Taming of the crew
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Hearing someone tell you about an IRS audit is like watching someone getting hit in the groin during a game. It's very personal. You feel it yourself. You go, "oooh!"
Thus I had an entire slate of mailbag letters without a single rip, imagine. Poor devil, life's tough enough, better leave him alone this week. I appreciate all the expressions of sympathy I received, all the words of comradeship, including the advice from Paul O. in West Hartford, Conn., who explained my legal recourse.
And I guess you're waiting to hear how it went. I will not disappoint you. First, a little background. My twin audits of a decade ago were conducted by a young man who was a reader of mine. The first thing he told me was, "I sure wish I had your job instead of mine." During each of the audits he told me, "Well, I've got to take something away from you or I'll get in trouble." We worked it out. Basically painless.
No such luck this time. (The Flaming Redhead has just cautioned me against getting too frisky when writing about the IRS, especially while the audit is still going on. Why is it still going on? I'll get to that.) The audit was conducted by a Colombian lady of middle age or perhaps a bit past it. She knows nothing about sports. What she knows about is allowable expenses. She operates by the book.
I tried a bit of the old charm on her. I told her my daughter had worked for three years in Nicaragua, exaggerating by a year, and had loved it, etc. She took the news calmly. Yes, fine, let's get to your Schedule A. I ran into immediate trouble with charitable contributions, particularly a load of clothing and household furnishings I had donated to two charities, plus books I had given to a pair of local libraries. We had different interpretations of the estimated value.
At one point she said, "The IRS places a value of 10 cents on each book." For the only time during the long day, I came close to losing it.
"Ten cents?" I practically screamed. "There was a set of Encyclopedia Britannicas in practically mint condition. There was a leatherbound set of H.G. Wells. Ten cents is ridiculous." She said we'd get back to it later.
There was a lot of basic stuff I had neglected to bring, mainly because I hadn't read the poop sheet carefully enough. We struggled through without it. Hour after hour dragged by. We broke for lunch. Make that she had lunch, I sat in an adjoining room and frantically scribbled. More hours. Fatigue set in. Finally, she threw her hands up.
"This is impossible," she said. "You'll have to come back again with all the required information." We set a new date for the follow-up. It's next Monday.
"How about the charitable contributions?" I said. She waved her hand wearily. "I'll allow them," she said. "I'll let them go."
Oddly enough, the thing I got nailed on was something that had never crossed my mind: The Redhead's art-supply expenses. According to this lady, it all goesdown as "inventory," stuff that's still in Linda's possession, therefore not a loss, meaning not a deductible expense. It goes into a new category, then when she sells something, the paint leaves along with the painting, so it becomes a loss. Do you understand this? Good, then explain it to me.
I'll get off this depressing topic now. Round 2 of a two-round fight lies ahead.
Quick question: When I threw out the suggestion that I cut back on personal stuff here, i.e., restaurants, wine, the Redhead, etc., as some grumps had demanded, the response was overwhelmingly in favor of my allowing them to remain (and I am very grateful for the support), so let me lay another query on you. Would it be better to put all that stuff in its own little box that you'd click on to reach, in other words ghetto-ize it (don't think Linda would like that, stuck away with all those corks and tablecloths) or should I just mix it in with the football stuff as I've been doing? Which would, of course, make these columns inordinately long, as this one will be now. Let me know, please. And away we go into our little fantasyworld.
Jim of Covelo, Calif., writes about a "tiny little out of the way winery in Philo, Calif.," called Lazy Creek that's won a few prestigious awards. You're right, Jim, few people have ever heard of it, but haven't I told you that every year I'm up and down Mendocino County like a bird dog, sniffing out anything that smells of the grape? I spent many a happy afternoon at Lazy Creek when it was run by the old German couple, Hans Kobler and his wife. Used to like to mess around with that gigantic black Labrador they had. Basically a Gewurztraminer house, and very good those Gewurzes were, too, in the dry, spicy European style, rather than like those California juicyfruit numbers. Then the Chandlers took over and I visited them last year. Here are my tasting notes:
1998 Gewurz -- correct spicy style in the nose, alcoholic, citric and fruity on the taste, with a low acid finish.
1998 Chardonnay -- bouquet of sweet citrus and again lots of alcohol, low acid taste with a feel of dead lees.
1998 Pinot Noir -- aromatic and fragrant nose, rose petals and violets, with lots of charm on the taste ... only flaw is a bit of heaviness on the finish, but my favorite wine of the day.
