The Blog Squad

Friday, August 29, 2008

Down to 53

Fellow Redskins fans, I’m very confused. I have no idea what our team will do this season.

Granted, it’s all preseason games, but the team looked great in the first one against the Indianapolis Colts. But they made common mistakes of a bottom-place team in the last two games. Plus, they were physically dominated in both of those games against Carolina and Jacksonville.

That aspect of their defeats has me very worried.

Call me one of the “Children of the Zorn” or “Me So Zorny” because I love our new coach. I like his approach with the players and the media. He is certainly old-school, not worried about calling a player out for lack of effort. But he also is quick to praise those who have played with intensity.

I don’t know how he’ll call a game yet since I suspect he’s been running a fairly vanilla offense in the preseason. I also don’t know about how he’ll adjust to situations, an aspect that separates good coaches from mediocre ones.

I do believe Zorn has physical talent to work with, though sometimes I question the desire and intelligence of some of the players.

Take quarterback Jason Campbell, for example. I understand he’s played in a different offense for the past six or seven years. But he has not made much progress in reading the defense and sensing pressure quicker. He seems to care less about the rush and the consequences of being hit. It’s like he’s locked into his target and nothing is going to deter him from that mission.

The good quarterbacks are able to defer to other options and instinctively avoid pressure. I have yet to see that from Campbell in the almost two years he’s been the starter. I believe it is a skill that can be learned. Maybe I shouldn’t be so worried yet. However, the Redskins open the season with three NFC road games and play New Orleans and Arizona. Washington can be 0-5 before Campbell figures it out.

Instead of trying to predict how the team will fare this season, I will try to figure out the 53 players who will be on the roster after cuts are made by the 4 p.m. Saturday deadline. Honestly, I really don’t want to think about wins and losses because I sense this could be a long season.
Roster (starters listed first, then backups in order)

QUARTERBACK (3): Campbell, Todd Collins, Colt Brennan.
Some have called for the rookie Brennan to start. That’s ridiculous. But I will tell you, there’s a chance he could compete for the role next year. That’s if Campbell continues to be clueless about things like a pass rush and Brennan maintains his level of enthusiasm and desire to improve.

RUNNING BACK (3): Clinton Portis, Ladell Betts, Marcus Mason.
I believe Rock Cartwright gets cut after a long run in Washington. It’s time this team keeps its talent and develops it rather than giving it away to other teams. Mason can play running back. He still needs to learn how to make an impact on special teams. He gets his chance this season.

FULLBACK (1): Mike Sellers.

TIGHT END (3): Chris Cooley, Fred Davis, Todd Yoder.
I love Cooley and Davis. I think both will line up together many times this season. Cooley is an all-pro, and the rookie Davis is a better blocker than expected.

WIDE RECEIVER (6): Santana Moss, Antwaan Randle El, James Thrash, Devin Thomas, Malcolm Kelly, Billy McMullen.
The Richmond native, McMullen, makes the team as the sixth receiver. However, he’ll actually see the field more than Malcolm Kelly who can’t shake his chronically bad knees. Kelly is a major disappointment. The second-round draft choice might end up on injured reserve and loss for the season. The other second rounder, Thomas, looks like he hasn’t adjusted to the speed of the game. He can talent, though raw. However, I can see him contributing come November and December.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9): Chris Samuels, Pete Kendall, Casey Rabach, Randy Thomas, Stephon Heyer, Jon Jansen, Jason Fabini, Chad Rinehart, Andrew Crummey.
Heyer will take over for Jansen who is aging quickly before our eyes. Don’t be surprised to see Rinehart take over at guard or Crummey at center. The offensive line will look completely different next year.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9): Andre Carter, Anthony Montgomery, Cornelius Griffin, Jason Taylor, Kedric Golston, Lorenzo Alexander, Erasmus James, Rob Jackson and Chris Wilson.
Actually, Demetric Evans will probably make the team, though I hope not. He has not done anything and not developed at all. I like the rookie Jackson, who is a bigger defensive end. Golston loses his starting position because he is not a gap run stopper. Hopefully Taylor is back at full strength and he and Carter post double digit sacks.

LINEBACKERS (6): Rocky McIntosh, London Fletcher, Marcus Washington, H.B. Blades, Khary Campbell, Alfred Fincher.
The starting linebackers are old and injury-prone. Hopefully Fincher pans out because he’s been one of the few to show intensity every game in the preseason.

SECONDARY (10): Shawn Springs, Fred Smoot, Kareem Moore, LaRon Landry, Carlos Rogers, Reed Doughty, Leigh Torrence, Chris Horton, Justin Hamilton, Matteral Richardson.
With Landry, this defense is a force. Moore looks like a player who can deliver blows over the middle. Pray that Springs, Smoot and Rogers stay healthy.

