Super Bowl Monday Morning? A Giants Fan’s Super Bowl in China

I have quite the dilemma on my hands.

I’m currently working in China. Come Monday morning (for me, anyway), my New York Football Giants will be playing in the Super Bowl against the Greatest Sports Dynasty Ever Conceived by Man, the New England Patriots.

Obviously, American football isn’t a big deal, or even a moderately-sized deal, in China. The Super Bowl, however, will be played on CCTV5, which will give me the chance to actually watch the Giants play live for the first time all season. Since week one I’ve been dutifully trudging over to my laptop in the wee, wee morning hours to listen to the live radio feed on giants.com. You might think I’d be ecstatic at the idea of finally have the chance to watch a game but I’m not. I have my reasons:

  1. I’ve always enjoyed the quaintness of listening to a game on the radio.
  2. The Giants play-by-play team of Bob Papa and Carl Banks are pretty damn good.
  3. I can avoid listening to Joe Buck on FOX.
  4. Most importantly, they’ve made the Super Bowl with me listening on radio. I’m a superstitious man – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Unfortunately, the giants.com feed will be blocked out for the Super Bowl, so I’ll be forced out of my comfort zone. I’ve been approached by a fellow Giants fan with the idea of finding a sports bar and watching the game on a nice TV. The plan sounds nice in theory – I live in Beijing, where there is roughly one expat bar for every three foreigners – but I know my tendencies as a sports fan. I am beyond a sore winner or a sore loser, I’m what you might call a sore inter-actor – I simply cannot be around strangers when my team is playing.

I remember a specific encounter at a Korean youth hostel in February, 2008; a week after the Giants’ Super Bowl XLII wins. I was approached by a couple of Pats fans who spotted my Eli Manning jersey. “I bet you just bought that jersey this week,” they accused me. I nearly had to be restrained, and that was a week after my team had already won. On top of all that, the game will start at 9 am, Beijing Standard Time, and I am by no means a morning person. Watching a morning Super Bowl in a bar with Patriots fans might just mean a ticket to a Chinese prison. The only other option is staying at home with my crappy TV and a bottle of scotch, nervous pacing the room, muttering to myself and to my wife’s cats…like a boss!

So what of the game itself?

I always enjoy tracking the shifting narratives leading up to any Super Bowl, and this one has been no different. The initial knee-jerk reaction in the press (and from Vegas) was that the Patriots should be slight favorites because – well, because they are the Patriots. Upon further analysis, many writers began pointing at the Giants match up well, have equal if not superior talent, have been playing better of late, and beat the Patriots in Foxboro this year. Now it seems the pendulum of opinion has swung back toward the Patriots. Check out this SI article:

http://www.cnnsi.com/2012/football/nfl/02/02/super.bowl.xlvi.predictions/index.html?eref=sihp&sct=hp_t11_a3 

Five of six writers are picking the Patriots. Especially damning is this quote from Kerry J. Byrne of Cold Hard Football facts: 

“Cold, Hard Football Facts, meanwhile, has eight stats that each predict winners in more than 60 percent of NFL games. New England was better in all eight this year.”

DOOOOOOOOOOOOM! But is 60 percent accuracy really that impressive? I can’t help but remember the last time a guy was so confident in 60 percent: the day Brian Fantana decided to musk up with Sex Panther cologne…

Would you trust this guy to pick the Super Bowl winner? I sure would.

…and we all remember how that turned out.

Some of the other reasons for picking the Patriots seem more ephemeral. Apparently the Patriots insatiable lust for revenge trumps anything the Giants have to offer. Sure, only seven Patriots remain from the team that lost Super Bowl XLII – and you would think the Giants would be equally motivated to vindicate themselves, especially after hearing all week that they “won’t be able to sneak up on the Patriots this time” – but let’s face facts: “The Revenge Bowl” sounds much better than “The Vindication Bowl.”

Also, one should never bet against defensive mastermind Bill Belichick in a big game. Just for fun, let’s take a look at a breakdown of the points scored by Belicheck’s opponents in the fourth quarter of each of his four Super Bowls.

Super Bowl XLII (vs. NYG):                14 points surrendered in the 4th quarter.

Super Bowl XXXIX (vs. PHI):             7 points surrendered in the 4th quarter.

Super Bowl XXXVIII (vs. CAR):         19 points surrendered in the 4th quarter.

Super Bowl XXXVI (vs. STL):             14 points surrendered in the 4th quarter.

In three of four Super Bowls, the Patriots have allowed at least 14 points in the fourth quarter. And the one exception was the infamous Donovan McNabb “did-he-puke?” fiasco, where the Eagles’ coaching staff took their sweet time milking the game clock while trailing on the scoreboard, and the quarterback’s teammates accused him of being so nervous on the final drive that he tossed his cookies. Who knows what might have been accomplished by a competent clock manager and a quarterback with some balls?

It certainly seems as if Belichick-coached defenses have a problem stopping teams in the fourth quarter. Now if only the Giants employed a quarterback with a history of fourth-quarter success – maybe even someone who set some kind of a NFL record for fourth-quarter touchdown passes…

Still, I would be lying if I said I was confident in a Giant victory. It is part of what I call “The Giants Paradox”: they win when they should lose and lose when they should win. I’m holding out hope that, Monday morning at the crack of noon, the Giants will be holding the Lombardi trophy. Then I can go grab a victory lunch at the Dongzhimen branch of Nathan’s Famous.

