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My Ten Greatest Writing Influences

  1. Jonathan Franzen
  2. Robert A. Heinlein
  3. Dylan Thomas
  4. Simon Kuper
  5. David Foster Wallace
  6. Graham Greene
  7. Joe Posnanski
  8. Bill Simmons
  9. Drew Magary
  10. Aaron Sorkin

Ten Most Impressive Athletic Performances I’ve Ever Seen in Person

  1. Tim Tebow, football, University of Florida vs. University of South Carolina, 2007 (It’s really this, a huge gap, then the rest of the list)
  2. Ryan Roushandel, men’s soccer, University of Central Florida vs. University of South Carolina, 2008
  3. Candace Parker, women’s basketball, University of Tennessee vs. University of Arkansas, 2006
  4. Josh Johnson, baseball Florida Marlins vs. Philadelphia Phillies, 2010
  5. Eric Berry, football, University of Tennesee vs. University of South Carolina, 2008
  6. Patrick Kane, hockey, Chicago Blackhawks vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, 2010
  7. Jimmy Rollins, baseball, Philadelphia Phillies vs. Cincinnati Reds, 2011
  8. Knowshon Moreno, football, University of Georgia vs. University of South Carolina, 2007
  9. Jahre Cheeseman, football, Eastern High School vs. Timber Creek High School, 2003
  10. Justin Smoak, baseball, University of South Carolina vs. Elon College, 2006

My Ten Favorite Musical Compositions

I’m going to start making top-10 lists based on my own personal feelings and experiences, and only explain them as much as I want to and no more.

My ten favorite pieces of music.

  1. "Piano Sonata No. 8 (Pathetique)"-Ludwig van Beethoven
  2. "Your Hand in Mine"-Explosions in the Sky
  3. "Neighborhood No. 1 (Tunnels)"-Arcade Fire
  4. "First Suite in Eb for Military Band"-Gustav Holst
  5. "Behold the Hurricane"-The Horrible Crowes
  6. "Make Our Garden Grow"-Leonard Bernstein
  7. "You Know You’re Right"-Nirvana
  8. "Transformations"-Robert Longfield
  9. "Gimme Shelter"-The Rolling Stones
  10. "Runaway"-The National

How to Mail a Bird of Prey

One summer in college, I volunteered at an animal hospital in the Pine Barrens. We’d take in injured or sick wildlife, for the most part, nurse them back to health, and release them after a while. We mostly took care of raccoons, small birds, maybe the odd deer. I remember a few baby ducks that came in around mid-June that I got to see released the week I went back to school. Really hard work, but one of the few truly positive things I’ve done with my life.

The highlight of the summer, however, was Richard. Richard was a red-tailed hawk who’d been on the losing end of a fight with a passing motorist and came to us with several broken bones. I say “us,” but he’d actually been nursed most of the way back to health by the time I showed up in May. 

Anyway, he was ready to be released by the end of the summer, but we didn’t want to just turn him loose so he could get hit by another car. So we made arrangements for him to be sent to an animal sanctuary in Kentucky. The problem was that the undermanned and mostly volunteer staff couldn’t spare someone to drive a day there and a day back—probably two people, considering the complications of taking a bird of prey in a cage. And neither could the Kentucky folks spare someone to pick him up.

So my boss worked out a plan to ship Richard to Kentucky. He called around to a few places, expecting to pay a couple grand, tops, to get this bird somewhere safe.

The first company he called gave him a quote—I don’t remember the figure, but it was in excess of fifty thousand dollars. My boss would have been livid if he hadn’t been so confused. So he called the folks, and the conversation went something like this.

Shipping Company Guy: Oh, you’re the guy who called us about mailing the bird.

My boss: That’s right. Richard, the Red-Tailed Hawk. Why is it so expensive?

SCG: You want to put a raptor in the mail, you’ve got to send him the whole way by S-76.

Boss: What’s that?

SCG: Helicopter, man.

Boss: Helicopter? You can’t send him by rail or truck? That’d make more sense.

SCG: Sorry, man. Post hawk? Ergo ‘copter hawk.

