Friday, September 29, 2006

"Aints," No More

You’ve gotta love the New Orleans Saints. They are perhaps the most sad-sack victory-starved team in the annals of the National Football Legaue, possessing virtually no claims to glory in their entire history (other than having had a Manning play for them) and perenially regarded as basement dwellers in their division before the season even starts. Of course, they play in what has got to be the most annually overhyped division in the league, the not-so-dreaded NFC South—Carolina and Atlanta are always touted as Super Bowl contenders until games that count start to be played and their potential implodes like the publicity surrounding snake movies, and Tampa Bay still seems shell-shocked by the fact that they won a Super Bowl, to the point that they don’t ever seem to concentrate on the post-Lombardi-Trophy years...and the Saints, well...they push the brooms and sweep the floors in this pathetic division, year after year after year.

But now they’re 3-0, having just waxed those magnificently overrated Falcons—Michael Vick is the most exciting player in the NFL, but the rest of this team is roughly as exciting as any random Nathaniel Hawthorne novel—in the first sellout crowd in the Superdome since a bee-atch named Katrina came calling. They signed Drew Brees in the off-season and drafted Reggie Bush last spring, after the (0-3) Texans passed in favor of a lineman (who is not related to Tony Mandarich, in case you were wondering). They have a new coach and have finally said fare-thee-well to Aaron Brooks, whose cannon of an arm is the only reason he can still find work.

And 3-0 has to feel good. It’s as many wins as they amassed in 16 tries last year. There’s a problem, though, and that problem is the schedule.

Anybody looked at their next thirteen games? Here they are, in no particular order other than chronological, though I have omitted dates (‘cause it just doesn’t matter when these next thirteen games happen):

At Carolina (Everyone’s but my NFC Super Bowl pick)
Vs. Tampa Bay (0-3 currently, but how long do you think that will last?)
Vs. Philadelphia (Currently possessed of the best offense in the league)
Between these two games is their bye week. Whew.
Vs. Baltimore (How bad do the Titans hate that they treated McNair so bad?)
At Tampa Bay
At Pittsburgh (Mommy?)
Vs. Cincinnati (Best team in the AFC not called the Colts)
At Atlanta (No way is this one pretty—it’s a low-rent Jaguars/Colts game)
Vs. San Francisco (Saints record going into this game: 4-7; after: 5-7)
At Dallas (Key game for Cowboys, if the TO tumor has not metastasized)
Vs. Washington (Winnable, a rarity at this point)
At the New York Football Giants (Forget it—NYG is going for homefield)
Vs. Carolina (Winnable—the Panthers have imploded by now, too)

Ugh. Who wrote this schedule?

I know, I know, it was a computer in Paul Tagliabue’s underground lair, but come on, man! This is worse than NYG’s schedule, and the Football Giants have way more talent, an experienced coach, and at least a bit of the taste of winning in their mouths so that they can make a run at going deep in the playoffs. And that Manning pedigree. If Jeremy Shockey can keep his ignoarnt mouth closed, this team has a chance to be very, very good.

I’d love to be wrong, because I love the Saints. I have been a Chicago Cubs fan for 20 years and know the joy of rooting for the underdog (I also happen to dig IU football, if you can believe it), and the Saints are it in the NFL. I dig on Drew Brees, too, even though he went to Purdue (anytime you see a cat from an Indiana school other than Notre Dame make it in the NFL, you have to give up the props, right?), and Reggie Bush is a stud.

These guys are looking at 8-8 like it’s the Powerball jackpot and they bet the extra buck. But you know what? A couple breaks here and there—running the table in the division and getting a couple of wins against the NFC East near the end of the season—and these guys are in the playoffs, and might have a shot to go deep. And that’s assuming they don’t go Big Ben and Willie Parker on the league like the Steelers did last year, which would mean that all bets are off and the New York Football Giants better have a steady eye on the rearview.

You’ve gotta love the New Orleans Saints. Is there any more drama around a comeback NFL story this year?

The Science Of Sleep

I get this feeling, somewhere in the farther reaches of the creative places of my being, that there will be few who watch this film and come away from it utterly captivated by the way that the imagination works with the images that it is given, in order to inform a story that is, quite frankly, fairly impenetrable. Most people are just going to look at this movie and ask themselves if she really liked him or not. Of course, most people would rather vote for their favorite American Idol than their favorite candidate for President, so I guess the bar isn't all that high - at this point, snakes would have a hard time getting under it in a limbo contest.