Mary Beth Chandler took me into the cellar for a couple of barrel samples of their '99 Pinot Noir. The one that was cloned from Romanee-Conti vines had a taste of nuts and cherries and dark chocolate; the one in new Alliers oak was a little overbalanced on the oak side but it finished well.
I've just read through all this, and I think that if I'd have read it in a football column somewhere else I'd be hooting right now. What a pretentious bunch of ... Folks, I have to apologize, and I promise I won't get this carried away again. But I do love the old vino and have been into it for many, many years.
Going from the sublime to the ridiculous, Jim wants to know how I feel about the Browns. "Has Butch Davis righted many of the errors of the Palmer administration?" I don't think they're near .500 yet. RB corps still sub-par, but I like that big blocking machine they picked up from the Skins, Mike Sellers. Ditto DT Mark Smith and G/T Ross Verba. Too soon to evaluate Davis. I don't like their No. 1 draft, Gerard Warren.
To Andrew of Toronto: The Colts will advance in the playoffs when their defense catches up to their offense.
A strength-of-schedule question from Matt of Coralville, Iowa, and I thank you for your kind words. The basic flaw in playing the strength-of-schedule game is that it's based on past performance, and a team that was good last year might be nowhere this season. Strength of schedule should be determined after the season, not before it, and even then there are twists. Dick Vermeil said it best when someone once asked him about a .500 team he'd faced. "Well, maybe we helped make 'em .500." Finally, Matt wants me to rank the divisions "both currently and historically." The latter is too tough. They rise and fall. I'd say that the AFC East was the strongest down-the-line division last year, the NFC West the worst, the AFC Central the most out of balance, just like some of the wines we have here in New Jersey, with two great teams on the top and two dogs on the bottom.
More nice sentiments from George of Houston -- and I thank him-- who wants to know how I'd build a good running offense today. By working on it from Day One in camp, probably even in mini-camp, and giving it a heavier share of the allotted practice time. It takes work and timing. It can't be a mere afterthought to the passing game.
Dave of McLean, Va., thinks the Redskins will be a lot better than people think and is annoyed that everyone's jumping on the Giants and Eagles bandwagons. Sorry, Dave, but I don't much like the Skins. I was heavily in Jeff George's corner earlier in his career. Now I think he's a coach-breaker. Wideout corps has lost too much, and if Michael Westbrook goes down again, then it's rookie Rod Gardner and a bunch of backup types. O-line not as good as you think. Running game hurt by the loss of Sellers. Don't like the losses on defense, either, especially Kalu and MLB Smith. Darrell Green's got to hit the wall sometime. Could it be this year? Then they'd better hope that Freddie Smoot is great. The Deion situation is a joke.
To Matt of Miramar, Calif.: I don't agree with you about Cincy making the playoffs, but if I'm wrong, I'll buy you one of those famous Miramar shore dinners. Congratulations on having your own Flaming Redhead at home. They're really something, aren't they?
Dan of Croton, N.Y., pays me the ultimate compliment: "You are a credit to your profession." I am going to bring this in to my IRS audit next week and see if that impresses the lady. (Nothing else seems to.) It'll be the old battle of credits vs. debits. Dan wants to know why everyone gets hysterical in their rips of last year's Giants rookie, Ron Dayne. Well, I ripped him, too, for a while, but then I got off it because he's a nice, humble kid and enough's enough already. What I don't like is that he wasn't the kind of back who made anything happen, plus he was a dud in short yardage. Part two: How did I like the Kenny Holmes pickup? Loved it. He was better than Kearse last year. How much will the Giants miss Christian Peter? A good, sturdy, two-gapper, but if they had to lose somebody, he's the most logical guy because Cornelius Griffin should be very good. Giants' D in general is good, but a shade behind the Ravens' and Bucs' units, I believe. Will they continue their dominance over the Eagles? Has to end some time, doesn't it?
