My stepdad is a complicated man.
On the one hand, he's a man of routine. Falls asleep at 8:30 every night, wakes up around midnight, then heads into the basement and watches weird TV shows for the next three hours. Does all his reading in the john. Wears those old-school white T-shirts, tucked into his tighty-whities for reasons only known to him. Every time a celebrity dies, he calls me and does Clemenza's "Oh, won't be seeing him no more" routine from "The Godfather."
On the other hand, he's a man of the moment, the kind of guy who buys a motor scooter "just in case there's a gas shortage or something." During my 15th birthday dinner, he drove us home with his head sticking out of the sunroof. When my buddy Geoff and I were fledgling filmmakers in high school, my stepdad agreed to wear a blonde wig and stab me to death in a movie called "Psycho Stepdad." At a New Year's Eve party right before Y2K, he sneaked into the restaurant's basement and turned off all the power at midnight, waited a few minutes while everyone panicked, then turned everything back on and returned upstairs, grinning from ear to ear.
In 20-plus years, I haven't figured him out yet. And that's what makes those rare moments of lucidity so surprising, when he turns into the Italian Confucious. For instance, three of the four most important lessons I ever learned in life came from my stepdad:
1. The only person you can count on in life is yourself.
2. You can't be happy with someone else until you're happy with yourself.
3. Don't lie and don't break your word.
(Note: The fourth lesson came from my Aunt Jen, who taught me, "If you're interested in a girl, always meet her Mom because all girls end up eventually turning into their Moms, with no exceptions." We may need to have Bill James figure out a formula for that one.)
Here's why I'm telling you this: My stepdad turned 60 last March. When we were discussing this milestone recently, he mentioned how he had reached a point professionally where he wasn't surprised by anything anymore. He had negotiated every possible deal, handled every possible client, been involved in every possible business situation. He could see things happening before they happened, just by reading the signs and remember a time when he had been in the exact same situation. And his brain was still working as well as ever.
"It's nice," my stepdad said. "It's a nice time. I can't explain it. Only someone my age would understand. You reach a point where you can just see everything coming before it happens."
Well ... isn't that the goal of every football gambler?
You reach a point where you see almost everything coming, where you've wagered on every possible game and suffered every possible result. You build a template of time-tested rules that prove themselves over the seasons, then abide by those same rules. You target every omen and trend from week to week, almost like the gambling version of an anti-virus program. You develop an innate sense of where the general public is headed with certain games, then quietly move the other way. Your experience becomes the ultimate weapon.
I'm not there yet. For example, in last week's column, I jinxed myself with the following section: "I can't stand the slate this week -- too many road favorites, two many weird matchups, not enough lively home dogs. If someone offered me 9-7 right now, I'd probably take it."
So what happened? I finished 9-7, learning a valuable lesson in the process: Never go out of your way to ask for mediocrity. But that's the thing about gambling. You wager, you learn, you wager, you learn. Eventually, you might even end up like my stepdad -- great at your job, satisfied by your craft, completely at peace, as good as you're ever going to be.
(With the added bonus that you'll be spending every winter in St. Bart's.)
So what do we make of Week 3? Other than that it looks like a train wreck?
Up until this season, Week 3 was easy -- just take the remaining 0-2 teams and anyone playing their first home game. That's 10 wins right there. But the league feels broken this season; I can't remember this many shaky offenses at the same time. Arizona, Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Buffalo, Miami, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, Dallas, the Giants, maybe Pittsburgh, maybe Cincy ... that's over one-third of the league. The scoring situation is SO dire, Len Pasquarelli even wrote his annual "Give Jeff George a chance" column six weeks earlier than usual.
Do you realize that the 2-0 Jags have scored 20 points, amassed 401 total yards and converted three of 23 third-down conversions? That Garcia and Vinny combined for six INT's last week? That 21 of the 32 teams are averaging less than 20 points a game? That Dallas leads the league in total yardage, yet the Cowboys have scored 36 points?
