Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunday Beer Review?: Leinenkugel's Amber Light

The Common Man was only too happy to double up on his drinking assignments this weekend. He had many options. Corona (pushed back to the week of May 5th). New Glarus (still got to get to those). Point (which The Uncommon Wife brought home today). But when The Common Man's neighbor, Jim, handed him a bottle, told him to chill it, and to report back on what he thought...well, The Common Man was intrigued. The intrigue, coupled with the fact that Jim is such a generous host, makes it impossible for The Common Man to refuse, even though the rest of you are going to have to sit through another Leinie's review.

This one, however, is a little offbeat. According to The Common Man's extensive research, the beer he was given, Leinenkugel's Amber Light no longer exists. Despite winning a gold medal in the American Amber "light" division at 2003's Association of Brewers Great American Beer Festival, Leinie's pulled the beer from production in 2006, supposedly to make way for the Summer Shandy and other less manly offerings. The Common Man's neighbor, then, has been holding this beer back in reserve, hoping against hope that he'll have the chance to buy more and shelling out one of his last remaining bottles in the hope that he can find a kindred spirit. Someone who, like him, will fight for its revival.

Sadly, The Common Man can't go quite that far. Don't get him wrong, it's a good beer. For a light beer especially, it has flavor and body. It goes down very easily and is crisp and refreshing. The hops are thoroughly under control, allowing the beer flavor to stand on its own. And it didn't seem to suffer from its long stay behind Jim's bar. But, at least as far as The Common Man is concerned, there doesn't really seem to be anything special about it. Indeed, after drinking it and turning to The Uncommon Wife for confirmation, he concluded that it tastes an awful lot like Yuengling Light, another decent light beer that doesn't have any real defining character.

The Common Man believes these beers have their place. For instance, real connisseurs of beer would not want to get drunk on something like Bass Ale or Newcastle, preferring to savor the experience and appreciate the flavors. But these lovers of good beer have nights when they need to tie one on, just like the rest of you. And no real connisseur should stand for drinking Bud Light into the wee hours. After all, they aren't in college anymore.

So, beers like Leinie's Amber Light serve a valuable function. Because they're smooth and non-descript, they can be drunk in mass quantities. Yet, they have enough flavor and body that they look and taste like real beer. It's not as though you're drinking carbonated, malt water. And there's no shame waking up the next morning next to an empty case of Amber Light. Sure, you probably overestimated its hotness the night before, but it's not like you ended up going home with the tatted-up woman with a mullet that you thought was a 10 and it turned out was a 2, and now you want to get her out before your roommate sees her. Rather, you thought it was an 8, and it turned out to be a 6. Not bad. Congratulations all around.

So drink your Amber Light and be not ashamed. Enjoy it for what it is, a decent beer that's easy to pound back and that is versatile enough to be enjoyed with any meal, and classy enough for a variety of occasions. But be honest about what it is: the beer that looks good when you put on your beer goggles, and that is otherwise ok.

One final note, an informal survey at the party yesterday confirmed that no one actually likes Leinie's Berryweiss. And even though the brewery's suggestion to combine the berry and honey weisses to make a Honeybear turns out to be a viable alternative ("It takes the edge off the Berryweiss" one fellow said. "It's not bad," reported another.), the consensus was the the Honeyweiss was still better. One wonders, then, why in the hell anyone ever makes a Honey bear, and why the brewery keeps making this inferior product, while allowing a perfectly decent beer like Amber Light to languish. It's almost sad.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Saturday Beer Review: Two-Hearted Ale

(Note: For reasons that will soon become apparent, The Common Man eschews all responsibility for any typos, grammatical mistakes, or blatantly untrue statements contained in this post. Purple monkey, dishwasher.)

The Common Man was invited (with his wife and son, of course) to the neighbors' house for a pre-Labor Day blowout today. The Uncommon Wife and The Boy checked out early, but because The Common Man was ensconced in discussion with other writerly types, she told him to feel free to continue hanging out. That was at about 3:30. It's currently 6:30, and The Common Man is just getting home. Ahem. There was beer. And adult conversation (often in short supply when you have short people). And the combination may have caused The Common Man to inadvertently leave The Uncommon Wife at home, alone, with The Boy for 3 hours on a Saturday.

And so, even though The Common Man was set to just review the one beer today, an intriguing ale sure to appeal to friend of the blog, Rainster, The Common Man figured he would supplement it with another review tomorrow. After all, he was conspicuously absent last Saturday, and feels like he owes you. And owes his wife. There will be dishes done tonight and garages cleaned out tomorrow, let The Common Man tell you.

Anyway, first and foremost, The Common Man was ecstatic this week to find, in his local grocer's aisle, Two Hearted Ale. If you don't get the reference, and thus why The Common Man was so excited, don't worry. It's a little obscure. The Common Man will explain.

The manliest writer in all of mandom, for better and for worse, was and is Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway epitomized manhood in a time when manliness was highly valued. His stories and novels of fishing, boxing, bullfighting, loving, and fighting enthralled generations of Americans and have ultimately been added to the canon of great literature.

His style of short, choppy sentences epitomized manly restraint as he vowed not to waste a single sentence in any of his works. And, unlike so many men today, Hemingway lived what he preached. He was an avid boxer, fisher, hunter, story-teller (ok, so some of them probably weren't true), and lover. He drank a pint of whiskey as he wrote and beer when he was done. He was a man's man, and the officially endorsed author of The Common Man.

Anyway, during his senior year of high school and his freshman year of college, The Common Man became increasingly aware of and interested in Hemingway and his work (particularly when taught by The Professor, The Common Man's college advisor/drinking buddy/role model). Intrigued by the manly world he talked about, The Common Man would lose himself in In Our Time, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea. He internalized the message that, even though the world may beat you down again and again, leaving you no chance to escape, a real man presses on. In the face of overwhelming and discouraging odds, he fights on. Even when the world takes all that you love, the real man endures until he is destroyed.

In his debut collection of short stories, In Our Time (1925), Hemingway concluded his work with "Big Two-Hearted River," parts 1 and 2. In it, Nick Adams, Hemingway's semi-autobiographical everyman, makes his way through a burnt-out forest on the way to a local fishing hole. There, he makes camp and, the next day, fishes for trout. It is a story of psychological trauma and healing, of a man confronting the challenges he knows he must face in order to continue existing, and choosing to endure the pains that will not get better. It is a moving, sad, and mesmerizing story that, frankly, every man should read.

And so, when The Common Man saw the sixer of Two-Hearted Ale on sale at the local supermarket, he knew he had to have it. Made by Bell's Brewery, in Kalamazoo, MI, TH Ale seems to be the flagship of the brewery. The brewer bills it as "India Pale Ale style well suited for Hemingway-esque trips to the Upper Peninsula. American malts and enormous hop additions give this beer a crisp finish and incredible floral hop aroma."

