RSS Feed

Category Archives: Just the FAQS

Pearl Jam vs. Nirvana: The Ultimate Battle!

Pearl Jam vs. Nirvana: The Ultimate Battle!

Uma Thurman’s character from Pulp Fiction has one scene in which she brilliantly assesses Beatles people and Elvis people. Yes, it’s quite possible for an Elvis person to love The Beatles and vice versa, but when asked, you define yourself by just one of those two and swear by them. You don’t get to be a Beatles person AND an Elvis person. The same little identification philosophy can also be applied to various other little walks of life: Are you a Super NES person or a Genesis person? Tom Brady or Peyton Manning? Coke or Pepsi? There are times when it’s actually very easy to love both, but when it comes to direct comparisons between them, you play up the greatness of the first option and hate the second option’s guts. All comers who argue otherwise are just contrarian fools.

This line of thought can be applied to musical subgenres, too. Take grunge, the scratchy, underproduced music which gets credit for taking rock music off life support after it was put there by whiffing too much of the hairspray it wore in the 80’s. There were several good grunge bands, but the eternal grudge match between grunge giants begins and ends with Pearl Jam and Nirvana. Those two are the faces of grunge, probably because they’re the two acts with the most longevity. Now, Pearl Jam and Nirvana, it’s important to note, are also two bands which are very different in many, many ways, something which Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain always seemed to get a kick out of mentioning. That didn’t keep everyone in the industrialized world from tossing the two bands into the same corner, though, and so we’ve come down to another one of those forevermore fights. And with this year being the 20th anniversary of a popular and acclaimed album from each band (Nirvana released In Utero in 1993, and Pearl Jam released Vs.) and next year being the 20-year mark of Cobain’s suicide, media followers everywhere decided now is the time to revisit one of the last great grunge years. And, being a glutton for punishment, I’m not going to stand above all as an exception to the rule. I WILL, however, stand above other typical cultural onlookers who play up the talents of both bands, praising them, and telling you to just go flip a coin when it’s time to decide to like one better than the other. That’s a cop out. I’m looking to define this sucker. So let’s do this! Pearl Jam vs. Nirvana. One day, I’ll learn.

Kurt Cobain was a very competent vocalist whenever he decided to make the effort. One needs only listen to Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York album for infallible proof of this fact. After listening to Unplugged in New York, though, one also only needs to play one of the two Nirvana albums that aren’t Nevermind to hear that Cobain spent his time coasting through his vocal duties. Yeah, he could be a somber and emotional vocalist, but doing that regularly would have required him to have more settings on his voice switch than just mumble unintelligibly and scream at the top of his lungs, frequently in a stuttering form in the same song. Pearl Jam’s frontman, Eddie Vedder, couldn’t be called a first-tier singer. Hell, he screams too, and he tends to adopt a low growl for the points where Cobain would have screamed. However, when Vedder deploys his distinctive low baritone indoor voice, he can be solemn, sad (“Better Man”), haunting, and sardonic (“Rats”) with just the lightest touches. Cobain almost seemed like he was trying to hide behind his vocals. Vedder embraces his vocal weaknesses and maximizes them so they compliment his strengths.
Pearl Jam. Perhaps the most damning aspect of Kurt Cobain’s vocal work isn’t his own vocal work, but the fact that parodist Weird Al Yankovic recorded his own spin on Nirvana’s popular anthem “Smells Like Teen Spirit” with a song called “Smells Like Nirvana,” in which he made fun of Nirvana for the fact that nobody could understand what Kurt Cobain was mumbling and screaming. It’s one of Weird Al’s signature hits.

There’s an obvious handicap at play here because Nirvana, at most, had four active musicians if you decide to count Pat Smear, who may or may not have been an official member of the band. While Smear expanded Nirvana’s sound on In Utero, he never really received official credit, and he’s never included in the lineup of classic Nirvana members. Pearl Jam never had less than five active musicians; three alone on guitar: Vedder, Mike McCready, and Stone Gossard. Since McCready is the lead guitarist, let’s briefly remove him from the equation and reduce Pearl Jam to four members. With Vedder and Gossard now set against Smear and Cobain, we’ve now got the defining sounds of the bands: A classic rock influence against a punk influence. There’s not much of a contest here because punk is the dregs of rock genres anyway. Punk is music for people who want to be in bands without taking the trouble to learn anything about music or instruments. Punk is a single note and a repetitive lyric being vocalized without being truly sung. Classic rock is performed by people who spent hours in practice, perfecting their musicianship. The bass contest is between Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament and Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic, a contest I’ll cede to Novoselic because so much of Nirvana’s sound was carried through his bass. Although everyone remembers the hook of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” it’s Novoselic who carried Nirvana through the verses of the song, as well as a lot of Nirvana’s other truly great songs like “In Bloom,” “Sliver,” and “Heart-Shaped Box,” and his booming lines were simple but powerful foundations that gave Nirvana’s songs a lot of their power. On drums, Nirvana had Dave Grohl, who – unbeknownst to the public at the time – turned out to be the band’s best musician. Unfortunately, this is about his drumming, so I have to write off everything he accomplished as the frontman of Foo Fighters. Pearl Jam employed a handful of drummers after their breakthrough, but current drummer Matt Cameron as been with them since 1998, and in my book that’s long enough to call him their definitive drummer. In the greatest drum class in history from the most drum-heavy rock genre, both Grohl and Cameron (whose pervious gigs included Soundgarden) are rightfully considered top tier gods who could hold their own among enduring legends like Keith Moon and Neil Peart, so I’ll call this a draw.
Pearl Jam. I handicapped in the previous paragraph for having an extra musician. Unfortunately for Nirvana, Pearl Jam played more complex music with a cast that was at least equal to their talent. Bringing McCready back into the equation, the contest is suddenly more one-sided, and Nirvana’s guitar weaknesses can’t hide behind maybe-member Smear forever. And let’s not kid ourselves; Nirvana did have weaknesses on guitar. Kurt Cobain’s greatest gift was in song construction, and his song construction managed to hide the fact that he wasn’t doing anything extraordinary as a guitarist. A large chunk of his work actually sounds downright amateur when Nirvana’s work is stripped down by piece.

