The Blog Squad

Friday, December 21, 2007

The 12th Man on the Field

The unofficial count was 10 dropped passes by the New York Giants last Sunday when they lost to the Washington Redskins. Some blamed it on wind gusts. Others said it was because of frigid conditions. And still others pointed to the playoff pressure of the game.

The Giants dropped screens, hooks and go passes. Amani Toomer was wide open down the sidelines, and New York’s all-time leading receiver had the ball bounce off his hands. Nobody was within five yards of him.

As I watched this happen, muffed pass after muffed pass, I wondered …
I rank the Redskins' 22-10 victory over the Giants as one of the best ever. It’s been a difficult season to watch and follow. There was so much hope at the beginning and so many close defeats in the middle. Washington (7-7) lost five games after holding the lead at halftime. A sixth defeat came when the Redskins threw two late interceptions deep in Tampa Bay territory in a 19-13 loss.

It has indeed been a nightmare season on the field, and coupled with the murder of star free safety Sean Taylor, many Redskins fans have wished for the end to come soon. That sentiment continued last Sunday night when second-year linebacker Rocky McIntosh fell in the first quarter. The weakside linebacker will be out for up to a year after he tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee. He was developing at a stellar pace, and it’s questionable if he’ll ever regain his explosiveness.

So with three young defensive playmakers out due to devastating circumstances, and a quarterback who hadn’t started a game since 1997, there was no way Washington could win at the Meadowlands, especially with New York knowing that a victory would secure it a playoff berth. The Giants had outscored the Redskins 55-3 at home the past two seasons.

But then New York players started to drop passes. And Brandon Jacobs, their 265-pound running back, was being tackled by smaller guys. And Giants quarterback Eli Manning was jumpy in the pocket and threw some passes early despite little pressure.

What was happening?

Could it be?

To me, there was a force greater than the wind and cold, and greater than the circumstances of the situation that was pushing the Redskins along to victory.

I don’t claim to be overly spiritual, but I do believe. I have faith. I know there is existence. If I look to the sky, put my hands together and ask for guidance, I know I’m heard.

That’s why it’s not impossible for me to fathom that a presence, with work left undone, was there to lend a hand to his teammates on the cold winter night.

I don’t want the season to end anymore. It may this Sunday night in Minnesota. But I have this feeling, the Vikings might drop a few easy passes and their pro bowl rookie Adrian Peterson might find it hard to break tackles or juke defenders.

I have a feeling it’s not over yet because there’s still work left undone.

OUT AT HOME: Have you ever seen a baby squirrel? Or even a teenaged squirrel?

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: The Redskins need to bring this attitude to the game Sunday night against Minnesota.

Notice how Frampton (No. 39) is talking back. See what happens to Frampton later. Man, he was a badass!

—Gage Harter

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Skating Into Richmond, for Cancer’s Sake

The annual Women & Wellness Forum Series to benefit breast-cancer research is slated for Feb. 5 at the Jefferson Hotel. This year’s keynote speaker is Mary Lou Retton, Olympic gold medalist, fitness ambassador, author and actress. Retton will speak at both the breakfast, which will start promptly at 8 a.m., and the luncheon, which begins with a reception at noon. Last year, Richmond native Sara James, a Dateline NBC correspondent, spoke at the event.

Invitations to the 2008 Women & Wellness breakfast and luncheon will be mailed on Jan. 3, 2008. Reservations will not be taken until after this date, and no telephone reservations will be accepted. If you would like to be placed on the 2008 Women & Wellness invitation list, please e-mail with your full name and mailing address.

Monday, December 17, 2007

French Schmench. Try Israeli Wine.

Can the wineries of Israel hold their own against vintners from well-known wine-producing regions such as California, France and Italy? Judge for yourself at Jewish Family Services’ Israeli Wine Festival on Jan. 19 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Troutman Sanders Building (1001 Haxall Point).

The event will feature red, white and dessert wines from top wineries in Israel, along with food by Richmond chefs from Anything Goes Catering, BlackFinn Restaurant & Saloon, Old Original Bookbinder’s, Carena’s Jamaican Grille, Jay Frank, The Melting Pot, Three Monkey’s, and Rostov’s Coffee & Tea. Plus, guests will enjoy a silent auction of travel, jewelry and more.

