Thursday, November 18, 2010
For some, Michael Vick will always be an inhumane dog killer. An animal torturer who went to prison for horrific acts of cruelty that make most humans sick to imagine. Images of Vick's kennel will haunt animal lovers and sports fans for years.
Others have already forgiven him. Some never cared about his crimes. Many of his fans continued to support him even when he went to prison. His football ability was enough to keep him beyond reproach. There are fans that separate the man from the football player, only concerning themselves with game day production.
Right or wrong, fallen sports heroes can always find forgiveness by producing on the field. Fans are fickle. Many examples come to mind: Kobe Bryant, Ricky Williams, and Ray Lewis to name a few. Each case is different but rarely do achievements on the field show that a person/player has changed. When the problem is off the field, so is the solution.
Vick might be a rare example of a person whose athletic success is directly related to his contrition. Making bad choices was always a part of Vick's personality. He didn't care to be a good person or a great player. His shortcomings were as evident as his talent. A handful of incidents leading up to his dog fighting conviction highlighted his unsavory character.
Nearly everyone that watched Vick play for the Falcons saw a player who was just getting by. He didn't take the time to cultivate his talent or work on his shortcomings. He was really good, but he could have been great if he would have worked for it. Last to work and first to leave was part of his package. His football career was a metaphor for how he lived his life.
This time around he is doing things on the field he has never done before. His amazing play is a result of hard work, preparation, and dedication. He is clearly the leader when he is in the huddle and his teammates love him. The coaches have praised his attitude and work ethic which is something you never heard about in Atlanta. If his football failures were a product of his poor decision making in life, then his current success probably highlights positive life changes.
When Vick was taken to prison we saw the face of someone who realized for the first time he was not invincible. He was finally held accountable for his bad choices. He was forced to think about what led to his incarceration, and it wasn't just dog fighting. He had a lifetime of poor choices to consider. The dog fighting was a byproduct of his tremendous hubris and "me first" attitude. He lived without consideration of the consequences of his actions.
It is just football, and there is financial motivation, but there is something very positive about how Vick reinvented himself. He is finally showing signs of what he could have been all those years if his head was right. His success would be too unbelievable if he hasn't changed for the better. Your life has to be in order to lead an NFL team. While Vick might not be all the way there, he is off to a great start.
Vick had the best performance of his career Monday. He was nearly flawless and looked like the best offensive weapon in the NFL. The numbers don't even matter. What does matter is he showed an ability to read defenses and make accurate passes in the pocket. Something he never did as a Pro Bowler in Atlanta.
I won't ever defend what he did. Any person that can torture an animal is sick beyond belief. He does not "deserve" forgiveness, and probably didn't "deserve" a second chance at fame and fortune. Deriving pleasure from watching dogs tear each other apart is a personality trait beyond rehabilitation. I would never try to talk someone out of hating Vick.
He took full responsibility for his actions once he was finally caught and gave heartfelt interviews and apologies, but they were always directed to his fans and employers. He never seemed to realize how sadistic his actions were. He acknowledged that it was wrong, but he never realized the magnitude of his cruelty. I don't think he ever will. A person like Vick doesn't view his actions the same way others do. If he was capable of feeling compassion for dogs he would have never engaged in dog fighting in the first place. It's not like he needed it as a source of income. It was pure entertainment, which is barbaric.
I don't think Vick "deserved" a second chance, but I am glad he got one. Everyone should get a second chance, deservedly or not. Those that are incapable of forgiveness are sad to me. I can't stand moralists who shove their beliefs in your face but don't understand why forgiveness is a virtue. If we fail to forgive as a species, we prevent ourselves the ability to grow from mistakes. To quote Penelope Cruz, "every passing moment is an opportunity to turn it all around." I don't want to live in a society where we prevent people the chance to improve. That includes Vick.
Vick's crimes were atrocious but he seems to be atoning for his sins. He continues to work with the Humane Society after his release and has helped raise awareness by using himself as an example. He paid his debt to society, not only financially, but with two years of his life behind bars. At this point, all we can ask of Vick is to try to be a better man and learn from his mistakes. If he responds positively, then I can forgive what he has done. I won't buy his jersey, but I won't curse his name either.
His apologies appear to be from the heart and his actions appear to back up what he is saying. To be a great quarterback in the NFL you have to be a leader. You have to set the example. Something the pre-prison Vick would have never done.
