Thursday, May 23, 2013

72 Hours in Austin

Coming Soon...

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Admission - The Facts Don't Lie. Why are You?

The Facts Don't Lie. Why are You?

Dear NFL and NFL Officiating Department,

In the words of Seth Meyers:  Really?  You have the audacity to defend the ruling last night? (link here saying you support the call for "The Seattle Screw")

In the words of Amy Pohler:  Really, NFL Officiating Crew?  Really?

You TRULY believe that the proper call was made?  Really?  I don't understand what you are seeing.  I simply do not.  

During the game, in 3 minutes, in a fast-paced environment...mistakes happen (this shouldn't have, but it did).  Yet, some how, you have the marbles to release a statement in support of the call today.  With all the views.  With all the camera angles.  With all the technology.  With millions of other people seeing it, knowing the game, and saying it was wrong.  You REALLY still stand by it?

Everything is so clear, yet you cannot even admit fault.

Take some responsibility to the Seattle Screw.  Home Cooking?  Bad replacement refs?  Poor judgment?  Anything.  Hell, make up an excuse about the solar winds.  Just don't flat out lie and say it was the right call.  The below accurately depicts the situation.  A win was stolen from the Packers.  At least stand up and admit it.
2012 NFL Rule Book
Article 3. Completed or Intercepted Pass
Item 5: Simultaneous Catch. If a pass is caught simultaneously by two eligible opponents, and both players retain it, the ball belongs to the passers. It is not a simultaneous catch if a player gains control first and an opponent subsequently gains joint control. If the ball is muffed after simultaneous touching by two such players, all the players of the passing team become eligible to catch the loose ball. (See, p39).
Notice that Packers' MD Jennings clearly catches and controls the ball before Seattle's Golden Tate gains anything that could be control...unless one arm over someone's shoulder barely touching the ball = control.

Really, NFL?  Really, NFL Officiating Crew?  Really?!  Stop lying to your players, your fans and yourselves.  The facts don't lie.  Why are you?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

New York City: The Temporary Residents' Guide

The last time I picked up the "pen" for my blog was March 2011. That is well over a year ago. 17 months if you are keeping score at home (you most certainly are not). Hopefully, the hiatus elevates what you are about to read to a respectable level. Introducing: my first city review. I hope this can be a tool for people until it becomes irrelevant in a couple of years.

New York City: The Temporary Residents' Guide

People profess their love, write songs and continuously talk about "the energy" of this city. I would bet a small fortune that no other city is the subject of more songs, more art, more...well...anything. Most people in NYC are tourists or lifers. However, there is a distinct group of people, like myself, that are what I will call “semi-locals” – people who view the city through a temporary lens. Limited focus and limited time. Here to try it out, live it for a few years in school, for an assignment, or for a job. Just enough time to truly experience the city, almost call it home, but then move on.

I moved here with my beautiful, talented girlfriend in the summer of 2010 and for all intents and  purposes, the clock started ticking. That June, Stephanie was scheduled for 2 years in her program at NYU and unless something drastic happened, we would be California-bound in July 2012. Before I could even blink, all of the sudden, BAM.  July 2012.  Two years went by with lightning speed...with the exception of the first 3 months. I was miserable when we first landed in NYC. Then, something clicked. Something happened and I realized: This place is fantastic.

Central Park - View of Upper West Side

Now, it is July 2012 and I am flying somewhere across the middle of the country; California-bound on a one-way ticket via JetBlue.  I want to reflect upon how I got from miserable to happy while in New York. With my last Subway ride on the E train as a NYC resident a couple of hours behind me, this seems like the perfect time.  I want to provide my advice on navigating The Big Apple for the other "semi-locals" out there.  If you are planning on going for a long weekend, or a week, this will likely be overwhelming.  However, if you have 6 months, or a couple of years at your disposal, take this as an ongoing to-do list and tips to survival.

First, set your expectations when finding a place to live. Unless you are ready to drop a pretty penny on rent, go ahead and forget about amenities. If you are lucky, you will get an amenity. One. Single. Amenity. Maybe an elevator? Maybe outdoor space? Maybe a dishwasher. Unless you get roommates. Then maybe you will get two or three. I have a friend who has two amenities: dishwasher and a small balcony. He pays $2700/month for a 1 bedroom. Our amenity, you ask? We had skylights in our living room and bathroom.

