind of reporting. If you want to know the details, the story about San Diego’s too many fumbles, Seattle’s scholgg-soupy offense, Leon Washington’s explosive, record breaking two kickoff returns for touchdowns, Phillip Rivers’ 4 million yards passing, Earl Thomas’s two interceptions, the second one sealing the victory, than you can read all about it…and you can even watch the highlights on the .com:


What I will tell you is that my ticket, the actual seat, was not so bad at all, as far as the view was concerned. It was in the corner of the end zone, right above the Seahawks’ locker-room tunnel, close to the action and with a great view of the north plaza and part of downtown. See for yourself:

I took this photo during the pregame ceremonies, when the team was first coming out of the tunnel. Little did I know what was about to follow.

Look at the woman next to me, she could have told me all I needed to know about what was to come… for Chuck Knox sake, she’s already holding her ears.

The roar, the incessant screaming and yelling had begun!

At this point, I must say, I wasn’t too concerned about the volume, it actually seemed pretty tolerable.

However, right before the opening kickoff is when that all would change for good. Holy Bennie Blades! It suddenly got insufferably, bone-chillingly loud in there. The top blew off the place as a special, perfectly timed, ceremony ensued in which one lucky individual gets to raise the giant #12 flag and bask in the glory as the honorary 12th Man for a day.

I want to ask you now to turn your speaker volume to the highest setting, it’s the only way that you will really know and I want you to watch this video, because that’s exactly what it sounded like on that day.

Just make sure you are home alone and that no one is sleeping next door:

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Okay, that was good, no problem.

The 12th Man, what a brilliant idea!

Just another of the many great ideas coming from the mind of owner Paul Allen, I reckon.

And it works like magic.

I’ve never been to a pro football game where the visiting quarterback kept having to run to the sidelines and get the play calls from his coach directly because he couldn’t hear him in his high-tech walkie-talkie helmet.

Until this day, that is.

After the opening kickoff, on the Chargers’ very first play from scrimmage, as Phillip Rivers walked up to the line, the screaming began in earnest. It was shocking! I knew then that I was in trouble. I looked around at the architecture, tried to grab onto something in my mind to hold onto.

Forget it.

It was so loud that my eyes were bugging. All day long the field looked like it was shaking, like my old Conoco electric football set. I had trouble following the plays. I had to look away at times, like an epileptic has to look away from flashing lights.

I feared a seizure of the mind.

I spent the first quarter in my seat, near agony. What I was surmising was that, due to the construction details—specifically, the cantilevered roof—all the noise was angling back into the corners, therefore, I was getting the very worst of it.

To counter this, I decided to go on the move. And even though at first I felt better not staying in one place, I would soon discover that no matter where I went, the sound was deafening. This too, I would learn in the echo of many conversations with people, was a Paul Allen masterpiece.

Apparently, the stadium was designed to deflect the noise back in on itself.

Sort of like a star collapses inward from the pressures of its own gasses, I guess.

In this case, making the energy from the noise lethally explosive.

I think it is safe to say that I spent that afternoon inside a beating drum.

What was it the Maasai said about the collectivity of the village?

Let me put it to you another way, if you enjoy spending Sunday afternoons beneath an apple tree, eating cold chicken and reading the Upanishads, I would not recommend a trip to QWEST FIELD.

If, on the other hand, you didn’t miss a midnight Friday trip to see ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW in last 20 years, you will do just fine in Seattle.

You could even hang out with some of these guys:

While I am busy dispensing advice on visiting QWEST FIELD, I would like to take this opportunity to also let you know that I STRONGLY—I say STRONGLY—caution you to NOT ever wear anything that even intimates OREGON…not even a simple, possibly ambiguous “O.”

Nothing bright yellow or dark green, for that matter.

Because like me, if you do, simply put, you’re gonna pay the price big time.

Apparently, you can dress like an idiot, just not that big of an idiot.

Let me explain.

After leaving my seat, I wandered around on the concourse for the rest of the game. The concourse is about midway up and a perfect place to view the action, if you don’t mind standing the whole time, which most people seem to do there anyways. As long as you stay off of the railing and keep the concourse clear for foot traffic, the ushers don’t bother you at all.

Here was my view:

This is the happy place where I found the Incredible Hulk and the Bird Man from the earlier photos.

It’s also where I found about every other sodden, crazy-as-shit ‘Hawks fan who just so happens, it turns out, to utterly despise the great state of Oregon.

I think “Fuck Oregon,” was the most common thing that I heard all day, although, not the most profane.

I mean to say, I heard more derogatory comments made toward my “O” shirt than the Seahawks gained in yards from scrimmage that day. Including enough obscene “quacks” to kill a duck.

Apparently people in Washington State do not care for the DEATHSTAR!

I’m pretty certain I was the only one wearing an Oregon shirt in the crowd of over 67,000 strong.

Bad idea.

But who knew?

I guess I didn’t, duh.

I mean really, I went to college at the University of Cadiz at Boob-a-lee-boob. The shirt was just a souvenir from a great, world-class party. But how could I explain that to someone struggling with their sobriety in the midst of deep scream therapy?

Was it really only a few hours before all this that I was back at heavenly, peaceful Stargazer Farm sitting next to the famous food critic, Maria Hunt—the Bubbly Girl—tasting chanterelles as she blogged and tweeted my observations to her adoring fans?


Oh, how far we can travel through this world in less than a day!

To think that you could turn around from this global position and drive south only 1000 miles or so in your Prius Spacecraft and come across gruesome public displays of horrifying violence, things like decapitations, and dismemberment, and corpses hanging from bridges, and piles of bodies with their tongues cut out, daylight shootings with automatic weapons, kidnappings for ransom; in short, the wild west of Terrible Mexico.

Meanwhile, up here in the placid Northwest, the worst they will do to you is cut you with their eyes and slash you with their tongues for wearing an Oregon sweatshirt.

So be it.

I accepted my mistake, my sorry fate, because really it was an otherwise civilized mass that weighed down upon me in Seattle.

And “mass” is the right word here.

For this surely was a religious event that I attended.

And the God of it all was the God of Football, the Holy bearer of controlled violence and imminent glory.

Hallowed be thy name.

In Kingdom come it will be done.

In Seattle I have learned that you can go to church on eight Sundays of the football year at a cathedral called QWEST FIELD.

And there you can abolish all of your sins just by screaming and yelling over your beer and into the gray sky of perpetual gloom.

And you will be healed from this and you may even be saved and it will certainly be good!

But, like the animated fan said to me when I was leaving, “Hey man, you better take 3 Tylenol and some whiskey before you enter into this next time.”

And may I again suggest, that you please not wear anything that says “Ducks” or “Oregon” on it, because it seems that everyone at the game is fantastically drunk and everyone takes to yelling for the sake of yelling and you will be the target of great scrutiny.

I recommend instead that you wear a game jersey.

Please choose from the list below, as they are provided for you in the order of which I believe, from my observations, to be the most popular:

A. #12 (the 12th man, of which we all are!).

B. #80 (Steve Largent, the greatest Seahawk ever).

C. #8 (Matt Hasselbeck, the greatest active Seahawk on the roster).

D. #37 (Shaun Alexander, the second greatest Seahawk ever).

E. #51 (Lofa Tatupu, the second greatest active Seahawk on the roster).

F. #29 (Earl F. Thomas, the dude that saved the day for the Seahawks when it mattered most against the Chargers!).

See for yourself, if you haven’t already, or watch it again, with pleasure.