It presents with a deep gold color and extremely high carbonation, and has a generous alcohol content (7.0%). The carbonation makes it feel as though you're drinking a beery soda, and distracts from the overall beer. The hops, as the brewer indicates, dominate the flavor of the beer, making it extremely bitter and difficult to drink. Coupled with the carbonation, it's not a brew that The Common Man would recommend drinking in quantity. Instead, it's the kind of beer that should be savored with a group of manly friends. Even better, have one at a time (since men are, ultimately, alone), and spread them out over six nights. Have it with fish or at the end of a long day. Or watching the sunset on your deck. Whatever you do, don't talk while you drink it.

Instead, imbibe it when you have time to contemplate. Contemplate yourself, and what you've accomplished. Who you've been and who you want to be. Think about the examples Hemingway provides us (rather than the rather troubling example he was) and try to live up to them.

But, above all, endure it. Endure its bubbles. Endure its hops. Endure its bitterness. Just endure. In the end, you'll feel better. And when you're done, shut the door and turn off the light. Don't say good-bye, because it will be like saying good-bye to a brown, empty glass statue. Go out and leave and walk back to your house. Preferably in the rain.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Watching You Watching

The Nielsen ratings are in on the Democratic National Convention, and the news is good for CNN, FoxNews, and MSNBC. According to TVbytheNumbers, "the ratings for the first night of the 2008 Democratic Convention were substantially higher than the first night in 2004, with prime-time viewership up as much as 88% and adults 25-54 viewership up as much as 127%." The increase in viewership carried over into the second, third, and fourth nights as well. It's an impressive testament to the drawing power of the 2008 election, and how excited Americans, particularly younger Americans, seem at the prospect of an Obama presidency. Or at least how excited Obama supporters are.

The Common Man suspects that next week's Republican National Convention in St. Paul will see a significant drop in ratings, as the star power associated with John McCain simply cannot compare to Barak Obama and the Clintons. And that's a shame. Frankly, The Common Man is bothered that, at the most, just 27.7 million Americans tuned in to the convention last night, especially when 40 million tuned in to watch Michael Phelps. And is disappointed that fewer still will see McCain's closing speech next Thursday. Even this sudden spike in interest only underlines the American public's commitment to style over substance, to the ten-second soundbite and 30-second analysis to actually listening to the candidates. This has become the very essence of the American Dewmocracy. That Americans don't have the attention span to commit to hearing the whole, they want someone to tell them what is important so they can go back to snowboarding or skateboarding or wakeboarding or whatever kind of boarding is extreme this week, instead of being forced to parse through and process a candidate's message for themselves.

Look, The Common Man knows that no one likes to be scolded or told what they should do. He hates it himself. But if you can't be bothered to at least take an hour this week and next to listen to both Obama and McCain's speech and decide for yourself who you trust and who will serve America's interests best, then you don't deserve to call yourself a man. If you are going to allow Alan Colmes, or Sean Hannity, or Chris Matthews to filter information for you, so that you are being told what to think, rather than taking control of your own opinions and your own vote, and making up your own damn mind, you may as well just give your vote back.

Not everyone cares about politics, and that's fine. But you don't have to check out twice a day, and read the Drudge Report, and skim Daily Kos every day to to understand that this election will probably have real consequences in how you get to live your life for the next four (and maybe eight) years. If you can't be bothered to care a little about that, then how is it possible that you care enough to get up each morning? If you have no interest in influencing the world around you, what's the point of doing anything? If you can't tell that deciding who to vote for will be more important to you than watching a man, half-way around the world, swim of all things, what does that say about your priorities?

So The Common Man encourages all of you, even those (like himself) who are inclined to support Barak Obama, to watch the Republican National Convention next week, or at least John McCain's acceptance speech on Thursday night. And if you missed Obama's speech last night, you can find it on his website and watch it at your convenience. Take some ownership over your decision-making, step up, and be a man.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Common Sportsman: AFC Preview

Here is part 2 of The Common Man's NFL preview. One note to keep in mind, The Common Man made absolutely no effort to ensure that the records came out evenly. That's some math major's job, and The Common Man weren't no math major. He liked him the English language. So there.

AFC East
New England Patriots (12-4) - The Pats missed it by this much, last year (he says in his best Don Adams voice), going 18-0 before losing to the Giants in the Super Bowl. Expect them to appear mortal this year, perhaps losing as many as five games. They definitely are the best team in the league at plug-and-play, creatively filling in gaps that their refusal to spring for top free agent talent often creates. They don't seem to miss a beat. This year, Asante Samuel is gone, as is Junior Seau. And their linebackers are a year older and slower. It may be that the dropoff finally hits them. Also, look for Randy Moss, who last year was playing with something to prove, to create drama at some point. It'll be a nagging injury, leading to a dropoff in throws to his side. He'll get bored, and complain about his touches. And it will be a distraction.
Buffalo Bills (10-6) - Every year, The Common Man gets suckered into the Bills. This year, they've got the promising Trent Edwards behind center for the bulk of the season, Marshawn Lynch ready to run over defenses, and Lee Evans going deep. And their defense is vastly improved with the addition of Marcus Stroud and the return of Paul Posluszny (who should be covered in an inch-thick layer of bubble wrap as soon as he leaves the field). Couple that with a creampuff schedule, and the Bills are back, baby.*
*Note: The Common Man has just guaranteed that the Bills will suffer catastrophic injuries and finish 5-11, especially because they have zero depth.
New York Jets (10-6) - Brett Favre. What could he possibly have left in the tank, after seeming to leave it all on the field last December? He is one of the best quarterbacks of all time, and The Common Man is glad he's out of the NFC North, but the decision to bring him in will either be inspired or an utter disaster for the Jets, and The Common Man thinks it's more likely to be the latter, particularly with their poor running game unable to take the heat off of Favre. An improved defense will stem the bleeding, and keep the Jets in contention for the playoffs. But they don't have the ability to get past the first round.
Miami Dolphins (4-12) - Wow. Just wow. If Bill Parcells manages to turn this team around in 3 years, it'll be the personnel revamp of the century. If Chad Pennington's shoulder holds up. And IF Joey Porter plays like he gives a damn. And IF Ted Ginn Jr. magically becomes a decent receiver/Hester-esque kick returner. And IF Ricky Williams avoids the Reefer Madness, the Fins win 6 games. Max. Good luck with that.