Next, finding a place to live. I was lucky in that my girlfriend did the brunt of this work and we found a place through a friend of a friend. I cannot emphasize the words “brunt” and “work” enough. Apartment hunting in NYC is very strange. First of all, they have invented 84 different ways to describe tiny apartments to make them sound livable. Junior 1 Bedroom. Alcove Studio. Railroad Studio. Blah Blah. Anything that sounds funny is likely very small. Next, many buildings/apartments have “brokers” that will show you an apartment. You are thinking: How nice of this person to help me find a place in NYC! Wrong. They are trying to make money. If you like the apartment they show you, get ready to pay 10-15% of the value of a year-long lease. Yes, that is thousands of dollars. Yes, it is stupid. Yes, you want to punch them when you find out (Although, its not really their fault. Explanation here). Despite that, I am convinced they have sales contests. Picture a group of brokers having a contest: “Whoever can actually get a sucker to rent 126 E 3rd Street #B gets a microwave.” My only recco to lessen the pain – find someone with a friend that is moving and take their place. Not an impossible feat if you ask around enough. Also, another option is to find “no-fee” apartments. However, the quality varies wildly based on the rental market. If the rental market is in your favor, you may do ok with one of these apartments. If not, then these “no-fee” apartments are likely hot, sweaty garbage. Speaking of hot, sweaty garbage…

The Weather. Be ready for some of the sweatiest summer weather you have experienced. No central A/C was built into pre-war buildings. Disappointing, right? One specific night really stands out in my mind from my first month in Manhattan.  Stephanie and I went out for a nice dinner one evening and decided to walk instead of take a cab. Ya know, to take in our new city.  I didn't change after work, so wore a dress shirt (with no undershirt because it was uber-sweaty) and pants.  By the time we were halfway home from Greenwich Village to Chelsea, I had sweat through more than 50% of my shirt. It was sticking to me.  Lesson learned.  The undershirt is necessary.

Additionally, these small apartments serve as little heat boxes during the day.  Plus, when you are going to work, Subway stations are uncomfortably hot and sweaty. My first summer was one big, hot, sweaty mess. Try mentally preparing for it. Also, bring extra shirts to work and invest in some good airy tees or dresses. Those of you from the Southeast or South may be prepared, but the masses of people and concrete magnify the issue. And while the city is tremendously clean for its population-to-size ratio, there is a lot of trash...and it frequently smells in the summer.

Once you get through Summer, you will have an amazing Fall. Best time for weather in the city. Sadly, that will give way to the winter months. These weren't as problematic for me because we only experienced 2 winters. Plus, we were treated to the warmest winter in recent memory in 2011/12. But one quick tip: you will be walking so invest in a warm coat and some boots. Something waterproof for your feet will help a ton. Or, just give up, set that money aside for cabs, and practice tip toeing around.

Next, it will be loud at night. Depending on your neighborhood, anywhere from "Consistently Noisy" to "I live next to the ER and want to shoot myself noisy." Get a fan. Play music. Get ear-buds. Something. You will get used to it, but may hate it for the first 3 months (like me).

- Get ready for crowds and people everywhere. If you are a person that likes privacy and personal space, it will be a rough transition for you. Depending on your commute, or where you live, you will be elbow to elbow with people frequently. Try to avoid living by places like Times Square, Grand Central Station, Union Square, and the touristy parts of the Financial District Downtown. If you live on the Upper East Side or Williamsburg in Brooklyn, you may even have to skip a train or two before you can wedge your way aboard the 4/5/6 or L trains.

Be ready to walk and don't fear stairs. While some hate all of the stairs, those that can look past them can actually find better deals on apartments. We had a fourth floor walk up apartment. Not ideal when carrying a bike or heavy groceries. Yet, the rent was reasonable and it got us those aforementioned skylights. As for the walking, that is one of the things I love most about NYC. In fact, on my last night there, I took a random route from my apartment to Magnolia Bakery in the West Village to enjoy that NYC “energy" one last time.

Finally, know that New York makes you work a little harder for things. My dad said it best: "if a car revs at 1,000 rpm while idle, a person in New York revs at about 1,500." While this city is built on conveniences like public transit, stores open when you need them and amazing delivery, something about NYC is very inconvenient. I said to Stephanie at one point that this place gives you nothing. It makes you work for everything. Sounds terrible. I know. Like I said, I struggled living here at first. I left a pretty easy quality of life in LA for a drastically different lifestyle in NYC. A lifestyle I came to truly enjoy. Any move presents change and hopefully you can learn to take the first few punches from NY. Then, you will either learn to love it or appreciate your time in the city. Here are some recommendations and pointers on how to do NYC right.  

1) Don't be borough-biased. Manhattanites are the obvious culprits here, but it is a general rule. Brooklyn has some fantastic neighborhoods, restaurants and parks. While I admittedly didn't explore Queens, I have heard the same. These areas also offer some breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline. Throw on your Lewis and Clark Hat and explore.

2) Learn to love and use public transportation. It's a little overwhelming at first, but it is unbelievably useful and convenient. This leads to...

3) Get out of the city. One of the things that helped me get over a bunch of the issues above was how easy it can be to get out of the city. Regional Trains, Buses, or even a zip car can provide really cool activities that aren't too far away. I went upstate, out to Long Island, into Jersey, down to Washington DC, down to Philadelphia, up to Vermont and more. For example, a 2-hour bus ride to downtown Philly is around $13 on Mega Bus or Bolt Bus. More on getaways later.