But you have to turn up the volume up as loud as it goes to watch this hero worship in it’s natural state…Truly, I dare ya!

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Ah, was I really there in the crowd somewhere to see it all, and to hear it, and to topple my brain cells in the process?

Yes, and I will never forget it!

It was worth the bullet-hole headache it gave me as I conjured up the last of my internal forces to propel me back to the Marriott.

Nice play, Earl!

I descended into the West Field Plaza toward the exit and passed a large art piece that hangs from a wall. It is called The State of Football and it pays tribute to high school football in the state of Washington by displaying every Washington high school football team’s helmet, laid out in the shape of the State.

I stopped and stared at all its glory.

What museum quality!

How very, very Bitchin’.

I tried to take a picture of this masterpiece, but it came out too dark for publication.

Which I guess means you have to go see it for yourself.

It’s waiting there for you.

In a place somewhere between righteousness and the sound barrier.

Near this mosaic is the massive Seahawk Team Store, where I quickly ducked in, knowing full well that there was an exit to the street on the other side, but also hoping to find me some chartreuse green gloves like the kind that you see many of the Seahawks players wearing down on the field. I could just picture myself gardening in them, pausing from my roses periodically to look off into the Cadiz sky and relive this epic day.

No such luck though.

It seems the store only sells some silly green mitten-like replicas. Cheesey at best. The real gloves are only available from the team equipment managers and they are currently not making them accessible to the public. I let it be known to the Team Store manager that this is a situation that needs to somehow be rectified immediately.

In the meantime, if anyone finds a pair, or possesses an extra set—I’m talking to you Deion Branch—please, please send them to me ASAP, Cabeza de Vaca, care of FOOTBALL SICKNESS.com.

Back out on the street, into the real world I landed, suddenly feeling the desire to fill my belly with oysters and clam chowder. And since I was having such great luck acting out all my fantasies it only figures that I had no trouble at all living out this final desire as I was informed by a passer by, wearing a number 80-Steve Largent jersey, that the best place in town for oysters was the Metropolitan Grill, only a short walk up 2nd Avenue from my wonderful hotel!

Off I trudged.


I sat in the bar, at a table near the entrance, my head still pounding from the non-stop percussion, the jersey-wearing game crowd filling up the joint like gravy pouring over biscuits, pushing the edges of the room outward and keeping the bursting volume at high.

It was like the crowd didn’t want the good times to ever end.

They went on filling themselves with more of it.

As they did so merrily, I noticed that the walls of the Bar were full of photos of famous celebrities who have dined at the Metropolitan over the years. It was a plethora of who’s who in American Popular culture. Too many to list here…Political dignitaries, journalists, ball players, movie stars…and…

…And then there was one more face that you could now add to that wall of fame, a man who just came waltzing through the front door of the place. A man who in another, less self-conscious era, would have been toasted heartily with rounds of drinks and whom we would have lifted on our shoulders and sung songs to.

Enter the hero.

One Earl F. Thomas himself!

Numero 29, who dedicated this game to his seventeen-year old friend, Reggie Garrett, who inexplicably died a little over a week before when he collapsed on the sidelines of his West Orange high school football game in Texas just minutes after throwing a touchdown pass.

Thomas was a senior when Garrett was a freshman at West Orange. The two became friends, working out together in the summers. They became so close that Thomas asked that Garrett be allowed to wear his number – 12 – which had been retired at West Orange.

Garret died in that jersey.

I recognized Earl from his headshot, from the picture that was flashed on the big screen back at the stadium after his second interception sealed the victory.

You saw it, right?

Earl has long, natty-dreadlocks and that night in the Metropolitan he wore a lovely pinstripe suit. He came in with a somewhat manic, skinny white dude by his side, a man dressed in jeans and a t-shirt and who looked to me like someone straight out of Entourage, the television show satire. I could only speculate on this man’s identity.

Wanker, wannabe maybe?

For several minutes Mr. Thomas stood there, waiting patiently for his table. All 5 foot 9 non-descript physical inches of him. No one even noticed him with his regal head standing there in such complete anonymity.

Not even the idiot guy at the bar who it just so happens was wearing Thomas’ number 29 replica jersey. How perfectly ironic. How strange.

Strange goings on, to tell you the truth.

A strange ending to a very loud and very strange day.

Strange indeed.

Alas, being strange, that is what it was all about, I think, if you were to ask me what I saw in all that yelling on that absurdly loud and unrestrained day.

I swear to you, in the end, it was all about the strangeness.

Specifically, the strangeness of pouring forth, and the strangeness of letting go.

Of yelling.

Primal yelling.

These people who congregated in front of grown men playing a grown man’s game just wanted a reason, and a place where they could be strange…for a few short hours on a Sunday afternoon they just wanted to act differently than they did during the rest of their hum-drum, otherwise zombie lives.

They wanted a reason to scream.

They needed one.

They could really care less who it was that they yelled for, not really, not in the literal sense.

They just wanted to yell.

Free the beast that enslaves their souls to sleep and otherwise sucks their bones dry.

The jerseys that they wore in the act were merely a façade, a prop.

Just part of the ritual. A uniform. Church clothes. Sunday Best.

I got it now!

I realized this all in the instant when the future shooting star, Earl F. Thomas—car number 29—turned and looked into the bar and our eyes met, and I smiled at him and lightly nodded, and he smiled back, and I thought to myself that if Uncle Rico were here now he would probably walk right up to the real number 29—not the fake dude in the bar, but the cool and very real number 29 dude, all dressed up in his Draft Day pinstripe suit and waiting for a table—and how Uncle Rico, would probably, right to his face, remark on how much bigger he was than Earl F. Thomas and how he could for sure throw a football much further than him, all the way over Mount Rainier in fact, which when I thought of it made me very glad that Uncle Rico hadn’t come with me after all.

And just then, for no reason at all, I thought of the Kingdome—in all its lameness and its drabness, and its frightful, lifeless memory, and I thought of how in March of the year 2000 it came crashing to the ground in a wondrously beautiful implosion that I saw on my television set; demolished to make way for the new magical, province known throughout the land as QWEST FIELD!

Glory be thy name.

And then I thought of how I had heard that 97 percent of the Kingdome’s concrete was recycled back into this material world, and that 35 percent of it was used to build the new stadium where all the sublimely magnificent yelling now takes place.

And I thought of how beautiful it all really is.

How beautiful this world is, this crazy mixed-up human kaleidoscope of a world?

A world made better with Football.

And then I thought, if only I could get some pain relievers so I could be glad again to be a part of it all.

ALL ON THE LINE: Week 16 NFL Picks & Preview

WEEK 16 PICKS & PREVIEW

How in the world did we end up with this next batch of games? Really? It’s week 16, for God’s sake, and by my count, we’re looking at as many as eleven stinkers. Eleven. We couldn’t get this right? Someone should be shot. And these guys want to add two more games to it. You know. To make them more relevant at the end (banging head against wall). I expect about 8 beat-downs here. But once again, at least Monday Night promises a thrilling cap to the week.