AFC North
Cleveland Browns (10-6) - Oh, how The Common Man wants them to rank higher than this. With the emergence of Derek Anderson, a terrific offensive line, and dynamic big play threats like Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow Jr., the offense should have little trouble putting up points. And the solid defense should hold its own. Hell, even Jamal Lewis looks like Jamal Lewis again, now that he's more than a year removed from prison food. But the Browns start out at home against Dallas and Pittsburgh, then go to Baltimore and Cincinnati, before going home to face the Giants. It's conceivable they could be 1-4 at the end of that stretch, and largely out of the playoff hunt. The rest of their schedule is no less brutal, going up against Indianapolis at home and Philly and Jacksonville on the road.
Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) - The Steelers are brimming with talent at QB, RB, WR, and TE this year. Santonio Holmes has been a terrific addition so far, effectively replacing Anquan Randle-El and Plexico Burress with his athleticism and his flexibility. Look for a big year from Big Ben if his line gives him any time to throw and enjoy watching the best defense in the AFC (and the return of Troy Polamalu, the most fun-to-watch defensive player in the league). Only a tough schedule will keep them from running away with the division. Look for Week 17's throwdown in Pittsburgh with Cleveland to decide the division.
Cincinnati Bengals (6-10) - Cincinnati is the embodiment of promise unfulfilled. With Rudi and Chad Johnson, TJ Houshmandzadeh, and Carson Palmer at the skill positions, this team should be able to dominate its competition. But a loose hold over the locker room has let this franchise get out of control. They've lost several players to off-field troubles, and do not have enough talent in the trenches to control the point of attack. This team could freefall quickly if they start slow.
Baltimore Ravens (5-11) - Willis Magahee and a daunting defense are impressive, but will not overcome an absolute cypher in the quarterback position and no big play weapons on the offense. Troy Smith is their de facto QB for the year. Really? Troy Smith? The black Doug Flutie? Good luck with that.

AFC South
Indianapolis Colts (12-4) - Who else, really? Provided essential cogs Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison are even close to 100% physically, who contends with this team? Year after year, Manning dominates his division like no other quarterback in the league, putting up gaudy numbers and being a consummate leader on the field. There is simply nothing to say about this team that hasn't been said a thousand times before. As usual, they'll make the playoffs in spite of a grueling schedule, and will go as far as their defense will let them.
Houston Texans (9-7) - This is The Common Man's big surprise in the AFC, as the Texans will see a great deal of improvement this year. Andre Johnson and Mario Williams will continue to develop, and the offensive line play, and thus the running attack will improve greatly. With reduced pressure on Matt Schaub, the former Michael Vick caddy/leash-holder will have the ability to stand back in the pocket and make good throws to Johnson and Andre Davis. Their defense remains a weakness, but the Texans will do enough to turn the bottom of this division into a slugfest, perhaps with none of the teams making the playoffs.
Jacksonville Jaguars (9-7) - The two-headed rushing attack of Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor, and imposing line play on both sides of the ball will continue to help the Jaguars this year. If David Garrard can find any reliable targets to throw to, they will finish in the playoffs.
Tennessee Titans (8-8) - Virtually the same team as Jacksonville, the Titans play big up front and have two impressive backs (LenDale White and Chris Johnson). But QB Vince Young needs someone (anyone?) to step up at WR to keep the safeties from creeping up. Young's ability to move will help somewhat, as defenses will be forced to spy him. But if no one has the ability to get open, it won't matter.

AFC West
San Diego Chargers (11-5) - Shawne Merriman: proof that steroids don't make you smarter. Going against doctor's advice, Merriman is determined to play the 2008 season with two torn ligaments in his knee. Enjoy Merriman's hobbled presence for two games, Charger fans, before he inevitably aggravates the injury and blows a massive hole in your 3-4 scheme. Blessed with the two players who inspire the most mismatches in the NFL (Antonio Gates and LaDanian Tomlinson), this shouldn't hurt San Diego much in the regular season, particularly in a weak division. But look for Merriman's absence to really show in the playoffs, as the Chargers get steamrolled out in the first round.
Oakland Raiders (9-7) - The Silver and Black is back, baby. Or at least is not going to be an embarrassment this year. JaMarcus Russell and Darren McFadden will benefit from an improved front line, and Javon Walker will provide a sure deep target for Russell's golden arm. Look for a big improvement in the defense, as new corner DeAngelo Hall will team with Nnamdi Asomugha to allow the Raider safeties to play up more often to defend the run. The team is still soft in its front seven, but will score enough points to outgun at least a few of its opponents this year.
Denver Broncos (7-9) - Another disappointing year in Denver for Mike Shanahan. If Jay Cutler is going to develop, this has got to be the year. Though the buzz out of Denver is that he's good to go, The Common Man is skeptical, particularly because he doesn't have much to throw to. The Broncos will have their usually strong running game, but Champ Bailey does not a defense make, and the Broncos will be manhandled by teams with a strong running game or multiple offensive weapons (Oakland, San Diego, New Orleans, Jacksonville, New England, Cleveland, the Jets, Carolina, and Buffalo).
Kansas City Chiefs (3-13) - Brodie Croyle is not the answer at QB, and the Chiefs defense is going to miss Jared Allen's disruptive ability this year. Larry Johnson, Tony Gonzalez, and Dwayne Bowe are excellent players who will continue to impress (and make Croyle look better than he is), but who knows when and if they'll be rested to keep them fresh for 2009?. This is a lost season in Kansas City, but look for them to start to rebound next year and be solid again by 2010.

Round 1
(There's a big bunch of teams fighting for slots 4-6, so this is a guess as to how the tie-breakers work out)
Pittsburgh over San Diego
Cleveland over Buffalo

Round 2
Cleveland over New England
Indianapolis over Pittsburgh

AFC Championship
Indianapolis over Cleveland

Minnesota over Indianapolis as Purple Jesus scores 2 long TDs and Jared Allen dislocates Peyton's non-throwing shoulder. The Common Man fears no jinx. Bring it on.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Common Sportsman: NFC Preview

The NFL season starts next week, and since The Common Man grew up in Minnesota (where the college football team's motto is "we're bound not to suck one of these years") he has been a far greater fan of the pro game. Also, the pro game, for all its faults, just seems manlier than college. And so, The Common Man devotes his time to the NFL when his attention is not squarely on the ballfield. Here's how he sees the NFC season shaping up this season (tomorrow, the AFC):

