I rushed into a designer grocery store on Monday, determined to fight my way through panicked consumers in an attempt to acquire the staples needed to assemble my legendary wild rice dish.
The dish, I should note, is a marvelously healthy, vegan-certified side. A little high on the carbs, but gluten-free and nearly bereft of lipids. A splendid accompaniment to just about anything else on the groaning board.
Needless to say, it’s not very popular.
Nor, generally, am I. If you’ve followed these essays, you already know why. “Combative,” “querulous,” “didactic” and “downer” are some of the words that get passed around the table like so much gravy, especially by the in-laws.
It’s in my DNA. Thanksgiving dinner was never easy on Cretin Avenue. Addiction, depression and anger can ruin the appetite of the hungriest gourmand. When I moved to Chicago at the age of 22, I gently lied to my parents, claiming I couldn’t make it home for the holiday weekend.
On the big day I laid down my bets on the NFL games and then drove from Evanston to the Near North to pick up a turkey sandwich and some matzo ball soup at a real delicatessen. Best Thanksgiving ever.
These days, I am slowly learning to enjoy Thanksgiving, but it’s not easy. It would probably be intolerable if not for football. It’s no one’s fault; it’s just that the primal tension is in my veins even if the lipids are not.
A few years ago, I decided to relieve the anxiety by ingesting some gummy bears that a friend had brought back from Colorado. I was flying high and enjoying every bite, but it bothered me that when I tried to make conversation, I kept getting lost between the subject and the predicate.
No one noticed. It wasn’t about me.
And still the tension remains. Now there are three NFL games to bet. Holiday basketball tournaments abound. On Saturday, my alma mater will face heavily favored Wisconsin, and, barring the upset, my beloved rodents will suffer the ignominy of not making a bowl game.
So now I have to worry about both my Vikings and my Gophers failing to achieve a post-season game. When I am trying to enjoy my wild rice, I will be worrying that the bitter loss to the Bears may wind up being the dagger in the bowl-game coffin. Or is that a dagger in the heart? I think I left out the nail; I am so tense these days that I cannot even get the clichés right. How could that happen to someone who was once a sportswriter?
I fret the most for the Gophers. Should they fail to play in December, what will be the effect on the highly-leveraged Athletes Village? Contributions could dwindle from a small stream to a trickle. What would happen if our gladiators have to skulk around the campus like the ordinary students who have to worry about how to pay their tuition or, even worse, how to repay their student loans?
Word gets around and you wake up to find yourself in the MAC conference.
I’m trying to stay upbeat. I’ve got Dec. 26 circled on my calendar. You probably already know that’s the day when the prestigious Quick Lane Bowl is played. Six wins might well get the Gophers to that event. Sid Hartman’s ghostwriter will undoubtedly remind us that the opportunity to spend Christmas in Detroit will be a big recruiting boon, just as it was in 2015, when the six-win locals defeated the behemoths from Central Michigan 21-14, and thus barely covered the spread. (I was, of course, on the wrong side of that wager.)
In my mind, 2015 will always be special, because the Gophers had as many wins vs. Big Ten teams as they did against squads in the mighty Mid-American Conference. Yeah, three apiece.
And just as bitter rivalry games can make a disappointing season a lot more tolerable, a return to the Quick Lane Bowl would make my horrible handicapping year a little less frustrating.
That, I might add, and some edibles smuggled in from Denver, or Boston or anywhere on the West Coast. As it is, I will probably have to comfort in the wild rice.
And now for my failing (0-3 last week) wagers.
Atlanta at New Orleans
These two put up 80 points when they met on Week 3. The Falcons have looked a bit shaky lately, but this rivalry ought to perk them up. Besides, the Saints have averaged 48 points the past three weeks, so maybe the Falcons won’t have to do that much.
The Pick: Saints 44, Falcons 24 — Over 60 for a mythical $50
San Francisco at Tampa Bay
The 49ers have put up a total of 61 points in Nick Mullens’ first two starts, although a lot of that had to do with Matt Breida. Which is fine by me. The X-factor with the Bucs is whether Mike Evans feels like catching the ball. The best factor is that whenever TB changes quarterbacks, the new guy seems to do well for a few games.
Since this is all heading toward an Over pick, I should end this logical but probably doomed rationale by adding that the Bucs are last in passing points allowed per attempt, while the 49ers rank 29th.
The Pick: 49ers 31, Bucs 28 — Over 54 1/2 for $50
New York Giants at Philadelphia
As bad as the Giants have been this year, they’ve been blown out just twice. Once by New Orleans (48-7 last week), and the other time…vs. Philly. They haven’t been defeated by more than a touchdown in any other game.
So I’m taking the six and hoping for a 150-yard game from Barkley — a realistic hope, because he (a) can’t be stopped; and (b) the Eagles can’t stop anyone these days, having allowed an average of 136 yards on the ground in their most recent five contests.
The Pick: Giants 27, Eagles 24 — Giants plus-6 for $50
Miami at Indianapolis
Two weeks ago, the word was that Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill could barely lift a football. Now the Dolphins say his aching shoulder is tip-top. More likely, Adam Gase is coaching for his job, and Tannehill isn’t Brock Osweiler. Meanwhile, Andrew Luck is the hottest quarterback east of Missouri, and it’s no coincidence that his offensive line has finally healed and hasn’t allowed a sack in Luck’s most recent 214 pass attempts.
The Pick: Indianapolis 34, Miami 20 Colts — minus-7 1/2 for $80