By Brian Murphy
Special to Page 2

All eyes at The Hangover are on the Keystone State today, and not just because Keystone Light is responsible for 65 percent of all recorded Hangovers.

The Eagles-Steelers game wasn't only the Game of the Year in the NFL, let alone Week 9. It was also a battle of East Coast vs. Midwest.

Yes, I said "East Coast vs. Midwest." I'm relying on my buddy Steiny, a Reading, Pa., native who once told me: "One thing you need to know about Pennsylvania, Murphy. Philadelphia is the East Coast. Pittsburgh is the Midwest. That's a fact."

Fine. I like the East Coast. I like the Midwest. Shoot, I like just about all of the United States of America, despite the mind-numbing results of last Tuesday's election. (We'll get to that Redskins/Election Thing later on in The Hangover.)

Anyway, the story of the year, now that everybody has played eight games and is halfway to glory, is not the New England Patriots. Nor is it the Philadelphia Eagles.

It's the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It's Heinz Field and Primanti Bros. sandwiches and Terrible Towels and a place where Roethlisberger to Riemersma has to be -- has to be!-- the longest-named TD connection in NFL history. Now that I've written that, some know-it-all Hangover reader no doubt will prove me wrong with a Van Brocklin-to-Rumpelstilskin hookup for an "I Write, You Clarify" item. So let me protect myself by saying this: Roethlisberger-to-Riemersma has to be  has to be! -- the longest-name TD connection in NFL history in which the QB and the receiver share the same first letter of their last names!

Steelers football -- a place where "Moral Values" means always, always, listening to Myron Cope and always, always. voting Cowher for President. That's the Midwest I know and love.

The Steelers are The Story. Who else but the Steelers could cause the first cracks in the foundation of the love story that is Terrell Owens, Donovan McNabb and the whole mullet-wearing city of Philadelphia? Yes, Owens and McNabb told us after the game that T.O.'s follow-and-shout stalk of McNabb on the sideline was the '04 NFL version of the Great Santini bouncing a basketball off of Ben Meechum's head -- purely motivational, right? -- but those of us with Ph.Ds in T.O. Studies know better. Bring in the House Inspector. He'll be carrying his clipboard as he examines the basement at Chez Iggle. Then he'll shine a flashlight on some of the beams and give us the bad news: "Yep. Cracks in the foundation. I'll be back with an estimate."

Phortunately for Philly, the cost of repairs in the NFC these days isn't prohibitive. Who does Philly phear? Minnesota? Please. The Vikings are masters of implosion and underachievement. New York? That's aging Kurt Warner back there, in case you hadn't notices. Seattle? Come on. It's Seattle. Constant drizzle from Halloween to the Fourth of July can crush a man's spirit, not to mention his ability to compete.

So Philly is still the pick in the NFC.

But the Steelers! Oh, the Steelers! The family-owned, Noll/Cowher Steelers. That is the NFL, my friend. It's Jerome Bettis, a bowler at heart, finding a gear he last experienced in 1995. It's Hines Ward, serving up a heaping scoop o' humble pie to T.O.

And really, have we not achieved an all-time high for taunting in the NFL? If so, we have T.O. to thank. I'm not necessarily anti-T.O. in this case, because these shenanigans aren't entirely mean-spirited. And they're fun. Quite frankly, T.O. has been breaking out some impressive stuff. The Sharpie incident, no matter what anyone says, was genius. Babe Ruth would have been proud. And his dances this year have been highly entertaining. The Ray-Ray dance? Man. That was good stuff. So if Hines Ward does a little T.O. knockoff, the Hangover is OK with it. It's fun. It's the NFL in 2004. You either endorse it, or you count yourself among those who endorse slapping Jake Plummer with a fine for honoring Pat Tillman.

Now, in honor of the dearly-departed election, here's my mid-column Flip Flop.

At halftime, the Steelers honored the 1979 Super Bowl champs. Fox showed only a brief bit of it, but it was enough to conjure up the old memories: Jack Ham, in the white jersey and yellow pants, making a tackle and running back to the huddle. Joe Greene, in the black jersey and yellow pants, sacking a QB and heading back to the huddle. John Stallworth, No. 82, hauling in a long pass and streaking to the end zone, without undo ceremony.

It was different back then, wasn't it? I watched the Steelers as a kid on TV, and they just played football. There were no dances, no Ray-Ray jigs, no flapping-of-wings. Billy (White Shoes) Johnson had a schtick in Houston, but he was the only one; and most everyone in the league tacitly acknowledged that it was Billy's gig, because no one tried to mock him.

