Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Movie Review: "The Artist"

We got out to see the much touted and highly acclaimed movie, "The Artist", this afternoon. As you may know, this is a movie made by a French director, Michael Havanavicius and the lead actors are also French, Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, it is filmed in black & white, and is a silent movie. At first blush, this seems like it could be a bit of Hollywood pretension, but after reading so many stories and reviews about it, I was predisposed to like the movie, and I was hoping not to be disappointed. I was not.

The movie deals with the era of Hollywood history (yes, it is a movie about movies, and there is nothing more that Hollywood likes) when silent movies were giving way to talking pictures. Some great movie stars of that era couldn't make the transition, and that is what "The Artist" is all about. By the way, an argument could be made that "Singing in the Rain" did the same thing sixty years ago, and did it better. Will people be watching "The Artist" years and years and years from now like people still watch "Singing in the Rain" today? It's an interesting question and would make for an interesting debate.

There is no question that "The Artist" is a very interesting piece of movie making, and the performances of Dujardin and Bejo are both really good. I liked the movie and can see it being a strong contender when the Oscars are doled out next month. I am still holding onto my vote for "The Descendants" and George Clooney, but "The Artist" is certainly a very good movie.

And speaking of the Academy Awards, we rented "The Help" this weekend, and we didn't much care for it. In fact, we got about a half hour into it and shut it down. Something about watching the deplorable treatment of "the help" by the belles of the 1960's South that was not something to which we wanted to subject ourselves. I know that ultimately, it is an uplifting story, and we could see that the acting was quite good. Maybe we just weren't in the right frame of mind at the time. Maybe we try it at a later date.

Art II Takes Charge

It is old news now, but I do want to add my two cents worth to the news that had Steelers fans all abuzz last week - the "retirement" of much maligned offensive coordinator Bruce Arians at the strong suggestion of team Prez Art Rooney II, and, apparently, over the objections of head coach Mike Tomlin, and to the surprise of Arians himself.

It is true that Rooney signs the checks, and we all know that the #1 rule in all businesses is that "the boss is always the boss", so no one is questioning Rooney's right to push Arians into retirement. What is surprising is that Rooney's move seems to temporarily, at least, emasculate his Head Coach, smacks of JerryJones-ism, and it flies in the face of the almost sacrosanct "Steelers Way" of doing business that everyone goes on and on about all the time. What next? Art II standing on the sidelines in the final minutes of games and dancing like Tom "Boogie" Benson in New Orleans?

As for Art II's insistence that the Steelers go back to an old school run-first offense, what has he been watching in the NFL the last few seasons? You have an elite quarterback, to whom you have committed over $100 million, a crew of young, fast, and potentially elite receivers, and he wants to bring back Fran Rogel and John Henry Johnson? I am missing something here.

It was interesting to hear Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon really rip into Rooney over this move in a way that no Pittsburgh based commentator would ever treat a Rooney. I mean, really, just imagine Bob Pompeani saying anything critical of Art Rooney II.

And as for Arians' retirement, it lasted less than a week and how interesting it was to see who hired him to be his Offensive Coordinator - Indy Colts new Head Coach Chuck Pagano. Until recently, Pagano was defensive coordinator of the Ravens, and as such he was charged with having to devise the defenses that could beat Arians' offense twice, and sometimes three times, a year. The 2011 season aside, Pagano's defense usually lost to Arians' offense. Obviously, Pagano sees something in Bruce Arians that all the Arians Bashers in Steelerland has failed to see over the years.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Day at "The Pete"

Yesterday was not my first visit to Pitt's Petersen Events Center, but it was the first time I had been there for a Big East Conference game, and what a fun and terrific experience it was.

The place was sold out, and the atmosphere was nothing short of electric. The Oakland Zoo student section was amazing. They never sat down, never stopped cheering, and, in a real departure from current day crowd behaviour, they kept it clean and tasteful. Not sure if that is the case at every game, but it was refreshing yesterday. They were almost as much fun to watch as the game itself - a great 72-60 wire-to-wire Pitt win over ninth ranked Georgetown.

While I do not want to diminish the Big East, I can only imagine what that place will be like in a few years when schools like North Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest, and Maryland start paying regular visits.

One more comment on the crowd. I was surprised at how much of the crowd joined the Pitt band in singing the National Anthem, and I was most pleasantly surprised to see that the crowd waited until the Anthem was actually completed before that began to clap and cheer, rather than about 2/3 of the way through it, as seems to have become the custom at sporting events in recent years.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Oscar Nominations - and "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"

The Academy Award nominations were announced this week, and I know that you are all dying to hear my thoughts on them.

Oh, you're not.

Well, here they are anyway.

Of the nine Best Picture nominees, I have seen "The Descendants", "Moneyball", "Hugo", and "Midnight in Paris." Marilyn has seen "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close." I plan on seeing "The Artist", "The Help", and "War Horse." Have absolutely no interest in seeing "Tree of Life." Of the four that I have seen, regular readers will know that I favor "The Descendants" to win the big one. I also am hoping that George Clooney will win for Best Actor in this movie. If I had to choose a runner up, it would probably be "Midnight in Paris" just edging out "Moneyball."

I am anxious to see "The Artist", and while I reserve judgement, this seems like the kind of movie that the Academy loves to reward: it's different (black & white and silent), it is made by non-Americans, and it is about movies, so rewarding it would be somewhat self-indulgent for the Hollywood crowd. Despite that, I am prepared to like this movie when I do see it, which I hope will be early next week. Likewise, "Hugo", which is in large part about the early days of movies, received much love from the Academy with 11 nominations, and I am guessing that Martin Scorsese is probably in the lead for Best Director for this one.

Earlier this week, I did re-watch "Midnight in Paris" and enjoyed it every bit as much, if not more so, that when I saw it earlier in the year. I do not expect it to win for Best Picture, nor do I expect Woody Allen to win for Best Director, but I am hoping that Allen will get the nod for Best Original Screenplay. It has now been 35 years since "Annie Hall", and I think it is time that Woody gets another Oscar.

From what you read, the Best Actress award seems to be a two horse race between Viola Davis and Meryl Streep. I haven't seen either performance so I can't offer an opinion, but I am kind of pulling for Meryl Streep who has now been nominated for either Best Actress or best Supporting Actress and amazing 18 times. She never wins because, I think people seem to think that "she always wins, so let's give it someone else." Fact is, she has won twice, but her last win was in 1982 - thirty years ago. I love Streep, so I hope she snags this one this year.

