Archive for September, 2005

Tattooed In The Cradle

September 29, 2005

Copyright 1998 Amy L Hitt

Born in the generation gap
Slapped before our first breath
Judged by where we chose to land
Right up to our death

Can’t see the forest at all
Through our family trees
Born into strengths and weaknesses
Judgments and beliefs

Tattooed in the cradle
Predestined by our birth
Tattooed in the cradle
But we decide our worth

Ain’t whether born with or learned
It ain’t who’s to blame
It’s how to erase the label
Not cover up the pain

Letting someone else live our lives
Is a form of dying
It’s like walking suicide
But we are worth reviving

Tattooed in the cradle
Predestined by our birth
Tattooed in the cradle
But we decide our worth

That tattoo is a blueprint
Of what we’re here to do
To unify the left and the right
Remember the true you

Tattooed in the cradle
Predestined by our birth
Tattooed in the cradle
But we decide our worth
Yes, we decide our worth

Only you can decide your worth

"I Could Have Planted Flowers!"

September 22, 2005

This may be a little off the message of health, but I think it applies—although I’m not sure what made me think of these events.

A couple of years ago an older friend of mine was in a nursing home for several months for rehabilitation. Whenever I would visit her, there were always the two same ladies sitting together in the lobby. One of the ladies would always wave at me like she thought she knew me, and they would both smile. I would smile and wave back.

One day when I went by—only one of the ladies was there. The waving lady was missing in action, so I went over and asked the other smiling lady where her friend was. She said, “Friend? I don’t have any friends.” So, I tried to explain to her that I was asking about the ladies who always sat next to her—to which she replied, “I could have planted flowers!”

Well, I realized her elevator didn’t reach all of her floors, but I walked away wondering what she meant. She obviously felt regret. Maybe if she had planted some flowers or some seeds she would have had some friends or would have realized that she did have a friend who sat by her everyday.

Another similar experience was a conversation I had with another older lady about why she didn’t want to plant flowers in her front yard. She said, “Well, people who walk by will just steal them.” I asked her if she meant that they would pick them. She said, “Yes, steal them.” She had a better elevator, but she was still skipping some floors as well.

As the leaves are beginning to fall off of the trees, I vow to plant some flowers next spring and hope someone steals them.

“There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual. Such are the moments of our greatest happiness. Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom. If one could but recall his vision by some sort of sign. It was in this hope that the arts were invented. Sign-posts on the way to what may be. Sign-posts toward greater knowledge.” Robert Henri from The Art Spirit.

It takes two

September 21, 2005

Sports throughout their history have been marked by great pairs. Be they rivals or long-time teammates; for many great athletes, their careers are defined in comparing them to another. One of the current conversations goes something like, “Sure Peyton Manning is great, but Brady has those rings.” On the other hand, sometimes a franchise is defined by teammates, as the Astros have been personified in the classy play of Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell for years. Pairings are even more crucial in individual sports; witness the current trend to try and find a “rival” for Tiger Woods in professional golf.

Here are ten of my favorite pairs. Add some of your favorites.

10. Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson
This is one of those pairings where you tend to see divine providence at work. Branch Rickey was the greatest general manager baseball has ever seen. He was responsible for developing the farm system in baseball and turning the Cardinals and then Dodgers into premiere franchises. He was also a man of great moral strength and enough daring and clout to take the first step in integrating Major League Baseball.

But he needed the right man to be the test case, or else baseball would claim it had been right all along by not integrating the game. He found it in Jackie Robinson, a man of profound dignity and determination, who was willing to absorb unspeakable abuse for the advancement of his people. Robinson not only held his temper, but played brilliantly, and he, too, revolutionized the game by bringing the stolen base back into the majors. These two remarkable men needed one another, and the nation needed them both.

9. Affirmed and Alydar
The last winner of horse-racing’s triple crown almost didn’t win any of the triple crown races.
In 1978, Affirmed and Alydar staged the greatest duel in racing history when they finished 1-2 in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. Affirmed won a well-contested Kentucky Derby by 1 ½ lengths, and that would prove the most comfortable of his three wins. In the Preakness, the two horses ran neck and neck down the stretch, with Affirmed holding off Alydar’s late charge by a nose.

8. Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier
Hockey’s odd couple. Gretzky was the most skilled player of all time, but looked like he knew more about deferred annuities than putting the puck on the tape. Messier, on the other hand, looked like a hunk of granite that had come to life and put on skates. Together, they were unstoppable. With Messier’s steely glare and Gretzky’s unmatched play, they lead the Edmonton Oilers to four Stanley Cups in the 1980’s. While Gretzky is generally cited as the greatest player of all time (or simply “the Great One”), it’s interesting that Messier won two titles after they split up (one in Edmonton and one in New York), while Gretzky never won a cup without Messier

7. Casey Stengel and Yogi Berra
Of course you all know Yogi, star of stage, screen and AFLAC commercial, who is as famous for his unique brand of malapropic wisdom as his hall of fame baseball career. Some of my favorite Yogi-isms include, “It gets late early out there” in reference to how the shadows crept in earlier in left field in Yankee stadium than they did behind home plate, or “That place is so crowded that no one goes there any more,” in reference to a popular restaurant.