China at the Movies, Part 2: The CCP vs. Harry Potter…WHO YA GOT?

Click here for Part 1

The Founding of a Party (建党伟业) – June, 2011

I first learned of this film on the Beijing subway. Thanks to my hour-long daily commute, I’ve become maybe a little too familiar with the commercials and movie trailers of the Beijing subway TV channel – Lord knows; I can quote the omnipresent 58.com commercial verbatim, and the spokeswoman doesn’t even use my native language.

Sometime in the spring of last year a new movie ad started getting major spin on the subway TVs. Actually, it wasn’t an ad, per se – it was more of a movie blooper reel, with Chow Yun-fat and other big-name Chinese actors wearing late Qing Dynasty period dress, flubbing their lines and laughing hysterically into the camera. “What kind of movie would be advertised like this,” I wondered, “another zany kung fu comedy, perhaps?”

How wrong I was. I had stumbled upon the prelude to the advertising blitz for The Founding of a Party, the blockbuster set to premiere during the celebration of the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party.

I must admit I was initially drawn to the concept. A movie about the founding of a political party – how could that possibly be boring? If only we in America had thought of it first! One can only imagine the potential for a Founding of a Republican Party movie:

“Hark unto us, all you former Whig Party members, and we shall form a new party – a party so grand, it shall make the Whig Party look like the Anti-Masonic Party!”

There was, however, much about this film that could raise concern: considering this movie had the same director, characters, style and a similar title as The Founding of a Republic - but was set almost 30 years prior – this would be that most wretched of all cinematic creations, the prequel. Ah, prequel – I shudder at the very mention of the word. I had to put on surgical gloves before typing this paragraph – lest I be infected by the dreaded Prequel Herpes. Remember, kids: Prequel Herpes is forever, and it thrives on ignorance.

Sure, I somewhat enjoyed watching The Founding of a Republic, but not nearly as much as I enjoyed Dumb and Dumber. And considering the fact that I never had the slightest interest in watching Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, how could I possibly get excited for The Founding of a Republic-er: When Mao Met Zhou Enlai?

The movie presented still more problems. The Founding of a Republic was set during the Chinese Civil War, which leant itself to some dramatic battle scenes. Well the Chinese Communist Party wasn’t founded on the battlefield; it was founded by a meeting of 13 young radicals in a Shanghai women’s dormitory. How would a movie set in a Chinese girl’s dormitory possibly play on the big screen? Looking for precedent, I decided to google “Asian girls dorm movie”; and – surprise, surprise – I found some examples. This movie might have an audience after all – people seem to be very interested about what happens in an Asian girls’ dorm.

The CCP’s 90th anniversary celebration made Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee look like a pack of death row inmates toasting over a paper cups of toilet wine. The premiere of The Founding of a Party was set to be centerpiece of their celebration, much in the same way The Founding of a Republic capped off the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic ofChina in 2009.

Unfortunately, the CCP had an unforeseen dilemma on their hands in 2011- one that threatened to wreck them at the box office. The People’s Republic of Chinahad been founded at an opportune time – as far as movie premieres are concerned. The Founding of a Republic premiered around Chinese National Day – Oct. 1 – which happens to come a month after the end of the blockbuster summer movie season. No Chinese film dared compete, and there wasn’t much in the way of foreign films to choose from, so Founding of a Republic ran pretty much without competition – its prequel, however, was not so lucky.

The Founding of a Party was set to premiere right around the same time as the international releases of Transformers 3 and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. Now, it is important to understand: Chinese people worship both of these film series, even more so than Westerners. Whenever the subject of movies is brought up, a Chinese guy will inevitably steer the discussion toward Transformers. I’ve had to discuss those films more times than I’d care to mention – and I don’t mean a simple, “Do you think that new blond chick is hotter than Megan Fox?” discussion…I’ve had to discuss each film on its merits.

Needless to say, the party was in a bind. If given the choice between their movie and Harry Potter, Chinese audiences would pick Harry Potter every day of the week and twice on Sundays. Still, the party had a trump card to play: their absolute control of the Chinese film industry. They have complete authority over what movies get played, and when. So they decided to push back the premieres of Harry Potter and Transformers until certain box office goals had been met.

Now, the Chinese people are known for their ability to bear unconscionable amounts of bullshit. Ask any elderly Chinese person, and they will casually fire off a list of stories of personal hardship that would make any Westerner weep. However, a new generation is in control now, and they want their Transformers, dammit! Rarely had I heard Chinese people so openly mock the government. If I wanted to get a laugh from my students, I had only to ask, “Are you going to see 建党伟业?” They absolutely loved making fun of that movie. In one of histories greatest ironies, an intelligent discussion about freedom of choice had been started, at least partly, by a Michael Bay film – which is the last time I will ever write “intelligent” and “Michael Bay film in the same sentence, so help me God.