I hope that Vick continues his redemption story. There is a lot of time ahead for him to screw up and prove he didn't learn anything. I don't want to get ahead of myself and assume he is a different person, but he has done everything right since entering prison. If his life deteriorates with success then we will know he was never sincere about changing. But, if he continues to live his life in a positive manner, his success will be monumental. With all the terrible people in professional sports, it would be nice to see a role model emerge from such tremendous turmoil.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
The first game of the week might be the hardest to pick. The Falcons are 17-1 at home with Matt Ryan starting at QB. That's a pretty impressive stat. But, I love the Ravens, and the Falcons have been lucky a lot this year. This is the first game featuring Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan who were the top two QB's drafted in 2008. Flacco has a tendency to struggle on the road which means Ray Rice will have to run well. Atlanta has been soft in the secondary in games this season, but have been consistent at stopping the run. It is tough for me to pick against the home team here, but the Ravens play better defense. I think the Ravens will step up and win a close game. Roddy White is banged up for the Falcons which won't help either.
I have picked the Bills three weeks this season and have been wrong every time. In each game the Bills have had a lead and let it slip away in the end. The Lions know exactly what the Bills are feeling, but they have enough new weapons from their years of futility that they have become a team that should be taken seriously. Matthew Stafford is once again sidelined but the Lions are used to that and really didn't miss a beat the last time he was out. I think the Bills and Ryan Fitzpatrick will score points and play another hard fought game. It has to be time for them to get lucky and win one. The Lions won't take them for granted though. This is a tough one.
Did the light come on for Minnesota after their comeback victory last week? The real question is how did they find themselves in that situation in the first place? Did someone forget to tell them that they were playing at home against the Cardinals? I don't trust Minnesota at all, especially when they need 400+ yards from Brett Favre to scrape by. There are some fundamental problems with the execution of the offensive line. The Bears are another team that scraped by last week to a weak opponent. Their suffocating defense is the reason the Bears continue to win. The offense just hasn't been consistent. Funny how most Jay Cutler teams have had that in common.
The Jets were lucky to beat the Lions last week, but they found a way to win. I think the Jets have won enough games to take that as a positive, but they need to find some momentum. The Browns are a team that should be filled with momentum after last week's blasting of New England. Mangini took on Belichick with power football and the Browns simply overpowered the finesse Patriots. I don't think they will find the sledding as easy this week. This should be a hard-hitting defensive battle.
New York: 17
I have maintained since the first week of the season that the Panthers are the worst team in the NFL, and I stand by it today. Not hard after they lost 34-3 last week. The Bucs fought hard in an important game in Atlanta but came up short. For their playoff dreams to stay alive, they have to win this game. They cannot drop a sure win at home to Carolina.
Tampa Bay: 23
The Texans have gotten in their own way this year. Kind of sounds like the Texans from last year, and the year before that. Matt Schaub has been put into position to determine outcomes in nearly every week they have lost. Arian Foster ran over San Diego in the first half last week until the coaches decided to go to the air and let the Chargers come back. Their pass defense is the worst in the NFL which doesn't help. Jacksoville had a week off after smoking the Cowboys. They have quietly put together some nice wins this season. These teams have had similar production, but had different expectations for the season. I think the Texans have a bounce back in them.
The only thing I have to say about Cincy is that I drafted T.O. in one of the later rounds of my fantasy football league and he has been huge. In real life, this team is not good. They don't appear to have the confidence to win. They like to get behind and rack up stats when the game isn't on the line. They came close to a win last week, but predictably came up short. The Colts lost a tough one to the Eagles that extended Andy Reid's winning streak after a bye. The Colts are a much better football team that knows how to win. They will probably give up some points, and hopefully a couple of TDs to Owens, but they will win.
The Titans start the first week of their version of the Randy Moss Experiment. There is no doubt that his presence can only be beneficial to Chris Johnson and the running attack of the Titans. My concern from a franchise perspective would be Vince Young trying to force the ball to Moss. I can see at least one interception resulting from a forced pass in this game. The Dolphins have pulled the plug on Chad Henne and are going back to Ol' Reliable, Chad Pennington. If Ronnie Brown can put Pennington in a position where he only has to complete three yard passes, the Dolphins have a chance. If they need to throw the ball downfield, I'm not confident Pennington will be an upgrade. I guess we'll see.
The Chiefs are not built to hold a division lead for 16 weeks and Oakland knocked them down a peg last Sunday. The Chiefs will look to pound the ball against Denver's weak run defense. This could be the game we see some Tim Tebow under center. I have a feeling if things aren't going right for Denver, they might pep up the home crowd with some 4th quarter Tebow. Watch for it, there's nothing else to watch for in this game.
