Monday, June 30, 2008
So now we know Ryan Malone and Gary Roberts won't be in the building when we raise the 2007-2008 Eastern Conference Champions banner, unless our first home game is against Tampa Bay. And that's fine. In just under two seasons, Gary Roberts came in, showed a bunch of young pups how much energy you need to expel to win in the playoffs, started his own religion and made $2.5 million a year. That's a lot to pay for eleven minutes a night. Roberts probably could've played more than that, but we had so much third and fourth line depth that were quietly gritty. With all of the remarkable furor and hand wringing over the Pens' cap situation, Roberts was simply making too much money to stay around.
As for Malone, he is a good young player and nice guy to have on your team. He took a puck to the face in the Finals and only missed a shift or two. He has incredibly soft hands and can stickhandle in a phone booth, as they say. He learned to box during last summer and really showed that he could fight and stick up for his teammates over this season. He's not afraid to show his ween to the ladies three nights a week. When he has his confidence going, like say, when he's skating next to Evgeni Malkin twenty minutes a night, he can be a real force. But when he doesn't have his confidence going, like say, for half of every season he's played so far in his career, he can be completely invisible.
Through the first 33 games of last season, Ryan Malone had 14 points. I am not dyslexic and I did not mean to type 41. 14 points. He was bouncing from line to line and looked totally lost. In four seasons, his point totals were 43, 44, 31 and 51. Now, in fairness, those first two season saw him scoring 20 goals for the worst team in the league and in his third season, he missed 18 games. Malone is young and getting better, there's no question about it. But it wasn't until the last 42 games, when he was paired with Malkin regularly, that he put up 38 points.
If we had one more year of contract left, we could put Malone with Malkin for and see if he puts up 80 points or 40. But, as you may have heard, we don't have one more year. This was decision time, and with guys like Daymond Langkow and Jeff Carter (!) getting $5 million a year recently, Malone was going to be much too expensive for us if he flopped.
Although Steve Stamkos is probably definitely as good or better than Malkin and totally ready to be Tampa's second line center, that potential Malone crash is now Tampa Bay's problem, and my God, are they set up for a lot of problems. I mentioned this earlier, but it was driving me insane that everybody assumed the Pens had to be chopped up and sold for parts while ignoring potential cap problems in New York, Boston and Philadelphia. Although the conventional wisdom has Pittsburgh trading Jordan Staal tomorrow just to avoid him having a good 08-09 season that will drive his theoretical price up, that same wisdom has the Rangers signing four different $5 million defensemen. Why isn't anybody wondering who the Flyers will trade so they can afford Briere ($8 million), Richards (5.6), Gagne (5.25), Carter (5), Hartnell (4.2) and Timonen (7) while keeping Braydon Coburn in two years? By the way, that's $35 million for six players, leaving $20 million under next year's cap for the other 15 guys that fill out an NHL roster. Wait, Biron makes $3.5 million, so make that $16.5 million for 14 players. But please, keeping wondering how we'll keep Ruutu, Hall and Staal, by all means! Maybe people don't worry about Philadelphia's cap situation because they just assume the Flyers will never win a Cup so it doesn't matter. I dunno.
Or maybe it's because Tampa Bay's new owners, Oren Koules and Len Barrie, have rendered all other salary cap issues quaint. Koules produced a movie called Saw and kept the rights to it when no studio wanted it. The Saw movies franchise naturally made a lot of money and Koules made enough to buy a hockey team. After keeping Passion of the Christ, maybe Mel Gibson should buy a rugby club.
Koules is already shaping up to be the Mark Cuban of the NHL, meaning he'll spend his first five years signing name players before realizing you can't build a team through free agency, then he'll pare back his spending. Hell, since the NHL has a hard cap and not a luxury tax, it might not even take him five years. This team could be strapped by 09-10. Lecavalier is making $7 million and that's about to go up to $8 with his new deal. Marty St. Louis comes in at $5 million and South Side Johnny Malone makes $4.5. But that's not all, folks! They also have the rights to Vinny Prospal and Brian Rolston. Prospal had 71 points last year and Rolston had a 79-point season a few years ago, so they may want more than Malone. But heck, Saw 5 is in the works, so let's give them $5 million each. In return, hopefully one of them will play center, since Rolston, Malone and Prospal are all left wings.
Man, with $28 million tied up in their first two lines, Tampa had better move Dan Boyle and his $6.667 per season. So what if that makes Shane O'Brien their best defenseman? Man, how will they keep this team together? Paying both of your goalies less than a million helps, I guess. Karri Ramo and Mike Smith won't help you win, but they will help you stay under the cap. Unless Smith ends up being as good as thought and needs his own $4 million a year.
But yes, the Penguins have the biggest cap problems in the NHL. God, I can't wait for tomorrow just to end the free agent speculation. And I can't wait for next season, when Tampa Bay misses the playoffs with the 4th highest payroll in the league. I promise you Ryan Malone doesn't crack 60 points next season. He might not even get #1 power play time with Lecavalier, Prospal, St. Louis, Boyle and Rolston.
Friday, June 27, 2008
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Yes, actually, I can believe it. Athletes performing songs about their rivals is as old as sports itself. Who could ever forget in 1992 when Michael Jordan teamed up with Bell Biv Devoe to record "Clyde Drexler Ain't Flyin' High As Me"? Or during the 1988 Finals when Magic Johnson played the keytar and put down Isiah Thomas in "You Kissed My Cheek, Now Kiss My Ass"?
Hell, in On The Road, Jack Kerouac devoted a whole chapter to the time Bill Russell teamed up with Miles Davis to record "Fuck You, Wilt Chamberlain (Reprise)".
Though the standard bearer for this genre is probably still Ty Cobb's ragtime hit, "Babe Ruth Is An Octaroon (His Mammy's Pappy Layed Down With Nigras)" Pressed wax phonograph discs of that classic sell on eBay for $500.
I mean, this is nothing new people.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
But why? Why do I drink more now? Perhaps it's because after slogging through forty minutes of traffic to get home, the little tot is fatigued and cranky. And the wife is still tinkering on a home project, so I have to chase the tot around. "I wanna go outside!" Okay, go outside. No, don't step on the herb garden, please. Don't eat that rock, please. Don't step on the sliding glass door that your mother has popped out of the jamb as part of her project, please. Let's go back inside before you get hurt. Why are you crying? You want your shoes off? Okay, let me take them off. No, I'll do it. Your mother is still on working on her project even though we're home and she had all day to do it.
As I came down the ramp, a car was ahead of me in the middle lane. Suddenly, an arm came flying out of the driver's window and I heard a distinctive ting on the sidewalk. This person was flinging a quarter at a homeless guy from about 25 feet.
If this was 19th century England and an arm draped in purple velvet emerged from a five horse drawn carriage and fired loose change at the layabouts on the sidewalk and in the mud, I would think, "What a kind gesture from the ruling class."
But this was a bare arm coming out of a white Chevy Tahoe. And unless that tinging came from a brand new $10 coin, this was nothing but an insult. And the guy didn't even reaction. Surprisingly, he wasn't prepared for a long distance donation, so that quarter is probably still sitting in the weeds. At least her conscience is clear. And at least she didn't ting that quarter off of my windshield.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
For instance, John McCain supports equal pay for women in the workplace, assuming that they get more education and training. While it's okay for men to go to college and then blindly enter the workforce, McCain would like to see women go to college and then have another 1-2 years of training before getting a job. Then and only then, will women deserve equal pay. You see, women are naturally inferior, so it only stands to reason that they need more collegin' than men do.
McCain is also not afraid to give a woman a chance to make it on her own. While he was being tortured as a POW in Vietnam, his first wife, Carol, patiently waited for him to return home while raising their children. This was pathetic, clingy, needy behavior and John McCain would nip it right in the bud. Also, because Carol McCain did not have enough driver's education and training, she crashed her car one icy night and was almost killed. After radical surgery and a lengthy hospital stay, Carol was four inches shorter and fifty pounds heavier. She still had children to raise and her husband was still imprisoned in Vietnam.
When McCain returned to America and saw his wife's new body, heard about all she had been through and thought about how she waited for him without bringing a new man into her life, he thought she was pretty strong, but not incredibly strong. So the 40-year old John McCain left the mother of his children for 25-year old beer heiress. To help his first wife grow stronger and more independent than she had been over the last five years. Tell me that's not somebody who thinks women can be equal to men! Tell me, I dares ya!
