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These Are What Make A Super Bowl Super....

Because the Super Bowl is tomorrow, I found myself in the grocery store Friday picking up a few supplies. I mentioned this to a friend, who said because of the pandemic it’s only going to be him and his wife watching, so he was really dialing down the number of snacks.

My first response was “what are you, crazy?”

I’m a football purist, so I have literally watched every play of every Super Bowl ever played, starting when I was 11. But the football alone isn’t what makes the Super Bowl special. It’s the pregame and halftime shows, it’s the party atmosphere, it’s the gathering of friends either in person or virtually, and yes, it’s the food.

As I’ve told many a friend over the years, it doesn't matter if you’re coming or not, but I’m putting on a spread. The food is part to enjoy the game and part to celebrate the end of the football season, so if they last another 3 days in the fridge, so be it.

You also don’t have to be much of a cook to put on a spread either, and there are sales everywhere this weekend at grocery stores. It doesn't need to be gourmet quality; in fact, the cheaper the better. You're looking for decent bar-food quality, a good variety, and foods that are great to grab during a timeout that don't require using a lot of utensils. Here, for example, are some of the foods I’ll be having:

  • RIBS: Giant has St. Louis Style ribs for only $1.77 a pound. For $7, there will be plenty of ribs for the two of us for the next two days. Never cooked them? First thing to remember is whatever directions are on the package, ignore them. I once bought a pack of these same St. Louis ribs and the instructions said 90 minutes of cooking. They were only off by about 7 hours. Pork tastes best when cooked low and slow, so this afternoon, make up a dry rub of stuff like brown sugar, chili powder, salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, garlic powder and onion powder. Coat both sides and let it sleep in the fridge until morning. Put them in at 215 and let them cook 7 hours. At that point, pull them out and coat with BBQ sauce. They should be falling off the bone. If not, throw them back in another hour. But that’s it. You need no cooking skill. Giant also has pork shoulders for 99 cents a pound if you want barbecue instead. Here's how you would cook that.
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I Knew One Day This Would Come Back And Bite Me

Well, I knew this was going to come back and bite me in the backside.

When the pandemic first started, one of the other major worries besides finding toilet paper and paper towels was the fact that hair salons and barber shops were closed. Since I was just about due to get a haircut when they were shuttered until late spring, I ended up going close to six months without a haircut.

That’s not that huge a problem if you’re an old man that never leaves the house. You just put on a baseball cap when you go to the grocery store and nobody notices your hair now makes you look like Sly and the Family Stone with patches of gray and perhaps and area or two of thinning coverage.

But for women, I have learned, it’s different.

I have always thought that men’s hair just starts to turn gray at a younger age than women’s hair, because you really don’t see women graying until a good 10 or 20 years after men do. I attributed it to factors men face, for example, maybe job stress.

I have now learned the reason should be attributed to a bunch of chemicals in a bottle, administered at a salon.

At least in my house, that’s how some of those “highlights” were darkened. While my wife could administer that herself while salons were closed, she could not cut her own hair. So she one day asked me to.

“It’s a trap,” my brain told me. “Like asking if this dress makes me look fat.”

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A Memory Of When You Could Disagree And Still Get Along

One of the reasons it’s now been a month since I’ve dropped all participation in social media is how the world has changed. Everything is absolute: You’re either a good guy (if you believe as we believe) or a  bad guy (if you believe as those OTHER people do).

There is no in-between.

Truth be told, by whatever standard you measure, some of the most successful people I’ve met have a little bit of both angel and devil in them. I know personally, I am capable of doing wonderful and generous things for others, but as my wife will freely tell you, I’m also capable of biting somebody’s head off in certain situations.

I think all of us, to a certain degree, are that way.

This reminds me of a story I wrote several years ago about a very successful person named Mitchell Gold. We both illustrated these traits, didn’t get along, yet respected each other. I’m not sure that would happen now, but since it was a really good story I think you’d enjoy, and even involves me getting an autograph from a dog, I’m going to rerun it.

