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Monday, November 29, 2004
Updated: November 30, 8:29 AM ET
A terrific Turkey Bowl Weekend

By Brian Murphy
Special to Page 2

The Hangover is, after all, a warm and fuzzy place.

And I'm not just talking about that warm, fuzzy mold on the bottom of the beer stein I've left on the kitchen counter since Week 6.

At The Hangover, it's nostalgia over corporate names, grass stains instead of rug burns, and child-like wonder in place of adult cynicism.

(Although, if offered free luxury suite tickets at, say, Qwest Field or Heinz Field, or free beer at the Metrodome or Superdome; or if a sizable wager goes against the grain because of a late field goal, you can pretty much discount the previous sentence.)

Point is, Week 12 was a purist's dream. The Sunday after Thanksgiving, days after neighborhoods all over this great land reverberated to the sound of torn ligaments and loosened teeth from local Turkey Bowl tackle football games, the NFL put on the all-time Neighborhood Turkey Bowl Weekend.

Exhibit A was in Cincinnati, where the Bengals and Browns rolled out a 58-48 Arena Football League show that called to mind touchdown-laden Neighborhood Turkey Bowls, where we always counted in increments of Seven, and only Seven. Granted, neither '58' nor '48' is divisible by 7, but work with me here. Throw me a turkey bone here. I like to think of the Bengals-Browns game as the NFL version of a 56-49 Neighborhood Turkey Bowl -- except neither team got called in for dinner during the proceedings.

Exhibit B was in New England, where the ceaseless rain at the Ravens-Patriots game created that elusive, craved and detergent-unfriendly canvas -- 100 yards of mud. Yes! What Neighborhood Turkey Bowl is complete without the slip or the slide? Surely, we've all felt the reassuring balm of mud splattering across our face as we tackle our up-the-street neighbor. Surely, we've all felt the slightly cold and unsettling ooze of mud seeping down the back of our sweatpants when dragged by the heavy-set neighbor who carries the ball -- and two or three tacklers -- on an up-the-middle slog. Surely, we've casually tossed the mud-bathed clothes on the washing room floor while home from college for Thanksgiving, expecting -- and getting -- the Miracle Wash Fairy, otherwise known as Mom, to make them warm, dry and fluffy again when it's time to pack.

Exhibit C was in Kansas City, where Dante Hall, who returned one kickoff for a score and nearly made it two against San Diego, played the role of the Neighborhood Fast Guy. You know the guy -- the one who always ruined the Neighborhood Turkey Bowl by returning kickoffs all the way, getting by on sheer speed. Depressed and winded, we'd be forced to reassemble immediately for another kickoff, when all we really wanted to do was flop around in the mud on off-tackle dives at the line of scrimmage.

Of course, I use the word "kickoff" lightly. In our games, "kickoff" was actually "throwoff." We lined up around midfield at the neighborhood park, and whoever had the strongest arm heaved the ball toward the Dante Hall Figure. It was a high, arcing toss that, if executed correctly, landed in someone's arms just as you, with 30 to 40 yards of steam, met him in a molar-rattling collision that, hopefully, landed the two of you in the squishiest part of the pitch. In a worst-case scenario, the Dante Hall Figure would receive the toss, head for the nearest sideline and out-sprint us: Seven easy points. That's how it got to 56-49 in a hurry.

The memories are sweet. I'm betting every NFL player out there in Week 12 wishes he could have lived our weekend: Muddy sweatshirts, hot showers, turkey sandwiches laden in gravy in front of the TV ... and then the post-Neighborhood Turkey Bowl, tryptophan-induced Nap.

Yep, I bet the NFL mercenary envies our innocence.

That is, until the 1st and 15th of every month roll around.

Muddy innocence and naps can only buy so much bling.

Players we love, Week 12
A.J. Feeley, Randy Moss, All Browns and Bengals

I'm no Monty Python Geek, but Feeley's status as the '04 NFL season's Black Knight from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" is too rich. Last week, it was the Rear End Injury. Otherwise known as the A-- Injury. We decided last week that the A-- Injury -- even though it was Feeley's right hip, and surely was not funny to him and his fistful of Advil -- was the funniest possible injury in life. This week against the 49ers, Feeley's injury wasn't nearly as funny: The Dislocated Finger.