Kansas City: 27
Wade Phillips is the happiest man in Dallas right now. The best gift Jerry Jones could have given him this holiday season is his release. Especially before the Giants game who might be the best team in the NFL. They have been overpowering on defense and hazardous to the health of opposing quarterbacks. The Giants could also argue that they have the deepest receivers to go along with their effective run game. I wouldn't bet against these guys.
New York: 34
We are at the time of the year where there are some real dud matchups. This is one of them. It is actually extremely important for the fate of the NFC West, but that is one of the worst divisions I have ever seen, and I have grown up an AFC West fan.
The Rams could take a big step toward the NFC West crown with a win this week. They are coming off a bye week which is especially important for the health of Steven Jackson. San Fran looks to keep their playoff hopes alive after an atrocious start. They are also coming off a bye and they are basically playing for their season. Desperate team at home, can't bet againt em.
St. Louis: 19
San Francisco: 24
One of two things happened last week in Cleveland for the Patriots. They weren't ready to play or they had a huge weakness exposed. They were pounded physically and were beat on both sides of the ball. If that is the future for the Patriots, there might be cause for concern. Of course, every week isn't going to go as you planned in the NFL, so they are due a pass. The Steelers invented the brand of football Cleveland used against New England. They have shown some weakness in pass defense. If they don't tighten up, the Pats will score some points, and the Steelers don't want to get into a shootout. I like the Steelers at home, close.
New England: 26
With Michael Vick playing the way he has, the Eagles look primed for a playoff run. They are a tough draw for any defense and can defend on their end. If they are for real they won't lose this game. The Redskins have had their fair share of drama after Donovan McNabb's benching at the end of their last game. They had a week off to regroup and apparently let McNabb learn and train for the two minute offense, but it might have done more harm than good. Unless the Skins can knock McNabb out of the game again, they're in trouble.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Because I love bacon as much as I do, one of my favorite sandwiches, snacks, meals, etc., is the BLT. I enjoy cooking for many reasons, but my motivation to cook usually comes from trying to please someone else. I usually don't cook if I'm the only benefactor, it's just not worth the effort. BLT's are one of the few things I do like to make for one. I generally make BLT's by myself for three reasons:
1. It's delicious without a lot of fuss
2. No one is around to monitor the amount of bacon I'm using
3. No one is around to share with
Bacon does not last in my presence. If it's cooked, it's getting eaten. There is no such thing as bacon leftovers in my world.
I have experimented with a variety of ingredients and combinations of this sandwich. I have ordered different varieties ranging from pork belly on ciabatta to a soft shell crab BLT on Texas toast. I don't think I have ever had a BLT I didn't enjoy, but only one specific combination can be called Blake's BLT. Here is how I do it.
It starts with the bacon, and the number is important to me. Six pieces of bacon is the perfect amount. That may seem like a lot, but it really isn't. It's enough to be substantial without being overkill. Also, only five pieces make it to the sandwich. Part of the process of making bacon is eating a strip as soon as it is cool enough to pick up. I always account for that extra piece I know I can't keep my hands off of.
To achieve perfectly cooked, crispy, and straight strips of bacon, the best method is to cook the strips in the oven. I like to put the bacon on a wire cooling rack placed on top of a cookie sheet, and then bake until crisp at 375 degrees. It comes out perfect every time.
The wire cooling rack allows the fat to drain off the bacon so it is not sitting in grease which helps it crisp up. Because it is laid out on a sheet, the ends don't curl and you don't get the fatty parts you sometimes do when frying in a pan. It does take a bit more time, but you will save time with cleanup because you don't have to wipe bacon grease off the stove top or scrub a pan.
Blake's BLT is not a small sandwich, and you need something that will hold up to the ingredients. Although I love experimenting with ingredients, BLT's always taste best to me on plain white bread. The bun gives you the same taste as white bread, but provides protection and stability for the rest of the sandwich.
There is nothing worse than a sloppy sandwich. The actual experience of eating a sandwich is as important as the ingredients. If parts are hard to chew or falling out of the bread, it really diminishes the taste. If a BLT goes wrong it is usually from sloppy craftsmanship. The large and sturdy bun makes sure that doesn't happen.
I say lightly toasted, but a better description would be barely toasted. I like to throw the bun in the oven just long enough for it to toast without taking on any color. Many BLT's are toasted fully which can scrape the roof of your mouth. Lightly toasted is better.
Mayonnaise is a condiment I enjoy immensely. When I crave a sandwich of any kind there is usually an ulterior motive to eat something with mayo. The words Miracle Whip are sacreligious in my kitchen. There is no substitute for mayo. My wife happens to dislike plain mayo (although she'll suspiciously eat flavored aioli and dips) which I still have not been able to figure out.
