I went home for Christmas, and I dropped by and saw my grandmother. She's a very nice lady.
I try to see my grandma every Christmas. She's 88 years old, and she is frail. She has earned her frailty. She had eight children — my father is the oldest boy, and the fourth overall — and has watched them spread off in various directions, though none of these directions have branched off more than 30 miles from Mattoon. She made my girlfriend and me lunch. She was happy to have the company. She lives by herself, in the house her sons and late husband built for her 27 years ago. When we walked in, she was sitting on her sofa idly watching a soap opera, the table set and waiting. "Sometimes it gets a little lonely," she said. "I'm tickled pink to have you guys here."
She's 88, and she's earned it. She doesn't leave the house much anymore, just heading out three nights a week to play bingo, and she confessed to being a little annoyed when one of her kids won't let her drive to a game because the roads are too icy. She has a sign on her wall: "If moms were flowers, I'd pick you." Dad got her one of those digital picture frames for Christmas. The results of eight children flash next to her television every six seconds. She was wearing the kind of Christmas sweatshirt that only exists in the Midwest. "The kids were making fun of me for it, but when else am I gonna wear it but Christmas?"
We ate a chicken noodle casserole, and she talked about being 88. She's finding it odd. "Everyone keeps telling me I'm 88, but it doesn't mean anything." Her hands shake when she talks. "You just keep going, and eventually, people start telling you you're 88." My grandmother is famous for her spare ribs. Recently, she's noticed that people are asking her about them more often. "They want to know if I'm gonna take my ribs recipe to my grave. I told him I have it right now, and if they come by, I'll make it for them."
She talked about my grandfather. He died almost 20 years ago. His name, like mine, was William Franklin Leitch. He loved those ribs. My grandfather was a loving, but distant man; his job was to provide and be revered while Grandma did the dirty work. With eight children, there was a lot of dirty work.
We didn't really cover anything all that substantial. I only had an hour for lunch, and she was just happy to have the company. "Your Uncle Terry, he wanted to come by today, but I told him I had visitors." She giggled at this. She was delighted to be overbooked. Halfway through lunch, we found ourselves watching the digital picture frame. She commented on every photo. She knows the names and birthdays of every one of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She never misses a card. I get one every year, with 10 bucks inside. It's always a crisp bill, fresh from the credit union. She can't mail them anymore. The shaking makes her handwriting impossible to decipher. She just hands it to my Dad, and it ends up in the Christmas stocking. "Oh, there's Maggie," she says. "She sure does love that dog."
I kissed her goodbye, and we headed out to my car. My flight was leaving the next day, and I had a ton of packing to do, and a column to write. She hugged me and said how happy she was to see us. She asked me to remind my father that it had been a few weeks since he'd been by for lunch. She requested that I not forget to call her. She loves it when the phone rings.
I started the rental car, pulled out of the driveway, shifted into gear, adjusted my mirror and motored off. She stood in the window, waving, smiling, kind of, the whole way.
32. Detroit Lions (0-16). It's a shame there had to be so many games with playoff implications in Week 17. The Lions' winless season seems like such a signature achievement that it deserves a celebration to itself. I suspect we'll remember it a lot longer than the two squirrels tapping each other lightly to win the AFC West. Rod Marinelli is already gone — it might have been funny if they fired him after the third quarter of the Packers game — and a good indicator of how much he'll be missed could be found in his postgame comments.
After the Lions became the first NFL team to go 0-16, coach Rod Marinelli was asked if he was glad it was over. "No," Marinelli said. "I could go another 16."
We could too, Rod. We could too.
31. St. Louis Rams (2-14). Generally a bad sign? When a team that goes 5-27 over two seasons openly petitions to keep its coach. Particularly when that coach is Jim Haslett. The Rams are going to end up with the No. 3 draft pick next year. I recommend Lawrence Phillips.
