The Super Bowl is set, as it’ll be Tom Brady’s Bucs vs. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. And remembering two legends we just lost, Larry King and Henry Aaron

Chiefs.AFCTitlegame

Some years, I don’t have a strong feeling on whom to root for in the Super Bowl. 
That hasn’t been a problem in the Tom Brady era of the National Football League. One quick and easy rule for me has been this: Whoever Tom Brady is playing against in the Big Game, that’s who I’m cheering on.

I didn’t think I’d still have to be using that rule in 2021, for goodness sakes, considering Brady’s first Super Bowl appearance was after the 2001 NFL season. But here he still is, like a bad penny or a terrible childhood memory, haunting us still two decades later.

The greatest quarterback of all time got his new team, the Tampa Bay Bucs, to the Super Bowl Sunday, going on the road to Green Bay and upsetting the Packers, 31-26.

The Bucs have a good defense, sure, and outstanding offensive weapons in players like Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Leonard Fournette.
But they don’t get anywhere near the big game without the 43-year-old Brady, who has now reached 10 Super Bowls.

TEN! Do you realize that of all the incredible stats I read tonight about Brady’s longevity, this one blew me away the most: Brady has reached the Super Bowl more times (10) in his career than in seasons he has not (9).
That is a mind-blowing, crazy statistic.

He is an ageless wonder, and yeah he threw a couple of second-half interceptions that helped make the game close, but he’s still just an athletic freak, someone doing things at an age no NFL QB has ever done.

I still hate him, though. Him and his damn success.

In the Super Bowl this year Brady will face his heir apparent, the amazing, incredible, worldly-talented Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Chiefs, one week after Mahomes was concussed and knocked out of the game against Cleveland, toyed with Buffalo for a while before grabbing a 38-24 win.

I was really pulling for the Bills and their fantastic fans, but Kansas City was just on another level.

And now the storylines are all set, and as juicy as a rare steak: Old guy QB vs. young one. Defending champs (K.C.) versus a team that hasn’t been there in 18 years. And of course, the game will be played in Tampa, the first time in the Super Bowl era that a team will get to host a Super Bowl in its own stadium. But of course, this is 2021, so there will be hardly any homefield advantage because the stadium will be mostly empty.

It should be a heck of a game. Go Chiefs.

Couple other thoughts from the NFL’s championship Sunday:

— It was a terrible day for both losing head coaches, who both at times played “not to lose by too much” instead of to win. Buffalo’s Sean McDermott especially was timid, opting to kick field goals twice inside the 20 when he KNEW the Bills would have to score a bunch of touchdowns to keep up with the high-flying Chiefs.

It’s like McDermott forgot he was playing the best team in football with one of the best offenses ever. I’m not saying it would’ve changed the outcome, but Sean, come on man, you have to be aggressive there.

— Tampa Bay, meanwhile, was up 28-10 on Green Bay early in the second half and was cruising to the Super Bowl, when suddenly Tom Brady started throwing interception after interception, and the Packers got right back into the game.

But once they got within 28-23, the Green Bay offense stalled, and then head coach Matt LaFleur, in this pressure situation for the first time, made as boneheaded a move as you can make. The Packers had the ball inside the Bucs’ 10, down 31-23, with 2:20 left in the game. After three straight incompletions, Green Bay inexplicably decided to kick a field goal, making it 31-26, and then kicked off to Tampa.

Did the Packers somehow forget who they were playing? Did they really think their defense wasn’t going to allow Tom FREAKING Brady to get a first down, when they’d already scored 31 points? It was absolutely stupid not to try to tie the game there, especially considering an all-time great himself, Aaron Rodgers, plays for the Pack.

So frustrating.

**Next up, we lost two 20th century legends over the weekend, men who had nothing in common except they were famous for a very long time, and did some of their best work for Atlanta-based organizations.

Larry King was a fixture on my house’s televisions growing up. My Dad used to always watch his CNN “Larry King Live” at 9 p.m. weeknights because King had big-name guests, asked pretty good questions, and always seemed to be the kind of guy you’d want sitting next to you at a bar or restaurant, spinning tales.

With his suspenders, glasses, and knowing New York wiseguy smile, King was someone who entertained and informed. Yeah, he was an easy target to make fun of, for his multiple marriages and divorces (King was married eight times) and for his unintentionally-hilarious, rambling musings in his USA Today columns, saying stuff like “Tommy Lasorda’s pasta sauce is very, very good,” and “When it comes to nuts, you can’t beat cashews!”

But King was a broadcasting legend, and someone who I think did his best to inform and entertain. The above clip I chose isn’t really representative of his CNN show, but it cracks me up every time, because of how angry Jerry Seinfeld gets when King doesn’t know how “Seinfeld” went off the air.

Larry King was one of a kind, and someone who’s work I greatly enjoyed over the years.

**And finally today, a few words about the greatest clean home run hitter major league baseball has ever seen. Henry Aaron died at age 86 on Friday, and what a life and baseball career he lived.

He broke into pro baseball in the Negro Leagues in 1952, and went on to have one of the greatest careers of any baseball player, ever. He is of course most famous for the chase to break Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record of 714, and the incredible racism, death threats and harassment he faced as he approached the mark in 1972-73, finally breaking it on April 8, 1974 while with the Atlanta Braves.

The clip above of Vin Scully calling the historic home run is perfect; I especially loved this line: “What a marvelous moment … a black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking the record of an all-time baseball idol.”