One Best Actress performance that I did see just this week was Rooney Mara in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." Great performance, but she's not going to win an Oscar for it. I will also say that this was a very good movie. Even if you've seen the original Swedish language movie version of this book, it is worth seeing this one as well. Very well done. A few scenes that are hard to watch, but still a very good movie. On the same track, I also finally got around the seeing the Swedish "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" this week, so I have now closed out that particular trilogy. All of those movies were quite good, even with sub-titles.

Finally, I can say, with tongue in cheek, of course, that I am amazed that the Academy did not see fit to give a single nomination to "Hall Pass." If nothing else, there should be some kind of special effects award for that scene with the chick sitting on the edge of the bathtub. If you've seen the movie, you know the one I mean.

To Absent Friends - Robert Heyges

The news reported yesterday on the death of Robert Heyges at the age of 60. Heyges, as you can see from the picture above, was one of the "sweathogs" on the 1970's hit sitcom, "Welcome Back, Kotter." He played Juan Epstein, and his comic bit was to write outlandish excuse/absence notes to Mr. Kotter, and sign them "Epstein's mother." Funny stuff at the time.

Reading an online obit last night, I saw that Heyges had some parts on other TV series over the years, and continued to do stage work in New York, but, of course, he'll be forever remembered as a Sweathog. While he never became the superstar that fellow Sweathog John "Vinnie Barbarino" Travolta became. at least he never stooped to the D-list reality tripe of Ron "Horshack" Palillo.

RIP Robert Heyges

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Prince of Detroit

Last week I was kicking around in my mind, but never got around to doing it, the idea of a post on Prince Fielder. About he was still out there as a baseball free agent; about how no one seemed to be offering him the big money, long term deal he wanted; about how with the big spenders (Yanks, Red Sox, Angels) not in the market for a first baseman, he might not actually get a big money, long term deal; about how perhaps fear for his expansive physique might work against him in getting a big money, long term deal.

Well, as Emily Litella used to say on Saturday Night Live, "never mind."

Nine years, $214 million from the Tigers. Wow. The Tigers now become a big time player in the American League, and the overwhelming favorite in the AL Central.

And in Miguel Cabrera and Fielder, they could also have two guys who could team up with Ndamukong Suh to anchor the Detroit Lions defensive line. And don't forget Victor Martinez, probably out for the season due to injury, also makes up the Beef Trust Review that is now the Tigers.

Does Cabrera now shift back to third place, which he last played about 50 pounds ago? And if Fielder becomes a full time DH, does he hit 350 pounds by the All-Star break? And what is Fielder going to look like by the end of that 9 year contract?

However, on a serious note, the Tigers win the division last year, attendance increases, and the team goes out and gets Prince Fielder. The Pirates flirt with contention for 2/3 of the season last year, attendance increases by 20%, and the team goes out and gets Clint Barmes. How sad.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Super Bowl Rematch

One of my favorite days of the sports year is NFL Championship Sunday, and the two games played yesterday did not let anybody down. I felt going in, and as the games played out, I am even more convinced, that of the four teams that played yesterday, the best possible outcome for the Super Bowl would be Patriots-Giants match-up.

Some quick thoughts....

  • That was not a vintage Tom Brady performance yesterday and much of that, no doubt, was a function of the Ravens defense. Joe Flacco, for God's sake, actually had better numbers! Two interceptions, and two others that were nullified by Baltimore penalties.

  • Man, I would hate to be a placekicker, and have to live with what Billy Cundiff will be living with over the next few months.

  • Patriots defensive back Sterling Moore broke up two passes on the Ravens' final drive, including the Vince Evans "drop" in the end zone. I hope he got a game ball.

  • Why is Evans being blamed more for dropping that pass that Moore is being credited for breaking it up?

  • For the lovers of great defense, that Giants-49'ers game was right up your alley.

  • Great play by Vernon Davis on that 73 yard TD, but a really, dumbass unsportsmanlike penalty for his celebration. Lucky for him it didn't end up hurting the 49'ers.

  • Just as you hate to see a game come down to a missed field goal, you also hate to see great game like New York and San Francisco played decided on a muffed punt (two of them, actually).

  • Outstanding Player of the Day: Eli Manning. A real warrior.

  • In explaining how Overtime would work in the playoff game, Ed Hochuli talked longer at the coin toss that Abe Lincoln did at Gettysburg.

  • I don't have the intense dislike that so many seem to have for the Harbaugh Brothers, but I am glad that we will be spared all of the media nonsense that would have resulted had they been matched up in the Super Bowl.

With two correct call yesterday, The Grandstander now stands at 7-3 for this Playoff season and is assured of a better record than last year's 6-5. Not ready to call the Super Bowl yet, but I am thinking that this could be as good a game as it was when these two teams matched up a few years back. Plenty of time left to make that prediction.

To Absent Friends - Joe Paterno

All the sporting world, and even those beyond the sports world, such was the measure of the man, mourn the death yesterday of Joe Paterno. His record as a football coach is well known, so there is no need to restate it here. Also well known are the sad circumstances of his departure from his post as Head Coach at Penn State, and this is not the time to go over that story either.

Much of the talk yesterday was of the "legacy" that Paterno will leave behind. Again, his role as coach and benefactor to his University is indisputable. A question that does come to mind is, does one error of omission, albeit a serious one, negate a life of 1,000 (10,000? 100,000?..you decide how many zeros to add) wonderful acts? Everyone can answer this question in their own hearts and minds. I tend to believe that Joe Paterno will be remembered for the great coach and benefactor and molder of young people that he was at Penn State for over 60 years.

I will close with my own Joe Paterno story, one that I had almost forgotten. Back in the early 1970's, I know I was still a student at Robert Morris at the time, Penn State played Pitt in Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving Day. On the following day, I was walking through downtown by the William Penn Hotel (although why I was in town on the day after Thanksgiving, I have no idea), and I see Joe Paterno walking along William Penn Place, all by himself, no bodyguard, no entourage. He was wearing khakis, perhaps even the same pair he wore during the game the day before. I can't even recall if I said "Hi" to him or not. In retrospect, I hope that I did.

RIP Joe Paterno.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

May 24, 1928

The current issue of the Baseball Hall of Fame Magazine, Memories and Dreams, told the story of a lunch time discussion that led HOF staffers to the date at the top of this post.

