Final Thoughts of 2020

Mind vomit? Mind vomit.

So the University of Illinois fired Lovie Smith as head coach of their football program. It was somewhat expected, and some may argue overdue, but the legacy Lovie leaves behind is a net positive. He was AD Josh Whitman’s first splash hire, and brought a still-fairly-noteworthy NFL name to an also-ran football program that was in desperate need of the two things Lovie Smith will offer any program, NFL or NCAA: Dignity and poise.

Lovie’s record was bad, he didn’t recruit that well, and the on-field product was mixed, but he was respected by his players and steadied the ship of Ilini football while Whitman turned his full attention to restoring the bread and butter of the University of Illinois: The now-resurgent men’s basketball program.

Not too sure what’s next for Lovie or UIUC football, but hopefully the next coach will be Brad Underwood-esque, giving the Illini a recruiting boost in-state and making them annually competitive in their share of the Big 10. With regards to Lovie Smith as Illini coach, we’ll always have their last-second upset over #6 Wisconsin, with the Illini in their Grey Ghost alts (meh) and the roar of the Memorial Stadium crowd being heard from miles away. Fingers crossed for the program, and a hearty congrats to Lovie Smith on a strange but notable career that he should in no way be ashamed of.

The Chicago Bears lost 6 straight games before demolishing the Houston Texans, and mere days after many were eagerly eyeing the guillotine for GM Ryan Pace, head coach Matt Nagy, and QB Mitch Trubisky, after an extremely convincing win, suddenly second thoughts are required.

Nobody’s quite sure what to think anymore, and with a franchise as routinely exhausting as the Bears, I don’t blame anyone. Personally? I don’t really care what they do, because when it comes to the Bears there is no right answer, no easy fix, no obvious solution. They’re so rarely in position to do something obvious, and when they are, there’s few guarantees they’ll do that obvious thing.

Is Ryan Pace a good General Manager? He’s alright; you could do worse. Is Nagy a good Head Coach? Uh, sometimes, but, um, it depends. Is Mitch Trubisky a good quarterback? Well, he is until he isn’t, if that makes sense (it doesn’t).

All I hope that happens in the next few weeks is that Ted Phillips is oustered as Team President and replaced by somebody who actually has a background in successful NFL football operations. If Nagy/Pace/Trubisky stay, whatever. Life goes on. If Phillips stays? Whatever. Bears.

Being a dog owner is in many ways, at least I imagine, like having children. They’re whiny, expensive, and don’t know how to go to the bathroom properly with any consistency, but hanging out with them and giving/receiving love make up some of the best times of every day. Our second dog, a Japanese Chin puppy, just got neutered and had to endure a cone for a couple weeks. His discovery of using the cone as a tool was equal parts fascinating and frustrating.

After trial and error, the pup realized he could clobber our Shih-Tzu with the cone, use the cone to dig around the yard, and make it a scoop to more easily access his favorite snack in the world: His own poop. Mercifully the cone is now off and the Chin can resume being his normal self. His first-ever experience with snow was yesterday, and it was greatly entertaining to watch from the backdoor as the two dogs chased each other around the yard, scattering puffs of snow everywhere before coming in to wriggle off before going right back out again. Gotta love it.

So there are COVID-19 vaccines only just beginning to circulate worldwide, and by all accounts they seem to be doing the job. It’s both a historic achievement for the scientific community to develop a vaccine so quickly and a massive (potential) relief for my pandemic-weary household. We don’t know how or when we can receive access to the vaccine, but hopefully us and everyone in our community will get innoculated as soon as possible. My wife and I are on the last legs of patience for quarantine life.

Both of us are natural homebodies, so the initial adjustments to working from home and abstaining from outings wasn’t too hard, but like most people, there’s limits to that lifestyle. We badly miss our families, going on trips, date nights, and all the usual “not sitting around our house” stuff. It’s also incredibly distressing to read and discuss the unfortunately-politicized pandemic both online and with any peers who aren’t like-minded.

Many, many entrenched individuals believe to various degrees that COVID-19 isn’t that bad, that masks and distancing are offenses to personal liberty, and ultimately even if the pandemic is deadly, it’s hurting the economy and local businesses, so if a lot of people die? So what! That’s the price of commerce, at least so they feel.

A lot of those same individuals are children and grandchildren of those who lived through World War 2, enduring metal, fuel, rubber, and food goods shortages/rationing – for years. That generation sacrificed for the common good, contributing to a global war effort against fascism. Fast forward to 2020, and the bulk of these neo-Freedom Fighters not only vote staunchly for policies & politicians who would prefer a fascist rule, but undermine and obstruct all measures to endure the temporary inconvenience of restriction, all for reasons that are many sub-levels below rational logic.

It’s incredibly disappointing to realize how many people, who unfortunately all have social media platforms, are blindly narcissistic, unfeeling & devoid of empathy, and indifferent to facts. Reminds me of a scene from 12 Angry Men, one of my favorite movies. Juror #9 reveals he changed his vote, and when he begins to explain why he did so, others turned away. Juror #8 tells him, “He can’t hear you; he never will.” That pretty much sums it all up.

Since rejoining my podcast earlier this year, it’s been an absolute pleasure every Monday night to hang out with the guys of Basically a Sports Show again. The show, humming along since fall of 2012, has changed a little bit, but for the most part? Still the same fun time it’s always been. I left the podcast in 2014 or so, having burned myself out on producing the show, taking on too much at once, and having numerous issues in my personal life that always got in the way or tarnished the experience.

My life is in an infinitely calmer space now, and I look forward to Monday nights now with extreme regularity. A little while ago we briefly turned on our webcams when talking, and it was hilariously odd. For guys who have been pretty consistently talking with each other for nearly 8 years, we’ve only seen each other in pictures. To suddenly be seeing one another live was kind of awkward, but also welcome. Thus is the nature of friends made online. I hope someday the four of us can meet up and do a show or two in person. Once the virus is done, that is definitely on the table.

Speaking of friends made online (and I’ll close with this), the biggest boon of the otherwise-mostly-miserable waste that has been 2020 is a group of people my wife and I have gotten to know over weekly Zoom trivia nights. To add some context, my wife is new to this area, having spent nearly a decade living overseas, and both us being the introverts that we are, making new friends isn’t a terribly easy thing for us. Tack on a pandemic keeping us indoors and void of activities, and the chances for expanding our circle of friends has been woefully low.

Thanks to some of my wife’s friends, some of whom were mutual acquaintences going back many years, this Friday Night Trivia routine was setup, and through that process many other friends and neighbors of theirs were brought into the Zooms. We’d crossed paths very briefly with some of them in gatherings in 2018 and 2019, but rarely had the regular communication to establish a bond.

I’d like to think I speak for everybody in that group when I say that Friday nights have become something I look forward to a great deal now, and all of the faces we see on these Zooms are people my wife and I now consider very good friends who we cannot wait to shake hands with, hug, and share food and drink with for years to come.

We recently organized a pandemic-friendly car parade to one particular couple’s home (go Simon & Alyssa!) and it was the first time some of us had seen each other in the flesh for a long time (or at all), much less in our newfound context of sharing a close friendship. It was equal parts strange and amazing. Though the moment was sadly brief, being there for a great cause warmed many hearts, and provided a taste of hopefully many years to come of hanging out with some very special people.

This is probably my last post before Christmas/New Year, so if you’re reading this, enjoy your holiday season, and hopefully before the end of 2021, we’ll be together in person again like we all want. And never forget, as Clarence once said:


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