In the end, the China Film Bureau got their box office goal the old-fashioned way – they flat-out forced people to go. Companies were forced to buy loads of tickets, and they, in turn, forced their employees to march dutifully to the theater – on their days off, of course. The people endured, as always – since each ticket for The Founding of a Party was one step closer to the moment when they would finally be allowed to see Harry Potter take on Lord Voldemort. Considering that the movie was made in the hopes of generating good PR, I think it’s safe to say that The Founding of a Party was not as successful as its predecessor. The moral of this story is, as always: everyone in the world needs to STOP MAKING PREQUELS!!!

Bonus quote of the day:

“Michael Bay has his own style of making movies. I like to call it ‘Bay-hem.’”

- crew member on the set of The Island - perhaps the worst Michael Bay film which didn’t violate the memory of those who fought at Pearl Harbor.

“Take a Picture, Trick!” The Lonely Island in China

To the Chinese, the karaoke, or “KTV”, bar is the number one way to spend an evening (or afternoon) with friends (or hookers). Some Chinese friends invited me to an upscale KTV place near Ritan Park yesterday afternoon. I took this shot while checking for English songs.

As you can see, the choice of English songs at any given Chinese KTV place can be…well…eclectic. Just on that page we have Rihanna, Pink, Susan Boyle, Enrique Iglesias and…the Lonely Island???

I didn’t feel quite up to doing “Jizz in my Pants,”  but fortunately they also had “I’m on a Boat.” I must say, I knocked it out of the park, even without the aid of Auto-tune. I really belted out the last line: “I FUUUUUCKED A MERRRRMAAAAAID.”

China at the Movies: Part 1

If there’s one thing the Chinese film industry has on its American counterpart, it is a ruthless – and surprisingly enviable – efficiency. For those who lament Hollywood’s pandering to the lowest common denominator with their non-stop orgy of remakes, sequels, prequels and half-assed 3-D conversions, it’s somewhat refreshing to live in a country where crappy movies are made for a fraction of the cost.

The Chinese Film Bureau runs a tight ship. It controls which movies are made and which movies are played in theaters. The Chinese movie industry operates on its own unique supply-and-demand model, and when making movies they rely on these three immutable facts:

  1. They are the only ones making Chinese movies.
  2. Chinese people want to watch Chinese movies.
  3. There are a buttload of Chinese people.

That, my friends, is a license to print money. They can turn a profit on nearly any film with second-rate kung fu and third-rate CGI not even fit for a high school audio visual club. The one drawback of this filmmaking strategy is that you rarely see a Chinese blockbuster – or, more specifically, a Chinese-made blockbuster. Chinese people are crazy for Harry Potter and worship at the altar of Michael Bay – an altar no doubt made robot testicles wrapped in C4 – and by far the biggest “event” movie to premiere during my five years in China was none other than Avatar. Chinese-made films just don’t generate that kind of buzz among the natives. My wife is a rabid defender of Chinese culture, and though she’s seen her fair share of Chinese films over the past few years, she couldn’t recall a single one off the top of her head: “Chinese movies? You’re not supposed to remember them after you watch them.”

That isn’t to say that there haven’t been a few event movies made by the Chinese during my time here. I can think of three clear examples, and the circumstances surrounding the release three movies were each so quintessentially Chinese that I, as a student of this proud culture, feel honored to have witnessed.

 

建国大业 The Founding of a Republic – Oct. 2009

 

On any normal year the Chinese celebrate their National Day with enough pomp and circumstance to make even the most hardcore Fourth of July celebration look as lame as Kirk Cameron’s Five-Dollar Footlong Birthday Bash, but this particular year was special: the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China! I’m still not sure why 60 was such a significant number –after all, Betty White is almost three decades older. Chinese scholars maintain that the founding of the PRC was more significant than the birth of Betty White – but since they were reared on PRC propaganda while I was reared on reruns of “The Golden Girls,” we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

The celebrations culminated in the release of “The Founding of a Republic”, the most hyped film to premiere inChinain my recollection. The ad blitz was unprecedented. Just about every big-name Chinese actor – Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Zhang Ziyi and John Woo, to name a few – would make a cameo appearance in the film. Apparently the China Film Bureau had spread the word: “if you’re not in this film, then you hateChina.”

The film was hyped as a dramatic, but historically accurate, retelling of the Chinese Civil War between the Soviet-backed Communists and the American-backed Nationalists, which meant two things right off the bat:Americawould be the bad guys and Papa Joe Stalin would be among the good guys. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to see this movie.

As a student of history, I was excited to see the narrative the filmmakers would use. The story was, after all, the conflict between two Chinese political parties. Had this movie been made the Mao era the story would have been an easy sell: the defeat of corrupt, bourgeois capitalists by the overwhelming and sacred power of Marxist ideology. However, that kind of bullshit just won’t fly in modernChina. The Communist Party does a remarkable job of maintaining the name of communism while so completely disregarding the basic tenets of communism that they were recently singled out for praise by none other than Newt Gingrich, who said that theUScould learn a thing or two from the CCP and their 0% capital gains tax. It’s safe to say any government supported by Newt Gingrich isn’t going to make a film celebrating the struggle of the worker.

I sat in the theater – one of only two foreigners among the packed house – with a palpable sense of excitement. I was about to see a Communist-made movie about the victory of communism that couldn’t mention anything overtly communist. Could they pull it off?