From a fantasy standpoint, it's been a disaster -- we could be remembering the Great Roto Drought of '04 some day, much like the Irish remember the Great Famine. From an NFL standpoint, teams like the Colts and Vikings gain gambling value because you need to score 25-to-35 points to hang with them, and only eight-to-10 teams have the horses. For example, the Titans would lose to Indy nine out of 10 times -- they need to be near-perfect just to compete.
And so I'm re-thinking everything on the fly. Maybe the Ravens CAN win 10 games with a terrified Kyle Boller throwing to semi-pro receivers. Maybe Dallas CAN win 10 games with a decomposing backfield. Maybe the Steelers CAN win with a rookie QB who's so young, even his teammates are openly deriding him. I'm prepared for anything this season: Three 14-win teams; an 0-16 team; a 12-turnover game; Lamar Gordon averaging minus-1.0 yards per carry; the Ravens D outscoring its offense; Rich Gannon winning the MVP; Pat Summerall correctly pronouncing "TJ Houshmandzadeh," maybe even Mike Martz or Dave Wannstedt outcoaching someone else in a game. Anything's possible. Anything.
As Michael Conrad would say at the beginning of "Hill Street Blues" every week, "Let's be careful out there."
Onto the Week 3 picks ...
Home teams in caps
MIAMI (-1) over Pittsburgh
Note to everyone in Pittsburgh: You weren't going anywhere with Tommy Maddox. End of story.
So maybe this works out for the best. Rothlissbsvdgtehger comes in sooner than expected, takes his lumps for a few weeks, then makes strides in December when they need him most. Why couldn't this turn out like Bledsoe with the '93 Patriots? Same body, same cannon arm, similar talent -- what am I missing? Remember, Bledsoe struggled for the first three months, took his lumps for a 1-11 team and eventually led them to four straight December wins. No reason this couldn't happen for Rothlissbsvdgtehger. It's all for a greater good.
With that said, you can't ask for a scarier situation than ...
A) A rookie QB making his first start on the road
B) Going against an 0-2 team with a top-five defense.
I'm cashing in this week ... but I'm keeping my eye on this Rothlissbsvdgtehger guy. You never know.
One other Miami note: About six weeks ago, Dan LeBatard wrote a column wondering why Dave Wannstedt still planned on running an offense that revolved around Ricky Williams, even though Ricky was busy walking the earth like Jules in "Pulp Fiction." As Dan pointed out, great coaches adapt to what they have. Wannstedt wasn't adapting. I remember reading it and thinking, "Wait a second. Maybe he's a lousy coach, but even Wannstedt isn't dumb enough to run the same offense without Ricky."
Well, he's dumb enough. One offensive TD in two weeks. Forty rushing attempts for 90 yards. You would think he'd revamp the offense and center everything around Chambers, Booker and McMichael, consequences be damned.
You would think.
CINCY (+3) over Baltimore
Speaking of coaches, Marvin Lewis is one of those guys who seems competent enough, but then somebody mikes him for an entire game, and he's just screaming, "Come on guys, let's get it going, this is our time!" -- 840 times over the next three hours, and you can't look at him the same way ever again. Poor Marvin needs to watch some Marty Schottenheimer tapes, maybe even steal the "We need to protect our house!" and "Look at me ... look at me, son ... look at me!" routines. It's just not working right for him now.
(By the way, I think I speak for everyone here: We don't care about Deion's comeback. Really, we don't. We don't care. We just don't. We really don't care. Please leave us alone. We don't care. We don't care. We just don't care. Seriously, we couldn't care less. Nobody cares. I don't care, you don't care, we don't care, nobody cares. None of us care. Stop writing about him. Stop interviewing him. Stop arguing about him. Stop running features about him. Nobody cares. NOBODY cares.)
San Fran (+10.5) over SEATTLE
I would have picked Team Frisky last week if Ken Dorsey hadn't been concussed, and I DEFINITELY would have picked them had I remembered about the Saints and Hurricane Ivan. Always go against a team dealing with the after-effects of a natural disaster. You have veterans hustling families into hotels, coaches worrying about their houses being destroyed, rookies worrying about their bling-bling getting water damage. Way too many distractions.
