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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Superbowl XLV -- February 7, 2011

Yesterday was the NFL championship game between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. I had been looking forward to the football game for the last couple of weeks. I have watched all the playoff games leading up to the Superbowl. Football is my favorite sport to watch and is a good excursion from life in prison. I am not alone in my thinking, and it is a major preoccupation for many inmates. Every Sunday, televisions are tuned in for the games, and yesterday, I would estimate almost everyone with a TV in the Roundhouse was watching the Superbowl.

The Superbowl, of course, is not only popular inside the prison walls of Stateville, but outside as well. Over 110 million people watched the game, and it was the most watched TV show ever. The NFL championship also brought in higher attendance and ticket values than any previous game. Despite the cold outside of the Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, over 100,000 people attended the event. The owner of the stadium, Jerry Jones, and the NFL made over $200 million in ticket sales and commissions. $140 million was made just on Superbowl merchandise.

I do not understand why so many people would want to attend the game. People from all over the country paid top dollar for tickets and traveled to Texas just to be smashed in a loud crowded stadium where often they could barely see the game. To counter this, Jerry Jones had a huge television board hung from the ceiling of the stadium. Two televisions are 160' by 72' and the TVs facing the end zones are 48'x 27'. There are also approximately 3,000 televisions inside the building in lounges, suites, and other areas. If a fan is going to watch the game on TV, why not just stay at home? In my opinion, the best seat is the one in your own home.

Unfortunately for me, I was not in my own house for the game, and I had to watch the game on a small 13" RCA television I have wedged in the bars of my bunk. I do not have digital TV, and my reception was anything but crystal clear. The Superbowl in cell 440 of F House was watched in static. Many of my stations do not come in clearly and the FOX network is one of them. At least the sound was not disturbed by the poor reception. Possibly I should just be glad I have any TV at all. This cell does not have working cable, and I have a cable wire going into the adjacent cell where my neighbors have been nice enough to connect it.

From the beginning of the playoffs, I had been hoping for a Packers-Patriots Superbowl. Those are my favorite teams in the NFL. It is incredibly difficult to be a fan of one team, especially over the years. Ever since free agency, players are moved about from team to team. However, these two teams had more players and coaches that I liked than the others. On the Packers were Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, A.J. Hawk and John Kuhn amongst others. The Patriots had such great names as Tom Brady, Wes Welker, and their coach Bill Belichick. Both of these teams, in my opinion, also had the best offensive lines. Not many people think about the linemen, but without them, the best big name offensive players are not anything. The Packers also have something unique about their team in the entire NFL. The team is not owned by one rich person, but by the City of Green Bay. Green Bay is the only team owned by the shareholders of the townsfolk.

In the divisional playoff game between New York and New England, I watched with disappointment as the Patriots were defeated 28 to 25. The Patriots were the number 1 seed in the AFC and were the odds-on favorite to win the Superbowl, as they should have been. They had the best record in the NFL, only having lost two games. Tom Brady, MVP with three prior Superbowl wins, led the most explosive offense, defeating some teams by 30 point margins. Bill Belichick was elected Coach of the Year again. Even their offensive line was given the 102-pound bronze trophy: Madden's Most Valuable Protectors Award.

The last time the New England Patriots played the New York Jets, they destroyed them 45 to 3. Although I would have liked to see another decisive victory, I knew the game would be closer than anticipated. Many Las Vegas casinos had the Patriots winning by 9 points. The heavy set black man who always is coming to me for advice did not want to listen to me when I told him he was a fool to give up 13 and the tie to have a wager on New England. I did not think the Patriots would lose, but they were overrated while the Jets were underrated. Even the best team can lose to the worst team on a bad day. The week before, the Seahawks beat the Saints. Who could have anticipated that game's result? The Patriots indeed were having one of those bad days, and fell behind due to poor play and bad fortune, before making it a 7 point game. I have no doubt if the game played another few minutes, the Patriots would have come out on top.

After the Patriots' defeat, I only had one team left in the hunt I personally liked: the hated Packers. I write "the hated Packers" because the vast majority of football enthusiasts in the Chicago area are dedicated Chicago Bears fans, and the Bears have had a heated rivalry with Green Bay for decades. When the two teams met two weeks ago in the NFC Conference Title game, there was enormous excitement expressed by football enthusiasts, and this was hyped in the news media. When my sister and her boisterous friend came to visit me the week before the game, a guard told them they had better be talking about "Da Bears" while they were waiting in the visiting room. In the prison, the talk of guards and inmates alike was centered on the big rivalry game, and how the city's team was going to the Superbowl. I was virtually alone in being a Packers' fan, but this suited me just fine, and worked to my advantage.