The beer heiress, who you may have seen in the newspaper lately, funded McCain's first run for office and here he is, a couple of decades later, on the cusp of the White House. But John McCain didn't want his new wife to grow weak. He didn't want her to desperately need further education and training. So he made sure to occasionally cut her down to make her strong. To prune her tree so that more fruit may grow. For instance, when...
In his 1992 Senate bid, McCain was joined on the campaign trail by his wife, Cindy, as well as campaign aide Doug Cole and consultant Wes Gullett. At one point, Cindy playfully twirled McCain's hair and said, 'You're getting a little thin up there.' McCain's face reddened, and he responded, 'At least I don't plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you cunt.' McCain's excuse was that it had been a long day.
I hear you, bro. Every day is a long day when you have to put up with some woman, right? Hoo boy.
So, women of America, if you want to be stronger and challenged head on every day, if you want to go through another year or two of higher education and training so that you may be paid the same as a man, vote for John McCain! And if you think this more education and training thing is just pap, just remember that John McCain ranked 790th out of 795 students in his 1958 Naval class, but through decades of training, he's made it this far!
Monday, June 23, 2008
What drives me crazy is that when we've realized our puny Earth weapons are no match for their awesome space defense shields, crazy scientist Jeff Goldblum decides we'll upload a computer virus to their mothership. Cause, you know, aliens simply cannot resist opening an email labelled "MAKE HER SCREAM WITH YOUR MONSTER C*CK 2NITE!"
Motherfucker, I can't even open a Mac file on my PC and you're going to to upload a computer virus to their ships?! You think they got USB up there, motherfucker?! Motherfucker.
The scientists at the Stockholm Brain Institute say scans show that gay men and heterosexual women have similar wiring in parts of the brain that control emotional reactions.
Yeah! They both love dick!
Jay Leno, I will sell you that joke for $50, right here, right now.
Friday, June 20, 2008
Sometime last summer, I entered a charity card tournament with a $100 buy-in. The wife pointed out that if I got to spend $100, she should get to as well, and that was a point I couldn't disagree with. So after being unceremoniously dumped from the card playing, I stopped at the Hustler Hollywood store, intending to make a $100 purchase to even things out.
You see, kids, sometimes when mommies and daddies have been together for a long time and they have a kid or two, certain activities can become predictable and rote. It can fun to spice up these certain activities with certain twists. Certain battery-powered twists.
While the peep show place and the Hustler store more or less peddle the same wares, one is dank and frightening and one is bright and welcoming. It's like a Gap. A Sex Gap. At one end is a coffee bar where you can enjoy a latte, have a muffin and presumably surf porn on the Wi-Fi. Unlike Starbucks, they probably would not kick you out for that. Once caffeinated, you can walk fifty feet to the adult shop part. Thousands of DVDs, racks of skimpy clothing, rows and rows of tubes of slippery goo and an entire wall hung with all sorts of devices that do all sorts of things in all sorts of erogenous zones. All of this interspersed with people happily shopping and helpful clerks.
One such clerk even helped me with my purchase, advising that my original choice was probably not sturdy enough to last too long. While that was happening, to my immediate right a young woman was discussing various devices with another clerk. Now, it's one thing to be in Sears, notice the person next to looking at sweaters and think, "Boy, she won't look very good when she wears that out to dinner." It's quite another thing to be in the Hustler Hollywood store and think, "She is going to be naked at one point and rubbing that thing all over herself." If I saw her at the bus stop and inquired, "Hey, what's your vibrator style?" I would be in the back of a police cruiser in fifteen minutes. But here, it's possible a polite and informative discussion would've ensued. Society and its random rules, man!
Anyway, big, conspicuous in hand, I headed to the register, having no idea I was mere seconds away from humiliating myself. The clerk rang up my purchase and helpfully asked, "Do you want to try this out first?" And I said...
"Well...uh...my wife isn't here, so..."
And without missing a beat, he replied, "I mean do you want to put batteries in it to make sure it works?"
You can't even try on bikini bottoms at Hot Topic. And here I was thinking there was some back room where couples test out marital aids and just put them back in the box if they weren't satisfactory. It was the finest moment of my life.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
When the email went out for this highly-organized weekend went out, one thing I noticed was a scheduled roast of the groom. I thought this could be pretty fun and the groom-to-be definitely lent himself to some roast-style humor, so I worked up some material before the trip and during the drive.
Of course, by the time I arrived with the two guys I was driving up with, we had missed the roast. I guess it was an afternoon roast. A thoughtful and sober affair. Well, I had worked on this material and I liked it and I wasn't going to let it go to waste. So in the suite while everybody was hanging around consuming brewed beverages, I pulled the bachelor into the kitchenette and did my routine for him and a handful of assorted stand arounders. If I can shed my legendary modesty for a moment, the routine killed. The bachelor loved it and the people standing around loved it. But one man did not love it. The bachelor's brother, who stared icy daggers at me for the entire two minutes. Apparently, he did not appreciate his brother being insulted so wantonly. I found out later that most of afternoon roast material was more along the lines of, "Man, you sure are short! Ha ha ha! But seriously, I love you, man." Mine was a bit more cutting.
After that and after dinner, it was time for some stripping. But unlike the other bachelor parties I've attended, this one was going to have room service. They had hired two girls to come up to the suite. With about fifteen men milling around a hotel living room in buzzy anticipation, the girls arrived. And I'll just say right up front that there's a reason strip clubs are so dark. The bright lights of the room were not doing these girls any favors. Their faces were haggard and you could see every dimple, bruise and cigarette burn on their thighs. One girl laid out a blanket, another put on some music and we were unfortunately underway.
As the first girl performed, occasionally a guy would lean forward and scatter a few bills around her on the floor. The money soon began to pile up, so the lass stopped her routine to collect the cash. It broke the mood somewhat and did a great job of enforcing the point that this was a simple mercernary task and this girl had no interest in our wants and needs as human beings. Nor we in hers.
Sometimes the wing girl would collect the cash for the dancing girl, but mainly the process repeated itself. Dance, stop, scoop. Dance, stop, scoop. The only way it could've been more awkward is if the tips eventually dried up, and they did. And the only way that could've been more awkward is if somebody started getting on our case about keeping the tips flowing. The bachelor's brother, the one who hated my roast so and was clearly in charge of this affair, exhorted, "Come on, guys. we gotta tip these girls or they'll leave." I did not see the downside.
After the intial routine, the girls began offering individual lap dances. One of the party patrons got one and it didn't seem the most erotic moment in the history of human sexuality, so the demand for lap dances dried up. Until..."Come on, guys. we gotta get some dances or the girls will leave." Now, I wouldn't want to see these particular girls in the cereal aisle of the grocery store, much less have them rub their naked stomachs on my shoulders in front of fifteen guys in a room bright enough for surgery.
After the riff raff was attended to, it time for the main event. The bachelor. Who, it should be noted, was quite intoxicated by this time. The girls laid him down on the floor and, with minimal resistance, quickly had him stripped down to his boxers and black socks. Big pale belly, freckles everywhere, gleeful, drunken smile, it was quite a sight to absorb. And it was only the appetizer for what would be one of the most amazing things I've ever seen in my life.
Although much of the bachelor's brain had been muted by beer, the part of the forebrain that sends naked lady signals to the groin was still on high alert. Within a few moments of the dance, the bachelor's penis emerged from his boxers like a moray eel coming out of its cave. It struggled out as if it was a living creature that needed oxygen to survive. It may have unbuttoned the bachelor's boxers by itself. As if this wasn't enough, his penis was red like a dog's. It was wrinkled and dented like a dehydrated frankfurter that's been on a convenience store roller for two weeks. It was remarkable and it was hideous and it had fought its way free of the containment that keeps society functional.
I have never laughed so hard in my life. Tears were streaming down my face, my voice was becoming hoarse and my stomach was cramping up. I had to get off the couch and put a knee on the floor to catch my breath. Assumedly, the bachelor's brother did not like this, either. It was, at once, the best and worst bachelor party I had ever attended.
The strip club industry in Vegas is possibly the most organized, well-oiled business model in all of America. They have absolutely mastered ways of squeezing every last cent out of you, and then that money is seeded around town like fertilizer to keep the business growing. For instance, let's say you're in a group of six to ten guys stumbling out of a casino and walking to the taxi stand. A limo driver pulls you out of line and offers to drive the whole group for only $60 bucks. Hey, pretty good! You get to skip the line, save money on a ride and everybody arrives at once. Perfect!