The question posed at that staff lunch was "What regular season major league game featured the most number of future Hall of Famers?" Well, the HOF enlisted the services of the folks at the terrific Retrosheet website (www.retrosheet.org) and in less than a day, the Retrosheet folks came up with the parameters, programs, and algorithms to uncover the game. It took place on May 24, 1928 in the first game of a doubleheader between the New York Yankees (one might have predicted that the Yanks would be involved) and the Philadelphis Athletics.

Seventeen future Hall of Famers were active in that game. For the Yankees, the cast was Earle Combs, Leo Durocher, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Waite Hoyt, and manager Miller Huggins. For the A's, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Mickey Cochrane, Al Simmons, Eddie Collins, Lefty Grove, Jimmie Foxx, and manager Connie Mack. Finally, two of the umpires, Tommy Connolly and Bill McGowan also became HOF enshrinees. Also, on that Yankees team that day were three other future HOF'ers, Stan Coveleski, Herb Pennock, and Bill Dickey, who did not actually play in the game.

Does any name on these lists jump out at you as being out of place? The one that does for me is Leo Durocher.

In doing the research for this project, over 120,000 major league games were played where it was possible that 10 or more HOF'ers could have participated. There were four games, all played between 1925 and 1928, where there were 16 HOF'ers involved. And if you really want your mind blown, consider the second All-Star game, played in 1934. In that game, 28 players, plus two managers and one coach, 31 in all, were destined to enter the Hall of Fame. The last regular season major league game to feature as many as 10 HOF'ers was played on July 24, 1979 between the San Diego Padres and Montreal Expos - how many of you would have guessed those teams? - that featured 7 players, one manager, one coach, and one umpire.

Thought that this would be of interest to you.

Who Is/Was the Best PNC Park Pirate?

Yesterday was the 41st birthday of former Pirate Brian Giles. I posted this comment on my Facebook page yesterday and asked the following question: Was/is Brian Giles the greatest Pirate of the PNC Park Era?

First off, in searching Google for a picture of Giles to post, I discovered that Giles has led a bit of an unsavory life in recent years. I have also been told over the years, that when Giles was with the Pirates, he and Jason "Welcome to Hell" Kendall led a clique in the clubhouse that can be described as despicable, disgusting, unsavory, a bunch of jackasses...take your pick. So, we will stipulate that Giles was NOT a nice guy, and that he hasn't seemed to clean up his act since he departed Pittsburgh. We will instead concentrate on the question at hand - is he the best Pirate player of the PNC Park Era?

Whelming (as opposed to "overwhelming") responses on Facebook agreed that he was a very good player, that he was probably a PED juicer in those pre-testing days, and that he was a jaggoff. Other names mentioned as the best PNC Park Pirate included Aramis Rameriz, Kevin Young, and Jason Bay, and the opinion that Andrew McCutchen is on his way to becoming the best PNC Park Pirate. Another poster opined that while he may not have been the best player of the era, Jack Wilson was the "face of the Pirates" during this era. That is an interesting opinion, and could lead to a whole other discussion thread.

My own vote on this Player would go to Jason Bay with Giles a close second. I also feel that McCutchen, if he is allowed to play here long enough, will eventually wear the mantle of "Best PNC Park Pirate."

Also, who do feel has been the "Face of the Franchise" during the PNC Park Era? One vote is already in for Wilson. My own thought is that, for better or worse, Jason Kendall was the Face of the Team during PNC's earlier years. Then Wilson, and now McCutchen. If I had to pick one, after 11 seasons have been played out, I would choose Kendall. Again, for better or for worse.

Any one care to comment further?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Calling the Championship Games

Well, when the playoffs began, I said that the Super Bowl would be contested between New England and New Orleans. I have a chance to be half right. Carrying my 5-3 playoff record with me into Championship Sunday, I make the following predictions:

AFC, Ravens at Patriots. I know that the Ravens play good defense, and defense wins championships, blah blah blah. I also know that New England has yet to beat a team this season that finished with an above-.500 record. And I know that Baltimore beat the Patriots in the playoffs at Foxboro last season. I also know what I saw last week when the Patriots completely dismantled Denver, another team that plays pretty good defense. I just think that New England is peaking at the perfect time and that even if the Ravens can somehow exploit a suspect New England defense, there is no way that Tom Brady loses in a shootout with Joe Flacco. PATRIOTS to win.

NFC, Giants at 49'ers. Talking about a team that is peaking at the exact right time, the New York Giants fit that description to a tee. Two very good defensive teams going against each other in this one, so I think the quarterbacks will decide this one. While Alex Smith surprised most everyone with that outstanding game against the Saints last week, I think that Eli Manning is playing at an elite level this season. In what will probably be the better game of the two, the GIANTS win at Candlestick.

This avoids the Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh Super Bowl for which the media hype machine is no doubt praying, but a rematch of the Pats-Giants Super Bowl of four years ago should be able to feed the Media Beast well enough.

Book Review: "On Hallowed Ground, The Story of Arlington National Cemetery"

The book you see at the left was written in 2009 and is a very interesting story about one of America's most honored places, Arlington National Cemetery. One online review that I read of this book said that author Robert Poole does not write a comprehensive history of the place, so much as he tells stories about it, and from those stories, you do get a good understanding of how what was the ancestral home of Martha Washington and Robert E. Lee developed into the "hallowed ground" that it is today.

About the first one-third of the books tells of how the Custis-Lee mansion and estate (Robert E. Lee was married to the step-granddaughter of Martha Custis Washington) was usurped by the Federal government during the Civil War. The government, under the direction of US Army Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs pretty much stole the property from the Lee family under the exigencies of war. I think that many people with even a rudimentary knowledge of the history of the Civil War Era are aware of the Lee connection to Arlington. What you may not know is that many years after the War, in the early 1880's, the Lee Family sued for the recovery of the property and won their case. At that point, the Cemetery was well established, so the government was then in the position where they had to buy the property back from the Lees for fair market value, which they did for $150,000.

Great stories included in the book were the process for selecting an Unknown Soldier following World War I, and the weekend surrounding the assassination and interment of President Kennedy. Did you know that when Mrs. Kennedy asked that an eternal flame be installed by the President's grave, personnel at Arlington and the Army had no idea how to construct one, but they somehow found a way to make it work in less than 24 hours.

