Monday, November 30, 2015


In a world where everything is judged with 20/20 hindsight and meticulously dissected, the outcome of a decision is always going to be the basis for the judgment of that decision’s genius or stupidity. It’s always been that way, especially in the sports world, going back as long as guys with keyboards have been criticizing the guys on the field. Especially now, in our frighteningly rapid news cycle, it’s even more true that while the enraged social media masses will sit quietly in the intervening seconds between the decision being made and the actual outcome, the reaction will be increasingly polarized the moment the outcome has actually been decided.

You generally don’t get a lot of people criticizing a fake field goal or the utilization of timeouts, for example, until after the fallout from said decision has already started to settle. But trust that when something goes wrong – or right – everyone will have their two cents to throw into the fray until we’ve got a Scrooge McDuck-like pile of penny opinions just waiting to be dived into if you’re masochistic enough.

There’s nothing wrong with any of this, mind you. It’s what we do and it’s the world we live in, especially as sports fans, and certainly as citizens of a world that now consumes social media like a fire sucking up oxygen. Or perhaps, more accurately, like, well… a human sucking up oxygen. After all, look around and you’d think we need these devices to breathe.

It’s just so EASY to have knee-jerk reactions to everything. So when they start to pile up, it can be easy to slough them off, ignore them, or otherwise show indifference. It’s all just the white noise of what seems to be a rage meter constantly pinned in the red zone.

Which brings us to Mike Tomlin and the red zone. Specifically, his decision to kick a field goal from the 3 yard line when down by 5 points with just 3 minutes left.

If Tomlin were a Bill Cowher-type, who almost always erred on the side of caution and prudence, and who had reason to believe in his defense after a long afternoon, none of us would blink twice at the decision. But after an afternoon – and a season – filled with two-point conversions, 4th down attempts, and on this day a confusing fake field goal try gone awry, Mr. Not-Living-In-His-Fears did just that: He feared Seattle would take the ball after a failed 4th down attempt and move down the field to either run out the clock on the Steelers and their two timeouts (three, if you count the 2-minute warning) and/or score a touchdown to salt the game away. Mike Tomlin did the exact opposite of what he’s done all season long.

And that’s where “guts,” or “balls,” or “stones,” or “onions,” as the great Bill Raftery calls them, shriveled up into two tiny little buds of panicked timidity.

So much of the instant-reaction criticism for Tomlin after last night’s loss is for that fake field goal that got Landry’d and gave the Seahawks great field position to go ahead and capitalize on a 10-point swing. Not nearly enough blame has gone on the decision to kick that 4th down field goal. And not because in the end it didn’t work out for the Steelers. It’s because Mike Tomlin, who has lived and died by the pedal-to-the-metal, no guts/no glory, “we don’t live in our fears” philosophy since August, finally caved. Had he simply stuck to what’s worked for him the majority of the year, perhaps Antwon Blake would still be chasing Doug Baldwin into the great northwestern night and we’d still be talking about a rough loss for a team that was looking to clearly stake its claim to the AFC’s first Wild Card spot. But at least we wouldn’t be left to wonder why Tomlin had backed down.

For a coach fast-approaching a decade as the head coach of one of the league’s storied franchises, he’s clearly become used to the job security that belongs to the man in that role. His devil-may-care attitude toward 2-point plays, 4th down conversions, and usage of timeouts all seemed to point to man achieving Peter Gibbons-level enlightenment on the job. You half-expected Coach T to walk into his Tuesday press conference and promptly start gutting a trout while answering questions about the quickness of 3rd string offensive linemen’s feet.

On Sunday evening, that all changed, and at the worst possible time.

Again, I’m willing to forgive the perplexing Jones-to-Villanueva fake field goal because it fell in line with what Tomlin has done all year. Backing down at the 3-yard line down by 5 though smacks of a guy who became scared of his own shadow, or for some reason or another just finally realized what this year’s team is capable of and couldn’t stomach the idea of losing a grip on it by coming up 9 feet short on 4th and Goal. It gives the appearance that the cacophony of questions that have rained down on Mike Tomlin in regards to his risk-taking, his decision-making, and his leadership in the clutch all came home to roost at the worst possible time. At a time when the Steelers most needed their head coach to be oblivious to the white noise of that rage meter constantly pinned in the red zone, he heard it ringing in his ears as loudly as the 12th Man. He thought ahead to the critics and their meticulous dissection with 20/20 hindsight, and rather than live in the decision, sticking to his philosophy – showing some “guts,” or “balls,” or “onions,” – he did just what he insists he never does, and he lived in the outcome. Mike Tomlin lived in his fears.