What fewer people remember is that Stengel was the originator of this sort of thing in Baseball, exhorting his Yankees teams with “Stengelese.” Here’s a few of Casey’s gems: “There comes a time in a man’s life, and I’ve had plenty of ‘em.” “All right, everybody line up alphabetically according to your height.” “Good pitching will always stop good hitting and vice-versa.”

What absolutely amazes me is that Stengel managed Berra for years. What are the odds that these two characters would not only be around baseball at the same time, but actually end up on the same team. What’s also amazing about them is that despite the seeming lunacy, they were both the best at what they did, winning several World Series together and both winding up in the Hall of Fame.

6. Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain
These guys are interesting to me because each was clearly superior to the other, depending on which standard you used to measure them. Chamberlain was simply a physical freak; a man who physically dominated his league in such a way that he set scoring and rebounding marks that no one has come close to matching. Not only did he famously score 100 points in one game, but he also averaged over 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds a game that season. Nor was that his highest rebounding average; he averaged 27.2 boards the year before that.

Russell, on the other hand, just won. On any level with any team, Russell couldn’t be beaten. After leading the San Francisco Dons to two NCAA championships and winning a gold medal on the ‘56 Olympic team, he won 11 NBA titles with the Boston Celtics. While Wilt racked up the statistics, Russell controlled the game from the defensive end, using blocked shots and rebounding to lead his teams to victory. Russell’s no nonsense demeanor also contrasted with Wilt’s flamboyant style, and underscored what made the two men different both on and off the court.

5. Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras
Another case of contrasting styles. Agassi and Sampras were the face of American tennis for over a decade. Agassi is remembered for his wild fashions and high-profile dating life as a younger player, while Sampras was often cited for being too dull to watch despite his excellence. Sampras was clearly the better player, amassing 14 grand slam titles and edging Agassi 20-14 head-to-head, but Agassi has won all four grand slams, something Pete was unable to do. Sampras also beat Agassi in three of their four meetings in Grand Slam finals. As both players aged, they seemed to become more alike in personality. One of Sampras’ defining moments came in an emotional Australian Open quarterfinal in 1995, when Sampras defeated Jim Courier despite breaking into tears after hearing earlier in the day that his coach, Tim Gullickson, had been diagnosed with brain cancer. Agassi, on the other hand, has put his youthful antics behind him and is now celebrated for carrying himself with Sampras-like class.

4. John Stockton and Karl Malone
The Bagwell and Biggio of basketball, Stockton and Malone teamed together in Utah for 18 seasons. Despite both having Hall of Fame careers, they had the misfortune of being in their prime during the Michael Jordan era, and never achieved an NBA title. Stockton ended with over 15,000 assists (Mark Jackson in next with a little over 10,000), and probably could have made it to the Hall based solely on his assists to Malone, who finished with over 30,000 points. No pair of teammates in recent sports has been so associated with a team, city, and one another as Stockton an Malone. So popular were they in Utah, that there’s a car dealership in Sandy, Utah named “Stockton to Malone Honda.” Though there’s some truth to the allegations that they played dirty, they were each fierce competitors and brilliant performers.

3. Joe Montana and Jerry Rice
Though quarterbacks have been tossing balls to wide receivers for decades now, there aren’t really too many great QB-receiver combos. In fact, Rice and Steve Young may be the second best there is. These two clearly were the greatest; Rice being the best receiver of all time, and Montana on the very short list for best quarterback ever. They each won four Super Bowls; three as teammates. Both came up their biggest in the clutch. Before New England made an annual event of close Super Bowls, one of the few to ever live up to the hype was Super Bowl 23, when Montana led the 49ers down the field in the final two minutes to come from behind and beat the Cincinnati Bengals. Montana found Rice repeatedly coming down the field before getting it to John Taylor in the end zone to win the game. Though Taylor caught the final pass, the drive, as the 49ers success, was defined by the greatest passing combo in history.

2. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird
These two pretty much defined basketball when I was growing up. Magic and Birdy is the rare rivalry where you pretty much feel both guy came out ahead. Though Magic has the edge in titles, five NBA championships to Bird’s three as well as his famous NCAA win over Bird, there’s not a feeling that Magic is somehow clearly better than Bird. It’s hard to think of two players in any sport universally held in higher regard. Each was known for unbelievable passion and getting the most out of their abilities. They also took the NBA to new heights and paved the way for Michael Jordan to become the most famous man on the planet. Fittingly, they finally got to play together on the 1992 Dream Team, helping lead the greatest team ever assembled to a gold medal.

1. Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio
This is my favorite sporting “pair” of all time; bar none. It boggles the mind when you begin to think about these to. The Splendid Splinter and The Yankee Clipper; Teddy Ballgame and Joltin’ Joe; The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived, and the Most Perfect Player Who Ever Lived.

What fascinates me about these guys is that each one, in his own way, is a perfect symbol for America; especially the America of their era. Here you have Ted Williams; gregarious, loud, prickly, boastful, handsome, and simply the best there was. You have to understand, Ted Williams WAS John Wayne. John Wayne just played John Wayne in movies, but Williams lived it. The only reason he doesn’t have about 700 home runs and 3,500 hits is that he did two tours of duty with the Marines in the prime of his career. And he wasn’t just touring with them and playing baseball games for PR, he was a fighter pilot, and he was a great fighter pilot. However, excelling at these two things wasn’t enough for Williams; how many of you knew he was also a Hall of Fame fisherman? Why? Because he was Ted Williams, and that’s what Ted Williams did.

Then you have DiMaggio, Williams foil in every respect. Intensely private, reticent, but a man of immense grace and dignity; Joe DiMaggio was the “strong, silent type” come to life. Joe D also embodied success, winning five World Series in a row with the Yankees, and pride, deciding to retire from baseball at the first sign of his skills eroding rather than play too long. And then there was Marilyn Monroe. DiMaggio became a legend far beyond his considerable skill and accomplishments. Joe’s presence was so huge that years after he retired, Simon and Garfunkel lamented “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?”

Their careers paralleled one another. DiMaggio played for the Yankees; baseball’s imperial dynasty, while Williams starred for the Red Sox; The Yanks’ rival and a symbol of futility. Not only did DiMaggio and the Yanks finish ahead of the Sox in the standings every year, DiMaggio also denied Williams personal success. In 1941, Williams became the last man to hit .400, but was still denied the MVP because DiMaggio had a 56-game hitting streak and, of course, the Yankees won the World Series. Then there’s the comparison of skills. Williams was the superior hitter, but was indifferent as a base-runner and defender, while DiMaggio was as complete a player as the game has ever seen. In every way, these men seemed to be different, and yet each was the very best in his own way. Two of my favorite figures in the rich history of baseball.

Some Questions

September 19, 2005

Romans 11:33-36 (NRSV):

33 O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” 35 “Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?” 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.

We don’t believe this, do we? I mean, when it comes down to it, we believe we have God all figured out. You hear it in our Bible classes; you hear it in the way we talk about salvation; you hear it in our talk about various sins like homosexuality; you hear it in the way we talk about Scripture itself. God is not hidden from us, is he?

Have you noticed what we now consider to be “deep” and “intensive” bible studies? I hear people talk about Beth Moore studies (just to name one) and how deep they are. Yet if you read through the studies, Scripture is just a side point. She doesn’t delve into the depths of the nature of God like early church theologians did. Or look at Rick Warren and the innumerable studies on the Purpose-Driven Life. He does nothing different from what people have always done in the history of Churches of Christ. He uses Scriptures as proof texts and nothing more. He just finds a way to prove something else and uses different texts. Does that make a study deep? We need meat and yet we call breast milk steak. How is that? Have we so lost a sense of what meat is that “everything tastes like chicken?”

Or take a different issue. There was a Bible study recently on 1 Peter, which I must say I did not attend but I will try to be fair, that when 1 Peter talks about God’s foreknowledge and predestination focused on our own free will and ability to choose. 1 Peter is not talking about free will at all. How did that come to be the focus of the discussion?

When did we put ourselves above the text instead of under it? In the passage quoted, Paul has just revisited what God was doing with Gentiles and Jews in the section of Romans 9-11. He is addressing the problem of the fact that most Jews did not believe in Jesus as Messiah and so stumbled over the gospel. He reminds Gentiles that they were grafted into the root, but were not natural members so they must remember their place. He finally comes down to chapter 11 and mysteriously explains that “all Israel will be saved” (11:26), quoting Scripture to prove his point. He tells how it was God’s mysterious ways that would use Jewish rebellion to convert Gentiles and Gentile mercy to convert Jews. So he creates a hymn to praise God for his wisdom.

But we don’t really believe this. We know that Peter really believes in free will and does not really mean “foreknowledge” and “predestination.” Even in the passage cited, we know that Paul does not really mean that all Jews will be saved. We know that the Holy Spirit is a gift given after baptism and that people would never receive the Spirit before they were baptized, despite the fact that Acts 10 reports otherwise. We know that when God says in Genesis 22:12, “now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me,” that he really knew all the time what Abraham would do. He didn’t just find out when Abraham took the knife to slay his son, did he? He is just condescending to our level to make us think he didn’t know what Abraham was going to do. He’s using human language, right? We know that Jonah must have had a longer sermon than just to say that Nineveh would be destroyed in 40 days, right? God knew Nineveh would repent, right? And God isn’t serious when in Jeremiah 18 he says that he works with people like a potter with clay to mold them and can change his plans if things go wrong, is he? God knows what is going to go wrong before it happens, right?