30. Kansas City Chiefs (2-14). Even though this column is always published on Tuesdays, I write it on Mondays, because Internet time is the best of all possible times. This is not usually a problem. Unfortunately, not all coaches firings are known by 11 a.m. the day after the season. (As of this typing, alas, there are only three.) I'll come back Tuesday morning to update everything, as in, "The Chiefs finally got around to firing Herman Edwards, and the NFL is now 11 percent more boring." I could rewrite this whole paragraph with whatever the news turns out to be, but, jeez, do you realize how little Gawker is paying these days? Back in the days, three posts would get you a vial of cocaine and a month's supply of Adderall. Now? For every one of these columns, I receive half an Excedrin. Still worth it! (Update: Herm still has a job!)
29. Cleveland Browns (4-12). Nobody's quite sure what the Cowboys are going to do just yet, but I know what they'd do if they don't learn their lessons: They'll sign Braylon Edwards. Whether it was Costas Now or just those low-rent supplement commercials he does, as has been well-established, Edwards — who, I repeat, tied Michael Wilbon as the nicest person I met backstage before Buzz burst into flames — went from The Big Time Receiver Who Does Everything Right to Freddie Mitchell frighteningly fast. By the way, the Lions should hire Romeo Crennel. That might be fun.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11). Sad to say, but both Bill Simmons and I picked the Jaguars to make the Super Bowl this year. No one ever seems to get on Jack Del Rio's case about it, though. And because I'm hoping you forget I ever talked about the Jaguars this year, here's the world's most inspiring roller coaster photo you'll ever come across.
27. Seattle Seahawks (4-12). While every other coach leaving a lousy team seemed to receive a knowing nod and a journalistic kick in the face on his way out the door, Mike Holmgren got a red Harley. Nice for him. I wonder if he'll give it back when he's coaching the Cowboys in 2010.
26. Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1). Palin watch! This is will be the last Palin Watch, and boy, that's a sad thing for everyone. It should come as little surprise that the Sarah Palin 2009 calendar is Amazon's best selling calendar, particularly because the cover shows her carrying a rifle. (Not exactly in the safest fashion either, I might add.) Anyway, you should really buy one, because it's one of those gag gifts that will seem awfully stupid around July, like the guy who named his fantasy baseball team "The Super Delegates."
25. Oakland Raiders (5-11). Don't look now, but the Raiders showed considerable pluck at the end of the season. We Buzzsaw fans would certainly have loved to have that kind of December momentum. (Oh, and the Raiders ultimately only finished three games out of first. Which is awesome.) Now that Oakland's out of the way, I'd like to point out other calendars I'd like for 2009.
Twilight cast calendar. This is $87.99.
Joel Osteen's Become a Better You 2009 Page-A-Day. Every January entry: Cap Teeth.
What Horses Teach Us.
Animals That Will Kill Yo A$$ 2009 Wall Calendar. OK, I actually want this one.
24. Green Bay Packers (6-10). For the last time in 2008, I present to you the lead story on the Green Bay Press-Gazette's home page: :Nicklases wear many hats as volunteers." Two elderly retirees in Green Bay volunteer for countless charities despite various health woes. "Vince Nicklas took on the volunteer president's duties about the time his own health took a turn that required him to undergo dialysis three times a week. He has battled cancer and kidney failure." I know every week I make fun of the paper for putting stories on the front page that would never make big-city papers ... but this is the type of story that big city papers suck at. Whatever your thoughts about the New York Times, but it's pretty rare that people clip an article out of that paper because it's about a friend of theirs who's a really nice person. That still happens with home town papers. Maybe it's because I've been home for a week, but that cheered me, at least until mid-2009, when every small town paper is dead.
23. Buffalo Bills (7-9). I'd like to thank Nick Douglas for this touching visual interpretation of how every single one of my friends thinks of me for still paying for music on iTunes.
Sorry. It still feels like the right thing to do.
22. San Francisco 49ers (7-9). Remember that play at the end of the Buzzsaw-49ers "Monday Night Football" — yes, it was this night — when a touchdown would have pulled off the upset for San Francisco? If they had won that game, they would have ended up with the same record as the Buzzsaw. I suspect Mike Singletary would have been rather entertaining in the playoffs. But not as entertaining as the endlessly charismatic and dynamic Ken Whisenhunt!