The Best.

To be honest, if we have something we enjoy doing, we want to be The Best at that thing in some regard. Or at least associated with the best. For example, if we can’t be an NFL football player and go win a Super Bowl, we at the very least want to be a FAN of the team that wins it all. So, on the surface, this tournament is your chance to go ahead and make YOUR favorite holiday movie the BEST holiday movie, at least in this little corner of the universe.

Down below that superficial need to go ahead and get your favorite movies through the brackets and for you to “win” at something, is the incredible connection you can make with not just a film in general, but a holiday movie more specifically. There is something reassuring about sitting down with something that goes back, in some cases, as far as you remember, especially at this time of year.

And whether it be the NCAA basketball tournament, the College Football Playoff, or any other mostly subjective selection process, there will always be debate when a “Selection Sunday” comes around, and with The Chris Mack Holiday Movie Tournament upon us, this is no different. The time for fervent debate is upon us, and beginning Tuesday morning, the voting – YOUR voting – will decide which movie deserves the title of Best Holiday Movie EVER.

So, here are your brackets:

A reminder that each match-up will last 24 hours and be decided using the Twitter poll function on my timeline at, beginning December 1st and ending Christmas Eve, December 24th.

Thanks for taking part!

Sunday, November 29, 2015


In the process of finding the Best Holiday Movie EVER, there are undoubtedly going to be favorites, underdogs, and disagreements about which movies should qualify as each.

To that end, I suspect the naming of the four 1-seeds will create a bit of consternation for those that traditionally spend the better part of their Christmas Eve night and Christmas Day morning glued to TBS. While A Christmas Story and the multitude of quotable lines from it are strong contenders in this tourney, they will have to make their run as arguably the bracket’s strongest 2-seed. (1’s and 2’s will each get byes to the 2nd Round, so the argument could be made that there isn’t much difference, anyway.)

Your 1-seeds, in no particular order, are:

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Love Actually


It’s a Wonderful Life

By the end of the day, the remaining five movies in each bracket will be revealed, for our total of 24. Feel free to leave comments below and/or at Twitter or Facebook. And look for the polls to open bright and early Tuesday morning with our first match-up.

Saturday, November 28, 2015


After a game like Saturday night’s 2-1 Penguins’ loss in Columbus, maybe we can play make-believe and assume the cause of that rumored ‘rift’ between Penguins’ Co-Owner Mario Lemieux and his former tenant Sidney Crosby was really just a simple argument.

Imagine, if you will:

“Sid, I don’t understand how you can play in this garbage. I mean, it doesn’t even look like hockey anymore.”
“To be honest, Mario, I don’t care if we’re playing in mud with twigs for sticks, I’m gonna do whatever it takes to make my team better.”
“I get it kid, but I’ve seen this crap before, and it caused me to walk away from the game when I was only a few years older than you are now. I wouldn’t hold it against you if you…”
“If I what? Quit?!? After I spent the better part of two years barely able to skate without getting woozy? I’ve given my life to this game, and I’ll be damned If I don’t do anything and everything I can to win another Cup, even if it means I have to become a grinding 2-way center in a 60-minute slog of a trapfest three times a week!”
“Eh, what if you had to get cross checked in the back of the neck by some plugger from Alaska?”
The NHL is slowly devolving, and not coincidentally, so is the game of its most recognizable star.

Now, don’t confuse this as an excuse for Sidney Crosby’ ice-cold scoring touch over the past calendar year. But could you blame Crosby – or any other of the league’s stars, for that matter – if they were inclined to think the NHL could not possibly care less about them? Not only have the league’s coaches seemingly agreed to a blood pact to play 30 variations of the most boring style of hockey possible – stack up everyone at the blue line, and when the opponents finally beat your trap, all five guys just reconvene in-between the hashmarks and commence blocking two-thirds of all shots taken from beyond 8 feet out – they’ve also gone back to a time-honored tradition usually reserved for the piƱata at a 5-year old’s birthday party: Whack the star!!

