Monday, September 16, 2013

Fantasmas de San Francisco: Kilowatt

So not everything that happened in San Francisco was sad or heartbreaking. Like when the Giants rolled through the postseason in 2010.

It was a Saturday night. October 23, 2010. The Giants were scheduled to square off against the Phillies for Game 6 in Philadelphia up 3-2 in the series. Like so many other Mission District residents, I got swept up in the series as every other night in October the bars became packed with fans watching the Giants' postseason games. That evening, I somehow forgot about Game 6 once I went over to my friend David’s house to have a dinner with him and his partner, Jimmy. A few months before, Davidcito’s cancer had returned. The outlook wasn’t bright. Having dinner with a friend who was withering away was far more important than a measly baseball game, especially since I didn’t consider myself a Giants fan.

After I ate with David and Jimmy, I walked home down Guerrero Street listening to my iPod. As I approached Valencia Street—the heart of Hipster-Gentrified-landia—I heard a collective roar from Elixir, the old bar on the corner of 16th and Guerrero. Oh shit, the game!. And just like that, the tranquil spirit forged from the dinner with my dying friend was jolted out of me from all the cheering Giants fans in the vicinity. I scurried down 16th to Kilowatt, a dive-ier joint than Elixir. Once I entered the crowded bar, I saw Brian Wilson walk to the plate against Brad Lidge, the Giants leading by one. A big wide grin came over me. I was beyond elated to have happened upon this most exquisite moment of the game—the Giants up one run on the road with three outs separating them from a World Series birth. Once Wilson chopped a ball down to first base, I clapped along with many of the fans at Kilowatt, shouting and murmuring phrases like “Three outs away!”

Amidst a crowd peppered in black and orange, I cheered with abandon as Wilson began the 9th by inducing a groundout to Freddy Sanchez. Like everyone at the bar, I became infused with a palpable sense of panic and tension as Wilson walked Jimmy Rollins to the delight of the Phillies fans on the TV. We cheered, ready to go bonkers (or rage) as Polanco grounded to third for a fielder’s choice, the Giants and Wilson’s Mighty Beard one out from the World Series. Then Utley walked on a 4-1 count, a classic embodiment of the Giants torturous-winning ways. Phillies slugger Ryan Howard came up to the plate with two men on, tying run on second.

All eyes were glued to the televisions behind the bar. (In moments like those, TVs might as well be phosphorescent oracles.) First pitch a wild swing and a miss on a 96-mph pitch outside. Then a ball up high followed by a ball inside to make it 2-1. Wilson countered with an 89 mph slider that painted the outside part of the strike zone. Howard and the Phillies were down to their last strike, Philly fans groaning as San Francisco fans inside Kilowatt roared. Howard stepped out of the batting box as Fox cut to shot after shot of Phillies fans covering their mouths or eyes. Three pitches later, the crazy-tense standoff between Wilson and Howard concluded with Howard watching a cut fastball called for strike three.

Bedlam ensued as Posey and the rest of the Giants trotted over to Wilson. A deafening roar erupted from all of us gathered inside the bar, inside bars and homes in the 415. Everyone was hooting and hollering, slapping hands with anyone around. It's like we all won the lottery. When Aubrey Hoff was interviewed after the game and Jose Uribe's 8th inning deciding home run was mentioned, the crowd inside Kilowatt erupted with a chant of OOOOOOOOOO, RIIIBE!!! It was beautiful.

The city was wild alive that night. Until the early morning hours, the Mission rang with a cacophony of celebratory car honks and random hoots that could only be Giants related. In the six and a half years I lived in San Pancho, I had never witnessed such a happening.

About a week later, the streets and forty-seven hills of San Francisco roared again as the Giants captured the World Series 4-1 against the Tuck Fexas Rangers. (A big fuck you, George W!) I attended the Giants victory parade in downtown, a delirious 45 minutes of Panda-monium and screaming and hooting and uninhibited collective elation. To this day, it’s still one of my fondest memories from living in San Francisco. One of my most astounding memories ever.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

My 2013 NFL season preview

With Labor Day weekend in full swing, the smell of burger patties, hot dogs, and other assorted dead animal parts frying on grills throughout America, the sound of pigskins spiraling through the air to commence the beginning of the 2013 NFL season is but a few days away. And I can feel whole again!, watching this “savage ballet,” as Lil’ Lisa Simpson called it.