Their solution to the narrative problem was as creative as it was ballsy. The film picks up at the end of World War II. The Nationalist party, led by Chiang Kai-shek is trying to consolidate their power at the expense ofChina’s other parties, including Mao Zedong’s Communists. The Communists leadChina’s other parties in an epic struggle against Nationalist domination, driving Chiang Kai-shek into exile inTaiwan. At the end of the film, the Communists invite the other parties to sign the charter for the new People’s Republic ofChina. As Mao and his cohorts stand proudly on stage, the subtitles announce that 19 political parties were invited to the first congress of the PRC. The end.

Huh? Nineteen political parties…in China? So the Communist Party’s victory wasn’t a victory for communism at all…but a victory for multi-party democracy. One can only guess as to what happened next: those other 18 political parties found to CCP to be so awesome that they all willingly disbanded. And to this day, no Chinese person has even thought of starting another party.

That bizarre narrative aside, the writers didn’t take the opportunity to thoroughly demonize the Nationalists. I guess that was to be expected – the relationship betweenChinaandTaiwanhas thawed significantly in the past few years, and Chinese audiences have mostly lost their taste for films bashing the Nationalists. Still, I was hoping for a good old-fashioned Maoist propaganda film, and I was left with a movie that was disappointingly nuanced.

The atmosphere in the theater was surprisingly tame. Spirits in the crowd were piqued a bit during the climactic scene in which the Americans lowered their flag and abandoned their embassy, but I never felt like I was about to be lynched.

My most awkward moment as a spectator came during a rather unimportant scene. As Chairman Mao and his staff discussed strategy, a cook came out to meet them. The mere sight of this pudgy dufus sparked a delirious fit of laughter among the Chinese in the audience.

My wife sensed my confusion. “That man is Fan Wei,” she explained, “the number one comedian inChina. He is so funny! Everybody loves him!”

I could certainly see that. Listening to the crowd’s reaction triggered a depressing thought: there is no comedian on Earth who can get that kind laughter out of me simply by walking onscreen.

The dufus professes his undying love for Chairman Mao and says he will work diligently as the chairman’s personal cook. Mao humbly accepts and offers the cook a cigarette. The cook squeals with delight: “I cannot smoke the cigarette given to me by Chairman Mao. I must keep it. I will cherish it forever.”

The cook’s manic, sweaty bit of Mao-worship brought more howls of laughter from the audience.

Cut to the next scene. Nationalist warplanes savagely bomb the Communist camp. As the soldiers flee for their lives, the cook suddenly stops in his tracks. “I forgot Chairman Mao’s breakfast on the stove! I must go back for it!” No sooner does he run back to the kitchen than the building takes a direct hit from a Nationalist bomb. Cut to a graveyard. Chairman Mao offers a brief eulogy and honors the cook buy leaving a whole pack of cigarettes on his tombstone.

The idea of casting the funniest man inChinaand killing him of for Mao’s breakfast was more than I could bear. I must admit to letting out the most inappropriate laugh heard in a movie theater since Homer Simpson first viewed the classic Han Moleman short “Man Getting Hit by Football.”

“What was the fucking point of all that,” I howled. As I regained my composure, I glanced at rest of the audience. The Chinese people didn’t seem to mind; there were enough laughs to be had by all.

 

Memories of Chinese New Year

I’ve had a few reasons to celebrate recently: my fifth anniversary in China, my fifth Chinese New Year and, most importantly, the New York Giants’ fifth trip to the Super Bowl. Since this isn’t the first time Chinese New Year – Spring Fesitval, as the  Chinese like to call it – has coincided with a Giants’ Super Bowl run, I thought I’d reminisce on the magical day of Feb. 10, 2008 in Changchun.

 

            One problem with watching important American sporting events live in China – meaning, in the wee small hours of the morning – is the gaping void left in the rest of your day. Had I watched the Giants’ miraculous Super Bowl XLII upset of the Patriots back in the states, I would have celebrated deliriously for an hour or two, and then passed out from sheer exhaustion. As it was, the clocks inChina had just passed noon, and outside my window Chinese office workers shuffled about on their lunch breaks, totally unaware of Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, the 18-0 Patriots, and the magnificent David Tyree helmet catch which had just sent their world crashing down around them.

What should I do now? It was payday, which meant a fresh paper bag stuffed with discretionary cash waiting for me at school. There I caught up with my buddy Erik.

“Wanna grab a couple beers and buy a bunch of fireworks?” he asked.

“Hell yeah,” I replied, “This is a day worth celebrating.”

Spring Festival – the granddaddy of all Chinese holidays – was fast approaching, and the fireworks stands had spread to nearly every street corner in the city. I’ve always had a somewhat complicated relationship with this holiday. I love the days off, but I’m terrified of the chaos of traveling at the same time as roughly 900,000,000 Chinese people. I appreciate the startling casualness of elderly people playing majiang, but I’m frustrated by their initially violent refusal of any gift – I know they want the gift, I know they’ll take it eventually, do we really need all the pretense and keqi? I love the dumplings, but I still have a hard time biting into pig’s feet. But I have nothing but love for the fireworks.