Is there any reason fans of the game – both the most devout as well as the casual – are now as vocal as ever about the game diving back down to the mid-to-late ‘90s depths that drove it’s most talented player ever into an early retirement?

This is a league where a cheapshot-guru like Brandon Dubinsky has made a career out of simply standing in front of pucks and liberally slashing and cross-checking everything he sees with more talent than him.

It’s a league made for the trolls, goblins, and goons now proliferating under coaches like John Tortorella, who love a player with neither the brains nor the skill to do anything more than stand still and take flying pieces of rubber off of their body.

Let’s be very, VERY clear: In a game that had the back-and-forth firewagon pace of a late-80s Smythe Division match-up, postgame analysts were talking about the excitement this game had because of the extracurriculars. In a game where we very easily could have lost this generation’s most talented player for God knows how long due to a cross check to the back of the neck, we were being told afterwards how “fun” it was to see that kind of intensity.

We’re now so desperate for action of any kind in an NHL hockey game, that we’ll accept a cross check to the back of a star’s neck, or the game’s most skilled goal scorer fighting with one of the league’s best defensemen, as the actual entertainment, rather than 60 minutes of the kind of serve-and-volley offensive rallies that the league is specifically trying to create via special rules in overtime.

After a game like Saturday night’s in Columbus, we shouldn’t be raving about the “playoff-like action.” We should be asking why on earth anybody would still want to play in this league.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


It's the most wonderful time of the year for a LOT of reasons, even if you can't stand Christmas music, find the stress of holiday shopping utterly soul-crushing, or simply refuse to drink the magic elixir known as egg nog.

First, there are the sports. The NHL and NBA have hit their regular season stride, and this December in particular will see the Golden State Warriors' continued making of history as they extend the now-NBA Record Longest Winning Streak to Start a Season. The NFL Playoff chase is heating up, and after initially looking like the AFC picture would be decided by the time the tryptophan puts you to sleep Thursday night, there are now a slew of rickety 5-5 teams chasing down the 6-4 Steelers for the two Wild Card spots, while the NFC has about a dozen teams still pursuing the undefeated Panthers. College hoops are in the midst of their tournament/classic season, and every week we get a new argument about who deserves to be in the College Football Playoff as Conference Championships, Bowl Season, and those Playoffs loom.

Almost as great as the sports though, are the multitude of viewing options available despite our favorite shows going on hiatus. Sure, The Walking Dead and The Blacklist and whatever other active shows you obsess over may be replaced by some catch-up work on binge-worthy shows crowding your Netflix or Prime queue. However, the joy of sitting down with an old, familiar friend can't be overstated. When Chevy Chase drops one of the best lines in movie history, when Bing Crosby actually does tap dance with Danny fu%&ing Kaye, when Ralphie comes down the stairs in the pink bunny outfit, or when Alan Rickman asks for his detonators from John McClain - or perhaps just admits to Emma Thompson that he's so in the wrong and a classic fool - you don't care that you've been there with them a few hundred times before. In fact, you may be happy to be right there with them reciting the lines for what feels like the thousandth time.

Holiday movies - from the classics to the ones of our youth to the new classics to the big money blockbusters - are more than just a way to pass the time while you wait for Stephen Curry to finally miss a 3 or for the turkey to finally finish in the oven. They're a common thread that you carry through your experiences from year-to-year-to-year, and more often than not either impart a heartwarming message that we need reminded of this time of year, or are just plain funny. Or both.

With that said, I have undertaken the difficult task of trying to assess the single best holiday movie EVER. I have my personal favorite(s), which I'll reveal throughout this process. However, ignoring what others think would be foolhardy and undoubtedly lead to a whole lot of second-guessing of myself. So I'm enlisting your help.