Here is a tale of two hard-headed people, a furniture-signing dog, and kindness:

One of the great things about having a child is realizing they have no idea what you’ve done in life. It’s as if they think you’ve never left the house, and if you did, you certainly didn’t meet anyone interesting.

Such was the case Sunday when my daughter was reading The Washington Post Magazine. The cover story was about a businessman and gay activist by the name of Mitchell Gold, and I mentioned I’d like to read it to see how he was doing.

“You KNOW him?” my daughter asked, as if I had just grown a second head.

“Of course I do,” I replied, as apparently my daughter didn’t notice I had left the house for 25 years and worked in the furniture industry, allowing me to meet a lot of interesting people, including one Mitchell Gold. “He and I never got along, but he’s a good guy. He even built a piece of furniture for us that he customized just for you.”

Since she was 5 at the time, I suppose it was fair she didn’t totally recall all of that. So I began telling her the story of Mitchell Gold, and it immediately bought to mind how different times are from way back then. These days, you couldn’t disagree with someone the way Mitchell and I did back in 2000 and survive.

That’s because according to the rules of social media today, it seems that if you disagree with someone, they have to die. You have to destroy them. There is no middle ground. They need to lose their job, lose their career and be branded with a scarlet letter if you have a different view. Disliking them and respecting them at the same time is not allowed.

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After Beating UVA, Tonight's Loss To Pitt Makes No Sense

On paper, tonight’s 83-72 loss to Pitt makes no sense.

A week ago, Virginia Tech beat Notre Dame handily on the road. Saturday, that same Notre Dame team went to Pittsburgh and beat Pitt by 26 while the Hokies upset No. 8 Virginia. On paper, the game shouldn’t have been close.

On the court, however, Pitt executed a strategy that beat the Hokies like a drum in the second half, and it showed that when Virginia Tech is having a tough night from outside the 3-point arc, you can disrupt their offense and frustrate the heck out of them.

I know they certainly frustrated the heck out of me.

Usually, teams try to beat up on Keve Aluma and try to get him out of his game, and given his superlative 29-point game against Virginia Saturday, I expected the paint at Pitt to be more like Octagon. Aluma didn’t seem bothered, in part thanks to the play of Justyn Mutts, as he proved to be a strong additional presence under the rim so when Pitt doubled Aluma, Mutts picked up the scoring.

It was 31-31 at halftime, but the scoresheet showed a glaring problem that would be even more evident in the second half: Only 3 players scored for the Hokies, with Mutts and Aluma combining for 22 of the 31 points. The other 9 were from Jalen Cone on 3 3-pointers, and while nice, they were a bit of a mixed bag.

The first Cone 3-pointer was so far off the mark, it bounced off the square and banked in, while the other two were where Cone needs to consistently get to. He went straight up, launched a shot where there was enough spacing that he had a clear look at the basket, and the result looked like the Jalen Cone of old. Unfortunately, he shot several more that looked like the more recent Cone, hurrying his shot, firing them up on the move, and shooting even with heavy defensive pressure on him. He missed those other six shots and didn’t score in the second half.

The rest of the backcourt had an even rougher night. The shots weren’t dropping, they didn’t compensate by driving to the basket and trying to draw fouls, and at times looked lost. Wabissa Bede was 0-5. Nahlem Alleyne was 1-8. Hunter Cattoor was 4 of 10. The entire team was 9 for 30 from the 3-point arc.

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Looks Like The Circle Is Being Completed...

This is going to be one of those circle of life stories, only more like “circle of snow.”

Last week I was concerned about weather forecasts saying if everything worked out right, we could be getting one of those 12-inches-or-more snows that seem to come along the mid-Atlantic every 5 years or more. Those concerns were heightened in December when we got a little nuisance snow of a couple of inches, and I discovered my snowblower would not start.