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THURSDAY NIGHT SPECIAL

CAROLINA PANTHERS AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS: The Panthers give up tons of sacks, particularly in blitz situations. They’re playing the Steelers. In Pittsburgh. It’s going to get ugly, fast. If the Panthers are able to do anything, it will be running with Jonathan Stewart. With Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith out of the lineup the Steelers aren’t the same. But they’re still a hell of a lot better than the Panthers, and they have a division title in their sights. It’s all business, baby. STEELERS 37, PANTHERS 13.

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THE GOOD STUFF

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS AT ATLANTA FALCONS: The Falcons can put away the division with their ninth straight win, and given that they’ve lost exactly one game in three years at the Georgia Dome, I’d be a fool not to pick them. And I don’t like playing the fool. The Saints surprised me last week, returning to the inconsistent ways that got them in trouble earlier in the season in a loss at Baltimore. They still have everything it takes, but it’s crunch time, and they still feel Super Bowl hangover-ish to me. I like the Dirty Birds to set the tone early and finish a close one at home. Quite a season they’re having.  FALCONS 31, SAINTS 28.

The NFC South crown, and perhaps more, is on the line in Atlanta on Monday Night.

NEW YORK JETS AT CHICAGO BEARS: There should be some good smackin’ in this one, with both teams still having nasty, physical defenses and plenty of playoff repercussion for which to play. It was good to see the Jets get back on track last week, but it wasn’t the most convincing statement I’ve ever seen. Indeed, the Bears are the team that continues to surprise me by finding ways to win on the strength of their very Bears-worthy defense. 10-4 and already NFC North Division champs, perhaps I’ve misjudged them. I’m coming around. I like the Bears, and if Sanchez isn’t playing, look out. BEARS 26, JETS 20.

I expect to see this at least twice on Sunday.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS AT OAKLAND RAIDERS: If you believe, like I do, that most football games are won in the trenches, by the more physical team, then this is the perfect game upon which to test that theory. The Raiders are big, strong and fast on offense. The Colts are small up front and one of the lowest-ranked run defenses in the entire league. What’s more, the Raiders have been racking up the yardage on the ground, as Darren McFadden has emerged into one of the league’s most explosive threats. I see no reason to believe the Colts are going to be able to stop them. The only question is whether Peyton Manning can put enough points on the board against a Raiders defense that gave up a whole bunch to Jacksonville last week. But here again, the Colts are not going to be able to run the ball against the bigger line of the Raiders, and while Peyton doesn’t hold the ball long enough to get sacked much, I think the Raiders will disrupt his timing often, and hurry him into some of the same poor decisions we’ve seen all year long. I just see this as a bad, bad matchup for the Colts. RAIDERS 33, COLTS 30

NEW YORK GIANTS AT GREEN BAY PACKERS: Aaron Rodgers is back and the Packers are clinging to a playoff dream by a very thin thread. But, as fate would have it, the team at which they are immediately looking up is coming into Lambeau Field this weekend, meaning this one is for a whole bunch of marbles. Eli and the Giants are coming off that devastating come-from-ahead loss to the Eagles, and I’m not at all sure that going on the road to Green Bay with your life on the line is the solution they’re looking for. It’s a pretty even, interesting matchup. Both have offenses capable of explosion and defenses that create sacks and turnovers. But the Packers have the league’s leading scoring defense, and given my choice between Brother Eli and Aaron Rodgers, I’m taking The Chico Kid every day of the week and thrice on Sunday.  PACKERS 27, GIANTS 23.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS AT ST. LOUIS RAMS: Sadly, this game means a ton. The loser is probably out of the race. The winner essentially controls their destiny and the NFC West, because given the chance at a playoff spot the Niners are going to hammer Arizona next week, and St. Louis will have the opportunity to finish off Seattle. The justice-seeker in me really wants the Rams to win this game. They’re at home, they’ve been the most consistent team in the division, and frankly, the Niners deserve nothing. But the Rams have looked a little run down to me the past couple of weeks, and I think the Niners D will show up big in this one.  49ERS 23, RAMS 16.

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THE LEFTOVERS

MINNESOTA VIKINGS AT PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: You saw what happened to the Vikings last week against the Bears, right? And the Eagles can SCORE, man. Michael Vick is going off on these guys. Adrian Peterson is the Vikings’ only hope. If he plays, he needs to touch it on the regular.  EAGLES 35, VIKINGS 20.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS AT TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: I’m not feeling good about my steady HawkBlogger Podcast prediction that the Seahawks would win the NFC West. I think they’re going down again this week in Tampa. The Bucs are clinging to playoff hopes, too, and they’ll be bitter after giving away a winnable game against Detroit last week. I think LeGarrette Blount gets down again. BUCS 27, SEAHAWKS 23.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS AT JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: This game actually might be competitive if Wonder Rex shows up again this week. But who the hell would bet on that particular brand of lightning striking twice? Not I. Despite my having stamped them DONE last week, the Jags probably still believe they have something to play for. I think they get the win at home.  JAGUARS 24, REDSKINS 20.

DALLAS COWBOYS AT ARIZONA CARDINALS: The Cardinals might be playing worse football than anybody in the league, and the Cowboys are actually playing pretty well under Jason Garrett. This is one of the beat-downs. COWBOYS 38, CARDINALS 20.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS AT CINCINNATI BENGALS: Looks like it’s going to be really cold and perhaps snowy in Cincinnati this weekend, but I do not expect it to hamper Philip Rivers the way it once did Dan Fouts. The Bolts take this one in a walk. CHARGERS 33, BENGALS 17.

TENNESSEE TITANS AT KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Kerry Collins and respectability returned to the Titans last week, but I think the Chiefs are for real, and they’re not going down without a fight. I was particularly impressed with the way Matt Cassel got it done last week coming back from his appendix removal. He wasn’t close to 100%, but he managed the game nicely and the Chiefs got another big win. The Titans offer an interesting challenge, but I like what Kansas City is doing. Chiefs win a close one.  CHIEFS 24, TITANS 23.

BALTIMORE RAVENS AT CLEVELAND BROWNS: The Browns were strangely competitive the last time out, as Peyton Hillis ran all over the Baltimore D. It’s not happening again. The Ravens are clicking, they’re just now unleashing a fresh Ray Rice on people, and the Browns have been playing poorly as they appear to be folding down the stretch. I have a bad feeling about this. RAVENS 30, BROWNS 17.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS AT BUFFALO BILLS: Buffalo is game, but they’re going to get handled this week. Big time. PATRIOTS 34, BILLS 20.

DETROIT LIONS AT MIAMI DOLPHINS: The Dolphins should win this game going away, but I think that about them a lot and rarely do they meet my expectations. They did seem to notice last week that Brandon Marshall is a significant weapon, and I hope to see that become a trend for the sake of their long-term fortunes. Too bad it’s already moot in 2010. The Lions got a nice win against the Bucs last week, their first on the road in years. You read that right. I think the Florida double-dip is a bit much to ask from this young squad. DOLPHINS 27, LIONS 20.

HOUSTON TEXANS AT DENVER BRONCOS: What odds do we put on Gary Kubiak resigning in his post-game presser in order to simply stay in Denver and start working on his 2011 Broncos Playbook? TEXANS 38, BRONCOS 17.

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EAGLE EYE: 8 Minutes

Touchdown. Game. Division.