4) Walk. Walk a lot. Then walk some more. Walking around NYC's parks and neighborhoods is one of the best activities you can do in the city.
Dusk in SoHo

While I understand that everyone has their places in NYC, I feel like my list is pretty unbiased except for the natural "west side" tilt due to calling West 16th street my home for the last two years. Before we get to bars and restaurants, I will give you some activities and things to do first.

My Favorites. 
Parks: If you are staying for a few days, you have to do Central Park. That is a no brainer. But, if you are staying for a week, venture to the Brooklyn Waterfront near DUMBO (by the Brooklyn Bridge). That is my second favorite park in the area. I recommend renting a bike (or buying one if you can find space for it) and riding over the Brooklyn or Manhattan bridges to spend some time in this underrated park. Bonus points if you learn what DUMBO stands for.
Two Bridges. One Park.

Touristy Activities (slightly) Off The Beaten Path:
1) Tall building adventure - forget the Empire State building. The lines are long and the tickets are expensive. I heard as much as $50 just to go to the top. Go to The Top of The Rock at Rockefeller center. It's around $20 (less if you search around and buy tickets ahead of time). You get full views of Central Park and get to see the aforementioned other skyscraper. Plus, Rock Center is a more interesting area than 34th street around the Empire State building.

2) Best Way to see Manhattan: boat cruise. You can take one of the random charter boats out of South Street Seaport. Or, you can even take the Staten Island Ferry (free) which serves $3 beer and delivers eye-popping views of Lower Manhattan and you still see the Statue of Liberty. I personally haven't done the Staten Island Ferry, but heard that it is great. I have done a charter tour for a 90-minute sunset cruise around Manhattan and past the Statue of Liberty – it was fantastic.
Boat Cruise - Looking at Lower Manhattan

3) Walking is the theme. Walk the High Line Park on NYC's West Side. The converted elevated railroad tracks were recently expanded, too. It starts in the Meatpacking district around 11th Street and the infamous Standard Hotel (ask around why it’s notorious, or just look at the windows and guess). You can then walk all the way up to the Park’s current endpoint at 32nd street. Very urban, very cool. The cat is out of the bag on this activity, but unless its realllllllly crowded, it is completely worth it.
High Line Park: NYC West Side

4) Sporting Event Must See - US Open at Flushing Meadows (Queens). While this is actually very much on the beaten path in NYC, it deserves mention. This amazing event takes over the 7 train from late August through the second weekend of September. I would liken it to a music festival, except for tennis. You can get a court-side seat at dozens of matches during the day to watch lesser named world-class athletes on tiny courts. Or you can watch a match under the lights at legendary Arthur Ashe stadium at night. I recommend taking a day off of work and going on a Thursday or Friday for a day session. Tickets tend to be less expensive and there are more things going on. Truly a must do.

My good friend Steve and his brother, dad and some others invested a day into the US Open in August 2011 and I will not forget it.  We were courtside for a men's singles match that featured unranked players Ernests Gulbis and Gilles Muller...and I couldn't have been more engaged.  Watching pro tennis from that vantage point is awesome.  Plus, Steve's brother Mike and I had a friendly "beer wager" on the winner...which certainly helped up the random bouts of cheering.  We caught pieces of 5 matches, including: Andy Murray's early round match in the Arthur Ashe Stadium, Juan Martin del Potro's victory at Louis Armstrong Stadium, a women's doubles match and ended the night at newly renovated Court 17.  We took in our last match about 5 rows back and saw Alex Bogomolov Jr (US qualifier) defeat Brazilian Dutra Da Silva. I used my long wing spam to score a souvenir, which the staff originally made me throw back. Boo! Then, Alex (we are boys now, obviously) actually hit a ball back up to me after the next point. Bonus!
Luckily Caught a Ball on Court 17

Day Trip to Long Beach (Summer): you can take a train out of Penn Station and be 5 blocks from the beach within an hour. I did this twice and it was fun. The Long Island Railroad (LIRR) offers a summer beach package with round trip train fare and beach access for around $20. Note - it does cost money to access the beach. Yes, I know. For a guy moving from LA, I found this to be beyond weird. It is a $12 day fee. Hence I recommend the LIRR package to save a few bucks.

Day Trip to go Apple Picking (Fall): you can get a Zip Car and drive to Maskers Apple Orchard about 45 minutes from Manhattan. Now, if you are a single twenty-something, you can skip this. If you have a family, it's VERY kid-friendly. If you are a young couple, it can be a ton of fun as well. Who doesn't like picking an apple off of a tree, taking a bite, and then saying..."meh" and then throwing the rest on the ground? Yay!
View from the Orchards at Maskers

Long weekends: 
Summer - Definitely go to Long Island or the NJ shore. My experience in this category is limited, but one of my biggest regrets from my time in New York was never going to Montauk (the furthest east point on Long Island). My friends raved about their recent trip and left me with a severe case of FOMO (fear of missing out) - which I certainly did.