Tickets are $75 in advance and $100 at the door. Proceeds benefit Jewish Family Services, a nonprofit agency that offers programs such as counseling, home health care and adoption. For more information, call 282-5644 or visit

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Mitchell Report: The Cleanup Hitter

Now we know that Roger Clemens (Page 167) is a cheater. And so is his buddy Andy Pettitte (Page 175). And former American League MVP Miguel Tejada (Page 201). And former National League Cy Young winner Eric Gagne (Page 216). Even Halle Berry’s former husband, David Justice (Page 181), deceived us.

These players and many others were named Thursday in the Mitchell Report, which alleges their use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.

George Mitchell, former U.S. Senate Minority Leader, told the world during a press conference that, “for more than a decade there has been widespread anabolic steroid use.” Mitchell was hired by Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, and the report concluded a 20-month investigation.

Even though Mitchell wrote in the 409-page report that “former commissioner Fay Vincent told me that the problem of performance-enhancing substances may be the most serious challenge that baseball has faced since the 1919 Black Sox scandal,” the 74-year-old director of the Boston Red Sox also wrote against disciplining players named in the report.

“Except in those cases where [Selig] determines that the conduct is so serious that discipline is necessary to maintain the integrity of the game. I make this recommendation fully aware that there are valid arguments both for and against it,” Mitchell wrote.

Personally, I’d like to see none of the named players be allowed to play the game again. However, that’s not how our system works. They will play and earn their millions.

But they will be treated like pariahs, a la Mark McGwire, when judgment day comes. The end of a storied career should be a time of great reflection and a reward for the hard work and dedication they put toward their craft. However, for many, that day when they retreat away from the game will be the moment when they realize the damage they have done to America’s pastime.

It is my hope that when Roger Clemens is up for induction, for the greatest honor available to an athlete, immortality and enshrinement, his name will not be called. The Baseball Hall of Fame will not want him despite his statistics.

To my knowledge, the Hall of Fame is 100 percent clean. The players celebrated there now cast no suspicions of cheating and no doubts of their accomplishments. There are no asterisks.

Bonds and now Clemens hail from the Steroids Era, but that’s no excuse. Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey, Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine to name a few, also come from the same period, and they will enter the Hall of Fame with no illegal prick marks on their bodies.

Keep the Baseball Hall of Fame clean.

I believe the next generation of players — Prince Fielder, David Wright, Fausto Carmona, Felix Hernandez, Jose Reyes, Scott Kazmir, Grady Sizemore, Cole Hamels, Matt Holliday, Curtis Granderson, Alex Rios, Ryan Zimmerman, Troy Tulowitzki, Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Braun, Justin Verlander, Bobby Jenks, Nick Markakis, Adrian Gonzalez, C.C. Sabathia, Scott Shields, Brandon Webb, Josh Beckett, Chris Young, B.J. Upton, Danny Haren, etc. — will make us forget all the cheaters.

OUT AT HOME: Want something fun and cheap to do with your kid(s)? Go to Stony Point Mall just before 7 p.m. any night and tell your kid(s) to stick out their tongue. Something magical will happen.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: Would I ever do this? HELL, NO!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Will You Go See R. Kelly?

When he sang “I Believe I Can Fly,” I thought it was a little cheeseball, but when R. Kelly came out with his “Trapped in the Closet” series, I lost all respect. Come on, folks, that’s not music. And it certainly doesn’t warrant a Grammy nomination?

And we can’t forget R. Kelly’s legal troubles, which my fave comedian Dave Chappelle doesn’t shy away from.

But he really ticked me off when he dragged Usher down with him with this song.

So needless to say, when R. Kelly comes to the Richmond Coliseum on Jan. 11, I won’t be in attendance — will you?

Friday, December 07, 2007

Vigil This Sunday

This Sunday, Dec. 9, at the Fairfax Building (10710 Midlothian Turnpike) there will be a candlelight vigil for Kyle Fleischmann. The vigil is part of a national effort to bring attention to the disappearance of Fleischmann, a 24-year-old who went missing from his hometown of Charlotte, N.C., on Nov. 9. The vigil starts at 4:30 p.m. For more information, visit

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Caught in the Web

Remember the swell of pride and support Richmonders threw behind Elliott Yamin in his bid to win American Idol?