Aaron was an incredible baseball player who overcome so much resistance and did it with class and grace. And I don’t care what any record book says about steroid cheat Barry Bonds; to me and millions of others, Aaron will always be the true home run king of baseball.

Howard Bryant, who wrote the definitive biography of Aaron and probably knew him as well as any writer, has penned this terrific piece on Aaron. I highly recommend it.

The Daddy Chronicles is back, starring a 6-year-old who’s a future hall monitor, and a 3-year-old who loves OJ and has zero sense of time.

Happy Friday and happy first few days of the Biden Administration, my people! I swear I’m having some sort of altitude-readjustment issue listening to a press secretary tell the truth and not belittle reporters, and a President who talks in complete sentences and doesn’t just ramble incoherently.

This “competence” is going to take a while to get used to.

Anyway, while we all celebrate not having old Mar-A-Lago whatshisname in the White House anymore, I thought it was time for another edition of the Daddy Chronicles, the first of 2021.

A whole lot has happened in the last few months, so let’s get right to it, starting with the elephant in the room, Covid-19.

— As I mentioned a while back, three members of our little family got Covid-19 in November. Somehow, 3-year-old Theo did not. The kid was around all of us sick people for weeks, in the house while we quarantined, and yet always tested negative.
I’m thinking he might secretly be a superhero who has magical powers. One day, he’ll melt steel with his eyes or something.

— Since we’re talking about Theo, let’s start with him. His behavior has actually gotten a bit better the last few months; less horrible toddler behavior of throwing stuff all over the place for no reason (he still does it, just not as often), less random crying jags, and less physical abuse of his loving big bro.
But he’s picked up a few hysterical quirks. For one, he has absolutely no sense of time. Last week in the car he starts a story with “Daddy, yesterday at Manorhaven pool, I was running and hurt my foot and you had to put a Band-Aid on it.”

And I’m like “Dude! That was 6 months ago, in July! It’s now the middle of January, put down the bong and pay attention!”
No but seriously, he does this ALL THE TIME. He thinks stuff that happened last February was the other day, and “when Grandma was over and we played Connect 4” happened last week. It cracks me up that he has so little sense of when things happened.

–Another big thing with Theo now is orange juice. Loves, loves, loves it (he’s inherited that genetically from me, I think) and we give him watered-down OJ every day. For a while he loved the fresh-squeezed kind that he was introduced to, but a few weeks ago he got some pulp stuck in his throat and coughed for a bit and he did NOT like that.

So now every single day, every time I give him a cup of juice, he looks up innocently and says “Daddy, does this juice have any ummm, ummm, ummm,,” and he cannot for the life of him remember the word pulp. I honestly think he would sit there saying “ummm” for hours if we didn’t finally say “pulp?” And then he laughs and says “yeah!”

Every day this happens. Sigh.

— Theo still naps, bless his tired soul. And he’s still in his crib, which every pediatrician has told us is great and to keep him in it as long as possible.
And his teacher has started calling him “the Most Improved Boy,” so that makes me warm and fuzzy, because this being his first year in school, he had a lot to learn about rules and stuff. Watching him bound out of the car each morning and hold a teacher’s hand while he skips toward the school building is pure joy.

— Oh one other thing about Theo: When he’s watching a TV show or movie, within a minute or two he runs away and goes and finds his toys or stuffed animals associated with that movie or show. So when “Toy Story” is on, he’s gotta go get Woody and Buzz and have them sit next to him. “Stinky and Dirty” time? Well he’s gotta go drag them out of the crib and plop ’em on the couch. The seriousness in which he goes looking for them cracks us up.

— OK on to the big guy. He’s a whole heaping of entertainment by himself, starting with when he’s doing remote schooling. His first-grade class has blissfully been mostly all in-person since September, but last week our district decided to have everyone do learning from home to slow the spread of Covid.

So we once again got to hear how our son acts “in school,” and man, he’s going to make one fine hall monitor one day. Several times during the week we heard him say “Emiko, you have to mute yourself, we can hear everything in the background” and “Mrs. Mattia, you need to turn your screen a little more, we can’t see the whole board.”

I have no idea if any of the other kids point these things out, but I’m pretty sure they don’t. My little hall monitor at least says these things sweetly and while smiling, so that counts for something, right?

— Another new discovery for Nate was sledding. We finally had a snow day in December so like any self-respecting Dad, I took the boys down some hills. He was a little scared at first, but once Theo got on the sled too Nate had even more fun. He is such a devoted, caring big brother, reminding Theo to “close his mouth” right before they went down the hill, after the little guy got snow in his mouth the time before.

— Finally, Nate has gone deeper and deeper with his love of board games. In the last few months we’ve added Battleship, Ticket to Ride, and Allowance to his vast repertoire, and he’s continued to master as many Wii Games as we have. It’s honestly not even fun for me to play some of the Wii Games with him anymore because he crushes me so badly every time we play certain games.

He’s only 6! Ah well, keeps me humble 🙂

It’s finally Inauguration Day, and the reign of terror and lies has finally ended. A parrot sings Led Zeppelin and it’s fabulous. And a 74-year-old Texas man wanted to play catch with someone, and something magical happened.

Finally.

It’s finally, finally over. The four year reign of terror and lies, of outlandish and often criminal behavior, of ridiculous actions and bullying of anyone who got in his way, is finally over.