(Speaking of gambling theories, here's another one that I missed with Green Bay last week: The Suicide Pool Theory. Anytime someone looks like an obvious Suicide Pool Pick, be afraid. Be very afraid. I'm not saying the Seahawks are destined for an upset this week. I'm just saying.)
NY GIANTS (-3) over Cleveland
On the ESPN 28/58 Ticker, I keep waiting to see this newsflash:
"Giants QB Kurt Warner and Satan agree to extension through 2007, terms undisclosed."
New Orleans (+7) over ST. LOUIS
Any time an up-and-down team with a shaky coach and an erratic QB goes against an up-and-down team with a shaky coach and an erratic QB, I'm always going with the up-and-down team with the shaky coach and the erratic QB. You have to stick to your guns.
Hey, here's a story: This Wednesday, I was driving around Connecticut listening to a fantastic Mike and the Mad Dog exchange about Leonard Little -- they're just as outraged that he's playing as I am, and as you should be -- and eventually, the discussion drifted to other NFL players in trouble. So Dog mentioned Jamal Lewis's drug trafficking charges, then added, "Mikey, if I was facing a federal trial for trafficking large amounts of cocaine, do you think I would still have a job at WFAN right now?"
So Mike mulled it over for a second. Then he came back with something like, "No, Dog, actually, I think that would be a huge, HUGE problem."
Here's the point: In the NFL, you get a 15-yard penalty for taking your helmet off after a touchdown, but you can keep playing even when you're facing a federal drug trafficking trial, or a trial for a second drunken-driving offense after the first offense killed somebody's Mom. Nice league. Instead of taking off his helmet last week, Deion would have been better off selling five pounds of coke to the line judge.
I don't get it, folks. I just don't get it.
(We'll be back with more "The Sports Reporters" after this.)
MINNESOTA (-9) over Chicago
I can spot Letdown Games almost as well as I can spot crazy girls and bad toupees. It's a gift.
(Cautionary note: After last Monday night, Mike Tice is one more stinker away from officially moving into the Anti-Belichick Club, right there with Martz, Wannstedt, Haslett and whatever teams Norv Turner and Dennis Erickson happen to be coaching. You just don't walk away from those Vikings games thinking, "Man, that team is running on all cylinders." There's also a classic moment on "Inside the NFL" with Moss and Culpepper sulking on the sidelines at the end of the Philly game, both glancing at the coach with one of those "Dumb mothaf-----!" looks on their faces. High comedy. I don't see this ending well.)
INDIANAPOLIS (-6) over Green Bay
Here's how good that Colts offense is: The Titans were leading them 10-3 at halftime last week. Along with my buddy Bug, we had a parlay with the Colts (-2) and the over (47). Realistically, we needed the Colts to outscore Tennessee 28-7 in the second half. 21-14 would have worked as well, but then we would have had to deal with OT. We needed four touchdowns -- on the road, in one half -- to feel safe.
Here's the point: We weren't worried.
Not even remotely.
OAKLAND (-3) over Tampa Bay
We might see the Jon Gruden Face for three straight hours in this one. Frankly, I'm looking forward to it.
While we're here, I think Jerry Rice was the most remarkable football player of my lifetime. With that said, his "consecutive games with a catch" streak reminded me of AC Green's phony "consecutive games" streak, when AC was sneaking onto the court with the Schnozzaroo Mask to keep it going. You can't rig a streak. Either it happens or it doesn't. During the end of Rice's streak, there were games when they threw him quick screen passes to make sure it stayed alive. To me, that's dishonest.
(For instance, I'm working on my own consecutive streak of 790 straight columns that include a reference to one of the "Rocky" movies. I don't brag about it. I don't force it. It just kinda happens. Now that, my friends, is a streak.)
Houston (+8) over KANSAS CITY
The Chiefs stink. Some day, you will believe me.