Another fascinating story involves the Unknown from Viet Nam. In the early 1980's, there was great pressure from the Reagan Administration to find, designate, and inter an Unknown from that war. However, the advances in both military operations regarding war dead and in forensic science, made it easier to identify all war dead, and, thus, their weren't that many unknowns. Nevertheless, and Unknown was buried in a solemn ceremony that included President Reagan, even though there were those who were pretty sure that the body buried was not Unknown. In 1998, the body was exhumed and identified. I am painting this story with a very broad brush, and the details of the Viet Nam Unknown's story make for great reading.

It's a pretty good book, and if you have an Amazon Kindle, you can purchase it for a mere $3.99!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Cary Grant

Today we observe what would have been the 108th birthday of Cary Grant.

Tell me, has there ever been a movie star, before or since, like Cary Grant? Just last week I watched Hitchcock's "To Catch A Thief" with Grant and Grace Kelly. What a screen pair that was. And for my money, one of the hottest and sexiest love scenes you will ever see in a movie was between Grant and Eva Marie Saint in "North by Northwest." No one took their clothes off, in fact, I don't even think that Grant and Saint were seen below their shoulders, but, man, you had no doubt what was going on between them.

Comedy, drama, romance, and even self-deprecating humor....Grant could do it all. Here's a story I once read from director Peter Bogdanovich. Late in life, Grant was attending some sort of charity function somewhere and when he gave his name upon checking in, the lady at the registration said, "You don't look like Cary Grant." To which Grant said (and please imagine this in a Cary Grant accent), "Well, yes, but then nobody does."

Nobody like him, before or since.

Hawaii Five-0 Thoughts

We are now halfway through the second season of the new incarnation of "Hawaii Five-O" and it is still must-see-TV in our house. The DVR is set to record all new episodes, so we never miss it. We like Alex O'Laughlin and Scott Caan in the lead roles, and even if the complete and total "bad-assness" of O'Laughlin's Steve McGarrett sometimes defies rational belief, so what. It's all part of what makes for a fun show.

All that said, however, the "who-killed-Steve's-father-and-why" back story that haunts every episode needs to be drawn to a conclusion. This has become so drawn out and convoluted, that I can no longer keep track of who's who, who did what, who's a good guy, who's a bad guy. At this point, I wonder if the writers of the show even know where they are going with this. As for Joe, the bald guy who was Steve's ex-SEALS commander, he has got to go. I'm tired of him.

As I said, let's find out who killed Steve's dad, let Steve kick the shit out of him, let his Dad now rest in peace, and let the Five-O crew solve the crime of the week. That's the way Jack Lord's Five-O did it, and they lasted for thirteen seasons on TV.

Book 'em, Danno!


Sunday, January 15, 2012

And Then There Were Four....

Some thoughts and questions on the recently concluded NFL Playoff weekend. If you are my Facebook Friend, some of this may seem familiar to you. It should be noted that my pre-game drill today prior to the Ravens-Texans kick-off was painting an accent wall in our dining room. It looks terrific, by the way.

  • So how many of you thought that BOTH Green Bay and New Orleans would lose? If you did, I hope you had a nice parlay bet at a sports book in Vegas.

  • If going into the weekend, you were asked to rank the eight quarterbacks who would be playing, where would you have ranked Alex Smith? Sixth or seventh, right? Maybe last?

  • When watching the Saints and 49'ers score three touchdowns and a field goal and exchange the lead four times in the last three and a half minutes of the game, did anyone flash back on a similar game between Michigan and Notre Dame last September?

  • It might be hard to root for the Ray Lewis, and, to a lesser degree, Ed Reed, but those guys are awfully good football players.

  • How about that Pitt Panther connection on the Ravens first touchdown today, Joe Flacco to Kris Wilson? Somewhere, Walt Harris was smiling.

  • Caught the CBS studio jokesters briefly on the post-game show. If you had tuned in at that moment, you would have thought that Baltimore lost the game.

  • How bad does last week's Steelers loss to Denver look now in light of the complete beatdown by Tom Brady and the Patriots over Tim Tebow and the Broncos? Answer: Pretty damn bad; even worse than it looked last week.

  • (That said, the guy who wrote a letter to the sports editor of the Post-Gazette suggesting that it was now time to fire Mike Tomlin is certifiably insane, and whoever at the PG thought this was worth printing today isn't far behind.)

  • Did anyone see Leslie Visser on CBS today? I hadn't seen her for awhile, and I was shocked when I did, as she appears to have been the victim of some very bad plastic surgery. How sad that she felt the need to have such work done.

  • All week long leading up to these games, I kept hearing about how bad the Patriots defense was. Sure didn't seem that way to me, or maybe Tim Tebow really is that bad, notwithstanding his game against the Steelers.

  • Defense does seem to be the strong suit of both the 49'ers and the Giants, however. That should be a very interesting game next week.

  • Tom Brady was absolutely unbelievably good on Saturday night. It is hard to imagine that the Ravens will be able to withstand what he can do.

  • Phil Simms had a great line last night about NE offensive coordinator and Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien. He asked of all the ex-Penn State players, boosters, and alums who have been bitching about the O'Brien hire, "do you like what you are seeing tonight?"

  • And, yes, I know, as it has been pointed out to me already, that O'Brien will not have Brady, Gronkowski, Welker et al in Happy Valley, but I think that Simms point to the PSU bitchers-and-moaners was well taken.

  • Speaking of Penn State, did you catch the lengthy interview and story by Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post on Joe Paterno? The one quote that jumped off the page was when Paterno said that "people must think I run things up here." Oh, you mean he didn't? I hate to kick a legend when he is down - and very ill to boot - but he really came across as a clueless old guy in that story.

  • Is there any football announcer more old school that CBS' Dan Dierdorf? When you listen to him talk, you just know that he thinks that, with very few exceptions, all of the players today are a bunch of namby-pamby jackwagons, and that if he, Dierdorf, was down there on the field, he would by God show them all how the game should be played. He used to bother me, but now I kind of love listening to the guy.

  • He was pretty calm on the sidelines today, but I know that there will come a day when Tom Coughlin's head will literally explode during a game. Maybe next week.

  • Why does the thought of a Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh Super Bowl showdown not get me in the lather that it seems to be inspiring in others? Of course, if that does come to pass, the media circus that will be made of it WILL be overblown to a degree that not even Chris Berman could imagine.

  • BEST GAME OF THE WEEKEND - 49'ers win over the Saints. No other game even close.


  • GOAT OF THE WEEKEND - Jacoby Jones

  • SURPRISE OF THE WEEKEND - The relative ease in which the Giants beat the Packers, who sure didn't look like a team that went 15-1.

