The Only Super Bowl LI Post You’ll Ever Need To Read – Volume Three

Am I a narcissist just by having a blog?

Or…perhaps just an egocentric?

Off to Ye Olde Internet for definition and clarification…

A person who is egocentric apparently believes they are the center of attention…just like a narcissist…but they don’t get gratification from their own admiration.

Heck, I don’t think I’m the center of anyone’s attention…outside of my wife when she’s trying desperately to get my attention.

What passes for news media these days certainly has no issue utilizing these two words…narcissist and egocentric. They started to make the rounds more often when social media exploded. I don’t think they really got their freak on until the run-up to electing a new President.

One can indicate pretty quickly they’re pretty much into themselves just by opening their mouth.

Or just opening up their smart phone channel in the case of one not-so-smart Antonio Brown. Wide Receiver. Pittsburgh Steelers.

Look, it’s pretty much a pre-requisite star NFL wide receivers are egocentrics. Being a narcissist is optional. That in part is what makes them great on the gridiron.

But it’s truly impossible to know precisely what is in someone’s head and heart.

And, if you judge someone you too shall be judged by the same measure.

So while I continue to contemplate off-line whether or not I qualify to be a narcissist – or at minimum an egocentric – it would be logical of me to tread lightly on-line regarding what Brown chose to do after his Steelers escaped Kansas City with an 18-16 victory Sunday night to advance to the AFC Championship Game.

However…his decision to roll Facebook Live amongst the scene in the Steelers locker room while Head Coach Mike Tomlin was busy employing motivational cursing and ironically enough…asking his team to keep a low profile…lifts us up to a whole new level of egotistical narcissism. Or with less judgement applied, a whole new level of “me.” (Even for Brown…who has a career of “me” moments)

It wasn’t anything seen or heard that was embarrassing. Far from it. What we’d expect in a fired-up locker room after an emotional game.

For me, it was just embarrassing Brown just could not live in the moment without having to broadcast the moment.

Hell, he wasn’t even paying attention to the moment.

To Tomlin’s credit he didn’t try to downplay being “covered” by Brown without his or his team’s knowledge:

“It was foolish of him to do that. It was selfish of him to do that. It was inconsiderate for him to do that.”

And that’s thatstreaming on now to our Championship Weekend (again, rematches from earlier in the year).

Green Bay at Atlanta – The Packers lost in Atlanta on Week 8 by 33-32. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw an 11-yard TD pass to Mohamed Sanu with 31 seconds left to conclude a wild display of offensive firepower. Last week I suggested whomever had the ball last in Green Bay’s game at Dallas would win. There’s simply no reason to not express the same feeling this week…the last team with the ball in this game wins. Both offensive lines are very impressive. Atlanta’s is the only one in the NFL that started every regular season game together. The Packers’ o-line hasn’t been quite as lucky in the health department but is still stout. The Falcons have a very balanced offense. Green Bay – not so much. We know quarterback Aaron Rodgers is going to drop back, roll out and fire downfield on almost all of their possessions. It’s Aaron’s world and we all just live in it right now. It remains to be seen if Rodgers will have favorite weapon Jordy Nelson. Ryan’s top target, Julio Jones, is nursing injuries of his own but he’s in no danger of missing the game like Nelson may be. Rodgers and Ryan have both been playing at a MVP-pace and certainly elevate the play of those around them. Neither team habitually turns the ball over. Watch for turnovers to have critical implications because neither defense is going to be able to muster many stops. Atlanta has given up 28 or more points NINE times this season. Green Bay’s defense features players who were out of jobs when the season began. In 2011 the Packers won the Super Bowl after emerging as a #6 seed from the NFC. Green Bay got to the NFC Championship Game that season by going into Atlanta’s Georgia Dome and burying the Falcons 48-21. Aaron Rodgers was nearly perfect in that contest. The Georgia Dome will be seeing its last NFL contest ever Sunday. Atlanta won’t want to see Rodgers ever again after this weekend. WINNER – GREEN BAY