Winter - Vermont for snow sports. I had a great long weekend "brah" trip to Stowe and Killington. The conditions were so poor that we couldn’t even get on the slopes in Killington (it looked cool). Our second day was at Stowe, which was pretty solid for all the bad mouthing of East Coast skiing. If you don’t mind a touch of extra driving, stay in Burlington. It has a good nightlife scene and is a cute town right on a gorgeous lake. Keep in mind I am saying this after a 3-man bro trip, but we found a way to appreciate the scenery. 
Stowe Resort, VT

Section For the Athletes.
Running: Everyone knows about jogging in Central Park. It does rule. However, it's not easily accessible to Lower Manhattanites. However, the Hudson River Parkway certainly is. Miles of updated riverfront are at your disposal. It gets a little lame from about 40th Street to 60th street (~1 mile), but overall it is amazing. These days, you can run from the East Village along the East River, all the way around Lower Manhattan and up the West Side until around 170th Street. If you can do that run, NEWSFLASH you are in good shape.

Biking: Not many options here, but wanted to at least shed some light on biking over the GWB (George Washington Bridge) and into New Jersey. The Palisades Park in New Jersey is not only really beautiful, but also a great workout for bikers. When you get over the bridge, turn left. Then it's down the huge hill and a sharp left into the park. Don't worry, you will get to bike up that same hill later.

Basketball: I play hoops, so wanted to share that NYC has a ton of outdoor courts and a ton of people that play. If you are hardcore, try your luck at the famed West 4th street courts ("The Cage"). If you are like me and played high school ball and intramurals in college, but don't feel like getting dunked on, go for either the Hudson River Parkway Courts near Canal Street or the Sty Town Courts near 16th and 1st Ave (better for Saturdays and Sundays and these days you may need to know someone in the apartments there). Additionally, there are a plethora of leagues available to play in. I played in corporate leagues, Zog Sports leagues, and NY Urban Professional leagues. My favorite was the two corporate leagues as they generally featured better facilities.

Races/Events: If you get a chance, sign up (and train for) either the New York City Marathon or New York City Triathlon. Both events are hard to get into, but if you raise money for charity, you can get in. I did the latter with Team in Training and it was one of the most rewarding events I have completed. Plus, bonus for newbies, it's a great way to meet motivated people. If this sounds terrible and hard, you should definitely go watch one of them. Especially "The Marathon" which thousands go out to watch. In fact, many observers take it as an opportunity to party while thousands of runners beat up their bodies.

Barry's Bootcamp: Located in Chelsea, this bootcamp-only gym features a signature workout that I enjoyed and Stephanie swore to. She even cancelled her gym membership to strictly do Barry's in combination with running/biking. I generally haven't been a fan of the bootcamp fad, but this is a great workout. Two bonus tidbits with Barry's:
a) Tons of good-looking people there if you are looking to bolster your social scene
b) They do have locations in California, London, Norway and even Nashville, TN

Bonus Special Combo Super Neato Section: 
Athletic Weekend or Day trip - If you are an active couple, I recommend doing a bike trip up to a B&B in Westchester County. You can bike through Manhattan via the Hudson River Parkway. Then, it gets a little hairy (aka biking through Harlem streets) until you get to Van Cortland Park and the Sawmill Parkway Bike Path. Once you do, you can go for miles. Stephanie and I did about 30-35 miles to Chapaqua and stayed at The Kittle Inn. Great little place with a delicious restaurant. A little on the pricey side at the restaurant but fantastic food and a great weekend adventure. Rooms were very reasonable and very nice. *note - you could take the train or rent a car to get to this area, but that would be cheating.  

Speed Round - Other Favorites.
Bagel - Brooklyn Bagel and Coffee Company (Chelsea, 8th Ave)
Slice of Za - Bleecker Street Pizza (west village)
Pizzeria - Lombardi's (NOTE: I never tried Grimaldi's or DiFara's)
Beer Bar - Blind Tiger Alehouse (west village); runner up - Spitzer's (Lower East Side)
Bar – Radegast Hall & Biergarten (Williamsburg); German-style beer hall with both a full menu and a sausage grill in the back of the side room
Favorite Happy Hour - Friday evenings at Brooklyn Brewery. No tours. Nothing fancy. Just a room with some picnic tables and tapped beer. 6 tokens for $20.
Music Venue (indoors) - Bowery Ballroom (east village)
Music Venue (outdoors) - Prospect Park Summerstage (Brooklyn)
Bon Iver, Prospect Park Summerstage 2011

Coffee Place - Joe the Art of Coffee (west village location)
Best Breakfast - The Grey Dog (any location, my fave was obviously on our street)
Best Baked Goods - The Grey Dog (gluten free available)
Restaurant (overall) - Emporio (Italian, has gluten free options); fantastic food, cool ambiance, not overly expensive