  • PLAY OF THE WEEKEND - Three way tie: Alex Smith bootleg TD run to win game over the Saints; Alex Smith to Vernon Davis TD pass to win game over the Saints (again) after the Saints appeared to have won (again), and Eli Manning's Hail Mary TD pass at the end of the first half against Green Bay. There was still a half left to play, but I think that that TD was the dagger that killed the Packers today.

  • HONOR IN DEFEAT AWARD - Aaron Rogers who, despite his interceptions, kept the Packers in the game until late in the fourth quarter without a lot of help from the rest of his offensive teammates.

So, next Sunday is one of my favorite football days of the year - Conference Championship Sunday. Am looking forward to the big double header, and while I wish the Steelers were still alive, I have to admit that you can watch these games and enjoy them more when you don't have the emotional investment in them that the Steelers participation brings.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Catching Up with.....

...the Movies.

Finally got to see "Moneyball" this week. Very good movie, and not just for the baseball. The Oscar buzz for Brad Pitt is well deserved (although I still would put him behind George Clooney, but ahead of Leonardo DiCaprio, if I were handicapping the race), and Jonah Hill was quite good, too. Funny seeing Hill in a role like this when you usually see him the R-rated comedies.

Also, rented "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." I am not a sci-fi guy, but I do kind of like these movies. This one was pretty good, even if it did take a long time to get to the good part - that is, when the apes go ape and over run San Francisco. Entertaining escapism, and they left it wide open for a sequel.

....the Pirates.

Paul Maholm made his departure from the Pirates official this week by signing with the Cubs. It's easy to say "so what" about losing a guy with a 53-73, 4.36 career record, and a career that, save for a six game 3-1 rookie season, never included a winning record, but I still hate to see him go. He was a former #1 draft pick and he never complained about the lack of support behind him (and he sure had every right to do so), never missed his turn, and was a good and decent guy who did a lot of charitable work in the area. I hope that he can have a successful career going forward, although the Cubs may not be all that much better than the Pirates team he is leaving.

Maholm, by the way, was the longest tenured Pirate, a title that now falls to Evan Meek, and I sure would not have guessed that had I not read it in Dejan's blog earlier in the week.

.....the Pirates, again.

You can go to the Pirates website and vote on the "Most Memorable Moment" of the 2011 season. They give you five choices, including the infamous 19 inning loss in the "Jerry Meals Game" in Atlanta. My vote went to the "Mike McKenry Home Run" game against the Cubs. As of last night, anyway, that game was leading in the early voting.

.....the Steelers.

Coming off a season in 2010 where they went to the Super Bowl, the Steelers opted to keep the team together for 2011, including some ageing players, in an effort to take one more shot at getting to the Super Bowl. It made sense, and they can be applauded for loyalty, but, as we all know, that effort fell short in Denver last week. There will need to be some very hard, or maybe not so hard, decisions made in light of that loss. The team needs to get younger, and look for a lot of familiar faces to be gone when the team convenes at St. Vincent's in July.

NFL Predictions - Round Two...and Tim Tebow

Before attempting to build on my 3-1 record of last week, allow me a word or two on Tim Tebow.

I am much amused by the conversational train heard last evening on The Fan as to whether Steelers Loyalists should root for or against Tim Tebow this weekend against New England. The gist of all Yinzer thought was that (a) we don't like Tebow, because (b) he's a phony and (c) he's getting too much media attention and (d) he's a lousy quarterback who can't throw a perfect spiral and has a lousy completion percentage. To those objections, I offer the following:

(a) Not sure what there is not to like about Tebow. So he's a devout Christian. Good for him and he is no more in-your-face with his beliefs than is, say, Troy Polamalu. If we started making numerous and endless signs-of-the-cross and called it "Polamalu-ing", would that be okay?

(b) So far, Tebow has shown us nothing in his life to make us think that he is anything but the sincere guy he appears to be.

(c) We can agree that he is getting more than his share of media coverage, but it that his fault? Blame the networks for the Tebow saturation, including the gasbags at ESPN who yesterday were promoting a special "Tebow Roundtable" on Sports Center.

(d) Tebow may not be pretty throwing his passes, and if he is not a good quarterback, the NFL will catch up to him. That said, the so-called "lousy quarterback" ripped the Steelers to shreds last week, knocked them out of the playoffs, and left them for dead. Until the Steelers beat Tim Tebow, the Yinzers should just shut up.

Now, the games:

Saints at 49'ers. As you recall, I picked New Orleans to play in the Super Bowl, and nothing I saw last week would cause me to change my mind. I expect that the 49'ers defense will give the Saints a much tougher game than did the Lions last week, but in the end, Drew Brees will be too much. SAINTS to win.

Broncos at Patriots. Ahhhh, yes, the aforementioned Tebow against the Golden Boy, Tom Brady. As I said, the NFL may indeed catch up with Tim Tebow one of these weeks, and the Patriots bring, statistically speaking, one of the poorest defenses in the NFL to the table in this one, so I am not willing to concede that this will be the week that Tebow falters. He may well have yet another good game, like the one he had last week, but I think that Tom Brady will have a better one. PATRIOTS to win this one, but if the Broncos pull this one off, maybe there is something else at work going on here.

Texans at Ravens. The Ravens have shown an ability to lose games against teams that they should beat (Seattle, San Diego), however, they were 8-0 at home this season, and I think that the veteran defense of the Ravens will prevail over rookie T.J. Yates. The Texans were no doubt the winning team from last weekend that was least talked about in all of the post-game analysis, and I think that if there is to be a road team upset this week, it will be Houston that pulls it off. Still, I'm calling a RAVENS win in this one.

Giants at Packers. The Giants could be a classic case of a team that gets hot at the right time and makes a deep run in the playoffs, and Eli Manning is having a great season, but Aaron Rogers has had an other-worldly season. The PACKERS win and avenge that NFC Championship loss to the Giants of three seasons ago.

There you go. As always, watch, but don't bet.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Day at the Carnegie

Today we opted to pay a visit to a couple of Pittsburgh's cultural touchstones, the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History to take in two very fascinating exhibits now being featured at these venues.

At the Museum of Art over 1,000 photographs of famous Pittsburgh based photographer Charles "Teenie" Harris are displayed in an exhibit that will visit three other American cities over the next two years. The photos are works of art in their own right, but they can be viewed as historical documents as well. Harris worked mainly for the Pittsburgh Courier as well as a free lance photographer from the early 1940's and into the 1980's. The pictures show the vibrant community that the Hill District was and also shows the decline of that community as well for various and sundry reasons over the course of time. You see famous people like Lena Horne, Joe Louis, and Josh Gibson and ordinary, everyday people as well.