This realization makes me feel old, is what it does. I'm 37. Not that old. I'm still young enough to appreciate the humor of the T.O./Ray-Ray/Hines Ward drama, and understand that it's a new generation. Generation gaps are as old as time. The radio comedian Fred Allen said TV would flop, right?

Anyway, it's just something to think about.

Then again, like I said, I could just be old. I fear as much when I find that Nextel/Salt-N-Pepa/"Push It" ad so amusing. Sometimes, it's the guy dancing in the white shirt who makes me laugh. Sometimes, it's the guy in the blue shirt dancing. Either way, when I find it funny, I feel old. Not hip.

Maybe I should move to the Midwest, eh? I hear Pittsburgh is a nice place to be.

Players and coaches we love, Week 9
Craig Krenzel, Adam Vinatieri and Troy Brown, Marvin Lewis.

Since when does eight-of-21 for 144 yards get you PWL status? When you're Craig Krenzel, a rookie, a third QB when the season started, a science-book college nerd whose talents had PEAK-IN-COLLEGE-THEN-HEAD-TO-MED-SCHOOL written all over them, and you lead your Bears to their second win in your second start. That's when.

Krenzel is a poor man's Ben Roethlisberger. A very poor man's Ben Roethlisberger. In fact, he's a homeless man's Ben Roethlisberger.

But that counts for something, doesn't it? In the very surprising win at New York, Krenzel threw no picks -- are you listening, Peyton Manning? -- and gave the Bears a little something to believe in, to build on. Granted, it has all the foundational strength of a Lego house, but let's not worry about that now.

As for Brown and Vinatieri, it wasn't just that they embodied the Bill Belichick Patriots -- creativity, competitiveness, team play. It was that they did it at the expense of Rams coach Mike Martz, who exudes all the charisma of Ralph Nader. That Brown came in and played defensive back on a few plays, and that he deked the Rams for a TD reception on a fake field goal pass from Vinatieri, is beautiful enough. That these two did it in the face of the man Jimmy Johnson called the "Mad Scientist" was the cherry on top.

Martz spat after the game, pooh-poohing the Vinatieri/Brown TD: "I don't think that was the trickiest thing in the world. I mean, where was he going, to the john?"

I don't know, coach. Was there a Port-A-Potty nearby? You might want to talk to security and clear that up. Doesn't sound very sanitary.

As for Lewis, the Cincy coach OK'd the use of the Outrageously Orange jerseys in the Bengals' big win over Dallas. I was perusing my DirecTV morning buffet when I stumbled upon Channel 706, or whatever, and the Cincy-Dallas game. Whoa, doctor! What in the name of the Great Pumpkin were those jerseys? I found them strangely mesmerizing. Certainly, there was no mistaking which team was which. It called to a mind a scene from the final season of "The White Shadow" in which forgettable character Wardell Stone wore a pair of yellow-and-green knee high socks to practice, and was questioned, I believe, by Coolidge, who said: "Hey, bro. What's with the socks?" Replied Stone: "I ain't looking to get lost in a crowd." (For years, one of my favorite lines from early 1980s television.)

The Bengals were not looking to get lost in the crowd.

The jerseys also called to mind the "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" animation special, the classic that re-aired last week during Halloween season. I TiVo'ed it, being the huge "Peanuts" fan I am, only to find, when I watched it this time, that Linus's quest for the Great Pumpkin unearths some disturbing character developments in his peers. There is outright hostility and mockery from the Lucy-Violet crowd towards poor Linus's beliefs. Even Sally, who professes utter faith in Linus in public, turns on Linus in private and berates him. Is there a lesson here about human nature, its pettiness and insecurity? I think Charles Schulz was the last great American philosopher.

Five cents, please.

I write, you clarify
Sometimes I wonder what my value is in this world. I wonder if my existence makes any difference on this planet. Am I floating through the universe, unnoticed, adrift and alone?

And then I remember: Every Monday afternoon in office cubicles around the country, I give people purpose -- to correct all the errors in The Hangover.

See, Murph? You do make a difference.

This week, we start with the obvious: The Rocky Statue.

Turns out my last trip to Philly -- it was 1997, if you're counting -- was too long ago. The statue of Rocky Balboa no longer sits at the top of the steps of the Philly Museum of Art. Years ago, it was moved, and now stands in front of The Spectrum. Dozens of Philly readers alerted me to the news. Thank goodness The Hangover is a Philly-friendly place, as most denizens of the C.O.B.L. couched their corrections in kind language. I can only imagine the salty sailor talk I would have heard if The Hangover was a Giants-friendly place, or a Cowboys-friendly place. I know how to pick my allies.