Although the Packers were 3 point favorites, nearly everyone was willing to bet on the Bears "heads-up" without a handicap. If I trusted and knew more people in the Roundhouse, I could have made over a thousand dollars in bets. There was a man who wanted to bet $100, but I refused. I did not know the man well, and it was not worth the problems that would result if he reneged, or did not have the money to pay. I have learned it is always better to be wise and conservative than greedy in a maximum-security prison with numerous people of unscrupulous character. If I knew some of the guards in F House better, I would have bet money, and I definitely would have done so through a professional gambling service if I was not in prison.

My father is also a Bears fan, and before the game, I sent him a letter with antagonistic newspaper clippings of the Green Bay Packers. I told him this was not Mike Ditka's Chicago Bears, but a Lovie Smith's, who should have been fired long ago. Even the newly acquired offensive coordinator, Mike Martz, could not make something out of nothing. My father took the letter in good spirits, unlike the Bears' fans in the prison who loudly cursed the team and banged on their doors until falling silent and solemn with the 21 to 14 defeat.

While there were many willing to place wagers on the Bears in the conference title game, the Superbowl is the single biggest betting event in the U.S., and possibly the world. Las Vegas took in almost $100 million in wagers, and an estimated $10 billion is wagered illegally. Almost half the U.S. adult population has some form of wager on the game, whether through offshore and domestic bookmakers, Internet gambling sites, office pools, and person-to-person bets. Inside Stateville, wagers on the Superbowl were also very popular, and again, I was happy to find most inmates liked the Pittsburgh Steelers.

While my co-defendant, Bob Faraci, was in prison (on another crime), a friend of mine took over his small bookmaking operation. He was a gambling addict and had little business sense. I was often helping him balance the books, but I could not prevent him from making his own individual bets through various other bookmakers and even Vegas casinos. One year, he took three thousand dollars of my money and added another several thousand to wager on the Superbowl. I was incredibly angry, but he insisted the Buffalo Bills was a "lock." He rented a hotel suite with a large screen TV and cajoled me to watch the game with him. I watched bitterly as the Bills lost, despite being heavy favorites.

The cell house worker came to me the week of the Superbowl and told me the Steelers were a lock, and I thought I have heard that before. No matter how I tried to tell him otherwise, he was betting "the bank" on Pittsburgh. I told him he was a fool, and as long as he was giving away all that money, he may as well give me some as well. His cocky haughtiness, like my friend decades ago, bothered me. I could take his money as well as several other's. Afterwards, I learned he lost close to $200, and he was not the only one to bet heavily on the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Internal Affairs probably monitors my blogsite, however, I do not care if they want to send me to Seg again for gambling, trading and trafficking, or some other petty offense. I did not mind my stay in solitary confinement. I will be glad to not have to be bothered by the numerous annoying and obnoxious low-lifes in prison, or the ongoings at Stateville. Hopefully, I will have a single man cell, and I can really be at peace, or the closest to it, at this institution. I.A. does not care about gambling, but apparently my Wiki leaks blogsite bothers them.

In the morning before the game began, I was placed in a shower stall to wait to see the doctor. While I was there, a man who wanted to wager with me said, "You're going down!" He was as cocky as the others, and I told him if he was so confident, we could double the wager. He told me, "You're on." I wanted to wager $100 on the Green Bay Packers with no point spread before kickoff. I would be pleased to have money on a team I not only liked, but believed was superior, both offensively and defensively. On the astro turf at the Dallas Cowboys' stadium, the Packers offense would be even more explosive. Their 5th ranked defense and 2nd highest interceptions will decisively defeat the Steelers. I was ready for some football.

My cellmate often asks me what I think will be served for chow. We are usually only served about 10 different meals for lunch and dinner, and most involve processed turkey-soy kibble. Oftentimes, I can guess what the meal will be. As lunch trays were being passed out, my cellmate asked me what we were having today. Jokingly, I said, "Pizza," which of course, he did not believe. Pizza has not been served since the day I went to Seg, about six months ago. When we opened up our trays, however, we were astonished--I had guessed correctly. There was a small slice of pizza in our styrofoam trays. Was this a bad omen, or possibly a sign of good fortune? I dismissed the superstition and coincidence.