8 minutes. That’s how long it took to rip out the collective hearts of the New York Giants. 8 minutes. That’s how long it took for the Eagles to sit atop the throne of the NFC East. 8 minutes. That’s how long it took for Michael Vick to snap out of a 3 quarter slumber. 8 minutes. That’s how long I screamed as DeSean Jackson skipped into the end zone.

It’s only right that the Eagles christened the New Meadowlands Stadium with a kidney shot to the rivals from up north. Even without Stewart Bradley and Brandon Graham, and losing Nate Allen during the game, the defense bowed up and made the necessary plays.

But I have to mention Dmitri Patterson. They say it’s not how you start but how you finish. It was extremely true for him. He had one of the worst first halves that I can remember for a cornerback. The Eagles played a lot of zone coverage, and he was routinely toasted while giving up the first 3 touchdown passes. In the second half, the Eagles became more aggressive with blitzes and played more man to man. That was a great adjustment, allowing him to react rather than sit and watch. He really stepped up his play, along with the rest of the secondary.

There are no words left to describe Michael F. Vick. He may not win the MVP award, but it’s obvious that he is just that. Without Vick, the Eagles get 0 yards in the 4th quarter. He accounted for all 245 yards( 151 passing, 94 rushing). In the first 3 quarters, the Giants did a great job of limiting Vick’s effectiveness. Then it seemed like their defense wore down and lost discipline. It allowed Vick to have some more time in the pocket and to break the contain of the defense. You can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him.

And finally special teams. Football is a game of three phases. Offense and defense get the most glory, but in a game of too evenly matched squads, special teams tends to be the difference. It certainly was in this game. The Eagles recovered an onside kick after completing a 64 yard touchdown pass to TE Brent Celek. How could the Giants not be ready you ask? Well Coughlin says they reminded them to watch for an onside kick, but it looks like the message wasn’t received. Which brings me to…

Matt Dodge. Paging Matt Dodge. There’s an angry coach waiting for you on the white courtesy phone. He and everyone else are wondering how you didn’t kick the ball into the parking lot. Coughlin again said that he told the rookie to kick it out of bounds, and not into the waiting hands of Djax; But it seems something was lost in translation. What we have here is a failure to communicate. Take this excerpt from the mouth of my 11 year old son: “Why didn’t he kick it out of bounds? All he does is practice kicking into a net on the sidelines. If he can’t do it, they should call me. I can kick it out of bounds.” Nuff said.

So what’s next? One more win to officially clinch the division. Two wins and a Bears loss gets a first round bye. Two wins and two losses by the Falcons gets home field through out the playoffs. I’m not going to hold my breath, but just laying out scenarios.

First things first. Minnesota comes into the Linc this weekend. They have the best running back in football, but that doesn’t scare me. What does is the effect that an emotional win like this can have on the team. It will be easy to enjoy this one too long, especially when we have no idea who the QB for Minnesota is going to be. Reid has done one of his best jobs this year with all of the injuries and changes at quarterback. He will have to keep the boys focused on the prize. Win one more, get the division wrapped up, and then go from there. As for me, I’m going to enjoy this one for as long as I damn well please. FLY EAGLES FLY!

STILL THE ONE: NFL POWER RANKINGS

Tom Brady is on a mission and has his team playing deadly football.

1. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: By a LOT.  Save yourself the embarrassment of arguing. Have some dignity. C’mon, man, you’re better than that.

2.  ATLANTA FALCONS: 11-2 and straight-up balanced. They execute more consistently in all three phases than any team in the league.

3.  NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: They’re back, and they’re dangerous. Those turnovers and big plays that the defense created last year were the difference between the Saints and everybody else, and they’re coming in bunches all of a sudden.

4.  PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Their winning culture pulls them through more often than not. But the offense right now leaves much to be desired.

5.  PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: When they put it all together, they’re unstoppable, but the injuries are piling up on defense.

6.  NEW YORK GIANTS: Yes, Eli turns it over too much. But Brandon Jacobs’ resurgence and the defense have them looking like a team built for January.

7.  BALTIMORE RAVENS: In immortal the words of John Kreese: “FINISH HIM!” Here’s a question: Question: What do you have when you have zero 300-yard passing games and one 150-yard rushing game as an offensive unit? Answer: nothing special.

8.  NEW YORK JETS: That Miami team is really good at times, but there can be no ignoring the Jets’ self-inflicted wounds. Still, as bad as the offense was, they win that game if Santonio Holmes simply catches a pass at which my three year old would have a fighting chance. But you better show me something against the Steelers this week.

9.  SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: That was the Charger team that beats most teams in the league more often than not. It would be nice if they showed up every week.

10. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Losing Matt Cassel was the biggest problem, but far from the only one.

11. GREEN BAY PACKERS: With the parade of injuries, nobody has had more of a roller coaster season in 2010, and if Aaron Rodgers isn’t in the game they’re more like 21 than 11.

12. CHICAGO BEARS: Uh-huh.

13. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: I’m not sure they deserved that win, but they got it, and that’s what counts.

14. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: Maurice Jones-Drew is an easy top 5 MVP candidate.

15. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: It’s no gimme against the Jags this week, but it’d be a surprise if #18 and friends didn’t get it done.

16. HOUSTON TEXANS: Far too many of their games are like Chargers seasons played in 60 minutes. They dig a giant hole at the outset and spend the remainder of it digging out.

17. OAKLAND RAIDERS: Offensive explosion and defensive implosion in Jacksonville. When they put it together, they’re tough.

18. MIAMI DOLPHINS: The defense can be stifling. But so can the offense.

19. DALLAS COWBOYS: They’re playing much better ball. Kudos to Jason Garret.

20. ST. LOUIS RAMS: Overmatched in New Orleans. Nothing to be ashamed of for a team that has already long since exceeded expectations.

21.  CLEVELAND BROWNS: A frequent lack of offensive imagination or adaptation is the strongest argument against a continuation of the Mangini Era in 2011.

22. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: The division title is in reach. That’s all I got.

23. MINNESOTA VIKINGS: In the words of Porky Pig: That’s All, Folks.

24. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: Somehow, they are still in the division title race. This bothers me. Immensely.

25. TENNESSEE TITANS: Finnegan vs. Johnson Redux this weekend!

26. BUFFALO BILLS: They beat the Browns but didn’t look any better than the Browns in doing it.

27. DETROIT LIONS: I think that game said more about the current state of the Packers than anything else.

28. ARIZONA CARDINALS: The John Skelton Era begins. Whatever that means.

29. WASHINGTON REDSKINS: I’ll just repeat last week’s comment: Circus. Three rings.

30. CINCINNATI BENGALS: 81 & 85 finally blew their mutual gasket this week on their TV show, just in time for the Battle of Ohio.

31. CAROLINA PANTHERS: At least Panthers fans saw this coming.

32. DENVER BRONCOS: Really? I mean…REALLY? If only for the novelty of it. Pretty please. It’s Tebow Time.

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Week 14 Fantasy Football Campfire Discussion

Our own Ryan Burns joined Clint Chugg of You Heard It Here First and Phil Gentile of IHateJJRedick.com for a post-game chat covering the fantasy football bases after all the Sunday action in Week 14. Have a click on the link below, and follow both these fine gentlemen on Twitter at @YHIHF and @IHateJJRedick. GET YOUR HELMET ON!