Turns out the statue was moved after it was deemed "not artsy" enough by the bohemian community. Or, as one Philly reader put it: "Damn hippies."

This is not to leave this item alone. One reader didn't just throw down the gantlet to Philly fans. He threw it down, then did a Ray-Ray dance over it. It was reader Bill Teufel who announced himself as a man who "loathes" Philadelphia's sports teams and fans, and said the Rocky statue had been moved to what Teufel calls "The Quadrangle of Futility: The Spectrum, Citizen's Bank Park, Lincoln Financial Field, and the Wachovia Center." Teufel is bold: "You can print my name," he writes. "I'm not scared."

Hangover advice to Teufel: I get emails every week from these people. I've heard the tales. I highly recommend you wear a fake nose and glasses to work on Monday.

Two other items showed up on the "I Write, You Clarify" Radar. One is my reference to that Mayan game "where they kicked a ball through a hoop on the side of the wall, then beheaded the guy who lost." My readers recoiled. They're educated people, you know, my readers. I mean, besides my Philly Mafia.

Several readers wrote in to point out that it is the captain of the winning team who was beheaded. The winner, as reader Armando Martinez writes, was considered "worthy of sacrifice."

Winners? Beheaded? I would love to see some footage of those old coin-flips when a tie game went to overtime.

Mayan Referee: Captain Oaxaca, you win the toss. You want the ball to start the overtime?

Captain Oaxaca: Uh, I think our strategy calls for the other team to get the ball in overtime. Yeah. Go ahead. Let them have the ball.

Guys must have been throwing games like the 1919 White Sox back in ancient Mayan culture. Reader Gabriel M. from Carlisle, Pa. says the game was invented by the Olmecs, and played by Mayans and Aztecs. "Betting was very common," writes Gabriel, "in those cultures." There must have been a CCNY/1950s-rash of teams cozying up to bookies back then.

And, of course, there is always the Stupid Typo. I wrote that Flounder rushed Delta Tau Delta in "Animal House." Come on. Forgive the Stupid Typo. I know deep in my soul that, of course, it was Delta Tau Chi. I made a mistake and my boys in Bristol hung me out to dry. Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?

Come on. Grab a brew. Don't cost nothin'.

The election. The Redskins. What happened?
So much for that whole Redskins Lose/Kerry Wins Thing. Turns out, exit polls taken at the Oct. 31 Packers-Redskins game said that Mark Brunell's moral values were more important to fans than the outcome of the tilt.

Football pundits and numerologists were left scrambling to try to figure out how a 'Skins home loss on the Sunday before Election Day could result in an incumbent win. There is, of course, the always-reliable "Diebold Election Machines Fixed For Bush in Ohio" theory. But there has to be something more, something deeper, for the non-Oliver Stone crowd.

It took one of The Hangover's brilliant readers, David Sanders of St. Louis, to introduce the "Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle."

Those of you who weren't baked during chemistry or physics class might remember that the Heisenberg Principle states that the very act of measuring something alters its nature. Or: "The more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known." Heisenberg was talking about electrons, not elections, but my brilliant reader Sanders noted: "The 'Skins/election relationship has held true in the past because it went unnoticed by the general population. Now that the relationship has been identified, and that players may be aware of a potential effect of the game's actions, this could, in turn, affect the way the game is played, perhaps subconsciously, and alter the outcome that would have normally occurred."

Don't get it?

The brilliant Sanders writes on: "In other words, all the media attention to the obscure statistic could mean that added importance -- or less -- was placed on this game, and this outcome was different because of it."

The Hangover's readers are smart, man. And I thought the Heisenberg Trophy was given to the nation's outstanding college football player by the New York Athletic Club.

Thanks for clearing it up, o' brilliant reader Sanders.

A quick follow on high school alumni
Last week's mention of the Tom Brady-Barry Bonds-Lynn Swann trifecta at Serra High in San Mateo, Calif. caused Hangover readers coast-to-coast to heed the Beach Boys' cry: "Be True to Your School." Many wrote in, nominating their high school alumni rolls. But only a few stand out.