I considered saving the pizza for the game, however, it was so small that it would not suffice for the biggest sports game of the year. About an hour before kickoff, I made a large meal for my cellmate and me using various commissary foods. I mixed a couple of packages of shredded buffalo chicken hot wings with Ramen noodles, nacho cheese, and refried beans. I tried bartering for some flour tortilla shells so I could make chicken fajitas, but no one I knew had any. I did have a couple of pops and I took them out of the window sill to thaw before I sat down to watch the game.

I was greatly pleased to see the Packers quickly jump out to a 14 point lead. As anticipated, the Packers had a blitzkrieg offense on turf, and their defense had 2 picks by halftime. I was beginning to think the Packers were going to blow out the Steelers like they had the Atlanta Falcons a few weeks earlier. When the quarterback for the Steelers was picked off and the ball was run in for a touchdown, there was a collective groan from the cell house. As the Packers dominated the first half, there were boos, but increasing quiet. It was odd that the noisiest cell house at Stateville was eerily quiet during the Superbowl. I was expecting the noise to be similar to the Dallas Cowboy stadium in the 500-inmate domed Roundhouse. The Steelers' fans, however, would come out after halftime.

The FOX network was oddly advertising the Superbowl halftime show. If the network was smart, they would not say anything about it, so as not to turn off viewers. Actually, they would have been smart to have invited someone other than the Black Eyed Peas. I despise the Black Eyed Peas, and whenever I hear one of their songs, I change the station quickly. Fortunately, their music is not played on the radio stations I frequent.

At the end of the half, I said to my cellmate, "Here is the moment you have been waiting for." Of course, my cellmate also despises the Black Eyed Peas, but I pressed on. "I know the only reason you are watching the Superbowl with me is to see your favorite band, The Peas. You don't have to hide your excitement." I went on and on, and then turned the volume up on the distasteful music.

The Black Eyed Peas were dressed somewhat like the 70's rock band KISS, and I brought this to my cellie's attention. He agreed, and added that their costumes and the huge stage production might be an attempt to make up for their terrible music. I said to him, "Why could the NFL not get KISS together for a show if they were going to have people dressed like them anyway? At least KISS had better music." My cellie told me he thought the bleach-blonde woman in the band was somewhat attractive to him. I said, "I knew you liked The Black Eyed Peas. Maybe, she will have a wardrobe malfunction."

I did not watch all of the halftime show, and turned the station after a few minutes. I did not want to watch the commercials either, but my cellmate was interested to see the new ads created especially for this event. I thought the commercials were not very witty or amusing. The best, however, was the Volkswagen commercial with the little boy playing Darth Vader. On the morning news today, I got to see what the boy behind the mask looked like. He was a fair complected boy with blonde hair and blue eyes, like his mother, who was also on the program.

During the morning news, I also learned Christina Aguilera flubbed one of the lines of the national anthem. I was still making the Superbowl meal while she sang, and missed her error. I asked my cellmate who was watching, if he knew what her mistake was. He said he did not even notice. So, apparently, she did well playing it off. I told my cellmate, "Perhaps she needed a teleprompter, like our President uses."

The Steelers came back in the 2nd half of the Superbowl to the excitement of F House. Although Green Bay's offense looked unstoppable in the 1st half, receivers continued to drop passes thrown by Aaron Rodgers. Donald Driver was out, and Jordy Nelson had taken his place as a receiver. He seemed to have butterfingers, but at least he made up for it with a couple of clutch plays and one touchdown. Also injured for Green Bay were two defensive backs. However, what I thought contributed a lot to the Steelers' ability to slash a 21 to 3 game to 21 to 17, and in the last quarter only a field goal, was the conservative coaching strategy of Green Bay.

Once out in the lead, the coaching staff wanted to play it safe. In the Bears game, I saw the prevent-defense put into play as well. I did not like this strategy at all, and it reminded me of my trial attorney's defense. In the Superbowl, and when your life is at stake, you leave nothing in your hand. Play all your cards, and put in everything you've got. You do not get a second chance. Because of a prevent-defense, or a nonexistent defense, I lost my life. Fortunately for the Packers, they escaped with victory when linebacker Clay Mathews forced a fumble by Rasheed Mendenhall in the 4th quarter. I wish I had such stars on my criminal defense team. If I had a dream team like OJ Simpson, or even the competent public defenders I was originally appointed, I would not have watched Superbowl XLV with static on a 13" screen in a 5' x 10' cell.