Overall Sound
This is an area where these two bands seriously differ, and point A for why they really shouldn’t be categorized together. They’re both Seattle grunge bands, but that’s about the only thing they have in common. Kurt Cobain’s whole object was to be a great punk god, and my description of punk in the last section completely sums up my attitude toward punk – if you want to be a musician, either learn to play the fucking music or don’t be a musician! Music is art, but punk is the manic, street artist revolutionary wannabe for whom “art for the people” is the defense commonly used to excuse the lack of talent, organization, and – a lot of the time – vision. Nirvana is one of two bands to perform the trick of making punk listenable (the other being Green Day, who added a second chord and a competent singer), but despite that, they were a band of punk extremes. They wandered too far in one or the other direction. When they made it too close to traditional rock, they would be in the position of a good mainstream band, if not exactly a pop band. That would be their cue to switch direction and move too far back toward punk, which would turn them into screaming instrument-whippers. (Listen: “Territorial Pissings,” “Scentless Apprentice,” “Milk It.”) Pearl Jam’s sound could be shoved back 20 years prior to the original release of Ten, and it wouldn’t sound very out-of-place. It’s more what people tend to think of when they think of rock music – reliance on guitar rhythm, six or eight vocal lines per verse excluding bridges and hooks, guitar solos. The risk of Pearl Jam’s style, though, is an accusation that I’m playing it safe by stating my preference of a decent, constant musical flow than constant stuttering, white noise, and undecided grinding broken guitar explosions.
Pearl Jam. For some reason, critics still have two problems: They’re either: 1 – confusing “original” for “good” or 2 – believing the two terms are synonyms. Well, I don’t buy that. It isn’t like Pearl Jam never took any musical risks, after all. It’s that Pearl Jam’s risks always seemed to get panned. Remember the whole No Code fiasco? Sure, everyone is acting all buddy/buddy with Pearl Jam’s fourth album now, but that’s convenient forgetfulness to make up for the fact that Pearl Jam turned out to have more longevity as a band than anyone expected. No Code was reviled as Pearl Jam’s greatest mistake for years after its release. All the hoopla over No Code, by the way, also happened to come immediately after the band’s sterling Vitalogy album, in which the band made a departure from the sound they had established on Ten and Vs. to give the world something with a slightly more punk flavor. In the meantime, about half of Nirvana’s work could have been penned by fifth-graders, including the more original stuff. The band in general was apparently fond of grinding, screeching guitars, and choppy album consistency.

Pearl Jam just released its tenth studio album. It’s called Lightning Bolt, and it’s setting alight music critics everywhere. They clearly have the advantage in the quantity department, but this is more about quality. And in this respect, Nirvana can give them a fight. Songwriting was Kurt Cobain’s greatest strength. He was never the most talented musician the world has ever seen, but his ability to write songs continually tricks people into believing he was because he always got the most mileage out of the few strengths he had. Pearl Jam could tell more storytelling and descriptive lyrics, and their music was a lot more complex. Nirvana’s musical model, though, has proven to give us more enduring songs. Everyone can automatically hum the explosive chorus of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which is basically the theme song of the 90’s. While “Jeremy” is another popular 90’s anthem, anyone asked to sing a bar or two of it will come up with a blank stare. Nirvana doesn’t have much greatness in the way of lyrics, though. “Aneurysm” is mostly repeated chorus. “School” has nine words repeated. Too much of the lyrical content in general is just plain juvenile. Pearl Jam’s lyrics could, like Eddie Vedder’s voice, take a large number of tones. “Daughter,” told through the eyes of a young girl, is a stellar example.
I take nothing away from either band in this category. Both have done outstanding work. When I began, I wanted – and was expecting – to give this to Nirvana. Well, I’m going to call this one a draw. Pearl Jam’s songs are better, but simply planting them with the victory would be depriving Kurt Cobain of his own abilities as a songwriter. And since his work was keeping Nirvana afloat, he deserves recognition. Pick your poison.

