Ivy City

I am resurrecting this motherfucking blog.

I live in a pretty sketchy part of Washington, DC, called Ivy City. How sketchy is it? A week ago, Snoots was attacked by two stray cats while we were out on a walk. These cats aren’t particularly big, but God DAMN are they fierce. They came at him in two coordinated waves, sorta like the “puzzle-solving smart” raptors in Jurassic Park. You almost had to admire their derring-do.

The second the skirmish(es) began, I reflexively kicked the Loony Tunes cloud of flailing animal limbs, trying to separate the animals — knowing that Snoots could, and would, kill either one of them the second he got a grip on their necks. Naturally, both of my kicks landed on Snoots, but they were enough to diffuse the situation.

The other night, my fears were (not really) realized when, on a late-night walk, a possum ran out from under a car, headed for a construction site across the sidewalk. Assface had it in his mouth before I could even assess the situation. My kick was maybe a second and a half too late (and again, I connected with Snoots). He immediately dropped it and hopped forward. The possum lay there, lifeless, its (surprisingly large) teeth bared back in a frozen snarl. Snoots had snapped its neck in a second and a half, tops.

Unless… it was playing possum?

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10 Reasons Why Tim Tebow May Be The Devil

What do you think the Devil is going to look like if he’s around? Nobody is going to be taken in if he has a long, red, pointy tail… He will look attractive and he will be nice and helpful and he will get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation and he will never do an evil thing.                                                                                                          — Albert Brooks in Broadcast News

As a devout Broncos fan and an even devouter agnostic, I’ve realized that Tim Tebow is not, contrary to popular belief, an angel, or a god, or even a cherub. He is evil incarnate, Satan himself. Want proof?

1.Look at what happened to Josh McDaniels.  Tebow was drafted way ahead of where he should have been by McDaniels in 2010, and the Broncos traded three picks to move up and get him. It was, by any calculus, a questionable decision at the time. But Satan/Tebow wanted to set up shop in Colorado (see point #3 below) and he forced McDaniels’ hand on draft day. Eight months later, McDaniels was shown the door; the failure of the so-called “Tebow experiment” was one of the reasons. Then, having no further purpose for McDaniels, Satan/Tebow banished him to St. Louis to become the quarterbacks coach for a horrible player (Sam Bradford) on a horrible team (the 2-11 Rams). That’s some evil shit.

2. His similar treatment of Kyle Orton. When 2010 began, Orton was coming off a very respectable season in which he set career highs in yardage, touchdowns, and QB rating. He was a beast in fantasy football. With a rookie Tebow watching from the sideline in 2010, Orton’s numbers got even better. After twelve games, though, Tebow had seen enough, and arranged for Orton to suffer a season-ending injury (the first of many, as you’ll see…  keep reading). Tebow would finish the season as Denver’s starting QB, and usurp Orton as the full-time starter in Week 5 of 2011. But simply relegating Orton to the bench was not enough for Tebow. As only an evil entity could, he managed to get Orton  waived by Denver and claimed by lowly Kansas City, where Orton was doomed to play out the stretch. But even this was not as it seemed. Perhaps crossing the line with regards to his necessary dispensation of malevolence, Tebow arranged for Orton to suffer a thumb injury on his first play as a Chief, and miss two games. Dick move.

3. Having lost Republican control of the White House in 2008, Satan/Tebow sent himself to Denver. Smart move here by the Anti-Christ. Colorado voted Obama in ’08 and has officially become a “swing state.” An hour to the South of Denver is Colorado Springs, home to all those mega-churches and, as Harper’s called it, “mecca to the radical right.” Tebow’s arrival was also a symbolic repossession of Mile High Stadium [or whatever it’s called], tainted with Liberal stink ever since the 2008 DNC.

(On a side note, If you don’t think Tebow’s going into politics after his career, think again. The guy is Presidential in every sense of the word. Attractive and charismatic. A natural leader. And by all accounts, he’s Clintonesquely “good in a room.” Meet Tebow, and he treats you like you’re the biggest star in the room, and he’ll remember your name forever. There are two ex-NFL-ers in Congress right now; in 1996 Jack Kemp was the VP on the Republican ticket! So brace yourselves.)

Simply put, Tebow owns Colorado.  (Read that quote from Broadcast News again and tell me I’m wrong). While he languished on the bench (with the gift of hindsight, we now know he was sand-bagging all along), Coloradans began a rabid grassroots pro-Tebow movement, going so far as to buy public billboards begging head coach John Fox to start playing him. Now Tebow has an entire time zone ready to homeschool their children, outlaw abortion, and throw footballs poorly.