The Museum of Natural History has a large display of the pins and brooches that were worn by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright over the course of her long diplomatic career, with emphasis on her tenure as the Secretary of State. She would always wear such pins to set the tone of her meetings with various world leaders from Kim Jong Il to Yassir Arafat to the Queen of England to Saddam Husein. A beautiful, fascinating, and most interesting exhibit.

It had been a number of years since we had visited the Carnegie out in Oakland. It's a great place, and one admission gets you into both museums. Think about taking in one or both of these exhibits while they are still in town.

Alabama Beats LSU (Yawn)

When two teams bring a combined record of 24-1 into a game, as Alabama and LSU did last night, it is obvious that these are two teams that definitely do not stink. That said, they produced a game last night that most certainly did stink. Hey, I'm all for great defense, but surely a team that asp[ires to be National Champion would be able to produce a touchdown, or even be able to cross the 50 yard line. Yeah, I know that the Tide did score a touchdown and LSU did finally cross the 50, but both events happened late in the fourth quarter, after I had given up on this snoozer and gone to bed.

Couple of comments:

  • Maybe this is what you get when you wait seven weeks to play your championship game.

  • Kudos to Brent Musberger who somehow managed to stay excited during this yawnfest, although I could have used a few less references to the Honey Badger.

  • Kudos also to Facebook, SABR buddy, and SEC Loyalist Madison McEntire for accusing Nick Saben of running up the score when he kicked a fourth field goal to go up 12-0. Great line.

Monday, January 9, 2012

"I Am Not a Crook."

Happy 99th Birthday today to our 37th President.


Just when it appeared that that the NFL had caught up with Tim Tebow - Denver lost their last three regular season games with Tebow pretty much stinking up the joint - the Steelers and their #1 ranked defense coached by the sainted Dick LeBeau showed up at Mile High and pretty much laid down and died against Tebow and the Broncos yesterday afternoon.

Blame can be spread all around for yesterday's loss to Denver, but the brunt of it falls on the statistically best defense in the league that allowed the statistically worst quarterback in the league to shred it for 316 passing yards on only 10 completions. (Lies, damned lies, and statistics.) And while his teammates said all the usual we-lose-as-a-team cliches afterward, the goat horns for this game fit clearly on the head of Ike Taylor. Ike may have had a great season, but everything was negated in one thoroughly awful performance yesterday.

Here is a phenomenon that I don't understand. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians will continue to be roasted by critics, and while the offense has much to answer for yesterday, they DID overcome 14 and 10 point deficits in the fourth quarter to force the game into overtime. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will continue to be lionized by the yinzers. Why is that? It was LeBeau's defense that never even gave Ariens' offense a chance to get on the field in the revamped Playoffs OT rules. It was LeBeau's defense that didn't get one sack of Tebow yesterday. Yeah, I know about the injuries, but isn't the standard still the standard?

And speaking of the defense, where was James Harrison yesterday? The only time I heard his name yesterday was when he was called for - surprise! - a personal foul.

So ends a weird season for the Steelers. They sported a 12-4 record that never really felt like it was that good. Perhaps the loss to Denver was merciful, because I don't think a game in New England next week would have been pretty at all.

So, what is it now? 37 days until pitchers and catchers report to Bradenton? Let's go Bucs!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Happy Birthday, Elvis

Elvis Presley would have been 77 years old today. If you forget what a great performer that he was, click below....


Saints March, Pitt Goes Quietly, New Era in Happy Valley, and Other Thoughts

Some Football Thoughts halfway through Wildcard Weekend:

  • Unlike many football fans, I seldom watch any non-Steelers NFL game from start to finish until the playoffs begin. As a result, the only time that I saw the Detroit Lions all season was when they got thumped by Green Bay on Thanksgiving Day. Despite their 45-21 loss to New Orleans last night, I was really impressed by them. I came to three conclusions: (1) Matthew Stafford is really good, (2) Calvin Johnson is really, REALLY good, and (3) unless he is the coach of the team that you root for, Jim Schwartz can be really, really, really irritating.

  • I thought going into the weekend, that the Lions-Saints game could be the best one of the weekend, and both games today will have a long way to go to top it. With a 24-21 score after three quarters, you might have said the Saints were in control, but you wouldn't have bet the mortgage payment on that, would you? Early in the fourth Stafford made his first big mistake with an interception, and, to use a tasteless metaphor for a New Orleans game, the levees burst wide open from that point forward.

  • No special insight on my part here, but the Saints look awfully good.

  • If you are a San Diego Chargers fan, how did you feel watching Drew Brees and Darin Sproles playing for the Saints last night?

  • Texans beat the Bengals. I missed most of this one, but was anyone really surprised?

  • While out and about in the car yesterday I listened to Pitt fall behind 21-0 in the first quarter of the Compass Bowl. Thus, a nightmare of a season comes to an end for the football Panthers. In all honesty, I don't know how any of those Pitt players could have had any heart or enthusiasm in playing this game.

  • Saw Paul Chryst interviewed in the booth on TV during the second half of this game. Good luck to him in building this team up. I hope that everyone will give him the "honeymoon" that Todd Graham said he didn't need.

  • Attendance at the Compass Bowl was 29,000 and change. Should have felt like a home game for the Panthers.

  • Staying on the college front, Penn State finally hires its new head coach, Bill O'Brien, currently the offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots. PSU boosters and former players have angrily denounced this hiring. "He has no roots at Penn State," they cry. They want him out before he even coaches a game. (Seriously. Bob Smizik posted a link to some Penn State booster blog that stated this very sentiment.) Seems that the Lions boosters, who haven't had to see their school hire a football coach for the last 45 years now get to do what boosters at every other school get to do every five years or so: act like that hundred dollar check they write to the booster club each year gives them the right to set University athletic policy.

  • Bill O'Brien may be great head coach. Or he may be a lousy one. There is no way to predict how any new coaching hire will turn out anywhere in Big Time sports, but he certainly brings strong credentials to the position at Happy Valley and seems to deserve the opportunity that he is getting. Lions fans who have watched Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin battle it out for the QB job the last few years should realize that O'Brien has most recently coached a guy named Tom Brady.

  • I admit that I am an outsider here, but my own thought is that Penn State was probably wise to go with someone who has NOT been associated with the program of recent years.