We don’t read things into the text, do we?

I have a dear friend who, when we started talking about Hurricane Katrina, just couldn’t assign blame to God. He had developed a very detailed angelology to account for why bad things happen in the world. Even when we pointed things out to him like God is still responsible for what he sends the angels to do, he would still not ultimately lay responsibility at God’s feet. I love him dearly but use him as an extreme example of what we all do. We come with preconceptions to Scripture and read them into the text. We have God figured out so he must be this way. If there is a Scripture to refute what we think, we have ways of explaining it away. We refuse to submit to the text, but instead submit the text to what we want it to say. What we think is deep is a new idea that we haven’t heard before that does not even come from the text, but is someone else’s new idea that has proof texts to back it up. In short, we don’t believe God’s ways are unsearchable as Paul says. We have God in a box and we like to keep him there.

We need meat not milk. We need to grow up and wrestle with hard texts in Scripture. We need to hear texts like when Jesus says that it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:25; Matthew 19:23-24; Luke 18:25), put ourselves under that text as the rich person, and wonder why it is so hard for us to enter the kingdom. We need to read through our Bibles with an eye toward what Scripture says about God’s character, who he is, what he’s like, not come with our own notions of what that means and read them into the text. We need to go to texts like Exodus 34:6-7 and try to understand why that is so definitive of who God is. We need to scrap our “God has a detailed, completely-mapped-out-plan-for-my-life” theology and find out what it means to live in relationship with him like his people at all times have done. They did not believe that he guided them moment by moment and that if they deviated from his plan, they were forever lost. They talked about God as father (Hosea 11) and all that such a metaphor implies. They talked about God as husband who has to divorce his wife (Hosea 1-2; Jeremiah 3:8-10) because she has been unfaithful. (See also Ephesians 5 with Jesus as husband and the church as a wife). [I must give credit for this to Dr. John Willis and his recent blog postings.] Yet we read texts like Jeremiah 29:11, “11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope,” and act like they were spoken or written directly to us. Did we not notice that he was talking to the southern kingdom, Judah, and his plan for a PEOPLE not an INDIVIDUAL? How did this come to apply to us as individuals?

Our study must go deeper than this. We must seek to learn about God by learning what he was saying to his people then so we can understand how he deals with people now. We are right in thinking he has not changed in his essence, his nature. Have we bothered with trying to understand why it is that Jesus went to all the poor, hurting people while we would rather not bother with such people today? That is challenging. That is deep. That is wrestling with Scripture and wrestling with God. Reaffirming what we’ve always believed is not deep or challenging, and I would argue, it is not faithful either. God’s people have always wrestled with him (hence the name Israel, which defines God’s people, and means “he who wrestles with God”). They have never quite understood all of his ways and why he does what he does. Most often that has meant that they just could not grasp his mercy. From time to time, though, it has meant that they could not understand why he lets bad things happen to good people (see Job and a third of the Psalms).

When we see things like Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami last December, and yes, even 9/11, can we really continue to believe that we have God all figured out? I say, no. But that is why it is so great when we begin to grow in our relationship with God and love him despite our struggles with why he does not make things turn out as we like all the time. That is what relationship means—we learn more about him and he learns more about us. We grow and we learn more fully what his love means in our lives. Is there anything better?

Goodbye to a Grand Old Lady

September 17, 2005

A few weeks ago I asked you to share the reasons you take photographs. One popular reason is to record history, so last weekend I put on my historian’s cap and traveled to see the St. Louis Cardinals play in Busch Stadium one last time.
For those of you who are not baseball fans, the Cards have been at Busch since 1966 and I have been traveling there nearly annually, some years multiple times, for the last 25 years. At the end of the season, Busch Stadium will be imploded to make room for the new stadium that is being build just a stone’s throw away. The outfield fence of the new stadium will be where the right field foul pole is in the current Busch Stadium. It really is that close.
This last trip was more to document history rather than the see the Cardinals beat the Mets (but they did!) It was time to photograph everything that makes Busch Stadium, well, Busch Stadium. If you are not a Cardinal fan and you never visited Busch Stadium, I’m sorry you were not able to experience the thrill of the game and all the atmosphere that creates a great memory.

You can go to to see pictures of the new stadium.

So, we say goodbye to a Grand Old Lady.

Happy Birthday, Al!

September 15, 2005

Tomorrow is Al’s birthday, so in the midst of congratulating him on his heroic efforts at home concerning the hurricane relief, I would like to wish him a Happy Birthday! I for one am extremely glad he and his family are still around to enjoy it.

Tomorrow is also my birthday, and I say that not to get birthday wishes, but to complain about how old I feel. I guess, I must be grieving this birthday for some reason, because I have had a head cold all week. It is almost so bad I can’t even enjoy my birthday rituals. Although, I am also glad that I am still around to enjoy them.

Age—it gets you in the end no matter how old you are.

