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30 Dec 2009

All-Weather Walkthrough

by Mike Tanier

Neither rain nor wind nor snow, nor major religious holiday, can stop Walkthrough.

A blizzard can really reset a man's priorities. My end-of-year schedule was hectic, even by my standards: a visit from editor-in-chief Aaron Schatz, a trip to NFL Films, four articles, a few days of teaching, a business trip to New York City, hosting a holiday party for ten of my closest friends and 15 members of the high school choir, and ... oh yeah, Christmas and New Years ... all in two weeks. New Jersey's sudden transformation into the Yukon Territory last Saturday was just icing on the cake. Layer upon layer of slippery, hard-to-shovel icing.

I spent that Saturday afternoon shoveling non-stop. At one point, I came close to having a cardiac event. It was nothing serious, but it scared me, and I decided to quit. I quickly changed my mind and went right back to work. I had Urban Meyer beat by a solid week.

Aaron and I reached the Eagles-Niners game that Sunday, eventually. The delayed kickoff gave me just enough time to excavate my car and blaze a backyard path so my dog could do her business with no fear of an avalanche. Most roads were still covered with snow, and I missed an on-ramp because I was snow blind, so we took Broad Street from Center City to Lincoln Financial Field. We passed several strange storefronts, like a community center for a Korean Mennonite church. I tried to picture bearded Korean men churning butter (a well-known staple of oriental cuisine), and wondered exactly how often or well those two cultures merged. Admittedly, it was a very small storefront.

While waiting for the 4:15 kickoff, we watched 1 p.m. games, and I rooted for teams to get eliminated. It's true that there's no rooting in the press box, but cheering for the Rams to win so you can stop writing about the Texans isn't technically "rooting," just loud acknowledgment of self-interest. Back in Week 3, I publicly rooted for the Rams while watching a bank of televisions at a Delaware sports book. Neither foray into Rams fandom was fulfilling, and I fear that many random strangers now think of me as the "crazy Rams guy."

That Sunday afternoon provided little postseason clarity. As a college kid, I worked for the Port Authority, cutting grass on the overpasses to the Walt Whitman Bridge. I used to watch traffic jams develop. When the highway became congested, a few tailgaters tapped the breaks, causing timid drivers behind them to brake to a full stop. In a few minutes, the highway became a parking lot. Here I was, 20 years later, in the same location (give or take a quarter mile), watching another traffic jam. Slow drivers like the Jaguars and Broncos -- teams destined to fade -- were in front, creating a bottleneck, with fast drivers like the Steelers and Texans doing anything they could to pass.

The bottleneck on the AFC freeway nearly made me late for all my jobs in the week before Christmas. Tight playoff races are great for fans, but they are murder for those of us who write "around the league" capsules. Here's how my approach to a preview -- let's use this week's Texans-Patriots game as an example -- changes based on the significance of the game:

Texans Still Alive: Analyze Texans strengths, review their various playoff scenarios. Double-check all of their close losses to verify why their DVOA is better than their record. Create a recognizable "hook" about Andre Johnson or some other player to introduce the team to a casual fan. Review the implications of a Patriots win or loss. Check injuries. Check local media. Write 300-word draft, then condense it to 150 words. Total work time: about 90 minutes.

Texans Eliminated: Write Benjamin Brady diaper joke. Total work time: 45 seconds.

As you can see, the AFC also-rans created a "gaper delay" that lasted several hours, time I didn't really have last week.

I thought of traffic jams again when I was stuck in one last Tuesday after dropping Aaron off at the train station. We had another informative visit to NFL Films, but I had to shoehorn the Vikings and Patriots film sessions into a blizzard-tightened schedule. My Christmas party -- the one with the choir -- didn't come off as planned on Snowstorm Saturday, so I invited friends to eat a few hundred dollars worth of catered delicacies before they spoiled on Tuesday. I assumed -- wrongly -- that I would have off from school on Monday to finish the All-Rookie Team and the New York Times capsules. So I dropped Aaron off at the station, turned to race home, and found myself in history's greatest traffic jam: three lanes of traffic funneled into a narrow canyon between two snow cliffs before dropping onto the Schuylkill Expressway. As I rode my brake, a delicious prosciutto-tomato-basil quiche putrefied in my refrigerator.