  • That said, I do feel bad for Tom Bradley. None of the Sandusky Stink has seemed to brush off on to him, he has served the University loyally for decades, he stepped in as interim coach under the absolute worst possible circumstance and held the team together, and for all that he is now looking for a job. I hope that he lands on his feet somewhere, but his association with the Penn State will probably now end up hurting him in his career. Another victim of the collateral damage done at Penn State over this whole mess.

  • While I can be supportive and optimistic about the O'Brien hiring at Happy Valley, I have to wonder why it took over two months to fill that position. Somebody is probably going to write a very good book on that subject one of these days.

  • And on the topic of Tom Brady (I did mention him a few bullets ago), there is a very good article in the current Sports Illustrated about him while he was at the University of Michigan, how he struggled there, and how he battled with super recruit and two-sport star Drew Henson for the QB position while at Ann Arbor. If you now see Brady as the Golden Boy prima donna of the NFL, this story will give you different insight. It also tells an interesting cautionary tale where Drew Henson is concerned. Recommended reading.

  • To recap, The Grandstander went 2-0 with his Wildcard predictions yesterday. I'm calling for Giants and Steelers wins today.

  • With each Steelers playoff game, we face the possibility of seeing Hines Ward's final game as a Steeler. Call me a sentimentalist, but I sure would love to see one final big game for Number 86 somewhere during this post-season.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Wild Card Weekend Predictions

At the Stonebrook Village Men's Brunch yesterday I threw out the following question: what two teams will meet in the Super Bowl? Don't have to pick a winner, but commit to which two teams will be playing. My own choice was an "All-New" Super Bowl - New England vs. New Orleans. The other teams mentioned at the table were various combinations of Baltimore, New England, New Orleans, and Green Bay. When I posed the same question on Facebook last night, I received the same combination of teams (although the Facebookers haven't been exactly flooding the comment box with their predictions). Still plenty of time to respond.

So, it is time for The Grandstander's predictions for Wild Card weekend.

Bengals vs. Texans. Two rookie QB 's face each other in what will no doubt be the least anticipated game of the weekend, which doesn't necessarily mean it won't be a good game. A commitment at church tomorrow night means that I will miss most of this game, and, if you have to miss one, I'll take this one. The Texans beat the Steelers this year (albeit with Matt Schaub at QB) and the Bengals lost twice to the Steelers. And they are, after all, the Cincinnati Bengals, so I call for a Texans win.

Lions vs. New Orleans. The Lions have been the up and coming team this year, and have some good players to watch, so I am looking forward to this game. New Orleans has been a juggernaut, and, as you read above, I think they are going to the Super Bowl. Saints to win tomorrow night.

Falcons vs. Giants. Neither team excites me a lot, and the Giants had to go down to the wire to win a weak division and make the playoffs. When in doubt, take the team with the best QB, and in this game, that is Eli Manning, who has had a great year. Giants win.

Steelers vs. Broncos. Ah, yes, we have to wait until the last game if the weekend for the Big Game. On the face of it, this seems an easy pick, Steelers over Denver. BUT....we all know about the injuries that the Steelers have....Roethlisberger, Pouncy, Mendenhall, Clark....the list goes on. It was obvious watching the Browns game this past week that Ben is most certainly not 100%. Will that be good enough against a good Denver defense? Will Isaac Redman be the running back that all the talk show callers have been calling for all year? How will the injuries beyond Clark in the defensive backfield affect the performance of the team? Lots of questions, but I am thinking that a hobbled defense will still be able to stop Tim Tebow, and that a less than 100% Ben will be good enough to win this one. So, Steelers to win on Sunday.

As a historical point of reference, I went 6-5 in my post season NFL picks last year, which would allow you to barely stay above water, so, as always, watch, but don't bet!

Book Review: "Destiny of the Republic"

One of my Christmas gifts this year (thank you, Sandy and Gary) was the book pictured at the right, "Destiny of the Republic" by Candice Millard. Sounds kind of dry, doesn't it, but check out the subtitle: "A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President." The book is the story of the assassination of President James Garfield in 1881 by a complete and total loon by the name of Charles Guiteau.

James Garfield is one of those American Presidents who has been pretty much forgotten by history, and part of the story that Millard tells is of Garfield himself. Born in abject poverty, Garfield was a brilliant man whose mother insisted he get an education. That he did, and he did it so well that he became a University president by the age of 26. He reluctantly entered into politics by serving in the Ohio state senate. He was soon after elected to the United States Congress, served as a commander for the Union army in the Civil War, returned to the U.S. Senate where he became a respected member of Congress, a key figure in battling for the rights of freed slaves, and a quasi-important figure in a Republican Party that was deeply split between two warring factions. This factionalism liked to a stalled Republican convention in 1880 that chose Garfield as a compromise candidate on its 36th ballot. Later that year, Garfield was elected as the 20th President of the United States, a job he never sought and didn't particularly want.

Charles Guiteau was a completely delusional person who felt that Garfield should appoint him ambassador to France. The fact that Guiteau was justifiably ignored by everyone in the government led him to the idea that God had intended him to kill the President, and on July 2, 1881, four months into Garfield's Presidency, Guiteau shot Garfield twice, once in the arm, once in the back in a District of Columbia train station.

So, there is the "madness" and the "murder" part of the subtitle, and for the "medicine" part, well, Garfield didn't die that day from his wounds. He survived for two months being treated by doctors who continually probed the President's wounds with their unsterilized fingers and instruments. Garfield didn't actually die from the bullet wounds, but rather from septic poisoning throughout his body, brought on by the doctors who treated him. During this period in medical history, English surgeon Joseph Lister was introducing the concept of sterilization of patients, doctors, and instruments when performing surgery and treating patients. American doctors, including those who treated Garfield, pretty much dismissed these techniques, and those practices might very well have saved Garfield's life.

As for Guiteau, he was tried, convicted, and hanged for the murder of the President.

You meet some pretty interesting people in the course of reading this book. Inventor Alexander Graham Bell, Republican power broker Senator Roscoe Conkling (the John Boehner of his day), Doctor Willard Bliss (docs with god-like complexes are not unique to this century), and Chester Arthur, the Vice-President who succeeded Garfield.