Fred of Apex, N.C., supplies a joke, which I will repeat in its entirety: Why was the ink drop crying? Because her father was in the pen and she didn't know how long the sentence would be. For critical evaluation of aforesaid joke, I turned to the Flaming Redhead. First reaction: "Uhhhh." Second reaction: "Hey, that's pretty clever." His question: Are the dual roles of coach and GM too much for one man these days, specifically Mike Sherman of the Packers? I believe they are because free agency has made the general manager's job more time consuming. I agree with Fred that Bill Parcells was weak in personnel, but I thought Jimmy Johnson had a good touch. Thanks, incidentally, for your kind sentiments.
Chad of Savannah tells a long, hilarious story of an IRS debt of $14 plus 27 cents interest. Too long to repeat here, but I keep getting statements from Dean Witter about the seven cents in my daughter's account. I send it to a different person each time with the notation, "My ship, she's come in at last!" Chad asks if we'll ever see an 18-game schedule preceded by two exhibition games. Hope not. Lengthening the schedule will cause more injuries. The current formula is a money-making thing, based on salaries during preseason and regular season.
Lots of questions from Nik of Brentwood, Essex, England, none of which involve the rugby pitch. Hand-wringing about the Bears. I agree with you. Dismal. Is new personnel man Jerry Angelo going to rescue the franchise? Well, it's too late this year. He has to be an improvement, though, having picked up some nifty players in Tampa Bay. What do I hear about Cade McNown? Nothing good. Can James Stewart carry the workload by himself? Well, he did in Detroit. It might have been a good move to pick up one of those Denver runners, but the price was awfully high. Finally, Nik adds a little British hijinks -- "Your missus is a stunner, by the way." I let her answer these comments herself. "You mean a stumbler," she says.
Stu of New Orleans has "written a few times, never made it through," so to make up for lost time he supplies a basket of questions. "Pick the ones you like," he says. Hey, I like 'em all. I like everything this week since the rippers are on vacation. Numero uno -- How would I rank the old Dome Patrol LB corps of the Saints, namely Vaughn Johnson, Rickey Jackson, Pat Swilling and Sam Mills, on the all-time list? Greatest quartet ever. I had picked each one on my All-Pro team at some point in his career. Mills is a definite Hall of Famer. A genius out there. Held everything together, made everyone around him better. Hard to rank them against a three-man unit, though, because the responsibilities are different. Wait a minute. I'm forgetting the Giants' quartet of Taylor, Banks, Headen and Carson. Yeah, I guess that's No. 1 but the Saints' guys are close. Numero dos -- New Orleans restaurants. It's been a while since I've been there. My two favorites were K-Paul's when it first opened and the Caribbean Room of the Hotel Pontchartrain when Albert Aschaffenburg was running things. Thanks for your sleeper. I've got one, too, also on Magazine -- Casamento's. For fried oysters. Tres -- Can't just start snapping off wines per se. If you're a beginner and you want a start-up white, try the Caymus Conundrum. Finally, quatro -- you want an intermediate-level football ed book. Try one of Bill Walsh's semi-technical efforts. P.S.: Thanks for your kind words.
Thanks to Paul O. of West Hartford for the IRS info. Might come in handy. (I was going to drop a slight tee-hee in there -- "Know any terrorists?" -- but in these troubled times, such levity would land me back in prison.) On to football... the problem with Jay Fiedler is that I'm not really sure if he's an accurate enough passer. Matt Hasselbeck has thrown exactly 29 passes in the NFL. Is he great? Who knows? I don't think Dave Wannstedt is ready to give up on Fiedler, and acquiring Hasselbeck would have led one to believe that he is. Finally, Paul admits that he gets homesick for The Swamps of Jersey. Funny thing, I haven't seen too many swamps around here, except for the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge just 10 miles away, but about six months ago a family bought this plot of land around the corner from us, and my neighbors in the know said, "Hee-haw, they're building on a swamp ... they'll find out." As for me, being a city boy, I know zip about real estate unless it's of the asphalt variety, but it is kind of fascinating, watching this very fancy house going up and wondering if, after a heavy rain, it'll start sinking. Flash: Swamp Thang Claims Another One.
To Matt of Rochester, Minn.: Thanks for your sentiments about my offbeat stuff. His question: what coach do I most respect as a personnel evaluator? I hate to say this, but for personnel evaluation I turn to the people who do it full-time. Ron Wolf. At one time Bill Tobin (we'll see if he still has it). Tom Modrak. And a guy who has his own evaluation service, Mike Giddings.
Sunni of Joppatowne, Md. wants to know how to dent the Ravens' secondary. Make them go to nickel backs. Make Rod Woodson run. McAlister, incidentally, is pretty close to All-Pro level on the right corner, and Starks, on the other side, is up and down, but he had a good year. How do Night Train Lane and Lem Barney rank among my all-time corners. I'd call Lane and Willie Brown the two best at the physical, bump-and-run style. My two best at pure coverage are the Niners' J.J. Johnson and Deion, with Barney a shade behind them. Thanks for the tip on Meskerem's, the Ethiopian restaurant in D.C. Yes, I've tasted tej, the honey wine. Had it in an Ethiopian restaurant in NYC called the Blue Nile. Don't exactly remember what it tasted like. I remember a long time ago going to a restaurant in D.C. called AV Ristorante where they had a barrel of Vino Nobile di Montipulciano in front, and you'd go up there and draw a glass for yourself. I think the gimmick was better than the wine, but, as I said, it was a long time ago.
A Raiders fan named Ray, from Franklin, Va., wants to know how I'd stack this vintage up against the old teams of the '70s, how I like them this year and what I think of the Jerry Rice signing. We're talking about rating them within their respective eras, right, not how they'd do if they lined up against each other? Old ones were better. Why? Better players, starting with the QB. I think they'll go about as far this year as they did in '00. The Rice move? Well, Al Davis always has loved to pick up superstars on the downside, i.e., Ron Mix, Bubba Smith, the Boomer, Bob Brown, etc. What he has now is a competent short- to mid-range receiver. But Jerry Rice at age 70 would be better than James Jett right now.
Brad of Cedar Falls, Iowa, wants me to break the Broncos' running back logjam. Wish I could. Wish I knew where to disperse them. Three terrific runners, two of whom have been hurt at some time. Well, you can't get rid of Terrell. That wouldn't play well in the locker room. Mike Anderson is the most durable. Olandis Gary has tremendous courage. Not exactly fair to keep all three ... actually if Terrell is healthy, everyone else rides the pine, except for short relief. Beats me, Brad. I guess if you can get a lot for Gary, that's the way you go. Thanks for heaping such lavish praise upon my work. A silly sentence, I know, but how many times can I say, "Thanks for your kind words?"
To Steve of Seal Beach, Calif.: Your warm sentiments are greatly appreciated. You are welcome in my home any time. Pull up a chair and let the Redhead entertain you. Ah, the question. Why are centers so poorly regarded? Because they feel that a failed tackle, or even guard, can be switched over to center. At one time center was the place where you hid a weak sister. Then Hank Stram stuck a big noseguard on the center (in the '70 Super Bowl) and made him play. Buddy Ryan also covered the center with his 46-defense. Centers usually get help, so their pass-blocking skills are not in such great demand. There have been great pure centers, to be sure, just not a lot of them.