At noon today, Joseph R. Biden Jr., of Delaware, will be sworn in as the 46th President of these United States. Kamala Harris, of California, will be sworn in as the first female vice-president of these United States.

And the long, national nightmare that began on 11/8/16 will finally, finally be over.

Let me start with this: It’s still kind of unbelievable to me that Donald Trump was ever elected President. That a man so obviously racist, bigoted, sexist and as big a liar as we’ve ever seen in American politics could beat out so many other GOP Presidential candidates, then defeat Hillary Clinton in the general, is a mystery I will struggle to understand the rest of my life.

But it happened. And for a brief few days after it did, I remember talking to my friend Jeff Pearlman, and we talked ourselves into “Well, maybe it won’t be as bad as we think. Maybe he’s so incompetent he won’t really do too much damage.”

Yeah, I’d say we were hoping for a miracle with that one. As it turned out, it was much, much worse than we expected, and that was before the Covid-19 pandemic killed 400,000 people on his watch.

But I don’t want to dwell on the last four years today. Because at noon, an honest, decent, flawed human being will be sworn into office, and I emphasize the words human being. No more will every single decision from the Oval office come out of a vindictive grudge, a desire to punish some while rewarding others. No more will temper tantrums erupt on the electric Twitter machine because the President saw something on Fox News or MSNBC.

The graft is over. The corruption is over. The meanness is over. This column by Paul Waldman of the Washington Post is an excellent kiss-off to the Trump era.

Take a deep breath outside today. The fresh air is blowing in to Washington. D.C. We’ve been stuck in a sewer for four years, but finally, finally, the air will smell better.

A clean start. A female, African-American/Asian vice-president. A Democratic majority in the Senate.

It’s a brand new day in America.

Thank freaking God this nightmare is over.

**Next up today, nothing to see here, just a beautiful parrot singing some Led Zeppelin, while climbing her metaphorical “Stairway to Heaven.”

The Internet is, as always, undefeated.

**Finally, I love this story, and so did many people, as it was widely shared and went quasi-viral last week.

Mike Wilson of the New York Times brings us a beautifully-written tale of a 74-year-old Texan named Frank Miller, who was a former athlete who wanted to find someone in his neighborhood with whom to have a catch.

So his wife, Alice, more adept at social media, posted a note on Nextdoor, the neighborhood app.

“My 74 year old husband would like to have a partner to throw the ball with. He is a former high school and college pitcher and is looking for a catcher or someone who knows how to throw a baseball.” She volunteered that her husband “is in good shape.”

From such a simple request, Miller got a ton of responses, and on a Wednesday afternoon at a suburban Dallas park, Miller met up with a dozen strangers to have a catch.

There are so many great passages in this story, I particularly loved this one:

“The game got a hold of Frank Miller in the early 1960s, when he pitched for his high school team in Greenville, N.Y., and then for Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. He can describe with cinematic clarity the grand slam he hit in May of his freshman year — and show you the ball, which he keeps in a box marked “memorabilia.”

He has visited his enthusiasm upon Alice, his third wife, who knew nothing about baseball when they met 10 years ago. “Frank introduced me to the complexities of the game,” she said, managing not to sound like a hostage.

LOL. Every married woman with a sports-obsessed husband can relate to that “hostage” line. It’s a simple story of human connection in these Covid-infected times, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The NFL championship games are set: It’s Rodgers vs. Brady, and Bills vs. Chiefs. It’s Inauguration week, so I’m thinking of Maya Angelou. And the new Pixar movie “Soul” is very very good.

 

Sunday morning, a few hours before the AFC and NFC playoff games, I tweeted out that it would be so great, and so deserving for America, if we got Buffalo and Cleveland in the AFC title game next week.

After such a shitstorm of a year we’ve all had, seeing two great fan bases who’ve suffered for a long time, playing each other for the right to go to the Super Bowl? That’d be awesome.

And it almost happened. The Bills took care of their end of the deal, doing just enough on a brutally windy night in Buffalo Saturday, beating Baltimore and their star quarterback, Lamar Jackson.

And Sunday, in what was the most exciting game of the weekend, Cleveland almost came all the way back for the win. After Kansas City star Patrick Mahomes went out with a concussion (more on him in a sec), the Browns clawed their way back to within 22-17.

All they needed was one more defensive stop against Chad freaking Henne, a journeyman signal-caller who had barely played since 2014, completing only two passes until a final-game start this year.

But the Chiefs, and amazingly, Henne, got it done, and the Browns’ hopes were dashed.
As I’ve said here many times before, I have a soft spot in my heart for Browns fans, because much like we Jets fans, they know from pain and suffering. This was a fantastic chance for them to go further than they’d been in decades, but Kansas City was just too tough.

So we’ve got two terrific title games ahead next Sunday, Buffalo hosting Kansas City and the Battle of the Bays, Tampa Bay at Green Bay.

Couple thoughts on a great weekend of football:

— As I mentioned, Mahomes suffered a concussion Sunday, and in the old days I have no doubt he might have been allowed to go back in and play. So thank God we’re not in the dark ages anymore.

But this next week will be very interesting, as Mahomes goes through concussion protocol. The NFL 100 percent wants Mahomes in this huge title game, but the Chiefs have a huge amount of $$$ invested in Mahomes and his future, and you have to think they’re not going to let him play if he’s not fully healthy.