I’m going to briefly use The Lazarus Machine on Kurt Cobain for a moment. Pearl Jam has had the longer career by a wide mile, despite no one thinking they were going to be around for very long. Eddie Vedder is a passionate activist, after all, and he’s never been afraid to stand up for what’s right. It reflects on a lot of Pearl Jam’s songs like “Even Flow” and “World Wide Suicide.” What this means is that Pearl Jam survived a handful of politically-based scares which would have destroyed a lot of other bands. They went to war against Ticketmaster, a corporate giant that sold most of the concert tickets at their big venues. On Nirvana’s end, the popular narrative is that Nirvana would have gone on to further their fame and fortune. I don’t doubt this. But fame and fortune only last in the music industry until you make a lousy album, and sometimes it only goes until the point where someone in the band flips out. There’s no real evidence that Nirvana would have lasted beyond In Utero. Dave Grohl had been trying his hand at songwriting for some time by then, and it took him just two years after the end of Nirvana to rise from the ashes as the frontman of a new band, the Foo Fighters, who have now been around for 17 years. Cobain carried around a bit of an attitude, though, and he complained constantly about things beyond his control. Fans weren’t getting him, the producer ruined Nevermind, the TV show lip-synchs, this or that band is a sellout. He also didn’t appear very bent on fixing things he could control – he hated Bleach, Nirvana’s debut album. He had also reached the point that he believed Nirvana had reached their creative peak, which he alluded to in his suicide note.
Pearl Jam. At Cobain’s rate, Nirvana might have been able to produce three more albums, and I’ll only give them that out of the greatest generosity my heart will allow. A more realistic estimate has them barely making it through one more before Cobain called quits to the entire band and, sickened of his fans and image, done the Axl Rose routine. Except that in Nirvana’s version, there’s no promise of the Chinese Democracy album at the end.

The nutshell imagery has folks envisioning Nirvana as an angry, tortured band, making authentic and heartfelt music that speaks for the masses while Pearl Jam is a band of idiots obsessed with showing everyone that they’re not sellouts. Are you fucking kidding me?! Everything Pearl Jam did, especially early in their career, had no personal benefit to the band. They refused to make music videos, got into a war with the corporation that pretty much owned all the big concert halls because of what the band said was ticket gouging, and are legendary for their live performances. In other words, they refused to have their fans’ personal song interpretations compromised, stood up to a big corporation because they thought their fans were being screwed, and always run onstage and give 100 percent, gee, look, for their fans! Ya think this is a band that’s fond of its fans? On the other end, there’s Nirvana, a band which created a debut album which the frontman himself hated even though he wrote every song on it; wanted to call its second album Sheep because they thought it had too much of a pretty, mainstream sheen; and made their third album solely as an effort to alienate people. And while people hemmed and hawed about how Kurt Cobain was angsty and authentic and all that other stuff, Cobain was turning the stripped, fundamentals-heavy sound he helped create into a playland where only his own version of the cool kids could dance. And his version of the cool kids was pretty narrow. His feud with Axl Rose happened because Cobain created it and considered Rose a sellout. He took potshots at Pearl Jam too, calling the band out for using too many guitar solos and a shot reserved for Jeff Ament because Ament liked to play basketball. It was Vedder, by the way, who caught Cobain for the bully he had turned into. Sayeth the legend, Vedder called Cobain out of the blue and the battle ended, and the two of them were on much better terms by Cobain’s death.
Pearl Jam. Pearl Jam, Pearl Jam, Pearl Jam. It was summed up in one novel which described Pearl Jam as being the band of the people and Nirvana as the band that hated its people. While I have no doubt Cobain meant everything he sang, he is also the early prototype of the modern hipster: A man who tracked the mainstream and made business decisions accordingly, all carefully calculated to project the image of how much he didn’t care. Pearl Jam wins this battle or you’re a fucking moron who needs to trade in your tasteful music card right now and go buy the new album from Justin Bieber. You’re not ready to have a conversation about grownup music yet.

Pearl Jam’s first album was Ten, and they busted into the mainstream right off the bat with it. Nirvana had to wait until their second album, Nevermind, to catch fire. Both of these albums are outstanding, and feature the bands at the top of their games. Nevermind, however, has a limit in its sounds. It’s either similar-sounding one-note guitar work or sardonic acoustic songs. They’re great songs, mind you, but Nevermind really doesn’t venture out to sound all that different from itself. Ten is a haunting album loaded with stories, anger, and pain. It tackles a variety of social ills as well as personal issues, trying to reach out and grab everyone surrounding it. Ten is situational and existential while Nevermind is merely existential.
You can’t go wrong with either, but my personal preference is for Ten.

Pearl Jam rolls over Nirvana in every way. Stripped of their air of authenticity, Nirvana is a band for people who think they’re authentic, but who are in truth just hipsters.