For a few weeks each year the people of Changchuntake to the streets each evening – child in one hand, fireworks in the other – and light off a blitz of light and sound that consumes the city. The sheer number of people lighting fireworks, combined with the rather lax Chinese approach to public safety, gives the Spring Festival season a chaotic feel that is astonishing to behold – less “4th of July” and more “firebombing ofDresden.” The year before I had called home and held my phone out the window so family and friends could hear the carnage; I felt like a war correspondent covering the Battle of Britain. It truly is a joy to watch, but you have to keep your head on a swivel, ready to hit the deck if some misfired rocket should happen to explode a little too close for comfort.

Erik and I hit the fireworks stands just after sundown. We came with two large black trash bags, ready to devour the smorgasbord of fireworks laid out before us – skyrockets, bottle rockets, fountains, roman candles, belts of M-80’s. Within minutes we had caused a minor uproar on the street; Chinese witnesses were calling their friends to tell them that the waiguoren were buying up all the fireworks in sight. Nothing impresses the Chinese quite as much as a man willing to blow an obscene amount of money on fireworks.

I spotted a massive multi-shot box behind the fireworks stand: “The grand finale, we gotta have it.”

We hauled the spoils over to the nearest open space:Culture Square, in the center of the city. Spending any amount of time outdoors inChangchunin February is a life-or-death battle against bitter cold and the treacherous, icy sidewalks. Every foreigner who has lived inNortheast Chinahas at least once laughed of the absurdity of people celebrating a “spring” festival in late-January/early-February, with the temperatures often plunging past fifteen below. Still, the Chinese were calling it spring, and they had the fireworks to sell: when inChina, detonate as the Chinese detonate.

We started the show, launching glittering rockets toward the penthouses of the high-rise apartments, laying anaconda lengths of firecrackers to pop-pop-pop across the icy street. Chinese people came from blocks around, eager to partake in the mayhem. This wasn’t usual crowd of stalkers come to peer shamelessly into the exotic world of the foreigner. This was a kindred vibe – almost as if it were two regular dudes lighting off the fireworks. The crowd came simply to show the show.

As I lit off the grand finale I called out, “This is for the Giants!” The crowd clapped their approval. Of course, nobody in the crowd knew a goddamn thing about the Giants, or American football. They simply loved the fireworks.

Designing An Anti-Tebow

Editor’s Note: This article was written before the Broncos were eliminated from the playoffs,  but since our Crusade Bowl had already been set for Feb. 3, 2013, Tebow is still on track.

One of the great advantages of living thousands of miles away from America is that I find it easier to insulate myself from the more annoying and pervasive aspects of American culture. When my students ask me what music is popular in America nowadays, I can smile and honestly answer, “I have no idea.” I recently came across a news site with a photo of an attractive young girl named Selena Gomez. I have no idea why she’s famous – or if she’s over 18 – and I’m probably better off not knowing either.

The same thing goes for sports. I haven’t watched ESPN in twelve glorious months. I haven’t been exposed to Skip Bayless’s leathery goblin mug in years – though it still haunts my nightmares. Through the miracle of the internet, I can follow my teams and bypass the ESPN hype machine altogether.

I have, however, learned that a gentleman in Denver named Tim Tebow has garnered some measure of national attention. I first became aware of him during his college career. Though I’m a maniacal sports junkie, I can no more than casually follow college football, land of the BCS (a.k.a. the closest thing Americahas to the Chinese Communist Party) and Jerry Sandusky. Still, the kid was clearly a great college QB. I heard snippets of his personal life – his missionary father, his awe-inspiring virginity[1]- mostly from a Sports Illustrated article where his father, Pastor Bob Tebow, recounts the miraculous story of his birth. (Spoiler Alert: his parents don’t get the abortion.)

Now Tebow has joined with that most American of hype machines, the NFL.[2] Now, I’m a Giants fan, and I try to keep my football interests as Giants-related as possible. Since the Broncos never played the Giants this season I paid him little mind, but the sheer volume of Tebocity has been mind-boggling. Still, I valiantly stuck to my Giants news blogs, in a vain attempt to avoid being dragged headlong into the fray. Unfortunately, one day I happened to stumble upon a Tebow article by one of my favorite writers, Charles P. Pierce.

Money quote:

To call Tim Tebow a “Christian,” and to leave it at that — as though there were one definition of what a “Christian” is — is to say nothing and everything at once. Roman Catholics are Christians. So are Lutherans, Episcopalians, Melkites, Maronites, and members of the Greek and Russian Orthodox faiths. You can see how insidious this is when discussion turns to the missionary work that Tebow’s family has done in the Philippines. This is from the Five Priorities of the Bob Tebow ministries, regarding its work overseas:

It is the goal of the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association to preach the gospel to every person who has never had an opportunity to hear the good news of eternal life in Jesus Christ. Most of the world’s population has never once had the opportunity to hear the only true message of forgiveness of sins by faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.

It so happens that 95 percent of the population of the Philippines is Roman Catholic. Catholic doctrine just happens to be in conflict with what Bob Tebow and his son preach in regard to personal salvation. (To devout Catholics, for example, sins are not forgiven “by faith alone,” but through the sacrament of reconciliation as administered by a priest.) Bob Tebow’s goal is not to convert unbelievers. It is to supplant an existing form of Christianity.”