Naturally, in the car, the driver asks if you fellas are interested in seeing some ladies take off their clothes. The driver has been around groups of drunken men before, and he is aware this is normally a topic of great interest. Being out of towners, you have to ask the driver what the best clubs are. Naturally, he has a recommendation.
Upon arrival, while the group mills about in the parking lot getting ready for observed nakedness, the driver is already in the front door of the club collecting his kickback. A group of eight guys will yield about $100 just in admission fees for the club and $20-40 goes back to the driver before he's on his way back to another casino to repeat the process. The kicback plus the $60 charge for the ride plus a tip because he was so nice with the strip club recommendation makes this a very profitable 20 minutes for the driver. Completely worth putting up with drunken, loud-talking meatheads for a time.
So anyway, there I am, milling about nursing an $8 beer on one trip when within my first ten minutes, a lady comes up and asks if I'd like a private dance. I told her I would not, but she knew that no didn't always mean no, so she struck up a conversation. I realized I was going to have to start lying. Partially to throw her off the trail and partially to amuse myself. She asked what I did and said nothing, I just live off of my dad's money. This was believable, as we were in Las Vegas and I was wearing a blazer and a t-shirt, like your average rich dildo.
So it must be fun not having to work, she enthused. I countered that it wasn't actually that great. I sometimes work for my dad's company, a job that was handed to me. I went to college even though I didn't have to and just kind of bopped around. I really was beginning to feel like I had never accomplished anything in my life and it was bringing me down.
At this point, her pupils were replaced by dollar signs. I was a big fish and needed to get me on the boat. What did my dad do, anyway? And was I sure I didn't want a dance? My dad owned a pharmaceutical company. I didn't want to say which one, but she would've definitely heard of it. And I didn't have any cash on me for a dance anyway. Lo and behold, the club accepted credit cards for dances, she informed me. And the club's name doesn't show up on your bill. It's something like Adventure Enterprises. She had to feel like she was seconds away from bringing at least $1, 000 in. Oh. Well, see, I used to go strip clubs a lot and charge a lot of dances on the card and my dad cut me off for a while. And his accountant knows all of the fake names clubs use for their charges. So that wouldn't work either. Eventually, I pawned her off on the bachelor and he was most definitely interested in a private dance. Incidentally, afterwards he had to tip the bouncer $10. He didn't think the bouncer did anything, but the dancer assured him that the bouncer protected them. From...rattlesnakes, maybe. Well-oiled machine, I tells ya.
Where the first bachelor strip club trip was merely amusing, the second was a travesty. After a late night, my friend and I were up at 6:30am for a round of golf. The plan was play, have lunch at the course, come back to the hotel for a disco nap and do it up that night. Problem was, after lunch, no cab was to be found. It was so busy on the Strip that we had to wait around for almost two hours to get a ride back in a cab we split we two other golfers. All we had time to do was shower and get dressed for dinner. I had just been in the sun for six hours and drank two beers with lunch. I was somewhat fatigued. A nap would've been great. Would've been delicious!
I slogged through dinner and then, because we had some Hollywood types in our group, a Maxim magazine party after. (SIDE NOTE: On the way out of the party, walking past an enormous line of people trying to get in, I hear somebody yelling "World champ! World champ!" I looked and it was James Farrior pleading with a bouncer to let him a month after winning Super Bowl XL.)
After the party, we piled into a kickback limo and headed for a strip club. Curiously, the exact same club I went to last time. Only this time, the moneyed types among us wanted to go into the VIP room. That required automatic bottle service. So this time, I wouldn't be paying $10 to get inside a building I had no interest in, I would be paying $75.
When you go in the average sucker door of a strip club, you get to mill around a stage with lots of other people. When you go in the VIP section, you get your own easy chair and table for the group and women descend on your game in a perfect 1:1 ratio. It's like being an Arabian prince, except I was actually concerned with what this would be costing me. However, due to sheer exhaustion, sitting in the chair almost made it worth it. I was so spent that it ached to look around the room.
The girl I drew said hello and sat down on my lap. She was remarkably skinny and her tailbone drove straight into my thigh muscle. That was not hot, it was uncomfortable. To cut the awkwardness of a having a stranger in a bikini on my lap, I struck up a conversation, which she immediately seized control of. For no less than twenty minutes, we discussed her ex-husband, the love of her life. She loved him so much, she still loves him even though they're not together and she always will love him. I tried to commiserate, but I didn't know the guy and probably wouldn't care much about him if I did. Furthermore, it's a cliche to remark that strippers aren't that bright, but really. This girl took the cake and called it a pie. It was one of the most brutal conversations of my life and no matter how I positioned myself in the chair, my thigh could not escape the downward pressure of her sharp tailbone.
Meanwhile, during this entire endurance test, my friend on the right was considering marrying his stripper and was hoping a fifth consecutive lap dance would convince the girl he was the man for her. Have you ever been one foot away from a completely naked woman writhing on top of a fully clothed man? There is a reason you never see something like this at dinner parties. It is incredibly awkward.
Twenty hours of activity prefaced by five hours of sleep and capped off by thirty minutes of mind-deadening chatter was starting to take its toll. And finally...I fell asleep. In the chair. With this girl on my lap. When I woke up, she was gone and my friends were staring at me in awe.
Strip clubs. I don't like 'em.
TOMORROW: In room strippers aren't so great either!
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
It wasn't as if I didn't know peep shows existed. I maybe didn't have the street smarts of The Artful Dodger, but I knew my way around the world well enough. I knew that money could quite often lead to naked ladies in one capacity or another. And now I was setting off to confirm what I already knew. Not wanting to seem like a full-fledged pervert, I eschewed an outfit of ripped jeans and a black t-shirt with motor oil stains. Instead, I wore nice jeans and an argyle sweater. I could've been going to the mall, I could've been going Christmas caroling or I could've been going out to see every part of some strange woman's exterior anatomy.
Although the entrance was at ground level, the nakedness was on the second floor. Possibly to make customers feel like they were ascending to heaven. Although...I might not be the religious sort, but I am positive that the stairway to heaven is not narrow, dark, dank and lined with a railing that people should not touch under any circumstance, even if they lost their balance and are about to fall face first down the stairs.
When you make it up that flight of stairs, immune system intact, you immediately realize that you are most definitely not in heaven. No, you are in a 150-square foot room that is cramped with pornographic movies, pornographic magazines, pornographic books, pornographic ideas and a general pornographic air. Marital aids of all shapes, sizes and colors line three of the walls, including some gleaming black numbers that rivaled Gigantor in size and intimidation. Along the fourth wall iss a wooden counter staffed by a man who knows that you are so desperate to see naked women that you are willing to pay for it. The counter is tall enough to hide any number of objects, from a secret cache holding the greatest porno of all time to a sawed-off shotgun to a bonus, off-menu half-Thai, half-Irish woman that only regulars know to ask for. And quite literally, there is nothing you can show this man that he hasn't seen before, including four fresh-faced 18-year olds, one of whom looks like he's dressed for church.
Once inside this cozy den of sin, a person has two options. Head back down the stairs to freedom and hygiene...or press on down a narrow, dark, brief hallway to one of three doors. The church I went to as a young lad also had three doors off to the side, but those doors were for confession and what I was planning on was the impetus for confession.
Two of three doors were active that night. This was Crystal's evening to stay at home with the New York Times Sunday crossword, apparently. I didn't know what was behind those doors, although I was certain it wasn't a cable knit sweater, despite the chilly weather outside. I chose the door on the right.
Upon opening the door, the first thing I noticed was a paper towel dispenser hanging on the wall. At first, I praised the establishment's dedication to cleanliness, but when I noticed a small trash can that was simply overflowing with wadded up paper towels, I realized that I was not standing anywhere close to godliness. There was one paper towel splayed across the floor by my feet. When I tried to kick it out of my way, it didn't move. It was glued to the linoleum with material that thankfully never became a human baby struggling to read in eighth grade.
Besides dead semen, the booth's most predominant feature was a large pane of frosted glass. If you put a dollar into a vending machine-style bill eater, a light bulb on the other side of the glass would illuminate, making the glass transparent for one minute. If you slid in a fiver, this optical magic would continue for five minutes. I decided to start off slow, engage in some peep show foreplay and only buy a minute of this woman's time.
