Monday, April 30, 2012

Panic In The D, Panic In The D

It's been a pretty excruciating month for Detroit sports fans. The Red Wings got bounced from the playoffs after managing to win only one postseason game. The Tigers got swept by the lowly Mariners, lost Delmon Young to alleged racism, then cut ties with long-time Tiger/sacrificial lamb Brandon Inge. The Pistons disappointing season came to a relieving end, though there is little reason to be optimistic things will change in the near future. And to top things off, THE LIONS TOOK A RECEIVER IN THE SECOND ROUND. THE WORLD IS ENDING! MILLEN IS REBORN! CALVIN JOHNSON IS CURSED!

This hasn't been our best month. But the pandemonium that the fans have displayed in the past weeks has been eye-rolling at best and apocalyptic at worst.

I'm not going to post specific tweets or link to certain message boards; the purpose of this post is not to instigate a witch hunt. If you're interested in the specifics of the uncontrollable chaos, it really shouldn't be that hard to find with rudimentary googling skills.

Instead, I am going to tackle these issues one-by-one in an attempt to set the Doomsday Clock back a couple hours from midnight.

Red Wings - I am starting with this one because it's the toughest to come to terms with. Hockey has always been my second love behind football, and for the past 15 years the Red Wings have been at the center of April in the D. But after playing in only five postseason games, fans are left unsatisfied and confused.

The team may not need to be blown up, but its more than obvious that the team is trending in the wrong direction. Nick Lidstrom may be done, and whatever free agent the Wings muster up, he will fail to fully fill the skates that Lidstrom has hung up.

I could try to sugar coat the situation by pointing to the Wings' 23-game home winning streak, but anyone who watched knows that the Wings looked anything but dominant during that stretch. In fact, during the three months of the streak, the Wings were a paltry 13-13 away from Joe Lewis Arena.

Uh, yeah, so...optimistic spin time. First and foremost, we're spoiled. It was nice to think that the Wings' dynasty would last forever, but it can't and won't. Though the Wings haven't reached the conference finals in three years, they've reached the playoffs in 21-straight seasons which is the longest active streak in any professional sport.

That streak is not likely to end any time soon, either. The Red Wings still have two cornerstones to the team: Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Both were struggling with injuries throughout the season and didn't quite look 100% during the postseason. And while the Wings failed to have a 30-goal scorer on the roster this season, second-tier players Valtteri Filppula and Jiri Hudler both saw a significant increase in their production. And it looks like they may have a budding star in Gustav Nyquist. Their roster is still a good two to three lines deep, and with a couple of solid defensive additions and perhaps a goal-scorer, the Wings could be right back in the hunt for the cup a year from now.

Tigers - Perhaps the most surprising development of "April in the D" was the mighty struggle of the Tigers. After an extremely promising start, the Tigers have dropped eight of their last ten and now sit at 11-11, tied with Chicago for second in the AL Central.

If I were to put a Homeland Security coded color to the Tigers' crisis, it would be beige. The season is approximately 12% done. The Tigers lost their #2 starter in his first start of the season and will be getting him back soon. Doug Fister's return will give the Tigers a much-needed boost on the mound.

Additionally, the Tigers have had a pretty brutal schedule to date. Their opponents have included the Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, White Sox, Royals, Rangers and Mariners. All of those teams (outside of the Royals, whom the Tigers swept) are either 0.5 game below .500 or better. Of course, come playoff time, the Tigers will need to start beating the better teams in the league, but that's still four months away and the team is still figuring out its chemistry.

As for the Young situation, it was a classic case of overreaction before the entire story was released. Young was clearly in the wrong for his actions, but in the end, they weren't all that severe. To put things in perspective, the off-field actions of Miguel Cabrera in the past few years (DUI, alleged domestic dispute, etc.) have been much more severe, yet every time he steps into the batters box, all seems to be forgotten. This is, of course, because WE LIKE WHEN MAN HIT BALL FAR. But when Young pushes a guy to the ground, says a hateful word and is labeled as a "hate criminal", we should crucify him, because he rarely hits dingers. It's all hypocritical and reactionary. Take a breath and see where we are in a month from now.