Buildings in Buffalo that Look Like they Could be Found in Star Wars

Buildings in Buffalo that Look Like they Could be Found in Star Wars

Listening to any architecture expert yakking incessantly about the marvels of architecture in the city of Buffalo, New York, one can almost hear the voice of Ted Mosby from How I Met Your Mother: “Fun fact! Did you know Buffalo is one of only two cities in the United States to feature architecture from Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, HH Richardson, and Frederick Law Olmsted? The only other American city with that combination is Chicago!” And, ’tis true. Very few other cities can boast the kinds of architectural heritage contained within the Buffalo city limits.

If you were to drive down the thruway above downtown Buffalo taking the occasional cursory glance over to see what you’re missing, your primary reflex would be a look of awe. Unfortunately, it’s not a good kind of awe. The later buildings of Buffalo have a way of standing well above the good architecture, and those later buildings seem to have all been built at a time when Buffalo city planners were obsessed with the 50’s and 60’s version of what the future would look like. The result is a series of prominent monstrosities whose presence gives Buffalo one hell of a butt-ugly skyline. Some of the buildings look like they can be spotted as set decoration in the background of the Star Wars movies. Now, I’m one of the biggest Star Wars fans you’ll ever meet. Star Wars is famous, beloved, and popular for many reasons, but its displays of futuristic buildings is definitely not one of them.

Main Place Mall
To paraphrase Douglas Adams, if you were to take the Death Star, crush it into a rectangular shape, and plop it right down into the middle of downtown Buffalo, you would be wasting your time, because it looks very much as if someone has already done so. The Death Star analogy is appropriate because of what was ripped up in order to make room for Main Place Mall: Several blocks of handsome Victorian buildings as well as the stunning Erie County Savings Bank. It was one of many projects done in the name of urban renewal in 1969, in a misguided attempt to bring people back to shop downtown instead of in the suburban strip malls. Now instead of a powerful testament to the city’s heritage, there’s just a hulking, black, horizontal slab. The most depressing aspect of it, though, is not what’s on the outside, but what’s on the inside: Pretty much nothing. Main Place Mall may be the most useless shopping mall you’ve ever seen. There are two floors. The first floor has a decent pizzeria and good coffee shop, but mostly there’s a Key Bank, a dollar store, an optometrist, a newsstand…. And that’s literally about it, them and a few others. The second floor has nothing but a food court for the people who work downtown. There’s literally more space in Main Place Mall for rent than there is being rented.

Main Place Tower
This is part of Main Place Mall. Take the description above and make it vertical, and you’ve got it. I can’t be the only one who thinks the city is missing out on a golden tourist opportunity by not renaming this building the Galactic Empire Stock Exchange Building.

Buffalo Convention Center
The Convention Center is a remainder of the Brutalist style of architecture, which flourished from the 50’s to the 70’s. One of the identifying marks of the Brutalist style is the look of a concrete prison. From the outside, the Buffalo Convention Center looks like a Rebel Alliance base on a lucid world like Yavin or Endor. In fact, it’s easy to look at the Convention Center and see it standing in for the brief shot of the Alliance base on Yavin in Episode IV, and it’s even easier to picture the Millennium Falcon launching from it. A former indie rag in Buffalo, the Buffalo Beast, actually made a list about the worst things in downtown Buffalo. It named the convention center and transfixed a photoshopped picture with the Falcon in front of the Convention Center, going on to accuse it of choking off the roads to other streets. It raised the question, at least to me, of just how much damage it could actually do, since it’s basically right across the street from Main Place Mall.

Buffalo City Court Building
Wait a minute, are you sure this is a courthouse and not the actual prison? That’s exactly what it looks like. It’s another example of Brutalist architecture, and it was built with minimal windows, so for the better because judges might want to look out the windows instead of doing their jobs. Seriously, that’s the reasoning that came into play while building this thing. I know the Empire usually likes to avoid the mess of prisons and dispose of people by shipping them off to the mines of Kessel, but this place would make a fine prison, or a great Sith Palace, or a small cottage befitting of the Hutt clan.

One HSBC Center
This one might be stretching the Star Wars theme a little bit, but anyone who has ever seen this place knows that if the Yavin Temple ever needed a parking garage, this sucker is it. The tallest and most prominent building on the Buffalo skyline is easily the city’s biggest architectural blight, and a mistake of such epic proportions that the skyline would become about 40 percent prettier upon its razing. In the Star Wars universe, it could also possibly be used as a good slum building on Coruscant. Being as how the One HSBC Center is the butt-ugliest building on Earth, maybe we could also count the fact that, when I’m crowned Galactic Emperor, my first act will be to have this thing demolished by statement – a nice hailstorm from TIE Fighters, providing, of course, that the tower isn’t actually capable of withstanding a full fighter assault. From the looks of the place, that’s entirely possible.

One M&T Plaza
This building doesn’t fit in with the classic Buffalo motif, but then again, neither do any of the other buildings on this list. One M&T Plaza, though, actually doesn’t look bad. It was the brainchild of architect Minoru Yamasaki, the architect of the original World Trade Towers. The design similarities include the long, slender windows and the way the building is handsomely capped off on the top. It will be a fitting place to start if the Empire ever expands to the point which requires the inevitable Earth Empire College to open a Buffalo chapter.