As the light went on and the glass cleared, a woman we'll call Kitty McNamara got up from her stool in a back hallway and climbed into her display box. She cracked a smile and let loose a small laugh when she saw a neatly-pressed, crisp and clean, fresh-faced youngster in her presence instead of the normal homeless alcoholic. The fantasy was already ruined. She got naked in short order, which was no feat as she didn't start off all that clothed. Soon the minute was up, the glass was frosty again and I was back in the hallway. How I turned the knob to open the door after seeing used paper towels everywhere has been washed from my memory.
Out in the hallway, I learned that a new friend has joined us. We'll call him Rusty. I'm not sure if Rusty was homeless. I certainly hope he was because if he lived next to you, he would cripple your property values. Like most males in the presence of other males, Rusty wanted to talk women with us. However, Rusty had different ideas than most about what women liked from a man. A veteran of the peep show scene and most definitely a veteran of drinking hard, cheap liquor that would make an ordinary man's hair fall out, Rusty took us under his wing, as if an old man staking a sapling in his yard. With a voice that redefined raspiness, Rusty told us of his favorite strategy. "I like to go in there (garbled) and Jack Lambert the bitch! Ha ha ha ha ha!" For those of you not in the know, Jack Lambert was linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers during their four Super Bowl titles in the '70s. Missing his two front teeth, Lambert was renowned as the most fearsome and toughest player in the league. Rusty, our new mentor, was advising us kids to go into that booth and tackle to the ground some poor woman as hard as we possibly could. In optimal conditions, we would hurt her. Somehow, according to Rusty, this would lead to fellation.
Like most men, I could not be satisfied by one single woman. So with the wisdom of Rusty ringing in my ears, I entered the door on the left. This booth was not nearly as cluttered with paper towels as the first. Most likely because the occupant of this booth, call her Lola Ponchartraine, was not nearly as attractive. Whereas Kitty was strawberry of hair and curvy and young and at least a little friendly, Lola had stringy blond hair, a hard, lean body and a face that didn't fake for even one second that either one of us should be enjoying this. She was also wearing thigh high white patent leather boots. Kitty was soft, like a piece of birthday cake. Lola was hard, like a skirt steak.
By the time of my second return to the hallway, all four of us had sampled both women and Rusty and a general consensus was formed. Kitty was preferable to Lola, stepping on a hypodermic needle at the beach was preferable to hugging Rusty. Emboldened by Kitty's new popularity, I went back for another minute. This would be a good time to mention that the booths also contained a tip slot. If the dancer did something you particularly appreciated, you could feed dollars through a slot and they would tumble into a heap inside the box. Clearly, this money would help the girls with their college tuition. Although she didn't do anything remarkable beyond not mocking me, I stuffed my last few dollars through Kitty's tip slot.
The peep show adventure was on its last legs, but I had not experienced all the premises had to offer. I had only "enjoyed" one minute dances. I needed to try a five-minute dance just in case things really came alive at the two minute mark. I borrowed $5 from a friend since my own pockets were empty and decided to give Lola another shot. If you're wondering why I decided to go for an extending viewing of the woman I had already decided placed second of two, my only explanation is that I was 18.
Before we continue, may I make a suggestion? Turn to the side and stare at the wall for five minutes. Time it so you can know just how long five minutes is. Although frequently bandied about as a brief measure of time, five minutes can sometimes be interminable.
Like, say, when you are staring at a naked Lola Ponchartraine. At the 61-second mark, I realized why the one minute viewing is the choice of champions. I was bored, I felt awkward, Lola was out of suggestive dance moves and we had four minutes left with each other. She laid down and did some stuff, she got up and did some stuff and time had seemingly screeched to a standstill. If she was more of a creative thinker, Lola could've gotten dressed and then restripped, but any creative thoughts Lola had were long ago washed away by the drugs that had since leathered her face.
About three minutes into the performance, I heard a fierce banging. At first I thought my friends were rapping on the door, begging me to come out so we could leave. But when I opened the door, two of my friends were enjoying further Moments With Rusty, and the third man was most likely with Kitty. I certainly wasn't pounding on anything, so the source of the noise remained a mystery. Until I finally realized that Lola's repeated leg kicks were not a chance at some exotic cervical glimpse. No, she was kicking the tip box with her boots, demanding a little something for the effort. I had no money. I had to borrow five dollars to even subject myself to this torture. I simply pulled my pockets out, allowed the proverbial moth out and shrugged. Lola gave a look that betrayed the one feeling she had left at this point in her life, anger spiked with disappointment. We still had two minutes left. She wasn't getting any tips out of this flash in time, but she couldn't stop dancing lest this punk kid tell the manager he got ripped off. I might have demanded a free copy of Oui to compensate and that would've eventually come out of Lola's under the table paycheck and it would've been a whole thing. It was easier to keep dancing. Standing up, back on the floor, back standing up. She never did take her boots off, though.
Finally, the five minutes was up. I was free. Free to never go back to the peep show as long as I live.
Monday, June 16, 2008
The questions were almost as prolific as the excitement. How did it get so big? How did you not see it before? What are you going to do with it? After briefly considering having Gigantor bronzed for prosperity, shipped to Africa to cure hunger, or lacquered into a weapon, I elected to go a more traditional route and eat it. We were going to a Father's Day barbecue and Gigantor, father of gardening fever, would be part of a side dish.
About 11 people were in attendance, which was no problem since Gigantor's could've yielded about 30 slices. I cut Gigantor into gigantic discs, patted them dry, dipped them in egg, dredged them in flour and fried them up in butter and oil. Then I topped each fried slice with this corn salad I've been making a lot lately. (NOTE: This corn salad is good with the prescribed scallops, better with grilled shrimp and still great even on its own as a side.)
Personally, I thought the zucchini slices were too floury. It was hard to get the flour to stick, so it clumped up a bit. But everybody at the party seemed to like it, at least to my face, and the zuccini itself was actually pretty sweet and tasty. I could've done better. I could've honored the life of Gigantor better with some salt, pepper and parmesan cheese in the dredging flour. I am sorry, Gigantor. I have failed you. I think with future zucchini this summer, regular-sized zucchini, I will whip up a batter and make fritters instead.
As I wrap up this eulogy for Gigantor, as you reflect on what his too briefly burning flame meant to your life, I would like to note that the universal male reaction to Gigantor was some sort of phallic entendre. Though, frankly, I think any woman that could find a use for a 13-inch zucchini that was 12 inches around at the base should belongs in the circus. The Hustler Circus in Gardena, California, opening May 2009.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
We have the space in our backyard and just enough interest in where our food comes from to have planted a garden. We blocked out about a 15'x6' area, framed it with railroad ties and threw some soil down before bombarding the area with seeds. And then...very little happened.
Zucchini sprouted right up like they were growing in a rainforest, and if you have seen zucchini plants before, they end being about two feet tall and two feet wide with these giant flat leaves that are about the size of three hands. They take up space like a chubby guy on the bus.
But that was about it. We got some sprouts, but they quickly disappeared, most likely having been eaten by some critters before they could reach the plate. A total animal burn.
And then one day I noticed four lettuce plants sprouting...outside of the garden. Now, I'm pretty sure we didn't buy Roaming Romaine Lettuce seeds. And I know we didn't miss the garden when we planted. No, some little quadraped picked up the seeds and deposited them outside of the garden. Now, whether they fell out of the animal's mouth or passed through the digestive tract first, I do not know. They were growing pretty well, so perhaps they were fertilized for us.
That was my wildest gardening story to date. Yes, I know that sounds like an oxymoron. Wild gardening, jumbo shrimp. And then last night, as I was rooting around for some zucchini for a salad, I came across Gigantor, the mega zucchini. This big bomber measured 13 inches long and 12 inches around at the base. I'm going to cut up and make frisbees from it. Fry one piece for an entire four-person meal. Or I might lacquer the whole thing and use it as a weapon.
Gardening! Now I see why old people like it so much!
So here's a nice little summer pasta dish I've come up with. Though saying you've come up with an Italian dish is almost impossible after 1500 years of culinary culture. Anyway, lemme tell ya what ya gotta do, meatball!
- Cook up some bacon, make it crispy and chop it up.
- Boil up a big pot of water and a small pot of water.
- Add fresh peas to the small pot and boil it for a few minutes until they've softened a bit, then drain. (NOTE: You have to use fresh peas for this. Canned peas will not work in any fashion. Canned peas in this dish will make you miserable. Fresh peas that you've just shelled yourself is the only way to go. Drinking wine while shelling peas is soothing. Man...long note.)