Will be very interesting to see the blowback if Mahomes isn’t cleared to play, and the Chiefs go on to lose.

— The Green Bay Packers, I think, are big favorites to get to the Super Bowl. They looked very good against a really strong Rams defense on Saturday, and Aaron Rodgers has had such a sensational season, it just feels like their year. I also love that it’s supposed to snow next weekend for the title game; nothing better than football in the snow!

— In the “Old Man QB” bowl, between Tom Brady of the Bucs and Drew Brees of the Saints (sponsored by Metamucil), Brady was much, much better. Brees, in probably his last NFL game, threw three picks and looked, well, old. Brady wasn’t amazing, but he still throws a gorgeous ball and made some terrific passes when he needed to.

Tom Brady is 43 years old. FORTY-THREE! I still hate him but man oh man, there’s not even an argument anymore that he’s the greatest QB of all time.

— So this is pretty interesting to me: We’ve had 54 Super Bowls so far, and not once as a team played in the big game in their own city. We’ve come close a bunch of times (Falcons, Vikings fell one game shy) but it’s never happened.
Now Tampa is the Super Bowl host this year, and the Bucs are one win away. But of course, we’re in the middle of a global pandemic. Wouldn’t it be fascinating if a team finally gets to play in its own stadium in the Super Bowl, but don’t get the enormous home-field crowd advantage it would normally have?

I mean, there will be fans at this year’s Super Bowl, but nowhere near the number as normal.

**Next up, it is, blessedly, finally the week where we will be inaugurating a new President, and a new vice-president, our first-ever female one in Kamala Harris.

I am of the belief, certainly after the Jan. 6 riots, that President Joe Biden should be sworn in indoors, with no crowds or pomp and circumstance, in front of maybe a few hundred friends and family.

But apparently there will be an outdoor ceremony, and I hope and pray it’ll be safe for all involved. In the meantime, I got to thinking about great Inauguration moments of the past, and No. 1 for me was the late, great Maya Angelou reciting her sensational poem, “On The Pulse Of Morning,” at Bill Clinton’s first inaugural.

Just beautiful. Man, was she a talented woman.

**Finally today, after hearing raves about it from several people we know, my wife and I watched the new Pixar movie “Soul” last week.

It’s a little bit of “Heaven Can Wait” and “Defending Your Life” meets “Inside Out,” and it’s terrific. (Not surprisingly, I loved ALL three of those movies!)

Hailed as the first Pixar movie to have an African-American protagonist, “Soul” is an outstanding piece of film-making. Starring the voices of Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey, it’s the story of Joe Gardner, a school music teacher who loves jazz and dreams of getting his big break.

When he finally seems to get a chance to show his jazz piano skills, he has an accident that sends him hurtling into the afterlife, or more like, the “before life” a strange world where souls are examined and matched up with “mentors” that will help people like Joe “discover their spark” when they’re born again.

I know it sounds weird, but go with it. Joe gets hooked up with “22,” played hilariously by Tina Fey, who is a frustrating soul who’s been around forever and made Mother Teresa cry, so difficult was she.

Joe and 22 go through lots of adventures, which I won’t spoil here, but as with most Pixar movies, the adventures have humor, heart and soul.

Foxx is excellent as a voiceover here, giving Joe Gardner energy, nervousness and fear in equal parts. The visuals are, as always with Pixar movies, stunning, and there’s lots of heart. Fey is superb, and in small roles, Angela Bassett and Graham Norton also shine.

My only quibble is the movie felt like it went on one or two scenes too long; without giving anything away, there was a very satisfying conclusion, and then there were still 10 more minutes of the film.

But “Soul” overall is terrific, and well worth your time. It’s streaming now on Disney Plus. Here’s the trailer.

 

Good News Friday: A father sees his formerly-ill son play pro soccer, fulfilling a dream. A college basketball player hits a game-winning shot, three years after a leukemia diagnosis. And a groom gives his teacher bride an awesome surprise at the altar

Happy Friday, people! Hope you’ve all had a good week; I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time these last few days scouring for a Covid-19 vaccine appointment for my parents and in-laws; it’s truly been harder to get one than scoring “Hamilton” tickets its first year out. The rollout here in New York has been, shall we say, bumpy.

But anyway, it’s Friday, glorious Friday, NHL season has started and I’m a very happy fellow.

Three good news stories this week to hopefully lift your mood, the first two actually about athletes overcoming tremendous obstacles.

First, my cousin Rob, a huge soccer nut, sent me this fabulous story about an 18-year-old named Declan Thompson. Declan made his pro debut this week for Sheffield, a squad in England, and just doing that was a miracle.

As a child Declan was diagnosed with Perthes disease as a child. The condition is rare and affects the hips by cutting off blood flow to the thigh, causing bone cells to die. Thompson spent 18 months of his life in a wheelchair, endured numerous surgeries and was told he may never walk again.

And yet there he was on Tuesday, taking the pitch and realizing a dream.

Lee Thompson, Declan’s father, watched Sheffield Wednesday’s 2-0 victory from home and was overwhelmed with emotion when he saw his son trot onto the field.

**Next up today, another story of a medical near-miracle, with an equally-happy ending.

A University of Texas basketball player named Andrew Jones was diagnosed with leukemia three years ago. He was obviously off the team for a while, recovered, and last week in a big game against West Virginia, hit a game-winning shot.