Buffalo and Erie County Public Library
It’s not in my nature to decry libraries, but the Central Branch looks like the architect was trying to mock up a nice fortress designed for the Imperials before deciding to redesign the ends to show support for the Rebels.

Manning vs. Brady: The Ultimate Battle!

Manning vs. Brady: The Ultimate Battle!

Words like greatness and champion tend to conjure images of our greatest athletes soaring above and beyond the limits of our imaginations. Imaginations which you’ll have to use for the purposes of this article, because being saccharine when it comes to professional sports has never been a great specialty of mine.

So anyway, the battle lines have long been drawn in the NFL fandom. You’re either a Peyton Manning man or a Tom Brady man; one of these two is going to go down in history as the greatest quarterback of all time, and the other is going to be remembered as 1a. It’s the closest thing the NFL has to a good against evil rivalry right now, although the roles have managed to invert themselves: The gifted, strong-armed man who was the son of a quarterback and the brother of another quarterback and was raised almost purely to epitomize everything a proper pocket passer should be is the good guy in this case, while the scrappy underdog who was inconspicuously raised in California, had to prove himself at the University of Michigan, was drafted in the fifth round, and whose big break was one of Drew Bledsoe’s bones is considered the bad guy. While so-called analysts were debating stat and MVP King Manning against Super Bowl Champion Brady for years, both Rob and I were devoted Manning men. Then something funny happened: Brady started putting up video game numbers himself, and the debate between Manning and Brady was suddenly a real debate. Rob stuck with Manning through and through, but I began questioning who was the true superior of the two. Lately, it seems like everything between them has been a one-upsmanship contest which the rest of the NFL just got stuck in. Just when I think Brady proved himself the inarguable superior by throwing for over 500 yards in a single game, Manning will heave seven touchdown passes in a single game. Forget the hype; the NFL is a battlefield between Manning and Brady, and every other team is just caught in the middle. So who is actually better? Well, it’s time to throw my own five cents into this bloodletting. So let’s do this! Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. One day, I’ll learn.

Peyton Manning played for a bunch of coaches – Jim Mora, Tony Dungy, and Jim Caldwell with the Indianapolis Colts. Upon his move to the Denver Broncos, Manning switched to coach John Fox. Non-fans might not notice this at first glance, but that’s not a particularly impressive spate of coaches. Dungy is the only coach of that bunch who could give fans any bragging rights – he’s the team’s all-time winningest coach, at least in Indy – and even he struggled to fix a defense which constantly played like a screen door on a submarine. So it was left on Manning’s head to lead all of those coaches to 13-win years at one point or another. Consider that: Four different head coaches, four new systems to learn, and one of them came with a move to a city where there’s no atmosphere and athletes have to be told to remember to breathe. Tom Brady has had only one single coach throughout the entirety of his NFL career. Not just any coach either, but Darth freaking Vader…. I mean, Bill freaking Belichick, a man who specialized in defense when he began his tenure with the New England Patriots and, when his guys got old, pulled a switcheroo and morphed into Air Belichick. That’s not only stability, it’s stability with a coach who can teach you rocket science.
Peyton Manning. For everything we know about what a natural athlete he is, Peyton Manning clearly put in extra credit to learn every new system thrown at him. He’s done that so often that any discussion over the league MVP revolves around who will be second to Manning. Tom Brady knows only his one guy. I’d like to see how he does without a wizard calling his shots before coming back to review this decision.

Beginning Situation
Quarterback is a difficult position to really get ahold of in the NFL. It’s why so few teams come up with even one serviceable QB they can safely call their franchise guy, so it’s safe to factor in just what they did when they were first thrown to the wolves. Manning won all of three games in his rookie season with the Colts. In his first real season as a starter, Brady didn’t do very much better. He only took the New England Patriots to, uh, their first ever Super Bowl victory. However, what should be be remembered here is that Tom Brady was drafted in 2000 and spent his first season sitting on his ass watching and learning from Drew Bledsoe, a 40,000-yard clubber himself who took the Patriots to a nigh-unwinnable Super Bowl against the Green Bay Packers a few years earlier. In practices, he was learning the system of Bill Belichick. What does it all mean? That by the time Tom Brady won his promotion, he knew all the ropes, an advantage Peyton Manning didn’t have. I won’t factor in what Manning did during his first year in Denver, because by the time he got there, the Broncos were such an awesome team that Tim Tebow was able to get them into the playoffs.
Peyton Manning. Tom Brady never had to deal with a team that was a disorganized mess even before Marshall Faulk left.