And, of course, there is James Garfield himself. Author Millard will by necessity paint a very glowing and favorable picture of Garfield for the purposes of telling this story. Still, you do wonder when reading about him as to what "might have been" had he survived. His presidency lasted a mere six months so he leaves no great legacy, but for this: his death lead to sweeping reforms in the Civil Service laws of the nation. The spoils system that produced a Charles Guiteau was eliminated by these reforms, so perhaps that is a pretty good legacy to leave behind.

A very good book for Presidential history buffs and assassination buffs as well.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Happy Birthday, Diane Keaton

Whether as Kay Corleone, Annie Hall, a hot-model-of-a-certain-age for Chicos, or the star of countless other movies, Happy 66th Birthday today to one of my favorite actresses, Diane Keaton!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The NFL - Looking Back and Looking Ahead

In my preview of the NFL in this space last September 9, I wrote the following:

In the AFC, the Steelers, Patriots, Jets, Ravens, and maybe the Chargers are all going to be pretty good. Also, with Peyton Manning out for up to three months, the Texans might finally sneak into the playoffs.

In the NFC, the Packers, Falcons, Eagles, and Saints are all going to be good.From those ten teams listed above, the two Super Bowl participants will emerge. There you have it, and that's as far out on a limb as I am gong to go. If you want more than that, read Peter King!

Here are a few more predictions: The Lions are a dark horse in the NFC, and could sneak in as a wild card.

The Bengals, Browns, Bears and Redskins will all stink.

Phillip Rivers will receive accolades galore but the Chargers will still not make it past the first round of the playoffs.

So, okay, I was right on the Ravens, Steelers, Patriots, Saints, Falcons, and Packers, and I still think that the two Super Bowl participants will come from among those teams.

I also had both the Lions and Texans as playoff teams.

I was wrong on the Eagles and Jets, both of whom failed to make the playoffs. So much for the Philly "Dream Team", and don't we all just feel so bad about Rex Ryan not being on stage for the playoffs. Won't be surprised if some network hires him on as a guest expert commentator for the playoffs, though.

I was wrong on the Bengals, who made the playoffs, and right about the Bears and Redskins, who did, indeed, stink.

I was right and wrong about the Chargers. Philip Rivers continues to get love from everyone, but the Chargers weren't very good and failed to make the playoffs.

And I never saw the 49'ers coming!

Later this week, I will make my calls on this weekend's playoff games.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Football Bowl Thoughts

As halftime of the Fiesta Bowl approaches with the score now tied at 21, a few thoughts on what has transpired today.

Full disclosure: I watched most of the Penn State game, the fourth quarter of the Rose Bowl (The Grandaddy of Them All), and have been watching the Fiesta Bowl while reading a book.

Didn't watch any of the other games.

So, here are my thoughts.

**How did Penn State manage to win nine games this year? They looked slow, plodding and unimaginative against Houston today.

**I can't imagine any team to be as glad that a season is over as Penn State must be tonight.

**I found myself feeling bad for Tom Bradley today. The guy's life dream has no doubt been to be the head coach at Penn State. He gets the job this year under the most unimaginable of circumstances and because of those circumstances, he will no doubt soon be dismissed by PSU, and find himself almost unhireable by any other school.

**Apparently, I should have watched all of the Rose Bowl (The Grandaddy of Them All) because that was quite an offensive show the Badgers and Ducks put on. However, did anybody else have trouble actually SEEING the Oregon players in the green uniforms against the green grass?

**Stanford and Oklahoma State are putting on quite a show. Am enjoying watching the presumptive #1 draft pick Andrew Luck playing. He looks pretty good. Now, we will spend the next three months hearing the draft geeks saying what is wrong with him. Poor arm angle, slow feet, bad vertical leap...all the crap that you always hear from the people who said that Jeff George was going to be a Hall of Famer and that Ryan Leaf was a better pick than Peyton Manning.

**As for that beard that Luck wears, it's pretty scraggly. If you can't grow a good beard, the don't grow one at all, Andy.

Not sure if I'll be up until the end of this one or not, but I'll give it a shot and see where it leads.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

"We Bought A Zoo" and Other Topics

Happy New Year, everyone!

I shall kick off 2012 with a very brief review of our New Year's Eve Date Movie: "We Bought A Zoo", directed by Cameron Crowe and starring Matt Damon and Scarlet Johanssen, both of whom were delightful. Very engaging family movie about a young widower with two kids who, in attempt to start over, quits his job and buys a zoo. Yeah, it's fluffy, you can see what's coming, and it will never win any awards, but you can't not like this movie. We thought it would be a light, enjoyable movie, but we both liked it much more than we expected.

A word about two of the supporting actors. Seven year old Maggie Elizabeth Jones, who plays Damon's daughter, just might be the cutest little girl you've ever seen on a movie screen. Thomas Haden Church plays Damon's brother, and he is very much like the character he played in "Sideways", which means he's quite funny.

Good movie.

We came home and proceeded to watch five episodes from Season Four of "Mad Men." Great show. In fact, soon after I finish this blog entry, we will watch two more episodes, and that will wrap up Season Four for us.

Much is at stake for the Pittsburgh Steelers as they take on the Browns on the lakefront this afternoon while the Bengals take on the Ravens in Cincy. The guess here is that the Steelers will hold serve and beat the Browns while the Bengals will be, well, the Bengals and lose to the Ravens, which means a wild card spot, no bye week, and a road playoff game next week for the Black & Gold. Well, the Steelers made this particular bed in losing both games, particularly the second one, against Baltimore. We shall see what happens.

Two huge events await us in 2012.

It's an Olympic Year. No doubt the Games of London will be marvelous spectacle and great fun to watch. Someone who we currently do not even know exists will no doubt become a breakout star during these games. Whom will it be? Man? Woman? American? Asian? European? Someone from some small third world country? The fun will be in watching it unfold.

It's a Presidential Election Year. As has been my policy from the beginning, The Grandstander shall eschew politics in this space, as I prefer to concentrate on fun stuff and not the bitterness and anger that is so prevalent these days. All I will say now is that I hope that this can proceed as an exercise in an almost sacred right of democratic process as envisioned by the Constitution of the United States. Sadly, I fear that it will be a months long exhibition of ugliness among the various participants, and, in one of the lesser developments of the 21st Century, and avalanche of chain emails that purport to be funny, but are really their own exercise of hatefulness. I don't think this is what Washington, Jefferson, Adams and the rest of the founding Fathers had in mind.

Have you noticed that The Grandstander now has a logo? What took me so long?

All that aside, nothing but cheer, prosperity, good health, and happiness to all Loyal Readers in 2012!