And it’s also that time of the year when schmucks like myself assume armchair-quarterback roles on couches, bars, and gyms throughout this country while making predictions about how the season will shape out. My fellow blogsmith, Justin Goldman—who bequeathed me with his vintage Philadelphia Eagles Randall Cunningham jersey before migrating to La Grande Manzana—is no different. You can check out his NFL preview, including playoff predictions, here.

Onward with my predictions!

NFC East

Washington, 9-7
Like my homie, J-Oro, I think the NFC will be the stronger conference. (I have NFC teams winning 135 of 256 regular season games. But then again, the Baltimore Ravens, a team few people thought would win it all when they struggled to get past the Colts in last year’s Wild Card round, won the Super Bowl.) I think any of these four teams could take the division; it’s practically a coin flip (though you know a Jerry Jones/Jason Garrett/Tony Romo-led team will fuck it up somehow), so I’m hardly confident of this pick. I think RGIII will be back enough. Their running game will be good and their defense will be stout enough to win enough games to win this division.

New York Giants, 8-8:
I was big on this team last year but I think their pass rush will continue to be in hibernation compared to their Super Bowl-winning seasons. Above average offense (if Cruz can stay on the field), lukewarm defense, and I think it might be time for their management to consider moving past Coughlin; his coaching ethic and way of motivating his team just might be getting stale by this point.

Philadelphia, 8-8:
The one true wild card in this division. Their offense might be top 5 or 10, but their defense will probably be pisspoor. BUT, if they have a top 5 offense and a middle of the pack defense, I think they could grab the NFC East. Lot of things have to turn out quite well for that to happen, but after seeing how well their offense has played under Chip Kelly’s system in the preseason I think there’s reason for optimism if you’re an Eagles fan.

Dallas, 7-9:
Will the defense significantly improve with Monte “Mr. Tampa 2” Kiffin (and spawner of a mediocre-overrated coaching talent!) calling the shots? Will this be Jason Garrett’s last season coaching the Boys from Big D? I think it will be. This team lacks the inner resolve and tenacity to grind out victories on a consistent basis, which stems from top to the bottom.

NFC South

Atlanta, 11-5
I think their offensive firepower will be enough to keep them atop this division only because the Saints defense is worse. Osi Umenyiora won’t be able to make up for John Abraham’s departure, and their defense still lacks playmakers. With no fault to Matty Ice, I smell a loss in their first playoff game this year.

New Orleans: 10-6 (Wild Card)
With Sean Payton’s return, I think the Saints will compete with the Dirty Birds for the division title. Drew Brees’ numbers should be better than last year, and I think their defense will play with more tenacity under Payton’s leadership and Rob Ryan calling the shots versus the putz who was their Defensive Coordinator last year.

Tampa Bay: 8-8
Unlike my homeboy J-Oro, I am not on the Buccaneer bandwagon; yes, they have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, especially on offense, but they had a horrendous pass defense. Trading for Darrelle Revis should help to solve some of that, but that’s assuming he will have not lost much of a step since tearing his 28-year-old ACL. If Josh Freeman bounces back and has a strong season and the pass defense can significantly improve, this team could surprise and make the playoffs.

Carolina: 5-11
Unless that defense significantly improves and if Cam Newton has another so-so season, I think Ron Rivera is toast in Carolina. I just don’t think they have enough weapons in the passing game to bring the best out in Newton (and why don’t they design some run-option plays for Newton? He could be a beast in such an offense.)

NFC North

Green Bay, 12-4 (First Round bye)
I think the Packer offense will continue to roll without Donald Driver and Greg Jennings. Despite coming in at #6 in the NFL’s Top 100 players of 2013, Aaron Rodgers is the machine at QB that makes their receiving corps look so good. If you ask me, he’s the best quarterback in the game right now (though Colin Kaepernick might unseat him by the end of this year). Unless Dom Capers’ schemes and motivational skills have burnt out in his stint in Cheesehead Land, I think the defense should be improved over last year; avoiding injuries and being healthy at the right time of the year will be key. I was wrong last year, picking Green Bay to roll through the playoffs and beat the Broncos in the Super Bowl (I believe I’m still ballsy in picking them, come playoff time, since I correctly picked them to win it all as a #6 seed when the 2011 playoffs began), but I think they should be a legit contender this year.