Sheeeit! Now I have a dog in this fight. I am by no means a practicing Catholic – I haven’t been in a church in about a decade – but a good number of my family members are, including three of my four grandparents (Grandmom is Presbyterian).  I don’t particularly care what religion you claim, as long as you keep it out of my face. But I absolutely cannot abide American Protestants who accuse American Catholics of impiety. Really, you wanna start the Catholic-Protestant beef again? Are we still in the 1800s? Fine, if you want to play the role of Bill the Butcher, then I insist we settle this on the street- Gangs of New York-style: you grab your top hat and knife and meet me at the town square at dawn. Prepare to receive the true Lord!

Maybe I’m too hard on Bob Tebow; maybe his only fault is being too vague.  After all, he’s not trying to evangelise all Catholics, only Filipinos. I used to live in the hardcore Christian dormitory when I taught at Jilin University of Economics, and two of the girls who taught there were Filipina. They certainly seemed, at first blush, like serious Christians, but I never got the chance to ask them whether or not they’d heard the gospel according to Bob Tebow. If they haven’, then their Christianity is clearly invalid.

Goddamnit, this Tebow business is polarizing! I can already feel my blood pressure rising. I’m being compelled to throw down a fat wad of pesos into the sleazy Tijuanacockfighting ring we call the Culture Wars.  Americans have long enjoyed staking their interest to proxy wars – fighting the “real” enemy through a surrogate. We tried this approach during the Cold War, and while it didn’t necessarily work out on the field of battle (Korean War – still technically ongoing, Vietnam – yeesh, arming the Afghan mujahadeen to fight the Soviets – turned out one of those guys was Osama bin Laden), it certainly produced great moments in the world of sports (Miracle on Ice, Rocky IV).

           The only problem is that Tebow, while polarizing, lacks a direct personal antithesis. He’sAmerica’s Christian Rocky, but who is his Ivan Drago? The liberal media? Secularists? In wrestling parlance, Tebow is a babyface with no heel.

This problem seems rather easily corrected – after all, good wrestling heels can be made as well as born.  When Vince McMahon needed a villain on the eve of Operation Desert Storm, he had Sergeant Slaughter team up with two “Eye-raqis,” providing a worthy foil for Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior to fight a proxy Gulf War. The Great Tebow War requires a similar nemesis- what we need is an anti-Tebow.

Normally, this kind of war is better left to individual sports, like boxing; Football, we are told, is the ultimate team sport. But Tebow appears to transcend the concept of the team – seriously, who outside of Colorado can name two other members of the Denver Broncos? So we need mould a talented, charismatic young quarterback to act as the mortal enemy of Tebow.

Now, it goes without saying that this anti-Tebow must be Muslim. Nothing less will do. After all, Tebow’s must fervent supporters are many of the same people who believe that sharia law has invaded our judicial system and that Obama studied in an Indonesian madrassa. Besides, we haven’t had a quality Muslim sports villain since Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali[3], setting the stage for perhaps the most awesomely absurd proxy culture sports war in American history, the first Ali-Frazier fight. Fighting for the hippie, pinko, blame-America-first crowd was Muhammad Ali – a man now so universally beloved by Americans that he was chosen to light the Olympic torch. Fighting for traditional, mainstream white America was Joe Frazier, the 100% black grandson of sharecroppers – a man who actually won that fight, and was summarily dumped by mainstream American, dying in relative obscurity. Poor Joe Frazier even had to deal with the indignity of being the subject of an article titled “Is Joe Frazier a Black Champion in White Skin?”…written by Bryant Gumbel. I’m whiter than Joe Frazier and Bryant Gumbel put together, and even I think that’s cold.

Therein lies the beauty of the proxy sports war: we can build our champions and villains out of the ether.America wanted a Great White Hope to beat Ali, so we built one out of a black man. Since the NFL doesn’t have a high-profile Muslim quarterback, we’ll have to develop one, with the generous help of Wahhabi Islam endorsement money.

Can we convince the radical clerics of Wahhabi Islam to offer a huge endorsement deal to an American football player? I don’t see why not. Wahhabi Islam seems to have a lot in common with Nike: both are well-funded, youth-oriented industries with fantastically effective ad campaigns. (Clerics convinced young boys to martyr themselves for fantasy virgins; Nike convinced me I could possibly dunk if I bought their shoes) Who knows: the Wahhabis might have successfully conquered America back in the 80’s if only they had beaten Nike to the punch and signed Michael Jordan. Fortunately for us they never discovered the two most fundamental principles of athlete endorsements:

  1. People will buy anything Michael Jordan sells them.
  2. Michael Jordan will do anything – literally, anything – for money.

So let’s say we can convince the Saudi clerics to pony up a lucrative Islam endorsement deal – let’s say $150 million and 15 wives, at least 5 Somali – we’re still left with the matter of finding the perfect Muslim quarterback. My prayers were answered the other day when I read a report that reigning Heisman award-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III was seeking an agent to declare for next year’s draft. That kid set all kinds of NCAA passing records, and he’s expected to go as high as Number 2 inthe draft, so he can clearly play. One might be concerned to learn he’s not a Muslim – he is, in fact, a God-fearing Christian son of two Army sergeants who is currently working on his Masters degree – but if America can turn Joe Frazier into a white man, I think we can turn this kid into a Muslim.

