Clayman's Corner: First, there's Oregon. I'm here for a long weekend to see my freshman boys play their first college basketball game. I'm still in the United States, I think, but it seems like another world.
In Los Angeles, they speak on the weather reports of "a chance of clouds." Here they talk about "a chance of a square inch of dry ground." It rains so continuously that the people here don't even use umbrellas. The only Hood in sight is the Mount. The idea seems to be to grow enough hair that you don't need any other head covering. The prevalent style is matted.
For example, I've never seen so many dreadlocks on white men in my life. Going into a local sports bar yesterday was like being at a pale-skinned Bob Marley convention. Every time someone's team scored a touchdown I expected a chorus of "Don't Worry, Be Happy."
Although, with the extensive number and length of chin beards that accompanied the dreads, it could have just as easily been something from "Brother, Where Art Thou."
But the air is clean, the people are friendly and there were actually cigarettes being smoked in the sports bar (in L.A. that's a worse offense than running off with the bar's big-screen TV, cash register and waitresses). Not to mention the availability of a large number of Oregon Lottery gambling machines. To paraphrase Big Bird, "I don't think we're on Sunset Boulevard any more." Especially when most of the parking spaces aren't filled with cars, but kayaks.
Yet through it all, there is one glaring and cogent commonality between the land of Lewis and Clark and the logjam of Los Angeles. Neither community has had a pro football team for the last decade.
Well, Portland never will. I mean, every sports fan in town is exhausted after swimming back and forth to Duck games. Not to mention keeping tabs on when each Trailblazer's parole expires so they can lock up the wife and kids. And if Governor Terminator keeps inviting Paul Tagliabue to screenings, L.A. will have a squad soon. Probably just to keep Tom Benson out, but that makes it even better.
Still, as of today, the fact remains. Going to a Portland sports bar is just like going to an L.A. sports bar, at least as far as fan allegiances go. There were a couple of New England backers, one for Miami, two unfortunate souls still clinging to the 49ers, three Bears guys. There didn't seem to be a single person who cared about the Vikings or even the Giants.
Perhaps, as the locals keep telling me, this is nirvana – I don't think I've run into a single Yankee fan yet. And the chicken wings and guacamole were every bit as tasty as at the Santa Monica Hooters. No, the waitresses weren't so scantily clad, but you got a lot more food for the money. With no state sales tax to boot.
There not only weren't any Yankee fans but not one for Buffalo, either. However, there was one guy who suspiciously seemed to be into the Chiefs.
He was with two gals. I guess that in Kansas City, where there actually are "some pretty little women," you would only need to get you one. Here, where the pickings are a bit slimmer, I suppose it makes more sense to get you two. Anyway, these ladies didn't seem interested in the game, but I noticed the guy quietly cheered each K.C. success and dropped his head at the continuing mistakes.
In other words, he wasn't exactly rabid. Or maybe the game was just defeating him. When I asked, however, it turned out he wasn't really a Chiefs fan, nor was he from Missouri. A local mechanic, he'd sort of been doing what I had – looking for a team for which to root. He wasn't into fantasy football. He didn't like the kind of nonsense put forth by the Randy Moss And The Raiders. He wasn't a frontrunner.
So why was he drawn to the Chiefs? "I don't know. They're sort of humble, I guess. They play it straight. They have the chance to be good, maybe win in the playoffs. I like Vermeil. They seem like nice guys, nice fans."
Well, maybe if he'd read a couple of the emails I've gotten, he'd know that not all the fans are so nice. But, yes, overall I had to agree with him. Although as I try to get behind the team, I do find myself often wishing the team had a bit less humility and perhaps wasn't such a group of nice guys.
The fellow took off at halftime. I assumed this was because he could already see the writing on the wall. Especially when J. P. Losman came in at quarterback with something like a 42 passer rating and starting playing like Johnny Unitas.
Now, I have nothing against J. P. I mean, he went to my high school. He's a Venice Gondolier just like me and my boys. When they were in eighth grade, we'd walk over to the school and watch J. P. lead the team in Friday night games. He was a darned good high school quarterback and a nice kid.
The boys were excited when he committed to UCLA, and equally saddened when he quit the team and went to Tulane. Yet they'd follow him whenever possible. As I recall, he didn't start off great, but finished very well.
Well, J. P.'s pro career didn't begin too terrifically, either. Unfortunately, it may be the Chiefs who opened the door for another strong ending. Not to knock the Kansas City defense, which by and large had a wonderful day and only allowed 14 points. But you just can't have Losman toss two touchdown passes against you. Not at this stage of his career.
Certainly not in a game which was as winnable and crucial to the season as this one. After the high of Vermeil's Gamble and the low of losing Priest all in the same week, a statement needed to be made. One that would define the remainder of the season. Through the first half, it was a fired-up defense and hapless offense. A Chiefs follower could only hope that the second half promised better things.
The semi-Chiefs fan returned as the second half began. He only had one of the ladies with him this time. I tried to keep that Oregon-serial killer-bury-the-body-deep-in-the-forest thing out of my mind. You know that thing don't you? You don't? Hm. Maybe the rain is getting to me. (Oh, my God, the sun just came out. I see people running outside, falling to their knees and ripping off all clothing, appropriate or in-. Hugging, kissing and crying. It's like the end of "Independence Day.")
Back to the sports bar. As you know, the game only got worse. I couldn't hear what the game announcers were saying, mostly due to the Bear fans still hyped up about that 108-yard missed field goal runback as the half ran out (when one tried to console the 49er guy by saying, "Hey, you'll be back. Just wait ten years," he responded a bit testily, "Two." Well, anyone who can root for a team from Northern California must be a dreamer).
Most of the television guys' criticism had to be about Trent Green and the offensive line. With a little bit, of course, reserved for Tynes. But it certainly shouldn't have come down to that. My Chiefs friend didn't think so either.
"Hey, the guy, like, never misses a field goal. But look at Green. I hate to say it, but he just doesn't look good enough. Yeah, he's had some good games, but look at some of the QB's in this league. You know, they stand up under pressure, can get out of the pocket. This guy just looks too slow, like he's unaware or something. He's got that weird throwing motion. It seems like he misses too many wide open guys."
It's a fact of football life that the quarterback is the heart and soul of the offense, just as the middle linebacker is of the defense. I mean, look at what Bruschi means, even to the league's premier team. What a Manning is worth in Indy or New York. As bad as the Packers are, where would they be without Favre? Certainly not beating up on Atlanta.
Like the Portland Chiefs guy, I hate to get on Trent Green. Forget that the loss of his dad was probably weighing even heavier on his mind with an additional week to think about it. That he seemed to be under pressure immediately after each snap. Remember he does have streaks in almost every game where he's right on the money.
Clayman's Corner: Land of Rain and Fog
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