Detroit, 9-7
They should have a top 10 offense. Megatron will continue his dominion, and I think their defensive unit will bounce back enough from a disappointing 2012 campaign but fall short of a wild card birth.

Chicago, 6-10
I don’t believe in Jay Cutler; like Justin said in his upcoming NFL season preview, Cutler is the modern-day Jeff George—a guy with a laser arm, strong physical ability, but completely lacking when it comes to leadership. Having grown up in the Bay Area and seen Marc Trestman’s prolific 49er offenses (but he also had Steve Young in his prime), I think it will be interesting to see how he might improve Cutler’s abilities. The offense should be a bit better, but I’m not sure if he’s the answer for them at coach. I can see this team imploding, especially on defense, without strong leadership from Lovie Smith and Hall of Fame-bound middle linebacker, Brian Urlacher.

Minnesota, 6-10
With the exception of Adrian Peterson and Jared Allen and his mullet, I can see them being a boring, average team on both sides of the ball. Poor Peterson might be the NFL equivalent of Tracy McGrady.

NFC West

San Francisco 12-4 (First Round bye)
The best division in football! It’s gonna be a season-long brawl between the Niners and Seahawks for the title with the Rams stepping in, from time to time, to make it a donnybrock. Provided their Smiths—especially Justin—stay healthy, their defense should be lights out despite the departure of Dashon Goldson and Chris Culliver’s season-ending injury. (This is assuming Patrick Willis will come back fine from his broken hand.) The big questions lie on offense: who will step up for Michael Crabtree’s absence? Will he be able to come back strong by the end of the season? Will defenses have caught up to their read-option and Pistol offense formations? How much improvement will the Turlock Tornado show? In the NFC—barring any disastrous injuries—I think it will be between the Niners, Packers, and Seahawks—and the Niners play both teams within the first two weeks of the season. I’m a Raiders fan but I am foaming at the mouth, Beast-Mode style, to see those two games.

Seattle, 11-5 (Wild Card)
The Niners and Seahawks are the two best teams in the NFL. Not sure which one is better; if healthy, I think the Niners offense has the edge (I think I’d take Greg Roman over just about any OC in the league), but Seattle made some defensive upgrades in the offseasaon—and Vic Fangio seemed like a boring, limited coordinator when Justin Smith went down late last year so Dan Quinn might have an edge at DC though we have no case history from last year to inspect. I’m eager to see how these moves panned out; we will definitely find out by the end of the season. And I think one of these two teams will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.

St. Louis, 9-7
This is a make-or-break year for Sam Bradford. Except the loss of Steven Jackson, Bradford should have the best offensive weapons he’s ever had. As for their defense, Jeff Fisher has already made his mark on this team. They’re a disciplined, tenacious bunch; they will be tough to beat at home. I think they will be the toughest team to finish third in their division. An injury to Kaepernick or Russell Wilson opens this division up to the Rams.

Arizona, 5-11
Can’t say I’m well versed on the Cards, but I have a feeling their defense will sorely miss Ray Horton. The offense should be improved with some fresh blood (Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer; not sold on Mendenhall being a difference maker, though) but I think their defense is going to tank.

AFC East

New England, 11-5
The slow decline continues as Tom Brady gets older and older and that defense continues to stink. But still, it’s the AFC East, and the Patriots win this division with Tom Brady and Belichick running the show.

Miami, 7-9
I wouldn’t be surprised if they do better, even finish 9-7 for wild card contention. Tannehill needs to improve; Mike Wallace needs to be worth the money they’re paying him, and their defense needs to be solid for that to happen.

Buffalo, 6-10
I think Doug Marrone can be a good hire for the Bills, but their starting quarterback is still Kevin Kolb. I think the key will be their defense. They certainly have talent on that side of the ball, but can they play like a dynamic, cohesive unit?

New York Jets, 3-13
Geno Smith just got named their starting quarterback. I could almost feel sorry for Jets fans but I’ve been a Raiders fan ever since they moved back to Oakland so they can go fuck themselves. Rex Ryan’s defense will keep them in games, but that offense is going to be downright awful to watch. Our military prisons could play game tape of their offense as a new form of torture.