Best dessert - Magnolia Bakery Banana Pudding
Great Bar for a Late Night Group Event - 2nd on 2nd Karaoke (east village). Get a Room.
Least Boring Museum - Natural History Museum
Best Fancy Dinner - Eleven Madison Park (best dining experience of my life, Thanks to Wayne Hardwick!)
Best Dive Bar - Dive 75 (upper West side); they have free candy and board games!
Great place to have a BDAY @ Dive75

Outdoor Bar (downtown) - Standard Bier Garden. Can be crowded and pretentious, but a cool spot nonetheless.
Outdoor bar (uptown) - tie Boat Basin (younger) or Pier i (family friendly, solid spot for a post bike-ride beer if you do the bike over the GWB mentioned previously)
Unique Bar - Fraunces Tavern (Financial District): George Washington drank here. Nothing else needs to be said.
Favorite Deli - All of them. One of the finer things of NYC is the abundance of great delis!
Midtown Lunch Spot - "the Italian Deli" on 45th btwn 5th and 6th. I don't even know the real name. This place has great sandwiches. The guy has the change ready before you even know how much it costs.
Best ethnic food (takeout or delivery) – Taim; West Village location. Amazing falafel and smoothies. Nod to Alyson Yaffe for introducing me to this place via Food Truck.
Best ethnic food (sit down) –

Tie: Graffiti: Indian/American fusion. Tapas-Style (East Village).  Thanks to Jeff Tomczek for this little gem. *Note - this place is tiny. It literally has 10 tables. You have to slide behind the cooks to get to the restroom. Ohhh New York!

Tie: Kuma Inn: Asain-style Small Plates. (Lower East Side). BYOB. Solid prices and fantastic flavors. Small, Second floor restaurant that you would never know existed even if you lived in the neighborhood.
Kuma Inn Ambiance

Burger (fancy) - The Spotted Pig (west village). Cool west village staple.
Burger (divey) - The Corner Bistro (west village). Super dive. Only like 6 things on the menu. Beers are $2 for 10 oz. of McSorley ale
(Fun Fact - McSorley's is the oldest bar in NYC)
Best Sushi (someone else is paying) - Blue Ribbon Sushi west village
Best Sushi (affordable) - Edo Sushi (union square); my first and only visit was today; my last in NY.
Fast(er) Foods - I generally love the Delis. But one other great spot is Chickpea. Shawafel Salad with a bunch of toppings and a side of pita is around $8. Done.

That’s it. That's my hot list. Sizzling, I know. My flight is almost over, my tray table is up, and I am feeling closure. Ready to take on the next chapter in Northern California. As with all guides and lists, some things were left on the sidelines. That is to be expected.  At the end of this, hopefully it can help to acclimate you (or your friends or strangers) for the initial challenges of NYC. Once you overcome some of its downsides and open your mind to the unique lifestyle, this city really provides a plethora of adventure.  

Now, if you know of an article like this for San Francisco, send it my way ASAP.

 View from Lafayette Park near my new Apartment - SF, CA

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Challenge Accepted: NYC Tri 2011

"What about this weather says to you 'run?'"

Words said by my friend Aaron Monroe to my father, Bob Johnstone.

My dad is a "Manimal" in all sense of the word. He has completed 5 Iron Man Triathlons, 25+ Marathons, and even more triathlons of all distances (sprint, olympic, Half-Ironman, you name it). At some point, I noticed that he was becoming one of those crazy exercise people. Maybe it was the day Aaron asked him the above question? A day when he decided to go for a run during a gloomy, cold, rainy, crappy day in Green Bay, WI. That's when Aaron posed the question. Despite that craziness (even he would admit it), he instilled the value of fitness/exercise into both Katie (sister) and me. Since a fun bet with him when I was 18 (Finish a 10k in under 60 minutes = $40; Finished in 52 minutes!), I have completed a variety of organized events from 5k's to Duathlons to Half-Marathons. However, unlike my sister, I have yet to complete a triathlon. She is certainly our father's daughter! You would think that fact alone would have motivated me to sign up for my first TRI. I couldn't possibly let my LITTLE sister one up me?! Yet...a triathlon just never called to me...until now.

As of Wednesday, February 2, 2011, I have committed to raise over $3,000 as part of Team In Training's quest to eliminate cancer. Oh...and that means that I will be attacking my first ever Triathlon. The New York City Triathlon features a 10k run through Central Park, a 40k bike through Manhattan/the Bronx, and a little swim - 1500 meters in the Hudson River. Not the East River like Kramer. What pushed me over the edge, you ask? Three Things.

Since graduating college, I had turned much of my focus inward. Career. Growing Up. Not Growing Up. Experiencing Life. Pretending to be a rock star. I had abandoned much of my community involvement from high school and the early years of college. I have been looking for a way to get back to that mindset of helping others.