I mean, that’s a Hollywood script right there.

Jones was diagnosed with leukemia in January 2018 and was released from the hospital more than a month later. He completed chemotherapy treatment in August 2018. He returned for two games in November at the start of the 2018-19 season but began another round of treatment a month later.

After missing the better part of two seasons, Jones had 20 points in Texas’ opener last season and went on to play all 31 games. He missed this season’s opener, but has played in all 10 games since, helping Texas to its 10-1 start.

All glory to god for even allowing me to be here and play the game that I love,” Jones wrote on Twitter after the game. “Thank you too my teammates and all my supporters. Let’s keep it going.”

Watch the great moment, above.

**Finally today, a beautiful story of a groom giving his bride a wonderful surprise.

I saw this on Twitter but didn’t know the details, but happy Inspiremore.com has them: Cíntia Bonfante Pereira is a speech therapist in Caxias do Sul, Brazil, and frequently works with children who have speech delays because of Down syndrome. She adores her patients, so on the day she married José Vitor Flach, he found a beautiful way to include them in the ceremony!

Cíntia and José were standing at the altar when the doors at the back of the church suddenly opened. As José beamed, a group of his bride’s students began making their way down the aisle.

It’s getting a little dusty in here, especially when groom Jose shakes hands with one of the boys.

So beautiful. So much good in the world.

The man who got drunk and woke up as Celine Dion (seriously). A periodic reminder of how amazing LeBron is, after this incredible 60-foot pass. And Ken Jennings with a lovely tribute to Alex Trebek.

 

You know what I think we need today?

A story about a person doing something really stupid and silly. This week, like last week, has been fraught with so much negativity and anger and worry, about so much, that sometimes we just need a laugh-out-loud act of stupidity to take our mind off things.

Happily, as usual, I found one while listening to NPR’s outstanding “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” podcast.

Meet 30-year-old Thomas Dodd, who lives near Birmingham, England. He is a big Celine Dion fan, loves watching her concerts on TV, and over the New Year’s holiday he was drinking and watching the chanteuse on the telly and apparently decided he wanted to legally change his name to “Celine Dion.”

His heart could go on no longer without being closer to the Canadian superstar, so a drunken Dodd went online and paid {89 to download and fill out the legal name-change form.

Except the next day he had no memory of doing so. A week later an official government envelope showed up to his door telling him he’s officially changed his name.

“I am slightly obsessed with her, I’m not going to lie,” the new Celine told Birmingham Live. “During lockdown I’ve been watching a lot of live concerts on the TV. I can only think I’ve been watching one of hers and had a ‘great idea’ after a few drinks!

“I walked in from work and there was a big white envelope with ‘do not bend’ written across it. I nearly passed out in my kitchen when I opened it.”

Oh Thomas, we’ve all been there, my man. Who among us hasn’t drunk-dialed an ex while wasted, or bought some huge, expensive item online we didn’t need while buzzed?

Then again, not sure ANY of us have been there enough to change our name to the chest-beating, chandelier-shattering pop superstar.

“I haven’t long moved house and haven’t introduced myself to my neighbour yet,” Thomas added. “My mother didn’t see the funny side though. I did explain it could be worse and it could’ve been Boris Johnson – we’re just lucky he doesn’t have any live concerts. She’s laughing about it now. I told my sister and she choked on her sandwich. They seem to be seeing the funny side.”

I can’t stop laughing. God bless you, “Celine” for giving me exactly the kind of goofy stupidity I needed today.

**Next up today, most sports fans take LeBron James’ eternal greatness for granted, but I try never to do that, because we should never just shrug when it comes to another amazing act by the greatest basketball player who ever lived.

The other night was a perfect example of how mind-blowing James can be. Check out this 60-foot, no-look, lefthanded pass hitting a Lakers teammate right in stride.

I mean, there are maybe 2-3 people in the history of the sport who could make that pass! Just incredible. And this is James’ 18th year in the NBA.

Man, he’s just the best.

**Finally today, this has been a very strange week for “Jeopardy” fans like myself, as for the first time in decades someone else besides Alex Trebek is hosting the show.

Trebek, who of course died in November, had pre-taped enough episodes to last through last week. But Monday, reality struck, and new interim host Ken Jennings, who of course is a legend on “Jeopardy,” had to come out and acknowledge the loss of Trebek.

Jennings was just perfect in this :45 opening (above). You could see him getting choked up and having trouble getting through it, and he wasn’t the only one getting choked up watching it.

Really beautiful stuff.

 

Some thoughts on the riot at the U.S. Capitol: Trump must be impeached, and his “brand” may be permanently damaged. A club-level soccer team in England scores a big upset, then belts out an Adele love song. And in the NFL playoffs, the Bills win a thriller, the Ravens get some redemption, and the Browns finally win a playoff game


It has taken so, so much to finally get to this point.
But after last Wednesday’s horrifying, despicable riot and attack on the U.S. Capitol, incited by the President of the United States, I actually believe that finally, Donald Trump may have been permanently weakened and diminished.

Think about how many dozens of other times we thought Trump was finished. How many times any other politician in the history of America would’ve been destroyed, tarnished, completely forgotten about and deemed un-electable. How about when he mocked a disabled reporter at a press conference? Remember that one? That was FIVE years ago, and it didn’t affect Donald Trump one bit.

And now, five years later, so much more horribleness has come from Trump, and all that occurred on that awful, despicable horrible day last Wednesday.