4. The power of Tebow compels any NFL player who stands in his way to sin against his team and fanbase.First we had the absolute miracle in Miami. Fine; that was all his doing. But in the last four weeks, Tebow’s begun ratcheting up the poor play of his opponents in a way that only the Anti-Christ possibly could:

Week 11 vs. Jets: Mark Sanchez lets the Broncos back in the game with a brutal 3rd-quarter pick-six;

Week 12 vs. Chargers: Nick Novak misses two field goals: one in the 4th quarter, and another in overtime;

Week 13 vs. Vikings: Christian Ponder throws two horrendous interceptions: one returned for a touchdown; the other, deep in Vikings territory with less than two minutes to play in a 32-32 tie;

Week 14 vs. Bears: Marion Barber just fucking shits the bed.

Do these actions sound like free will? Sound to you like the divine intervention of a benevolent God? Don’t be surprised this Sunday if Tom Brady goes 1-for-17 with four INT’s, kicks the referee in the groin, and makes out with Vince Woolfork on the sidelines. With Tim Tebow, all bets are off. (By the way, if ever any athlete was going to verify my theory, and say to reporters in his postgame press conference, “I’d like to apologize to all my fans, but that was not me out there. The Devil made me do it,” it would have to be Barber. But Satan/Tebow had thought this through — Barber has refused to talk to the media all season, and wasn’t about to start doing so Sunday).

5. “Tebowing.” From the people who brought you “planking.”

6. He has entered into an unholy alliance with Matt Prater.There is no way any mortal man can routinely make all of these ridiculous field goals; the only rational explanation is that Prater has sold his soul to Tebow. It’s not just that Prater is making 50-plus-yard field goals at the gun routine; it’s how fucking easy he’s making it look:

Week 7: a 52-yarder in OT that hit near the top of the net;

Week 12: a game-tying FG with 1:33 to go, and the game-winner in OT;

Week 13: a 46-yarder to tie it with 1:33 left, and the game-winner at the gun;

Week 14: a 59-yarder (!) to tie it with :03 left, and a 51-yarder to win in OT (that hit the net 2/3 of the way up).

The funny thing is, Prater’s stats aren’t all that great — but when Tebow absolutely, positively needs him to win a game, the two exchange a knowing glance, and the deed is done.

7. He injures other players. Not by running into them or anything; the Tebow way is to do it from afar. First, it was the two Orton injuries mentioned above. Since assuming starting duties this year, he’s been going down the schedule, orchestrating injuries to their opponents’ best players. Adrian Peterson missed the game against the Broncos. Last week, both Jay Cutler and Matt Forte were on the sidelines. But Tebow’s had a lot on his plate lately, and must have forgotten about New England. So don’t be surprised if, in the early going Sunday, Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski are involved in a horrific collision over the middle in which one guy’s tibia is poking out through his skin, and the other guy is dead.

8. He is a virgin, and proud of it. Catholic dogma frowns on pre-marital sex, so in that regard Tebow is the perfect role model for all that is Holy. I would argue, however, in the year 2011, a righteous God would WANT us single folks to have hot, dirty sex. But now a whole generation of hormonal, libidinous young men are idolizing perhaps the world’s most famous virgin. Point, Devil.

9. John Elway’s not buying Tebow’s shtick for one second. In interviews, he steadfastly refuses to say anything along the lines of “Tebow’s our guy.” Viewing games from the luxury box, he looks more like a guy watching  his drunken girlfriend table-dance than the proud G.M. of a team with a six-game winning streak. And if John Motherfucking Elway — my boyhood idol, the face of the franchise on which I staked my entire emotional well-being during childhood — smells a rat, then God damn it, there’s a rat.

10. Sports Illustrated has him on the cover this week.  Don’t get me wrong. The past two months have been nothing short of magical for any Broncos fan. Regardless of how this season turns out, it already compares to the Super Bowl Seasons of 1986, 1987, and 1989 around which my then-life revolved; and the three-year stretch from 1996-1998 when we finally broke through, won two Super Bowls, and routinely bludgeoned other teams on Sundays.

But there’s no way this can continue without the universe breaking. That’s why The Man Upstairs has called in perhaps the biggest gun of all, something against which there is no known cosmic defense: the SI Cover Jinx.

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“We Talked About That” – Week 14

A tremendous football Sunday! And the two players who stole the spotlight managed to fan the flames of bad announcing. But first…

“You wanna talk about cliches!?”

“Winning ignites your home crowd. Tony Sparano has talked about it.” — Tim Ryan

“I’ve talked about this all season: let the ball come in on the shoulder pads.” — Rich Gannon

“You gotta be strong up the middle. You talk about it in baseball, you talk about it in football.” — Jim Mora, Jr.

“You talk about having 80 yards, and it’s not even halftime? That’s getting it done.” — Dan Dierdorf, talking about Roy Helu

Patriots 34, Redskins 27 — CBS, Greg Gumbel & Dan Dierdorf

Of all the 1:00 games, this one had by far the most action, and therefore the most face time on the NFL Red Zone  Network. It was also, perhaps, the game that officially launched Rob Gronkowski into the NFL Stratosphere. He looked absolutely unstoppable, even when Tom Brady was forcing throws to him (a routine occurence). This was a really great opportunity for an analyst (Dierdorf, in this case) to show us what makes him so special, or how a team like the Redskins might go about trying to stop him. But I heard absolutely nothing from Dierdorf that went beyond simply telling me what I was looking at. (In fairness, watching Red Zone doesn’t give me access to everything Bad Announcers say, but still.)