SPECIAL TEAMS (3): Durant Brooks, Shaun Suisham, Ethan Albright.
Brooks better win the job. He’s a multiple pro bowl punter.

OUT AT HOME: When does Lost come back on?

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: This guy Fabrice Santoro was upset that Andy Roddick served it too fast into his body. The Frenchman claimed Roddick was headhunting or something to that effect. Are you kidding me? This is the U.S. Open. I’ve never heard of such a complaint. So what does Fabrice do on the next point? Match point? He stops playing. Way to compete Fabrice.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Groin Pulls Ate My Potatoes

I was honored to be asked back to the Richmond Magazine Fantasy Football League. However, this time, I told myself, I would not only win the championship, but I would put a hurting on my opponent each time out.

I finished in sixth place last year, and in my mind, that result was a product of me being absent at the draft and having the computer select my roster. Not so this season. I showed up 15 minutes early with my sheet of sleeper picks.

I wondered briefly, how much these Richmond magazine staffers and friends knew about football. I recognized that they could write a manual on AP Style. I knew they could tell me a great place to eat on a Wednesday night. And, of course, they could even give me a road map to the newest boutique in town.

Talented writers, artists and editors? Absolutely. Football experts? Um, they probably think Julius Peppers goes well with balsamic vinaigrette or Santana Moss always faces the north. Plus this was the only co-ed league I’ve ever been in. Surely boys know more about football than girls, right?

This was going to be easy pickings.

Pho King Good (my fantasy-football moniker) would rule.

Let’s stop right there before I eat more noodles.

I was wrong about these fashionistas and pop-culture hounds at the mag not knowing anything about the pigskin. Who knew there were so many rabid football fans there?

The draft started like any other. The first round consisted of Brady, Tomlinson, Westbrook, Peterson, Jackson, Addai, Manning, Gore, Lynch, Barber, Romo and Portis in that order. The second and third rounds were pretty much as expected. (I was a little concerned that Redskins Couch Potatoes started to horde all the Burgundy and Gold players. She went with Portis in the first and Cooley in the third. I didn't end up with one Redskin on my team.)

I knew it was the following rounds where I would separate myself with value picks.

But Kate’s Krazy 88s stole running back Kevin Smith early in the fourth round. How did she know about him? Then Koinichiwa B*tches (sic) reached for receiver Calvin Johnson. Both Detroit Lions players — yes, they play for Detroit — could have great seasons. They were not supposed to go so early. I honestly believed I could get them in the sixth round or beyond.

At that point, my meatballs kept falling off my chopsticks.

I wanted Pittsburgh wide receiver Santonio Holmes in the fifth. The kid is going to have a monster year. He’s a tremendous value in the middle of the draft. The Groin Pulls hurt me by taking the receiver two picks before my selection. Then the 88s nabbed Jerricho Cotchery later in the round. That dude was supposed to be a sleeper pick late in the draft.

These Richmond Mag folks were boiling my broth.

General Lee’s Chicken Brigade got greasy with Greg Jennings in the sixth round. He doesn’t have Brett Favre anymore but the kid’s still a stud receiver. Koinichiwa added to her talented roster by grabbing Selvin Young a few selections later.

Selvin Young? Come on. Only really, really, really avid football fans know who he is. It was clear they were rudely slurping my noodles now.

The Groin Pulls aggravated me more with his pick of Brandon Marshall in the seventh. Granted the receiver is going to miss the first four games with a suspension (I was shocked to realize that many at the draft knew that), Marshall still caught a lot of balls from Jay Cutler last year. Again, the Pulls got great value.

Another tremendous steal came in the 10th round when CrushYou selected DeSean Jackson. The rookie has emerged as the Eagles’ best receiver. Road Warrior and HellByrds and Southside Superstarzz somehow managed to pick running backs Ronnie Brown, DeAngelo Williams and Rudi Johnson in the 11th round. But the real bargain was Minnetonka Skippers nabbing speedster Chris Johnson. He was my biggest sleeper of the draft, and I waited patiently really believing nobody would have an idea about him.

I gotta tell ya, I left the draft feeling no steam. I will be lucky to improve on my sixth-place showing of last year. But I’m not gonna let them take my fish sauce.

Good luck, or should I say konichiwa, b*tches.