A.J. Feeley
A.J. Feeley was still able to get the job done for Miami, despite his finger.
Ewww! Gross! Who didn't get the willies seeing Feeley's finger take that unexpected left turn? When he cast his glance downward toward the finger, one can only imagine his own mental soundtrack. Guaranteed, he heard the violins from "Psycho." Credit Feeley for two things. 1.) His Injury Realization Dance struck a chord with the common man everywhere. Undoubtedly, if our fingers took leave of their joints, we'd do the Holy-Mother-of-God-My-Finger-Is-Deformed Jig, too. And 2.) He came back and led the Dolphins to victory. He said he felt like he was "shot-putting" it out there. A.J., remember the rule of thumb: Always better to shot put, than to engage the deformed finger. It's in Sun-Tzu's "Art of War," somewhere in the footnotes.

As for Moss, his return in the win over Jacksonville was just the blast of freshness we needed. Let's face it: He's the Eminem of the NFL. The league would be so empty without him.

Watching T.O. preen admittedly is fun, yes; but we need variety. There's something about Moss' spindly, spidery legs that scream: "I'm Going Deep; And More Likely Than Not, You Cannot Keep Up." As a side note, those spindly, spidery legs also scream: "What Do You Mean, You Don't Have Any 28-Waist, 38-Length Slacks?" at every men's clothing store in the Twin Cities.

Unfortunately, during the last six weeks, those spindly, spidery legs have also screamed: "Stop! We HURT, man!" Now, Vikings fans can't get their hopes up after one game back with Moss. Be careful. Hammies are tender things, more tender than a John Tesh love song, more tender than a perfectly-cooked piece of veal. (By the way, when given the choice, always take the veal over the Tesh.)

As for the Bengals and Browns, The Hangover applauds those 106 points as the antidote to every 13-10, 17-6, 19-12 salary-cap-induced game we've seen over the last 10 years. This thing had it all: a seemingly never-ending series of bombs for TDs, a 200-yard rusher in Rudi Johnson, an interception off a guy's foot, an interception return for a TD by Deltha O'Neal and, well, 106 points, for the love of Don Coryell. Love it. Let's hope it signals a new slogan in the NFL: "Last One to 50 is a Rotten Egg!"

I write, you clarify
I must have taken my medication last week. Either that, or the turkey binge made you guys soft. There were far fewer e-mails scolding me for gross factual errors, mainly because I only made a couple of minor spelling blips: Turns out Philadelphia's old Veterans Stadium version of the JumboTron was called "Phan-o-vision." I take spelling errors seriously, my friends. You are talking to the former fifth-grade Spelling Bee Champ from Mill Valley, California's Alto-Edna Maguire School. I was the '72 Dolphins of spelling. Didn't misspell a word. Of course, I always kept my contests within city limits. If I ventured out to face those juggernauts I see on ESPN's annual telecasts, I might have wilted right out of the gate, as soon as I was asked to spell "permanent." (My Dad's surefire mnemonic device: Remember the 'ma' because it is usually mothers who get 'permanents.' How 1970s is that mnemonic device? Classic.)

At any rate, the 'I.W.Y.C.' chapter of today's Hangover is turned over to those who 'amplified' rather than clarified.

Michael Vick
Mike Vick led his Falcons to yet another clutch victory over New Orleans.
First off, a huge Hangover salute to reader Brendan from Boston, who takes last week's proclamation that Mike Vick dropped an "I ran, I threw, I conquered" job on the New York Giants and actually gives me the Latin translation: "Cursari, iacti, vici", writes Brendan. Brendan's high-brow e-mail proves that my Yahoo! e-mail account is not a mouth-breathers-only zone. What a relief.