Gronkowski is now Weapon #1 on the New England Fucking Patriots. For God’s sake, Dierdorf, tell me how the Redskins are going to try and defend him! Instead, it’s just “Look at Gronkowski ____” or “What a play by Gronkowski.” This can not be the depth and breadth of your analysis. Piecing together all the replays I saw on Red Zone, it looked like the Redskins were experimenting with all different kinds of man coverage: safeties (DeJon Gomes), linebackers (London Fletcher and Perry Riley), and at least once with rookie stud Ryan Kerrigan (on a zone blitz, when Kerrigan dropped back off the line, played absolutely perfect pass coverage, and was still beaten for a 37-yard touchdown). Please, tell me about this type of stuff (because you just know Cris Collinsworth would). Is zone coverage a bad option vs. Gronkowski (tell me, because I don’t know)? Is there a reason the Skins seem to stick to man coverage against a guy who seems, to my eyes, to be the biggest matchup nightmare in the league? Tell me! After that long touchdown, Red Zone whipped to another game, and their announcer (the very talented, very smart Scott Hanson) noticed that Gronkowski was able to waltz into the end zone without a Redskin safety challenging him. Thank You!

Up 34-27 with about 7:30 left in the game, the Patriots drove down to the 6-yard line. Time for the dagger. They break the huddle, and gee, let me think , if I were an analyst, who do I think Brady’s gonna be looking for? Whom should I circle on the telestrator? Here’s how it played out:

1-6-WAS 6 (7:17) 39-D.Woodhead left tackle to WAS 4 for 2 yards (56-P.Riley).

2-4-WAS 4 (6:42) (No Huddle, Shotgun) 12-T.Brady pass incomplete short middle to 83-W.Welker.

3-4-WAS 4 (6:37) (No Huddle, Shotgun) 12-T.Brady pass short middle intended for 10-T.Underwood INTERCEPTED by 26-J.Wilson at WAS -9. Touchback (10-T.Underwood)

I won’t belabor the point here, but Dierdorf never mentioned Gronkowski once. Three plays from inside the 10, and not a single mention of the game’s biggest red zone receiving threat. Well played, sir.

Heartbreaking Sequences of Staggering Awfulness

“That’s a win for the Carolina defense.” –Ron Pitts, after a missed Atlanta field goal.

“[The Bills and Chargers both started 4-1, but then went 1-6, so] ..very identical, in terms of mirror images, for both teams.” — Solomon Wilcots

With the Texans driving deep for a score in the last minute of the first half, Rich Gannon completely disappeared for two plays, only to “come to life” when CBS showed the Saints/Titans halftime score (6-3) so he could talk our ears off about how he had expected a higher-scoring game.

Brian Billick spent the better part of a minute dissecting a replay of Christian Ponder getting hit as he was thrown, explaining the ‘empty hand’ rule and whether or not Ponder’s arm was going forward. The problem was that the ball had gone backwards, so everything he was saying was, essentially, moot.

Broncos 13, Bears 1o (OT) — Fox — Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, and Tony Siragusa

I honestly thought these three guys — whom, on an average day, I can not stand — were actually pretty decent for the game’s first 55 minutes… much like Chicago’s defense. So decent, in fact, that I was worried I wouldn’t have a lot to say here about how awful they are. But then, like a gift from the gods, came Tim Tebow, a god of sorts himself, to expose these fucking idiots.

Three weeks ago, Albert planted this blog’s first seed in my mind while calling the Titans/Falcons game. Atlanta, leading, converted a first down (inbounds) with 2:36 to play, and Tennessee was out of timeouts. “Ball game,” I said to myself [the clock runs down to 2:00, and Matt Ryan takes a knee three times]. But Albert just kept going on as though the outcome was still in doubt and the Titans had a chance.  Seriously, how fucking incompetent can you be?

Bad clock management gets coaches fired [at least, Chargers fans hope it will], and I propose that the same standards should apply to those people narrating the action for us.

In case you’ve been on Mars the last 48 hours: Tebow and the Broncos, trailing 10-0, get the ball on their own 37-yard line with 4:34 to play and no timeouts remaining. They must score twice; in between, assuming the Bears get the ball back, Chicago will run anywhere from 1:30 to 2:15 off the clock (this assumes runs up the middle eat up :05 of clock, and the Bears use up all :40 of the play clock between downs), depending on the two-minute warning. This means Denver has roughly two and a half minutes to score twice, without any timeouts.

So, before this drive with 4:34 left even begins, an onsides kick (after the first Denver score)  is essentially a foregone conclusion. This is the big-picture approach the Broncos, the Bears (who were probably justified playing prevent defense), and yes, the announcers, need to take. I could go deeper with this late-game clock management, but I’m hankering to rip on these clowns.