OUT AT HOME: The one plus about this drought? No mowing the grass. I haven’t done that in three weeks. Woohoo.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: A little geeky, but so true.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

OK, But ... He's Still The Boss

I was at the Bruce show last night at the Coliseum and just wanted to share a few thoughts, a couple of priceless moments and, of course, the complete set list, which true fans of the Boss love to dissect with all the relish of a forensic pathologist. As Dan Nieman mentioned in his review this morning, the sound was just awful. Longtime fans have no problem with this however, because we are hearing every riff, every grunt, every plaintive wailing note of Clarence's sax in our heads anyway. But it didn't do Bruce any favors with some of the newbies I was with — they just couldn't understand what he was saying or singing most of the time and except for his superhuman physicality, they just didn't get it. The music didn't grab hold.

But the rest of us, the anointed, got what we came for and more. The man gives so much of himself — plunging his whole body into the audience, letting them strum his guitar for crying out loud, hold his microphone, dripping his very sweat on them — that by the time he doused the throngs in front of him with a soaked sponge (a "New Jersey baptism"), you got the feeling that if Bruce decided to start a religion, there would be plenty of people lined up to drink the Kool-Aid.

Our seats were so close to the corner of the stage we could have tossed Bruce a football when he came to our side. (Dammit, how could I forget my football?) We were sitting five rows behind Bruce's mother, Adele, and his sister Pamela. He has another sister, and it might have been her also sitting with the family, but I can't confirm that.

I have to share the two funniest things that were said, not by Bruce, but by my husband who commented, "They shouldn't let Nils Lofgren stand next to Clarence Clemmons. He looks like a hobbit." And later on, as The Big Man got off of the, no kidding, golden throne he now sits on for most of the show and shuffled across the stage, "Clarence walks like your Aunt Ro Ro."

There were a few classic moments too. Bruce pulled some kid, maybe 10 or 11 years old, onto the stage and sat there with his arm around him singing "Spirit In the Night" like he was talking to a buddy on the boardwalk. He even let the kid sing the "All night!" in the chorus. He talked about Richmond, how important the town was to him in the Steel Mill days and brought Robbin Thompson up for the night's closer, "Twist And Shout."

At one point he grabbed a guy's sign which read, "My band just broke up. Please play "Backstreets" — Jesse. He obliged, and after the guitar solo, he slowed the song down and with a truly pained expression he said, "It's tough when your band breaks up." He paused for a long time, seeming like he wanted to say so much more, but he kept on singing.

Speaking of signs, I was shocked by the number of signs people were holding up with song requests, because I hadn't seen him on this tour yet. Apparently, what started out as a radio call-in song request gimmick has turned into a crazy scene where people are holding up signs with insanely obscure song requests. "Seaside Bar Song" anyone? Bruce actually wades out into the crowd, gathering up the signs and then sorts through them onstage deciding which ones to surprise the crowd, and his own band, by playing.
He gently mocked one fan who was holding up a sign for "Crush on You" from 1980's "The River."

"The band will go on record to say this is the worst song we've ever recorded," he said. And you know what, they did it anyway. —Janet Giampietro


Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Radio Nowhere
Out In The Streets
Prove It All Night
Lonesome Day
Spirit In The Night
Stand On It
Cadillac Ranch
For You
Murder Incorporated
She's The One
Living in the Future
Mary's Place
I'll Work For Your Love
The Rising
Last To Die
Long Walk Home

Crush on You
Quarter To Three
Born To Run
Bobby Jean
Dancing In the Dark
American Land
Twist And Shout

Friday, August 15, 2008


I had no idea. This time last week, I was not really excited about the Olympics. I certainly didn’t care about Michael Phelps. Eight golds? No way. It’s all hype.

Just like when Matt Biondi tried to tie Mark Spitz’s record of seven gold medals (plus seven world records) in the 1988 Seoul Games. He ended up with five golds and seven overall medals. Great feat, but not better than Spitz. Even the great Ian Thorpe managed only three golds and two silvers at the 2000 Olympics in his home country of Australia. Thorpe who was thought to be unbeatable was actually taken down twice.

These “failures” by the greats proved to me that swimming all those races, preliminaries, semifinals and finals, in a short amount of time to equal or break Spitz’s mark was too daunting.

This Michael Phelps guy, pretty good, I thought, probably better than Biondi and Thorpe but there’s way too much pressure and way too much competition for him to set the new standard.

Well, I know better now after staying up into the night to watch him flipper kick and butterfly stroke to six gold medals and six world records. WOW.

One swimmer at the games probably described it best. “We’re not chasing world records anymore,” said Great Britain’s James Goddard, who finished sixth behind Phelps in Friday’s 200 IM. “He’s the world record, so really we’re just chasing him.”

I have seen some great athletic feats. I marveled at Carl Lewis as he won the 100, 200, long jump and 4x100 track events at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. I saw Flo Jo, Michael Johnson, Edwin Moses, Mary Lou, Greg Louganis, Shannon Miller, Janet Evans, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and the first Dream Team. I witnessed Mary Decker, Mia Hamm, Karch Kiraly, Joan Benoit and Oscar de la Hoya.