First, reader T.J. Brumfeld caught my eye by noting that Old Central High in Omaha, Neb. has graduated Gale Sayers (excellent), Ahman Green (just so-so) and, get this, Henry Fonda (holy cow!) for a tremendous trio. Anytime you get a character from "Brian's Song" and either "The Grapes of Wrath" or "On Golden Pond," you can tolerate the addition of a lightweight like Green. Well-done, T.J.

Too often, readers had to reach for their third name. Often, high schools have produced two huge names, and seriously lesser lights for the third. Take, for example, the effort of reader Scott Holland from Clinton, Iowa, who bragged on his school, Libertyville (Ill.) High. He puts forth Marlon Brando (serious A-list), baseball player Brett Butler (uh-oh, we're dropping off here) and then reaches for his third, Rage against the Machine rocker Tom Morello. That Morello's Mom taught at Libertyville High is worth bonus points; but still, that trio doesn't have that over-the-top quality despite the presence of Don Corleone himself.

Same thing happened with reader Stephen Langevin, who came trumpeting his school, Gonzaga High in Washington, D.C. Langevin threw out conservative titans Pat Buchanan and Bill Bennett; and as if he weren't already reaching, he strained a hammy trying to come up with a third. He threw out San Diego Chargers lineman Roman Oben, and then tried to throw the son of Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson into the mix. If you think he was reaching there, consider that he submitts Tucker Quayle, son of America's most forgettable vice-president, Dan Quayle. When Langevin dropped Tucker Quayle into the conversation, I was forced to re-evaluate his first two names and ask: Who did he leave out? David Duke? Pat Robertson?

See, it's tough to match the Serra High trio. It took a lot of star power to get my attention. But three readers did stop me.

One was reader Bryan Gold, who attended star-laden Santa Monica (Calif.) High. SaMoHi is famous for its student body, and Gold was throwing names around as if he were hitting fungoes during batting practice: Sean Penn, Rick Monday, Rob Lowe, the brothers Sheen (Charlie and Emilio Estevez), even Holly Robinson from "Hanging with Mr. Cooper." Strong stuff. Anytime you can pair Jeff Spicoli with two cast members from "St. Elmo's Fire," you have something special.

Reader John Chadd reached deep into the wellspring of the north Chicago suburbs -- John Hughes territory -- and dropped this trident of a bomb from legendary New Trier High in Winnetka, Ill.: Charlton Heston, Rock Hudson and Ann-Margret. Wow. Ann-Margret? Ever seen "Carnal Knowledge"? You know what I'm talking about.

New Trier is tough to beat, and Chadd didn't even include names like Donald Rumsfeld, a New Trier grad, on his varsity roster.

(Wait. Didn't Rumsfeld go to Gonzaga High in D.C.? Oh, never mind.)

And then you had the out-and-out cheaters. Reader Eric Lieu from McLean, Va. just flat cheated when he broke out the alumni roll of the Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. You can just play pin-the-tail-on-the-alum there. He sent a link and I found, just for fun, the following names: Ring Lardner, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Samuel Morse. The JV would include Jack Lemmon and both our 41st and 43rd Presidents.

New rule: Public high schools only!

Man's best friend
The Hangover is a dog-friendly place, a dish of water always out front for a hound who wants to stop by. That's why I find it so amusing, and appropriate, that three different readers last week chimed in with three different, Hangover-themed, canine tales -- proving that the Animal Kingdom can teach us many lessons about sports.

Wait. "The Animal Kingdom" -- isn't that what the 700 Level at the Vet was called?

Anyway . . . here's what I'm talking about.

A.) Dog Tale as Regards the "Philly Corner" Chapter of the Hangover. Reader Ernest Bowker of Vicksburg, Miss., only attended one Eagles game in his life, but it happened to be at the Vet, and it happened to be a playoff game against Detroit after the 1995 season. The Eagles, class franchise, spared no expense for halftime entertainment, and brought out the "Frisbee-Catching Dogs," your garden variety "Can't Miss" intermission program. Bowker writes: "The first one goes, and absolutely lights the place up. He's running 30-yard outs, jumping eight feet in the air, the trainer is putting the Frisbees right on the money, the dog is catching everything and the crowd is just going nuts. Then, the second dog goes. He doesn't do so well. The poor mutt drops a couple of Frisbees, the trainer throws a couple over his head -- it's just not a good day to be a doggie: Especially when the fans start BOOING! That's right. In true Philly fashion, the Eagles crowd booed the Frisbee-catching dog."

My view: If you don't want to hear the boos, then make the play, puppy. It's a tough world, kid.