NFC East
Dallas Cowboys (12-4) - Dallas added Zach Thomas and Pacman Jones to a good defense, and is likely to have one of the top in the league this year. Tony Romo, if his head is on straight, is a solid quarterback with a Hall of Fame receiver to throw to and a very good back behind him (Marion Barber). And the offensive line has its own gravitational field, and should swallow up most of the rush before it has a chance to touch him. A very tough schedule schedule out of the gate (@ Cleveland, Philly, @ Green Bay) will set the tone for the rest of the way. If they start out 2-1 or better, they'll coast the rest of the way.
New York Giants (10-6) - Last year's Super Bowl champs have lost TE Jeremy Shockey and have injury troubles on both sides of the ball (including the season-ender to Osi Umenyiora last week). And everyone is going to be gunning for them. But they have a smart and flexible coach, a battle-tested and healthy QB (and two intriguing backups in David Carr and Andre Woodson) and a strong offensive line to run behind and take some pressure off a depleted defense. A tough schedule (road games against Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Philly, and Dallas) could stand in their way.
Philadelphia Eagles (8-8) - Philly has some great players on defense, especially after stealing Asante Samuel away from the Pats. And Brian Westbrook is a force. But an old O-line will not be able to protect Donovan McNabb, and when he goes down Kevin Kolb and AJ Feeley will not be able to make up the slack, even against their easy 2nd half schedule. Look for Kevin Curtis to come back to Earth this year.
Washington ________ (6-10) - An easy schedule helps, but they just don't have the talent, regardless of how well Jason Taylor plays. Another full year of Clinton Portis quotes should dull the pain. Change your damn mascot.

NFC North
Minnesota Vikings (10-6) - The most important name in the NFL this year is Tavaris Jackson. If he plays adequately, the Vikes will easily win 10, and maybe more. If not, they'll struggle to be .500. Look for an MVP-type year for the Purple Jesus (Adrian Peterson), strong O-line play, and the best defense in the NFL.
Green Bay Packers (10-6) - OK, maybe the most important name in the NFL this year is Aaron Rodgers. With the much publicized departure of Brett Favre, Rodgers takes the reins, and creats a big question mark at QB. He has more talent than Jackson, but his supporting staff is not as impressive. This division is a toss-up, but the loser will probably get the Wild Card. Rodgers must (MUST) start hot, or this locker room and fanbase could be in open revolt before Week 5.
Detroit Lions (6-10) - Detroit is Minnesota circa 2001. Very good receivers, but no one to get them the ball. The QB is diminishing, there's no consistent running back. A good secondary, but no pass rush to take the heat off. This team maxes out at 7 wins.
Chicago Bears (5-11) - Call The Common Man skeptical of the Kyle Orton era. No QB + running game in flux + losing best receiver to division rival (Bernard Berrian to Vikings) + rough D-line play = bad juju. This is Lovie Smith's last stand, especially if the defense underperforms again.

NFC West
Seattle Seahawks (11-5) - The good news: Swapping out Shaun Alexander for Julius Jones shouldn't hurt as much as you think. The O-line is solid, the defense is good. Matt Hasselback is still one of the 5 best QBs in the NFC. The bad news: The receivers are old and/or injured and/or inconsistent. Their brutal schedule takes them to Dallas, New York (Giants), and Tampa Bay, while the Patriots, Jets, Eagles, and Packers all come to town. If they win three of those games, they should coast to the division title.
Arizona Cardinals (9-7) - Two good receivers and a solid RB are not going to make up for a quarterback controversy, chemistry problems, and the most apathetic fan base this side of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Anquan Boldin has asked to be traded, Matt Leinert's has lost the confidence of his team, and Kurt Warner moves as well in the pocket as a tuna does in a net. Yes, the Cardinals kept it close all last year, but color The Common Man incredibly skeptical. These are, after all, the Cardinals. Throw in a schedule that ends with Minnesota, @ New England, Seattle, you can expect Arizona to be limping over the finish line.
San Francisco 49ers (6-10) - Frank Gore is an excellent running back who will help the team grind and hold leads (if they get any) and the defense will be improved with the addition of Takeo Spikes and Justin Smith. Question marks at QB (J.T. O'Sullivan??? Why isn't he just Irish McIrelandpants?), head coach (the Mike Nolan era has not gone well), and the offensive line (the worst in the league last year, and largely unimproved upon). A manageable schedule helps, and so will new offensive coordinator Mike Martz. But it won't help enough and Nolan is dead man walking. Wherefore art though Joe Montana, Steve Young, Jerry Rice, and Roger Craig?
St. Louis Rams (4-12) - The Common Man just thinks the Rams are set to fall apart this year. The O-line is healthy for now, but fragile. Bulger can't move enough to avoid the rush. Steven Jackson is coming in late following an extended holdout. Torry Holt has lost a step or three. The defense is attrocious. Head coach Scott Linehan may not last the season.

NFC South
New Orleans Saints (11-5) - Drew Brees, with an improved pass game and Deuce McAllister back, will lead this team to a nice rebound year. Look for McAllister's return to open up more opportunities for Marques Colston deep and new toy Jeremy Shockey over the middle. And it will also allow the Saints to use Reggie Bush creatively as well. Bush may never be the superstar he was billed as, but he can be an explosive playmaker in the right situation. Look for a stronger defensive rush to make the entire secondary look better.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-8) - Age finally catches up to the Bucs, as injuries and ineffective play will dog them all year long. Cadillac Williams will be the lone bright spot on offense and Jon Gruden will leave with a bag over his head at the end of the year. Jeff Garcia, Joey Galloway, Derrick Brooks, Warrick Dunn, Ike Hilliard, and Ronde Barber? If this were 2001, this team would steamroll the league.
Carolina Panters (7-9) - Carolina could jump the Bucs, especially if Tampa's age issues cause a freefall. Jake Delhomme is a strong QB and is apparently throwing at 100%. And Steve Smith is one of the best receivers in the league. But Smith is out for the first two games (suspended for punching out a teammate), and their defense is suspect everywhere except linebacker (Dan Connor will turn out to be an excellent pick for them). To go anywhere, DeAngelo Williams is going to have to carry the ball a lot, and run very far. Otherwise, they won't be able to dig themselves out of an early hole.
Atlanta Falcons (2-14) - This is a lost season. Rookie QB Matt Ryan will be learning on the job and RB Michael Turner will be shouldering the load as a feature back for the first time. Michael Vick's implosion set this team back five years, and they're only in year 2.

In the playoffs:
1st Round: Vikings over Giants, Seahawks over Packers
2nd Round: Vikings over Cowboys, Saints over Seahawks
Championship: Vikings over Saints (What can The Common Man say? He's a homer.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

It's How You Play the Game

Like many of you, The Common Man was an enthusiastic participant in Little League baseball. In an oversized batting helmet and using an undersized bat, The Common Man would play two games a week, rarely swinging (The Common Man was a terrible batsman) but fielding his position with aplomb. It helped solidify his love of the game and gave him confidence. Indeed, The Common Man still remembers how it felt when he turned an unassisted double play, or that one year he somehow hit .350 (must have been a lot of infield singles), or breaking late from third after the catcher tossed the ball back to the mound to steal home, or dropping down sidearm to strike out Brian Giguere with the bases loaded and two outs (a trick that only worked just that one time). And frankly, it wasn't about winning or losing really. But it was about those individual moments of triumph and the rush that accompanied them.