I thought I would just take a moment today to tell you about a book I heard about on “Oprah” called, You The Owners Manual—And Insider’s Guide to the Body That Will Make You Healthier and Younger. It was written by one of my favorite famous doctors, Mehmet Oz, MD (and also by Michael Roizen, MD).

Dr. Oz was also down in New Orleans helping save people and babies right after the hurricane hit. He said he had seen a lot of death in his day, but that nothing compared to the horrors he saw down there. It changed him.

Tragedies do change us. We almost always wait for a tragedy to strike before we open up to change. I guess, that is just the way of life.

But as far as our health goes, let’s all make a pack to begin changing today, before some illness makes us change. Check out a copy of Dr. Oz’s book or whatever book you are drawn to and just take one step towards becoming healthier.

I plan to take my step towards health right after I get over this head cold:). Take care.

The Flight that Fought Back

September 12, 2005

Amazing. Gut-wrenching. Heart-breaking. Inspiring. Those are just a few of the words I can use to describe The Discovery Channel’s documentary, “The Flight That Fought Back.” If you missed it last night, check your local schedules and catch a rerun. Or buy the DVD.

I had been looking forward to seeing it since I first saw trailers during “Mythbusters” commercial breaks a couple of weeks ago. For some unknown reason, I forgot about it until about 5 minutes into the show, so I missed the beginning. What I did see was riveting. I haven’t been that captivated by a TV program in years.

It told the story of the 40 passengers and crew onboard United Flight 93 and how they stood up to the terrorist hi-jackers and prevented them from crashing the plane into the U.S. Capitol building. The film-makers interviewed family members and played actual recordings of cell-phone and air-phone calls from the passengers to people on the ground. It was fairly apparent that the passengers of Flight 93 knew that they were about to die, but they also knew that they had to do something. They knew from people on the ground that they were riding a terrorist’s missile, and that only they could stop it from reaching its target.

The producers take some artistic license with the representation, but most of the events are pieced together from the phone calls and flight data. They are forthright in presenting what is actually known and what is speculation. The result is an even-handed presentation of what probably happened on that plane.

The passengers of Flight 93 were the first to fight the war on terror. They weren’t the first casualties, but they were the first to engage the enemy head-on. They did so admirably. They were all heroes.

As a nation, we honor our heroes. Flight 93 is no different. The National Park Service is building a memorial park in the Pennsylvania field where Flight 93 went down. They solicited design entries from the public, and several architects submitted subtle, understated designs. The winning design was unveiled last week. Here is a picture and some commentary about the winning design.

Whether or not the crescent design was an intentional reference to Islam, it should be changed. The crescent is a symbol of Islam, and this subtle symbolism will be noted around the world. Please take a moment and e-mail the National Parks Service your thoughts about the Flight 93 Memorial. Be polite and courteous, but tell them that this memorial is for the heroic passengers, and not the Islamic terrorists that perpetrated the hi-jacking.

You been playing the foose-ball?!

September 10, 2005

Our thoughts and prayers, as always with the Katrina victims. Perhaps this column can serve as a pleasant diversion.

To celebrate my return to the houseflies, I’m offering employee pricing to everyone. If you can find a better on-line sports blog, buy it!

NFL Preview

I follow football significantly less than baseball, but I still keep a pretty close eye on it. Also, with the topsy-turvy nature of the NFL, it’s hard to know who’ll do what from one year to the next. That being said, here are my best guesses.

AFC North

1. Pittsburgh Steelers — The Steelers will again key off their running game and defense to make things easier for QB Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben lost his favorite target in Plaxico Burress, but Hines Ward is still around, and Antwan Randle-El should slide nicely into the #2 receiver slot. The defense was the best in football last year and didn’t lose any key parts, so look for a repeat by the team from the steel city
2. Baltimore Ravens — The Ravens defense, led by Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, rivals the Steelers, and their running game should punish opponents this year. That was enough for them to win the Super Bowl a few years back, but they insist on getting production out of Kyle Boller. For about three years now, this has been the year that Boller is going to break out. However, his receivers are still pretty pedestrian, and my bet is he’s not going to give Baltimore enough to overtake Pittsburgh.
3. Cincinnati Bengals — With a few breaks, the Bengals could finish second and contend for a wildcard berth. Their offense is potent; Rudi Johnson is a durable franchise back, and Carson Palmer should find Chad Johnson regularly. The questions come on defense, where the talent is thin. Coach Marvin Lewis should be able to maximize the talent he has, but there’s probably just not enough there to get them to the playoffs.
4. Cleveland Browns — The Browns took a step in the right direction by purging itself of Butch Davis and bringing in Romeo Crennell to run things. As an indicator of how disastrous the Davis era was, his first three first-round picks, Tim Couch, Courtney Brown and Gerard Warren, are all off the team, Couch being out of footbal. Crennell commands instant respect, but it will take a few years to restock the bare cupboards. Rookie WR Braylon Edwards may provide some excitement in an otherwise long season.