B.) Dog Tale as Regards the "Meat Sweats" Chapter of the Hangover.

We've spent weeks at The Hangover arguing the merits of Argentinian beef, discussed shirtless Packer fans warmed by raw ground chuck, and spanned the globe trafficking in Meat Sweat tales from Bulgaria to Brazil. An angle we never explored, though: Do animals get Meat Sweats? Reader Jason DeViva of Baltimore thinks so. He writes: "During a recent visit with my father-in-law, who is dog-sitting a Jack Russell Terrier, I observed what seemed to be Meat Sweats, or more accurately, a Meat Faint, in the dog. We BBQed some fine sirloin, and the little dog got a big chunk of meat. Being a dog, the meat was gone pretty quick. About 15 minutes later, I saw the dog, just laid out, on its side, not quite awake or asleep, panting hard. This situation persisted for about 20 minutes. If you know anything about Jack Russell Terriers, you know the little guys don't sit still too often. I firmly believe the dog had the Meat Sweats, and had to perform the canine version of 'taking a knee'."

My reaction: "Laid out, on its side, not quite awake or asleep, panting hard"? Jason, I'm freaked out. How did you learn my Sunday afternoon routine, stone-cold?

C.) Dog Tale as Regards the "What Age Is Old Enough To Appreciate A Championship?" Chapter of The Hangover.

I'm on record saying the age of seven is the bare minimum for a fan to claim total recall, and enjoyment, of his team's championship. I stand by it, and even called out a reader two weeks ago for trying to lay claim to a San Diego Chargers AFC Championship game loss when he was at age four or five. No way. I ain't buying it.

Then along comes reader Jay Hill of New York, N.Y., who posits a tale that is hard to argue. He claims full recall and enjoyment of North Carolina State's 1983 NCAA basketball title -- at four years, eight months, of age. I would scoff, but his tale goes as follows: "I will never forget that game, for a couple of reasons. It was the first time I was allowed to be awake past 8:30 p.m. My father (N.C. State, class of '65) was going nuts, claiming Jimmy V was the greatest ever, taking a group of nobodies and making them winners. During Jimmy V's 'Hug me!' run at the final buzzer, my Dad was doing the same. He hugged me, my Mom, my two brothers. He was so happy, he picked up our old black Lab retriever and did the most ridiculous little dance you ever saw. Think 'Mark Madsen Bad.' During this famous dance, our dog got excited, and peed all over my Dad's favorite N.C. State shirt."

I will pause to say: There is comedy, and then there is Dog Urination at Moment of Sports Climax/Joy Comedy. Quality tale, Jay.

He goes on: "My Dad still has the shirt. He refused to ever wash it, because he says it will ruin his memory of the game."

I will pause to add: Dude, that is beyond disgusting. After 21 years, somebody needs to set that shirt on fire.

Final Week 9 thoughts
  • Do you have DirecTV? Have you ever checked out the music that plays on the channels that show a morning game, then just roll results during the afternoon games? Tremendous comedy. As stats and scores roll, the music alternates between "Rejected Martial Strains from the Spanish-American War" and "Rejected Guitar Jams from Supertramp's Demo Tapes." Somebody get the DirecTV boys some Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, or some Miles Davis -- pronto.

  • Saw the Jets' Lamont Jordan absolutely lay out Buffalo's punter during a return. Heard Dan Dierdorf defend the hit, and I know that -- technically -- he's right. But part of your heart has to go out to the poor punter writhing on the turf. He knows he's not playing football. He knows he's just there to kick the stupid ball. Worse, the rest of the players know the punter isn't playing football. They know he's just there to kick the stupid ball. And yes, I understand that Jordan has to crush the kicker because, ostensibly, the kicker can make a tackle. Look, it's like this: If your return man is so lame as to get tackled by a punter, he deserves to be brought down. Otherwise, just let the poor 165-pound punter go, can't you? Watching guys crush punters with blind blocks is like watching Scott Farkas bully the kids in "A Christmas Story." Some punter needs to pull a Ralphie and kick some Farkas butt one of these days.

  • Finally, I have been beseeched by a reader from Pittsburgh to simply mention his name. It will make his day, he says. He laid a bet. If the Steelers beat the Eagles, he writes, please mention him out of respect for the Steel Curtain.

    All right, all right. Ryan Hester of Pittsburgh, Pa. -- today is the first day of the rest of your life, buddy. Enjoy.

    E-mail Brian Murphy at page2murphy@yahoo.com with thoughts, questions and unanswerable philosophical rants..




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