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It's four days 'til

January 5, 1996, Columns

Christmas. Will December ever end? The cold, wind-blown mist makes it feel like it's been dark for hours, and it's only 6:30. I'm trying to get home, except all downtown traffic is rerouted through Buda, due to the world's ultimate trailer trash exhibition, The Festival of Lights. Every station on the radio dial, even the grunge shit my kids listen to, is playing holiday music. I'm forced to listen to an entire hour of sports talk radio. By the time I get to my empty, dark home, I'm depressed. Very depressed.

So I call a friend. "Fuck you," she says supportively, "You don't know what depressed is."

"Let's do something," I say, "Anything."

"Want to go to the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar?" She knows I'd rather sit in six hours of traffic, wending its way through Zilker Park, than shop. However, it's that special season.

"Sure," I say cheerfully, "I'll be right over."

On the way over, I hit, hopefully, rock bottom. I hate jazz. On KUT they're playing jazz, the worst sort, the kind with no rhythm, no beat, no words, and no melody. Yet through the screeching horns, vibes, and off-beat percussion, "Jingle Bells" rings through loud and clear.

Walking to the bazaar, said friend informs me we must pay to get in. "What?!," a grumpy old scrooge yelps, "We have to pay a cover charge to go shopping?" Only in Austin will a concept like this fly. Shopping companion has known me a long time. We're in line with festive, stoned holiday shoppers. Not in the mood for an ugly scene, she tells me to keep quiet, she'll pay. Until we get to the window. "$3.50?" she squeaks, like a claustrophobic hamster. "You got to be kidding me!"

Loutishly, I proclaim, "I paid $3.50 to see Jerry Lee Lewis, ya know, the Killer, at the real Armadillo!" This speech feels compelling. I imagine everyone will move promptly from the line and we'll all go someplace else. My passion is checkmated with a bovine-like passivity. My now-belligerent friend says, executing a military about-face, hair swishing perfectly, as only angry women can do, "Let's go. I don't think they're charging a cover at the mall."

Having vented my noxious spleen, I'm prepared to venture into 1996 with these predictions. As a disclaimer, I possess no inside information. I read the same papers and watch the same Sportscenter you do. If anything, my convictions are -- to believe those who claim to know me best -- rigid and stubborn, yet tinged with an illogical swath of erratic, unpredictable whimsy, like "Black shoes make you run slower," that kind of thing. Not a profitable betting combination.

*I underestimated sportsfan anger. I'm not sure baseball will recover, nor does it deserve, the fans lost during the rancorous strike. Though baseball made itself an easy target, this hostility is, like a ripe red pimple, endemic to all pro sports.

*Chicago's 25-3 start has stunned me. Note: the NBA season is very, very long and it's still very, very early. Orlando, losers of only four games during Shaq's absence, are the team to beat in the East. I've seen nothing to indicate the Rockets are not still the best team in the NBA.

*The NFC domination of the Super Bowl is coming to an end, maybe this year.

*The NFL Playoffs: In recent memory, I can't recall when the NFC super powers, Dallas and San Francisco, appear so beatable. Indeed, they're both heavy favorites to win next week, but in each case, the underdogs have a real hope of reaching the Super Bowl themselves. The only good game the 49ers played all year was against Dallas. Most weeks they've looked average, sometimes dreadful. Against Minnesota, late in the season, the league's best defense was so lame, Warren Moon seemed to be working against the Minnesota scout team. On offense, they resembled a good flag football team, so rare was the run. This is not the way 49er teams of yore have dominated the league. The next week, against Atlanta, they looked lost. This uncharacteristic defeat cost them homefield advantage. We all know the story in Dallas. The new party line is, because the Cowboys whipped an awful Arizona team to end the season, everything's peachy. Surely, even Cowboy fans don't buy this. Everything's not okay. Dallas hasn't played well in a long time. Can they turn on a switch and look great again? Are they even the same team which looked so invincible the first half of the season? The answers are, no and no. Are the Packers and Eagles really that improved? Not really. Are we seeing two football dynasties, possibly the last of their kind, in their dying throes: cause of death, free agency and the over centralization of the league? I think so. A Philadelphia-Green Bay championship game is a real possibility. Over in the AFC, my opinions are less passionate and, perchance, a tad more in touch with reality. The Bills certainly won't be bothered by bad weather in Pittsburgh. They will be bothered by the well-rested Steelers. The most overmatched team seems to be the Colts, playing the AFC's best team, outdoors and on the road. The Chiefs are a great home team. n Write me:

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