No, I wasn't regretting that second helping of kielbasa casserole...
(Okay, maybe I regretted that a little... )
No, I wasn't moaning over the fact that without Willie Parker in the game, I was doomed to lose games in two separate fantasy football leagues.
I didn't even mind watching Willis McGahee living his dream of leaving Buffalo for the, er, glamour of Baltimore.
You wanna know what had my relaxed-waistband panties in a bunch? Those Steelers uniforms. Try as I might, I couldn't fight it anymore, so I finally allowed myself to admit that the really old-school throwbacks look like crap. They look bush-league, bland, like a really broke high school trying to field a team.
They look wrong every time a pass is thrown in them in lieu of the option -- which, by the way, the Steelers offense may as well have tried based on their results in the first half.
Worst of all, they look completely ridiculous with Troy Polamalu's hair cascading over the shoulders.
On paper, I am inclined to be a big fan of the throwback jersey for a variety of reasons: They break up the monotony of a team's look, I'm old enough to remember most of them the first time around, and in a world of post-Nike/Broncos NFL duds, I think the older designs look more like football unis, less like foot soldiers in a Star Wars sequel. But who needs to see their team toiling under the Monday night lights in the jersey equivalent of a brown paper bag?
Maybe the Steelers' attempt was hurt by the fact that I was coming off a Sunday festooned with highlights of Brett Favre tossing six TDs clad in the equally fecund New York Titans throwback (Photos). So what's the deal -- no one could actually manufacture appealing colors before 1960? Those sorry scrimmage schmatas made me realize that for every glorious AFC jersey, there are four ancient NFC throwbacks that seem to include three primary colors: Goose turd, primordial ooze brown, and brownish-blues highlighted by splashes of creole-mustard yellows. They are not the bomb; they are the brown, if you catch my drift.
I'm trying to imagine a muddy field in the 1940s with two teams playing in these earth tones. How would you even know the second half had started? These mud flaps make even less sense parked on top of contemporary white pants. Look, if you really want to pull off the retro look, pair them with some elk-dropping tan, dirt-washed brown pants from back in the day. You know -- some of those Bronko Nagurski pants with rolled white calf-high socks and black, industrial strength high-top football shoes.
Either way, I can't imagine replicas of this dumpster camouflage could match the sales of those glorious Chargers blue classics, even with a million-unit head start.
Not so rosey…
While we're on the subject of bitter disappointments that get in the way of your football enjoyment, when is a rose not a rose? When it's an alumnus of the 2006 Rose Bowl trying to play NFL-caliber football. I think it's safe to say that the NFL legacy of one of the greatest college football games ever played is turning into a very high profile el busto. Just take a look at the big names:
Vince Young: His performance in that bowl game ranks with the greatest ever, and he has a winning record as a starting QB in the NFL … so what is he doing watching Titans games from the press box? Weird things, man. Depending on who you listen to, he's soft, he lost the clubhouse, he will never master the pro passing game's complexities, and/or he was a guy that only the owner wanted to draft. Meanwhile, Kerry Collins is at the wheel, the Titans are 4-0, and it doesn't look like Young is going to get another crack at the starting gig.
Matt Leinart: Speaking of Trojans with a Heisman, this might be the real bomb. At least those other cats have started games. Now we may be starting to understand why Leinart slid so far down the first-round ladder. With a coaching staff that had nothing to do with drafting him ensconced in Arizona and a rookie contract that is far from onerous, you better believe it's Kurt Warner time ... until Warner suffers his inevitable injury. Then it gets interesting.
As for LenDale White? Took him a loooong time to get anywhere near NFL conditioning in is young career, but at least he's playing … for now. There was a reason the Titans drafted Chris Johnson in the first round, and the brilliant rookie has already relegated the oft-rotund White to the grunt work between the tackles.
Elsewhere on the Texas and USC rosters, you have: Michael Huff, who was drafted at the No. 7 slot and has yet to set the world on fire in Oakland (then again, who has?); Selvin Young, who has yet to wrestle his way free of Mike Shanahan's running back by committee, Dwayne Jarrett, who looked to be good enough that the Panthers felt safe in releasing fellow Trojan Keyshawn Johnson -- only to realize Jarrett was not the answer and invite Muhsin Muhammad back into the fold. It's still too early to tell about Limas Sweed, but at this point in time you could make a case that the Giants' Steve Smith has a ring and the best ride.
Remembering a giant
We all lost a giant this week with the passing of Paul Newman. Appropriately, numerous accounts in the news have done a magnificent job of detailing the remarkable details of a life lived magnificently well. He was an enormous talent, humanitarian and sportsman.
Newman also starred in some of the best sports movies ever made, but Slap Shot and The Hustler are at the top of the list of movies that explore the excruciating line you cross when you attempt to mix your passion with the universal need to make a damn living.
If you're looking for a noir film that actually delves into character and really pays off, you can do no better than The Hustler. Toss in Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie and George C. Scott at the top of their games, and you can trust me when I say they simply do not have the ammo to make movies that good anymore.
As for Slap Shot well, there is simply no other sports movie like it. Funny as hell and touching, too -- easily the best hockey movie ever made. Now some of you may rebuke me by scoffing, "How many decent hockey movies have ever been made? Two?" If you count Miracle as the other hockey movie, then the answer would be "yes" ... and I truly believe that all your so-called big-time, mainstream sports movies can't counter with a finer film. And at its core is Newman's tour de force performance as journeyman Reg Dunlop.