FANTASY FOOTBALL CAMPFIRE DISCUSSION at YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST

LET IT SNOW: NFL Week 14 in Review

Let’s see…What did I learn this weekend? Tom Brady is awesome and the Patriots are playing better football than anyone (to be fair, I knew that first half already). Peyton Manning is going to be just fine, but his team is still playing with fire on a weekly basis. The Chargers are still the best team in the AFC West, and either Brody Croyle is not ready to run the offense in Kansas City or Todd Haley trusts him less than Ed Rooney trusts Ferris Bueller. The Jets are knee-deep in an identity crisis of unknown origin. The Eagles can score. The Jags refuse to go away. The Bears…are who I thought they were. So is the entire NFC West. The Eagles are dangerous, but so are all those hits their superstar QB is taking. That’s a quick spin around the league. As we await an unexpected Monday Night Football doubleheader thanks to Mother Nature (who apparently has a crush on Brett Favre and his consecutive games streak), let’s dive in a bit deeper, shall we?

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 36, CHICAGO BEARS 7: Tom Brady threw for 369 yards and two scores in a freaking blizzard, and the Pats utterly demolished the Bears on every level. This surprises me, like, not at all. Anybody listening or reading along this season knows I think the Bears are total frauds, and I’d like to thank the Patriots for driving home the point. The Pats are on a mission. Look out, NFL. That is 81-10 combined the past two weeks over the Jets and Bears, both playoff teams (allegedly). The new offensive gameplan has been largely unstoppable, and the defense is getting better every week with a ton of young, fast, smart, explosive talent. And oh, by the way: the Patriots have more early round picks than anyone in the next couple of drafts. The Hoodie has created a scenario usually reserved for my Madden Franchises. Are we witnessing the dawn of a second Belichickian Dynasty?

Neither snow, nor wind, nor the vaunted Bears D could stop Deion Branch and the Patriots..

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 30, DALLAS COWBOYS 27: Hey, here’s an idea for teams that play the Eagles going forward: keep an eye on DeSean Jackson on the game’s opening play. That’s twice he’s toasted inexplicably unsuspecting defensive backfields. How do you not see that coming? At any rate, Jackson put up a ridiculous 210 yards on four catches, for a staggering 52.5 yards per catch. The guy is essentially uncoverable, and he and Michael Vick are a perfect fit. The Eagles also showed some much needed brute force as they ran the clock down to finish it off. LeSean McCoy put up 149 yards rushing and the Eagles held off the ‘Boys to improve to 9-4.  Their awful start destroyed their season, but the Cowboys are playing much better football under Jason Garrett, and I would be stunned if Jerry Jones did not remove the interim tag. It’s what he wanted to do in the first place anyway.

Hydro Holmes' wide open drop in the end zone was both a microcosm of the Jets' day and a perfect example of the underlying problem: they've forgotten who they are.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 31, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 0: I went back and forth on Twitter yesterday with the very knowledgeable Herbie Teope over this one. I tweeted that the Chargers were just the better team. Herbie correctly pointed out that the Chiefs offense is a totally different unit with Matt Cassel at the helm, a point I readily concede. Indeed, Cassel has been playing some of the best quarterback in the league. But I don’t for a second believe he’s worth 31 points all by himself, and last I checked, he doesn’t play defense. The Chiefs got beaten up in the trenches on both sides of the ball in this one, and the Chargers scored 31 points without their favorite offensive weapon. Herbie agreed on the trenches, specifically noting that the Chiefs lack the NT they need to successfully run the 3-4. As a result, the Chargers ran it down the Chiefs’ throats all day with Mike Tolbert and Ryan Mathews, and Philip Rivers conducted the attack with his usual symphonic brilliance. And, once again, Todd Haley was a little too cute or stubborn, depending on how you see it, with the playcalling. The Charger defense ignored the pass all day, and Haley never really tested it. Perhaps he simply didn’t trust Croyle, but they got down big and should have been trying to get Bowe, Moeaki and McCluster involved much earlier. They’re not quite championship ready, and Cassel’s absence, if it extends into next week, could cost them a trip to the playoffs.

MIAMI DOLPHINS 10, NEW YORK JETS 6: Anyone want to tell me why the New York Jets would throw the ball 46 times out of 75 plays in a game that ended 10-6 and was played in a driving rain storm? Anyone? No? Against a top 5 defense with quality pass rushers like Miami’s, that’s a good way to end up getting your young, still relatively inexperienced quarterback in trouble (remember, Sanchez started only 16 games at USC). Like it or not, Rex, this one’s on you. It’s your job to tell Mini-Schottenheimer what to do when he’s doing it wrong. And I bet his daddy would even do it for you in this instance, because nobody loves to pound the rock like Martyball. The Dolphins D showed up to play, but Chad Henne (55 yards passing) and the offense were atrocious. Brandon Marshall’s second TD of the year was the difference.

DETROIT LIONS 7, GREEN BAY PACKERS 3: The gasp of dread from Green Bay was audible all the way out here at Sickness HQ in Southern California when Aaron Rodgers got drilled into the turf headfirst and left with his second concussion on the season, which puts the rest of his campaign (and thus, the Pack’s) in jeopardy. Matt Flynn came on and could get nothing done, but the fact of the matter is the Lions seemed to have the Packers befuddled on offense even before the injury. Props to The Schwartz on a solid defensive game plan. The Lions couldn’t do anything on offense either, but they got the game’s only touchdown and that was enough.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 17, WASHINGTON REDSKINS 16: Graham Gano misses two chip shot field goals and the tying PAT with 9 seconds left. Any other questions? In all seriousness, of course there were other impact plays, but that’s the ballgame right there. Sidenote of congratulations to Redskins TE and fellow Bruin Logan Paulsen on his first career NFL touchdown catch.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 38, OAKLAND RAIDERS 31: I knew I shouldn’t have picked Oakland in this one. The Raiders’ defense couldn’t stop a thing, and despite a monster day from Darren McFadden and a fairly strong performance by Jason Campbell the offense couldn’t keep up with all the not stopping the defense was doing. Jacksonville, despite being outscored by its opponents on the year, are now 8-5 and a game ahead of the Colts with three to play, having beaten Indy earlier in the season. That makes this weekend’s trip to Indianapolis fairly important, I should think.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 30, TENNESSEE TITANS 28: As #18 said, people kept asking him about his ‘slump’ when the fact of the matter is he has been on an eight and a half-year hitting streak. But they still only beat a suddenly mediocre (at best) Titans team by 2 lousy points. Peyton is still Peyton, but the D and running game simply are not getting it done. The Titans are 0-5 since trading for Randy Moss. Probably not the key factor, but might be worth cutting him now just in case, since you’re not going to use him. At this point, one has to wonder whether the Titans were just grabbing him to deny others his 9 route. And also whether he’s going to play anywhere in 2011, lockout or no.