Well, here we are again. The national spotlight shines on the University of Richmond Spiders tomorrow in their quest for a national football championship. It’s great when the whole city can get behind something, and this is the ticket.

The Spiders (11-2) play two-time defending champion Appalachian State (11-2) at 8 p.m. in Boone, N.C. The game will be televised on ESPN2 with the winner advancing to the NCAA Division I-AA title game on Dec. 14 in Chattanooga, Tenn. Delaware and Southern Illinois play in the other semifinal.

If you remember, Appalachian State stunned the college football world with a Labor Day weekend beating of the University of Michigan in the Big House. Some have called the victory the greatest upset in college football history.

The Mountaineers are 37-6 over the past three seasons and have won 34 of 35 home games. They are led by sophomore quarterback Armanti Edwards and running back Kevin Richardson.

The Spiders have won eight games in a row and defeated Wofford, 21-10, last weekend in Spartanburg, S.C. Star running back Tim Hightower scored two touchdowns and Michael Ireland recorded an interception and recovered a fumble. Quarterback Eric Ward finished 20 of 30 for 181 yards and a touchdown.

“We thought we played an excellent football team tonight,” said coach Dave Clawson after the game. “Appalachian will be a good challenge for us. They are good and we know it is a tough place to play. (But) you could tell us we were going to Russia right now and we would be thrilled.”

I graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University and hate everything UR. I hate their pretty little campus. I hate how their fans would chant “SAT” to VCU players back in the day at the Robins Center. I hate how their students sat on plush lawns while we chafed our butts on concrete. I hate how their basketball team has beaten powerhouses in the NCAA Tournament, including wins against No. 2 seed Syracuse in 1991 and defending national champion Indiana in 1988.

But all that gets put aside tomorrow as this gutsy team represents our city in one of the most significant sporting events in Richmond’s history. I know Virginia Union has won several basketball national championships, but this is football, America’s game.

The Spiders are a balanced team. They score 34.9 points per game, third best in the Colonial Athletic Association. They are second best in the CAA in scoring defense (21.5 per game) and sacks (37). This team likes to be methodical on offense and attack opponents on defense.

The team in some ways reflects our fair city’s fiercest traits. We have a conservative, measured approach to things. Before making big changes, we like to make sure everything is in place and go about it in a systematic pace. But if people threaten us, our defense is to gouge out their eyes (I’m thinking politicians and NASCAR drivers here).

And for you VCU grads who think I’ve turned John Walker Lindh, consider this. Richmond will never beat us in football. And at our current pace, they won’t ever beat us again in basketball either.

OUT AT HOME: I told my wife recently that “real men” have big HD televisions. She thought about it and agreed. What a great wife. So I went and got a Best Buy credit card. I have been shopping around and this is the one I want. But that’s out of my price range. So this is the one I’m going to get. What a beauty!

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: This referee paid homage to one of the greatest rulings ever. All hail Ben Dreith!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Want Some Dinner With That Wine?

On Dec. 6, La Petite France is hosting its first wine dinner under new ownership (Karol and Tamara Gajda took over in April). The Feast of St. Nicolas, which begins at 7 p.m., will feature six courses of traditional winter French cuisine paired with regional French wines (see below). The meal is $75 per person, excluding tax and tip. For reservations, call 353-8729 or visit

Mulled wine

First Course
Pâte du foie gras “en croûte”
Champagne Aspic Nicolas Sauterne

Second Course
Gratin of winter cardoons scented with lavender
Château Magence Graves, 2004

Third Course
Filet of Pacific halibut, saffron crème and mussels
Roux Tere and Fils White Burgandy, 2005

Fourth Course
Roast duck with chestnuts, walnut-crusted figs and Armagnac
Domaine La Guintrandy Côtes du Rhône, 2005

Fifth Course
Trails End Farm mixed greens, candied walnuts, peppermint oil and balsamic syrup
“Hugel” Gentil, 2005

Sixth Course
Bûche de Nöel
Coffee, tea