Happy Thanksgiving! I Might Be OCD! (No, I’m Sure Of It Now.)

I love holidays. This is tied very closely to my love for traditions and seasons, which I think, is tied very closely to my need for order and predictability. Let me explain.

My desk is very neat and very regimented. Everything has a place, and everything is in its place – all the time. I don’t like things to be drifting into areas where they do not belong, because, well, that’s not where they belong. When something is displaced, I notice and return it immediately. There is order in my universe.

My orderly universe

I also love the seasons, especially the changing of the seasons. I like how there’s a definitive start and stop date to seasons, and I ensure that my personal routines adhere to this framework as much as possible. For example, I will not turn on the heat in the house before November 1st – period. That’s when my heating season starts. On the other side of the year, I will not turn on the air conditioning until June 1st. Every fall, I neatly fold my “summer clothes,” tee shirts, shorts, etc., and box them away in the closet until spring, replacing them in my dresser with the sweatshirts that had been stored away for the previous six months. I guess this is my way of marking the passage of the seasons, and thus the passage of time, in an orderly, disciplined manner.

Likewise, my holiday schedule is similarly regimented. Halloween decorations are to be displayed from October 1-31 only, because September isn’t Halloween season yet and November is Thanksgiving season. So, on November 1st every year, the Halloween decorations return to their boxes and the Thanksgiving decorations go up. On the day after Thanksgiving, “Black Friday,” I can’t be bothered with shopping, because that is the day when the Thanksgiving decorations must go away, being replaced by the Christmas decorations. (While we decorate, my wife and I prepare a second, smaller Thanksgiving meal, because we rarely get enough leftovers from the actual feast.) Because of the sheer number of decorative items and the degree of difficulty involved (the tree alone may take hours to adorn satisfactorily), I allow Friday and Saturday to complete this task. But be assured, by the end of the Saturday after Thanksgiving, it is done. Christmas season officially ends for me on January 1st. On that day, all the Christmas decorations will come down and be stored away for the year. This act officially ends my holiday season.

But really, it goes farther than this. During the various holiday seasons, there are certain activities that I must engage in, or else I’ll feel like I’ve missed out on a key component. For example, I must watch all of the original Charlie Brown specials in their appropriate season (The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown Thanksgiving & Charlie Brown Christmas).

I must also see all of the other TV specials from when I was a child (The Grinch, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph, etc.)  I must also watch Alastair Sims’ 1951 version of A Christmas Carol.

"It's not convenient - and it's not fair!"

Now back to Thanksgiving. Today, I will wake up and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC. I will not pay much attention to the Broadway nonsense and endless interviews with actors from struggling NBC television shows, but I will become increasingly focused during the last 90 minutes as the ratio of inflatables to dancers picks up. I will attempt to interest my (now teenage) children in this and they will be less than excited (but that’s part of the tradition, too).

At the end of the parade, I will not take my eyes from the screen until Santa has disappeared. This may take a few minutes, as he continues to smile, wave and Ho, Ho, Ho as the credits roll for what seems like forever. But he is Santa, so I will wait.

After the parade, the television goes to football, where I must watch the Detroit Lions valiantly struggle against their inevitable fate, almost as if they were the central character in a Greek tragedy. Struggle they may, but in the end, they will be vanquished by whatever team is lucky enough to be playing them (this year it’s the Packers). At halftime, my wife, our children and I will leave our home and make the short drive to her mother’s home, where the Lions game will be waiting for us. Watching the Detroit Lions lose is also an important part of my Thanksgiving routine.

About the time the Lions’ opponents are running out the clock, dinner will be served; the fare is predictable and correct to the holiday. During the meal the television will be switched over to the Cowboys game, but I feel that this game is more peripheral to the day, and so I watch it with less intensity, often times dozing off. Eventually, the “let’s get ready to go home,” noises start to be made, the children are rounded up, and we, with a few token leftovers as souvenirs, make our way home to prepare for the work ahead of us on Friday and Saturday.

With all of this having been accomplished, with each benchmark having been achieved, I will feel satisfied that one season has successfully passed into another, and I didn’t miss anything in the process. It will have been a good Thanksgiving.

I wish an equally wonderful Thanksgiving for each of you today.