Some Belated Thoughts on Jovan Belcher

I bring this up not because I have anything original to say, but because I want to highlight a particularly insightful comment. 

On Monday’s Hang Up and Listen podcast, Slate magazine’s Josh Levin called Belcher’s story “a Rorschach test.”  It’s been a while since I’ve encountered a comment in sports analysis that is simultaneously so uncommon and so entirely accurate.

Belcher’s murder/suicide this weekend is a (thankfully) rare sports news story that has literally nothing to feel good about from any angle. And what you react to first about this story, or what you react to most strongly, I’m discovering, is instructive.

My first thought was that a this was the product of a total abdication of mental healthcare by the sports community. Because that’s my personal hobbyhorse, and the events of Belcher’s last hours echo eerily the Donnie Moore incident that has haunted my imagination for years and (in part) inspired my original post. 

I was disgusted with myself later for not jumping immediately to the issue of violence against women, that we were turning someone who committed horrific acts on par with those of Rae Carruth into a tragic hero. 

You could, as Bob Costas did on Sunday Night Football, call for stricter gun control in the wake of an act of violence for which firearms were necessary, but not sufficient. You could bemoan the NFL’s negligence in helping to prevent brain damage, or substance abuse, or its callous treatment of Chiefs players in making them take the field the day after one of their own committed a bizarre and unthinkable act of violence. You could bemoan the culture of stoic paleo-masculinity that forces athletes at all levels to keep a stiff upper lip in the face of personal or professional tragedy. 

You could take this event and spin it to fit whatever cause you like, because there’s more than enough bad feeling to go around. But I don’t know what the causal element to Belcher’s murder-suicide was, and neither do I know what the most awful part of the story is. 

I hope some change occurs, either in sports or society, as a result of this thoroughly awful event. But it’s hard to hope for something concretely good in the wake of something so senselessly awful.

College Stories

When I was a high school sophomore or so, I started looking at colleges. I wanted a certain size of school, with a certain major, in a certain environment, but one of the kind of off-beat things I looked at was the gender ratio.

You see, I wasn’t particularly popular in high school, and my dad had told me once that I would probably meet my future wife in college. So in the interest of not dying alone, I sought out universities that had more women students than men, figuring that I’d do better with a numerical advantage. I looked at a couple: UNC-Greensboro still stands out in my mind, as did York College of Pennsylvania, which, my sophomore year of high school, had a near 2-to-1 ratio of women to men. But something fluky happened with the next class. York made a particular effort to attract male undergrads, and I noticed a trend that would make the gender ratio almost even by the time I would have enrolled. So I crossed it off my list.

This got my dad’s attention, and when he asked why I’d soured so quickly on York College, I could only say:

"Alas, poor York. A new him/her ratio."

On Cooking During the Blitz

During World War II, even as The U.K. was being bombed into the Stone Age by Luftwaffe bombers, the English aristocracy still functioning as normal.

King George VI, recently immortalized in Colin Firthiness, was famously particular about his eating habits. He was very fond of cuisine from Southeast Asia, often eschewing traditional English food for some spicy seafood he’d encountered first on a state visit to French Indochina.

But he had to eat three times a day: breakfast at 6:30 a.m., lunch at noon and dinner at 7 p.m., with afternoon tea and a late-night snack often sprinkled in. The staff at Buckingham Palace was given strict instructions to serve His Majesty at those particular times.

But one evening, the king’s chef was in the middle of preparing such a spicy seafood dish when the air raid sirens sounded. The chef went immediately to cut off the gas to avoid an explosion if thy were hit, but the king’s steward, mindful of the particular dining schedule they had to obey, stopped him.

"No!" the steward ordered. "Keep clam and curry on!"

On Massages in Las Vegas

On the day the 2012 NHL season ended, Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf, his team eliminated from playoff contention, took off on vacation. Through his well-publicized relationship with actress Elisha Cuthbert, Phaneuf has developed friendships with several Hollywood celebrities, among them Alan Tudyk of Firefly and Dodgeball fame.

Upon the conclusion of Toronto’s season, Phaneuf and Tudyk made plans to take a weekend in Las Vegas to enjoy some time away from the grind. Tudyk showed up a few hours late to find a note at the front desk of their hotel indicating that Phaneuf was on the roof.