21. New York Jets (9-7). Boy, Jets fans sure do know how to destroy themselves, don't they? It's difficult to imagine a season could possible be more specifically constructed to devastate a fan base. From my perspective, Jets fans pretty much hate having hope about anything, because it always ends up with pain. So they remain cynical, and assume the worst. Well, this year, the team pours a bunch of money into a big one-year run, and THEN Brett Favre falls into their laps. I was excited, and I like neither the Jets nor Favre. And then this happens. That Artie Bucco line in "The Sopranos" about "Mangenious" is going to look as dated as the time they boosted that truck full of laserdiscs.
20. Houston Texans (8-8). Gawker has a rundown of the different kinds of New Years Eve parties. I've been to parties No. 1, 2 and 5; this year looks like No. 2. I used to love New Years Eve a lot more than I do now, but I still hold a fond place in my heart for the evening. To quote myself from a decade ago: "I hear people complain about New Year's Eve, that it's always made into a big event that ultimately disappoints, that they feel pressured to have some kind of momentously fun time. These people are sad, really, incredible dullards and whiners. Pressured to have fun? Hey, I'll take that kind of pressure every time, no problem. I wish I was pressured to have fun every day, rather than pressured to pay the bills, pressured to hold onto my job, pressured to keep my head above water. If you can't relax and have fun on New Year's Eve, well, you've got more problems than this column can solve, so there is no hope for you here."
19. New Orleans Saints (8-8). The oldest man in America died Sunday, at the age of 112. I think that's a ridiculous age to live to, and the only way I can imagine ever wanting to live to 112 is if I were 111.
18. Washington Redskins (8-8). Because no one who covers politics professionally actually listens to Rush Limbaugh — even though he's directly responsible for how a lot of people receive 100 percent of their political news — no one had heard his now-notorious Barack the Magic Negro song until some dumb RNC muckety-muck put it on a holiday mix tape. I'd like to get one of those mixtapes, actually. It'd be a great way to clear out a New Year Eve party.
17. Chicago Bears (9-7). The only good thing for Bears fans in the wake of the crushing loss yesterday? They don't have to read a Jay Mariotti column about it. By the way, offensive coordinator (and pre-Zook Illini coach) Ron Turner is endorsing Kyle Orton to be the quarterback again next year. Of course he is.
16. Denver Broncos (8-8). Whenever I was editor of this here site, I made a distinct effort not to ever tip my hand about whom I was voting for in the SHOTY and Hall of Fame votes. It seems like cheating, because obviously whoever I chose would have the vote tipped against them. So I stay out of it. But I will say this: Those who believe the Buzz-Andrews vote could stand as a metaphor for where Deadspin readership stands in the sporting world going in 2009 make some salient points.
15. Dallas Cowboys (9-7). It's pretty astounding that Wade Phillips hasn't been fired yet, for a myriad of reasons. But, for the sake of discussion, here's one of them. After Phillips said there would be "change" this offseason — presumably "change" meaning "not firing Wade Phillips" — linebacker Bradie James, a team captain, said: "If you know a person to be a certain way and then all of the sudden, you have an extreme change, I don't know. I don't know how well that's going to be taken. I don't know what he means by that. But he didn't address us, so I don't know." Not good.
It won't be like this, but next year's Hard Knocks should look like that scene in The Dark Knight, when The Joker tells three henchman there's one job available, hands them some broken pool sticks and tells them they'll have to earn it.
Actually, that very technique is how Gawker is deciding which employees to keep right now.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7). If the Giants make the Super Bowl this year, I'll definitely be going, even though tickets, as always, will be impossible. Another impossible ticket, as this week at home in Mattoon has taught me? The All-Star Game in St. Louis next year. It's the social event of the Mattoon calendar; everyone's obsessed with figuring out a way to get to the game. One guy told me he'd be willing to sell his Jeep. This seems like a lot for a game that will feature some backup Washington National pinch hitting in the seventh inning.
13. New England Patriots (11-5). Sorry, Pats, but in a post-regular season Buzzsaw Countdown world, playoff teams always rank above non-playoff teams, regardless of records or actual talent. All told, I think if there were going to be a team to go 11-5 and miss the playoffs, it's for the best that it's one that plays in Boston. If this happened to, say, Pittsburgh, Roger Goodell's head would be on a flagpole outside a bar in Mt. Lebannon right now.