Besides, once he signs that Muslim endorsement deal, his all-American background becomes all the more insidious, based on what I call the “All-American Muslim Effect.” You might have encountered it last month in the controversy surrounding the TLC documentary series “All-American Muslim,” when the show was protested by “family” groups offended by the dastardly portrayal of Muslim Americans acting like actual Americans. Can you imagine the shit storm that will ensue when the Florida Family Association is introduced to a Muslim quarterback with two parents in the military? The game is afoot!

Since football is still technically a team game, we need to select the right squad for our anti-Tebow to lead. The choice seems obvious: the San Francisco 49ers. The team has a top-flight defense, but their quarterback situation is still a joke. The city itself is the perfect foil for the Tebowites – could they possibly hate any city more than San Francisco? Gays! Hippies! Tim Lincecum smoking dope out of his pot bong! We could turn Candlestick Park into Mecca West: cheerleaders in burkas, halal food in the concession stands, a dancing bearded ayatollah mascot. And the coup-de-grace: our anti-Tebow prostrating himself toward Mecca after each touchdown.

With the Tebow and anti-Tebow placed in opposite conferences, the stage will have been set for the Granddaddy of All Crusades, next year’s Super Bowl XLVII. Now, the week before the Super Bowl the mayors of each team’s city usually make some cute bet involving a local delicacy, like Kansas City barbecue or New England lobster. I say, for the Crusade Bowl, we raise the stakes. If the Tebow wins, than Michelle Bachman and Rick Santorum become co-regents of a new puritanical utopia where everyone wears Pilgrim hats, burns witches and calls each other “Goodman.” If the anti-Tebow wins, we submit ourselves to sharia law and kill anyone who doesn’t grow a beard. If the Tebow wins, we’ll admit that the Lord’s name is God, and if the anti-Tebow wins, we’ll admit that the Lord’s name is Allah. And in case of a tie…haha, I’m just messing with you. Thanks be to God – or, if the 49ers win, Praise be to Allah – that we as a country have evolved beyond the need for ties.


[1] Tim Tebow maintaining his virginity at the University of Florida is perhaps the most impressive feat of self-denial in the history of mankind. He was a football star…in Florida! Seriously, I’m pretty sure Southern states legally permit their football players to keep concubines.

[2] The most NFL moment of my lifetime happened last year before the Super Bowl, when the NFL showed a montage of football players and military personnel reading the Declaration of Independence – the entire Declaration…not just the relevant parts. You’d think that someone would have read it beforehand and said, “Whoa, hold on a second. Maybe we should just read the first few paragraphs, because the rest of it is a list of specific grievances against King George III, and he’s been dead for like 200 years.” Nah, that’s not how the NFL rolls.

[3] “His mama named him Clay, I’m-a call him Clay.”


My Favorite Grover

A great deal of ink has been spilled these past few years over the influence of Grover Norquist – the philosophical guru of the modern GOP, the intransigent tax-a-phobe who would most likely kill his own son for so much as proposing a 1.5% tax on the producers of snuff films in order to fund the world’s largest statue of Ronald Reagan. Love him or hate him, I think everyone can agree on one thing: Grover is one badass name. Since he isn’t the first famous Grover, I thought it might be fun to play a little game of “Rank the Grover.” Here is a list of famous Grovers – you can decide for yourself which Grover is the Goveriest:

-         Grover Norquist

I first became acquainted with this Grover from reading his now-famous quote: “I’m not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” Now, I may not agree with the idea of straight-up murdering the government, but I do appreciate a well-turned phrase. This guy sure knows how to describe a murder with panache! Any hack could speak of drowning the government in a lake or a swimming pool, but an analogy using such a large body of water implies that the government might be big enough to put up a struggle. Well, Grover Norquist does not drown things that can fight back! Apparently he has thought this drowning through, and he knows well enough that anything you can fit into a bathtub will be easy to drown. Why does Grover Norquist have so much expertise drowning things in bathtubs? That’s a personal matter between Grover and his local police department.

He is credited with creating the hugely influential lobby “Americans for Tax Reform,” but I’m not quite sure if he is the cause or merely a symptom of the phenomenon of Washingtonlobbyists turning the word “American” into an epithet. Perhaps he was the first asshole to name his lobby “Americans for _______,” but I doubt it. The first lobbyists undoubtedly came to this country on the Mayflower; perhaps their first organization was even named “Americans for Witch Burning.” All I know is that I’m sick of these lobbies and super-PACs using the word “American.”[1] Look, I get it: you’re American, and you’re for something. I’m American too, and I’m also for certain things. How about you find a candidate who’s for what you’re for, and vote for him; I’ll do the same, and we’ll call it “democracy.”

Grover is best known these days as the man behind the no-tax pledge. This is no metaphor: there is an actual piece of paper each Republican worth his salt must sign, pledging never raising taxes under any circumstances. Grover isn’t a Republican, per se – his loyalty is to the pledge, not the party. President George H.W. signed Grover’s pledge, and then famously stabbed poor Grover in the back by raising taxes. Well, Grover got his revenge, delighting in Bush’s reelection loss to Bill Clinton. Bush’s loss, Grover said, proved that “this is one promise a politician can’t break.” Ha! Take that, Bush! You violated the only oath you ever took that really mattered. That other oath you took – that you would faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and would to the best of your ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States – just got f’ed in the a!