Tebow throws a TD with 2:08 left. Now, if Chicago gets the ball back, runs three times up the gut, then punts, Denver can expect to get the football with roughly :20 left (it would’ve ended up being closer to :16). So, in case you didn’t think the Broncos were already predestined to attempt an onsides kick, they sure as shit are now. Right? I’m sure Daryl Johnston will drive this point home. Moose, the floor is yours:

“Do you kick it away here? The way your defense is playing, at altitude?”  This idiotic question was fielded at face value by Siragusa, who went right along with Johnston, rattling off the pros and cons of kicking it away.

Wait. It gets worse! After the commercial at the two-minute warning (after the onsides kick attempt and a Bears run), Albert and Johnston insinuated the Broncos would not even get the ball back! (I wish I had the direct quotes — and a DVR — but I was quite literally on the edge of my seat).

Now I will give Johnston credit where credit is due: on the play of the game — Marion Barber’s inexplicable decision to run out of bounds — he was all over it, berating Barber the second it happened. In hindsight, I would have loved it if he had asked what the fuck the Bears were doing running wide in the first place, but beggars can’t be choosers. Certainly not with this lot.

The Bears punted, and Denver got the ball on their 20 with :56 to play. Moose, got anything good for us?

“Remember, we only need a field goal to get this thing tied!”

Thanks. Let’s fast-forward four plays (after the huge pass to Matt Willis on the near sideline). Denver’s on the 41, there’s :23 left, and our kicker, Matt Prater, is making Rob Gronkowski look like a pussy these days. We are honestly in field goal range. With :23 to go, you can still afford to get tackled inbounds once. In hindsight, a run here is kinda money, but Tebow throws an incompletion as the clock moves down to :18. I say to no one in particular, “Kick it now.” Nothing from Albert/Johnston on this now extremely tenuous situation: getting tackled inbounds ends the game, and the Bears, knowing this, are going to put everyone on the sidelines (I assume). How about a little analysis here? Show me the defensive look here, because I am terrified at the risk of running another play. You guys got anything? [No].

On second down, Tebow made his best throw of the game: avoiding a sack and deliberately throwing it at the feet of Lance Ball, who was in the middle of the field (I say “deliberately,” but with Tebow, sometimes it’s hard to tell). Johnston, to his credit, called this well and complimented Tebow’s quick thinking.

Still, it wasn’t enough to make up for a stretch of gaffes down the stretch that exposed these guys as people who simply do not understand clock management. Either that, or they simply fell victim to Tebow Time. Next week we’ll be TALKING ABOUT the Patriots/Broncos telecast; let’s see how CBS’s number-one team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms responds to the challenge.

And now, the good news

Again, I don’t have a DVR (I don’t even have cable!), but Collinsworth launched into an anecdote about [Giants offensive coordinator] Kevin Gilbride’s game plan that I wish I could transcribe here. I can guarantee you that every other color guy would have said two things: (a) “We talked to Kevin Gilbride” and (b) “..and he talked about…” So imagine my delight when NBC cut to Gilbride on the sidelines and Collinsworth began, “Kevin Gilbride understood that the Giants…” and proceeded to go thirty seconds eloquently describing the matchup nuances against Dallas without once using the words “talked about.” It’s kind of like watching someone play Frogger. And the initials next to the high score are CC.

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“We Talked About That” – Week 13

Welcome to a new installment, called “We Talked About That.” Watch a couple of NFL games, and you’ll come away with two irrefutable facts: (1) most announcers are bad at their jobs, and (2) most of them throw around the phrases “We talked about that” and “You wanna talk about ____” like they’re going out of style. The point of these blog postings, therefore, is to celebrate those two things.

This week we’ll focus on the two games that were absolute thrillers, and the talk of the league the following day. Thankfully, they were called by bad announcers.

Broncos 35, Vikings 32 – Fox – Thom Brenneman & Brian Billick

Fox got this game, which should have been on CBS (the road team being from the AFC), but was switched when the league’s “flex” policy left Fox with only two early games (a first). Brenneman and Billick are an interesting pair, basically jammed together at the point on the Fox depth chart where “good” meets “hacky.” The capable Brenneman is essentially a reduction of Joe Buck; Billick’s cut way back on his mistakes, and misinterpretations of the rules, but he still has very little interesting to say. Despite the fact that he’s coached a Super Bowl-winning team, and arguably the greatest defense of all time, he remains just a Guy Who Says Lots Of Stuff.

He certainly had Lots Of Stuff to Say about Champ Bailey, the ten-time Pro Bowl cornerback of the Broncos. Essentially, any time an incomplete pass was thrown his way, Billick simply launched into his talking points about how good Bailey is (though he’s nowhere near as good as he once was, and was absolutely torched by Detroit’s Calvin Johnson a month ago). In the third quarter, Joe Webb beat Bailey for 28 yards on the sideline, but was called for offensive pass interference. Even as replay after replay showed the call was questionable at best, Billick simply repeated “you just gotta stay away from this guy [Bailey]”-esque platitudes.