For the lettuce portion of the BLT I use arugula. I have a strong affinity for arugula. It has a bitter, peppery crunch that I have become addicted to. Its flavor surprises many that aren't familiar with it, but once you begin to see how it can be used as an ingredient, it becomes a staple.
The bitterness cuts through the richness of the bacon and mayo. There is nothing wrong with iceberg in a BLT, but arugula provides the same pleasing crunch with tons more flavor. It also isn't full of water like iceberg or other greens that can make your sandwich soggy.
Skip the beefsteak tomato here, and definitely don't make the mistake of using a smaller tomato like a roma. The size is as important as the flavor. You're looking for a bright red tomato that will cover the majority of the face of the sandwich. Make sure you season with salt and pepper before construction.
By the way, if you don't like tomatoes, time for you to grow up. You're not a child anymore, and I bet you like ketchup and spaghetti sauce. Let's be a big boy and try a tomato. It's a beautiful thing.
Yet another one of my favorite ingredients. I used to be very adamant that adding things to a BLT was a mistake. I don't like to complicate the flavors. But avocado does not complicate anything, it compliments it. Aside from the tremendous flavor which marries well to all the others, the creamy texture adds an element that puts an ordinary BLT over the top. Again, make sure you season this ingredient individually. Somewhere between a quarter and half a sliced avocado works well.
To put this masterpiece together, spread a thin layer of mayo on BOTH sides of the bun.
Working on the bottom bun, break the strips of bacon in half. Lay three pieces side by side to cover the bun, then add three more in the opposite direction. Continue alternating bacon layers until all bacon is used. The reason for the criss-cross pattern is so nothing slides around when you bite into it, and every bite has the same amount of bacon.
Pile the arugula on top of the bacon and gently press in place.
Top the arugula with two thick slices of tomato that gently overlap in the center.
Add the avocado slices.
The top bun is empty so there is no awkward transfer to the top of the sandwich. Nothing falls off if nothing is there to begin with.
Give the sandwich a firm press to make sure all the ingredients stay put. And there it is...Blake's BLT. Pure perfection. The type of sandwich that when you finish eating it you'll think, "I should write a blog about that!"
I'd love to show you a picture of the finished product, but I'm not thinking about photography when I make this bad boy. I usually don't make it out of the kitchen before I'm eating. Once I pick it up, I don't put it down until I finish it. There are few time consuming, gourmet masterpieces that I have made that can beat the satisfaction of the this simple sandwich. So easy, so delicious. Give it a try, you won't be disappointed.
Friday, November 5, 2010
The Bucs are one of the best stories in the NFL and will be in the drivers seat in the NFC South with a win this weekend. They have surprised teams all season, yet still come into this game as an undervalued 8.5 point dog. The Falcons have been an analyst favorite all season but it feel like they are overrated. I guess when you put them in the framework of the NFC they are one of the better teams, but I don't think they're as good as advertised. I would love Tampa here if the Falcons weren't coming off a bye week. I still like the Bucs to cover.
Tampa Bay: 20
The Bears are a team that is easy to dislike. I feel sorry for Chicago fans having to put up with a bum like Jay Cutler at quarterback. His play alone, terrible as it is, isn't what bothers me. It's a combination of his attitude, facial expressions, body language, lack of commitment, and his ability to not care at all about throwing picks. The Bears have an excellent defense which keeps them a tough team to predict. The Bills are an improving team that is better than most people think. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been putting up nice numbers at quarterback and the team has not quit despite their 0-7 start. This week is a good chance for them to notch that first victory. One question: Why are they playing in Toronto? I guess it makes more sense than London.
Don't look now, but the best record in the NFL belongs to the Patriots. They have had some good fortune, especially in scheduling, but the Patriots have been a franchise that creates their own luck. The Browns play great defense, but don't offer much offensive firepower. They aren't going to make the playoffs, but they are a team that will compete. Of course, the story of this game will be Bill Belichick vs. Eric Mangini. Mangini, the one time lackey turned assistant coach turned bitter rival will once again try to overthrow the Ego. I like what the Browns have been doing, love the fact they're at home, love that they're coming off a bye week, but not sold on Colt McCoy beating Tom Brady. That doesn't sound right.
New England: 21
This is a very interesting game for the Jets coming off a shutout loss to the Packers. The Jets had won five straight and looked like they might be the strongest team in the league before last week's set back. Mark Sanchez has been a good bounce back quarterback in his young career, and it's hard to argue with the talent of the Jets. The Lions are a team that have been improving on both sides of the ball, and now have Matthew Stafford back under center. They could be 5-2 at this point with a bit of luck (and common sense by the referees), but they have won two of their last three, both at home. This could surprisingly be one of the best games of the weekend.