Pittsburgh at New England – The Patriots won in Pittsburgh on Week 7 by 27-16. The Steelers did not have quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and New England was able to key in on running back Le’Veon Bell. Pittsburgh’s defense had issues with Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount who managed 127 yards and 2 TD’s. The Patriots now have a healthy Dion Lewis – he wasn’t around for the first meeting. Lewis just became the first player in NFL history with a touchdown rushing, receiving and kick returning in the win against Houston last weekend. Speaking of those Texans they did get to quarterback Tom Brady and disrupted the New England offense but, a) Blount was ill and, b) the Texans have a nasty defense. Blount should be good-to-go and the Steelers defense is so not Houston’s. Roethlisberger and Brady will obviously be asked to win the game should the defenses make it difficult to run. I think both teams will actually be able to run. But Brady should be better able to exploit the Pittsburgh defense. In six games against HC Mike Tomlin’s Steelers…Brady is 5-1. 19 TD’s. 2 INT’s. Last weekend Pittsburgh repeatedly could not get the ball into the Kansas City end zone and settled for field goals. That won’t get it done here. (Comment for NFL Commish Roger Goodell, who has not been to a Patriots home game in a couple of years now since Deflategate and reportedly will be in Georgia this weekend instead of Massachusetts: You screwed up yet again Roger. Could have gone to this game and taken the air out of the pressure built up about you continually avoiding the Patriots. Good luck with that in a couple of weeks. Really now, do you think the world revolves around you?) WINNER – NEW ENGLAND

Enjoy.

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The Only Super Bowl LI Post You’ll Ever Need To Read – Volume Two

Green. Color of money. The Super Bowl dumps a gigantic amount of green into a local economy, which is why NFL owners compete behind the scenes for it to be held in their neck of the woods. The Houston Chronicle reported recently one study expects $350 million will flow into “Space City” next month. However the same report indicates not only do two earlier forecasts differ greatly – one up, one down – but the upcoming financial windfall for any mega-event ultimately depends on what revenue any company’s auditors choose or don’t choose to figure in.

Figures.

Green. Color of real grass. I want my Super Bowls played outside on real grass. Neither will happen for Super Bowl LI. The roof is retractable but the NFL usually keeps the lid on. They used to have real grass at NRG Stadium but that quickly became known as the league’s worst field and they grudgingly switched over to fake grass.

Former Ground Crew - Houston Texans (Image Credit Universal Pictures) (Image Credit Universal Pictures)

Former Grounds Crew – Houston Texans

(Image Credit Universal Pictures)

I do believe grass is greener on the other side. I know this because for eleven years I’ve watched winter dump upon our property and development. The way our house is positioned almost half our lawn and driveway each receive zero sun this time of year. None. Across the street similar properties bask in glorious sunshine from dawn on (when it’s not snowing, icing or sleeting obviously). Those properties obtain residual heat which then rejects future precipitation, certainly during smaller storms. A fair share of our lawn…more importantly our driveway…retains every single, blessed grain of snow, ice or sleet as some kind of trophy from hell souvenir regardless of the size of the storms…or for that matter what sporting event is being played. There have been a few Super Bowls I’ve had to venture out after the game’s final drive to start warming our drive for the next day’s drive. And…the grass is greener on the other side.

But I digress…

Green. Lots of it. Super Bowl telecaster Fox is reportedly asking between $5-5.5 million for a 30-second ad spot this year. For many, commercials are the best part of the day. What would make my day? If this year or in future years the NFL, its broadcast partners and their sponsors all worked out an arrangement where a fair portion of this obscene amount of money got off everyone’s ledger sheets and really lent a real hand to the less fortunate in our country. Charities continue to scramble for money to help the poor, the disabled, the homeless. The Super Bowl should not just be historically entertaining but historically life-changing.

To this weekend’s games…where every Divisional Round game will be a rematch – the first time in six years.

Seattle at Atlanta – Seattle held on to defeat Atlanta at home in Week 6 by 26-24. No, really. They actually held on. Seahawks defensive back Richard Sherman grabbed Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones’ arm late in the game to deny Atlanta a shot at a game-winning field goal. Jones and likely league MVP quarterback Matt Ryan lead a Falcons offense that is very balanced and very powerful. He has thrown at least one TD pass to 13 different players, an NFL record. Seattle is hurting on defense with DB Earl Thomas’ season-ending hurt. One note from their win over Detroit last weekend…Lions’ QB Matthew Stafford, even with a disheveled digit that kept him from passing effectively, managed to get several balls into the target area of wide-open receivers. Unfortunately his receivers treated the passes like hand grenades with pins pulled. The Seahawks secondary were struggling early on against the Lions. Atlanta’s defense has its own issues, allowing the 6th most points in the NFL this season. Interesting since Head Coach Dan Quinn used to be a defensive coordinator…with Seattle. The good news for Falcons fans is the Seahawks are not likely to light up the scoreboard. Seattle’s running game isn’t fixed just because they ran wild against Detroit. Their offensive line has been ravaged by inconsistency. And…QB Russell Wilson can’t (injury earlier in the year) or won’t (protecting against further injury) scramble. He just doesn’t look comfortable to me regardless of whether or not he took his knee brace off recently. The game comes down to how well Seattle can keep Ryan, Jones, the other pass-catchers and the Falcons’ running back tandem all under control. Matt Ryan is 1-4 in post-season appearances. The one win? Against Seattle. In Atlanta. History repeats. WINNER – ATLANTA