He should’ve been stopped sooner. He could’ve been stopped sooner. But he wasn’t, and like a cancer he grew and grew and metastasized and helped create that scene on Wednesday.

Couple more thoughts on a day that will go down in American history:

— Of all the disgraceful things I’ve seen, read, and heard about what went down Wednesday, and I highly recommend you read this outstanding reconstruction by The Washington Post, the most offensive to me was seeing video of police officers posing for selfies, opening barricades, and ushering these rioters into the Capitol building.

As thousands of other people have said, if any of these rioters had been black or brown, they’d have been shot and tear-gassed immediately. But because they’re white, they just get a free ride (I will make a very big exception for Capitol police officer Eugene Goodman, who, with a mob chasing him inside the building, lured them away from the Senate offices), and if ever there was a bigger example of white privilege in American history, man, I don’t know what it is.

— At first I thought impeachment was a fool’s errand after this; after all, Trump has only a handful of days left, there’s no time to have a trial in the Senate to impeach him before Joe Biden is inaugurated, etc.
But the more I read and thought about it, the more I listened to Trump inciting this riot by telling them to march on the Capitol on Wednesday, the more I heard his despicable words about how the election was stolen, it’s all a big fraud, and the more I listened to his disgusting statement telling the rioters “we love you, we’re proud of you,” and the more I heard about his threats against the vice-president, I changed my mind.

I don’t care if it distracts from Biden’s first 100 days, I don’t care if it prolongs the country thinking about Trump. What he did, the damage he helped cause, the five lives that were lost on Wednesday, NEEDS to be punished. Impeach his ass, and make sure he’s never allowed to run for President again. 

— Finally, I really do think this was the final straw for Trump. His own party is running away from him a bit, a new poll asking GOP voters who they wanted as the 2024 nominee had many others ahead of him, and he’s lost Twitter and so many other of his favorite toys.

I do not want to predict he’s finished, but man it’s been quite something to see the hand-wringing and “gee, if only I’d known what a bad guy he was” from some of the GOP legislators in Congress, like our old friend Lindsey Graham. 

**So this is all kinds of awesome, and one of the reasons I love sports. There’s a soccer tournament in Europe every year called the FA Cup, and basically it allows tiny little club teams to possibly face, and defeat, major professional teams.

Last week, on Jan. 9, a sixth-tier team in England called Chorley FC, a squad that has most of its players working full-time jobs like teacher and construction worker around practices, faced off second-tier Derby County. (Hat tip to my soccer-mad cousin Robby for pointing me to this story)

And Chorley won, 2-0. Now, Derby was missing most of its regular players because of a Covid outbreak, but still, they should normally destroy Chorley with ANYONE from their roster.

But Chorley won, and they’re obviously big Adele fans, so after the game in the locker room they belted out “Someone Like You” and I totally am in love with this team now. You go and sing that emotional love ballad, you rough and tumble footballers!

**Finally today, it was an historic weekend in the NFL playoffs, as thanks to the hopefully one-year-only expanded playoffs, we got six games on wild-card weekend, three each on Saturday and Sunday.

The games were almost all surprisingly competitive, as we had only one blowout in the bunch (thanks for showing up, Bears), and most games were quite exciting.

Some quick-hit thoughts on a weekend where the Bills and Bucs soared, the Seahawks and Titans crashed, and I had the quickest crush/breakup on a QB I’d never heard of, ever.

— So the Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts played the game of the weekend, a thrilling back and forth affair that saw the Bills hold on, 27-24. As you know I’m bullish on the Bills, I think they’ll go to the Super Bowl, but that was way too close for comfort. They had a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter and barely hung on. The defense is starting to worry me. Still, it was awesome that 7,000 fans got to be in the stands for it.

— Man, how about that Washington-Tampa game? The Bucs figured to have an easy win because they’re a much superior team, and then a few hours before kickoff Saturday night it was learned that WFT quarterback Alex Smith couldn’t play, leaving Taylor Heinickie, a former Old Dominion QB who played in the XFL and never started an NFL game, to try to beat Tampa.

And damn if the kid nearly did! He passed for more than 300 yards and had Washington in a position to win. I was gushing about him to my friend Tony, a die-hard Washington fan all game, about how great this kid was, how much fun it was to watch him, etc.

Tony called me about 10 minutes after the game, despondent. Not because his team lost, he said.

“Mike, I can’t root for Heinickie anymore,” he said with a sigh. “Just found out he’s a huge MAGA guy.”

“NOOOOOO!” I screamed. But it was true. Apparently the young QB’s social media feeds were littered with pro-Trump, xenophobic and racist comments for the past several years.

Taylor, bubeleh, I was on your side for a good three hours! I was ready to get your jersey or something! And now it turns out you were cheering on the rioters last Wednesday. Ugh, social media, you ruin everything these days 🙂

— Fantastic effort by the Ravens Sunday, as Lamar Jackson made up for a couple of bad playoff performances in past years with a terrific game, leading Baltimore past Tennessee. This 48-yard TD run from Jackson was what his coach called “the best run by a QB I’ve ever seen.”

I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it was pretty fantastic.

— Finally, the Browns-Steelers game. Oh my Lord, I’ve been watching football for 40 of my 45 years on Earth. And I have never, EVER seen anything like what happened in the first quarter.