AFC East1. New England Patriots — It’s tempting to pick the Pats to fall this year, what with Romeo Crennell and Charley Wiess and Ty Law leaving and Tedy Bruschi hurt. However, they still have Belichick and Brady and that wonderful system that wins with or without frontline running backs and wide receivers or with their wide receivers playing cornerback. They’re just smarter than everyone else, and I think that’ll be enough to win the east again.
2. New York Jets — I like this team a lot. If they can get off to a decent start this year, they should cruise to a playoff spot. They added Ty Law to an already solid defense, and Lavernues Coles comes home to a healthy Chad Pennington. The one concern is Curtis Martin’s age, and now there’s no Lamont Jordan as an insurance policy.
3. Buffalo Bills — The Bills are a team you want to like. They’re defense is absolutely suffocating, and their running game should be explosive with Willis McGahee. Yet, I’m not sold on J.P. Lohsman at QB. The young guy will probably make just enough mistakes to keep this team around 7 or 8 wins.
4. Miami Dolphins — Yikes. Well, Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor are still around, so the defense will probably be okay for the fish. The running game will probably be all right as well, especially once Ricky gets back and in shape to complement Ronnie Brown. However, all that will matter very little if they actually expect to go through a full season with A. J. Feely or Gus Frerotte as their quarterback.
AFC South

1. Indianapolis Colts — Probably the clearest choice of any of the division winners. Probably their best chance to get past New England to the Super Bowl. Marcus Pollard’s the only loss from last year’s ridiculous offense, and Dallas Clark should step in nicely to make up for his production. With Corey Simon clogging the middle on defense, there should be more freedom for pass-rushing banshees Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. 13 wins minimum.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars — Very talented team. Fred Taylor is an elite back when healthy, and Byron Leftwich is an emerging young quarterback. I am completely on the edge of my seat to see what they do with Matt Jones; you have to take about five shots down the field with this guy every game. Defense is solid; anchored by huge tackes John Henderson and Marcus Stroud. Could be a playoff team if they can solve the mystery of the Texans.
3. Houston Texans — Very similar to Jacksonville; talented, but you don’t know what you’ll get from week to week. This is the year they find out what they have in David Carr and Dominick Davis; are they players that can lead this team deep into the playoffs in coming years. One player there’s no doubt about is Andre Johnson; who could be the best receiver in football in a few years.
4. Tennesse Titans — They cut about 10 guys in salary cap purges, so they’re thin at a lot of positions. Running game should be good with Chris Brown and Travis Henry. Steve McNair’s health is a concern, but not too much with capable backup Billy Volek waiting in the wings. What’s more pressing is whether Drew Bennett can perform as the number one receiving option.

AFC West1. Kansas City Chiefs — This is the closest division in the NFL and any of the four could win it. I pick the Chiefs because I think they’re defense will be passable and that should be enough to let their offense win games. Rookie Derrick Johnson looks terrific, and Patrick Surtain will help shore up what has been a dreadful defensive unit. The offensive line is still the best in football, and Priest Holmes and Tony Gonzalez will score a ton for them.
2. San Diego Chargers — Do you trust Drew Brees to perform like that again? Will the defense overachieve a second straight year? These questions keep me from picking the Chargers to win. What you can expect are huge years from Ladanian Tomlinson, the best running back in the game, and Antonio Gates, who is passing Gonzalez and Shockey to be the league’s best tight end. 3. Denver Broncos — Probably should win the division every year, but they seem to find a way to lose when it counts the most. Jake Plummer will throw for about 4,000 yards and 20 or so interceptions. Mike Anderson or whoever will have 1,500 yards. And they might sneak out a wildcard birth and get pounded by the Colts again. By the way, strangest move of the offseason? Denver picking up Courtney Brown and Gerard Warren from the Browns, where they did nothing but stink.
4. Oakland Raiders — This is a very sexy-looking team; Lamont Jordan at running back to go with Moss and Porter at wideout. Warren Sapp and Charles Woodson on defense. Should be fun to watch, but with a high self-destruction factor. I’ve never had much faith in Kerry Collins, and I don’t think Norv Turner’s a strong enough personality to reign in all the egos.
NFC North

1. Minnesota Vikings — Will the Vikings be better without Randy Moss? Seems ridiculous, but I think they will play closer to their talent level this year. They’ve been the most talented team in the division for a few years now, but always find ways to lose out to Green Bay. They should be a little better on defense, and that will probably be enough to win this division.
2. Green Bay Packers — Does father time finally catch up to Brett this year? He showed signs of being erratic last season, throwing a lot of picks. Combined with Ahman Green’s penchant for fumbling, they’ve got a big turnover problem. Also, they were just dreadful on defense, particularly in the secondary where Ahmad Carroll is not representing the Hogs too well.
3. Detroit Lions — Joey Harrington, David Carr, Byron Leftwich; which would you take out of the lot? I might go Leftwich, but I’m happy with Carr. Harrington probably sits on the hottest seat, having three exceptional young receivers to pass to, but he’s also been the most inconsistent . This team should be fun, but mistakes will keep them around 6 or 7 wins.
4. Chicago Bears — Does any team have worse luck? God bless Rex Grossman, who will lose another season to injury; rookie Kyle Orton starts in his place. Should run okay with enigmatic Thomas Jones and rookie Ced Benson. However, defense is where they’ll really shine, with a solid unit led by Urlacher and safety Mike Brown.