Houston at New England – New England toyed with Houston 27-0 at home in Week 3 with a third-string quarterback operating in Tom Brady’s Deflategate absence. For me the game is also notable for how Texans Head Coach Bill O’Brien curled up his offense into a collective fetal position and simply prayed his defense could score instead. Brutal. The Patriots are healthier than they’ve been in a long time – long ago compensating for injured tight end Rob Gronkowski. New England has won seven straight games. Houston was 2-6 on the road this season. Brady is on a revenge mission to win a Super Bowl (28 touchdowns, 2 interceptions) and the Patriots haven’t failed to make the AFC Championship in the last five postseasons. Houston’s QB is Brock Osweiler. Houston, you have a problem…actually, too many to count. WINNER – NEW ENGLAND

Pittsburgh at Kansas City – Pittsburgh destroyed Kansas City 43-14 at home in Week 4. The score is indeed reflective of how badly the Chiefs were beaten. Kansas City, who fans normally associate with great defense, has given up the 7th most rushing yards per game in the NFL this season. Kansas City, who fans normally associate with having a great home field advantage, lost to both Tampa Bay and Tennessee at home in the second half of the season. As well…this is a franchise which has lost four straight playoff games at home. Maybe this isn’t as daunting for visiting Pittsburgh – winners of eight straight – as one might think? Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger may be less mobile after a late-game injury vs. Miami last weekend but that’s never stopped Big Ben before. Running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown helped him overwhelm the Dolphins early and if these three start out like that this week it’s over early again. Kansas City’s defense has thrived off of takeaways this year – the team led the NFL in turnover differential – and that’s their formula for winning a bunch of games. It is a formula they’ll need to win this game. The Steelers simply need to take care of the ball and not hand KC ultra-short fields to work with. The Chiefs simply don’t have the firepower to hang in a shoot-out…although rookie wide receiver/returner/game breaker Tyreek Hill is a great weapon Kansas City Head Coach Andy Reid desperately needs going forward…next season. WINNER – PITTSBURGH

Green Bay at Dallas – Dallas went into Green Bay in Week 6 and whipped the Packers 30-16. The two star rookies on the Cowboys offense, quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott, were complimented at that time for showing so much poise with so little NFL experience. They now have a whole season under their belts and anticipating postseason regression isn’t on my radar. Both teams have pass defenses that waved the white flag of surrender on several occasions this year. Two of Dallas’ three losses this season came at the hands of the New York Giants, who just got done getting burned by Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers has led the Packers to seven straight wins with a stat line of 2,029 passing yards, a completion percentage rounding up to 70%, 19 touchdowns…and zero interceptions. One glaring issue for Aaron to contend with…bestie wide receiver Jordy Nelson will certainly be hampered – if not outright inactive – after taking a horrible shot to his side last weekend. Rodgers’ success rate is much healthier when a healthy Nelson is on the field. In order for Dallas to win they’ll wish to run Elliott early and often behind a powerful offensive front, using a lot of clock and lulling Green Bay to the line of scrimmage to make it easier for Prescott to throw…keeping in mind Dak’s longest pass completion to a receiver or tight end all season was only 56 yards. I see Elliott being able to run at will. I see Rodgers being able to throw at will. Whoever has the ball last advances. WINNER – DALLAS

Enjoy.

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The Only Super Bowl LI Post You’ll Ever Need To Read – Volume One

If you followed me a year ago you know during Super Bowl “coverage” I worked from the middle out. That is to say the theme was which two teams were eventually going to “open” for the band Coldplay because with a billion people watching… well, we know only a handful actually care about football right?

It’s all about that halftime show people.

Lady Gaga is set to perform at this year’s Super Bowl intermission. What I know about Ms. Gaga fits nicely on the head of a pin. I have heard a few of her songs. I know she’s very active in a number of worthwhile causes.

I also know she once wore a dress made of meat.

The suits at the NFL apparently had a talk with Ms. Gaga and her people recently about making sure she keeps her garments on – meat or otherwise – during the halftime show. After learning of this discussion I did a little research and it appears that’s actually a legitimate concern.

Now you might ask yourself – I certainly did – why would the NFL ever sign off on Lady Gaga in the first place since there’s prior precedent for her lady parts being part of her act?

Then again trying to understand the day-to-day activities of the National Football League would drive any of us…gaga.