Pistons - Uh...hey, at least THIS isn't us. Remember 2004? When fros were to be feared? Ah...*strokes jewfro*...those were some great times. My best advice: become a football fan.

Lions - I've saved the most absurd for last.

Instant criticism of the draft is nothing new to Lions fans (or any football fan). In fact, that's pretty much what the draft is all about. But I guess I was a bit naive to think that Martin Mayhew and the rest of the front office had gained the benefit of the doubt by now. After Mayhew pulled this team out of the smoldering pit of doom in just three years, you'd think many would just sit back and let the miracle worker do his thing.

"Play...offs, Helen. Playyyofffffs."

But after the number that Millen did on Lions fans, there's a now-biological reaction to the Lions drafting a wide receiver that involves internal bleeding, vomiting, delusions of persecution, and, of course, foaming at the mouth. It happened with Titus Young last year and it happened ten-fold when the Lions took Ryan Broyles in the second round on Thursday.

When you sift through all the reactionary panic, this pick actually has some intrigue. Though the top three receiver spots on the depth chart are occupied, the fourth receiver is bound to see the field plenty throughout the season. I would be shocked if we didn't see some four-wide sets from Scott Linehan next year. Additionally, Broyles will get a ton of playing time once Calvin Johnson succumbs to the Madden Curse and suffers a terrible ACL tear (kidding). The Lions' identity is clearly a pass-first team, and giving Matthew Stafford more weapons is never a bad thing. Broyles offers a pair of reliable hands that should be around long after players like Nate Burleson have passed their prime.

Were there bigger needs? Sure. Were there players on the board who seemed like a safer bet according to media scouts? Definitely. I, admittedly, was a little disappointed upon hearing the center Peter Konz was still available at that point. But clearly he wasn't high on the Lions' board. Call it "blind faith", but I have full confidence in the Lions' ability to put together a draft board. Actually, don't call it "blind faith". My faith is based on three years of solid drafting and rebuilding a team from nothing. Mayhew has earned my trust more than any mock drafter or any television head. As they say, "In Mayhew We Trust." And though the picks often seem strange, lest we forget: "Mayhew works in mysterious ways."

April comes to an end tonight. With it, let's put all the terror and fear in the rear-view mirror. Better times are ahead as long as we allow them to happen. At the very least, we won't have to listen to the crappy "April in the D" song anymore.*

*Does this song still actually exist? I don't get FSD here in California.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Confessions of an Offseason Hater

I've never enjoyed the offseason. I was bred a football fan through an endless amount of weekends spent in the halls of Pontiac. The thrill and unpredictability of the game-day experience was enthralling and addictive. As I grew older, my interest deepened. Suddenly it wasn't just a random assortment of physical beings that I was witnessing; it was a classic chess-match between two perfectly trained masses. My eyes no longer scattered randomly across the astroturf trying to catch up with the action. My highly-trained pupils narrowed the field and, at times, I was ahead of the action. This opened up an entirely new game I didn't even know existed. There were formations and routes and schemes and swim moves and chip blocks. The rabbit hole was endlessly deep.

But that endless curiosity always came to a screeching halt the day after the Lombardi trophy was hoisted. My interest never piqued upon scouring the internet for the latest Lions rumor. The offseason provided nothing to fuel my curiosity of the game of football. Sure it offered promise and theoretical championships for my Detroit Lions, but that's all it was: hypotheticals. My friends were always surprised when I failed to get hooked on offseason mania. The one year they finally convinced me to make a first round mock draft, I half-assed it, mostly plagiarizing the first few results on Google.

Little has changed. I still crave for more knowledge about the game, and I still hate the offseason.

My biggest problem with the offseason is that more doesn't happen than does. Every high-profile free agent is cherished by all 32 fan bases and 31 will be left disappointed. Teams are "in talks" about trading for a player until they aren't (and never really were). Even with this season's fairly "exciting" offseason, only two or three major transactions were made.

So when nothing is happening, people are forced to analyze why nothing is happening. The most annoying example of this is the coverage of contract disputes. Coming to an contractual agreement is a slow process that is mostly driven by deadlines. Yet year after year, players are antagonized for failing to quickly agree on a deal, despite the fact that there is little incentive to do so. Fan bases are quick to throw a player under the bus for being "selfish", but when the disputes end peacefully (like they do 95% of the time*) and the ball is finally kicked off in September, those fans' outrage will be long forgotten.