- Toast some pine nuts. (NOTE: Not in the toaster. That makes it very hard to get them back out.)
- Put pasta into the big pot. Penne is best for our purposes here, linguine is second, but spaghetti will work.
- When the pasta is done, drain it and put it into a large mixing bowl. Really, did I have to tell you to drain it?
- Open a can of tuna in olive oil. If you want to be a fancy britches about it, and I always recommend being a fancy britches, make it imported Italian tuna. This Rio tuna is great. The regular can comes with green beans in it and little splash of vinegar. They also make a pesto version. If you can't import your own Rio, at least use albacore. Geez. We're not making a tuna salad on toast for somebody we dislike it. Anyway, dump that tuna over the pasta. If you cook an entire box of pasta, you'll probably want two cans of tuna.
- Add the bacon, the peas, the pine nuts, some red pepper flakes, some chopped basil, maybe a little more olive oil if it looks like the pasta needs it and a very generous amount of grated parmesan. The amount of every ingredient is to taste. However much you like of each thing. Toss to mix.
Oh man, so nice. So good. So easy to make. So light on a summer day. So nice of a job by me.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Well, I don't know what I purchased or from who or when, but apparently I somehow ended up in the Rich White People barrel. I suspect it was an online purchase from Brooks Brothers so I could look natty. Now marketers think my house has an extra room where I swim in loose money like Scrooge McDuck. I received offers to join multiple country clubs, which doesn't make the clubs seem so exclusive, an invite to become a member of the Beverly Hills Tennis Club and the chance to purchase hundreds of acres in Montana and Wyoming for a vacation home, among other things. But the topper came when somebody pulled my name from the Rich White People barrel, combined it with my information from the Golf Digest barrel and started sending me Golf Digest Index.
If you don't receive Golf Digest Index, and I am positive that you don't because you're not a faux elite like me, let explain this publication to you. It's a quarterly publication that Golf Digest sends free to the cream of the cream of the crop. The people that will be affected when Obama allows President Bush's tax breaks for the top 5% to expire.
In past issues, I've received advice on where I should buy a summer home. Most likely Antibes, as tax rates for home servants are quite reasonable. Advice on where I should buy a winter home. When am I going to buy a fall home? Why a monthlong vacation to Bali is the perfect way to recharge, and an advertisment for the Sea Island resort in Georgia. I know they had a G8 summit there a couple of years ago, so the mattresses must be nice and comfortable. And also a recommendation to play the Kauri Cliffs Golf Club in New Zealand. Which, I know it sounds far away, but if you and four friends take a private jet, it's really not that bad. Plus, the course only hosts about ten rounds a day, so no waiting on the tee!
Speaking of which, this quarter's issue is an all-timer. There's an article on which private jet I should be looking into. New, 8-seat, ultra light jets have been described as "SUVs with wings". If you're looking into private planes, don't be a sucker and get some propeller job. Like a guy in the article says, "If you're going to spend $1 million on a plane, why not pay a little more and get a jet?" I can literally say I never thought of it that way. The article mentions that this guy can fly from his second home in Florida to an afternoon tee time in Wisconsin and back for dinner. A steak and lobster dinner with a $300 bottle of Opus One cabernet, most likely. And because he'll be sleeping in his own bed that evening, he can brush his teeth with Osetra caviar, as he enjoys doing.
Which type of plane I should buy is not one of my pressing concerns these days. I forgot my iPod on an airplane last month and replacing that is probably my first priority. But Father's Day is coming up Sunday and the bracelet on my watch is coming a little loose. Maybe I should replace it. If so, Golf Digest Index suggests an Audemars Piguet watch. Stainless steel, 40-jewel movement, $12,400.
If that is just out of your budget or if it's more than you make in a month, what about Silvano Lattanzi slip on loafers for a scant $3,175? No? I understand, the economy is making things tight these days. But you have to shave, so why not a David Hayward razor handle? To quote the article, "The nickel-played brass handle is wrapped with 200-year old leather salvaged from the shipwreck of the Metta Catharina." So I guess you can get it wet. $275. And then $15 for the Mach 3 blade you pop on it.
Also this month, there's a list of the world's 50 best golf hotels. Yes, Sea Island is on there. It's the #1 ranked golf hotel in America, actually. The list does not include the price of a nightly stay. Literally, if you have to ask, you can't afford it. There's also an article about the written histories of different golf clubs. Are you wondering if the hardback book about your country club is any good? Now you can put that doubt to rest!
And like every magazine these days, there's a feature on suits. Nice suits and the legendary golfers who wear them. There's a beautiful black and white shot of Gary Player wearing a $2,700 Brooks Brothers suit. It looks nice. Also listed in the caption is his shirt, tie, vest and wingtips. $800. And let's not forget his oyster perpetual 18-karat yellow gold Polex with President bracelet, $24,800. Did I mention that in the photo Player is shown from the shoulders up? The watch is at least two feet out of frame.
Then again, Arnold Palmer is litsted as having a a Rolex oyster perpetual GMT-master 11 watch with oysterlock bracelt for $25,550, and his shot is so tight you can't see the top of his head. I can imagine that it is a very nice watch indeed, though.
Monday, June 9, 2008
- Hossa will command big dollars
- Hossa wants to play for a winner
- Hossa enjoyed his time playing with the Penguins and Sidney Crosby
- Hossa is now on record as saying he hopes to stick with Pittsburgh if it works out.
Let's look at the man's own words. "If I wanted to make a couple more dollars, I would probably just re-sign with Atlanta." Okay, good. We've already crossed a few teams out of the running. "But I'm glad Pittsburgh got me here. This was a fun journey for myself, and a great experience. I hope I can stick with a great team like this." Yep, we hope you can, too. "There's always a limit, but I'd rather take a little less and play on a good team, definitely." Totally reasonable. Bad news for us is there are a decent amount of good teams in the league. Not Atlanta, but still. Nice to know we're getting the first shot.
Of course, conventional wisdom is a powerful thing and the early conventional wisdom was that Pittsburgh won't be able to afford Hossa and he's most likely heading to the Rangers or Bruins. This conventional wisdom is so powerful that when people hear Hossa's own words, they still refuse to believe it.
But if the Penguins can't afford him, how could Boston? They had the second highest payroll this season and are right up against the cap. Savard and Bergeron get $5 million each next season, Glen Murray gets $4.1 (hello, cut!) Marco Sturm gets $3.5 (seriously!) Chara gets $7.5 and Manny Fernandez is due $4.75. He's not even the starter! How in the world - why in the world - would Boston fit $7.8 million for Hossa in there? And how is Boston, a team that barely snuck into the playoffs, considered good enough for Hossa's fine tastes?
Then there's New York. Don't you know that every athlete grows up dreaming of playing for New York? Even Slovakians! The Rangers were right behind Boston in the cap race last year. They owe Gomez $8 million next year and Drury $7.1. I swear on my own hair that is true. Sidney Crosby will only make $1 million more than Scott Gomez does for the next three seasons. In fairness, he'll only have 90 more points than Gomez during that span. King Henrik's new deal shoots him up to $7.75 million next season. And while Gomez and Drury eat up a lot of bucks, at least they're signed. Shanahan, Jagr, Straka, Avery, Mara, Malik, Roszival and Strudwick are all UFAs. People are in a lather because the Penguins have 12 UFAs if you count Kris Beech and you think Hossa is going to New York? Jagr made $8.3 million last year. How much of a cut do you think he's going to take? Avery is going to be looking for at least $3-4 million a year, considering that the Rangers repeatedly have said he's the heart and soul of the team. Are Straka and Shanahan just going to be gone? What about half of the defense? Will the Rangers even be good next year? I mean, who would think Hossa to the Rangers is even feasible?
Oh, Larry Brooks. Now, if you've followed hockey for a decent amount of time, you know that Larry Brooks and Al Strachan are two of the worst writers in the universe. Every idea they have is bad, every rumor they float ends up being false. How either one of these guys get paid is a totally mystery. Unions, I guess. On Sunday, Brooks wrote a column so fine that I have no choice but to copy the move of another great site.
So, tell me: How can the New York Rangers spend the $4.5-5M it will surely take to land Pittsburgh's heavy-hitting impending free agent defenseman Brooks Orpik following his breakout tournament, when it likely will cost around the same $5M per to re-sign Michal Rozsival?