The largest specialty retailer of health, wellness and performance products in the world, GNC is promising a massive 2017 push to try and reverse momentum from their worst year since going public some five years ago. Their stock dropped over 60 percent in 2016.

It sounds like a lot of inventory is nearing its expiration date.

To avoid nearing their expiration date GNC has decided to buy a commercial for the Super Bowl. Based on last year’s cost of a 30-second spot, that represents 8 percent of their entire advertising budget. It’s a bold move indeed because nothing speaks to the collective state of mind of a gigantic Super Bowl audience like trying to be healthy.

On a day and night full of spirits, sodium, saturated fat and sugar…by all means bring on vitamins GNC.

We may have some clarity now as to why GNC is faltering…

To this weekend’s games…first a reminder three of the four match-ups are rematches from the regular-season. Oakland defeated Houston 27-20 (in Mexico City). Miami won at home against Pittsburgh 30-15. Green Bay won at home against New York 23-16. (I’ve always been partial to favoring the losers of a prior meeting come playoff time…)

Oakland at Houston – If you ever fancied yourself playing quarterback in the NFL I suggest you get to Houston stat. The Raiders are still reeling from recently losing potential MVP Derek Carr to a broken leg and will start a quarterback who has never started in the NFL. The Texans have been reeling with a recently-benched but healthy Brock Osweiler all season long. Whoever wins this game will likely depart from the playoffs the following week. Houston has been winning ugly all season, almost exclusively with a pretty good defense…and should have enough in the run game with Lamar Miller (expected to play) to emerge victorious. The Raiders really looked not just Carr-less but heart-less in Denver on Sunday when they still had a chance to get a first-round pass…but now they can’t pass at all. WINNER – HOUSTON

Detroit at Seattle – With head coach Pete Carroll and quarterback Russell Wilson the Seahawks have never lost a playoff game in Seattle. However running back Marshawn Lynch is retired and defensive back Earl Thomas is broken. The Seahawks running game hasn’t been the same since Marshawn walked away. The Legion of Boom hasn’t been the same since Earl’s leg bent the wrong way. As for Detroit, the Lions last won a postseason road game the year before I was born. (I’m 58) They “roared” into the playoffs by losing their last three games. Management actually had to confirm Jim Caldwell would indeed return as Detroit’s HC next season. Matthew Stafford’s dislocated finger isn’t supposed to be a big deal but he’s thrown five picks in the last four games…he only threw five in the Lions’ first twelve. The Detroit defense gets zero pressure on the opposing signal-caller. Does this sound like a team that’s ready to travel to Seattle and win in front of the Starbucks-infused, decibel-breaking Seahawks “12th Man?” Seattle has struggled to run the ball and also lost a valuable deep threat when Tyler Lockett also found his leg a bit out of position a couple weeks ago. But if Wilson just rolls out and creates some controlled chaos they should be just fine. WINNER – SEATTLE

Miami at Pittsburgh – It doesn’t sound like Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill is going to have his knee healed in time to play. Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi was said by many to have had a breakout season but consider the fact 33 percent of his rushing yards came in their two games against Buffalo. Pittsburgh’s defense has gotten better as their season moved towards its conclusion – 30 sacks since Week 8. The Steelers have running back Le’Veon Bell healthy for the first time entering the postseason. The dual-threat he presents by catching the ball should be quite troublesome for Miami, who have given up a ton of yards to lesser folks. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, wide receiver Antonio Brown and Bell are all healthy and ready to roll. Oh my. Those Terrible Towels will wave in a win. WINNER – PITTSBURGH

New York Giants at Green Bay – Got to be the best game of the weekend. Giants quarterback Eli Manning has won both of his prior postseason starts at Lambeau Field. New York Head Coach Ben McAdoo is supposed to be an offensive genius but their play on that side of the ball has been nothing short of offensive. Speaking of offense…wide receivers Odell Beckham and Victor Cruz were seen partying in a nightclub in Miami with Justin Bieber after their win over Washington Sunday. (Athletes who have partied with Biebs have a fairly spotty record of achievement afterwards) Monday the two were seen hanging out on a boat with WR teammates Sterling Shepard and Roger Lewis. They were all doing it on their “off time” but the optics are really, really bad considering the timing…and the Giants’ offensive woes. (Sidebar – I always thought off time in the NFL meant to get treatment and rest up, especially entering the playoffs) The Giants give up points grudgingly. They score points in the same manner. Green Bay has a wide receiver playing running back but they also have Aaron Rodgers playing quarterback. Ben McAdoo was Rodgers’ QB coach in 2012 and 2013 so this shouldn’t surprise him: Rodgers during the Packers current six-game win streak – 15 touchdowns and no interceptions. New York has given no indication they can hang in a shoot-out so their defense must play lights-out. They just might do that. I still see a Packers victory…barely. WINNER – GREEN BAY

One additional thought on what should be a great game…Gary Myers of the New York Daily News wrote earlier this week about the last time anyone could remember hearing of Eli Manning being nervous. It was actually before one of his high school starts, a rare Thursday night tilt. He called home…which had his mother concerned because that just wasn’t like him. Turned out Eli forgot to set the VCR to tape “Seinfeld” and he needed his mom to make that happen. She did.