BUFFALO BILLS 13, CLEVELAND BROWNS 6: Browns fans saw an all too familiar pattern reinforced yesterday, as two solid opening drives resulted in 3 points because Jake Delhomme sucks and Peyton Hillis thinks he’s Edwin Moses. Good win for the Bills, who are more talented than most realize, are well coached, and have come close way too often this year not to come away with a couple toward the end here. Chan Gailey has done a pretty darn good job in 2010. Bills fans are bummed they’re losing draft standing, but it hasn’t gotten them very far in 2 decades to have high picks, so…yeah.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS 23, CINCINNATI BENGALS 7: Carson Palmer is absolutely terrible. It’s time. Cincinnati needs to go into full blow-up mode, because they are far and away the worst team in their division and it’s not getting better. Quite the contrary. Two more pick sixes, one to Troy Polamalu and another to Lamarr Woodley. I know what you’re thinking- “shouldn’t it be ‘by’ Polamalu and Woodley? In theory, sure. But when the QB actually throws it to the DB, I choose accuracy over custom. Meanwhile…wait for it…the Pittsburgh Steelers…just…know how…to win. See what I mean by that? It’s uncanny, isn’t it? But that’s what makes them the Steelers.

ATLANTA FALCONS 31, CAROLINA PANTHERS 10: The Falcons made like BTO and took care of business.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 40, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 21: The Niners team many of us thought we were going to see in 2010 showed up and pasted a division foe at the ‘Stick. Why are they so incapable of playing like this from week to week? I’ve said it many times- consistency is the difference between garbage and greatness in the NFL. Speaking of which, Seahawks…you go to the garbage pile this week. Not the first time, not the last in 2010. Somehow, the ‘Hawks are still tied with the Rams for first place in the sorry NFC West at 6-7. Gross.

The Saints celebrating a pick 6...where have I seen that before?

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 31, ST. LOUIS RAMS 13: About what I thought. Sam Bradford moved the Rams decently, but made a couple of big mistakes, including a 96-yard pick six by Malcom Jenkins, who baited the rookie into making a throw outside the left seam just a second too late, snatched it, and took it to The House. Meanwhile, don’t look now, but the Saints are 10-3, and you’re only not noticing because the Falcons are 11-2. New Orleans never trailed and won their sixth straight. They’re getting healthy at the right time, are starting to make more plays on defense, and are a threat to win it all once again.

ARIZONA CARDINALS 43, DENVER BRONCOS 13: I have literally no idea why Kyle Orton was still in this game in the second half, because the Broncos certainly weren’t. Cardinals rookie QB John Skelton didn’t put up any numbers, but then he didn’t have to, did he? He did, however, look relatively poised and kept the offense moving. He even got the ball to Larry Fitzgerald 6 times for 72 yards, something Derek Anderson and Max Hall had struggled at times to do. Tim Hightower had a big game statistically, but much of it was in garbage time as the Cardinals defense just confounded the Donkeys (hey, you’re 3-10. Wear it.) all afternoon. Wouldn’t it be funny if the new Broncos coach, whomever he turns out to be, wanted to draft Cam Newton?

Enjoy the Monday Night doubleheader. Oh, and Minnesota: it was a lovely 80 degrees and crystal clear here in SoCal today. Think Zygi noticed as he was mentally noting how much it would cost to put a new baggy on that dinosaur? I bet he did.

EAGLE EYE: Winning At What Cost?

That was a strong road win for the Eagles, even though it wasn’t the best Cowboys team that we’ve seen. It was not without some cost though. Here are the keys to victory:

Hello Shady McCoy! Desean Jackson got the party started in the first half with many big plays, but in the 2nd half, Andy Reid recognized that his quarterback was taking too many hits. He said that he would run the ball more and he didn’t lie. Shady had 140 yards rushing in the 2nd half alone. The question has always been, can the Eagles run the ball when the defense knows they will. The answer, for this week, was a resounding YES! They totaled 171 yards on the ground. Let’s see if this trend continues.

Perseverance. The Eagles were without Asante Samuel again this week, and the injury list will be a bit longer this week. They lost Stewart Bradley to a dislocated elbow, Brandon Graham left with a leg injury, and even Desean had to play at about 60% after hurting his ankle on a punt return. They rose above all of that with youngsters all over the field, and beat a division rival that wanted nothing more than to take them out.

Michael Vick continues to light it up while getting lit up.

Michael Vick. I had a choice in my fantasy playoff game this week, Aaron Rodgers at Detroit or Vick at Dallas. I chose Rodgers, and well, you know how that turned out. Rodgers left in the 2nd quarter, and Vick threw for 270 yards, 2 touchdowns, and had another on the ground. He took several huge hits and just kept on playing. His leadership seems to be carrying the team; something that, dare I say, we didn’t see last year from Mac5.

Run Defense. The Cowboys came into the game wanting to pound the ball and control the clock. It didn’t go the way they expected. Outside of a big reverse from Miles Austin, the run game could not get going. The other 23 carries amounted to 84 yards and a touchdown. It was a great job by the Eagles, particularly the defensive line. They consistently got penetration and there weren’t many missed tackles to speak of. That was huge considering the injuries to the back 7.

Player of the game: It’s got to go to Desean Jackson. His 91 yard touchdown reception in the 4th quarter, broke the backs of the Cowboys. Consider he did it on a bad wheel and still out ran the whole defense. Final stat line: 4 catches 210 yds 1 TD and a a lovely dismount into the end zone.

So with this game in the rearview mirror, the Eagles now prepare for the NFC East title game against the New York Giants. If they win, they’ll effectively clinch the division barring a collapse. The Giants will be a bit travel weary after having to play Monday night instead of Sunday as scheduled. It will be another test for the run defense. Should be a great atmosphere in the Meadowlands. E-A-G-L-E-S Eagles!

The BROWNS NOTE: Could’ve Done Without That.

WHAT HAPPENED: In as few words as possible? Jake Delhomme and Peyton Hillis. The Browns’ D more than did their job. But Jake Delhomme could get absolutely nothing going in the passing game, and Hillis could not hold onto the ball in the running game despite gashing the Bills all day. I appreciate Hillis’ athleticism, but the bottom line is that when you’re pushing 250 at the running back position you don’t need to be harboring an Edwin Moses fantasy. The H-Train got baited by a db into trying the hurdle one too many times and the ball popped loose. And kept popping loose.

Yes, your vertical is impressive, but DUDE. You're enormous. Just run those DB's over, please.

…AND THE GAME BALL GOES TO: Joe Haden. The kid looks like a superstar. Made a really nice lockdown play on 4th and 2 to stop a drive and was solid in all phases again. I’ll tell you what: I would take one more exactly like him in the first round this year if such a thing is available. Quality db’s are at a major premium in the new NFL. Just ask the Jets, who have several and still gave up 45 points last week to Tom Brady’s right arm.

GOAT OF THE WEEK: The aforementioned Delhomme. It’s over, old man. Hang it up. ASAP.  You’re making a combined $19 Million from the Panthers ($12M) and Browns ($7M) this season. At this point, they should cast you in Ocean’s 14. The Manguin and the offensive coaching staff gets a very dishonorable mention for not making better adjustments. Six points against a team on whom you did not have to drop back one time in marching it to the 1 on the opening drive is totally unacceptable. So are all the turnovers and unimaginitave plays. Yes, you are severely hamstrung by your personnel, particularly in the receiving department, but excuses, as they say, are like…well, you know.

THE VIEW FROM DAWG POUND WEST:

1. The offense is a mess without Colt. The rookie from Texas is the best quarterback on the team by far. That Seneca Wallace never replaced Delhomme in this one tells you what Mangini thinks of him.

2.  Hillis’ hands. Dude better learn not to fumble, or he will not remain the feature back in 2011 with Hardesty or some other flavor of the month sure to threaten.