To Chris, a travel writer (um, see me later, please) from Bratislava, Slovakia: Peter King and I both thank you for your nice words. Is that it? OK, so long now. Just kidding, just kidding, and on to your question, which involves short QBs. Name a modern quarterback under 6-feet who ever won a championship? Used to be a standard argument, and to that I'd answer, name a quarterback over 6-3 who ever won one? Well, then Doug Williams had to go and screw up my neat little argument. The point is that the storks are always highly sought after but haven't really been too terrific through the years. But the little guys get a lot of passes batted down, too. Doug Flutie, for instance. Which doesn't mean that I don't root mightily for them. Who's the best short QB ever? Well, I can give you my favorite. Frankie Albert.
Now let's get serious -- the Tokaj wine, commonly known here as Tokay. The all-time second best wine I've ever tasted was an 1868 Imperial Tokaj. Had it at one of the old Heublein Auction tastings. Nectar of the gods. They used to give it to popes to keep 'em alive. Yeah, I know, you want to know what my No. 1 was. A 1934 Burgundy, a Corton, from uh, from, well ... I was very young and I didn't have the brains to find out who the producer was. About 20 years ago I traded Bob Feinn, a Connecticut wine store owner, a case of 1975 Chateau Palmer for one bottle (actually a half bottle) of 1848 Tokaj Essencia. I have yet to find the occasion upon which to drink it. My daughter's wedding, I used to say. But 1) she hasn't gotten married yet; and 2) there would be too many people around. Man, those Tokajs are really something. I'd take a special vacation trip and schlep the Redhead over to Hungary or Slovakia if I knew of a place where they had old Tokajs for sale, at non-millionaire prices. The other wines you mentioned? Well, I've never tasted a Muller Thurgau that was anything more than ordinary. Thanks for your invitation. Actually Linda and I might be hitting Prague for a week next year. Is that close enough to you? Drop a note with your address and phone number to Jimmy here and we'll see what's what. OK? Sorry, everybody, to make this a personal thing, but those Tokajs are like nothing you've ever tasted, I mean the old ones.
Nate of Hamilton, Ind., wants to know what I did to spark such bitter hatred in some of the old rippers, who seem to be comatose this week. Don't really know. Maybe they hate me because I'm overweight. He says I should write bad things about the Cowboys, so he, too, can be a ripper. Funny thing about that. Once I wrote a piece for Sports Illustrated on why everyone hates the Cowboys, myself included. This was during the America's Team period. The Cowboys p.r. department got wind of it and a guy called me. He mentioned the previous pieces of that nature that had been written and said that if it would help me, he would Xerox them and send them along. Which he did. I mean were they ever ahead of the rest of the world in p.r. I ended my piece with: "Why they hate us. Why we love it."
I'm about to plug a book by Dave -- well, I guess I have to use the last name now, right? -- by David Cohen of Haddonfield, N.J., called "Rugged and Enduring," which focuses on five years of football, 1946-50, and how they affected the Eagles and Browns. I would assume it's kind of a playback thing, with the crucial moment being the 1950 meeting between them, which remains one of my favorite games that I've seen. I drove down there from NYC with my mother to see it. I love the topic, Dave. Hell, I love anything about football from that era. Would enjoy reading it. Glad to hear that my "Thinking Man's Guide" and Marion Motley stuff helped you.
Another thank you, this time to Kevin of Tampa, for your kind words. You know what this is starting to sound like? The old Uncle Don radio show that I used to listen to when I was six or seven. Half the show was devoted to merely listing the kids who had a birthday that day, and we remained glued to the radio and collapsed in a kind of delirium when our names were mentioned.
Brian of L.A. has sold a half-hour pilot to cable TV about a retired player who crashes when he must find a life outside of football and wants a few tips on where to research the subject. The best film I've ever seen on that theme was Number One with Charlton Heston. And about 13 years ago I wrote a book with the old Cowboys halfback, Duane Thomas, which covered a lot of his post-football struggles.
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