Manning has made this happen twice before in the Land of Cheese.

Green Bay…in the immortal words of Three Dog Night…Eli’s Coming.

Enjoy.

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Horatio Caine’s Shades Of Justice

Near the top of my annoyances when it comes to being an NFL fan is hearing how wonderful someone’s fantasy football team has “performed.”

Let me instead tell you how wonderful my fantasy football team performed.

Fantasy football has to be one of the all-time biggest crimes against time one can commit.

I actually had three teams this season.

You may have heard a while back there was discussion in US legislative and court rooms alike as to whether fantasy sports are contests of skill or luck. My opinion is that depends upon your definition of skill. Do you consider it a skill to make sure players are actually playing…a skill to know which players are healthy…a skill to recognize which players available are performing well?

Might there not be a fair share of luck involved? Maybe even a 50-50 split?

Waaaaay more luck than skill I say.

I was playing fantasy football before the Internet was invented.

An exaggeration. But I have been at it now for nineteen years. I can’t say with certainty how much time I’ve wasted on this activity in that time but I made sure I had a partner in time crime…my wife.

Folks, you can’t get dinged for wasting time if you’re wasting time together…

If you doubt luck is a massive contributor to fantasy football success…I’ve been in leagues where owners have decided to abandon teams shortly after their seasons started…and they still won half their games. I’ve been in leagues where owners have not replaced players off and/or injured for multiple weeks…and they still won multiple games.

And then there’s the tail-end of reality’s regular season where the sheer lunacy of participating in fantasy football contests epically plays out…when players stop playing. Some NFL teams have little or nothing to play for at season’s end so fantasy team owners – competing for their league championships – scramble to guess which players might play…let alone might play well. Even with many fantasy leagues ending their seasons a week before the NFL ends theirs…NFL teams out of contention in December will shut injured players down earlier. NFL teams in contention in December will also shut injured players down earlier in the hope they’ll heal by the time their championship competition commences.

Guessing is a core component of fantasy football success. Those who make a living from offering fantasy football “advice” are providing at least one valuable service…giving weather forecasters some self-esteem. Those who made a living off of predicting weather all these years kept wondering and praying someone would come along whose predictions would mean less…cue those fantasy football “experts.”

Why play?

I suppose it’s no different from other gambles that present themselves at the lottery machine, at the track, at the casino. It’s a high to get any win in life whether or not an exchange of money is even involved…or even how little you contributed towards it.

And of course, often there’s the camaraderie of a spouse, your family and your friends all trying to do the same thing…gain bragging rights as you hopefully luck into more wins than losses.

But enough of throwing shade upon fantasy football.

Flash back to late summer when the TV at home started to inexplicably show reruns of CSI: Miami, a globally-successful television series known for its flashy visuals, beautiful people…and a pair of sunglasses.

This brings us to the title of this post.

The lead character on CSI: Miami is Lieutenant Horatio Caine. Played by David Caruso, Caine’s quirky mannerisms in and out of his crime lab included working his trademark shades off and on. He usually delivered killer lines about killers while his sunglasses were going one way or the other.

For some unknown reason I decided to name one of my fantasy football teams in their honor.

“Horatio Caine’s Shades Of Justice” won its league, finishing with a record of 14-1. As well, an average margin of victory of almost thirty points per game. It was a truly dominating performance by “SOJ” from beginning to end. The greatest fantasy football team I’ve ever owned.

That kind of season couldn’t simply be a by-product of just good luck, could it?

Maybe some skill was involved after all?

My other two teams? Both finished 7-8.

I’m telling ya if they hadn’t had bad luck they wouldn’t have had any luck at all.

 

 

 

Posted in Family, Fantasy Football, Football, Humor, Life, NFL, Pro Football, Sports, Television, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Collections Has Christmas Too

My wife has been employed in the world of biz-to-biz Collections for over twenty years now. The essence of her job is to collect as much money as possible in as timely a manner as possible so her employer can continue to run its operation as efficiently as possible.

Being good at it? Tough.