In the cul de sac I live in, snow is the one thing that brings everybody together. In this day and age of automatic garage door openers, it’s not unusual to not see any of your neighbors unless we’re all headed out to the mailbox to get the mail at the same time. People pull in their garages, hit the button, close the door behind them, then go into their homes.

But when it snows, we’re all out there taking care of our driveways and usually helping each other. The three of us who are out there the most are myself, my neighbor Joe, and my other neighbor Kevin. When I first moved here, I was out shoveling when I noticed my neighbor Frank was also out trying to shovel. I was a 40-something person at the time, and Frank was 60-something, so I walked over to him and said “would you mind if I started doing your driveway?”

I explained I didn’t want to see him get hurt over-exerting himself, and quite honestly, he didn’t seem to like it. But I explained how people showed my Dad similar kindness in his later years when I was nowhere around, and it was something I really wanted to do. He understood, and from that point on, I always got his driveway and sidewalk as if it were my own. He’d come out in the first few years and offer to help, but I’d always say no thanks and ask him to go back inside and enjoy a hot cup of coffee. In the spring, he and his wife would always take me and my wife out to dinner to thank us for doing it, but it wasn’t necessary.

It was a simple matter of courtesy and respect.

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This Was One Goodbye Column I Did Not Want To Read

There has always been something special to me about the Roanoke Times.

Well, until now.

I say this because decades ago when dinosaurs roamed the planet, I worked my way through college writing about sports for various weeklies. A few months after graduating from Virginia Tech, however, I got the call that changed the arc of my life: The Roanoke Times morning paper and Roanoke World-News had combined into one all-day paper, and the former sports editor of the afternoon World News – Bob McLelland – had suffered a health issue.

He covered high school sports, and while he was recuperating, they needed someone immediately. After a few interviews, I was asked when can you start? I was working for my old friend Jerry Ratcliffe in Danville, and his response was “we’ll figure it out. Go now if you want.”

So I did.

Having just turned 22, I was pretty fired up. I was going to be working for a big daily, and in the same department as many of the writers whose stories I had studied over the years every morning when I picked up the paper.

I drove down Campbell Avenue that first day, walked in the front doors and was told to take the elevators to the third floor. There I met the people whose bylines I had read so often, finally putting a name with a face. I was assigned a desk right near a 26-year-old guy by the name of Doug Doughty, along with others like Jack Bogaczyk, Steve Waid, Dennis Latta and wonderful editors like Rick Maas, Newton Spencer, Tony Stamus and of course the big guy, Bill Brill.

These are the people who taught me to write, and by example, taught me how to be a professional.

I also met someone else that day, the lady in personnel who tells you about all your benefits, makes you sign all the papers so you’ll get paid, and gives you the employee handbook you’re suppose to look at every now and then. Her name was Debbie.

We’ll have been married 40 years in March.

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One Man's Peasant Food Is Another Man's Comfort Food

If you live up in my neck of the woods, there’s snow on the ground. Yesterday there was too, and tomorrow and the day after there will probably be snow outside as well.

Since we’re all stuck inside with no place to go (that’s certainly not a new experience), one of the topics that usually pops up in these situations is comfort food. Specifically how people love to make it and eat it when it’s cold, icy and snowy outside.

I find the term comfort food to be one of the most misused and abused terms in the food world. By my count, everything ever cooked except steak, lobster and caviar is considered a comfort food. If you at some time in your life liked it and didn’t have to mortgage the house for the ingredients, it’s a comfort food.

About 90 percent of what’s described as comfort food in my experience is laughable, but then again, my experience is colored by a mother who cooked as well as Taco Bell makes…well, anything. My Dad was the cook (he passed that on to me) so comfort food was pretty much whatever he made.

As a result, when people wax on about chicken soup being comfort food, I think of something awful that came out of a red and white can. Meatloaf? Growing up, I’d rather take a bite out of the guy singing “Paradise By The Dashboard Lights.” Beef Stew? Ours was Dinty Moore’s cheapest variety of mushy ingredients, covered in a brown, motor-oil-like gravy.