Clutch Reputations
Peyton Manning has 38 fourth-quarter comebacks. Tom Brady has 27. Now, this can easily be nullified by pointing out the fact that if the quarterbacks are any good, they don’t find themselves playing from behind very often, and with Brady there’s certainly a case in that. Brady’s top year for comebacks was seven in 2003, when the Patriots weren’t leaking like drunks on defense. He seems to be playing from behind less and less. Manning has more comebacks to his name despite his reputation as a choker, and three times in his career he managed to lead his team to seven comebacks in a single season. Blame his defense. The dirty little secret of the New England Patriots is that, in spite of his fearless leader reputation, Tom Brady’s props as the clutch man in the Super Bowl are overblown. He’s played in the Big Game five times. The first two times, he merely brought his team to ties. In both final drives – which cemented his reputation, I might add – he wasn’t imitating Joe Montana or Eli Manning. All he did was lead the Patriots down the field, into…. Field goal position! Where his uber-clutch kicker broke tie games in the closing seconds! Kind of removes the sense of urgency, doesn’t it? In the third Super Bowl, the Philadelphia Eagles had a real shot at winning. Brady had no control over the end drives, but reeled in the Lombardi Trophy anyway because Philly’s coach couldn’t remember the time. Fourth Super Bowl against the New York Giants? That was a big one. Truly down by three points, Brady really needed a touchdown. There was a real sense of urgency because even if the Patriots kicked a field goal, that meant time would run out and the Giants would get another shot in overtime. And Tom Terrific couldn’t even get his team into field goal range. In his fifth Super Bowl, again against the Giants, Brady led the Pats on the final drive again, and this time his team was down by four so no touchdown, no ring, game, set, and match. Not only did Brady blow it, he didn’t even get within a reach of the endzone which was safe enough for New England to try anything other than a hail mary. I’m taking pleasure in Brady-bashing because while no one points this out, everyone loves to mock Manning’s one big comeback failure in the Super Bowl: The interception to Tracy Porter against the New Orleans Saints.
Take your chance. On the one hand, Peyton Manning comes back more often, but he’s more prone to mistakes. On the other, there’s Tom Brady, who looks lost when he’s truly behind in the Super Bowl under assault because he isn’t used to having to come back, but at least he doesn’t throw game-sealing interceptions.

Playing Style
Neither of these guys can be called a bad runner, but they’re both traditional pocket passers, which makes both of them relics in the new, mobile NFL. Of course, that doesn’t mean a whole lot because even in their career twilights, both are still capable of killing you. They just have different ways of going about it. Manning has always been more of a big play quarterback. Watching him, one gets the sense that he’s going for broke on each and every pass he throws. It’s high risk, high reward for Manning, a man who never heard of such a thing as game management until late in his career. He is a regular scrimmage line maestro who frequently calls his own plays and changes them at will if his gut is telling him the other defense is going to pull something. Tom Brady clearly knew the concept of game management from the moment he took over the starting job from Bledsoe in New England. Hell, it’s the reason he’s been so successful. Brady is more willing to spread the ball out, change receivers, and throw short-yardage passes for small gains to hack away at a defense if his team is on the ropes. It’s not the most exciting way to get the job done, but it works, and the risks aren’t as great. This shows in the interception numbers for both players – Manning has thrown considerably more career interceptions (209 to Brady’s 123) and his single-season interception high of 28 is twice that of Brady’s 14.
Tom Brady. If I have to protect a small lead, I need to know the ball is going to actually be safe.

The common perception is that Peyton Manning lifted the NFL version of The Mighty Ducks while Tom Brady coasted by on the cream of the crop. When it comes to defense, Manning has always been shafted, while Brady only started getting screwed over around 2006. Manning had the career entirety of receiver Marvin Harrison for the bulk of both their careers, and Harrison is a guy who ranks in the Jerry Rice suites in several receiving categories, including career receptions – he’s one of only four to reel in 1000 balls, and he ranks first in average receptions per season. Manning also enjoyed the sustained ground support of Edgerrin James for an enormous chunk of time, and James was no half-ass runner – he holds five career rushing records for the Colts. Over his career, Manning also got the considerable services of other Pro Bowlers like center Jeff Saturday, wide receiver Reggie Wayne lining up opposite Harrison, running back Joseph Addai, and tight end Ken Dilger. Now, do you know who Antowain Smith is? He was the running back for the Patriots in New England’s first two Super Bowl victories, and a reject from the Buffalo Bills who really didn’t have much to offer beyond his willingness to take a few hits. It’s true that like Manning, Tom Brady enjoyed the protection of an all-world offensive line, an all-time great receiver (Randy Moss) and an all-time great running back (Corey Dillon). However, Moss and Dillon came years apart and played for the Patriots for less than three years! Dillon retired soon after helping the Patriots to their third Super Bowl, and Moss was shipped. New England is infamously unsentimental when it comes to keeping its guys, and Brady has had to get used to seeing his running backs and receivers get knocked down the depth chart and ditched entirely. Receiver Troy Brown had a Pro Bowl in an otherwise inconspicuous career, and he needed Brady to get it. Deion Branch was a Super Bowl MVP, an honor which probably topped his otherwise ordinary career. Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski are the closest things Brady ever had to favorite targets, but Welker is catching Peyton’s bombs in Denver now, and Gronk hasn’t been around for very long yet. Of course, the reverse arguments came when both players were injured; when Brady went down for the 2008 season, Matt Cassel won eleven games in his absence. When Manning was hurt in 2011, the Colts won two games.
Tom Brady. Manning has had the kind of stability with his players that Brady has had only with his coach. Yes, Manning-less Indianapolis won just two games, but that wasn’t a particularly good personnel year for them from any standpoint. You couldn’t say that about the 2008 Patriots.