TENNESSEE (-6) over Jacksonville
After the '01 Bears and the '03 Panthers, you can't dismiss the 2-0 Jags, even though they're a non-fumbled handoff and a batted-down Hail Mary away from being 0-2. It's like the Paris Hilton thing -- she can't act, she can't sing, she's not funny, she's not smart, she's not interesting, she's not even that attractive ... and yet she's an A-list celebrity right now. Some things just can't be explained. It's perfectly reasonable that the Jags could finish 13-3 and gain momentum as the season drags along, if only because it's perfectly implausible.
Still, this feels like one of those McNair Games -- 26-for-35 passing, 295 yards, three TD's, Titans cruise, everyone remembers why McNair is McNair. Doesn't mean that the Jags can't still become the Paris Hilton Team this season.
(Tangent alert! Tangent alert!)
Time for a quick Paris story ...
On the day of the Super Bowl last February, I ended up in a six-car, police-escorted caravan that included both Hilton sisters. Don't ask. Anyway, when we arrived at the stadium, they shepherded our swollen group to a separate entrance, so the sisters wouldn't be bothered by common people and all. But there was some sort of holdup, so we ended up standing around for a few minutes, while my friend Paul cracked jokes like "Paris's butt is flatter than a manhole cover" and "When we get through security, Paris is probably going to frisk them."
Of course, Nicky and Paris stepped to the side for a cigarette break; and since they were only about 10 feet away, we watched them sucking down cigs and smiling at one another, like they were having a telepathic conversation that only included phrases like "This sucks" and "You have my lighter, right?" They looked like two quivering extra-terrestials -- barely clothed, fake tans, maybe 180 pounds combined, absolutely nothing to say to one another. It was riveting. I mean, the Patriots ended up WINNING THE SUPER BOWL, and watching the Hilton sisters share a butt was my most vivid memory of the day. That's how weird it was.
I don't know why I'm telling you this.
DETROIT (+4.5) over Philly
Just feels like an upset waiting to happen. I'm willing to reconsider this whole Joey Harrington thing, by the way.
ATLANTA (-10) over Arizona
And this whole Falcons-Vick thing as well.
San Diego (+10) over DENVER
Every Tuesday morning, my buddy Sal and I guess the opening lines without looking at them (just a friendly competition). We're pretty good with this stuff -- it's rare that we don't come within a half-point or point of every game. For this game, we both guessed "Denver by 7," and only because gamblers over-value this Broncos team for whatever reason. Turned out we were a whopping three points off apiece. That's just crazy.
So here's my question: Is anyone else starting to see disturbing parallels between Jake Plummer and the Manchurian Candidate? Are we being brainwashed here? You guys realize that this is still Jake Plummer, right? Stick a birthmark on him and he's basically an older Drew Brees. You're aware of this, correct? Blink twice if you can understand me.
(That reminds me, why is Summerall on a first-name basis with Jake? Has anyone ever investigated this? And while we're at it, are we absolutely sure that Summerall is doing these games, and that ESPN didn't just cue up hundreds of old "Madden 2001" soundbites? Conceivably, with the way technology is going, Pat Summerall could keep broadcasting through the rest of the century. Which is a good thing. He's like Marv Albert to me -- it just feels like a bigger game when he's involved. Even if ESPN is possibly using CGI to make it happen.)
(Uh-oh, there's a man down!)
(FLAG on the play!)
WASHINGTON (-2) over Dallas
For the Redskins, last week's Giants game was like the No F---ing Way Game in "Madden" -- no matter what they did, the computer wasn't going to let them win. Those are the games where you walk by the PlayStation2 console and "accidentally" kick the re-set button. In real life, you can't do this. So you have to watch in horror as Patrick Ramsey throws frozen ropes to wide-open defensive backs on the other team.
Doesn't change three things about Monday night.
1. A good home team coming off a terrible game.
2. Joe Gibbs at home on a Monday night.
3. Vinny Testaverde on the road on a Monday night.
Last week: 9-7
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His Sports Guy's World site is updated every day Monday through Friday.