I ate that quiche like a real man, and by midnight on Tuesday I wrote the best game capsules that were ever written five days before kickoff. By Wednesday afternoon I was enjoying Old Bushmills at the high school holiday party, watching a Vikings press conference at the bar. The conference lasted three Old Bushmills, but I felt like I needed more. It was the only press conference I ever saw with a two-drink minimum.

The Titans gave me a present by eliminating themselves from the playoffs by halftime on Christmas night. I lacked the energy to stay up for a close game, and I don't think I could have written a serious Titans-Seahawks game capsule this week. Christmas with two young boys is a delightful hassle made more exasperating by a dozen inches of grimy leftover snow and Santa gifts (bicycle for the elder, skateboard for the younger) totally inappropriate for the weather. By Chargers-Titans kickoff, my mother was telling stories about how she didn't have a Christmas tree as a child because of wartime shortages. I didn't know that Sherman tanks were made of evergreens, though it explains a lot, and to find a shortage of small pine trees in South Jersey, you have to go back to the Mesozoic era. Even Mom isn't that old school.

Boxing Day brought three inches of rain, trapping me again in my house with my wonderful, wonderful sons. Early in the snowstorm, I brought my children's sled from the garage, hoping to take them for a ride through the stinging snowflakes. They thought better of it, and by the evening the sled was buried. By Monday, I forgot there even was a sled. On Saturday morning, it was a registered watercraft. My two decorative light-up penguins stood next to it, waiting to embark; my theory is that Noah started in the deep south and worked his way back. A soggy, belated, shorthanded high school choir arrived at my house later that night for a make-up concert. None of the baritones were available for a post-Christmas performance. I think one of them is now the right guard for the Rams.

With the weather ruining everything, I decided to purchase an iPod Touch. I misspelled my own name setting up the account, which led to the Michael Taniet incident in Audibles at the Line. In a business where name recognition is everything, I now have two identities. I hoped to use the new technology to keep track of AFC teams as they were eliminated on Sunday, but no team obliged. The AFC has become a Little League team with a no-cut rule.

The Cowboys, at least, executed a long, slow, painful elimination of the Giants on Sunday night, taking hours to squeeze the life from the diffident Redskins. I only switched over to the Cowboys game in the second quarter, because Eagles-Broncos took five and a half hours to complete. Eagles and Saints games are all-day affairs. If they meet again in the playoffs, the league should schedule a 9 a.m. kickoff to guarantee they can get the full game in.

On Monday, I took a train to New York. The line for the morning Metroliner wrapped around 30th Street Station and past a Christmas tree. A weird kid in goggles kept turning around and telling me he liked Santa. Once on the train, I was seated next to a graying couple en route to a romantic Manhattan getaway. Five minutes into the journey, a Viagra ad broke out, as the second honeymooners began pawing each other like teenagers. I buried my eyes in my iPod Touch, but there was no connection, limiting Michael Taniet's interaction with the outside world.

I tried to make sense of tiebreaker scenarios on the train. With some help from NFL.com, I scribbled out the Broncos playoff chances in Boolean algebra. The Broncos make the playoffs with [a win AND {(a Jets loss AND losses by [Ravens or Steelers]) OR (a Jets loss AND Texans win) OR (a Ravens loss AND [Steelers loss OR Texans win])}] OR [a loss AND {(Steelers and Ravens AND Texans AND Jaguars losses) OR (Steelers AND Ravens AND Texans AND Jets losses) OR (Steelers AND Ravens AND Jaguars AND Jets losses) OR (Steelers AND Jaguars AND Jets AND Texans losses) OR (Dolphins AND Jets AND Jaguars AND Texans AND Ravens losses)}]. I felt very pleased about this parenthetical salad, though there is certainly a mistake somewhere. The NFL should establish a telephone hotline to answer tiebreaker questions, with Boolean operators standing by. I learned from the morning newspaper that the league helpfully moved the Jets-Bengals game to 8:15 so that no one would know the full playoff picture until around midnight, perfect for those of us on deadlines.