Yeah, I know, what the hell kind of a category is this? It isn’t like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are facing the 1983 quarterback draft class twice every season. Brady plies his trade in the AFC East against the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, and New York Jets. During his career, the Jets have had a few nice runs, but they didn’t come off as a wake-up call to the Patriots even at their best. The Bills and Dolphins have been in some of the weirdest messes in league history – Buffalo’s playoff drought is the league’s longest, and Miami once had a potential all-time great running back quit to go find himself before returning a couple of years later. Not that Manning spent his career in any less of a comfy situation – the league’s divisional layout was rearranged in 2002 to create the AFC South for the expansion Houston Texans, who just happen to share their division with the Colts. Manning also got to pick on the perpetually hapless Jacksonville Jaguars. The only team which was enough to threaten Indy was the Tennessee Titans, but even they were a spotty, frustrating team which could win twelve games one season then five the next. And when Manning went to Denver, his quality of opposition somehow managed to get even worse. The Kansas City Chiefs have fans pausing for thought with new coach Andy Reid and new quarterback Alex Smith, but that might well turn out to be a tease. The days of the San Diego Chargers being an offensive dynamo are gone and their window is firmly nailed shut for now, while the Oakland Raiders might be the worst team in the league.
Tom Brady. First of all, no player has ever tormented a single team the way Brady has beat on the Buffalo Bills. Yes, it’s the bizarro version of the Bills, but even so, a 23-2 record against a divisional rival is something to behold. Also, for all my complaining about his clutch Super Bowl performances not being all that clutch, Brady won his first Super Bowl against the St. Louis Rams, still in their Greatest Show on Turf years. He won one of the most exciting shootouts in Super Bowl history against the Carolina Panthers, and the next year he played outstanding football against a Philadelphia Eagles team which many onlookers believe lost to itself more than it lost to the Patriots. Manning’s first Super Bowl opponent was the Chicago Bears, who won 13 games, but only because they hit their apex and had a weak schedule during a stretch when the NFC had a serious power void.. Manning’s second Super Bowl was against the visibly superior New Orleans Saints, and fuck the gambling line because the oddsmakers aren’t football fans anyway.

This one can keep us up for awhile. Both have done an impressive number of things. Peyton Manning broke the record for touchdowns thrown in a single season in 2006, then Brady broke Manning’s record the following year. Peyton Manning threw seven touchdowns in his last game, something which hasn’t happened since 1944. Brady threw for 500 yards in a single game a couple of years ago. Brady also has a still-rare 5000-yard season under his belt now, and is second on the list for consecutive games with one touchdown pass with 49. Manning won four league MVP awards, Brady two. Manning was the fastest player to ever reach several large career milestones, including 50,000 passing yards and 400 touchdown passes. Both have been Super Bowl MVPs, and both are all-time leaders for their teams in several categories.
Tom Brady. This came down to what bragging rights these guys give the fans, and a 3-2 record in the Super Bowl trumps everything. Yes, Manning may be statistically better in a lot of categories, but I guarantee you no one in Indianapolis is walking around in a T-shirt touting Manning’s MVP years.

Peyton Manning played in a fellow Rust Belt city. Tom Brady is an All-American Golden Boy who became a celebrity being a fucking Patriot.
Peyton Manning. Even New England’s most diehard fans accept the fact that they’d probably hate Brady’s guts if he wasn’t playing on their team.

Have all my bases been covered? I love Peyton Manning. I love Tom Brady, at least the extent to which a non-Patriots fan can love Tom Brady. But in a heartbeat, my money is on Brady. At least in real life because his team-first philosophy is costing me fantasy points. Next year I’m taking Manning in fantasy football. But overall, Brady is better. Watch Rob limply attempt to debate this in our next book, Nick and Rob Explode the NFL.

How to Bicycle Like a Real Chicagoan: A FAQ

How to Bicycle Like a Real Chicagoan: A FAQ

It’s a given that Chicago is a very ideal bicycling destination. The flat terrain makes it easier to cycle there than it does in a lot of other cities, lots of nice bicycles lanes make it convenient, and the constant traffic congestion means it will be easier to get where you’re going on a bicycle than in a car. But what, you ask, is the story with bicycling in Chicago? What should you look out for and expect? How can you make the most of a real Chicago bicycling experience? I’m glad you asked, because here I am to give you the best advice you’ll ever hear about cycling in Chicago!

I don’t actually want to bicycle in Chicago. It’s windy, cold, and the sky always looks like a harbinger of doom.


But I didn’t bring my bicycle with me!

That’s not an excuse. There are many bicycle share and bicycle rental programs floating around in Chicago, many of which will lend you a perfectly good bike for half a day or a day for a reasonable price. Dish out the cash, then you’re free to use your bicycle any way you want! Ride in Critical Mass with your rental!

How do I deal with the cold?