3.  The D is coming along. Yes, it was Buffalo, but they’ve scored a fair amount against good teams recently. The defensive backfield is rapidly morphing from a hole-ridden disaster to a bona fide strength thanks to the play of rookies Haden and TJ Ward, veteran pickup Sheldon Brown, and the emergence of whomever this cat is who kidnapped Abe Elam.

4.  We couldn’t scare Massilon High in the passing game. All those people freaking out about the WR corps the last couple years? Yeah, they were right.

5.  The Manguin: There seem to be two schools of thought on Eric Mangini’s performance as Browns head coach to date. The first, to which I belong, is that he has a strong program in place, is instilling discipline, toughness, physicality and a grinder work ethic into a team that lacked all of those things. From an organizational culture and behavior perspective, I have almost no complaints. The second is that he’s a terrible, stupid coach and a bad guy who should never have been hired. The latter is patently absurd to me, but obviously, things are far from perfect. I have to concede at this point that his gameday management leaves much to be desired, and ultimately, it’s the games that matter most. I still say he needs 7 wins to keep the job. That means he must win two of the last three, or there is a good chance we see a blond bowl-cut on the sidelines in 2010. Or maybe even a Walrus.

COMING UP NEXT: CINCINNATI BENGALS (2-11): Once again, the Battle of Ohio is irrelevant except to those of us who follow one of these two teams. The Bengals have fallen completely apart, with Carson Palmer serving up pick sixes to defenders with such regularity that his future with the franchise almost certainly is in jeopardy. The defense is game but has been racked with injuries and suffers far too many mental lapses. The Browns are improved, but still neither deep nor talented enough to win consistently. On paper, the Bengals should beat them, but the game ain’t played on paper.

THREE THINGS I’D LIKE TO SEE:

  1. Colt McCoy under center. And if not Colt, it’s time for Seneca Wallace.
  2. The Browns go a whole game without fumbling.
  3. Joe Haden’s first pick 6. Since Carson Palmer seems to be so generous, maybe he’ll lob one the rookie’s way.

PREDICTION: BROWNS 24, BENGALS 17.

GO BROWNS!!!!

__________________________________

EAGLE EYE: Time For Some Payback

Michael Vick will try to do what DMac5 could not at the tail end of 2009: help the Eagles beat the Dallas Cowboys.

It feels like an eternity since the Eagles pulled out the victory against the Houston Texans. The same things that plagued the Eagles in previous games, showed up in that one as well. Without Asante Samuel, they could not consistently stop the Texans nor get off the field on third down. Even scarier was that in the red zone, they couldn’t keep Houston from getting any points. It was, in the end, a victory and for that we have to be thankful. It helped the Eagles keep pace with the Giants who they are tied with at the top of the NFC East.

Now we move onto the first of the two meetings between the Eagles and the hated Cowboys. Let there be no mistake, I hate the Cowboys. For as long as I can remember, I have hated the Cowboys. Former Eagles receiver Mike Quick once said, “I didn’t hate Dallas until I came into the league and realized how pompous and arrogant the whole Dallas scene was.” I echo that and the evidence is the stadium that was just built in Dallas, and the assumption that the Cowboys would be playing there in the Super Bowl this year. So believe me, the agony that Jerry Jones and Dallas fans everywhere have felt this year has made this season that much more enjoyable.

They have been playing better of late since the firing of Wade Phillips. Jason Garrett is no longer the head coach in waiting. He is now has the job of bringing the ‘Boys back to respectability, at least through the end of this season. Jon Kitna has stepped in for Tony Romo and has played some good football. The running game still is MIA, but the defense is back to being opportunistic. I haven’t fully bought in to them yet, and it will be interesting to see what this game will tell us about the direction of both teams.

The Eagles have been explosive, but against the Giants and Bears, two defenses that are pretty athletic, the offense has been a bit more pedestrian. The Cowboys too have an athletic defense but I’m not sure that they can affect the Eagles in the same way. They are 23rd in the league in yards against, giving up over 360 ypg. The Eagles are the best in the league on offense at just over 400 ypg, so it should be like practice for Michael Vick and co. Dallas also hasn’t been very good this year getting pressure on the quarterback, and that seems to be the only way to slow down the Eagles at all. In fact, since Garrett took over they’ve only held one team to less than 400 yards of offense, and that was the Detroit Lions with a backup quarterback. What they have done is forced 11 turnovers in that 4 game span, so obviously, unless they can force some in this game, they’ll be hard pressed to stay close.

On defense, the Eagles are going to try and get after Kitna, and force him into mistakes. In the 7 games that Kitna has played, he’s thrown 8 picks and been sacked 14 times. The Eagles have caught the most opponent passes in the league with 20, and are tied for 8th in the league with 32 sacks. If the Dallas offensive line can’t keep Kitna upright and give him enough time to find Austin and Williams, you’ll definitely hear some boos from the Dallas faithful. The player over the years that has caused me the most pain is Jason Witten. No one on the Eagles has been able to make life hard on him since he came in to the league. With Dez Bryant out for the year, I expect Witten’s role with the offense to become even larger, provided the ankle injury he suffered last week isn’t to prohibitive. With no real running game to speak of, it’s going to all be on the passing game to put up points. The Eagles expect Samuel to be back in the mix on Sunday which is great news, as well as DE Juqua Parker, who should help free up Trent Cole on the other side.

December seems to be the Eagles’ favorite month of the year. They’ve won 11 of the last 12. Their lone loss was the last game of last season against Dallas. That cost them a division title, and forced them to go to Dallas to for the playoff game. They got handled and it started the chain of events that has Vick carrying the Eagles right now. If I was Andy Reid, that final score would be in huge writing on the white board when the Eagles enter the locker room. Plain and simple, this game will come down to turnovers. That’s the only way that the Cowboys can keep this game close. They don’t have enough of a consistent offense to score with the Eagles, and their defense is mostly a sieve. If Vick gets time to find Jackson and Maclin, he will have a field day. It should be a fun game for us Eagle fans. Eagles 38 Cowboys 23.

SHOWDOWN OUT WEST: Week 14 NFL Preview & Picks

THURSDAY NIGHT SPECIAL

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS AT TENNESSEE TITANS: Just a few weeks ago I looked at the schedule, saw this game and thought to myself, “that will be a big, fantastic game. Both teams are winning (as usual) and should be amped up for a big battle that will matter in their division.” Well, I was half right. The Titans have been one of the biggest pushovers in the NFL the last couple of weeks, and we have to be asking ourselves if Vince Young is going to win his micturation battle with Jeff Fisher. If so, Coach Fish will be available for all of about 3.8 seconds before several teams come calling with enormous offers. At any rate, the Titans are playing for pride at this point. Which is where the Colts will be if they don’t rattle of a string of wins to finish the season. It means more to the Colts, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to be the idiot to bet on Peyton Manning playing a fourth straight bad game at quarterback.  COLTS 27, TITANS 16.