12. The Buzzsaw That Is The Arizona Cardinals (9-7). It's pretty stupid of me to say this, but of the four underdog home wild-card round teams, I think the Buzzsaw have the best chance of winning. (Miami's close.) The Falcons' defense is spotty, Anquan Boldin will be back and rested, Edgerrin James is alive again and Matt Ryan is, after all, still a rookie quarterback. (As mentioned last week, only two have ever won in the playoffs: Ben Roethlisberger and Shaun King.) Of all the teams the Buzzsaw could have played, Atlanta is the best we could have hoped for. That is to say: We're only losing by 14 rather than 28. Not that it really matters. I'm treating the playoff game like the Illini Rose Bowl game last year against USC. Regardless of what happens, the mere fact that the game is actually occurring is enough to leave me with a big dopey grin on my face throughout.
"Look seans an old friend of mine and i didnt buy his performance at all-thought he did an average pretend acting like he was gay besides hes one of the most homophobic people i kno" [sic]
Pretty rough, but, you know, he's kind of right.
10. Atlanta Falcons (11-5). Quick, before you have a chance to think: Who's the coach of the Falcons? Mike Smith. You probably knew that, and that he might be a major part of the reason the Jaguars collapsed this year. Lots of great Mike Smiths out there. There's the Mike Smith from The Dave Clark Five, and the one who makes Christian music, and the one from the band Snot, and the one from ESPN, and the one from Fanhouse (and the one from the drunken apartment in Champaign in 1996). Good job, Michael Smiths. You've all done the name proud.
9. Minnesota Vikings (10-6). Drew will surely tell you all about this on Thursday, but he seems to think this is a terrible matchup for the Vikings. I'm more with Daulerio, who has to tune in on Sunday wondering whether his Eagles are going to win by 40 or lose 6-3. No matter what happens, it's clear at this point that Andy Reid with extra facial hair is hot.
8. Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1). Since I just covered this game, allow me to point out that every single person I know in Mattoon has seen Marley And Me since it came out. I think this town would elect a golden retriever mayor if it could.
7. Baltimore Ravens (11-5). I just haven't been able to get behind the Ravens all year, and I'm not sure why. It might be Ray Lewis. As tough a guy as he is, as grizzled a vet as he allegedly holds stature, I can't get over his ridiculous Super Bowl dance. I've never been able to. Something about him just strikes me as unbearably silly. This is an indefensible position, but I have it, regardless.
6. Miami Dolphins (11-5). The Dolphins are my official Super Bowl Sleeper. I just kind of think these guys could beat anyone 15-13, from the '85 Bears to a pack of diamond-encrusted superdroids. By the way, when the Dolphins overpay Chad Pennington with an extension over the winter, and his arm finally falls off after its one final season of life, Ronnie Brown will just play every snap from the wildcat formation. They'll go 9-7.
5. Carolina Panthers (12-4). Sometimes I wonder if Steve Smith spends his off weeks standing under water towers and catching things family members drop to him from below, as practice for playing with Jake Delhomme.
4. Indianapolis Colts (12-4). Another reason I love the end of the year? All the new laws states enact. Illinois has some good ones, including the installation of a breathalyzer in your car after your first DUI and a campaign finance law which appears aimed at making sure there is never, ever another Blagojevich. Won't work though. Everybody knows the only non-evil Illinois governors are the ones who come from downstate. Some love to Coles County's own Jim Edgar!
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4). Shhh! It's the Steelers' off week. Do not disturb Big Ben. He will be in his hyperbaric chamber until next Monday. Leave the boy be.
2. Tennessee Titans (13-3). Most forgotten aspect of Week 17: Chris Simms played! As I feel obliged to remind you, We Saw Chris Simms Make A Spinach Dip In A Loaf Of Sourdough Bread Once.
1. New York Giants (12-4). If you pick up a copy of The Sporting News — and they'll get mad at me for including the The, which is no longer part of the official name — not only will you find my CUTTING column on Shaq's Twitter page, but you'll find Eli Manning named as Pro Sports Athlete Of The Year, which is not nearly as strong a statement as Sportsman Of The Year but saves you the trouble of putting a shirtless douchebag swimmer on the cover. I think the tradeoff is worth it.