Being liked while at it? Tougher.

I love the reactions when my wife tells new acquaintances she’s in Collections. Their faces reveal two thoughts: “I would never be good doing that” and “You must not be well-liked.”

She is very, very good at Collections. That’s not just me saying that. Her employers have always praised her work. How many employers actually do THAT?

Oh…and she happens to be liked by the accounts she collects on. At the very least respected.

Not despised as you might expect.

She gets an invoice paid with a polite e-mail…with a professional phone call.

Don’t fear…she can put the hammer of Thor down when need be. Ironically that happens as much to her co-workers as the companies who owe money. She’s efficient at what she does, makes few errors and justifiably hold her peers to be as accountable as her collection accounts.

She sets out daily to collect money – big money – from some large corporations. Corporations that like to play the “cash flow” game and stretch out having to pay bills until the last possible day before they risk slowing down or even stopping the flow of her company’s products into their facilities.

She does it respectfully, which at the end of the day is the main reason she’s so successful. Those on the other end of the phone or e-mail trail tend to react more favorably to a collector who treats them with respect.

It is inevitable over time each company she collects from slips up…misplaces invoices…can’t get the funds out as specifically promised, etc. She’s heard it all.

And they remember how she handled all their delays (deliberate or not)…

Firmly…but fair.

My wife is no pushover. She kindly gives me just enough rope to hang myself at home…and does the same for the businesses she collects from at work. Companies get a second chance…but don’t push it people…she’ll surely push back.

Which brings us to Christmas…when people in Collections usually are smacked in the face with the cold, snowy reality they aren’t nearly as well-liked as Customer Service or Sales…or even Management (the horror!).

Other departments get the tokens of appreciation for business relationships during the Holidays.

Not Collections.

Until this year.

The day after Christmas…she received a Christmas card from a company.

A company still on my wife’s “Naughty List” for bad (payment) behavior.

They don’t buy as much as they used to…the note on the inside read…

“I miss talking with you!”

A Christmas miracle. A Christmas card.

A personal message as well.

(Ignoring the card was a day late…)

Collections has Christmas too.

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Christmas Is For The Innocent

Lamb

(Image Credit New York Daily News)

Several years ago I came across this story published in the New York Daily News by Karen Zautyk. She is a former Editorial Board member there who originally wrote this for her father John. I think it captures the essence of Christmas being – most of all – for the innocent. I posted this a year ago and received some wonderful feedback.

Regardless of your religious beliefs I believe there is a life lesson within for all of us that cries out…we are all unique…and not alone.

O, Little Lamb…Who Made Thee?

It was cold in the stable that night and the animals were huddled together for warmth. The cows and the oxen and the donkeys.

And one little lamb.

Sad, scrawny little lamb, born lame and frail. Too frail to be out with the flock in the fields. The shepherds had carried it into the stable where it would be safe from the wind and the wolves, for both the wolves and the wind came down from the hills with fierceness in the wintertime.

The lamb had food and shelter but that was not enough. It was lonely. Separated from its mother, it felt unloved. The other animals tried to be kind but they had no time. During the day they were busy working. The cows had milk to make, the oxen had earth to plow and the donkeys had carts to pull.

At night they were all very tired. They’d feed upon the fodder and then go right to bed. None would talk, none would play. None would even sing a lullaby to a lamb that needed comfort. Every night the lamb would cry, and be told to hush, for its bleats disturbed their sleep.

Thus, that night, the lamb cried without making a sound as it had learned to do. And it looked at the strangers who were sharing the stable.  At the man, who held the woman’s hand and spoke to her so softly. And especially at the woman, who spoke not at all.

Huddled together, the animals slept, and eventually the lamb slept too.

And the night was silent.

But then, in the darkest hour, there was no more darkness and no more silence. There was the cry of a baby. And the stable shone with the brightest of lights and there were voices ringing in the air.

The animals, shaken from their dreams, were frightened. They stamped their hooves and tossed their heads and made their frightened-animal noises…but the light was so lovely and the voices so beautiful it wasn’t long before they quieted and began to lose their fear.

And when the light had dimmed to a glow and the voices were only an echo, there in the manger they saw the baby…and their eyes went wide with wonder.

The animals murmured but would not approach until the woman beckoned. Then, one by one, the beasts came forward. All, that is, except the lamb…which was only a baby itself and still terribly afraid. Forgotten by the others it trembled in a corner and tried to hide beneath the hay.

But the baby in the manger was trembling too. The cold of the night had returned and the baby had started to shiver. When the animals saw this they huddled closer about the crib.