FOOTBALLSICKNESS.COM GAME OF THE WEEK DOUBLEHEADER:

Philip Rivers and Jamaal Charles are both having huge years in prolific offenses.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS AT SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: This game got even bigger- like, “better win it or make a lot of golf reservations for mid January through late February” bigger- when the Chargers got blown out of their own building by a gale force Autumn Wind out of Oakland. They can afford no further losses or their string of fortuitous comebacks from early-season losing streaks will be over. And you can rest assured that nobody would enjoy finishing them off more than the Chiefs, a young, talented, spirited bunch that are proving every week that the moment is not too big for them. Matt Cassel is playing Pro Bowl-level quarterback, the running game is dominant, they’ve got athletes all over the place, and the D bends but makes plays when it must, characteristic of a Romeo Crennel defense. But Philip Rivers is playing even better than Cassel, and the Chargers are the defending division champs several times over. The trump card? The rule of desperation. The Bolts are far more desperate, and will win it because they have to.  CHARGERS 27, CHIEFS 23.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS AT CHICAGO BEARS: Ah, here we are. Another nice test for the Bears, who continue their stubborn and misguided refusal to prove me right. They squeaked by the Lions for the second time this season, and are now an impressive 9-3. Mostly, it’s impressive because, as with a great magician, I have absolutely no idea how they’re doing it. But whatever they’re doing, I doubt very much it will work against the Patriots, who appear to have been awakened from a deep slumber by the thumping they took from the Browns a month back. Since then, they’ve rattled off four quality wins, culminating in Monday Night’s 45-3 thrashing of the Jets. Tom and Bill don’t allow letdown games.  PATRIOTS 30, BEARS 20.

THE REST:

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES AT DALLAS COWBOYS: The Cowboys wasted the first half of their year, but if the second yields them a new coach and a new organizational culture, perhaps it will have been worth it. The Eagles spent most of this season finding out that they scored big time when they chose to act as Michael Vick’s lifeline two years ago. Vick has turned into one of the more impressive stories in the NFL in a long time, and has the Eagles looking like a Super Bowl contender. But they have to be concerned at their inability to pound it on the ground when the time comes to do so, and the injuries in the secondary are an issue on defense. I like them to beat the Cowboys, but Jason Garrett has Dallas executing, so Philly better come to play. EAGLES 33, COWBOYS 30.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS AT SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: This should really be a bigger game on the national radar, and is one of the better new school rivalries in the NFL. But both teams have given us reason not to take them too seriously this year. The Niners fell on their collective face coming out of the gate, and while they have put together a few wins of late, they have not been anything resembling consistent. Now, Frank Gore is done for the year and the primary curiosity is whether coach Mike Singletary survives to 2011. The Seahawks had lower expectations to start the year but are at .500 with four games to play and tied for the NFC West lead. They’ve got more to play for, but have struggled on the road. Who knows what’s going to happen, but I’ll take the Seahawks as they try to get out in front of the Rams. SEAHAWKS 23, NINERS 20.

GREEN BAY PACKERS AT DETROIT LIONS: The Packers have a division title to chase and cannot be bothered. They will brush the Lions aside like an actual lion brushes aside a fly. PACKERS 37, LIONS 22.

The vastly underrated Marcel Reece and the Raiders still have a look at the postseason as they head to Jacksonville.

OAKLAND RAIDERS AT JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: This game actually has a ton of relevance to the AFC playoff picture. A win would thrust the Raiders toward the top of the bubble crowd, while a loss would drop Jacksonville back into that group, with the Colts hot on their heels. These are both physical teams, but to me, the Jags have been getting by on the residue of preparation and a little Gus Johnson – MoJo Drew magic. The Raiders absolutely pounded on the Chargers in San Diego this Sunday, and while I am going back on an earlier self-warning never to trust them to string two together, I’m going to pick them. I’m not trusting them, mind you. I just think they’re better. RAIDERS 24, JAGS 20.

CLEVELAND BROWNS AT BUFFALO BILLS: The Browns are 5-7 and have to feel like they blew their shot to be right in it, because they could easily have won several of those 7 L’s. Of course, the same can be said about the Bills, to a lesser degree. Buffalo has suffered several late heartbreakers, but is showing signs of growing up. Both teams require continued injections of talent, but the programs appear to be on track. This is the kind of game the Browns will almost always lose, so…I’m going to take them.  BROWNS 24, BILLS 20.

NEW YORK GIANTS AT MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Will he or won’t he? Everybody (or so I’m told by ESPN and the NFL Network) is waiting to see whether Brett Favre’s streak of consecutive starts, which dates to the Mesozoic era, will finally be broken. I assume he’ll play until I’m informed otherwise. That plan has served me well for two decades now. Either way, Leslie Frazier has made clear that Adrian Peterson will be the centerpiece of the offense, to which I think we can all say “it’s about freaking time.” They’ll be a tough out at home for the Giants, who are now looking to Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw to carry them into the postseason. It all depends on which Brother Eli shows up: the one who throws touchdowns or the one who throws picks and breaks out regularly into a super-sour ManningFace. I’ll guess the former. GIANTS 28, VIKINGS 24.

MIAMI DOLPHINS AT NEW YORK JETS: This is normally a close divisional battle, but I would not want to be the first team to face Rex & his Jets after that beat-down they took on Monday Night. And the ‘Phins just scored 10 points at home against the Browns. Yikes.  JETS 30, DOLPHINS 13.

CINCINNATI BENGALS AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS: How To Do It Right vs. How To Do It Wrong. STEELERS 23, BENGALS 17.

Josh Freeman, #5 is leading a better team than DMac5.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS AT WASHINGTON REDSKINS: A fascinating study in contrast. On one hand, we have a young, talented squad led by a young, inspiring coach and a gifted young quarterback on the rise. And on the other, an aging roster laden with has-been’s, could-have-been’s and never-will-be’s led by a recycled, uninspiring former Super Bowl winning head coach and a declining quarterback whose body is much older than his age and who just signed a massive extension. And who just suspended their best defensive player for stealing $20 Million, which seems a reasonable punishment. Maybe even a bit light. The only similarity is the quarterbacks are both wearing #5. I’ll take the team that looks every week like it really cares. BUCS 24, REDSKINS 17.

ATLANTA FALCONS AT CAROLINA PANTHERS: Best team in the NFC versus the worst. FALCONS 34, PANTHERS 17.

ST. LOUIS RAMS AT NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: A year ago, there would have been no reason to tune in. Now? Sure, I expect the Saints to win, but I’m actually really curious to see how Sam Bradford and the young Rams’ D handles a trip to the SuperDome. Hey, the Browns won there handily just a little over a month ago. It can be done. It won’t, of course- the Saints are back to playing really good, championship contender football. But it can.  SAINTS 33, RAMS 23.

DENVER BRONCOS AT ARIZONA CARDINALS: Here’s a fascinating battle between two teams with a lot going for them.  BRONCOS 24, CARDINALS 17.

MONDAY NIGHTCAP

BALTIMORE RAVENS AT HOUSTON TEXANS: The Texans are D-U-N with 7 losses, but that doesn’t mean you want to be trying to beat them in Houston to cement your own spot. They’re tough to beat and this is usually when they play their best: when the chips are no longer down, but have been collected and pushed over to the guy with the blue horseshoe on his hat. The Ravens, on the other hand, are right in the thick of the playoff picture, but blew a golden opportunity to put the Steelers behind them in the divisional race (and also to prove that they were finishers…so much for that). Baltimore couldn’t put Pittsburgh away despite an evening full of opportunities to do so, and that is not the mark of a championship football team. It’s just one game, but the Ravens better strap it on for a fight down in H-Town, where the Texans play well.  RAVENS 27, TEXANS 24.