The Browns haven’t been in the playoffs since 2002.  The Steelers are NFL royalty, and have dominated this rivalry like a lion dominates a kitten. Cleveland was ravaged by Covid-19 this week, and didn’t even practice until Friday.

And after 15 minutes Sunday night, the Browns led 28-0.

Twenty-eight to zero! Insane. Then the game got a little scarily close in second half, and it got to 35-23, and the Steelers had a 4th and 1 at midfield and shockingly punted, and the Browns finally pulled away to win, 48-37.

I feel so good for the Browns fans, who have suffered for many years under inept ownership, inept drafting, inept coaching, all of it.

They deserve to feel great today. It’s been a long time coming.

Good News Friday: A police officer pays for a family’s Christmas gifts, instead of arresting them for shoplifting. A high-school student and other kids put together an inspirational song. And a fist-bumping Canadian gets an awesome gift from strangers

The women, who had two small children with them, were stopped as they left the store, police said.

I have two girls myself, similar on age to the two girls that were there, so it kind of struck me a little bit,” Lima told CNN affiliate WJAR.

Next up today, my mother sent me this video the other day and I thought it was terrific. It’s from May, when quarantine was strongly in place everywhere. Charlotte Bowder, a high school student in Maine put this song together with children across seven states called “Make the World Better.”

Just a small piece of joy in what has been a terrible time for so many. The boy in the gray Champion sweatshirt is fantastic.

Georgia on my mind! Both Dems prevail in the Senate runoffs, and we’ve got a Dem-controlled Senate. Yet more proof Bryan Cranston is awesome. And a disgusting display of favoritism, as it relates to vaccine distribution in Tennessee.

**Next today, a short video showing why Bryan Cranston is awesome. Before that, though, one of my best friends just started watching “Breaking Bad” a few months ago, and it has been such a joy listening to him rave about each episode, and each season, and the incredibly exciting all-CAPS texts I get when it’s late at night and he knows he can’t call me but he just HAS to tell me that Gus Fring is an absolute criminal genius, and holy mother of God what Walt just did was bananas.

It’s really quite something, experiencing one of the greatest shows of all time through someone else’s eyes.

Anyway, saw this clip on Twitter the other day and it made me laugh out loud; it’s from several years ago when “Breaking Bad” had just ended, and it cracked me up something fierce.

** Finally today, there have been numerous problems with the rollout of the two Covid-19 vaccines (guess that post I wrote about having faith in Operation Warp Speed after watching their prep on “60 Minutes” didn’t quite hold up, eh?), and while some of it is understandable, a story like this just makes me sick to my stomach.

In Tennessee, it’s been reported that local health officials gave the vaccine to close friends and family instead of the elderly patients who desperately need it.

Hundreds of elderly people in Tennessee waiting for hours to receive a coronavirus vaccine on New Year’s Eve were told to go home because of a shortage in supplies. 

But once they left, health officials called up and administered the vaccine to their friends and close contacts, according to WRCB-TV, an NBC affiliate. 

Staff at the Tennessee Riverpark vaccination center told their friends and relatives that there were still vaccines available, even after people over 75 years of age were turned away and told the opposite, WRCB-TV reported.

The Hamilton County Health Department sent out a public service announcement over Twitter telling people to “please leave the line NOW and return at another time.”

We have got contacts,” exclaimed one driver when asked how he was able to get a vaccine. The driver told Channel 3 all seven people in the vehicle received a vaccination. It’s not clear if those individuals met the CDC or the Health Department’s criteria to receive this round of available vaccines.

“At the end of the day we had more vaccine doses than we had anticipated,” Hamilton County Health Department Administrator Becky Barnes told WRCB-TV. “Because they had been thawed and prepared they had to be given by the end of the day. Our intent is to never waste any doses and we did not waste any Thursday.”

“Nurses were able to draw 6 and occasionally 7 doses from some vials instead of the projected 5,” Barnes said. “This was our first day using the Pfizer vaccine and staff had no history to project the actual doses we would have.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention specifies that the first phase of COVID-19 vaccine administration is for frontline workers responding to the pandemic, as well as people 75 years and older. 

It’s unclear whether the friends and close contacts who received the vaccine met these guidelines. 

This is complete and utter bullshit. First of all, OK, fine, let’s say they miscalculated and had more doses than they expected, and they had to be used up. Once that was discovered, don’t you broadcast to the public that the hundreds of elderly people who were sent home should COME BACK? And that you don’t freaking call up your buddies and aunts and uncles and tell ’em to come on down to get vaccinated?

Or maybe they should’ve called the hospitals and doctors and nurses in the area and let them get vaccinated first?
Second, I’m exceedingly dubious that these “Friends and close contacts” all met the guidelines on who should get the shots.

Absolutely despicable, what happened there in Hamilton County, Tenn.

https://www.insider.com/health-officials-gave-covid-vaccines-to-friends-instead-of-elderly-2021-1?amp

“The Queen’s Gambit” is as good as everyone has told you it is. Video. Trump, with another impeachable offense phone call over the weekend.And the NFL playoffs are set, and they could be wild.

THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT (L to R) ANYA TAYLOR as BETH HARMON in THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT. Cr. CHARLIE GRAY/NETFLIX © 2020

I like the game of chess: Played it as a kid a little bit, loved the book and movie “Searching for Bobby Fischer” (truly an underrated gem of a flick), and appreciate just how freaking hard it is to master.