New York: 22
The up and down Saints appear to be on the upswing again. Drew Brees looked comfortable last week against the Steelers which is a great sign for Saints fans. They still lack production in the run game, but they have improved. Carolina is a disaster. The only part of their game that has been productive is pass defense. Unfortunately, Brees put up 275 yards against them earlier this year, and the lineup of quarterbacks they have faced is not impressive. If the Saints found their groove, this one is a no-brainer.
New Orleans: 34
Has anyone played a tougher schedule than the Dolphins? They are solid on both sides of the ball, but not spectacular. One major concern for the Dolphins is the drop off in the run game. They are not getting what they expected out of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams is not getting near as many carries. Here's a weirdo stat: The Dolphins are 4-0 on the road and 0-3 at home. The bye week couldn't have come at a better time for the Ravens after two overtime games where they clearly weren't playing their best football. Normally, this would be an easy call, but you have to wonder about Miami's road record. I have to stay with the Ravens here.
This is the season for the Chargers. They won last week against a hot Tennessee team at home, but they have yet to win on the road. Last year a trip to New York sparked their second half run after their usual slow start. This game has the same feeling, and it's definitely a game they're capable of winning. The Chargers have won every game that they haven't beaten themselves with poor special teams and ridiculous turnovers. Antonio Gates is doubtful for the game which would be a huge blow to the Chargers already depleted receivers. The Texans need this win as bad as the Chargers after losing to Indy last week. The Texans are great on offense, but rank dead last in the NFL in pass defense. Not good when you're going up against Phillip Rivers who hasn't let injuries to his receiving corps slow him down. As long as the Chargers don't beat themselves, they should get their first road win of the season.
San Diego: 24
The Cards are terrible. They rank at the bottom of nearly every statistical category on offense and defense. Not much else to say about them. If it weren't for the Cowboys the Vikings would be the biggest disappointment of the season. The Brett Favre, Randy Moss, Brad Childress side show is pitiful. They have gone from Super Bowl contenders to a franchise that will miss the playoffs and have to blow up the team and bring in a new coaching staff. Any coach that can improve the offensive line and learn to use Adrian Peterson correctly would be a welcome addition.
The Giants have been firing on all cylinders and have played the most dominating defense in the NFL. They have knocked out five quarterbacks this season. Ridiculous. The Seahawks continue to play above their head at times, especially at home. They will welcome in Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback with Matt Hasselbeck out this Sunday. Pete Carroll made it a priority to acquire Whitehurst as his first move as head coach, we'll see if it works out. This will be a better game than most think. The Giants have struggled in Seattle historically. The Giants are a tough draw for Whitehurst to get his first start though.
New York: 27
The Colts might be banged up, but they still have Peyton Manning. Before I jump on the bandwagon, I need to see them get a quality victory. I don't think the Texans are as tough as originally thought, and they have struggled through some of their other wins this season. Andy Reid is 11-0 coming off bye weeks in his career and Michael Vick and Desean Jackson are back on the field for the Eagles. I like the Eagles.
The most important game in the AFC West doesn't include the Chargers. The Chiefs have been a pleasant surprise, and the Raiders have put together two games where they were absolutely dominant. I still have a problem believing in the Chiefs, especially with their low scoring offense. The Raiders are sizzling hot and playing at home.
Kansas City: 17
So you bring in Roy Williams and Jon Kitna and suddenly you become the Detroit Lions of 2008. The similarities are so close that Williams is even starting his idiot Longhorn chatter claiming the Cowboys will run the table the rest of the season. Remember when he claimed the Lions would make the playoffs before going winless? He might have picked a better week, like Jacksonville at home. Oops, that wouldn't have worked out either. As a punishment for the terrible season Jerry Jones is going to force Wade Phillips to finish the season as head coach. Green Bay is still finding ways to win games. They are not the team they were supposed to be, but they are still not push overs. I think it will be close with the Cowboys on the losing end.
Green Bay: 23
The Steelers are coming off of their second loss of the season. They gave up a lot of passing yards to Drew Brees and were unable to come up with much on offense. The Steelers will have to run the ball more effectively if they want to win games in the typical Steelers fashion. Luckily, they are playing a weak run defense in Cincy. It has been awhile since the Bengals have notched a victory. They are 2-5 with one of the victories coming against Carolina. It's a tall order to ask a team like that to get back to their winning ways against Pittsburgh.