AFC South

Houston, 11-5 (First Round bye)
Their defense should be stout with the return of Brian Cushing and JJ Watt, who has become one of my favorite football players. The guy’s an animal! And he appears to be a hard-working, down-to-earth young man with heart. Their offense should be about as good as it was last year, which is the problem. They’re good but not elite; think the ceiling has been reached on their offensive personnel and Kubiak’s schemes.

Indianapolis, 7-9
I think Andrew Luck is legit; the addition of Ahmad Bradshaw and a stronger offensive line should keep them in games, but that defensive is still atrocious. They will come back down to artificial turf this year.

Tennessee, 5-11
A motivated Chris Johnson is about the only stupendous thing the Titans have going. I think Munchak will be canned after this season. And they will draft or chase a free agent QB to supplant Jake Locker.

Jacksonville, 3-13
The Jaguars will compete with the Jets and Raiders for worst team in the league. I think they might take it with Blaine Gabbert starting at quarterback. I can see their owner signing Tebow just to sell tickets because god knows no other team will sign him at QB.

AFC North

Pittsburgh, 10-6
With a healthy offensive line, Big Ben at quarterback, and Mike Tomlin at head coach I have a hard time imagining the Steelers missing the playoffs two years in a row. Polamalu’s health, as always, is the difference in their zone blitzing defensive scheme.

Cincinnati, 9-7 (Wild Card)
They should have a fierce pass rush with Geno Atkins leading the way. Their defense should be solid but that offense will still be lacking without any elite player to pair with A.J. Green. By the end of this year, their fan base will still be debating if the Red Rifle is the answer at quarterback—and I don’t think Dalton is.

Baltimore, 9-7
With Pitta out for the season and Boldin traded to the Niners, who will Flacco throw to on third downs? And though they’re younger and more athletic than their Ray-Ray led defense of last year, can their new-look defense meld together quickly to win this division? I think it’s possible but I think they’ll struggle early on and finish strong and be one of those teams other AFC playoff teams will be grateful not to meet in the playoffs.

Cleveland, 7-9
Barring significant injuries, I think Cleveland’s defense can be pretty good. The question is can their offense, led by Brandon Wheeden be competent enough to be average enough to squeak out close games?

AFC West

Denver, 12-4 (First Round bye)
Unless Peyton Manning gets injured, I think the Broncos will be the class of the AFC. The Von Miller suspension should hurt them, early on, and Champ Bailey isn’t getting any younger either (but they got Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie). But still, they should have no trouble winning this feeble division.

Kansas City, 9-7 (Wild Card)
Though I’m an admirer of Alex Smith, I still think he’s an average quarterback with an above-average football mind. He’ll be a great offensive coordinator or quarterback coach someday but he’ll do enough to manage the KC offense against average to lackluster defenses but he’ll continue to struggle against stout defenses especially if Jamaal Charles doesn’t average around 100 yards rushing per game in Andy Reid’s offense.

San Diego, 7-9
I think the Bolts will flourish with Norv Turner finally fucking gone and a bright, adaptable head coach like Mike McCoy. I think their offense can improve; Gates needs a late career rebirth ala Tony Gonzalez; Le’Ron McClain needs to pave the way for Ryan Mathews, and Philip Rivers needs to revert back to elite form. I think it can happen. Not sure about their defense and special teams, though.

Oakland, 4-12
I’ll cover my pitiful team in more detail in another post. Boo hoo hoo! I will say this: I predict Dennis Allen will go with Matt Flynn as the starter for the season opener against Indianapolis. And once it becomes ever more painfully apparent that our offense lacks playmakers after about six games, Pryor’s number will be called more until he becomes the starter. And then we’ll draft a quarterback with our high pick. Mark it.

Super Bowl Prediction:
Fuck it, Niners over Steelers. What a ridiculous pick! Will Polamolu even stay upright for more than eight games this season? I have a hard time imagining the Patriots or Texans making it to the Super Bowl though Houston could if their defense is lights out and if they have home field advantage throughout the playoffs. And the Broncos, without an elite defense, will blow it in the playoffs, somehow.

That said, if the last few seasons has taught me anything it’s that two preseason favorites rarely if ever make it to The Big Dance, so some unexpected team needs to make it. At least, this is my faulty logic. I think either San Francisco or Seattle will represent the NFC which means the surprise team needs to come from the AFC (and Niners fans better hope the Ravens don’t make the playoffs this year!)