The man took off his cloak and made a blanket of it, but the cloak was thin and threadbare and provided little warmth. The woman held the baby to her breast. He shivered still…and she began to weep.

And the lamb, which knew what weeping meant, lifted itself from the hay. Though it was still afraid…it left its hiding place. It made its way among the legs of the bigger beasts until it stood beside the woman…and it laid its head against her knee.

And the softest of hands reached down and stroked its wool.

And the gentlest of hands picked it up and tucked it into the manger straw…and tucked the baby in beside it…and covered them both with the cloak. The baby snuggled near and smiled…and closed his eyes.

And the lamb was very glad it had learned to cry without making a sound. Because it was crying now and didn’t want to wake the child.

But the lamb wasn’t crying because it was sad. It was crying because, at last, it didn’t feel alone. Or afraid. Or unloved.

Then the lamb closed its eyes too.

And the woman sang a lullaby.

Posted in Christianity, Christmas, Faith, Holidays, Personal, Religion, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , | 29 Comments

Walking Hopefully Into Winter

(Image Credit Mark Burgess/Egmont Publishing/The Best Bear In All The World)

As I walk into winter…random, hopeful observations along my trail as the days get colder…but also longer.

A thought or two about the latest installment in the “Star Wars” franchise. As with most add-ons to an iconic entertainment library you’re going to find a diverse variety of opinions about how well the filmmakers did or did not honor the spirit of the legendary series. I saw the original “Star Wars” when it first opened. I’ve seen all the other movies. Considering what this new film’s ambitious goal was, a genesis tale docking directly into the opening moments of the saga that unspooled almost forty years ago…I think they did a good job.

Except for the ending of course – admittedly a deal-breaker for some.

Others might say both endings failed…but I was good with the first one.

Those cryptic observations might entice you to see “Rogue One” if you haven’t already committed. I recommend doing so because ultimately I found more “good” than “evil” within. It was far from perfect – the movie could never reach those lofty expectations anyway – but still quite entertaining. I hope/may the Force be with you in any event.

“We have hope. Rebellions are built on hope.” – Jyn Erso, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

I am confident the good folks at Disney hope everyone gets out and sees the film. They can use a big win after hearing the latest numbers from their ESPN property. The self-proclaimed “Worldwide Leader In Sports” has been losing subscribers at hyperspace speed as more and more folks cut their enormous cable bills, cut down on following sports altogether, etc. Sports are contained within the entertainment industry now. It’s only a game? It’s only a business. There are also rumors Disney might go rogue and also sell a battle-weary ABC. As I have noted before there are a lot of entertainment options these days – the competition for one’s time and attention has never been fiercer.

Proof? Some industry observers feel the number of active scripted television shows could approach 500 in the next year or so. According to FX Research 455 scripted original programs aired on American television in 2016.

In 2006…that number was 192.

The wife and I see about 30-35 motion pictures a year (in theatres). 336 movies are eligible for the Best Picture Oscar this year.

In 2013…that number was 289.

Back to TV…we watch a decent amount. I don’t know how interesting it is or how much you learn about someone based on their viewing list but what has our attention now includes…

Elementary, Supergirl, Scorpion, The Flash, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., Blindspot, Arrow, Survivor, Modern Family, DC Legends Of Tomorrow, The Big Bang Theory, Supernatural, Last Man Standing, The Amazing Race, iZombie, Stitchers, The Librarians, Playing House

There are no streaming shows here…that will change in the near future. We have a few we hope to start watching soon.

Hope is what I (still?!) have for professional and collegiate sports to eventually get their acts together and, as the money inevitably decreases from networks as they balance their ledger sheets to keep stockholders happy, decisions going forward might be based more on what is best for players and fans…not for those soulless, cash-driven, egomaniac owners, administrators and coaches.

Until if and when that happens…Philadelphia Phillies fans got some much-appreciated hope in the last day or so with the acquisition of one Clay Buchholz from the Boston Red Sox.

One headline in the local paper: “Fifty Shades Of Clay” (”Fifty Shades Darker” drops into theatres February 10 by the way…).

A combination of Clay wearing out his welcome in Beantown and a crowded list of potential starting pitchers there landed Buchholz here. He was not good – OK he was bad – for most of last season…but most all of the bad times were up at Fenway. His road numbers this past year are very much in line with his career marks. He’s 32, automatically becoming the grizzled veteran among a group of up-and-comers the Phils will send to the hill in 2017.

You know a couple years ago the Phillies had a $180 million payroll and were only behind those traditionally high-spenders the Dodgers and Yankees. Their projected payroll now is about a third of that. They are trying to acquire talent to stay competitive until they can fill all the holes left from that veteran corps that aged in place after winning it all in 2008.