The Common Man's faith in little league baseball was shaken somewhat in 2001, when Danny Almonte, a tall, skinny boy from the Bronx dominated a bunch of 12 year-olds from the pitcher's mound in Williamsport, PA. Almonte blew fastball after fastball past these boys, becoming the first pitcher at the Little League World Series to throw a perfect game. As it turned out, The Common Man is sure you'll recall, there was a good reason for that. Almonte was 14, and his birth certificate a fake. His team was forced to forfeit its games and his coach fired. And, tragically, Almonte was forced to endure media speculation and glare, and became the butt of thousands of jokes at his expense. It's tragic, as he was horribly exploited by those who were supposed to care for him.

Anyway, a few weeks later 9/11 happened and the world largely forgot Danny Almonte, except when someone like ESPN's Outside the Lines goes searching for another way to drag him back into the limelight. In what the ESPN article calls a "karmic reversal," it turns out that the hitters Almonte retired in 2001 are beginning to get drafted by big league teams, while Almonte toils in junior college trying to make people forget the scandal caused in his name.

And today, because of the adults who Almonte trusted with his future, The Common Man immediately feels conflicted about young Jericho Scott. Scott is nine years-old and plays in a Connecticut youth league, but teams are refusing to play against him because he's too good. According to ESPN, "the right-hander has a fastball that tops out at about 40 mph. He throws so hard that the Youth Baseball League of New Haven told his coach that the boy could not pitch any more. When Jericho took the mound anyway last week, the opposing team forfeited the game, packed its gear and left." The league is disbanding his team and handing out refunds to parents who request them.

It's all very strange, if you ask The Common Man. On the one hand, he does not feel that young Scott should be forced to pitch on a traveling team if he doesn't want to, and should be able to play on a team with his friends, rather than be bumped up to higher league. It seems wrong to penalize him for being too good. On the other hand, he sympathizes with players who might feel as though they have little chance when they step in the box, and with parents who want their kids to feel good about themselves and the game they're playing.

But what these parents seem to be forgetting is that any kid who does get a hit off of Jericho Scott, whether he's too good for the league or not, is going to remember that forever. Just like any kid who got a hit off Danny Almonte has a story to tell for the rest of their lives. Just like The Common Man is always going to have that moment he decided to drop down sidearm (and conveniently forgets that he allowed a double and two walks to load those bases in the first place, and ended up with an ERA around 8.00 that year).

Baseball, when you're young, isn't about winning or losing. It's about those series of moments. Moments that remind you that you're good enough. Moments that build character and camaraderie between teammates. Yes, Jericho Scott is going to have a lot of those moments. But his teammates will too, and so will his opponents. If not against Jericho then against some other pitcher. That's another thing about baseball. You can go 0-for-3 against Randy Johnson one day, but go 2-for-4 against Livan Hernandez the next.

So let the boy play, New Haven. Let them all play. After all, it's just a game. And they're just kids, no matter how good or bad they are.

Monday, August 25, 2008

All's Fair

Did it feel like forever for you too? The Common Man was only gone for two days, but feels like ages have past since he last spoke to you. He's sorry for that, but family obligations (preparing the boyhood home to receive 60 or so guests and then travelling home last night) kept him from writing before now. In all, it was a good weekend. The Common Man reconnected with family and friends (and family friends) and ate a lot.

Not at the Fair, mind you. Yes, The Common Man and his family attended the state fair on Saturday. But it turns out that 21 month old little boys aren't as interested in food-on-a-stick as their fathers. Little boys are more interested in seeing cows, petting newborn piglets, and wondering at the biggest boar in the state. Also, The Uncommon Wife is less inclined to sit and try new and exotic brews, and more likely to want to watch The Boy ride around and around in a car on the Midway.

So while the fair impressed The Common Man with its size, the variety of activities, and how ridiculously crowded it was, The Common Man didn't feel as though he got to experience everything it had to offer. He didn't get to slide down a long plastic ramp on a gunny sack. Or eat a bucket of chocolate chip cookies and finish it off with all-you-can-drink milk for a dollar. And he didn't get to watch nearly enough fashion victims stroll through the fair with their muscleshirts and mullets.

But the experiences The Common Man had were choice. Watching his son run through the "baaaa barn" and stop at each sheep's pen to say hello. Going through the 95 year-old tunnel of love with The Uncommon Wife. And soaring through the air with The Boy in a giant metal bee, while trying to convince his son to stay seated and not try to jump out. So while incomplete, it was the best time at the Fair that The Common Man can remember. Next year, he'll insist on beer, however.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Big Fish

The Common Man is blogging in the land from which he hails this weekend. He, The Uncommon Wife, and The Boy drove out last night to help celebrate a slew of birthdays, including his father's (61), brother's (26), grandmother's (91 years young!) and mother's (the big six-oh). Also, his parents' anniversary was the 15th. The Common Man was fortunate growing up, in that he never had to share his birthday (July 20, for those who want to get him a card or a million dollars) with anyone else in the family. Meanwhile, something like 47 different significant events were celebrated together, stuffed into one short evening. Meanwhile, The Common Man got the whole month of July to himself, meaning he got to choose the cake, the meal, the theme for the party (usually something baseball related). It was a good life.

Anyway, while The Common Man went out to run some errands this morning, he stopped by his old high school and walked around a while. It has been largely revamped, adding a concert auditorium, a courtyardish area, and a mess of new classrooms. Much of the building was entirely unrecognizable.

But that didn't stop The Common Man from finding the band room where he spent many a morning playing his trumpet. Or the stairs he bounded down with the energy of a far younger man. Or the halls where he would wave at friends and weave through crowds. He even could tell where his old calc teacher's new room was by the familiar decorations on the wall and the massive pyramid made of straws and string hanging upside-down from the ceiling.

But here's what The Common Man wasn't expecting. Everything seemed so small. The ceilings seemed lower. The drinking fountains shorter. The stairs narrower. The lockers tinier (how did anyone ever get shoved in there?). It's not like The Common Man has gotten appreciatively bigger (vertically at least) since his high school days, either. He was five-foot-seven then, and he's five-foot-seven now. But somehow, those empty hallways seemed so much littler than they did twelve years ago, filled with shoving, running, shuffling, gregarious, teenagers. Then it seemed huge. That those walls could hold such a busy and bustling throng of humanity and hormones.

Is this what happens when people get older? The things that impressed them so as doe-eyed 16-year-olds just don't have the same juice? That the world will seem ever smaller and more vulnerable? Has The Common Man expanded his perception so much (and will his perception keep expanding so much) that all will seem small in comparison? And is this the natural order or is it simply because The Common Man is so in touch with his inner awesome?