And that brings me to the draft. So much energy is wasted and e-ink spilled in the name of predicting something that no one will predict correctly. All you have to do is look back to last year to see that no one has a clue what the Lions will with the 23rd pick on Thursday. The Lions were 10 positions ahead last year, and I didn't see one mock draft that landed Nick Fairley in Detroit. Sure mock drafts can be a fun endeavor for those who like to think they have the talents that scouts have (SPOILER ALERT: you don't). And, yes, even I have fantasized about being GM for a day hoping that I could have what it takes (SPOILER ALERT: I don't). But does any of that come close to the thrill of an actual game? To me, it's an insulting comparison.

Yet the draft sits a mere day away, and I can't help but feel that twinge of excitement. It's the one point in the offseason where something is guaranteed to happen. All the mock drafts fade away into obscurity to make way for actual events! And I have to say, the NFL has done a magnificent job in making the draft as entertaining as it is. The slow walk to the podium, the Giants and Jets fans at Radio City acting as the immediate pulse of the nation, the elation of the newly-picked and the dejection of the passed-over all make for a television broadcast any film snob would be proud of (as long as Chris Berman is muted). And kudos to the NFL for getting together with NFLN and ESPN to make sure that the broadcast will not tip any of the teams' picks before they are announced, just so us fans can have a few extra seconds of pure, unfiltered anticipation. It is truly an exhilarating event that nearly contests the game-day experience.

Of course, once the new Lions are named, the fantasizing begins all over again. Where will he fit in? What if he's a bust? Can he clean up his off-field antics? How many wins does he give us? Were we 'winners' or 'losers'?**

Ugh. Well, at least we have the next three days.

* I made this number up. No, not the actual number. I'm pretty sure "95%" existed before this post. I mean I made up the stat, because it's not something you can really look up and I think you get my point...

**I can tell you already the answer to that last question is "neither". No games have been played yet. Without a game, there is no winners or losers. The draft is not a competition; each team comes in with different goals. Please frame your draft analysis in a different manner. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Mad Men: The Lost Story of Abraham Silverman

Yesterday marked the debut of Mad Men star Jon Hamm's directorial career. While this particular episode of Mad Men was not observably different or poorer in quality, there was one unforgivable err on the part of Hamm. About halfway through the episode, there was a strikingly handsome gentleman in the background who damn-near jumped through my plasma with his unmistakable charm and charisma. I contacted my several sources and found out this "extra" actually had a character name and story that was dropped shortly before filming began. This is the story of Abraham Silverman.

Young Abraham, or "Awesome Abe" as he called himself (no one else did), grew up in the lower-east side of Manhattan in a dilapidated apartment with his orthodox Jewish family. His mother, a housewife and his father a street vendor, Abraham did not live a life of leisure. In fact, it was his older brother, Jeremiah, who seemed to be the beneficiary of what little money was coming in. Abraham would often come home from school only to see his brother sporting his vibrant new slacks. He was immensily jealous of his brother; he seemed to have everything: a quick wit, handsome looks and an endless amount of women he sneeked into the bedroom that they both shared.

The only thing Jeremiah lacked was the very thing that Abraham exceeded at, school marks. Abraham spent afternoons huddled under his dusty sheets armed with his trusty pencil and paper pad. His parents seemed off-put by Abe's obsession with school work, fearing his social skills were deteriorating at an alarming rate. "Why don't you put your little pencil down and play a game of stickball with your friends?" his mother would implore. Abraham would just roll his eyes and pretend he didn't hear her.

When Abe's head wasn't in school work, he was fiercely attached to his phonograph. He had obtained the machine from a street vendor who had failed to sell the disheveled machine every day for the past year. Abe asked the man if he would trade the broken machine for his patched up shoes. Desperate, the vendor agreed. When his mother asked where his shoes had gone, Abe told her that his classmates had ripped them right off his feet (again). It only took a couple weeks of Abe's tinkering to get the machine in working condition.