NFC East

1. Philadelphia Eagles — Along with the Patriots, the Eagles prove that system is what matters in the NFL. With or without TO, they should have no problem rolling to another division title. They have a great defense, especially their secondary which may be the best in football. McNabb’s gotten by with subpar receivers most of his career; he an Bryant Westbrook should be enough to win the East; TO’s just gravy until they get to the playoffs.
2. Dallas Cowboys — Should be much better with a full year of Julius Jones and Drew Bledsoe stepping in for the ancient Vinny Testaverde. Jason Whitten is an emerging talent at tight end, and Bill Parcells will make due with their wide receivers. DeMarcus Ware will challenge Derrick Johnson for defensive rookie of the year. Drew Henson; the rare athlete who gets to be a complete bust in two sports.
3. New York Giants — As Eli goes, so will go the Giants. The offensive line was truly offensive last year; they’ll have to do a better job in pass protection for the Giants to win much. Eli will have more tools to work with, the Giants having added Plaxico Burress and hopefully having a healthy Jeremy Shockey all year. Tiki Barber is coming off a monster year, but is old by running back standards. How much is left in the tank?
4. Washington Redskins — This team has the pretty good talent to go with a hall of fame coach, but somehow the total is less than the sum of the parts. Patrick Ramsey would probably be pretty good if they just let him work, but after fighting against every ex-Gator quarterback around under Spurrier and backing up the atrocious Mark Brunnell last year, you can’t blame him if his confidence is shot. Can they get more touchdowns out of Clinton Portis? Will Shawn Taylor stay out of trouble enough to become the best safety in football? Don’t bet on it.

NFC South

1. Atlanta Falcons — Will Michael Jenkins emerge as the go-to threat Peerless Price never became? Will T.J. Duckett replace Warrick Dunn as the main running threat? None of that really matters; all that matters in Atlanta is number 7. Put him in a West Coast offense or a vertical attack; let him run or rein him in; it doesn’t really matter. Michael Vick will probably never put up the passing stats of a Daunte Culpepper, but once again he’ll be playing later into January.
2. Carolina Panthers — Nearly made the playoffs last year after a dreadful start; should rebound nicely this year if they can stay healthy. Their defensive front four is absolutely devastating, led by Julius Peppers who will shortly replace Ray Lewis as the best defensive player in football. Running game is also very potent with Steven Davis and Deshawn Foster, and Jake Delhomme is one of the great leaders in football. Should push for a playoff spot.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Was it only three years ago that the Bucs were hoisting the Super Bowl trophy and people were talking about John “four hours of sleep” Gruden as the next Bill Walsh? How times have changed. Gruden has been burdened with “total control” in Tampa, the holy grail that every coach dreams of only to find it filled with poison. Really nothing about this team to get excited about.
4. New Orleantonio Saints — The Saints are a team that grossly underachieves under the best of circumstances, and now they are being asked to play in absolutely impossible ones. Of course, there’s a chance this could galvanize them like nothing else could, but my guess is they will suffer through a long, distracted season. Best of wishes on their long road.

NFC West

1. St. Louis Rams — Mike Martz will scheme and plot and try his best to cause this team to self destruct, but, in the end, I think they have too much talent to not win this division. Stephen Jackson is a major talent who should step ably into Marshall Faulk’s shoes, and Kevin Curtis has emerged as their first legitimate 3rd wide receiver since they lost Az-Zahir Hakim. Their defense is uninspiring, but they can probably hold enough teams under 30 to win the weak west.
2. Seattle Seahawks — Another team that grossly underachieves on a yearly basis. Will the wideouts keep putting it on the ground? Matt Hasselbeck is a very nice quarterback, but no one seems to interested in holding on to his passes. Shaun Alexander is one of the three or four best running backs around and may finally get his rushing title this year.
3. Arizona Cardinals — It’s suddenly become sexy to pick the Cardinals to win the NFC West, but it’s going to take a little more than Denny Green to overcome decades of bad karma. I want more than anyone for Kurt Warner to go back to the days when he was the best story in sports, but I think he’ll be a lot closer to Giants Warner than MVP Warner. Bouldin and Fitzgerald are a dynamic receiving tandem, but people have anointed J.J. Arrington a great runner before he’s really done anything. Forgive me if I remain skeptical.
4. San Fransisco 49ers — The worst team in football; bar none. No one else is really even close to as bad as the Niners. Julian Peterson’s a nice player, but that’s about it. Truly sad to see what was the best franchise in sports being completely run into the ground. Where have you gone, Joe Montana-o? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Whoo-whoo-whoo.