The most astute piece of analysis I got all game was from Brenneman. During a goal-to-go snap for the Vikings just before halftime,  Brenneman asked, as the Vikings got in formation, why neither Kyle Rudolph (their tallest receiver) nor Percy Harvin (their best) was on the field. Billick’s response (after an incompletion): “Sometimes you just have too much time and overthink these things.”

When Denver scored a touchdown with 8:52 remaining to pull within 29-27, Brenneman wondered aloud if the Broncos should go for two. I’m guessing — since the answer to the question is, “Yes, and you’re a fucking idiot just for asking” — that he did this to throw Billick a bone, and tee him up for a slam-dunk response. So, what did Billick say? “You definitely think about it here.”

On the Vikings’ ensuing drive, they faced a 3rd-and-7 at the Broncos 43-yard line. What kind of play did Billick think the Vikings would call for [rookie quarterback] Christian Ponder? Would Ponder challenge cornerback Andre Goodman again? [They did, for 17 yards]. Well, Billick had precious few thoughts on the subject. Instead, he spent the twenty seconds fulfilling his role as a Guy Who Says Lots Of Stuff, detailing the benefits of converting this particular third down: more time would run off the clock, they would be in field goal range, etc. He didn’t have enough time to take that analysis to the next level, and mention that by converting a third down, and advancing the ball farther down the field, they increased their chance of scoring more points, which in a tie game would give them the lead. And that if they had the lead when time expired, they would win. And winning is good.

Arizona 19, Dallas 13 (OT) – Fox – Dick Stockton & John Lynch

Fox’s #4 team is another Odd Couple. Stockton is 69 years old, and while his voice still sounds as silky-smooth  as it did when it served as the soundtrack for the NBA’s Golden Age, he’s lost more than a few miles on his fastball. NFL commentary is simply  too much for him at this point. Indeed, Stockton’s frequent ineptitude is one of the main reasons for launching “We Talked About That”; I honestly feel that I could do his job better than he does. And I’ve always secretly hated him for marrying Lesley Visser, a friend of a friend who I might have had a crack at seducing when I lived in NYC, were it not for Stockton, an egregious overachiever.

Anyway, Stockton was thoroughly mediocre, per usual. He neglected to mention (probably because he didn’t notice) that a 50-yard FG by Dan Bailey hit the post before going through the uprights. He said “this is a big play” while Kevin Kolb was scrambling. He rattled off receiver’s stat lines without on-screen graphical support [one of my biggest pet peeves].

His partner, John Lynch, is now in his third full season in the booth, but is patently average. In the Cowboys/Cardinals game, he was given an announcing gift from the Gods. The scenario: tie game, Dallas ball, 3rd-and-11 at the Arizona 46, 0:31 on the clock. Dallas has two timeouts remaining.

  1. 3-11-ARI 46 (:31) (Shotgun) 9-T.Romo pass short middle to 88-D.Bryant to ARI 31 for 15 yards (21-P.Peterson).
  2. 1-10-ARI 31 (:08) 9-T.Romo spiked the ball to stop the clock.

With :25 left on the clock, Tony Romo, instead of calling a timeout, “hurried” his team up to the line of scrimmage and spiked the ball. A timeout lets you run AT LEAST two more plays, and (probably) gets you a few crucial yards to shorten the FG attempt from 49 yards to, say, 43. Spiking the ball with only :07 to go (one more second ran off the clock) resigns yourself to trying the FG, from 49 yards out, on the next play. But Lynch didn’t say anything about it (nor did Stockton). A minute later, when Cowboys coach Jason Garrett inexplicably called a timeout, effectively “icing” Bailey (who ended up missing), Lynch went to town, but anyone could have done that. The Romo spike was a moment ripe for not only small-picture analysis (how to lose a game with ineffective clock management), but also big-picture contrasts: could you ever see Peyton Manning or Tom Brady not calling timeout with :25 left? Me either. And that’s one of the main reasons why Tony Romo is Tony Romo, and the other guys aren’t. And Lynch missed it.

“You Talk About Cliches!”

“I can’t talk enough about the tackling going on in the Chicago secondary.” -Solomon Wilcots

“You talk about elite quarterbacks, but you don’t talk about [Tony] Romo.”     – Lynch

“You wanna talk about open-field tackles!?” – Billick

“We’ve talked so much about pass protection, we talked about play-action…” -Phil Simms, with the rare double

Now, the Good News

The part in the blog where we will celebrate the best team in the business, Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth. My girlfriend and I made dinner and ate it while watching the game, so I didn’t take notes. But on Detroit’s first offensive possession, Collinsworth talked big picture. Instead of just saying lots of stuff between plays, Collinsworth was talking X’s and O’s about how the Saints were defending Calvin Johnson, even though the Lions’ first two plays (an end-around and a pass to the RB) were run to the opposite side of the field. It was great — the exact type of thing that football fans need to think about.