Grover’s secret world of unbreakable oaths certainly sparks the imagination. What are the inner workings of his no-tax pledge society? What of their secret initiation ceremonies? We know that Yale’s “Skull and Bones” society uses the skull of Geronimo; whose skull does Grover Norquist use – Barry Goldwater’s? This looks like a job for author Dan Brown. I’m calling you out, Dan: you’ve already tackled the Knights Templar, Freemasons and the Illuminati, and now I want you to write a novel about the Grover Norquist Promise Keepers. Take us inside their bizarre ceremonies- the Reagan masks, the silver goblets filled with the blood of albino virgins, the Grover myth of creation, told through interpretive dance.[2] And let’s not forget the ceremonial orgy – we all know that’s what gives the no-taxers their power. Some might blanch at the idea of a bunch of old white dudes having sex with each other: Isn’t that gay sex? Don’t these guys make their political bones by turning voters against homosexuals? It’s a common mistake to make, but the simple fact is that there’s nothing “gay” in a bunch of guys having sex with each other…so long as they’re doing it in the name of tax reform.

-         Grover Cleveland

 You might know him as the 22nd and 24th president of the United States – so nice, we counted him twice. Nowadays he’s best known for his non-conescutiveness, and for being the inspiration of one of Abraham Simpson’s better old-timey jokes: “In my day we got spanked by presidents ‘til the cows came home. Grover Cleveland spanked me on two non-consecutive occasions.” There are, however, a few other things of note about the only Grover to be elected president.

GroverClevelandwas one of only three men inUShistory to win the popular vote in three different presidential elections – bonus points if you can name the other two. He won the Electoral College in 1884 and 1892. During the 1888 election he received what we now call “the Al Gore treatment” – winning the popular vote, but narrowly losing the Electoral College to Benjamin Harrison, while the one state in the balance (Indiana) seemed to be rife with all kinds of election-day shenanigans.

It is also interesting to note that Grover Cleveland was the only Democrat elected president during the fifty year period following the Civil War (1861-1913.) Remember that, Democrats, the next time you complain that your side rarely wins elections these days. Of course, each party’s ideology wasn’t quite as rigid back in those days. GroverCleveland was elected as a pro-business, anti-labor Democrat – he and Grover Norquist probably would have been good buddies.

Furthermore, the most prominent Republican of the time was Theodore Roosevelt, a man so progressive he broke away to form his own Progressive Party. It might not surprise you to find out Grover Norquist isn’t much of a T.R. fan. His stated goal is to bringAmericaback to what it was “up until Teddy Roosevelt, when the socialists took over – the income tax, the death tax, regulation, all that.” I guess we know which face Grover Norquist would dynamite offMt.Rushmorefirst. Grover just wants to take us back to a better time – which, according to him, is the late1800’s. That certainly was a freer time in America: 10-year-olds had the freedom to work in coal mines, meat companies had the freedom to sell you tainted meat; Coca-cola had the freedom to spike their drinks with cocaine, states were free from federal interference and activist judges (free to enact Jim Crow laws); women were free from oppressive burden of voting.

-         Grover Cleveland Alexander

Clearly he was the greatest of the 16 Major leaguers ever to be called Grover. Before I learned of Grover Norquist, this was probably my least favorite Grover. I still haven’t forgiven him for striking out Yankees 2B Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded in the 7th inning of Game 7 of the 1926 World Series, winning the title for the St. Louis Cardinals. But even a lunatic Yankee fan like me would find it hard to argue with his Hall of Fame resume:

-         373 wins(3rd all time)

-         90 shutouts (NL record)

-         Lifetime 2.56 ERA

And his record would look a hell of a lot better if he hadn’t been drafted into the army during the prime of his career to fight in WWI. While serving inFrance, a German shell exploded near his ear, costing him part of his hearing and triggering an onset of epilepsy. After the war he returned to the mound and managed to pitch through epileptic fits, shell shock and his own alcoholism. Truly, this Grover was a badass.

-         Grover the Muppet

Look, I love Muppets…but I must admit that Grover doesn’t do much for me. To me he’s the other blue one on Sesame Street; the one who isn’t Cookie Monster. Give me Cookie Monster any day of the week. If I made a list of my favorite Muppets, I doubt Grover would even crack top 20. Still, I’ll take a mediocre Muppet over an accomplished human any day of the week.

In conclusion, my personal Grover Ranking would go thusly:

  1.  Muppet
  2. Cleveland (Alexander)
  3. Cleveland (regular)
  4. Norquist

[1] Karl Rove’s super-PAC is called “American Crossroads.” The only way I will ever respect that group is if Rove goes on TV to announce he named his group after the Bone, Thugs and Harmony song “Tha Crossroads.”

[2] “In the beginning, there was the god Free Enterprise and the goddess Laissez-Faire Capitalism. They had a child and they named it America. But the evil witch called the Welfare Queen seethed in her ivory federal tower, and sent her evil flying monkeys “Death Tax” and “Civil Rights Act of1964” to kill the child…”