Saturday, January 17, 2009

"The Butterfly Effect" (and some championship game picks)

My ankle socks sit comfortably in the drawer, admitting their uselessness against the natural elements. Colorful T-shirts from gospel concerts, basketball tournaments, and family trips become faithful undergarments, preparing to shield my birdcage from the slicing wind. Baseball caps adorn my closet wall purely for their aesthetic quality, the cold forcing me to wear a wool cap that completely covers my ears. I pray that my gloves will add warmth to my calloused hands, and trudge forth, steely-eyed and temperamental, to face the unbridled beast.

In the nation’s capital, winter has officially begun. I have ice water running through my veins, and not because I’m unconscious like Reggie Miller at the charity stripe or Mariano Rivera in the 9th. To put it clearly: It is freaking cold outside. I pass acquaintances and friends with a quick grin and nod, covering my teeth before the wind turns them into rock candy. With our local meteorologist predicting a temperature of twenty degrees (with the wind-chill making it feel like two), my body pleads with me to reverse direction and lay underneath my sheets, to acquiesce to the discomfort. I refuse, stubbornly vowing that the weather will not seize the joy from my winter months.

For this weekend, amidst the bitter cold, a new president will be sworn. Unlike his predecessors, however, this gentleman possesses quite a few additional drops of melanin. This individual will be the first of his kind to hold the highest public office in our land, a significant event that may change the course of history.

But then again, any event in life can trigger the butterfly effect. Could I have altered history by choosing to eat my absentee ballot instead of penning in my selection? Can circumstances change tomorrow if I order a cheeseburger over the fish sandwich today? Do I have the power to inspire the Arizona Cardinals to topple the Philadelphia Eagles by picking them in my football column? Eh, who knows.

I do know one thing, though. I plan to keep my Honda Civic parked in her space throughout the entire weekend. I plan to steer clear of the crowds that will flood the district. I plan to fill my stomach with junk food and skip Jeremiah Wright’s speech at Howard University in favor of NFC/AFC championship game action. Simply put, I plan to keep a low profile this weekend and watch some championship football. Let’s Go!

Arizona Cardinals (+4) over Philadelphia Eagles (27-21)
There is nothing more annoying than a fan from the city of Philadelphia. Unlike the Boston fan, who will scream at fans of other teams for overspending while their teams invariably spend large sums of money for their players (Kevin Garnett, Josh Beckett), Philadelphia fans have the innate quality of kicking a man while he’s down. Before the Phillies won the World Series, this haughty attitude towards the art of fandom was held in check and reserved for the players of their city. Yes, I’m black. I want Donovan McNabb to win a Super Bowl to prove all of his doubters wrong. But…he’s wearing an Eagles jersey! Plus, I haven’t forgotten about your decision to play phone tag on our sidelines, sir. McNabb, I hope you have an awesome game…but I need the Eagles to lose. You, dear reader, need the Eagles to lose. WE NEED THE IGGLES TO LOSE. Period.

ESPN’s Bill Simmons brought it up in his weekly picks column, but it’s worth restating in this space. The Cardinals have the chance to beat every other bird team in the NFL en route to a championship. So far (since Week 17), the Cardinals have beaten the Seahawks, the Falcons, and will play the Eagles on Sunday. If Arizona defeats the Eagles and the Ravens find a way to win in Pittsburgh, we’ll have a potential Alfred Hitchcock movie on the reel. Wouldn’t HBO have to use this opportunity to televise “The Birds” on a mundane Saturday afternoon in January? Wouldn’t Bruce Springsteen have to allow Birdman an opportunity to freestyle during the halftime show of Super Bowl XLIII? I’m getting giddy just thinking about the possibilities.

I can’t ignore the 1 Samuel 17, “David vs. Goliath” potential. I can’t ignore Larry Fitzgerald and his propensity to make sensational grabs in the secondary. Who am I to go against a guy who draws pictures of Jesus with his spare time? I can’t pick against this Cardinals team. As Sylvester Stallone said at the end of Rocky IV, “if I can change, and you can change…anybody can change!” The Cardinals…gulp…are your NFC Champs.

Pittsburgh Steelers (-6) over Baltimore Ravens (20-13)
Just like any football pundit, I was elated to see my pick (Baltimore) win on the road, in a tough environment. As my friend Melford wrote on my Wall last week, I even picked the correct spread for the final score (3 points). But let’s be clear…I got extremely lucky. First, Chris Johnson, who was destroying the Baltimore front seven, found himself sitting on the sidelines nursing an injury while Lendale “Fat” White did his best Ron Dayne impression, falling forward for three yards on every run play in the second half. After Alge Crumpler fumbled in field goal range late in the 4th quarter and Joe Flacco got an extra two seconds on the play clock to complete a much-needed 3rd down pass to Todd Heap, I knew that the Ravens would quote “Nevermore” on the Titans’ season. I took a rookie quarterback on the road (a no-no in the playoffs) and got away with it.

However, an inexperienced quarterback against another top-flight defense on the road just isn’t going to cut it this week. Sorry, Ravens fans...but I'm going to have to bail. Unless Sylar Joe Flacco suddenly turns into Tom Brady cerca-2002, I have a better chance of landing a commercial airplane in the Hudson River than the Ravens have of beating the Steelers this week. So, there you go.

(While we’re on this topic, I am perplexed by the amount of praise lavished on the pilot that actually pulled this landing off last week. While the captain did an excellent job of avoiding both the George Washington Bridge and the skyscrapers on the West Side, why are other aerial experts declaring his water landing an impossible feat? Granted, I’m glad to see those passengers safe (with a few minor situations), but shouldn’t we be concerned about pilot training? Check out this quote from the story:
"I don't think there's enough praise to go around for someone who does something like this. This is something you really can't prepare for," said former Delta pilot Denny Walsh. "You really don't practice water landings in commercial airplanes. Just the sheer expertise he demonstrated is amazing."
Wow, that's coo...Wait, what? Go ahead and re-read that paragraph. You DON'T practice water landings???? All this time, I thought guys like Jester and Maverick from Top Gun trained these guys on similar tactical maneuvers and all possible forms of expert crash landing. So, though our airline seat cushions have the ability to keep us afloat, most of our pilots probably aren’t
skilled enough to crash land an aircraft into a body of water. To me, that makes plane seat cushions even more useless. What the heck am I paying for? I think John Madden might have the right idea…just drive a bus around the country that emits a huge amount of toxic fumes. Wait, maybe I’m just overreacting. Can someone provide me some clarity on this issue in the comments section?)

Anyway, the Baltimore Ravens are like the Sarah Palin of the NFL Playoffs. Sure, Sarah, you were big news during the election (Wild Card Weekend), creating executive fashion trends and funny Halloween costumes, and you took this nation by storm (Ed Reed’s monster game). Heck, you even found a way to hang around on our news wires (yes, I’m looking at you, MSNBC) a little longer than we expected after the election’s end (beating the Titans). But the excitement has worn off, sister. Let’s stop the charade. You are officially old news. Trust me, it’s okay to walk quietly into the sunset of irrelevance. We forgive you for wasting our time. Hasta la vista, baby.

To all of my Washingtonian brethren (and sistren), be safe on the streets this weekend. Don’t get trampled by the influx of Barack Obama supporters on the Mall. And if you need a buddy to hang with until the wave passes over our city, you know who to call.

Just make sure not to wear those darned ankle socks. It’s freaking cold out there.

Mike Benjamin, II

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