But if you told me that a seven-episode Netflix series about a troubled orphan who rises up over drug addiction and the male-dominated hierarchy of chess would be an absolutely thrilling TV experience, I’d say you were nuts.

But that’s what “The Queen’s Gambit” was, a short, fascinating drama that we just binge-watched over the last week here at Lewis Castle.

Taking place in Kentucky at first, and then the U.S., over the 1950s and ’60s, “The Queen’s Gambit” is based on a 1983 novel by Walter Tevis, and follows the childhood and early adulthood of Beth Harmon (Anya-Taylor Joy), a red-haired, intense girl who stumbled upon the game of chess shortly after being placed in an orphanage after her mother commits suicide.

With no friends and very little communication skills, Beth befriends a gruff janitor at the orphanage and discovers a portal into a glorious world, filled with rooks and pawns. 

We watch Beth grow up, eventually leave the orphanage after being adopted by a depressed, emotionally-distant Mom (Marielle Heller) and rise up the ranks of the chess rankings, turning back men who underestimate and are often beguiled by her.

“The Queen’s Gambit” is gorgeously filmed (the final episode, in Russia, is absolutely breathtakingly shot), has outstanding supporting characters (Heller is terrific, as is Beth’s orphanage friend Moses Ingram) and you can’t take your eyes off Taylor, who plays Beth subtly most of the time but with explosive fire at other times.

The chess matches themselves are fascinating to watch, even if you can’t understand all the action; they are never shot the same way twice, and seeing white and black pieces move has never been so mesmerizing.

By the end of the series, you’ll be ready to buy a chess set and will want to hang out with these obsessive, emotionally-troubled characters.

Everything you’ve heard about “The Queen’s Gambit” is true; it’s really a sensational TV show to watch.

Go check it out on Netflix; here’s the series trailer.

**Next up today, our President is full “I don’t give a damn about anyone else” mode with just a few days left in his Presidency. The Washington Post obtained audio of a long telephone call between Donald Trump and the Georgia Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, wherein Trump badgers, harasses, and threatened Raffensperber to investigate the “fraud” in Ga.’s Presidential election, and “find” him 12,000 more votes, so Trump can win the state.

Absolutely disgusting, reprehensible behavior and completely unsurprising from Trump.

**And finally, it was a wild final Sunday of the NFL season, and before I even get to the games, I have to say I’m fairly stunned they actually finished a complete season, with each team playing the usual number of 16 games. In this Covid-19 world, that’s really kind of shocking.

And the final week of the regular season saw some wild games, including the Titans winning the AFC South on a last-second field goal by a practice-squad kicker, the Rams making the playoffs behind their backup QB who’d never played, and the Giants holding on for dear life against the Cowboys to keep their faint playoff hopes alive.

But I want to start with the Cleveland Browns. The Cleveland Browns! LeBron James’ favorite team is actually going to the playoffs for the first time since 2002. How long ago was that? It was only a year after 9/11, for God’s sakes. But the Browns ran off to a 24-9 lead against the Steelers Sunday, then held on for dear life to win, 24-22.
Nick Chubb (above) is an absolute stud at running back, Baker Mayfield does just enough, and I’m extremely happy for long-suffering Browns fans who finally get to see their team in the postseason again.

And they get the Steelers in a rematch, this time with Ben Roethlisberger playing, next weekend.

— Gotta say, all three AFC Wild-card games look great to me next week. You’ve got the outstanding Colts playing the red-hot Bills in Buffalo, the Steelers-Browns rematch, and Baltimore playing Tennessee in a rematch of last year’s playoff stunner, when Derrick Henry (more on him in a sec) and the Titans upset the Fighting Lamar Jacksons.

— On the other side, the NFC games all look pretty blah to me. Seattle will crush the Rams, whether injured Rams QB Jared Goff plays or not; the Saints will destroy the Bears, who are extremely lucky to be in the playoffs at all, and Tom Brady and the Bucs will have no trouble taking out Washington.

— A moment of appreciation for the Titans’ running back, Derrick Henry, who finished off another spectacular season by topping the 2,000-yard mark on Sunday. In this era when everybody throws the ball 100 times a game, I love that there’s still room for a bruising, impossible-to-tackle running back like Henry. Man, it is so much fun watching him run.

— I’m glad the Giants didn’t make the playoffs at 6-10. I’m sorry, I know my Giants fans friends didn’t care about the record, they just wanted to get in, but it’s an embarrassment to have a team that won only six games make the playoffs. And the idea that Philly coach Doug Pederson “tanked” Sunday night is crazy to me; his starting QB, Jalen Hurts, was 7-for-20 passing when he was yanked!

— The Jets lost Sunday, finishing 2-14, and fired Adam Gase Sunday night. I’m sure I’ll have much, much more to say about his awful tenure at a future date, but right now I’m just damn relieved the worst coach in team history (you’re off the hook, Richie Kotite) is gone. Finally.

— Speaking of finally, I guess I should make a Super Bowl prediction, since the playoffs are about to start. Green Bay looks awfully strong in the NFC, but they’ve looked awfully strong a lot of years and haven’t made the playoffs. I’m going with the Saints to come out of the NFC, and yes it’s crazy to pick against Kansas City in the AFC, but what the hell, I’m going with the Bills to beat them in the conference title game and make it to the Super Bowl.

Crazier things have happened!