Hmm. Now that's there a cap, they probably can't. Also, $5 million a year for Brooks Orpik? Wow. Good luck.
Yes, Rozsival had a disappointing season. But factor in mitigating circumstances - not excuses - that featured a wonky knee, an insecure response to playing out his contract and collateral concern over partner and friend Marek Malik's downward spiral out of the lineup. Now weigh those against the upside Rozsival displayed the previous two seasons, and most notably in the 2007 playoffs.
If a guy has a bad season due to contract concerns, you should always give him a ton of money. Plus, if you don't resign Malik and give his $2.5 million to Roszival, Roszival probably won't feel as bad about his friend not playing with him any more.
The Rangers, we're told, are among a select number of teams interested in former Penguins defenseman Josef Melichar, who played this season in the Swedish Elite League. A physical-oriented defenseman who will turn 30 in January, Melichar probably can be signed for approximately $1M.
$1 million for a guy who was out of the NHL last year? Please do that.
So, are the Blueshirts better off with a combined $6M investment in Rozsival and projected third-pair defenseman Melichar, or with a combined $6.5-7M investment in Orpik and, say, impending Montreal free agent Mark Streit, who would play on the third pair and on the vacated power-play point?
Using your estimated $5 million per year for Brooks Orpik, you're guessing you can get Mark Streit for $2 million per? Is this the Mark Streit who had 62 points for Montreal last year and established that he's a #1 power play defensemen? Because if it is, he might want more than that. Like...almost as much as Orpik gets.
Up front, are the Rangers more likely to win the Stanley Cup within the next couple of years if they re-sign Jaromir Jagr for a base of approximately $5M, or if they instead the cut the cord and invest the $7M per for which Marian Hossa, who in his own breakout postseason, was Pittsburgh's most consistently dangerous forward?
Nice of Jagr to volunteer to take a $3.3 million pay cut to stay in town. But if you go the other way, that's $7 mil for Hossa, $7 mil for Drury and $8 mil for Gomez. Nice balance up front. Oh, to answer your question, neither scenario makes them more likely to win the Cup.
Are the Rangers more formidable with Hossa on the first unit playing with Scott Gomez and Chris Drury and Brandon Dubinsky lined up as second and third pivots? Or are they better with Dubinsky playing with Jagr while Gomez seeks a compatible second-line winger and Drury is again dispatched to the third line?
This is your column, you tell me. Though I certainly wouldn't want a $7 million player on my third line. Second line is bad enough, but third? Makes it seem like I shouldn't have paid $15 million for two centers on the same day. Especially if one of them is losing ice time to a 19-year old.
There is no guarantee Hossa will sign with the Blueshirts if he gets to July 1, but we have heard nothing to suggest he would not.
Solid reporting right there. Also a good way to avoid subpoenas. Just say you didn't hear anything.
After plugging in Hossa at $7M, Rozsival at $5M and Melichar at $1M, then subtracting Backman, we have the Rangers at approximately $44.4M, without a back-up goaltender; sixth and seventh defensemen; and without Sean Avery, Brendan Shanahan and Martin Straka.
So...that leaves about $11 million. Even if Straka and Shanahan resign at last year's rates, that's $5.8 million gone. $5.2 million left. Although, New York is so great that those two vets would probably take pay cuts if Larry Brooks asked them to. Avery made $1.9 last year, so now we have $3.3 left. Heart and soul, etc, etc, so let's figure he gets a raise of at least $1.1. Now we have $2.2 left. That leaves $700k each for a backup goalie and two more defensemen. Assuming Mara returns for last year's rate of $3 mil. Which...wasn't he their best defensemen last year? He's coming back for the same rate as last year even though Roszival got a $2.8 million raise? Now there's a team guy! And assuming Hossa's deal doesn't get bumped up to, say, $7.7 million in competitive bidding. Hey, don't anybody get hurt out there, guys!
Look, just keep coming into the office and throwing stuff up against the wall, Larry. Retirement is getting closer and closer every day. It'll be a great day for both of us.
What is wrong with people? I mean, I realize that Fleury is getting a new deal and Staal and Malkin have big deals coming. But Boston and New York already have big deals in place! In fact, New York might be the most cap screwed team in the league right now. If you look at the right mix of cap space and competitiveness, some of the places Hossa could end up if not in Hockeyburgh are San Jose, New Jersey, Ottawa, Detroit (oh God) and maybe Washington if you want to push the definition of Cup ready.
But what would I know? I'm no hockey expert. All I have is Google. I'm certainly no Eklund. I mean, I know the guy had Hossa tagged for Montreal or Boston at the trading deadline. Why he'd go to either place when he has some in the matter is beyond me. But Eklund is only wrong 95% of the time, not 100%, so I guess there's a chance. There's also a chance of him hitting on a Montreal signing this summer, since he has them in the running for Sundin, Hossa, Campbell and Huselius. He also thinks Ryan Malone is leaving Pittsburgh because he didn't talk to reporters after Game 6. Make sense. Why? Why do I even read this stuff? Why do I do this to myself?
For such a small city, Pittsburgh has had an enormous imprint on the sporting world over the past three decades with eight world titles since 1974. Of course, being born in 1975, I really was only a part of three of those titles. I've mainly been on the low side of the ledger.
Because Pittsburgh doesn't have the literary heritage of Boston (except for you, Michael Chabon!), our crushing losses haven't been memorialized over and over again in books, novellas, extended newspaper columns, TV appearances, Steven King's summer pulp reading and movies. And also because, unlike Boston, we realize that nobody else cares about our losses.
If in ten years, we're looking back and wondering why the Penguins haven't been to the Cup finals since '07-'08, then losing to Detroit will make the list. To make this list, it's not just the loss, but the circumstances. The position the team was in at that moment in history. What the loss ended up meaning as the future revealed itself. The '07-'08 Penguins don't qualify and hopefully they never will. But for now, here are the worst losses of my Pittsburgh sports fandom:
Super Bowl XXX - 1996
The 1994 season ended with a ridiculous loss to the Chargers, which we'll be hearing more about later. The 1995 season started with a loss to the Lions in which Barry Sanders faked Rod Woodson so hard that Rod blew out his knee. But they still ended up winning the divison, then crushed the Bills in their first playoff game. At the same time, the Colts were upsetting the Chiefs in Arrowhead to set up the second straight AFC Championship Game in Three Rivers Stadium.
If you ever see it on NFL Network, allow me to suggest watching the highlights from the Steelers' win over the Colts. I did so earlier this year and apparently I had blocked out my memory the Steelers trailing late and converting a 4th and 12. And also Willie Williams making what was literally a shoestring tackle on a 3rd down that prevented Lamont Warren from running for a 116-yard gain. The left side was that open.
In 1995, the Dallas Cowboys were considered to be a little better than the Indianapolis Colts, so Steeler fans spent the next two weeks hearing about how our team was going to get killed in the Super Bowl. Which was odd, because we had the best offense in the NFL that season. Neil O'Donnell played the five-wideout system to perfection and we were basically unstoppable. And even with Woodson out, it may have been our best defense of the decade. Hey, whatever happened to Ray Seals, anyway?
So of course Dallas scores twice while we go 3-and-out and it's 10-0 before most people are even pleasantly buzzed. Going in to halftime down 13-7 practically felt like a lead after that start. It began to feel like we could actually play with Dallas. And then the third quarter featured O'Donnell's first interception. The receiver read in and O'Donnell read out and Larry Brown took the ball that hit him in the gut and ran it back inside our 20. It was 20-7.
And then...Cowher called for the gutsiest onsides kick in human history. Bam Morris flat out ran over somebody at the goal line and suddenly it was 20-17. Levon Kirkland leaped over the line on the next possession, sacked Aikman and forced a punt and oh my god, we were going to score on the next drive and take the lead in the Super Bowl.
We were supposed to get blown out, we were getting blown out, we came back and the #1 offense in the league was firing on all cylinders. This thing was going to happen. And then the receiver again read in and O'Donnell again read out and Larry Brown ran his second interception even farther back. The practice on the first one must've helped. Game over. 27-17.