The Empire State Building came into view, and the sight of that enormous phallic symbol was too much for the midlife lovers, who were rounding second. If the train ride persisted for two hours, I would have to consult a physician. I finally reached Penn Station, then walked to the New York Times building, where I expected to see typewriters, men with green visors, and Spencer Tracy chatting up Katherine Hepburn. Instead, I found a modern, antiseptic, quiet office building. The cafeteria offered a spectacular view that the jaded Manhattanites ignored, and the fresh tomato salad was a welcome departure from the not-yet-rancid leftover quiche that had sustained me for a week.

After some meetings at the Times, it was off to Mustang Harry's to meet my Football Outsiders coworkers for the first time. Aaron was there, as were Bill Barnwell, Bill Moore, Benjy Rose, and Sean McCormick. We had dinner, drank a few beers, and made a solemn oath to defend Jason Campbell at all costs. The two-hour meeting was filled with vital, important, off-the-record information, so all expenses accrued during the dinner were important business deductions, even the ones I cannot account for. The iPod Touch was also an important business deduction. In fact, since the several hundred dollars I spent on spoiled catered pork products became an integral part of this column, that money is also now a business deduction. Right? Is there an accountant in the house?

Tuesday morning in South Jersey completed the meteorological trifecta: wind gusts over 30 miles per hour, sub-freezing temperatures, and recycling day. Think for a moment about post-Christmas recycling day: the paper and cardboard packaging from hundreds of unwrapped toys, glass bottles of wine and champagne, plastic bottles of kids' juice and adult mixers, all of it overflowing slightly from the borough's blue buckets. Put all of that refuse on the curb, then add a healthy gust of wind. Presto! Garbage storm. With another trio of deadlines looming (check the Times for a Chris Johnson article this week), I spent the morning chasing soda bottles as they rolled across my lawn like tumbleweeds.

I reached my desk to find some trashy stories had blown into my Inbox. As many as 2,000 Colts fans returned their season tickets, enraged by Jim Caldwell's decision to suddenly pull his starters in a close, but meaningless, game. Meanwhile, Tom Cable announced that the Raiders would be in the playoffs if he wasn't saddled with JaMarcus Russell. Every angry Colts fan who returns his season tickets should be forced to watch the Raiders for a full season. Cable, ever the reliable source of information, is clearly misguided: What makes him think he could clinch a playoff berth when no other AFC team can? Granted, the Raiders could rank among the 7-8 bubble riders if they had a truly great quarterback, like Jason Campbell.

In Jacksonville, Maurice Jones-Drew revealed that he stays up until four in the morning after Jaguars losses; the Jaguars' overdue losing streak probably occurred too late to save Jimmy Fallon's career. MJD takes losses very hard. "It's bad, man. After every year I have to get a heart test and stuff." If MJD and Urban Meyer share a cardiologist, expect a series of confusing and contradictory press conferences in the days to come. MJD may be worried that if the Jaguars keep losing, 2,000 Jaguars fans will return their season tickets, or perhaps that the 500 people who actually own Jaguars season tickets will make four copies of each ticket and return them all in protest.

Tuesday evening ended with a rare radio spot: Ted Robinson at KNBR in San Francisco wedged me between Mike Singletary and Vernon Davis, which in the past was no place to be. I set up the radio interview using the Touch. "How do you pronounce your name: Taneet?" the producer asked. I was distracted throughout the interview. The Pro Bowl rosters had just been announced, and I was trying to reconcile Bryant McKinnie's selection with everything I knew about football, to no avail. Meanwhile, NFL Network aired the Colts-Jets game. I hoped that it was an Apocalypse Now-style director's cut, with the starters staying in the game and winning 42-10. Instead I got to see media-created controversy at its best, the television cameras hovering over Peyton Manning and capturing every wince, groan, and grimace. Here's guessing that any giggles, shrugs, and yawns that didn't fit the "Peyton is Fuming" storyline were ignored by the producers.