Puzzled, Tudyk dropped his personal effects off at his room, then made his way to the roof, where he found Phaneuf stark naked and face-down on a massage table, being attended to by a professional masseuse. That’s when they had this exchange:

Tudyk: What the hell are you doing?
Phaneuf: It’s been a long season, eh? My muscles are tired and I’m all banged up.
Tudyk:  Yeah, but do you really need to get a massage on the roof of a casino?
Phaneuf: I’m a Leaf on the Wynn. Watch how I’m sore.
Tudyk: Oh, motherf—-

On Francisco Franco, Exotic Pets and Eating While Riding in Cars

I’m not sure how many of you know this, but Generalissimo Francisco Franco kept a large menagerie at his private residence outside of Madrid. He was particularly fond of a pair of black bear cubs he’d adopted after a vacation in the Canadian Rockies. He and his staff of trainers did a remarkable job of taming the two bears, named Baloo and Mowgli (the Generalissimo was fond of the work of Rudyard Kipling). They were more like housecats than anything else, often wandering around the mansion on their own and eating from Franco’s table. 

Franco himself was very fond of French-Canadian cuisine, another taste he picked up on his visit to Canada, and he insisted that his personal chef learn to cook in that style. After all, man does not live on paella alone. Unfortunately, the cheese curds didn’t sit as well with the baby bears, and after eating some leftovers, Mowgli took ill and died. Without his lifelong companion, Baloo was heartbroken and began to follow Franco around everywhere, often making trips into the capital with the fascist dictator. However, one particularly eventful trip caused Baloo to accidentally damage the upholstery in Franco’s favorite Grosser Mercedes, putting the official presidential limousine out of service until the damage could be repaired.

That night, however, an emergency arose, demanding Franco’s presence before the cabinet in the middle of the night. Franco’s personal adjutant, not having had time to arrange for a new car, had to drive him into the capital in his personal vehicle, a small four-door Yugo. For the road, Franco ordered a plate of poutine to eat on the way, and all looked to be under control until Franco’s pet bear realized his owner was leaving. Still mourning for his brother, Baloo bounded out of the house, climbed into the car next to Franco and, in his excitement, knocked the plate out of Franco’s hand, spilling the food all over Franco’s hands and arms. Baloo himself was hungry, it being the middle of the night, and tried to hold Franco’s arm down so he could lick the gravy off, but in so doing, he cut the generalissimo’s arm quite badly.

National emergency or no, Franco had to be taken to the hospital so his wound could be cleaned and sutured, so the valet drove there first. When the admitting nurse asked how Franco had cut his arm, the breathless valet could only say the following:

"If you’re Baloo and you don’t know where to go to
Ride in Yugos where Fascists sit, 
Poutine on the wrist.”

The Marcus Vick Counterfactual

I grew up a Virginia Tech football fan. And I will never forgive Marcus Vick for what he did. Since he’s back in the news tonight, I thought I’d clue you in on a particular thing that’s bothered me for years.

Marcus Vick cost Virginia Tech the 2006 BCS Championship. I’ll explain why.

In the 2006 Gator Bowl, Marcus Vick stomped on the leg of Louisville defensive end Elvis Dumervil, an act that, on top of a series of indiscretions and illegal acts that would have made even his celebrated older brother (pre-incarceration, in fairness) blush, earned him his dismissal from the football team. 

Virginia Tech was coming off a No. 8 finish in the BCS standings when the younger Vick was cashiered, and they went on to a respectable 10-3 finish the next season under sophomore starter Sean Glennon. But if they’d retained Vick, I believe that the Hokies would have won the BCS title.

Here’s how it goes. Virginia Tech lost twice in the 2006 regular season, in back-to-back weeks, to Georgia Tech and Boston College. Neither game was particularly close, as in the first game, Calvin Johnson overcame a Virginia Tech defense (and, in Reggie Ball, a Georgia Tech quarterback) that had hamstrung him for his first two years as a Yellow Jacket. In the second, Matt Ryan and Boston College held a one-possession lead for most of the game before pulling away in the fourth quarter.