Right before halftime, the Lions had first-and-goal from the 2, and Collinsworth’s fixation on Johnson paid dividends. The Lions scored on a run, but what Collinsworth gushed about was the Saints’ coverage of Johnson. Two seconds later, NBC showed the replay not of the touchdown run, but of the coverage: two Saints DB’s playing press coverage (something Collinsworth said he had never seen before) to prevent a fade pass to Megatron — one of the few truly unstoppable plays in football. It was great.

And I hope Brian Billick stayed up to watch the whole game, because he got a lesson in how to announce offensive pass interference — an infraction for which Lions’ WR Nate Burleson was penalized three times in 14 minutes (which has to be some kind of record). Collinsworth (a former WR himself) was brilliant, detailing the ways in which a WR can get away with pass interference, and saying “take it from a guy who cheated his whole career.”

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Walking On Sunshine

Hey Snootsketeers,

It’s been a while. I apologize. Being a fully-employed single dad in the big city, well, I can’t always find the time to update my blog. Sorry ’bout that!

I’m going to start a new, weekly post about NFL commentators called “We Talked About That.” If you’ve ever watched a football game, you know that most of the announcers are horrible, and they use the phrase “we talked about that” an/or “you wanna talk about___ ” a disproportionate amount of the time. Anyways, I hope you like it.

But let’s focus on Snooty for a second. He’s doing great. We moved from a shitty part of DC to a much nicer one in September. Our back yard gets a decent amount of sunshine in the morning, but as the winter solstice approaches, the sun gets lower in the sky, and the patches of sunshine for Snoots to sunbathe in get harder to find.

Cue this scene last weekend:

Yes, that is a six-foot-tall wall, exactly one brick wide. He uses that stump in the foreground to get up and down. What a weirdo.

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Profiles in Interest: Josh Shelov (part 2)

On Friday, “The Best and the Brightest,” Josh’s new movie, began its seven-day theatrical release (following months of barnstorming around the country in a series of sneak preview screenings) in New York and Los Angeles. You know, because Boston, Washington, and Chicago aren’t real cities.

When last we left Josh (at the end of part one of our interview) he had just broken into the big leagues of screenwriting. The year was 2003, or thereabouts.

The Snooty Observer: Around this time the other major chute of your current life began to take form, and that is when you worked on “Two Minute Drill,” right?

Josh Shelov: Talk about a major chute. Yes, the 2-Minute Drill. Basically, as I mentioned, my whole career has been spent straddling (and sometimes combining) filmmaking and sports TV. The 2-Minute Drill (kind of a “jeopardy for sports trivia” on ESPN, for the uninitiated) was one of the better sports-TV related gigs I’ve worked, coming up with questions in a roomful of writers who were basically just like me, writers who wanted to be writing screenplays but who knew a lot about sports and could therefore write sports-related game-show questions. Kenny Mayne [the show’s host] got me that gig.

TSO: One of your many collaborations. How’d you two get started together?

JS: We got on good right from the start [at ESPN], this being 1994 or so, and it helped that we were both sort of marooned together on this deserted overnight shift known as the “Sports Smash,” a half-hourly 5-minute-long live update that ran on ESPN2 until three in the morning during its nascent days. Kenny was on-air, I was the P.A., and I would fuck with him on his shot sheets (“shot sheets” being ESPN-code for the scripts you write for on-air talent that they read when they voice-over hilights). NB most of the really funny stuff is ad-libbed by the talent themselves: shot sheets tend to be pretty banal on purpose. (i.e. “SETUP: 1st and 3rd with no out. ACTION: Joe Carter lines one to left!” etc.) But Kenny and I got to the point where I could slip in a joke or two and he would do it on the air. Certainly one of the best overnight gigs a red-blooded American male can get.

Kenny and I kept in touch after I quit ESPN to go write bad screenplays in coffee shops, and we did quite a few freelance-y projects together over the years, including the 2MD, some corporate gigs, and some Kenny-ish SportsCenter-ish features, like going with [Dennis] Rodman to dye his hair. We also co-wrote a spec script together called SPORT, which is sort of a Jerry-Maguire-y thing based on Kenny’s actual life story, in which script I whorishly wrote in a line for my pal the Snooty Observer. (Editor’s note: the line, “Here,” is delivered by a production assistant named Tyler).

The most sustained gig we got to do together was MAYNE STREET, sponsored by Gillette, The Best A Man Can Get. (MAYNE STREET BTW being an EMMY-NOMINATED web series on espn.com, of course you’ve heard of it, everyone’s heard of it, it’s in its fifth season, and some of the episodes are actually even funny.) MAYNE STREET was actually a collaboration between me, Kenny, and a third guy, Todd Pellegrino, another fellow-ESPN-P.A. turned writer, one of my best friends inna world, with whom I am currently writing another non-Mayne script and – am I correct in remembering – was the dude who originally introduced me to said Snooty Observer?