I am friends with Doug Jossem. Doug happens to be the leader of a team of over 40 Yahoo! employees that participated in the the NYC Triathlon in 2010. A team that raised over $200k to fight cancer. Doug has a powerful story and I went out to support him and the team last August. After Doug gave me the grossest, sweatiest hug ever when he saw me cheering along the course, I finally felt that calling that I hadn't experienced in the past.

Finally, and most importantly, cancer has impacted the mothers of my two best friends on the planet. Two women who could not have been nicer to me while growing up in Green Bay. Two women that acted as surrogate mothers to me. Two women that devoted their lives to helping others. Kathy Rentmeester and Diane Fenster. I will be racing in their honor for all that they have given to me.

The day I signed up to be a part of this team, the Team in Training staff asked everyone to stand up who knows someone close to them that has been affected by cancer. Guess how many people were on their feet? EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN THE ROOM. While I am racing for Kathy and Diane, everyone has their own story. This event is about eliminating something that negatively impacts the lives of way way WAY too many people.

Despite always thinking I would do my first triathlon with my dad and sister, this feels bigger, more important. My training starts in mid-March, but my fundraising starts now. Please support this amazing cause and if you can, please support me.


Thanks and God Bless!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Super Bowl Week and the Playoff Picks Finale

Let's get something straight. I couldn't be happier that the Packers are playing in the Super Bowl. It is a treat to experience your favorite team fighting for 5 months to get to the ultimate stage in Sports. However, this is new territory for my nerves, for my anxiety and for my heart. When the Packers were last in the Super Bowl, I was 16 years old. I had yet to invest so many Sunday trips to Packer bars in Minneapolis, West Los Angeles and New York to watch my beloved team. After a week of recycled stories and Super Bowl coverage, Sunday cannot come soon enough. I am on edge. I am getting angry at even the thought of having to watch the game with non-football or non-Packer fans. That isn't me? I love Super Bowl parties for the food, socialization, etc, etc. Right now, part of me wants to sit in a room, alone, with a bucket of wings and a case of some WI beer on Sunday night.

What I need right now is a healthy list of distractions. My great friend Ryno will be visiting me in New York City this weekend. I am counting on that getting me from Thursday to Sunday. He doesn't know it yet, but I am absolutely using him as a way to keep me from melting down before kickoff on Sunday night. Until Thursday night, however, I am shifting my focus back to the Battle of Infrequently Read Bloggers with Steve Fenster from A Shot in the Arm.

If you need a recap on each round to get caught up, feel free to browse:
Wild Card
Divisional Playoff
Championship Games

Talk about the perfect drama. After making our picks over the course of 3 weeks and 10 games, Steve takes a 1-game lead into the Big One. Here are the records:

Steve: 6-4
Rob: 5-5


With only the Super Bowl remaining, I can still push this contest into a tiebreaker. Before we dig into our picks, let's touch on a few of our favorite Prop Bets for the Super Bowl.

How many players will get arrested during Super Bowl week (over/under .5)

Honestly, neither of us would really bet on this. It's simply hilarious that a Sports Book would actually list this as a possible bet. Especially since they did not phrase the question as "will a player get arrested?" but instead "how many?" Faaaaantastic.

Will a team score three times in a row (no; +125)

Steve and I disagree here. Steve's Take: I wouldn't take this. For only one reason. I listened to a podcast featuring the head of the Hilton Sports Book in Vegas, and when asked which prop to pay attention to, he mentioned this one as a prop that tons of fans think seems like a no-brainer and lose on. I trust the man who invented the Super Contest. Readers Beware! My take: I'm the illogical guy. I feel like these two defenses are better than the average seen in recent Super Bowls. The only thing that worries me here is a special teams big play...and neither team is particularly strong in that department. I would put $20 or $50 on this.

Ben Roethlisberger MVP (+350)
Steve's Take: If you like the Steelers in this game, your moneyline odds are between +120 and +130, depending on what Sports Book you look at. But Roethlisberger is better than three-to-one? If the Steelers win, the writers are going to lean towards him. The QB for MVP option hasn't happened quite as regularly in the past decade as in the past, but they have never given the award to him before, so the writers will give Big Ben the benefit of the doubt if it is close. Similarly, you are better off betting on Rodgers for MVP (+175) than you are betting the Packers (-130). My Take: I agree with Steve on this. The only red flag that I would raise here is would the voters avoid Ben because of his tumultuous offseason? Over 3:1 is good enough for the risk.