On so many occasions I have exhorted football fans to turn to the NHL to fill the void during the terrible offseason. It is the only sport that can supply your need for contact, toughness, and speed.
Look, I know everyone reading this grew up playing basketball, and there is a deep connection there, but deep in your heart you know the ugly truth: Hoops are softer than your grandma's triceps. I have begged you to sample playoff hockey, but still you resist. So do the next best thing: rent Slapshot, and use it as a portal.
I also have a vested interest in making sure people experience this brilliant work, because the fact is I was lucky enough to know Paul Newman, and even work with him in the earliest chapter of my career. The experience remains one of the most rewarding I ever had. We happened to share an alma mater. A small, special liberal arts school in Ohio called Kenyon College. My years there were about as idyllic as you could dream of. Great classmates, great teachers -- what more could a guy ask for?
Well, if you were a theater major like me, how about the school builds a brand new, state-of-the-art theater, and wrangles its most famous alum to come back and direct the inaugural production? Yep, I was in a college play directed by none other than the great Paul Newman. And since we find ourselves in the friendly confines of NFL.com, I am happy to say there is a thin thread of relevance: The character I played was none other than Red Grange. That's right, 30 years and 50 pounds ago, yours truly made the cut to play the Galloping Ghost.
Needless to say, the first table read was pretty nerve-racking. When you're a kid, you have no idea if you are remotely competent, let alone Newman-ready, and as I sat on stage, I learned one of the most important lessons an actor can learn: Know how the hell to pronounce every word! Of course, I thought I knew what I was doing ... until a pesky word in a line of dialogue made me vapor-lock: "Arkansas."
Okay, it wasn't such a pesky word. We all know how it's pronounced, but I was really, really nervous, and when Paul Newman is there training those blue eyes at everyone, wondering what kind of losers he's been stuck with, you start to second-guess everything, including rudimentary stuff like how to correctly pronounce the name of a state located next to Texas. I saw the cue charging at me hard, and in one of those eternal "What the hell was I thinking" moments, at the very last second I decided to lock it down and go with "Ar-Kan-sas"… as opposed to the commonly agreed-upon Ar-kan-saw."
Ar-Kan-sas?! Are you kidding?!
There wasn't even an awkward beat. No, the humiliation came fast, as Newman looked up from his script and over his bifocals and barked "Ar-kan-saw!" As I recall, it was the only time he stopped the read-through. I also recall that no one else did anything remotely that stupid. My humiliation still stings, but in retrospect, I remain astonished that I didn't wet myself.
Thankfully, it was the lone difficult moment. As we rehearsed, it became immediately clear that Paul was much more than a superstar - he was a nice guy. An approachable, generous director with a real passion for the work, and a sincere desire to just be "a guy." Not so easy when you are one of the iconic stars of your generation.
The one time I truly saw him light up was when one of the tech specialists asked him a question about motor sports. It was like the universe had finally washed him clean of all his burdens, and the two of them got lost in a conversation so deep and sincere it had me cursing myself that I couldn't jump in.
We all hear about the challenges of being a star simply trying to live your life, but to this day I have never seen a man who was hounded everywhere he went. In the years since I have been privileged to work with an inordinate number of big stars, but I have never seen anyone wear it so well. On opening night, he was there in a suit, looking like a million bucks, greeting all. I'll always remember how incredibly gracious he was when he met my parents, no doubt adding some comfort to their terror at having a son who (gasp) wanted to be an actor.
It was an experience that gave all of the students involved a sense of hope. We actually worked with Paul Newman and it was fun. Maybe this dream has a chance?
Cut to five years later: I was struggling to survive in New York City, like so many others then, now, and in the future. It was one of those days - we all have 'em -- when the dream just seems to be making a mockery of you. I found myself at wit's end, deep in the funk particular to those aimless moments in your twenties, smoking a cigarette I bought with coins culled from under the couch cushions, convinced I was doomed, and hauling my sorry ass -- I remember it so clearly -- down 62nd Street and Fifth Avenue when all of a sudden I look up to see Paul Newman, stealthily crossing the street right in front of me, dressed in an impeccable suit and sunglasses, head down in the requisite position so he could actually walk a New York street unmolested.
There was a part of me that loathed reaching out, knowing that this man's worst nightmare was having his name called out by a stranger on a busy New York street ... but something made me do it. He looked up, wary, took a beat ... recognized me, smiled big and said, "Red! How ya doin'?!"
I suspect he was equal parts genuinely enthused to see me, and genuinely relieved I wasn't some loon planning to make his simple walk across town a nightmare. Regardless, he asked me how I was doing and if there was anything he could do to help -- once a struggling actor, always simpatico. All those years later, he still electrified me. I was at the bottom -- sleeping on a friend's couch, awaking every morning to the familiar albatross on my chest, screeching, "What the hell were you thinking?!" Busting my butt in a Manhattan kitchen all night, just trying to keep my pathetic candle lit, when all of a sudden, the biggest damn movie star you could ever want to meet took a few minutes to slow his roll and make sure a kid he knew for mere nanoseconds on life's ride was okay.
Sometimes that's all you need to persevere. It feels beyond presumptuous to add my voice to the parade of eulogies, but I would be remiss if I didn't add a simple wish: God speed, Paul Newman.