You get the picture.

The old man had a philosophy of comfort food that I’m not sure isn’t a good way to look at it. He thought – probably because he was really good at cooking it – that Italian food was the ultimate comfort food. He also made a distinction between the kind of food his father grew up with in the Potenza region of Italy in a town called Melfi, and what people in this country have long viewed as Italian food.

The stuff he was raised on – and loved – he referred to as “peasant food.” Where his Dad grew up, there wasn’t much money, meaning there was virtually no meat in dishes, you grew your own tomatoes and spices like basil and oregano, and you got your best flavor from using the freshest of ingredients you could find. He said once Italians came to America, meat and other ingredients were much more available, and it changed how a lot of dishes were made.

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But Dad, You Just Don't Understand....

At 7 AM this morning, there was something beautiful going on here in Ashburn, as snow continued to fall since starting some time during the night. It was peaceful too, as the falling snow acts as nature’s soundproof barrier and blocks off all the noise of the world.

Well, it was until a certain hound let out a blood-curdling scream of a bark that made people wonder if my backyard had become a crime scene.

My house is situated right off a bike path that runs along my backyard’s fence. On the other side is a protected nature reserve, where there is a big creek for rain to run off into, and as a result draws far more animals than you routinely see in a metro area. It’s not surprising to see groups of deer, frogs, snakes, hawks, squirrels, racoons and several other species just roaming the area as if it were their home.

This morning, a new type of animal made an appearance. Sauntering down the bike path like it was just wandering home after an all-night bender was a small red fox, occasionally looking up at the snow like it was annoyed by this white stuff falling in his eyes. Those eyes opened just a little wider when his presence was discovered by my dog Maggie.

I call Maggie a WonderBeagle because that’s what she looked like as a 7-pound puppy, but when her legs grew to the size of a giraffe, we realized she was a different breed: An American Foxhound. Maggie is the gentlest, sweetest dog I’ve ever owned, but the AKC web pages on the breed warn when it is in pursuit of something it wants – namely a fox – it genetically can’t control itself and won’t listen to commands.

The AKC wasn’t kidding, as I watched this domesticated hound that sits on the sofa and watches television like a teenager turn into the Tasmanian Devil. The fox – showing it may be a bit of a jerk in the animal world – calmly stared at Maggie as she’s trying to break down the backyard fence, almost giving it a wry smile before slowly trotting off into the snowy woods.

It was if it were saying “my work here is done.”

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I'm Still Stunned And Can't Believe What I Just Saw

We’ve all been hearing it for months about Virginia Tech’s basketball team.

You know what I mean. That sentence that says “yeah, Virginia Tech is good. But wait until they play someone really good.” When the Hokies beat No. 3 Villanova, that was supposedly because Villanova was playing it’s third game in 4 days. When they beat Duke, it was because Duke was having an off year.

Even when they beat Notre Dame Wednesday on the road, it was “Mike Brey has retired and just hasn’t told anyone.” Wait, they said, until you play someone good like Virginia.

I guess we can now stop waiting.

The Hokies clobbered the Cavaliers 65-51, who are still in first place in the ACC and hadn’t lost a league game in so long, it came back when you could walk into a grocery store and buy toilet paper and paper towels, all you wanted, with no limits. With plenty of inventory to choose from.

Even playing without their leading scorer for the second game in a row, the Hokies sent UVA packing with an L for the first time since the Cavaliers lost to Louisville on Feb. 8, 2020. The Cavaliers also beat Virginia Tech twice in 2020 with a combination of tough defense, slow tempo, and completely suffocating the Hokie offense, holding them to 39 points in one game, 53 in the other.

Which kind of seemed to be UVA’s plans for the evening tonight too.

It certainly seemed like the same was going to happen when Virginia held a 42-34 lead with 13 minutes left in the game after Sam Hauser hit yet another of the circus 3-pointers UVA had launched all night that looked more like desperation passes, yet went right through the net.