His most prized possession was the only LP he owned: "Aftermath" by the Rolling Stones. He had found the discarded album melting in the sunlight of a nearby street alley. Though terribly warped, the album was still miraculously playable. Abe would listen to the warbled tracks of "Under My Thumb" and, his favorite, "Paint It, Black" with remarkable glee. Mick Jagger understood him. He had to meet him.

It was a sweltering hot day and Abe was daydreaming under his covers about his upcoming arithmetic test. His visions of being on stage with the Rolling Stones had gone the way of his "Aftermath" record, which was melted and worn so badly now that its tunes were no longer recognizable.

Abe's father came home with a look that Abe recognized immediately: he had had another terrible day at the market. "I just got swindled by some vagrant claiming he had tickets to the hottest new rock and roll band. I only accepted because I gave him some piece-o-junk typewriter that barely works anymore." His father discarded the tickets with his copy of the day's newspaper on the kitchen table.

Abe squinted his eyes to read the fine print on the cardboard tickets and just as "The Rolling Stones" came into focus, his pupils dilated and his eyelids shot open. "Dad, these are THE ROLLING STONES! The greatest band ever!"

"I don't care who they are. I've never heard of them and no one in this house is going to see them. Only reefer-smokers go to rock and roll shows and I'll be damned if I'm going to see my youngest turn into a war-hating hippie."

Abe had only heard his dad swear once before. He was watching the news and was saying something about rice patties, but Abe never really understood what he was talking about. But after seeing the fiery look in his eyes, he feared the potential of an angered father. He vowed to do whatever he could to prevent himself from seeing that side of his father ever again.

But here he stood, staring down the very same irate father who stood between him and his one-and-only dream. His eyed swelled up with confused tears. He ran the full gamut of emotions in mere moments. Anger, dread, devastation, jealousy were all bubbling inside his young head like an adolescent stew. He managed to squeak out a "Yes, sir", before speed-walking to his room where his emotions exploded into his feathery pillow.

After hours of draining tantrums, Abe had come to a conclusion: he was going to the concert, even if it cost him his life. His plan was ill-conceived, but it mattered not. His father was too preoccupied with work and his mother too uninterested to notice Abe's absence. The first thing Abe needed was a groovy outfit. Keith Richards wouldn't want to hang out with some square Jewish boy. He headed straight for his brother's closet and quickly found a neat-looking olive shirt, an oversized tie and leather boots that left plenty of space for his foot to glide in. With almost no real plan in place, Abe simply grabbed the tickets from the kitchen table and headed to the concert.

Abe was uncomfortable walking the streets of New York at night, but he kept his mind from worry by staring at the tickets and imagining the hours to come. Suddenly, he face went white. These were third-row tickets! That couldn't be possible! In an hours time, he would be mere feet from his idols!

He arrived at the small venue hours before the show started. He quickly found his seats, sat down and rested his hands on his bobbling knees. There was a strange aroma in the air, one that reminded him of his older brother.

As other began to file in, Abe would greet them with a friendly nod. "Yeah, I'm at a Rolling Stones concert. I'm cool. Just like you. Cool people nod to each other to let each other know they're cool," he thought to himself. The others looked right through him, but Abe didn't seem to notice or care, he was riding a high.

Soon the time came for the band to take the stage. Abe was eager, but anxious. He double-checked his tickets. It was 8 PM, why weren't they playing? The minutes seemed like hours. He checked his watch. 8:13. His anxiety turned into deliriousness. He turned to his peers desperately trying to find an answer. Was his watch broken? Had he come on the wrong day? Were the Stones not coming?

"Chill, man. It's cool to be late," a long haired fellow assured Abe.

The thought puzzled Abe, but it actually helped calm his body, which was now layered in a thick coat of sweat.

Finally, the band emerged and Abe let out a high-pitched scream that was luckily drowned out by the hundreds of women around him. Abe nearly fainted at the glory of the stage, but was immediately startled by the volume of the band. He tried to ask the long-haired man if it was going to be this loud the entire show, but was cut off by the masses who were rushing the stage.