Aaron Rodgers TD Passes
This is a two-part bet created by Steve: The over-under on TD passes for Rodgers is 2. You bet the under on that, even though you aren't getting great odds (-155). Then you bet a smaller amount that Rodgers will throw exactly 2 TD passes (which is +200). I think the chances Rodgers throws three touchdowns on the Steelers defense is pretty low. If he throws one touchdown, you win the under bet. If he throws 2 (which I think is the most likely outcome), you push on the over/under and get paid off two-to-one on the "exactly 2 touchdowns" bet. Here's how that could play out: You bet $100 on the under and $50 on exactly 2. If Rodgers throws no touchdowns or one touchdown, you net $14 (lose $50 on the 2 td bet, win $64 on the over/under). If he throws 2 touchdowns, you net $100 (push on over/under, win $100 on exactly 2). You could hedge this further by betting Rodgers for MVP as well.

WR Prop Bets featuring James Jones
If you like the Packers, here is a potential parlay or 2-part bet that I like featuring JJ: Take Jones to have MORE receiving yards than Steelers' TE Heath Miller (EVEN) and then take Jones to have MORE receptions than Packers' WR Jordy Nelson (+105). If you really like Jones, feel free to throw on an Andrew Jackson on him to score the game's 1st Touchdown (12:1) or the Packers' 1st TD (7:1). Believe in JJ for a nice pay day.

HISTORICAL PROP-Total Passing Yards: Aaron Rodgers Super Bowl 45 vs. Brett Favre Super Bowl 31
I would never bet this. It is simply ridiculous. As if Rodgers needs any more connection to Brett Favre, we are now pinning them in a head-to-head match for stats from a game that already happened. Silly. For the record, it's Rodgers (-29.5). If you want, you can even bet Roethlisburger against himself from his last Super Bowl appearance!

Here we stand. We are both nervous wrecks and NEED distractions. If you know us well enough, you know Steve and I embody the term FANATIC when it comes to Green Bay Packer football. Hopefully, you also know that if things on Sunday do not go well, it may be a storybook ending for us on Monday. Keep your legs, toes and fingers crossed. Until then...

Green Bay Packers (-2.5) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Super Bowl 45

Rob's Take: I have previously written about how much I disgust the amount of hype and praise The Pack is getting right now. I dislike that they are 2.5 point favorites over a team that has lost only 4 games all season to 4 teams that had 11 or more wins. What worries me most is the tendency of the Green Bay offense to take regularly scheduled catnaps during games. That could be quite problematic against the #1 scoring defense in the NFL.

The media has been hammering on the fact that the Packers are less experienced and a young team. More importantly, I believe they are hungrier. The Steelers have been there before, but when it comes down to a game of football, I think it really carries no value. I have to push my chips All-In on Dom Capers and the Packers defense to overcome a couple of those offensive siestas to bring the trophy back to Titletown.
Pick: Packers 27, Steelers 20

Steve's Take:
First of all, let me say that I am already an emotional wreck over this game. Last night I had a dream that the Packers won by two touchdowns, only to wake up in a panic because I was worried that my dream would jinx the team. There is nothing rational about what will happen this week. I have spent a dangerous amount of time thinking about which routines to keep or break to not ruin any voodoo or juju or karma or whatever you want to call it when it comes to this game. I think I am going to be excited at some point, but mostly I am nervous and terrified right now. Why do I love this sport again?

Okay. For the sake of Packer fans everywhere, I am continuing my trend and going with the Steelers. However, I have to say that I am really surprised at this line. I know the Packers have won three straight road games, but they looked pretty shaky in that second half against the Bears. As impressive as that Falcons game was, the Packers haven't played that many great games from start to finish. Yet they are favored in this game. Against a team playing it's third Super Bowl in six years. A team with the #1 scoring defense in the NFL.

In addition, the Packers have been particularly poor in close games during the Mike McCarthy/Aaron Rodgers era. I'm not sure either of them can be blamed for this, but I have a hard time remembering too many memorable game winning drives with them. How will this team react in a close game? We just saw the Steelers pull this off in the Super Bowl. And they are getting points? I'm confused.
Pick: Steelers 24, Packers 20. Here's to hoping I'm wrong again.

And to wrap it all off, here is a special, super edition of the Bullet-Less4: Top Chants you may hear from Packer fans in Dallas:


YANCY THIGPEN! Clap-clap, clapclapclap!


Thursday, January 20, 2011

NFL Playoffs Picks: Championship Round

To the 16 readers out there...

My embarrassing showing in the Battle of Infrequently Read Bloggers for NFL Picks Supremacy is on the road this week. You can follow the competition at Steve's blog: A Shot in the Arm. We will make our final NFL appearance back here for the Super Bowl, at which point Steve will probably be victorious and rubbing his victory in my face.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Playoff Picks Challenge | Week 2 with Guest Blogger!

What a first weekend of NFL Playoff Football! From the Seahawks' shocking upset of the Saints, to the Cardiac Pack living up to their well deserved nickname, I couldn't have been more pleased with the games last weekend (sorry Chiefs' fans) from a fan standpoint (Note: Had the Packers lost, the tone of this post would have been drastically different).