That offseason, the Jets offered O'Donnell the then ridiculous amount of 5 years/$25 million and Steeler fans were happy. With O'Donnell out of town, the temptation for murder would be lessened. I, however, didn't blame O'Donnell. I blamed our preposterous Ron Erhardt offense that relied on quick reads by both the receiver and quarterback, rather than solid routes. In a 5-receiver set, with three possible routes per man, the quarterback had 15 possible places to throw the ball. And O'Donnell actually managed to run that offense flawlessly for two seasons. After Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh couldn't find a decent quarterback until O'Donnell. And he was followed up by Mike Tomczak, Kordell Stewart, Kent Graham, Jim Miller, your uncle Rick, a comeback attempt by Terry Hanratty, a 6-year contract offer to Mark Malone that was turned down and Tommy Maddox. If Ben Roethlisberger didn't fall into our laps a few years back, who knows where we'd be right now. If we kept O'Donnell, with us winning the division again in 1996 and 1997, maybe things are different.
Instead, a Super Bowl was ripped out of our hands and the next ten years were filled with either regular season struggles or more playoff heartbreak. All from one pass. One missed read. And if that's not enough for you, this game gave Dallas five Super Bowl wins, one more than Pittsburgh. For the time being.
AFC Championship Game - 1994
Which is the more resounding image from this game? A linebacker diving over Barry Foster to swat away O'Donnell's final pass, or Alfred Pupunu scoring a late TD and pretending the ball was a coconut, ripping it open to drink the juice inside? Ugh. Alfred Pupunu's career going nowhere was about the only satisfaction Steeler fans can take away from this debacle.
Bill Cowher came to town in 1992 and immediately took the Steelers to the playoffs for six straight years. The 1993 season ended with a tough loss to Joe Montana and the Chiefs in Kansas City, but everything came together in 1994. Barry Foster was running wild and the defense was incredible with Kevin Greene and Greg Lloyd combining for 24 sacks. Chad Brown was coming on, Carnell Lake and Darren Perry anchored the back line. This season was really the start of the Steelers becoming a dominant force in the league under Cowher.
I still distinctly remember a Monday night win over the Bills that symbolized the end of Buffalo's run through the AFC. This was our conference now. I'll never forget Don Beebe going for a catch along the sidelines thirty yards downfield and being absolutely destroyed by somebody. Darren Perry, I think. He ran through Beebe like he was a pylon.
After we beat Cleveland for the third time that season to open the playoffs, the Chargers were basically going to be a warm up for Super Bowl XXIX. The Steeler defense against the 49er offense was going to be a sight to behold. So why not record a Super Bowl rap song the week before the AFC Championship? That way, the disc can go to market that Monday morning! Great!
You can look this up if you don't believe me, but the Chargers actually beat Pittsburgh. Then they got crushed by San Francisco in the Super Bowl even though they had Stan Humphries. To this day, a good Steeler fan will tell you our defense could've stopped Steve Young and Jerry Rice in the Super Bowl. Or at least held them to less than 49 points.
Losing in the AFC Championship Game at home. Good thing we'd never have to live through that again.
Wales Conference Finals - 1996
The was the first really devastating Penguins moment for me. "But what about 1993?!?! David Volek!" you scream. "We'll get to that," I calmly reply. Go write your own post if you don't like it. The Islanders in 1993 was a body blow and it's definitely on this list, but the Penguins were also coming off of back-to-back Cup wins, so the reaction was a little more placid.
But by 1995-1996, we had been reminded that the Penguins did not actually have a standing reservation for the Cup finals and could not actually be expected to win year after year after year. A long playoff run was properly appreciated again, and when the highest-scoring team of the 1990s rolled through Washington and the New York Rangers, the upstart Panthers, the #4 seed, seemed like the '95 Colts. A lesser team that would be a mere pebble in the road to the finals. Instead, they were more like the '94 Chargers. A lightning bolt that came out of nowhere and knocked our jet from the sky. God, it just all comes full circle, doesn't it?
In the regular season, the Penguins had 102 points, one short of Philadelphia for the conference title. It was one of those weird seasons where we were actually in the Northeast division, away from all of our typical Eastern seaboard rivals. Lemieux notched 161 points, with six hat tricks and two Lemieux hat tricks (4 goals). He even had five in a game against the Blues. Jerry Jags (boo!) had 149 points, Ron Francis had 119 and Petr Nedved had 99. Hell, Tommy Sandstrom had 70 points in 58 games. Only Joe Sakic's 120 points kept the Penguins from having the three highest scoring players in the league. Three!
So we beat Washington in the first round. Whatever. We always beat Washington in the playoffs. Although Nedved's backhander in the fourth overtime was a nice flourish. (Side note: Thanks to the Pens, I've seen a 3 0T, 4 OT and 5 OT game. Back to regular programming.) Then we beat the Rangers without much fuss and started wondering if Detroit or Colorado would be a tougher matchup in the finals.
And so Florida opened up the series by beating us 5-1 on our ice. And then 5-2 in Game 3, which was our first introduction to the rats. The fucking rats. You know...the octopus is bad enough. Like everything else in this day and age that used to be a quaint tradition, it's been overblown and overhyped to the point where it's become a complete sideshow. But at least Detroit has been doing it forever. The expansion Panthers had no tradition. They barely had a reason to exist. But hockey fever was sweeping Miami and they needed a tradition in a hurry. Hey, what if you stole Detroit's? That would be good! Except...no octopus. Yellowtail? Stone crabs? Oh, Scott Mellanby allegedly killed a rat in the dressing room! How about a rat! So here come the rats. The fucking rats.
The Pens finally righted themselves, won Game 5 3-0 and took a 3-2 lead in the series. We were scared, but we were back in charge and we were thinking about Colorado since they were also up 3-2. And in Game 6 in Miami...we got more of the rats. The fucking rats. I will never, ever forget Florida scoring a late goal - wasn't it from Mellanby even? - and Barrasso ducking back into his own cage to protect himself from the rats. The fucking rats. They absolutely covered the ice. It was at least a 15-minute delay to clear the ice. New fans with limited hockey knowledge, supporting a out of nowhere fluke team, were ruining our experience.
And then we lost Game 7 3-1 on our own ice. I have no idea how. I don't remember anything from this series except Barrasso hiding in his net. I've blocked the series from my mind like some kid who blocked out his uncle's inappropriate touching during a swim party one summer. Without exaggeration, this loss did such a number on me that I stopped watching hockey for three years. I completely dropped out of the system. I couldn't take it any more. 1993 and 1996 were simply too much for me to handle. The Penguins missed a chance to become the team of the '90s. The franchise that would define the decade.
You may have heard that the Panthers went on to get swept by Colorado in the Finals. They were outscored 15-4. The next year, the league decreed that throwing stuff on the ice was no longer a thing. A hip, fun thing to do at the hockey match. That was the end of the rats. The fucking rats.
How good would a Colorado/Pittsburgh finals have been? Well, it would've featured the top five scorers in the league that season. Lemieux, Jagr and Francis going against Sakic, Forsberg and Roy. You tell me how good it would've been.
AFC Championship Game - 2001
The Steelers went 13-3 this year, the #1 seed in the AFC for the second time in Bill Cowher's reign of terror. They lost 21-3 in Week 1 to Jacksonville, but the only other losses were 13-10 to Baltimore and 26-23 to Cincinnati in overtime. This team was 5-1 and 12-2 at points in the season. Kordell Stewart had a great year despite numerous insinuations about the type of people he enjoyed sleeping with and his ability to throw a football.
It was classic a Bill Cowher team. Incredible defense, allowing the third fewest points in the league, an offense that was surprisingly potent and poor special teams. Please remember that third one for later.
We killed the despicable Ravens in our first playoff game and happily welcomed the Patriots and their rookie quarterback to Heinz Field. Sure, at this point we were 1-2 in home championship games in the last eight years, but they had a rookie quarterback! For you 12-year olds in the audience, this was seen as an advantage before everybody realized that this rookie quarterback, Tom Brady, was actually quite good indeed.
I hinted at our bad special teams earlier, so now let's be more specific. Our kick coverage was so bad that when we punted, it was without question the most frightening thing Steeler Nation could witness. It really felt like every single punt we kicked could be returned for a touchdown. So when we were punting from our own endzone late in the first quarter and tackled Troy Brown around the 50, it was a glorious, glorious moment in the game. Except...one of our coverage guys went out of bounds and didn't get back in quickly enough. We had to rekick. Our coverage was tired. They weren't that good to begin with. It was an AFC title game in Pittsburgh. Troy Brown took the second kick back for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
Another thing I'll never forget from this game is beforehand, Bill Simmons of ESPN.com jokingly predicting that Tom Brady would be knocked out at some point and Drew Bledsoe would come back in as the QB like he was before he himself got injured and Brady took over. Bledsoe would lead the Pats to the win and they would have a full-blown QB controversy leading in to the Super Bowl. And that is exactly what happened. Except, actually, Belichick immediately declared Brady the Super Bowl starter during the bye week. But Bledsoe did come into this game and throw a touchdown and put New England out to a 21-3 lead.