Other random observations:
1) The Common Man was sure a skinny little bastard in high school, and if you look at the right tennis trophy, you can see that.
2) Swimmers are idiots. Who puts a tuxedo shirt on in the pool for a team picture? What kind of idiot poses for a photo in his speedo, on a snowbank in January?
3) You can always tell where the language teachers are, particularly Spanish, as their doors are garishly decorated with maracas and sombreros.
4) The panopticon is alive and well, as there is a camera hanging from the ceiling in the courtyard to spot trouble.
5) How into high school football do you have to be to sit in the stands and watch a team practice without pads in August? Unhealthily so? Do you have to be a former H.S. football star who blew out his knee in the big game and didn't get that scholarship to Football University, or can anyone qualify?
6) Before your freshman year, did your mom take you around the school with a list of your classes to find out where everything was? The Common Man saw two particularly exasperated looking soon-to-be frosh dragging their mothers in tow as they looked for history classrooms. Everything you were picturing in that moment about your high school experience was totally different, wasn't it?

Anyway, The Common Man will be back tomorrow night with a review of the Minnesota State Fair and any and all beers he drank there.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Who's Your Favorite Little Rascal?

It's tough for America's schoolkids these days. With soccer practice and band camp and mandatory achievement testing and no time for gym class. And now, it sounds like American students need to watch their ass. Literally.

According to a new study by Human Rights Watch and the ACLU, 223,190 students received corporal punishment in the last year, the majority being either spanked or paddled. Twenty-one states still allow corporal punishment in the United States, and just 13 (all below the Mason-Dixon line) use it regularly. According to Alice Farmer, the author of the report, it's popular because "it doesn't take much time to administer corporal punishment, and you don't have to hire someone to run a detention or an after-school program."

Of course, you'd expect The Common Man to come out in favor of tough love for these youngsters. To say that light corporal punishment is something students should have to endure for their misadventures, and that the embarrassment they face is 95% of the punishment anyway (especially if they cry, wusses). And it's not as though there is any long-term physical injury involved these days. No one is being flogged.

But there are serious concerns that corporal punishment brings up. First and foremost is that it takes away a parent's responsibility to punish their child. According to one parent, her son's school district told her that "most parents like this because it takes care of the punishment. It gets the kids back in class. It doesn't disrupt instruction. It's like the quick and dirty way of dealing with discipline problems." Quick and dirty. Over and done with. It "takes care of the punishment." Shouldn't that be a parent's job. Now, clearly there need to be disciplinary consequences for schools to run properly, but shouldn't the decision to render this "final straw" punishment be up to a responsible parent?

And again, The Common Man believes this is the problem. That many parents do not want that responsibility. They don't want to have to come in for a parent/teacher conference or to hand down meaningful discipline on their progeny. The Common Man says that if anyone is going to lay a hand on The Boy, it's going to be him or The Uncommon Wife (and even then, never in anger or to hurt him). And they promise that their punishments (corporal or not) will cure The Boy of whatever problems he's having. The Common Man (not that he's the be-all and end-all of child-rearing, mind you) just wishes more parents kept track of their kids, what they were doing and were willing to lay down the law when the time came. Then corporal punishment in schools wouldn't even be an issue to discuss.

Anyway, there are other troubling problems with corporal punishment, according to the study. African-American students make up 17.1% of the student population, but 35% of those spanked, paddled, or struck. Black girls are twice as likely to be paddled than their white counterparts. This has troubling implications that suggest that the vestiges of racism have not been eliminated from the educational system, be those vestiges institutional or incidental. Also, students with mental or physical disabilities were more likely to receive corporal punishment than their classmates.

So, in all, it seems like a bad system. It's not that kids shouldn't be disciplined (or even disciplined harshly). It's that the people meting out this discipline are the wrong ones for the job. Real men would step up and take responsibility for their children, both their accomplishments and their shortcomings, and would be proactive in addressing them.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


It happened more than a week ago, but The Common Man didn't even notice. Once upon a time, he anxiously anticipated this day, standing outside the store, hoping to get in, out, and back home in record time. He's talking, of course, about the Madden release day. Every year in August, EA Sports rolls out its game, the gold standard (hell, now it's the only standard) of football games. Men drool and women go into mourning (for their lost men).

But this year, the release barely registered above a whisper. Maybe it's that the Madden commentary just gets recycled every year, making The Common Man feel like he's playing the same game every year, becoming more and more bland and cliched and nonsensical. Maybe it's that the game itself has finally gotten stale. Maybe it's that The Common Man's gotten so good he's not challenged anymore. Maybe it's that he turned 30, and thinks 30 year olds shouldn't be sitting 3 feet from the TV, punching buttons and pulling levers. Maybe it's that he stubbornly refuses to upgrade from his PS2 (a gift from when The Uncommon Wife was The Uncommon Girlfriend, does she ever regret that gift now).

The Common Man doesn't know, but frankly, for once, couldn't care less. He is just not excited. Not covetous. Not curious. He's over it. He doesn't even care that the Vikings are supposed to be very good this year (what with Adrian (Purple Jesus) Peterson at running back and the best defensive line since the Purple People

Eaters). Or that there's a new "adaptive difficulty engine" that automatically increases the game's difficulty according to your skill level. Or that Brett Favre is finally off the Packers.

And, frankly, that kind of makes The Common Man sad. Sad over his lost youth, when he could get really excited about a new video game. Sad over misspent time in his youth, playing Madden when he could have been reading or playing a sport or watching more bad movies. And sad that something that used to give him pleasure now gives him the "eh"s. But he also feels a little freer, happy he'll have additional time in a life that seems increasingly short of it. Still and all, The Common Man will have to find something to fill that hole. Probably booze. Maybe gambling. He'll let you know.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Elvis and JFK Could Not Be Reached For Comment

For the past week or so, the internet has been abuzz with the rumor that a sasquatch corpse had been discovered by hunters in Georgia, and was being kept in a freezer. Alleged to be 7-foot-7-inches tall and 500 pounds, the hunters claimed to have stumbled across the body while hiking and that they had seen three others alive.

In a shocking turn of events, it turns out that the body in the freezer was nothing more than a large gorilla costume (why was this news again? when Russia is still in violation of its ceasefire agreement (and now they're stealing our Humvees!) and there is a Presidential race going on?). According to, "The hoax wasdiscovered after an 'expedited melting process,' [Steve] Kulls [of] wrote. 'A break appeared up near the feet area ... as the team and I began examining this area near the feet, I observed the foot which looked unnatural, reached in and confirmed it was a rubber foot.'"