TSO: Correct! Todd recommended I be your young go-getter on Outside The Lines, and the rest is history. One fond memory of that show’s edit is how I was “the smoker” and you were “guy who doesn’t smoke anymore, but will have a cigarette when hanging out with a smoker.” And now that I’ve quit smoking, I get to be that other guy, which is quite exciting. I repaid Todd, by the way, by completely mucking up a SportsCentury episode on the Chargers/Dolphins 1981 playoff game.

This being a dog-lover’s blog, tell us the plot of “Sport.”

JS: The most amazing thing about Kenny is that his actual life is 100% as dramatic as a movie, in particular this dark period he went through in his late 20’s. Then, as now, he was a tremendous wiseass, but back then he didn’t have the nationwide audience of frat boys who loved his stuff. Back then he was just a local sportscaster in Seattle who wised off a lot. So he pissed off his boss, got fired, and proceeded to go through such a horrific period of unemployment that he ended up giving away his dog [named Sport] to the humane society because he could only afford to live in this $99/month apartment which didn’t allow dogs. He bottomed out in a way that only movie characters do. (The movie character I’m thinking of in particular being the lead puppet in “Team America,” vomiting repeatedly in the alley.)

The first job Kenny was able to get was making garbage cans on an assembly line. Meanwhile he keeps sending in his old demo tape to ESPN, praying for a miracle. And the goddamn miracle happens, someone pulled his audition tape out of a stack and took a flyer on him to come do his wacky shit on ESPN2, and the rest is history. BITTER CODA: after he got the job, he went back to the Humane Society to try to reclaim his dog, and some family had already adopted him, and he never saw the dog again.

TSO: What happened with the script?

JS: We really tried [to get “Sport” produced]. May happen yet. The script is good and it made the rounds and a very good producer, Michael London (SIDEWAYS) developed it with us for a minute. You never know with these things. The way it’ll probably get made is by Kenny meeting some actor at a football game and telling him he should read the script and bothering him until he does and we scrape together a little money and do it on the cheap. Kenny’s a very good screenwriter, which you might not expect from his all-irony-all-the-time screen persona. His first draft of the script, which he wrote all by himself (before I dragged it down) was very, very good, poignant and true.

 TSO: Okay, let’s finally get to your little art film [the backdrop of which is the ridiculously competitive system of private kindergarten enrollment in Manhattan]. I’m assuming you yourself went through that process?

JS: We did indeed try to get Owen into one such boutiquey such joint, in Park Slope Brooklyn, which is sort of like the area of NYC where artsy Manhattanites go when they impregnate someone and/or get impregnated. Chock full of Strollers and Stylish Eyewear and Dog-Eared Philip Roth novels, Park Slope.

Anyway we got Owen into one of those deals and indeed it’s an absurdly competitive farce. But then just at that moment I had the thing happen with “Hooligans” selling and getting to rewrite a Bruce Willis movie, and so before he could actually start attending said kindergarten (Owen, not Bruce) I moved my family to LA. Wherein I did some studio writing. Long story.

Suffice it to say I never forgot about what a ridiculous farce the whole private kindergarten rain dance was, so when we moved back to NY darned if I didn’t write the fucker down in screenplay form, co-doing so with my great friend and brilliant artist Michael Jaeger.  [He] and I were/are both dads, dealing with this private school shit, and we both worship A FISH CALLED WANDA, and we were always griping about how Hollywood never makes farces even though we think a quality farce may be the single funniest comedic subgenre. When good farces get humming, audiences literally have trouble holding in urine. TOOTSIE was the other big target we were aiming for. (Needless to say our finished film is much better than either of those two mediocrities.)

I was at the time quite determined to direct a movie again, it having been approximately 10 years since “Clowns” went splat, and I reckoned I’d learned a thing or two about telling a story since then. I was, as they say, fairly champing at the bit. And then I had the great fortune to come across a couple of producers in Philadelphia who chipped in some serious starter cash for the movie, these being Mr. Robert Weiser and his wife Patricia Weiser, to whom I will be forever grateful. And so we hired a casting director, and started puffing out our chests and waving the script around and saying we had a real start date. (You have to tell people you have a real start date or else everyone thinks you’re full of shit.) A lot of actors said no at first. Nobody wants to be the first one in the pool. But then Sedaris and NPH said yes and we were off to the races.

TSO: How would you describe your style of direction?

JS: My style of direction on B & B is probably a bit overcranked. I.e. we blocked out every shot and didn’t improv much at all. That could be because the script is so INCOMPARABLY BRILLIANT. It could also be because it’s my first film and I was holding on pretty tight, for better and for worse. To enumerate the “for betters”: the schedule never slid out of control, we always “made our days,” as they say in the film biz, we never had producers walking onto set at 4:30 in the afternoon and gasping that we were still on the third setup. I kept shit moving, I knew what I wanted, and the cast was rock-solid. I’m extremely happy with the finished film. I better be; it’s exactly what I wanted. But in all seriousness, it’s felt pretty awesome when we’ve put it in front of audiences. The laughs are there.