Abe's body was tossed around Mexican jumping bean until he finally escaped hundreds of yards further from the stage than he had started. He eyed the nearest security guard looking for a helping hand, but was soon lost in the music. How majestic it was! He had never heard the music so pure and unfiltered.

As The Rolling Stones belted out the final tunes of their hour-long setlist, Abe, desperately needing to wipe the sweat from his face, momentarily snapped out of his euphoria to reach for his handkerchief. It had been lost in his scuffle with the fans. Abe pushed his way back into the crowds in order to find his handkerchief or, at the very least, a discarded piece of paper to wipe his brow with. Eventually he found a small rectangular piece of paper, removed his glasses, and buried his face in it. As he removed the soggy paper from his chin, he noticed something strange about the paper. Then it hit him: backstage passes! What a swell night this had become.

Abe didn't even hear the final two songs before the Jagger waltzed off the stage. His mind swelled with images of him and The Rolling Stones discussing the origins of "Paint it Black". Abe had even snuck a piece of paper with his own poetry on it and fantasized of Mr. Jagger using it for inspiration on his new record.

When the show ended, Abe nervously approached the security guard standing by the back door entrance, fearing that he'd somehow know the pass wasn't his. He puffed out his chest, said nothing, held out the pass (hand shaking ever-so-slightly) and let out a huge exhale once he was granted entrance into the backstage halls.

The walkways were covered in a dense fog and the same aroma that Abe had noticed earlier. And the girls! There must have been hundreds of them! All of them dressed in curve-hugging neon dresses. It was magnificent!

Brimming with confidence after fooling the security guard, Abe was fearless in approaching the nearest woman, a tall brunette with voluptuous breasts.

"How'd you like the show, ma'am?" he queried.

"Uh..." she laughed, "Did you just call me ma'am?"

Shocked and confused by his terrible mistake, Abe struggled to formulate a thought, and before he could muster anything that resembled a word she had turned her back to him.

Distraught, Abe hung his head, causing his glasses to unhinge from his ears and fall to the floor. As he reached down to grab them, he noticed an image in a discarded bottle on the ground. It took him several moments to recognize the handsome man in the reflection was, indeed, himself. Excitedly, he quickly slid the glasses into his front pocket and strolled squinty-eyed to the nearest female, his confidence re-installed.

An awkward moment, where Abe's impaired vision causes him to flirt with a guy he mistakes for a beautiful woman
He talked at a brisk pace. Bouncing from woman to woman, not really caring what they were saying or what they were thinking. His topic of conversation was strictly the show, telling everyone what his favorite part was and how technically sound the entire show was. If he had slowed down enough to let other's talk, he would have seen the puzzlement and slight amusement his eccentricity was causing.

Abe was just in the middle of a rant about how the lyrics in "Under My Thumb" directly mirrored his own life when someone screamed out, "They're HERE!"

A wave of people flooded the hallways and, this time, Abe was the aggressor. Shoving several women aside, Abe tried to hop over the crowd to get a short glimpse of the band, who he was sure was waiting at the end of the hallway. Alas, his small stature was not enough to force his way near the end of the hallway, and he soon found himself outside the venue with other disappointed fans.

Mixed between exhaustion and disappointment, Abe contemplated one last charge to get face-to-face with the men he so worshiped, but even in his delirium, he knew there was no chance.

As he walked the barren streets on his way home humming "Lady Jane", Abe reached in his front pocket to don his glasses once again. As his hand slid down the silky pouch, he body became paralyzed in fear. They were gone. Not only had he escaped his home against his father's will, and stolen his brother's clothing, but now he had lost his expensive pair of glasses! He knew his parents would find out and he'd be in for the whooping of his lifetime.

Abe crept into his home and glanced at the clock. It was 1 AM. He stopped and smiled, realizing he had never seen the clock in this formation at night. He tiptoed into his room to find his bed occupied by another one of his brother's girls. Though this night, it didn't bothered him as much. Abe disrobed and rolled together his brother's clothes into a makeshift pillow. He switched on his record player and curled himself into a ball. The record whispered out a tune that resembled "High and Dry." As fearful thoughts of tomorrow's punishment ran through his head, Abe slowly wept himself to sleep...though his tears less frequent and his weeps a little less audible than on a typical night.