My gift to you this holiday season? The CHRIS MACK Holiday Movie Tournament:

24 films - no TV specials - broken down into four different, 6-film subgenres. The selection and seeding process has been a difficult one, but will be explained on Selection Sunday: November 29th, The tournament begins on December 1st, with our Champion being crowned on Christmas Eve. Each day I'll post and pin a poll to my Twitter feed asking you to vote on that day's match-up. Will it be a difficult 4-/5-seed nailbiter? Or a 1-seed squashing and dancing on it's opponent like Cam Newton dabbing on the Titans?

Be sure to check back to find out, starting this weekend...

Monday, November 23, 2015


Nobody likes to be told what to do. From the very beginning, we come out of the womb literally kicking and screaming about what we want. Give me FOOD! Give me SLEEP! Gimme, gimme, gimme!! As we get older the Gimmes change, and more often than not, the one thing we want more and more and more of is… 

Well yeah, money. That’s always helpful. 

But the one thing we want more of that we really don’t have any control over is time. When time catches up to you, it’s something that no amount of money can buy you more of. Maybe you can make a few attempts to slow time down – staying fit, eating well, getting to the doc, maybe even a little nip or tuck if you’re so inclined – but time will inevitably continue its arduous march. And it will drag you along with it, either kicking and screaming or gracefully accepting whatever path you’re being led down. 

How often have we seen the kicking and screaming overrule dignified aplomb though when it comes to the legends and heroes or our favorite sports and teams? Pride certainly comes before the fall, but far too often it goes unmentioned that pride also hangs around for the entire descent like a straggling party guest refusing to order that Uber before they pass out on your couch with their shoes on. And so we come to our old friend Peyton Manning.

courtesy: CBS Sports
Manning is to our generation what Johnny Unitas was 50 years ago: The living, breathing embodiment of a quarterback. The fact that time is catching up to Manning and finally slowing him down is painful to watch. It’s also ironic on multiple levels, as Manning, more than any other passer of his generation, changed what the quarterback was allowed to do at the line of scrimmage and harkened back to Unitas’s day, when a QB called all of his own plays. 

Manning’s success in adjusting to what he saw, making calls at the line, and calling a game from under/behind the center has given a new generation of quarterbacks the freedom to go out and adjust on the fly. Sometimes it doesn’t work: See Andy Dalton audibling out of a 3rd-and-2 handoff last night that would have left the Arizona Cardinals with about 30 less seconds to attempt their game-winning field goal drive. Instead, he chose to throw to A.J. Green. The pass was broken up, the clock stopped, and Carson Palmer, despite having no timeouts, had plenty of time to fire a few beebees to Larry Fitzgerald and get his team into field goal range. 

Sometimes it DOES work, though. And when it does, it’s football poetry in motion at the highest level of the game. When Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger gets his team in a no-huddle, and then spends 5-6 minutes probing his way downfield with the kind of calls that can only come from a player on the field possessing the ability to scan a defense, identify its weakness, and attack it in a pinpoint manner, you see the importance of Peyton Manning to the modern era of the NFL. 

Without Peyton, there are no QBs acting as their own de facto Offensive Coordinator in the 2-minute drill. Without Peyton, we’re left with a generation of overgrown college kids covering the ear holes on their helmets as six guys on the sideline signal in the same play while a Grad Assistant holds up a placard with Jerry Springer’s face, the letter Q, a map of Brunei, and an eye test chart on it. 

Perhaps most impressively, Peyton Manning wasn’t just a quarterbacking savant who changed the way games are called. He became a guy that people genuinely LIKED. From goofy SNL sketches to Papa John’s to that damn Nationwide jingle, he became America’s quarterback in an era where there have been so many very talented yet very unlikable guys at the position (um, no Philip, I’m not looking at you), you ultimately won’t remember him for only winning one championship. You’ll remember him for changing the game. 

Unless he tries to outrun time. In which case, Manning will go down as another Unitas-in-San Diego, Namath-in-L.A., shell of his former self providing a tarnished footnote on an otherwise illustrious career. 

As it stands, Manning’s time in Denver has been much more Joe Montana-in-Kansas City than the other two aforementioned greats. However, the writing is on the wall, whether Brock Osweiler is the kid with the crayon or not: Peyton Manning’s all out of time.