That brings me to now, Wednesday morning, the day clear and bright, my other deadlines looming, the Pro Bowl roster set, Chad Ochocinco tweeting about Darrelle Revis as if social networking were about to go out of style (dare to dream), and the AFC playoffs still knotted like my kid's shoelaces after an aborted learn-to-tie session. This has been an absolutely crazy year for me as a writer, teacher, father, and son, and if the last two weeks are any indication, there will be no slowing down in 2010.

Walkthrough goes into playoff mode next week: you'll get plenty of breakdowns, diagrams, and analysis of the NFC, as Doug Farrar uses Cover-3 to break down the AFC. Game capsules will appear in the New York Times through the Super Bowl. For now, on behalf of the whole staff at Football Outsiders, let me wish you a Happy New Year. Go Jason Campbell!

sent from the iPod Touch of crazy Rams guy Michael Taniet, Wednesday, December 30, 2009, 1 PM

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 30 Dec 2009

29 comments, Last at 05 Jan 2010, 12:38pm by C

Comments

1
by Bobman :: Wed, 12/30/2009 - 7:13pm

Jesus, Mike, that was a good ride... year's best? It has my vote. Like watching one of those slapsticky "everything wild happens at the holidays" movies. Trains, Planes, and Automobiles? I guess that Makes Aaron John Candy. Sorry, dude.

And thanks for reminding me how glad I am to have moved out of NJ/NY. Hope you survive 2010.

Oh, and "Every angry Colts fan who returns his season tickets should be forced to watch the Raiders for a full season."

Greater truth hath never been spaketh. Or somehting like that.

2
by Bobman :: Wed, 12/30/2009 - 7:13pm

Oh, and Second!

3
by Dales :: Wed, 12/30/2009 - 7:14pm

Jason Campbell will be the new Brett Favre, only with swaggertastic Old Spice commercials instead of Wrangler jeans ones.

5
by Hurt Bones :: Wed, 12/30/2009 - 7:42pm

I'm picturing a screwball Campbell comedy. He travels the country in search of something [ADD GOAL] maybe in a large RV. He's has a group of mad scientist type advisors. There are also a couple of stooge assistants wearing numbers in the 60s and 70s. They look suspiciously like Bob Denver and Jim Nabors. There is an interfering deity.

Call it "Jason and the Snydernauts"

21
by The Other Ben Johnson (not verified) :: Thu, 12/31/2009 - 12:16pm

Wrong. Action movie version of the fight scene in "Cool Hand Luke," but he keeps fighting anyway, and instead of getting his man, he merely gets very close to getting his man, and it doesn't matter all that much, like the end of "Chinatown."

29
by C (not verified) :: Tue, 01/05/2010 - 12:38pm

On a serious note my co-worker saw Jason Campbell at the Dulles Towne Center mall before Christmas walking around with his parents. He said he realized it was him about 30 feet away and being the Redskin fan that he is he wanted to say something to him... He wanted to say " good game", but the team was losing, and he wanted to say " nice touchdown pass" or something else good natured. He couldn't think of anything positive to say, so he just walked by his favorite team's quarterback without saying anything.When he told me this story I laughed outloud.

It feels like even the fans in Washington don't like him anymore. The National line of " it's his line's fault" is only bought by the Doc Walker faithful that are all over his jock while most Redskins fans see him as backup QB.

4
by Kal :: Wed, 12/30/2009 - 7:27pm

The NFL should establish a telephone hotline to answer tiebreaker questions, with Boolean operators standing by

Oh. Ow. That was painfully awesome.

7
by Uri Guttman (not verified) :: Wed, 12/30/2009 - 9:43pm

i don't laugh out loud often when reading stuff but that pun forced me to. a perfect cross of math/computer geek and football!

24
by TomC :: Thu, 12/31/2009 - 5:40pm

Awful. Reminds me of one of my favorite jokes from grad school (courtesy of one of the disturbingly large number of Canadians in the department):

Q: What do you call a Bell Canada employee who lives in Hamilton but works in Toronto?

A: A Hamiltonian operator that commutes.

6
by bubqr :: Wed, 12/30/2009 - 9:34pm

We had dinner, drank a few beers, and made a solemn oath to defend Jason Campbell at all costs.