From a picks perspective, it certainly could have gone better. As the Write it in Reverse vs. A Shot in the Arm post-season picks challenge continues into it's second week, Steve and I are in a dead heat with matching 2-2 results. Let's reflect briefly on our Wild Card selections before diving into the Divisional round picks.

Wild Card Round:

Seattle over New Orleans
Rob (Pick Saints): When did the Saints' defense take a mid-season course in Houston?
Steve (Pick Saints): I was too chicken to pick this game the way I wanted to; I hate myself for not trusting my instincts.

Jets over Colts
Rob (Pick Colts): After the Colts went up by only 2 with 0:53 remaining, I started rooting for the Jets to win so I could see this face.

Ravens over Chiefs
Steve (Pick Ravens): Ravens = Nelson, Chiefs = Milhouse

Rob (Pick Ravens): Steve and I were in complete agreement on this game.

Packers over Eagles
Steve (Pick Eagles): I have never been happier to lose a bet/pick in my life.

Rob (Pick Packers): It feels good to be right about the Packers' defense making a play to win the game...even if I was horribly wrong about the score.

Let's move on to the Divisional Playoff Round where the battle of infrequently read bloggers continues! And look for next week's picks and recap back on A Shot in the Arm.

Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Line: Steelers (-3)

Rob's Take: Like most "experts" I am expecting a bullish, low-scoring GRIND on Saturday afternoon (Over/Under of 37). These two teams combined for 8 losses and only 1 was against a non-playoff team. This is a heavyweight bout. What makes this Rubber Match even cooler is that the total score for both teams this season is 27 in their match ups. Something has to give. In a game that could go either way, give me the points. Pick: Ravens

Steve's Take: I think this is definitely the hardest game to pick. This is essentially a coin flip scenario for me. I decided that I trust The Rapist more than Flacco. I also think the week off may have given the Steelers a chance to work on some of their offensive line problems. Pick: Steelers

Green Bay @ Atlanta Falcons
Line: Falcons (-2.5)

Rob's Take: Round 1 of this match up proved to be worth every dime as Atlanta's starting QB Matty Ice led the Falcons to a late victory. The Falcons have been downright nasty at home... posting a record of 20-4 since 2008 (Two of those losses without Matt Ryan playing). The Packers defense is getting better every week. After they allowed 20+ points in 5 of the first 7 games, they have locked down opponents, allowing more than an Andrew Jackson only twice in their last 10. My biggest concern is the offensive mistakes the Packers can make (drops, penalties, fumbles), but that concern is not enough. Give me the Pack and the points. Plus, I have to take the Packers because it worked last week. Pick: Green Bay

Steve's Take: It worked last week. Pick: Falcons

Seattle Seahawks @ Chicago Bears
Line: Bears (-10)

Steve's Take: I have no idea what to make of this game. Matt Hasselbeck apparently took steroids during his week off and rejuvenated his career. Pete Carroll showed why he has been considered a great coach for the past decade. And I’m not buying any of it. The Cardinals made me look foolish 2 years ago when they went to the Super Bowl after an unimpressive 9-7 regular season, but I refuse to take this Seattle team on the road...even if they keep coming back to bite me for my stubbornness. I think a lot of people might jump on Seattle after last week, but I am cautious of overreacting. Also: Bears Defense > Saints Defense. Seattle isn’t scoring 41 against Urlacher and Co. Pick: Bears

Rob's Take: Here we go again. Another game for the Seahawks, another HUGE line against them. They are definitely a different team at home as noted by their Seismic Support in Seattle. The 'Hawks won all of 2 road games this season, and one was against the Bears. I think that the Bears are offensively challenged enough to keep this under a 10 point difference. Will the Bears be victim to another catastrophic upset? No. But they only won 4 games by more than 10 points this year and two of those were against the ViQueens. Pick: Seahawks

NY Jets @ New England Patriots
Line: Patriots (-8.5)

Steve's Take: Everyone remembers the Patriots’ dismantling of the Jets in their last meeting. It was an embarrassing game. I stopped watching it by halftime, when it was clear that “Bad Sanchise” had come to play for the Jets. I feel pretty lucky to have won with the Jets on the road last week, and it’s dangerous to bet against the Patriots. But 8.5 is a lot of points to give when the Jets still boast a top-10 defense. I think they keep it close enough to cover the spread. Pick: Jets

Rob's Take: More intriguing re-matches! In the AFC's second Rubber Match, the New England Belichicks are looking to shut up Rex Ryan for the remainder of the season. The Jets offense is suspect. The Pats' defense is suspect. The Jets' defense can dominate. The Pats' offense can dominate. My concern with NY last week was their offense's tendency to disappear, and their win over Indy didn't show much to combat that feeling. With the Pats scoring over 30+ points in EIGHT STRAIGHT GAMES, I don't see the New York Rexes being able to keep up. Pick: Patriots