Both men, one of them a Georgia police officer who will never be able to testify in court again, have admitted their deception, and have apparently incurred a lawsuit from pro-bigfoot advocates who believed their claim. Searching for Bigfoot, Inc. "is seeking justice for all the people who were deceived by this deception." That's right, all three people who didn't see through this incredibly transparent hoax think they have legal recourse for believing that someone had bigfoot frozen in their basement. And maybe they do. Perhaps any attorneys in the audience can shed light on that possibility.

The Common Man is, frankly, amused at the things men choose to believe, despite scant evidence. That aliens landed in New Mexico. That a creature lives in a Scotland loch. That President Bush and his administration plotted to blow up the World Trade Center to get oil (and flawlessly carried out that part of the plan and the ensuing coverup, but bungled when they tried an oil-grab in Iraq).

These kinds of beliefs, while fun and silly, seem to become so defining in a person's life. They seem to take over a man's existence and become an indelible part of his identity. And so often, it seems, these beliefs twist their holders, making them willing to believe that a gorilla suit in a freezer is a long-lost ancestor or that a bunch of boobs who can't rescue flood victims from rooftops is capable of the unspeakable. It makes them bitter and sad. And The Common Man, for all his wisdom, cannot understand how men can allow themselves to become subject to their own irrationality.

For another look at conspiracy theorists, and their seemingly amazing capacity for self-delusion and the lengths to which some will go to maintain their worldview, The Common Man recommends this episode of the wonderful NPR series, This American Life, which, among other things, discusses the London subway bombings of 2005.

Stupid Man Tricks

The Common Man's brother, The Dentist, is up at the family cabin this weekend. He's brought several friends, who have never left the West Coast, up to the northern woods to celebrate his birthday and to have a week of debauchery and poorly thought-out shenanigans. They are undoubtedly in for some culture and landscape shock, as cell phone signals are spotty and the internet is thought to be something new to catch fish with.

There have been numerous poorly planned activity that the cabin has inspired. Activities that wouldn't fly back at home. Shooting squirrels, for instance. Or turtle-hunting (but not killing, strictly catch-and-release). Inner-tubing behind a 40 year old pontoon boat. And, of course, blowing holes in the beach with mass quantities of fireworks.

The most amusing shenanigans, however, usually revolve around a potato gun. For those not in the know, a potato gun is a long pvc cylinder with a small chamber at the end of it. You load a potato into the cylinder, and fill the chamber with hairspray. When you touch off a sparking mechanism in the chamber, the explosion of hairspray propels the potato high and far.

This has led to a number of almost fatalities in The Common Man's family. The Common Man's father almost had his hair burned off while trying to figure out why the sparking mechanism wasn't firing. The Dentist and Uncle Bob (remember him?) used a motor boat to chase The Common Man's canoe around the lake while firing potato after potato, yelling "Avast! Reload!" over and over. That only resulted in a broken paddle, though the paddle was shielding The Common Man's face at the time. Windows, trees, and cabin walls alike have felt its wrath. The Common Man's grandmother once nearly escaped doing the dishes with her life when a stray shot thudded against the window she was looking out of.

And yet, The Common Man's family (and he himself, frankly) have not learned their lesson. Potato guns are hilarious and the mantra that "this time, everyone will be super careful" is too tempting to not believe. And so, The Common Man presents this video, as a gentle reminder to his brother to be careful, as the nearest hospital is 45 minutes away:

Happy Birthday, bro.

Monday, August 18, 2008

538 Things I Love About You

If you haven't already discovered, you're missing out. The Common Man has long been a junky of two substances (three, if you count beer, which The Common Man does. So, um, three substances then), baseball and politics. And finally he has the best of both worlds. Fivethirtyeight (a reference to the number of electoral votes up for grabs in the November election) is the brainchild of Nate Silver, one of the founders of Baseball Prospectus and the driving force behind PECOTA, an incredibly complicated predictive modeling program that has become the best source for predicting player and team performance in major league baseball.

Silver's new project applies his impressive skills in predictive modeling to the presidential race, weighting polls based on their reliability, accuracy, size, and recentness to give a more complete picture of the race between Barak Obama and John McCain. In true democratic tradition, it is upfront about its political leanings and its methodology. It hides nothing, and reveals much.

At this point, Silver is projecting an Obama victory, putting his chances at approximately 56%. If you're at all interested in politics (or are a statistician with time to kill), The Common Man demands that you check it out. It may be the last and best hope for this country's fragile Dewmocracy.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Great Moments in Terrible Filmmaking: Lifeforce

The Common Man typically knows when a course action he is on is doomed to failure. He gets a feeling in the pit of his stomach, knowing that he's turned left when he should have turned right, opened his mouth when he should have shut up, or held 'em instead of, um, feld 'em. Like most men, The Common Man is content to continue along, knowing he's headed for disaster, but generally appreciative of his time on the path. He rarely admits his mistake, and hardly ever asks for help (unless there's bleeding involved, somehow).

The Common Man suspects that this trait is endemic to men; that once they get started on a project, they just can't stop themselves until it's royally screwed up. And so, The Common Man wants to honor that stubborn aspect of manhood and manliness by looking at the most visible, and The Common Man's most favorite, medium in which they occur: film. On occasion, then, The Common Man will be profiling a project that went bad, that perhaps had some promise at one point but must have jumped the rails pretty damn quickly.

If flying off course and not hitting the brakes is a manly trait, then Tobe Hooper must be a hell of a man. Hooper, for those unfamiliar with the name (and that probably should be most of you) is credited with reinventing the horror genre in the 1970s, creating the slasher flick with the 1974 classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He also managed to direct the quintessential ghost movie, Poltergeist before totally imploding.

And so, this man, a creative force behind two of the greatest horror films of the bygone age, an inaugural inductee of the International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival Hall of Fame, decided to direct Lifeforce, a minor Sci-Fi/Horror film about vampires from outer space. How in God's name did this happen, that a movie whose synopsis should cause you convulse with laughter (according to DirecTV, "A space commander and a Scotland Yard inspector search for a naked space vampire loose in London."), was made by a once respectable filmmaker?

The answer is unclear. Online bios suggest that Hooper was lured away from MGM by a rival production company that ultimately failed. But the time between the release of Poltergeist and Lifeforce (3 years), and one cryptic bio on IMDB that claims "some differences...were resolved by Spielberg himself taking over Hooper's directing duties," suggest that perhaps Hooper was just difficult to deal with.

Anyway, this movie should have seemed like a bad idea from the getgo. Based on a Colin Wilson novel, Space Vampires, Hooper's movie plays the entire scenario straight when some winking was probably appropriate. In the near future, a joint U.S. and British expedition to Haley's Comet find a large spaceship hidden by the coma. Inside, they find the dried husks of bat-like humanoids and three perfectly preserved human beings, including the naked girl mentioned above, asleep in glass casings. Doing the only sensible thing, the crew returns to Earth with their new friends under glass, but along the way everyone dies (except the captain, who uses the escape pod, smart fellow). When the shuttle reaches Earth, the three begin a reign of terror, sucking the lifeforce (hence the title) out of anyone they can, their souls jumping from body to body.