And, after an Eagles season that finds the coach woefully inept in even the most basic of management skills…to another eventual mega-loss season for a Sixers team whose coach can’t even tell the media if “stars” are playing until he first checks with upper management…well, we can surely use this Christmas present of sporting hope. (The Flyers are doing OK but me thinks we’re still a ways away from another Stanley Cup…)

I take note of a Little League Baseball complex whenever I drive by it this time of year. I love the way the winter sun dances across the diamonds, the grass and dirt equally frozen, hard, unforgiving. It reminds me no matter how cold it gets or how much snow we get those fields will arise as one in a couple of months and start being prepped for yet another baseball season full of hope.

I played on those fields from ages 7-12. That was a long time ago. But the fields remain…as do the memories…which come to the surface for a visit every Christmas.

Childlike wonder? Yes, even we adults are capable of it.

A final word on hope for those who might question how much to have as we approach another New Year. It has been an “interesting” time for America.

For the world.

I have NEVER, EVER seen more cars and trucks sporting brown antlers and red noses than this Holiday season.

They are EVERYWHERE.

There must be hope if there are more people than ever pretending vehicles are reindeer.

Accidents between deer and vehicles are way down. Maybe our real deer – buying into the camouflage – actually think they’re looking out for fellow deer (albeit slightly larger and faster).

We should all look out for one another.

More than ever.

Walking hopefully into Winter…

 

Posted in Blog, Blogging, Entertainment, Life, Movies, Personal, Television, Thoughts, TV, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

Holiday Decorations Knew Their Places

Saturday was D-Day at the Burns residence. The day to drag out – and put out – symbols of the season throughout our home.

Our outdoor decorations went up just after Thanksgiving. That turned out to be quite fortunate as Saturday’s air temperature was rendered irrelevant by a steady wind which made it really feel like it was 20-something. This 50-something guy was much better off a couple of weeks earlier negotiating 50-something degrees while stringing lights around holly bushes, hanging up live swags, etc.

The wife was also more efficient converting the outside of the house to a more seasonal look in those prior, warmer circumstances – she seems to enjoy getting ahead of polar cold even more so than I. (I have found after years of studying this issue her interest in outdoor projects increases significantly in accordance with a significant increase in outdoor temperatures…)

I should note our live tree was purchased Friday and had already taken up its designated position inside, patiently awaiting decoration. I am confident if the tree could speak it would say “thank you” for getting inside when it did.

This is my wife and I’s thirty-third Christmas together…the eleventh in our current location. We certainly know each other quite well – we also know much about our place.

And on this Decoration Day 2016 it also became apparent…our decorations knew their places.

The ornaments, figurines, plates, bowls, candle holders, etc. spend eleven months of the year safely stored in a couple of large, U-Haul moving boxes. Said boxes are quite sturdy. Other characteristics they possess include being, a) large and, b) heavy. As we’ve gotten older a new goal of Decoration Day evolved… for neither of us to get hurt. I get the boxes out and into position to kick things off each year, signing up for what you think would represent the activity with the highest degree of potential danger. That being said it should be noted at one point Saturday I saw my wife negotiating one now-empty box back to its closet…but the box seemed to be winning.

As for these decorations knowing their places…mind you it didn’t get as bad as the tree ornaments being hung in the same location on this year’s tree as on prior ones…but we set about staging the rest of the house like it was last year…the year before…the year before that. I know…you’re thinking a lot of people probably are the same way. But consider no hesitation towards how every nook and cranny should look. No second-guessing. No “where do we put this?”

I fail to notice things once in a while. I forget things occasionally. Aging may not be the proper excuse just yet. I’m a male…yeah, let’s go with that one.

But I had not noticed this previously…it was indeed like our decorations knew their places.

We were but on auto-pilot executing their direction to their rightful spots.

Another event that always happens while these veterans establish their locations is my wife periodically rattles off where we got this, who gave us that, etc.

I can say with absolute certainty my wife would be more likely to forget who I was than the genealogy of any of these items.

If this all sounds a tad OCD we probably have trace amounts of that running through our relationship. What we absolutely share huge quantities of is a mutual agreement of what we like, what makes us happy…and certainly what images of our home make us most comfortable this time of year.

And if you think there couldn’t possibly be a wild, unpredictable and zany side to this couple…get a load of what we did after realizing we bought an extra string of tree lights this year:

We helped the rookie decoration know its place.

(The exercise bike knew its “place” already…it takes the whole month of December off every year…)

Posted in Blog, Blogging, Christmas, Family, Holidays, Home, Life, Personal, Thoughts, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments