Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Golf Monster Sundance Preview/Review 2013 Edition!

The 2013 Sundance Film Festival just blew through the area, and left just before a massive snowstorm that's threatening to make life for all of us here in the city very uncomfortable for a few days. For a film lover like yours truly, it's a great opportunity to see some awesome films months and months before anyone else gets to. It's also a great chance to see some really shitty films months before Rotten Tomatoes gets to pile dirt on them. I tend to find, it's usually one or the other. There's rarely a film that plays at this festival where I come out thinking, "meh, it's all right, I guess." And that risk folks makes the $15.00 tickets worth it. You're really on the edge of your seat. I also tend to limit myself to screenings only within walking distance from my condo as parking's a mess this time of year, but as luck would have it, all the Salt Lake City venues fit the bill. I also tend to gravitate towards the films that don't get a ton of mainstream play, so it's pretty rare to have the random celebrity sighting, but once in awhile I get lucky. Here's what I saw this year!

Man Chili makes for a pasty complexion.
Official Sundance Synopsis:  A seemingly wholesome and benevolent family, the Parkers have always kept to themselves, and for good reason. Behind closed doors, patriarch Frank rules the roost with a rigorous fervor, determined to keep his ancestral customs intact at any cost. As a torrential rainstorm moves into the area, tragedy strikes and his daughters Iris and Rose are forced to assume responsibilities that extend beyond those of a typical family. The most important task the girls face is putting meat on the table— but not the kind that can be found at the local supermarket. As the unrelenting downpour continues to flood their small town, local authorities begin to uncover clues that bring them closer to the secret that the Parkers have held closely for so many years.

My Quick Review:  Pretty solid way to kick off the festival this year! This film started off with a vaguely familiar looking lady, Mrs. Parker, puking up a ton of bile and drowning in a large puddle. It wasn't until I got home that I realized that was actually one of the two only really recognizable "stars" in the cast, Kelly McGillis! It was then that I realized that Top Gun came out 27 goddamn years ago and I started to cry. GETTING OLD SUCKS! Anyway, this one had a creepy as hell atmosphere and was also graced by a solid performance from Tarantino film mainstay Michael Parks.  I was also impressed by the performances from the two female leads, Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner. They were incredibly composed given the cannibalistic subject matter, and played the part of scared children of a religious nut well. This one had a great, WHAT IN THE BLUE HELL DID I JUST SEE ending to it. It has been picked up and I'm sure it'll play at a horror festival or two.  It'll probably see an autumn release at some point. Just in time for Halloween.  RATING: 7 Shovels to the back of the skull out of 10  

Official Sundance Synopsis:  Although K2 is only the second-highest peak in the world, it is renowned as the most dangerous and revered by mountaineers as their ultimate challenge. In August 2008, 18 of 24 climbers reached the summit of K2. Forty-eight hours later, 11 people were dead. What happened on that fateful day has never been resolved.

Utilizing found footage, interviews with survivors, and seamlessly realistic reenactments, The Summit zigzags back and forth in time, interweaving multiple narrative threads and piecing together events, hoping to solve the mystery of what actually happened on that day—the deadliest in mountain-climbing history. At the heart of the mystery is the story of Ger McDonnell, one extraordinary man who chose to risk his own life to save others. With the help of breathtaking cinematography by Robbie Ryan and Stephen O’Reilly, director Nick Ryan creates a tension-filled, experiential film that will have viewers on the edge of their seats. The Summit pits Man against Mother Nature in her most majestic and terrifying extreme.

Had to sit way too close for this one
My Quick Review:  There's a thing with seeing documentaries in these days of the internet. You can do a ton of research of the subject matter and get one part of the story. But it takes true talent to take what is the given story that everyone seems to agree upon of a subject and flip it on its head. Nick Ryan's The Summit did that very well. I remember the stories of the disastrous 2008 K2 expedition. But had no idea the depth of the heroism involved in that tragic Summer. I still have no idea whatsoever why anyone would want to try to do something like climb a 28,000 foot high deathtrap. But I do have a little greater understanding of the rush that these adrenaline junkies are constantly chasing. One thing I do have is great appreciation of true heroism, and the guys that kept going up into the "Death Zone" to try to rescue people have that in spades. I had the opportunity to meet one of these guys, Pemba Gyalje Sherpa after the screening. He's easily the biggest badass I've ever met in person. If you want to see what true heroism is, check this documentary out. 

As an added feature, I got to the line-up for the screening a little bit late which meant I had to sit in the second row, almost looking straight up at the screen. Usually that sucks, but for a movie like this one where the people onscreen are literally looking out over the edge of the world, that sense of vertigo made if feel a little more real.  RATING:  9 Top of the Worlds out of 10   

Only still I could find!
Official Sundance Synopsis:  Expectant couple Jack and Vanessa move into the most haunted fixer-upper in New Orleans—a house with a deadly demonic curse. When things soon spiral out of control, it’ll take the help of Vanessa’s Wiccan sister, a nosey “neighbor” who lives in their crawl space, two local detectives, and a pair of elite Vatican exorcists to save them—or is it already too late?

Revered as two of the minds behind the hilarious sketch television shows Reno 911!, The State, and Viva Variety and the screenwriters of big-budget comedies like the Night at the Museum films, comedians Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant finally unleash their codirectorial debut. Featuring a seasoned comedic ensemble, including scene stealers Leslie Bibb and Keegan Michael Key, this raucous horror spoof sics the devilish humor of its creators on the most sacred of genre conventions: the haunted house, an exorcism, and one pissy demon child. 

My Quick Review:  I'm an unapologetic Rob Corddry nutswinger. I think that dude's comic timing is great and he has great range playing everything from the everyman, to the asshole, to the schlub. After Steve Carrell, he's probably my favorite Daily Show correspondent ever. But he rarely gets any feature work in films. He's usually a side character at best. So it was great to see the guy come to the forefront here in this ridiculous sendup of every 70's horror trope known to man. Lennon and Garant manage to get everything right that the vastly inferior Scary Movie series gets wrong. Add in hilarious cameos from just about every current recognizable improv comic on the scene as well as some gratuitous nudity courtesy of folk comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates' Riki Lindhome and we have a winner.  RATING: 10 Domilise's Po-Boy's out of 10.

Glad to see John Cryer get some poster time
Official Sundance Synopsis:  Kate and Chloe have been best friends since childhood, when they both tied for dead last in their hometown beauty pageant. Now they are all grown up and living in New York City, where Chloe works as a “girl in a box” at a nightclub and Kate is a CEO…of her own one-woman egg-donor “corporation.” Their past humiliation remains long forgotten until they receive an invitation to the pageant’s milestone anniversary celebration. The unpleasant memories come flooding back, but Kate and Chloe decide to redeem themselves by winning the elusive crown.

Director Chris Nelson takes us on a raucous and wacky road trip that includes a rescued wild rabbit, a feminist wilderness commune, and amateur night at a strip club. Lead actresses June Diane Raphael and Casey Wilson have great laugh-out-loud chemistry, and their brand of stiletto-clad physical comedy brings an amusing and unique charm to the female version of the buddy movie.

My Quick Review:  This one is mostly for the ladies out there, as it flips the formula for a typical road trip flick. But it's got plenty of laughs for the fellas as well. This one features two gals that are best friends through thick and thin, but have never quite gotten over their childhood defeat as wannabe pageant queens. And by "haven't gotten over it" I mean to say, are in complete denial about it. But that's not going to stop their good-natured romp back to their hometown. There's plenty of bawdy laughs to be had here. And their Q&A after the screening was goddamn hilarious. RATING:  6 Rehab Stints out of 10.

Official Sundance Synopsis:  Inside a darkened house looms a column of TVs littered with VHS tapes, a pagan shrine to forgotten analog gods. The screens crackle and pop endlessly with monochrome vistas of static—white noise permeating the brain and fogging concentration. But you must fight the urge to relax: this is no mere movie night. Those obsolete spools contain more than just magnetic tape. They are imprinted with the very soul of evil.

From the demented minds that brought you last year’s V/H/S comes S-VHS, an all-new anthology of dread, madness, and gore. This follow-up ventures even further down the demented path blazed by its predecessor, discovering new and terrifying territory in the genre. This is modern horror at its most inventive, shrewdly subverting our expectations about viral videos in ways that are just as satisfying as they are sadistic. The result is the rarest of all tapes—a second generation with no loss of quality.

My Quick Review:  This was my most anticipated film of the festival. Horror anthology V/H/S broke some serious ground when it comes to providing big scares and gore on a budget. So the sequel had a lot to live up to. The premise, a couple private investigators bust into a decrepit house looking for a missing college student. He's nowhere to be found, but there are hundreds of VHS tapes strewn all over the apartment. They start popping tapes into an old-school top-loading VCR and are treated to the horror contained on each. Each tape was its own little horror short.  Here's a quick rundown of the four:
Tape #1:  Directed by Adam Wingard and Simon Barret -  A wealthy man, has his right eye replaced after an accident with a robotic one. The catch being that the robotic eye is recording everything he sees. Oh and it gives him the ability to see the myriad of ghosts that inhabit his rather large Hollywood Hills home. This one had some good jump scares, but not a ton of gore.
Tape #2:  Directed by The Blair Witch Project's Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale - A guy spends an afternoon riding a mountain bike through the woods with one of those GoPro cameras strapped to his helmet. He happens upon a screaming lady covered in blood that's running from something. As he tries to assist her, she turns zombie on him and tears a nice chunk out of his neck, leaving him for dead. But he's not dead, he's pretty undead and we get an incredibly gory, slightly comical first hand look at a zombie apocalypse from the other side. Good laughs here.  I rather enjoyed this one.
Tape #3:  Directed by The Raid: Redemption's Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto - A group of TV journalists travel to Indonesia to investigate a Jim Jones-esque cult leader at their compound. While very accommodating at first, the cult soon starts to peel the layers back to reveal a more sinister side. And mayhem ensues. This was my favorite short of the film and it easily could have been its own feature. As an aside, the walls of the cult compound were decorated by hundreds of those creepy-assed Blair Witch dolls. So it was surprising to me that those dudes ended up doing a different short in this film.
Tape #4: Directed by Hobo With A Shotgun's Jason Eisener - This one featured a group of little asshole kids having a slumber party at their lakehouse when their parents were away. They strapped a GoPro (who really should be sponsoring the movie at this point) to a little Shorkie dog. So the entire movie was fromt he POV of the dog.The kids pull pranks on their older siblings and each other until something otherworldly comes out of the lake. Like a more terrifying ET. This segment got most of the critics talking, but I found it inferior to #2 and #3.
Conclusion:  I enjoyed it well enough, but overall it was a bit of a letdown compared to the nice surprise that V/H/S was last year. Although, any flick where the gore onscreen caused a solid fifteen people to just up and leave in the middle of it has to be doing something right.  RATING:  7 Goat Babies out of 10

Official Sundance Synopsis:  Against the backdrop of the American Old West, newlyweds Miguel and Sarah struggle to make a living cultivating their small patch of land. Soon a much bigger struggle arises as powerful landowner and community preacher Prophet Josiah makes a play for their property. As he launches his diabolical plot to take their land, an eccentric big-city sheriff comes to town. Things soon go from bad to worse, culminating in a jaw-dropping, hell-hath-no-fury showdown.

Sweetwater boldly establishes its own identity while remaining true to the tenets of the western genre. Wonderfully cinematic, this expressive tale is superbly directed by the Miller brothers, who extract strong performances from the ensemble cast. Ed Harris is especially striking in a bravura role as the sheriff. With the magnificent New Mexico countryside as their canvas, the Miller brothers imaginatively stroke their cinematic brush across an intense but humorous film.

My Quick Review: When done well, I loves me a good Western flick. And this one certainly didn't disappoint. The landscapes were beautifully filmed, with the New Mexico countryside just popping off the screen. Ed Harris was solid as the eccentric Sheriff, trying to get to the bottom of a murder mystery.  Hell, the director even got a competent performance out of January Jones, and she normally can't act her way out of a paper bag! I was hooked by one scene in particular where Harris' Sheriff character explains to the increasingly sinister Prophet Josiah, exactly why geography brought him to this small town. Folks, it was Tarantino-esque.  This one should do pretty well if it gets a decent release.  RATING: 8 Wooden Crosses out of 10   

Official Sundance Synopsis:  Oscar Grant was a 22-year-old Bay Area resident who loved his friends, was generous to strangers, and had a hard time telling the truth to the mother of his beautiful daughter. He was scared and courageous and charming and raw, and as human as the community he was part of. That community paid attention to him, shouted on his behalf, and filmed him with their cell phones when BART officers, who were strong, intimidated, and acting in the way they thought they were supposed to behave around people like Oscar, shot him in cold blood at the Fruitvale subway stop on New Year’s Day in 2009.

Director Ryan Coogler makes an extraordinary directorial debut with this soulful account of the real-life event that horrified the nation. Featuring radiant performances by Melonie Diaz and Michael B. Jordan as Grant, a young man whose eyes were an open window into his soul, Fruitvale offers a barometer reading on the state of humanity in American society today.

My Quick Review:  I saw this one at a special "locals only" screening. This film won the festival's U.S. Grand Jury Prize. This was a pretty moving film, and you get the sense that this dude was on the cusp of changing his life around when he was struck down at that subway stop. That's not to say that the guy didn't have flaws, I mean, you can't spend the first three years of your daughter's life without some major flaws. But you just get that feeling that with another break or two, he was going to elevate things. Or at least become a productive member of society again. Michael B. Jordan had a moving run as the deeply conflicted Oscar Grant that may put him in line for an award or two in the future. This is probably going to be one of those "important" films that generate major buzz. Sometimes those types of movies (Amour for example) seem self-involved or only for the hoi palloi, but this one was just, plain good. RATING 9 Riots out of 10. 

Official Sundance Synopsis:  Rachel is a quick-witted and lovable, yet tightly coiled, thirtysomething steeped in the creative class of Los Angeles’s bohemian, affluent Silver Lake neighborhood. Everything looks just right—chic modernist home, successful husband, adorable child, and a hipster wardrobe. So why is she going out of her gourd with ennui? Plagued by purposelessness, Rachel visits a strip club to spice up her marriage and ends up meeting McKenna, a stripper whom she becomes obsessed with saving. She decides to adopt McKenna as her live-in nanny, and this bold move unleashes unimagined and colorful waves of change into her life and community. It becomes clear that Rachel is feverishly, desperately trying to save her own sense of who she is.

In a perfect storm of hilarious writing, performance, and direction, first-timer Jill Soloway pinpoints the ambivalence of privileged, educated women seduced by an idealized vision of marriage and motherhood, yet deadened by the stultifying realities of preschool auctions, lackluster sex lives, and careers that have gone kaput. Afternoon Delight compassionately revels in the existential trials of a Peter Pan generation battling too many choices, resisting adulthood, and distractedly tapping their iPhones instead of tuning in to what matters.

My Quick Review:  Endend up seeing a lot of movies geared toward the ladies this year and this one was no different. Although much like Ass Backwards there were plenty of laughs and entertainment to be had for the fellas as well.  But don't get me wrong, while this was a laugh a minute kind of flick, it wasn't really a comedy.  It was actually a pretty dark film about a family and a mother that are crumbling before our very eyes. Kathryn Hahn was excellent as the wisecracking Rachel, but portrayed the more serious content with aplomb. The film took a daring approach to answering the old question, "How do you save someone that doesn't necessarily want or need saving?" It was an enjoyable end to the festival.  RATING 9 Yentas out of 10.

CONCLUSION:  Once again, the Sundance Film Festival provided a week and a half of ground-breaking, imaginative filmmaking. I feel luckier than hell to have this going on every year, right in my backyard!  Next year, we'll be making the trek up into the mountains to Park City to try and mingle with the upper crust. But for a film junkie, none of that shit really matters. Everybody should take advantage of the wonderful opportunity to support independent film making and the people that make it happen!

The Golf Monster's 2013 Film Rankings!
8. We Are What We Are
7. Fruitvale
6. Ass Backwards
5. S-VHS
4. Afternoon Delight
3. Sweetwater
2. The Summit
1. Hell Baby

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

An Exercise in Self-Flagellation...

So, I guess today was the coldest day in the history of Utah, or something. This, combined with the two feet of snow we had this past weekend, means your humble golf monster has a lot of time off to to write.  Hopefully, I can make it past four posts in 2013! Sundance is coming up later this week, so there will be movie reviews coming up soon, as well as some stories from the near and the distant past. First up though, a look inside the mind of a mildly deranged sports fan. 

Three weeks ago, I left the cold, miserable weather of the Wasatch Front and flew south to sunny Phoenix, Arizona for a wonderful weekend of golf and drinking.  On Sunday, December 21st, my cousin Pete and I plopped our thirtysomething asses into stadium seats to watch our favorite football team, The Chicago Bears, take on the Arizona Cardinals. For me, it was the culmination of over thirty years of anticipation, excitement, elation, frustration, pain and heartache. I know, I know, educated, logically thinking people shouldn't allow a bunch of millionaires beating the shit out of each other in some far away stadium on a weekly basis to tie their emotions in knots. Believe me, I wish it wasn't this way, but as you're going to find out, it's sadly my lot in life.

To quote the great Peter Venkman, " it fate, call it luck, call it karma, but I believe that everything happens for a reason." I think I've been a fan of the Chicago Bears since I was in the crib.  Hell, I think it was my first word.  But life as a fan didn't really kick in until I was five years old. Here's the issue though...I grew up in Price, Utah.  Price is miles and miles away from really anything so there was really no such thing as a hometown team to get behind. My family were all football fans, but they were all fans of different teams. My Mom and Dad liked the 49ers, my Grandpa was a fan of the Chargers, my Uncle Mike a fan of the Raiders, my Godmother a fan of the (ugh) Packers, my dad's omnipresent best friend Joe rooted for the Broncos, and everyone on my mom's side of the family rooted for the Cowboys.

I also believe a chubby toddler in Utah is going to make a huge mistake.
Then there was my Uncle George, the youngest in my dad's family.  He was a fan of the Chicago Bears from way back in the Gayle Sayers days. He recognized the spark and for Christmas in 1984 he gifted six-year-old me a full-on little Chicago Bears uniform!  It had pads and everything! It was even #34, the number of my favorite player, Walter Payton! I put a ton of mileage on that thing, crashing my way through imaginary linemen on the way to touchdowns and glory! I even got my first real taste of disappointment that season with my Dad cackling with delight as his 49ers shutout my Bears 23-0 in the NFC Championship game on their way to the Super Bowl XIX title.

What can be said about the 1985 Bears team that hasn't been said already? I could channel my inner Bob Swerski and talk about "Da Coach," Mike Ditka, the gum-chewin, bird flippin' sweater-wearin' stalker of the sidelines. I could speak at length about the legendary 46-defense that demolished their way through the league that year. I could wax poetic about the memorable games like the "Revenge Game" against the Niners, the Monday-night beatdown of the hated Packers, domination in Dallas, and even that dark, dark, Monday night game in which Dan Marino's Dolphins stumbled upon the keys to unlocking the "46" and prevented the Bears from joining them as the only undefeated team in the Super Bowl era. A very dark night indeed. I could go on and on about the tremendous personalities on that squad, the Punky QB known as McMahon, Refrigerator Perry, Speedy Willie Gault, Samurai Mike Singletary and the rest of the "Shufflin' Crew;" who on December 3rd (the night after the Monday-night Miami disaster) recorded a ridiculous rap video, The Super Bowl Shuffle. Somehow that recording ended up #41 on the Billboard chart and raised over $300,000.00 for needy Chicago area families.

Yes that actually happened. From that point on, that team completely laid waste to everything in their path. They shut out the New York Giants in the NFC Divisionals and repeated the feat in a blizzard against the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship game. Holy shit! My team was going to the Super Bowl! My folks would throw one of the biggest parties in town every year and this one was no different. I was counting the minutes to get out of church to run home and throw on my uniform, like I was going into battle along side my heroes. I was a seven-year-old dipshit, but I didn't care. The good guys took care of business that day, dispatching the upstart New England Patriots 46-10, as I played the part of the annoying little shitty kid, running around asking all my parents friends to try and knock me down so my pads could make that awesome POP sound.. I must've hit the (very astroturf-like) green carpet in our family-room a hundred times that day. Collapsing in elation as Coach Ditka and Defensive Coordinator Buddy Ryan were both carried off the field by their players, I fell asleep clutching my Chicago Bears football with a giant grin and tears of joy in my eyes. Little did I know, my peak as a fan would occur when I was seven goddamn years old.

I swear to god, I thought it would last forever. When you're really young, the good times tend to overshadow the bad to a huge degree. As you get older, that changes. My eight, nine, ten-year-old self couldn't process why the Bears, while still having pretty good teams, would always come up just a little bit short. I mean, Ditka was still there, Payton was still there, Danimal, Mongo, and Singletary were still playing defense. Like a lot of delusional Chicago fans, I thought that team was a dynasty in the making. To my dad's credit, he didn't try to break it down for me, he just let me keep being the fan I was. He didn't tell me that when Buddy Ryan took flight to Philly, the fine tuning of the "46" defense went with him. He didn't gloat when the best quarterback the franchise had since Sid Luckman managed to start less than half the games the team played during the rest of his tenure due to injuries. Hell, I had no idea players could just LEAVE. I had no idea who half of these guys were anymore as they got bounced from the playoffs over and over again in the next few years. But at least they were still on TV on a fairly regular basis, which was a big deal in the pre-Sunday Ticket days. This continued all the way up until the 1989 NFC Championship game where a savage ass-kicking at the hands of the 49ers effectively brought my childhood to a depressing end. It was the last time they would get that close again to Super Bowl glory for seventeen years. I was well into adulthood, by the time I'd experience that kind of feeling again.

The Greatest Of All Time
A quick aside:  I would be remiss of I didn't spend a quick paragraph talking about Walter Payton. In my humble opinion, he was the greatest Bears player of all time. Virtually unstoppable, he was blinding fast in the open field, but never shied away from contact. He seemed to relish it as he bowled over linebackers and DB's alike. Hell, he even had a pretty decent QB rating on halfback option plays. The dude could do it all, and he was pretty much the closest thing I had to a real-life super-hero as a kid. I'm about 99% sure I invited him to my 8th birthday party. I don't think we'll ever see another player like that again, a graceful, yet violent runner that played for 13 seasons and only missed ONE game. But his retirement was the first time I realized what it was like to have to walk away from something because you're just too old and broken down to do it anymore. Off the field he was known as a tremendous humanitarian, and even though it's come out that he was a fairly troubled individual post-retirement, it doesn't sully his image in my eyes. On November 1st, 1999, Payton passed away due to an extremely aggressive form of liver cancer. I had just moved up to Salt Lake a couple months prior to attend college, and I was driving out to the airport to pick up my roommate when the news of his passing came over an update on the radio. I actually had to pull my truck over to compose myself. Outside of close family members and friends passing away, I can't recall anyone's death having that effect on me.

I wouldn't buy a used car from this guy.
The team entered a pretty dark period in the 90's, beginning with the sacking of the last link to the magic of 1985, Coach Ditka. I got the news as I was walking with my dad down to the local Elk's Lodge to take my hunter's safety test. They replaced him with the milquetoast Dave Wannstedt. While the defenses were still good, the offense floundered. Although, I wouldn't know too many of the details because the local TV station pretty much quit showing their games altogether. These were the days of regional coverage so I got a weekly dose of Denver and San Francisco games, two teams I absolutely despised. I REALLY had no idea who these guys were anymore, hell, I doubt a good chunk of Chicago residents at the time could name their everyday personnel. This was probably best manifested in the quarterback carousel of the next twenty years.

Future Hall of Famer and noted dong-pic self-paparazzo, Brett Favre was the only quarterback the hated Green Bay Packers started from 1992-2007, a time period that resulted in almost yearly playoff appearances, two Super Bowls, one Lombardi Trophy, and a very resentful teenager/young adult from Price, Utah. In a similar period of time, the Bears started no less than 24 different QB's between Jim McMahon, and current QB Jay Cutler. Here's the rundown:  Steve Fuller, Mike Tomczak, Doug Flutie, Mike Hohensee, Jim Harbaugh, Peter Tom Willis, Will Furrer, Steve Walsh, Erik Kramer, Dave Krieg, Rick Mirer, Steve Stenstrom, Moses Moreno, Shane Matthews, Cade McNown, Jim Miller, Chris Chandler, Henry Burris, Kordell Stewart, Chad Hutchinson, Craig Krenzel, Jonathan Quinn, Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman. Of the few names of note on that list, they never showed up in Chicago in their primes, they were always on the downhill trend for their careers. But look at that list, just an absolute murderers' row of shitty quarterbacks. There were a lot of 6-10 seasons in there, the team was always godawful, but never shitty enough to get the really good draft picks, and they never got any better. In that same time, I'd given up my childhood dream of being the next two-sport star and settled on golf as my game of choice. But as a fan, I still loved the NFL and I still loved the Chicago Bears. But I will admit, those were dark, dark times indeed.

Cousin Pete and I during the famous "Dorm Days"
I got really lucky with my first roommate in college, Big Nick. He was a Bears fan as well, and with my cousin Pete, I finally had a support network with which to commiserate as a fan. It's bad enough when your team blows the meat whistle, but when it seems like you're the only fan you know of said team, it's a lonely existence indeed. With the draft of Brian Urlacher in 2000, things finally started to look up a little bit. In the Fall of 2001-Winter of 2002, a quarterback by the name of Jim Miller (oddly enough the first QB ever suspended for banned substances in the NFL) along with a revamped defense propelled the Bears to the last ever NFC Central Division title and their first playoff appearance since I was in junior high! I even won a couple bucks from my Godmother in our annual Packers vs. Bears bets for the first time since I was mowing lawns for money. Just our luck though, as a good friend of Big Nick and mine got married the day of the playoff game, sparing us the horror of a 33-19 drubbing at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles in the Divisional round.  It really felt like they were getting close, but it would be another four years before they would get back to the playoffs again. But hey, at least they were on TV once in awhile again!