The Pop/Soda debate rages on, with each region of the country claiming its turf. Readers from the Deep South affirm that "Coke" is the word of choice for any non-alcoholic carbonated beverage. Reader Paul C. from Cuthbert, Ga. gives The Hangover a little Geography/Culture Lesson with the following primer: "1. Southern women can eviscerate you with a word, a look and a smile on their faces -- and often you don't realize it's happened. 2. If Mama ain't happy, ain't no one happy. 3. Every carbonated and flavored beverage is called a "Coke." If you call it anything else, then you're a Yankee." Cuthbert isn't finished: "Of course, 'Yankee' is a relative term, too. My parents grew up in L.A. (that's Lower Alabama for those outside the region) and to them, Montgomery was 'The North.'"

Our nation's regional predilections for patter is lifted to the ultimate realm when reader Jim from Corvallis, Ore. turns The Hangover on to yet another gold mine of a Web site. Tremendous, tremendous stuff.

And for the record, in my fog-cooled, blue-skied, rainy-winter, sunny-summered Northern California corner of the world, it's "You guys" for a group, "tennis shoes" for rubber-soled footwear and "water fountain" for that oasis in the park.

Last week's query about the offensive line's values of togetherness prompts a reader named T-Wahoo (that's what he said) from Charlottesville, Va. to write in. Wahoo says he went to a wedding where the groom was a high school QB and he had his entire high school offensive line as his groomsmen. "The Maid of Honor stood next to the bride," Wahoo writes, "BUT, while the center was the groom's best man, the boys lined up so that when they faced the guests in the church, the RT was next to the groom, and the LT was down by the pews. During rehearsal, they just lined up that way, ready to play."

A heartwarming team tale. One hopes the marriage doesn't end in divorce. But if it does, the groom and bride can gather for a huddle and say: "Ready ... break!" And head to the divorce lawyer with a clap.

And in the final word on Pittsburgh's standing as a Midwestern city, I received this tear-inducing e-mail from a western Pennsylvania native, reader David Lewis. This e-mail should be read while listening to John Cougar's "Small Town" or "Jack and Diane" in the background: "Pittsburgh," Lewis writes, "is the archetype of a Midwestern city. The grocery store has people who not only bag your groceries, but load them in your trunk for you. And the checkout clerks call you 'Hon.' If your car broke down on the Parkway, not only would the drivers behind you not be laying on their horns and cursing out their windows as they inched past, you'd have two guys stopping to help you push the car to the side of the road. Then, you'd have two more directing traffic around you, and within 15 minutes half a dozen gathered around to figure out what was wrong and fix it." Lewis finishes strong: "New Jersey is in the Northeast. Philly is in the Northeast. Pittsburgh," he concludes, "is in the Midwest."

Random philocophical rant
Deep thoughts make our world turn, so reader Ben Steele from Beijing writes in from the ancient Eastern kingdom to wonder: "How many teams get to have Nations?" Steele notes that I referred to "Eagles Nation," which could have, technically, been overstepping the 'Nation-Building' line. "Red Sox Nation? Raiders Nation? Eagles Nation?" Steele, a Colts fan, wonders if "Colts Nation" can exist, especially since he jumps through flaming hoops to get Colts broadcasts, live, in the city of the '08 Olympiad.

Eagles fan
Here's one very creative member of Eagles Nation.
What say you, Hangover reader? Perhaps all a "Nation" needs is some pub, and then it's a Nation.

Next stop: Houston Texans Nation!

And staying on our warm-and-fuzzy theme, last week's mention of the "Nutcracker" as a baffling holiday tradition prompts reader Jay K. from Greensboro, N.C. to write in. His wife is in a local production, and rehearsals are on Sundays. Jay K.'s NFL Sundays are now filled by babysitting his two kids, ages three and one. To top it off, the wife's performance coincides with the final Sunday before Jay K.'s Fantasy Football playoffs. "The moral of the story is twofold," writes Jay K. "One, never get married. And two, under no circumstances have children. Please pass this on to your readership, as I wouldn't want anyone else to make the same mistakes."

Note to editors: Contact Jay K. in Greensboro, N.C. for a possible holiday spot in the "United Way" ads.