That was really good, and the whole piece, well written, as usual.

8
by the silent speaker (not verified) :: Wed, 12/30/2009 - 9:45pm

Happy new year, crazy Rams guy.

9
by the K (not verified) :: Wed, 12/30/2009 - 9:46pm

...and made a solemn oath to defend Jason Campbell at all costs.

Could you guys get the Redskins' O-line to do the same thing? Thanks.

Sincerely,

Not Jason Campbell, honest

22
by BroncosGuy (not verified) :: Thu, 12/31/2009 - 12:33pm

Nicely done, K.

10
by Key19 :: Wed, 12/30/2009 - 11:21pm

Good stuff. Looking forward to all of the goodies promised in next week's edition!

11
by Herbert Kornfeld (not verified) :: Wed, 12/30/2009 - 11:46pm

Just think, if Jason Campbell was Cody Wojciechowski instead, we'd miss out on so much fun.

12
by John (not verified) :: Wed, 12/30/2009 - 11:55pm

It is, however, interesting to contemplate the creative ways Raiderjoe would misspell Wojciechowski's name.

13
by jebmak :: Thu, 12/31/2009 - 12:03am

That was awesome. Another great column Mr. Taniet! You are rapidly becoming my second-favorite writer on this site.

As an accountant, I think that the iPod Touch could be a resonable business deduction, depending. I think that you are on your own for the food though.

Jason Campbell - All decade team 2010-2019.

14
by Anonymouse (not verified) :: Thu, 12/31/2009 - 12:09am

Old Bushmills? Come on Mike. Is that the Malt, the Twelve, or (my favorite) the Black Bush?

28
by Harris :: Fri, 01/01/2010 - 10:50am

If the option is available, always enjoy some black bush. What's Bushmills?

Hail Hydra!

15
by utvikefan (not verified) :: Thu, 12/31/2009 - 1:22am

Great read. I loved the Taniet bit both in audibles and here, hahhaha. GO! GO! Crazy Rams guy!

16
by NHPatsFan (not verified) :: Thu, 12/31/2009 - 3:10am

You gave us that weak-ass Jason Campbell crap and passed up a chance at the John Barleycorn parody? You're slipping Tanier!!

There were three men came out of the west, their fortunes for to try
And these three men made a solemn vow
John Barleycorn must die

17
by ChuckC (not verified) :: Thu, 12/31/2009 - 10:29am

I'm still trying to figure out if the high school choir bit is a joke or not

18
by Paul R :: Thu, 12/31/2009 - 10:33am

Speaking as a self-employed person, I'd deduct the pork. Go for it.

19
by JasonK :: Thu, 12/31/2009 - 11:06am

PINE BARRENZ 4 EVA!

20
by Hurt Bones :: Thu, 12/31/2009 - 11:28am

Weren't the Pine Barons local satraps out Idaho way? Or were those the Spruce Barons, I get my conifers confused. Either way, I thought they had all been mediatized.

23
by tally :: Thu, 12/31/2009 - 3:42pm

By Chargers-Titans kickoff, my mother was telling stories about how she didn't have a Christmas tree as a child because of wartime shortages. I didn't know that Sherman tanks were made of evergreens, though it explains a lot, and to find a shortage of small pine trees in South Jersey, you have to go back to the Mesozoic era. Even Mom isn't that old school.

Probably my favorite part of this Walkthrough. Why would there be a higher demand for Xmas trees during wartime? Certainly there's a shortage of able-bodied men to lug them from those lots.

25
by Crazy Rams Guy (not verified) :: Thu, 12/31/2009 - 6:06pm

I cannot imagine why the people of Delaware would confuse you with me.
We look nothing alike.

26
by Jon Silverberg (not verified) :: Thu, 12/31/2009 - 6:36pm

C'mon, Taniet...THREE copies and return the originals and all the copies...you're not fit to operate Booleans...and I laughed out loud at the Pine Barrens reference...

27
by BroncosGuy (not verified) :: Thu, 12/31/2009 - 8:59pm

Pine Barrens is also an outstanding Sopranos episode . . . 16 Czechoslovakians