By 2005 I was long out of school and working as an Assistant Professional at the University of Utah Golf Course here in Salt Lake. A combination of new head coach Lovie Smith, Kyle Orton, Rex Grossman, and a stifling defense got the Bears back into the playoffs. It was around then, that I started experimenting with the concept of karma. and during this season, the concept for the official "Chicago Bears Drinking Game" was born. I would absorb the brunt of their punishment for mistakes on the field. For every turnover, touchdown or just generally stupefyingly bad play the Bears gave up or made on the field, I would take a shot of whisky. I really should've gotten this sponsored by Jack Daniels. I figured, maybe I could buy the team a little good karma and turn things around, or get so blitzed that I'd be numb to the atrocities they'd commit on the field. The drinking game got its first test run during the Divisional playoff loss to the Carolina Panthers, the unintended consequence of which ended up being an unexpected post-game phone call from my Grandmother, mother, and sister in Oregon. Not sure how I held it together on the phone in my "altered" state, but I think I managed.

The following year, behind an even better defense than the year before, a blindingly fast and shifty kick returner, and a surprisingly competent Rex Grossman, the Bears once again recaptured some of that late 80's spark. For the first time in almost twenty years they were able to build on the successes of the previous season and come back even better than before. I was also able to perfect the Drinking Game and it actually seemed to work, as I remember virtually nothing from the 2nd half of the incredible Monday Night Football comeback against a frisky Arizona Cardinals squad.  I just know that they won. And they kept on winning, time and again, eventually defeating the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship game in a blizzard that gave me flashbacks to that '85-'86 win against the Rams. Two weeks later, I threw the biggest Super Bowl party that I could afford with well over a dozen close friends packed into my tiny house, as well as multiple phone calls to my Dad, Cousin Pete in Phoenix and my friend Carla in Chicago. Devin Hester, savior of that Cardinals game, took the opening kickoff to the house which prompted me to "run down the sideline" of my living room with him. Some say that was the fastest any of those folks had ever seen me move. That would be pretty much the last highlight of the game for me. The Bears kept it interesting, but eventually lost 29-17 to the Indianapolis Colts. Prince's incredible halftime show was pretty much the last thing I remembered from that game. I spent the bulk of the second half sitting on my old toybox, now converted into a place to stack my shoes, in a Jack Daniels induced haze with my head in my hands, save for what I've been told were several humorous drunk dials.

That pretty much brings us up to present day. The Bears finally upgraded their quarterback, although, and this is really shocking, he hasn't quite lived up to his promise. It's a familiar story. They even made it back to the NFC title game a couple years ago, a football armageddon if you will against their storied rivals from Green Bay. Again it ended badly. I eventually retired the Drinking Game for my own health, although my buddies convince me to bring it back out once a season. That's my limit. I'm pretty sure I'd have one foot in an early grave otherwise. This year brought something unusual, a ten-win season that didn't result in a playoff birth and the subsequent dismissal of Coach Smith. They're on the hunt now for a new coach, so who knows what the future will bring? Actually, I have a pretty good idea, but I'll never let my cynicism ever get in the way of being a fan. Even though, they've let us down over and over again. As a guy that feels like sports bigamists are the scum of the Earth, I feel good hanging my now battered hat on the fact that I'll be a fan of that team literally from the cradle to the grave.

Oh yeah, and that game I went to a couple weeks ago? They actually managed to win in the ugliest manner possible against a pretty shitty opponent. But it was an incredible feeling being in a stadium with 65,000 people, 45,000 of which, like me, were rooting for the visiting team. The camaraderie was incredible! We drowned out the home crowd with "LET'S GO BEARS!" chants and we even sang the fight song at the top of our lungs when Charles Tillman ran an interception back for a touchdown! It truly was unbelievable, and if you're not a sports fan, there's really no good way to explain that feeling of being part of a crowd like that. But I will tell you this, if you ever end up in that situation, you'll be hooked for life!
That dude in the background might've been the last Cardinals fan there that day!