It is all part of a nefarious plan to suck the Earth, or at least London, dry. Along the way, the film teaches that a) these are the vampires of legend and they've been here before, b) you should never trust a naked woman you meet in outer space, c) souls have the ability to blow up large London buildings, and d) Patrick Stewart (seriously slumming here) is so much of a man that even men must be restrained from kissing him.

The end of the film is so confusing that it's impossible to say with any certainty what has resolved the conflict. And it's never explained why the vampires, who allegedly have destroyed worlds in their travels throughout the galaxy, left Earth on their previous visits. Also, most of the special effects, including the blue, flying "lifeforce"s that fly around the screen and back up to the vampires' ship, are lifted directly from Poltergeist.

As much as The Common Man loves terrible movies, he was endlessly amused by this poorly thought-out, overly serious, excruciatingly acted film. If you like bad movies, this is an excellent place to start. Sadly, The Common Man watched this film on Chiller, a channel exclusive to DirecTV, so no nudity made its way past the long, blurry arm of the censors. But the prospect of a naked space vampire played by the enchanting Mathilda May

is more than worth the price of admission or rental. The Common Man just asks you not to giggle the next time you watch Texas Chainsaw Massacre, since Tobe Hooper has the decency not to laugh at you while you stubbornly try to drive home at 20 MPH with an unsecured mattress on your roof.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Saturday Beer Review: Beach Bum

A couple days ago, Dr. Awesome, of To Every Man a Manswer, reminded The Common Man that summer's end was drawing nigh. Depressed, but determined, The Common Man resolved to rage, rage against the dying of the summer. To whit, The Common Man, The Uncommon Wife, and The Boy went to the neighborhood block party tonight. While his parents enjoyed some adult interaction, The Boy decorated frisbees, blew bubbles, bounced in castles, and ran amuck. On a beautiful summer day, it was easy to forget that August is half done and college football, as Dr. Awesome points out, starts in just two weeks.

It was the kind of day that was made for Beach Bum Blonde Ale, a seasonal product of Anheiser-Busch. It seemed, after all, appropriate for the time of year; and it might be The Common Man's last chance to really celebrate the awesome warmness of the middle months. So, because The Common Man never goes to a party empty-handed, he brought along a sixer to share.

As it turned out, between The Common Man and The Uncommon Wife (and the beer that spilled on the grass), there really wasn't anything to share. But it was the thought that counted, and The Common Man wasn't about to pilfer a pilsner from one of his new neighbors.

As The Common Man said, it was a perfect day for Beach Bum, but The Common Man is definitely not the target audience for the beer. Anheiser-Busch calls it "a traditional American blonde ale with a slightly spicy hop note and balanced malty flavor." In reality, it's like a hoppy Budweiser. The Common Man tends to go for beers that have more body and taste, and that integrate the hops into the beer more. This was very short on flavor, much like water, except for the disappointing hoppiness.

The Uncommon Wife agreed, calling the beer "forgettable" and "unimportant." If you're looking for a more interesting version of Return to Manliness's "yard beer," and prefer light ales, you might enjoy this. Otherwise, The Common Man doesn't feel comfortable recommending it. You're better off getting Coors Light. It'll at least go down more smoothly.

D*#k Flicks: Murderball

As the Olympics play in the background at The Common Man's house, he is thinking about athletes and the nature of athleticism. What makes badminton a sport worthy of Olympic glory, after all (all that flailing is awfully undignified. Very unmanly)? Why not ultimate frisbee? Why rhythmic gymnastics and not breakdancing? Why the cycling individual chase and not, um, tandem cycling? C'mon, who doesn't want to see bicycles built for two racing? Think how wide they'd have to take the corners.

Anyway, Quad Rugby is not an Olympic sport (it's a paralympic sport), and maybe it shouldn't be. The Olympics is designed so that any athlete from anywhere gets a chance to show off their skills. To be a quad rugby player, you must have some dysfunction in all four of your limbs. You also have to be, The Common Man learned from watching the impressive documentary Murderball, pretty badass. The film profiles the U.S. and Canadian Quad Rugby teams as they prepare for the 2004 paralympic games in Athens and the various ways in which they are awesome.

The film builds drama and tension by focusing on the rivalry between Canadian coach Joe Sores, a hero on the 1996 team who turned his back on US Quad rugby after being cut from the squad (he was getting too slow), and the team he left behind, and their shared dream of winning the gold medal at the 2004 games. One of the U.S. players nonchalantly explains that, "If Joe was on the side of the road on fire, I wouldn't piss on him to put it out." And as that rivalry intensifies between the two, to a climactic showdown in Athens, the film glorifies them. It explores their flaws, certainly, but uses them as a means to explain how and why they are so impressive. The film helps transform them in the viewers eyes from quadriplegics to men, jocks even, who have the same needs and most of the same abilities as the rest of America. It chronicles how they have sex, their personal relationships with their girlfriends and families, and their work and home lives. It humanizes them, particularly those whose limbs no longer look human.

It's an eye-opening look at a subculture of Americans who are often misunderstood and misrepresented. It demonstrates that manliness is not a physical trait, but a mental one. The punishment that these players took (in their lives and on the rugby court) and their enthusiasm to put their bodies on the line again speaks volumes about their toughness, their resolve, and their tenacity, to say nothing of their skill. It's one thing to see grown men throw themselves at one another on a football field. It's another to see men fall out of their wheelchairs, knowing that they won't be able to pick themselves back up and that the wrong kind of fall could exacerbate their injuries. That kind of competitiveness is foreign to most men, but it is another opportunity these players see to prove themselves. Another way to demand respect.

The film is exciting, brutal, and honest. And it sympathetically profiles everyone involved (sometimes hard to do with the Canadian coach), but admits that some of them are jackasses. It shows them at their best and explains their worst. It does not fawn over them. And so, for teaching that manliness comes from within, for highlightings some truly impressive dudes, for being funny and tense, and for being amped up on testosterone, The Common Man gives Murderball two big balls. Brass ones. The Common Man is tempting to call it inspiring, but doesn't want to get beat on by U.S. Quad Rugby spokesman Mark Zupan.

The 2008 games are set to begin on September 6th in Beijing. Sadly, none of it will be shown on American television. Good job, ESPN. The Common Man is sure he'll enjoy watching SportsCenter 14 times in a row, followed by 4 hours of commentators yelling at one another over manufactured controversies, followed by women's billiards. Thanks. Maybe once ESPN 12 is up and running?