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It’s Not Going To Be Easy, But Here’s How The Ravens Make The Playoffs

After watching the Bengals sweep Pittsburgh yesterday, it occurred to me that the Ravens losses have been to Cincinnati, and at New England and Minnesota. Maybe they’re not really that bad, they’re just not elite. And we’ve all seen teams that were not considered elite sneaking into the playoffs and then going deep into January (actually, that would include last season’s Ravens). Having given it due consideration, the Ravens still have a path to the postseason, but it’s a narrow path. Here’s the way I see it:

These things are a given: The Patriots will win the AFC East, the Bengals will win the AFC North  and the Colts will win the AFC South. Either the Broncos or the Chargers will win the AFC West.

What’s still fuzzy are the two Wild Cards. Here are the teams still in the picture: NY Jets, Miami, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Jacksonville, Houston and the loser of the AFC West race. Of those seven, I’m going to dismiss the Jets and the Dolphins out of hand. [Rex Ryan & Tony Sparano quietly leave through the door in the back of the room.]

Jacksonville and Houston, both 5-3, are facing games against San Francisco, New England, Indianapolis and each other. Both are unexpectedly in contention, and I suspect that at least one of them will succumb under the weight of late-season pressure. However, I also expect the AFC South survivor to earn one of the two Wild Card berths.

The loser of the AFC West race, either Denver or San Diego, each now with three losses, will very probably finish with six or seven. The Ravens have beaten both of these teams, and so have the first tiebreaker, effectively eliminating a threat from the AFC West.

This leaves the real threat to the Ravens’ Wild Card chances, the detested Steelers. The two haven’t met yet, and if one team sweeps the other, that will likely be enough to get that team into the playoffs. This is obviously true of Pittsburgh, which only has three losses, but it is also true of the Ravens, and here’s why:

If the Ravens win the games they’ll be expected to (Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Oakland) that’s eight wins. That leaves two games against Pittsburgh, plus Indy and a visit to Green Bay. Baltimore needs to win at least two of these games, in addition to the others. Of these four, because of the power of the tiebreaker, the two games against the Steelers mean more than matchups with the Colts and the Packers. In other words, beating the Colts and Packers will not mean as much to the playoff math as will the Steelers’ games.

(Of course, if the Ravens lose to the Browns tonight, I will quickly and politely escort them to that door in the back of the room.)

It must be galling to Rex Ryan to have lost to Jacksonville in the way he did. Rex has spent every minute since he arrived in New York talking about a new culture epitomized by defensive toughness. The defensive “genius” imported Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard to jump start that new culture, and now, a defense that looked so good early on is costing him games the Jets should have won. I guess getting away from football for a week didn’t solve all of the Jets’ problems, and now the rookie head coach will have to try and get inside the heads of the head cases he encouraged. I suspect Ryan will become less and less mouthy as the season wears him down. Lesson: Don’t make yourself a target until you’re sure you can deflect the arrows. Didn’t Rex learn anything from watching his Dad’s example?

Isn’t it amazing how excellent Ravens’ linebackers fade into obscurity once they leave the team? And we’re talking about players who were supposed to be game-changers with their new teams. Let’s see, there’s Jamie Sharper, Edgerton Hartwell, Adalius Thomas and now Bart Scott. Am I forgetting anyone?

Watching Tom Brady take apart the Colts last night gave me hope for this Sunday; of course, the Ravens aren’t the Patriots. I’m also pretty sure Peyton Manning is going to light up our secondary. The Colts’ defense is so much weaker without Bob Sanders, it’s amazing. It’s kind of the way the Steelers suffer without Troy Polamalu. I’m starting to consider strong safety the most second most important position in the NFL. By the way, I put that loss entirely on Bill Belichek, the new spokesman for Bad Idea Jeans.  His decision to go for the first down on his own 30 yard-line has to be one of the riskiest moves in recent memory, and it rightfully blew up in his face. Think about this – if Mark Clayton catches that pass, the Pats might be sitting at 5-4.

Trying to handicap the NFC makes my head hurt. The Giants and Falcons  are awesome, the Giants and Falcons suck. The Cowboys are a joke, the Cowboys are pretty good, the Cowboys suck. The Cardinals and the Panthers are pathetic, the Cardinals are going to run away with their division and the Panthers are beating some pretty good teams. The Packers are average, good, terrible, beating Dallas. Come to think of it, maybe the Ravens should play in the NFC…