And that's a shame, because what we have here is a fairly thought-provoking movie about what it means to occupy the same plane in the world as someone else and yet not be able to properly articulate it to the very person with whom you are sharing that plane. Gael García Bernal does a remarkable job as Stéphane, the emotionally stunted anti-hero of the story; and Charlotte Gainsbourg, as Stéphanie (a script quirk that is just a little too cute for such a thoughtful movie, although I suppose even the most serious of artists may be allowed the wayward dalliance), does a splendid job of drawing out this wrinkle in Stépahne's character, with her infectious smile, playful manner, and genuine dismay every time Stéphane's romantic ineptitude raises its ugly head (please pardon a slightly perverse and almost entirely unintentional pun there - it could have been worse...I could have slipped the words "purple" or "swollen" in there).

The source of Stéphane's ineptitude is never revealed; it could be a broken home, a culture clash, a general lack of acceptance by those around him throughout his life - anything and everything. And it doesn't matter either way. The story is not concerned with how Stéphane's problems affect any part of his life other than his ability to tell the girl he has fallen in love with that he has fallen in love with her. By the time you get to the end, you find you have been rooting for him the whole time (and this might be because you have fallen in love with Stéphanie yourself), though you are sure that it will never quite work the way it's supposed to.

It seems as though writer/director/Tambourine Man Michel Gondry knew this was how you were going to feel about it all along, because he crafts an ending that is just ambiguous enough to keep you asking questions, but satisfying enough to qualify as an actual denouement. It closes the big, heavy door that keeps out the weather and the criminals, but it leaves open that little flap at the bottom that lets your pets come and go as they please.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Hard Hearts

I was about to make a really insightful argument about how the Colts improved so much on their defense last year with the addition of Corey Simon, and that the fact that he hasn't played a down this year is a large part of why the rush defense this year has been as porous as Bush's justification for going to war. It was to be a response to Shane, who wanted to know why the Colts' rush defense can't stop anyone.

Then I started looking at stats on ESPN's website and discovered that the Colts were ranked 11th, 29th, 11th, and 8th the last four years in total defense. And that destroys my argument.

And that's the thing with the Colts. You can't explain anything with numbers. If you go to the numbers, there is no reason in the world that this team should still be without a Super Bowl victory.

I really hate to say this next part. Really. Because I admire Tony Dungy, and I think he is one of the best coaches in the league.

But Tony Dungy is never going to win a Super Bowl. Ever. What he will always, always do is leave a team ready for Jon Gruden to get them there the year after he gets fired.

What's worse, maybe, is that this Colts team (and the one last year, and the one the year before that) just might be good enough to get the job done in spite of their coach. Except that Manning has too much respect and love for Dungy, and will always defer to what the coach wants, and what the coach thinks they should do. The rest of the team, in turn, has too much respect and love for Manning, and will always defer team leadership to him.

Both of these situations are as they should be. The coach should lead the team, and the quarterback should lead the players, in that order. The problem is that we have Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning for those jobs, and as good as those guys are, they are not Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. (It was really, really hard to write that last sentence - Jason Maier can now officially give me crap for the rest of my life.) They are not Mike Holmgren and Brett Favre. They are not Jon Gruden and...uh, yeah.

I don't want to say that Dungy and Manning are soft; and I don't want to say that they don't have heart. I don't believe that.

I believe that they are hard, and that they have hearts. Which makes them sort of hard-hearted. Kind of like Pharaoh in Exodus, according to a book that purports to be a set of instructions on how to avoid an afterlife that would annoy even Joan of Arc. Pharaoh hardened his heart and refused to allow Moses to round up his homies and get the hell out of Dodge, so to speak. If you believe that kind of thing. He is alleged to have done it more than once, too, if you can dig it.

If only Dungy and Manning would harden their hearts and call the damn naked bootleg a little more often. Not every game. I don't want to see Peyton Manning running freely AND holding a football at the same time too often, you understand. But once in awhile. Throw a little cayenne pepper into the jambalaya. Bring some snakes on the plane. Shake it like you just don't care. Whatever.

Everybody watching that game was fooled by that naked bootleg, and that's what the Colts need to do a little more often. They need to make a bit of room in the playbook for the kind of play that will fake out even the cameraman. Or cameraperson. Teleplay machine operator?