Philly Corner
In an effort to streamline a sometimes-rambling Hangover, we'll keep the Philly Corner brief this week.

The topic: Public Enemy No. 1, aka Philly-hater Bill Teufel, whose e-mail address (phillychokes@gmail.com) inspired few e-mails. Instead, dozens of C.O.B.L. diehards e-mailed The Hangover, with foul, profane and choice words for what they think of Teufel and his sad and lonely "need to belong." They see it as a childhood therapy issue, or a Freudian thing. Some likened Teufel's cry for help to the scene from "Full Metal Jacket" when the drill sergeant asks: "What is your major malfunction, numb nuts? Didn't Mommy and Daddy give you enough attention as a child?"

Worse, a buddy of Teufel's, Jason Rugg, writes in to say that Teufel's descent to "quasi Z-list celebrity in his own mind" has made him insufferable.

OK, Jas. We'll take the cue and print our Philly E-mail of the Week, from reader Patrick Curley, who has three 2005 New Year's Resolutions for Teufel: "1. Move out of your parents' basement. 2. Try actually talking to a woman. 3. Give your Mom back her 'Glamour' magazine."

Ba-da-bing! Dropping the Costanza Hammer on Teufel is well within the boundaries at The Hangover.

Besides, the Eagles are 10-1 and clinched the NFC East on Sunday.

To paraphrase Hyman Roth from "The Godfather: Part 2:" Everyone, enjoy your cheese steak.

Final Week 12 thoughts
Eli Manning
Eli Manning, red jersey and all, was battered and bruised by the Eagles.
  • Stripped of my DirecTV privileges this weekend at the in-laws' abode in Bainbridge Island, Wa., it was sort of refreshing to go Old School and get scores the old-fashioned way: Via highlights. In the new age of Fantasy Stats, however, I discovered a new phenomenon: Witnessing the Slow Death of Your Team. For the 49ers, it started as a 7-0 deficit; then turned into a slow, Russian Death March of stats. It gets no more poignant than when you see, on the bottom of the screen during a Bills-Seahawks game, the following stats: Rattay, 6/13, 59 yds; Hicks, 9 carries, 27 yards; Barlow, 9 carries, 20 yards. Your team is dead. D-E-D.

  • The New York Giants showed up in red jerseys on Sunday, prompting the question: What can you rely on in the world if "Big Blue" shows up in red? It must have been a ploy to make Eli Manning feel comfy, since the blue helmet/red jersey/gray pant lent a strong Ole Miss look to the Meadowlands. If only, for poor Eli, he were back at Ole Miss right now. He might have looked the part, but his numbers didn't. He would have known he was at Ole Miss if he'd thrown three TDs, thumped Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl, and then capped the evening at a fraternity party rife with the beauties of Oxford, Miss. Apparently, that's a real thing. My buddy Schuchie, a Cheese-head living in Florida who once did a stint at the Ole Miss sports info department, says the Ladies of Oxford will stack up against any college hamlet in America. Says it's something about the way they wear bent ball caps and tight jeans. Just an FYI. That's all.

  • Part of the non-DirecTV experience was getting Closed Caption commentary on the in-laws' TV. It's a long story, but I told my father-in-law to leave the captions, for comedy purposes. Sure enough, they were delivered when Chris Berman's "Prime Time" sound effects -- you know, his "whoop!" for every lateral -- came up as a simple "WHOOP!" several times on the Closed Caption. This was particularly strong during a failed lateral sequence trotted out by the Tennessee Titans in their loss to Houston. There is comedy, and then there is the Closed Caption "WHOOP!" from Berman. It's like the Closed Caption guy has the Tourette's. Also, any commercial with music features the always-funny Closed Caption of "PEPPY GUITAR MUSIC." The interpretation is wide open for the hearing impaired: Are we hearing Jimmy Page peel off a few licks from "Black Dog?" Or is it the jaunty bounce of the Kingston Trio performing "MTA?"

    These are the questions that keep me awake at night -- or at least until my next Neighborhood Turkey Bowl.

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