The downside is that maybe a looser approach as director could lead to more behavioral surprises from the actors, and/or surprises in general. I kind of felt like I didn’t have time to be too exploratory, and/or wasn’t that interested in what an improvisational process could yield. This could be seen as too restrictive. And indeed, some of the actors told me to back off every once in awhile. But never in a dickish way. Almost all the time a nice clear direction is/was appreciated.

I wouldn’t “recommend” either the tight or loose approach to directors (i.e. what are the most important things to do/not to do) – I think it’s very much a personal style type of thing. I would say that even though filmmaking is an extraordinarily collaborative experience (which is kind of a cliche, but a true one), the moment right after a take is finished is as dictatorial as a moment can get – all eyes are on you, and you’d better know when you have what you want, when it’s enough already, when you’re ecstatic. That’s one of the hardest things, I think. Sometimes a take is perfect and easy and yay, that’s it, let’s move on. But sometimes it’s just 80%, and it’s not going to get any better, and maybe you wrote it wrong or maybe you’re just not communicating the right thing to the actor or whatever but the bottom line is the whole entire cast and crew is looking to you to be strong and clear as hell in that moment. It’s okay to not love what you’re seeing but you’d better not start visibly settling or saying “whatever,” or else the entire cast and crew will immediately, subconsciously, and completely start giving less of a shit about what they’re doing. Maybe that’s me just being sensitive, but I really did feel like the “intensity/focus/standards”-bearer – everyone stops what they’re doing after cut and takes their cue from you. Very fun, stressful, awesome, hard, great. I fucking loved it.

 TSO: So what’s next for you, and how much does the answer to that question hinge on B&B’s “Success”?

JS: What’s next most definitely does depend on how this B & B process goes, most definitely. The marketing and release of this movie – as you’ve seen from my non-stop full throated 24/7 shouting on FB – has turned into quite the FT job, not only for me but for a small stalwart group of colleagues, who are working their asses off in exchange for pretty much no money.

We were able to score a great distribution deal with a company called New Video, and they’re putting the film out on DVD and iTunes and VOD and Netflix and pretty much all digital formats (late summer/fall), but there’s only going to be a one-week “official” theatrical release in NY and LA.

I’m very glad to get that kind of release for the movie, but suffice it to say that the producers and I are sufficient egotists that we would like a broader theatrical release, and are sort of self-achieving it simply by booking stand-alone sneak preview events across the country, and even in some impoverished third-world countries like England and Germany.

With Kate Mulgrew at a post-screening Q&A session, during which he did not, presumably, faint.

The key to these screenings is that local “everymen,” as it were – people with no experience in the film biz but a lot of passion for our movie – are reaching out to us and basically volunteering to be local coordinators, renting a theater, getting the word out, even getting volunteers to work the box office.

The sneak previews have been absolutely awesome. Almost all sellouts, people love the film, and we’ve gotten tons of free media coverage/awareness that we wouldn’t have gotten without it. The key to the series has been producer Declan Baldwin, B & B’s key on-set producer, who has thrown his company’s resources behind the sneak preiew series, insuring the sneaks, advancing startup cash – a huge, huge, huge boost, without which we’d be as straight-to-video as a motherfucker.

TSO: And finally: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

JS:  “Good thing you totally ignored Judaism! You passed the test, come on in. Grey Goose OK?”

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Make Way for D.uC.klings

Get it?

So, roughly around the time The Masters was wrapping up last weekend, another Tradition Unlike Any other was getting underway here in your nation’s capital. The National Geographic building once again played host to a duck and her ten adorable ducklings.

While newbies such as myself were tickled pink by the whole development, hard-line veterans, like my buddy Mav (who’s worked there for ten years) were quick to point out that this has been going on for many years now. And the Nat Geo grounds crew was just as quick to bring out tiny “ramps” to help the ducklings get in and out of the ponds and gardens in our little courtyard out front.

They wasted no time in becoming minor celebrities. Every time you entered or left the building, you knew exactly where they were based on the positioning/body language of the 10-20 people invariably watching them. It had a paparazzi feel to it, as though Lindsay Lohan were constantly shopping out there.

Local NBC affiliate public-interest hack.

Two news crews came by to cover the story. Mini-barriers were erected. Signs were put up. And through it all, those fucking ducklings remained ten of the cutest things ever.

These pictures were taken on my phone (as were, I would guess, thousands of others). WordPress does not allow me to embed video for free, but there are YouTube videos here and here if you’d like to see the little guys in action (the second link shows them adorably negotiating a precipitous two-foot marble slope).

But then, tragedy may or may not have struck. When I walked in to work this Monday, the number of ducklings had plummeted to five. Nat Geo employees — myself included — were asking one another if they knew anything (I have yet to learn any news). And then again, this morning, the ducklings numbered only four. And while you may be quick to suggest this was Snoots’ doing (and he would most certainly kill a duckling for sport), I will remind you that I live 1.75 miles away, and there’s no way Snoots would ever walk that far.

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