Dress for it! Gloves and something to cover your ears with are both a big help. Wear nylon pants to keep the wind and any rain or snow off. Don’t skimp on the socks.

Oh no, my bicycle was stolen! How?

You locked it up with a cable lock, didn’t you? Yeah, they’ll cut through those things like hot butter. You need a good padlock, save the cables for making sure the seats don’t get stolen.

Why did you just smash that car’s rearview?

What, did you miss the part where he cut me off, braked right in front of me, then sent a whole red light screaming at me and honking his horn despite the fact that he couldn’t actually go anywhere at the time? Or the fact that he went around the block to tailgate me, or that he drove the wrong way up a one-way street? Well, rearview-smashing is our way of getting even. Motorists don’t care if they kill anyone, but hit them in the wallet, and they’ll think harder next time. Maybe. Hopefully. They’re motorists, so you can never be sure.

Where is the best place to begin a good bike ride in Chicago?

You’ll want to get on the Lake Shore Trail somewhere around the Shedd Aquarium or Soldier Field. Head north from there. When you get up to about Grand Avenue, head west until you get to Milwaukee Avenue, then ride up Milwaukee. That’s a nice way to begin. Or if you’re setting out on the last Friday of the month, go to Daley Plaza at 5 PM and ride in Critical Mass.

What about my plans to see the Magnificent Mile and Willis Tow-ow! OW! Why did you just stab me?!

So, are you really visiting Chicago just to see the national retail chains? Tourists visit the Mag Mile, and the drivers there all want you dead. You’re insane to try cycling up the Mag Mile. The cars swerve in every last direction without warning. And the Sears Tower is the tallest building in the city, and you can see it easily enough from the Lake Shore Trail. And I stabbed you because it’s called the Sears Tower, not Willis Tower, no matter what the popular news and travel outlets and insurances companies try to cram down your throat! You want to throw away money, do it in the small, local, and, you know, unique boutiques and quirky places along the Milwaukee strip in Bucktown. Or for god’s sake, at least Clark Street if your tastes are really that mainstream.

Is there a good place to get a Chicago-style hot dog on the way? And… Crap, I can never remember all the proper ingredients!

Dogs in this city are a dime a dozen. Surely you can find them easily enough along Milwaukee, or back down Clark, where I’m also going to send you. And don’t worry about remembering what’s on top of one. The guys making the dog will remember, which makes them a step up from any of the people who don’t work for hot dog joints. No one remembers all the toppings on a Chicago dog. If you’re getting a dog and can’t remember what the topping are, just use ketchup. I don’t care what those ridiculous cultists who are all opposed to ketchup on hot dogs say. Frankly, I can’t stand mustard, and among those cultists you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who actually has celery salt in their pantry. Don’t worry about the Chicago dogs. Worry about a proper Chicago-style deep dish pizza.

So, back to Milwaukee, where do I go after going up that street?

You’re free to hang east at Belmont, but if you want to see some of the most interesting neighborhoods in the city, wait until Lawrence. No matter which one you choose, you’re heading back to Clark.

Oh god, there are hipsters in Bucktown!

Yep. They may be annoying, but look at the bright side: They’re not trying to kill you.

What’s so special about this route, anyway?

Good, wide bicycle zones, considerate drivers, and good asphalt. Be picky about your favorite streets because some look like they’ve been through a war. Parts of Lake Street were capable of ripping the treads off a Sherman when I was living here. On the subject, LaSalle is also highly reccomended. Franklin used to be really awesome until they made it two-way. Now it’s merely awesome. Damen is a wonderful ride as well. On the South Side, be sure to visit Bridgeport and Bronzeville.

What about Hyde Park? That’s President Obama’s neighborhood!

Yes, I’ve had that Obama factoid drilled into my head. No, I don’t know where his house is. Anyway, what are you, rich? Go to some real neighborhoods. Live a little.

Hey, it’s Wrigley Field!

You don’t need to be at Wrigley Field to experience the ambience of a Cubs game. Go see a White Sox game. Watch actual baseball.

Wow, this is a big city! I’m starting to hurt!

It happens.

Why are you stopping at this bar?

I need a drink.

What, now?

Hey, you said you wanted to bike like a Chicagoan. Drinking before, after, and during a good bicycle ride is a proud Chicago tradition! If you’re in Critical Mass, it’s practically required!

What’s this Critical Mass thing you keep talking about?

A giant bicycle ride on the last Friday of every month where cyclists dress up in their peacock best and join together for a long bicycle ride! In good months, there are usually several hundred participants. Great way to see cycling as a subculture!

Who are those nutcases with the bags who keep zooming around The Loop?

Bike Messengers. Don’t mind them. They have work to do. Good folks. I did that myself for awhile.

Christ, didn’t you ever get hurt?

Thousands of times! Several doors, several cars, angry pedestrians, and the times when I was just carrying something big and lost my balance. That movie Premium Rush is more accurate than you would ever believe.

How long did it take to recover from all those accidents?

In the most severe cases, a day. That’s how long it took me to get back to work. I couldn’t go to the hospital most of the time.

What are you, crazy?

That’s what everyone keeps telling me.