Here’s the point. That Virginia Tech team had two future NFL cornerbacks, four future NFL receivers, a very good college running back in Branden Ore, an even better college tight end in Greg Boone, a moon of a man who moonlighted in a single-wing package called the “Wild Turkey,” the last great Beamer Ball special teams unit and the last great Bud Foster defense. 

The one weak link was Glennon, the quarterback. To watch Sean Glennon play quarterback was to witness a level of panicked ineptitude the like of which I’ve never seen, before or since, in any position, at any sport. He was the Ford Pinto of quarterbacks—slow, uncomfortable and prone to blow up. He offered all the turnover potential of Michael Vick with none of the big play potential. I have never seen someone look so entirely and consistently frightened in any situation. I’ve never seen someone, in real life, tied to a pole and facing the serrated knife of a serial murderer, so I can’t say with any certainty that no one has ever been more frightened than Sean Glennon in the pocket. But even a middling ACC defense filled Sean Glennon with the level of panic that a normal person would feel facing vivisection.

It didn’t help that Bryan Stinespring was still calling the plays. Stinespring, the Hokies’ offensive coordinator, is…well, imagine the opposite of someone like Urban Meyer or Steve Spurrier. Imagine a playcaller who lives for seven-yard outs on third-and-10, who lacks even a scintilla of imagination. A strong-armed, mobile quarterback, a Tyrod Taylor or a Logan Thomas, can overcome such a feeble playbook, but Glennon was neither of those things. Glennon was Stinespring’s masterpiece, a pieta of offensive messiness the like of which Virginia Tech fans hadn’t seen since the days of Grant Noel. An orgy of tipped-ball interceptions and sack-fumbles that was less offense than pastiche. Bud Foster’s defense and Frank Beamer’s brilliant special teams scored so often more out of necessity than anything else. Under Glennon, Macho Harris, a cornerback and kick returner, was the team’s most dangerous weapon. 

Here’s the point—Marcus Vick was maybe 80 percent the runner his brother was, and didn’t have anywhere near Michael’s arm strength (which still puts him in the top 1 percent all-time of dual-threat college quarterbacks), but he could hit his excellent receivers short, and he could buy time in the pocket. He’d certainly have managed to do better than Glennon’s -63 net rushing yards (including sacks) in Tech’s two regular-season losses, and maybe he’d have managed to put more than three points on the board against BC before Matty Ice put the game away.

Maybe Vick would have been able to muster something more than Glennon’s first quarter against Georgia Tech, in which he pulled down his pants, took a shit at midfield at Lane Stadium, played ninepins with with the ghosts of Henry Hudson and his men and woke up down 21 points.

An 11-0 Tech team would have easily dispatched Wake Forest in the ACC title game and gone on to face 11-0 Ohio State in the BCS title game. That Ohio State team beat a Texas team that had just lost Vince Young and Michael Griffin, beat up on terrible competition all year, then breezed past a No. 2 Michigan team, at home, to book a spot in the BCS title game. And the first time the Buckeyes faced a team that wasn’t from the Big Ten—or, put differently, wasn’t total shit—it laid the championship game egg to end all championship game eggs, capitulating to maybe the third-best Urban Meyer-led Florida team with all of the resistance and fortitude I’d put up if Alison Brie walked up to me wearing nothing but heels, lingerie and a smile and demanded that I leave my fiancee to engage in a lifetime of senseless hedonism with her. It wouldn’t have been a slam-dunk, but Marcus Vick could have led the Hokies to victory against such a team.

This counterfactual involves replacing a terrible quarterback with a good one. It’d do to the No. 19 team in the country what changing an F to an A- would do to your GPA. 

So thanks a lot, Marcus Vick, because your inability not to step on Elvis Dumervil’s knee cost the Hokies a shot at a national title. I’m sure you’d rather live in a world where you’d won a ring and maybe gotten more than a perfunctory look from NFL scouts. You’d probably like that almost as much as I’d like to live in a world where I’d never been subjected to watching Sean Glennon play quarterback. 

I had faith in you, Marcus Vick. But you had to step on Elvis Dumervil, and our lives are appreciably worse for it.