Alma Mater, Hail

If you were to put together an NFL team comprised of alumni of one college, who would have the best team? You can come at this a few different ways. The Miami Hurricanes have produced the most elite players in recent years:

Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Shawn Taylor, Santana Moss, Andre Johnson, Jeremy Shockey, Bryant McKinney, Jonathan Vilma, Warren Sapp, et. al.

Texas can also boast a number of Pro Bowl-types. (Priest Holmes, Roy Williams, Ricky Williams, etc.). The problem with these teams is twofold; no depth and no quarterback. You could play Ken Dorsey and Chris Simms, but would you want to?

The deepest teams are mostly Big 10 and SEC schools, with the addition of Nebraska and Florida State. The elite Big 10 programs (Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Iowa, and, oh yeah, I was counting Notre Dame as a Big 10 school) and SEC programs (Tennesse, Florida, Georgia, Auburn, LSU [not Alabama, by the way]) all have about 25-40 alumni in the NFL. Florida State had the most I found with 43. Oh yeah, and North Carolina has about 30, strangely enough. I guess Mack Brown really can recruit.

So which team would win the most? To me the question boils down to one position — quarterback. You could win some games with Brad Johnson tossing it around on a Florida State squad. Warrick Dunn could run for you and Lavernues Coles can catch passes. I suppose Deion Sanders could still cover some guys. But if your seriously putting a team together it’s got to be either Tennessee or Michigan, because they’re the only colleges to produce elite quarterbacks that also have enough other players to field a good squad. Here’s your respective teams.

Michigan Tennessee
QB Tom Brady Peyton Manning
RB Anthony Thomas/ Jamal Lewis/
Chris Perry Travis Henry
FB ? ?
OL Jon Jansen Chad Clifton
Jon Runyan Cosey Coleman
Jeff Backus Trey Teague
David Baas Anthony Herrerra
Jonathan Goodwin Fred Weary
TE Jerame Tuman Jason Witten
WR Braylon Edwards Peerless Price
Amani Toomer/ Dante Stallworth/
David Terrell Cedrick Wilson
DL James Hall John Henderson
Alain Kashama Albert Haynesworth
? Shaun Ellis
? Leonard Little
LB Ian Gold Al Wilson
Dhani Jones Eddie Moore
Cato June Kevin Burnett
CB/S Charles Woodson Dale Carter
Ty Law Terry Fair
Marlin Jackson Deon Grant
? Rashad Baker
K Jay Feely ?
P ? Dustin Colquitt

Well, that certainly took a lot of time. But I’m sure you’ll rest easier knowing Dustin Colquitt went to Tennessee. So, would Manning have a better chance of beating Brady with these teams rather than their current ones? I’d say so. You have to give Tennesse the advantage at every position but cornerback and maybe linebacker and wide receiver (maybe). And, yeah, kicker. But Tennessee’s got a big advantage at running back, tight end and defensive line.

Well, I’m sure that was completely fascinating, but these are the questions that occupy my sick mind.

Also, bit of trivia. Which three schools have produced two current starting NFL quarterbacks. Michigan’s one, with Brian Griese starting for Tampa. Joey Harrington and A.J. Feely give Oregon two, but the wildcard is Marshall, which has Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich. If and when Brett Favre retires, Cal will have two with Aaron Rodgers and Kyle Boller. Oh yeah, I guess Fresno State counts as well with David Carr and Trent Dilfer, who’s starting in Cleveland. That’s four, then.

Well, it’s good to be back. Best wishes to all.

Oh yeah, playoff picks.

AFC Wilcards: Jets and Ravens

NFC Wildcards: Cowboys and Panthers

Super Bowl: Colts over Eagles

Let’s Get It Started…

September 9, 2005

All right folks. Lots of stuff going on in the world of hurricane relief. Lots of work to be done. That doesn’t mean we can take a little time here and there for a bit of diversion. One of the country’s favorite diversions has just started back up and is in full swing… NCAA and NFL football.

Huge game tomorrow in Columbus, Ohio. #2Texas vs. #4 Ohio State. My pick’s a no-brainer. What do the rest of you think?

Here are my NFL picks:
NFC East: Philly
NFC North: Vikes
NFC South: Atlanta
NFC West: St. Louis (Until Arizona shows me something)
NFC WC: Cowboys
NFC WC: Arizona

NFC Champ: Atlanta

AFC East: Pats (duh)
AFC North: Baltimore
AFC South: Indy
AFC West: San Diego
AFC WC: Houston (my very dark horse pick and my homer pick)
AFC WC: Jets

AFC Champ: Indy

Super Bowl Champ: Indy (finally)

One more thing… If the MLB season ended today, I’d be in the lead for our August madness with a perfect 8 for 8 on playoff teams. Go Stros!

Al’s Updates

September 8, 2005

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