Virginia Tech’s Keve Aluma, conversely, was apparently having a game so good, his teammates seemed to be standing around and just watching. Other than Aluma, ball movement wasn’t great, outside shots weren’t falling, and the only thing standing between the Hokies and a trip to the woodshed of biblical proportions was Aluma.

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He Uttered 105 Words, But All I Heard Was "I Care"

One of the great things about technology these days is you don’t have to sit around for an hour or more to listen to radio shows, particularly if all you want to hear is an interview of a particular player or coach. All you have to do is wait a day, and someone, somewhere will transcribe it.

Such is the case for a radio program called Tech Talk Live, and I was particularly interested in Virginia Tech Coach Mike Young’s reaction to the indefinite suspension of Tyrece Radford.’s Jake Lyman did not disappoint, posting this transcription of the entire show.

Young’s answer when asked about Radford did not disappoint either. It was pretty close to what I expected he would say, and the reason I earlier this season wrote a story saying I would run through a wall for Young if I was one of his players.

(NARRATOR: It was also the story I texted a link for to Cindy Farmer about, with the words “I really am impressed with your prom date." That led to me writing this story, and it’s been the most read story on the site this year. But I digress….)

“The first thing you want to see is that he’s contrite,” Young said on the show. “He recognizes it, and he’s a good man. He made a poor decision, needless to say. We’re working through some things. There are a lot of things that I can’t talk about here. I love that man, and I will not turn my back on him. I believe in him. I feel awful and Tyrece Radford feels awful. We will support him and hang in there with him. Time will tell how it all plays out. His best interests are at heart as we try to work through this.”

It reminded me of a conversation I had one late night after a high school football game with a very successful coach who I think the world of. Having come from the corporate world, he and I were talking about the art of managing people, and how it compared to coaching young athletes.

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Sun Is Shining A Little Brighter In Ashburn, Thanks To Riverboat Ron

It’s cold and gray outside this morning. It’s going to get colder. There’s even suppose to be a foot of snow on the ground by the end of the weekend.

Something, I thought, needs to happen to brighten the day.

That “something” turned out to be the Rivera family announcing the best news I think anyone could hear: “Thank you all for the love and prayers,” Washington Coach Ron Rivera’s daughter posted on social media. “Just got off the phone with mom and dad leaving the hospital and @RiverboatRonHC is officially cancer free.”

Two of the greatest words I think you can ever hear put together: Cancer free.

I doubt there are any diseases people think positively about, but when it comes to the most hated of them all, cancer is the one most deserving of burning in the fires of hell. It’s an awful disease that is not some theoretical condition that you read about involving others. It’s personal, and it seems like it ends up touching everyone in some way.

I’ve lost friends to it, I’ve watched my own father battle it, I’ve seen people who have made bad life decisions get it (like by smoking 3 packs of cigarettes a day) and I’ve seen perfectly healthy people who eat right, exercise every day and never touch any of the world’s vices get it.

It transforms the notion of the freedom to do whatever you want into a case where every sentence regarding the future starts with the word “if.” As if it weren’t evil enough in the first place, it also seems to have a nasty habit of taunting people through the ebbs and flows of its attack on the human body.

When my Dad was fighting it, some days we’d hear the cancer had aggressively grown, and he might not be around in a week. Then a few days later we’d hear the treatment had worked, and things looked good. It seemed like it was cancer’s way of saying “don’t take me for granted or I will have to show you who is running this show.”

Which is why I hate cancer so much. Cancer is a jerk. Cancer is perpetually invited to look at the mistletoe hanging from my back belt loop and kiss my backside. Cancer has robbed me of friends I hoped to tell juvenile jokes to and remember the old days with for many years to come.

Cancer sucks.

Because of this, I find myself rejoicing even when it’s a total stranger ringing the bell to tell the world you’ve finished your final treatment. It also signals that person is one tough individual, who has been to the mat with the 800-pound gorilla of medicine, and sent it away crying for it’s mom.

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