As was the way in the Cowher years, we made a comeback, got the game to 21-17, then gave another late score to seal the loss. This loss was devastating in any number of ways. We dropped to 1-3 in AFC Championship Games under Cowher. All at home, all within a seven year span. Think of how many franchises would be thrilled to make four title games in seven years! The one Achilles' heel we knew we had did actually fell us. And Steeler fans refused to accept that the Patriots were better than us in 2001, increasing the vitriol between the two fanbases and making it that much worse when the Patriots would beat us again in 2004. Just a terrible, terrible loss, both between the lines and in the after effects on life. Good gosh.
Pittsburgh Piranhas - 1995
Jarvis Basnight. Brian Davis. Jo Jo English. Abdul Fox. I had to look up every one of those names except for Brian Davis, and still the 35 Piranhas losses that year stung like a knife. Each one worse than the last and because the team only lasted one season, we were robbed of any later vindication. Crushing.
Wales Conference Semifinals - 1993
Okay, here it is. Game 7. The Islanders. Fitzgerald. Volek. The Penguins had 119 points during the regular season and captured the only Presidents Trophy in franchise history. I'm sure it's prominently displayed somewhere at Mellon Arena, unless Craig Patrick threw it away in a rage after the Islander series.
The Penguins won 17 straight games in the regular season - still a record - before tying New Jersey to close the season. Having swept Boston and Chicago in 1992, they came into the playoffs with an 11-game playoff winning streak, then won the first three against New Jersey, pushing the streak to 14, still a league record.
Mario was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease in the middle of the season and only played 60 games. He was gone for so long that Pat LaFontaine finally caught him in the scoring race, but then Lemieux returned, passed LaFontaine and won the Art Ross 160-148. Lemieux's scoring pace over 82 games would've given him 218 points.
Kevin Stevens had 111 points and 177 PIMs. Rick Tocchet had 109 points and 252 PIMs. Did you hear what I just said? Rick Tocchet had 109 points. Rick Tocchet! In short, the team that had won the last two Cups was probably better than it had ever been in every facet of the game.
The fact that the Islanders won two games in this series, let alone four, was stunning. They weren't complete hacks, but they weren't on a level with Pittsburgh. The Campbell All-Stars would've had a tough time with Pittsburgh. Pierre Turgeon led the team with 132 points. Tom Fitzgerald had 27 points in 77 games. David Volek had 21 points in 56 games. Naturally, those two would score the two biggest goals in the series. The Islanders would need them, since Turgeon was shelved after the remarkable and memorable cheap shot Dale Hunter put on him in the first round.
Even going into Game 7, Penguin fans were confident. How confident? Well, my high school had its Kennywood Day the same day as Game 7. I went to Kennywood, fully assuming the Penguins would win easily and move on to the Wales finals. I remember later in the evening, in the darkness, passing the Coal Miner ride, which was by Raging Rapids. We walked past a carnival game booth that had the Pens on the radio and asked what was happening. It was impossible to believe that the game was in overtime. As OT went on, the crowd grew and grew. When Volek scored...people dispersed with no rage, with no heartbreak. Only empty shock. If George Romero ever wanted to set a zombie movie in an amusement park, he had 200 extras wandering around aimlessly that night. Finding out the next day that Kevin Stevens shattered his face on the ice only made things worse.
Montreal won the Cup that year on the strength of something like 11 overtime wins. There's no guarantee that the Penguins would've beaten the Habs, but if they had, and such a thing was certainly possible for the best team in the league, it would've set up the dream Cup finals matchup of Lemieux versus Gretzky.
As time passes, this loss gets tougher and tougher, but at the time, it was just a shock. The assumption was the Pens would be right back in '94. It wasn't crushing. Yet.
Not only did this loss symbolize the end of the Penguins run atop the league and the end of Kevin Stevens as a dominant player, it was also the last year to really feature out of control, run and gun offense across the league. Here are the leading scorers from '92-'93: Lemieux - 160, LaFontaine - 148, Oates - 142, Yzerman - 137, Selanne - 132 (with 76 goals), Turgeon - 132, Mogilny - 127, Gilmour - 127, Robitaille - 125, Recchi - 123. It took 123 points to crack the top 10 that year. It took 87 this year, and 112 to be the leading scorer. In my day, it was easy to score! You crazy kids and your defense!
On another note, the 1992-1993 Penguins and 2001 St. Louis Rams will tell you from experience, never, ever, ever change your uniform after a title season.
National League Championship Series - 1992
The '80s were a vast wasteland for all Pittsburgh sports. Sure, there was the 1984 Steeler loss to the Dolphins and of the course the Pirates' cocaine trials, but it was basically a 10-year holding pattern. Then the Pirates started having little flickers of life and all of a sudden, lo and behold, lord have mercy, hot mamma jamma, they won three straight NL East titles. And then lost three straight NLCS matchups. So what makes this this one worse than 1990 or 1991? Well, in 1990, we lost to the Reds and they won the World Series, so hey, not so bad. In 1991, we were still good. In 1992, everybody in town could somehow sense that this was our last chance. We possibly could sense that because Barry Bonds' was in the last year of his deal and there was no way he was coming back.
It wasn't just Sid Bream beating Bonds' throw from left. Or just the fact the Francisco Cabrera hit the ball as hard he as possibly could and only reached the middle of left field. It was both of those facts combined with Stan Belinda not noticing that Bream's lead off of second stretched halfway to third. And when you take those three things and mix them with three straight falls of our best players - Bonds, Bonilla and Van Slyke - averaging something like .206 at the plate, it's just all too much to take.
Pittsburgh fans sensed 1992 was the end of an era and boy howdy were they ever right. The Pirates now have more consecutive losing seasons than any team in sports. In the Buccos' best season since 1992 - their best! - they won 79 games. Eight times since 1992, the Pirates won fewer than 70 games. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, only vast blackness. Hey, when are we calling up Scott Bullett from Buffalo? I hear he's really lacing the ball down there in AAA.
Wales Conference Finals - 2001
This one might be a bit of a surprise and it might not be on every Pittsburgh fan's list, but it killed me. Keeping this one shorter than the other novellas I have written today, Mario announced his comeback to NHL, stunning everybody who wasn't named Mario Lemieux. And, actually, probably even himself. It's entirely possible he announced his comeback when full of cabernet and woke up the next morning thinking, "Oh Jesus, what did I do?"
Jaromir Jagr lead the league with 121 points. Kovalev and Straka tied for fourth with 95. Lemieux had 73 points in only 41 games. In the first round of the playoffs, we dispatched Washington as per usual. The second round featured a stunning Game 7 overtime win over Buffalo. Darius Kasparaitis, he of the series-clinching goal, slid across the ice and swam like he was doing laps in the pool. And here's something I had forgotten until I just looked it up: Games 5, 6 and 7 of the Buffalo series all went to overtime. Oh, and also, 3 of our 4 wins in this series came in Buffalo. Neat!
So things were looking pretty good. The Penguins were back, the offense was flying, the Czeching line of Straka-Lang-Kovalev was basically ridiculous. Then we played the Devils, and they just mauled us 4-1 to go to the Finals. After winning Game 2, Jersey won the next two games 3-0 and 5-0. It wasn't any one particular moment or game from this series. It was the fact that we never looked like we even belonged on the same ice.
Jagr was traded in the offseason and our second leader scorer in '01-'02 was Jan Hrdina with 57 points. Lemieux only played 24 games, and although he did bounce back in '02-'03 with 91 points, and era was officially over for the Penguins. It was not the 1990s anymore and we were not in the playoffs anymore.
So that's that. As a Pittsburgh fan, I've definitely felt bad more than I've felt good. There were other losses that didn't make the list. Like, say, the 2004 AFC Championship game. Yeah, we were 15-1 that year. Yeah, that dropped us to 1-4 in home title games. Yeah, it was another big loss to the Patriots. But it was Roethlisberger's rookie year and the Steelers bounced back to win the Super Bowl the following season. Circumstances, circumstances. My word, am I hoping the 2008 Stanley Cup to Detroit never sees its way on to this list. I'm basically a good person! I don't deserve this!