But really, have anyone of us seen anyone as great as Michael Phelps? Maybe Tiger Woods? Already Phelps is the greatest summer Olympian in history with 12 gold medals.

Apparently having his goggles fill with water can’t stop him as evidence of his performance in the 200-meter butterfly. His goggles came off slightly as he dove to start the race.

They say he was identified as a potential swimming champion when he was 11. That his body, which stands at 6-foot-4, is disproportional but that helps him be great in the water. His torso is that of a 6-8 man, but his legs are usually found on someone 6-feet tall. Evidently, his shorter legs allow him to have less resistance in the water and a better kick off the wall on turns. That’s not to mention his double-jointed elbow and ankles.

It’s amazing to watch him swim, especially from those underwater shots. He was clearly born to swim.

It’s also clear that he has a champion’s heart and intelligence to know that he can’t waste his blessed talents by not giving maximum effort each time he dives into the pool.

I don’t feel cheated when watching Phelps. That’s why I root hard for him to accomplish his goal of eight gold medals and eight world records. He’s got two more races. Go get’em Michael.

My daughter has learned to give me timeouts when I argue with my wife. Funny how my wife never gets one. The little girl also knows how to improve my mood immediately after a brief row with the wife. “Daddy, are you happy or mad?” she would ask with a big smile. There’s really only one answer to that question. Suddenly, I’m much better and so is my wife.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: As much as I’ve enjoyed the Olympics, I’d much rather watch a Redskins preseason game. Here’s something from one of my favorite players.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Green, Art forever

I worked at a gas station during my late teen years, a Chevron off North Shore Drive in Reston, Va. Back then, folks had choices between full-serve and self-serve, and petroleum transport engineers like myself were responsible for collecting money from the patrons.

I would stand on the self-serve island, and give out change to people who paid with cash. Those who used plastic would follow me into the office area where I would swipe their card. That space had one soda- and two cigarette-vending machines and motor oil, transmission fluid and fuel injector cleaner on the shelves.

Many times, in the full-service island, I would check people’s dipstick, wash the windshield and put air in tires. Regular customers usually tipped a dollar or so.

It was a happening place, this Chevron station opposite Lake Anne Center. It was where I watched the Washington Redskins win the Super Bowl in 1987 while working the Sunday 3-11 p.m. shift. I believe I ordered China King that night.

The station was also a place where Redskins would come to fill up because many lived in Reston. Dexter Manley was a regular. Charles Mann appeared a few times. Mark Moseley and his perm graced us.

But my favorite, and everyone else’s, was Darrell Green who would drive his Volkswagen Bug to say hello.

My memory is blurry, but I do recall thinking that the car was a perfect fit for the diminutive Green. He was slim, but his muscles bulged from his tight T-shirt. He was very friendly and smiled all the time.

I don’t remember any of us asking Green for his autograph. It wasn’t like that. He was a Redskin, sure, but not untouchable like many athletes today. For crying out loud, he drove a Bug.

We had a tow truck driver named Willie, who had the biggest and most brutal hands I have ever seen. The guy could catch baseballs with no glove and not feel the sting. I’m not 100 percent sure, but I think Green came to the station to talk cars with Willie, who was restoring a 1970 Ford Maverick.

During this time, Art Monk was fast becoming the best receiver in the history of the game. Indeed, Jerry Rice was zigzagging for plenty of touchdowns, but it was Monk who was the standard having played five more years than the San Francisco 49ers receiver.

Monk moved the chains and is regarded as the first big receiver with a then-record of 106 receptions in 1984. He was consistent, catching a pass in 183 consecutive games.

I remember listening to the radio and reading the Washington Post when he was drafted in 1980. I was 10 and just beginning my journey as a fan of the Redskins. He was easily the team’s best player, and so many times, I fell asleep replaying his catches in my mind.

I’m not alone in expressing my fondness and gratitude to these two greats from my youth. I loved my childhood, and Monk and Green were a big part of making growing up fun.

Now these two men of class, humble and gracious every moment of their lives, will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. I won’t say anything about the travesty that kept Monk out of the hallowed halls for so long. Instead, I see the delay as a blessing as he and Green, two practice opponents for so many years, go in together.

I was able to witness the greatest era of football around these part. I am a lucky man in this regard.

OUT AT HOME: I went to the Redskins Fan Appreciation Day last weekend. What a stinking disaster. It took two hours to get into Redskins Park, and another 45 minutes to buy a hot dog. As soon as I bit into the soggy dog, the scrimmage was over. Never again? No way. I’ll be back next year.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: Remember him? Apparently he makes a good living touring minor-league ballparks now.