Sunday, September 29, 2013

On Pilgrimage

Tomorrow 50 of our New Castle parishioners, with Father Nick Vaskov and I, will be leaving Pittsburgh for a pilgrimage of churches and historic sites in Italy.  We'll be visiting Rome and the Vatican, Assisi, Siena, Florence and Venice.  We'll attend the general papal audience in St. Peter's Square, and hope to see Pope Francis as he also is a pilgrim in Assisi on St. Francis of Assisi's feast day of October 4.

So my blog takes a two week holiday, while we are on pilgrimage.  I'll share parts of our journey on our return.  Wish us bon voyage and Godspeed!  See you in the middle of the month.

60 Years

A year ago, my friends Rosanne and Martie Saunders and I were attending the great Bruce Springsteen concert at the Consol Energy Center.  Our 59th birthdays were approaching, and I jokingly said, wouldn't it be great to get Bruce and the E Street Band to come to Pittsburgh to help us celebrate our 60th birthdays.

One thing led to another, and we began to consider using our big "zero" birthday not just as a celebration for us, but as a fundraiser for Sisters Place.  Both Rosanne and I had served on the Board of Directors of Sisters Place, and hold it in high esteem.

For those of you who don't know about Sisters Place, it is an initiative of the many Catholic women's religious communities in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, founded in 1997.  The not-for-profit organization provides supportive housing to single parents and their children, in the city of Clairton.  Sisters Place leases over two dozen townhomes in Clairton, and works with the parents (mostly moms) to complete their education, address any addiction problems they may have, give them healthy parenting skills, and put them on a pathway to having and holding a job.  Sisters Place also works with the children, to make sure they get a good education.

Well, we had to ditch the "bring Bruce to Pittsburgh" idea.  He is on tour in South America.   So we moved to the concept of a "60s for 60" party to benefit Sisters Place -- and to help Rosanne and I celebrate this milestone in our lives.  It will be held on Friday, October 25, at the John Paul I Pastoral Center in St. Juan Diego Parish, 201 9th Street, in Sharpsburg.  We are grateful to pastor Michael Decewicz for sharing this fine hall with us free of charge, and for the assistance of the parish staff.  Doors open at 5 pm, appetizers at 6, dinner at 7, and fun events at 8.  (No tickets will be available at the door.  Please let us know you are coming by October 18, so we can plan accordingly.)  

In the spirit of the 1960s, we will be serving food from that crazy decade.  We encourage guests to dress in costume representing the 1960s (prizes will be rewarded for the best!).  And we are suggesting a donation to Sisters Place of $60 per person, or some multiple.  (If you give $600 to Sisters Place for the party, we'll put your name above Rosanne and my name on the door.  If you give $1,666, we'll sing your favorite 60s song from the stage.  If you give $6,000 we'll come to pick you up for the party in a 1969 "Flower Power" Volkswagen Beetle.  If you give $6 million to Sisters Place, I will personally guarantee we'll rename the organization after you.)

If you are up enjoying a great celebration, contact fundraising director Melissa or executive director Sister Mary at 412-233-3903.  Make checks payable to "Sisters Place."  All donations tax-deductible to the full extent of the law.  (Rosanne asked me to put that sentence in, because she's a conscientious lawyer.)  And I hope that the clients of Sisters Place benefit greatly from our 1960s birthday party.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Dr. Reyes and the Social Ministry Institute

Every year Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh and the diocesan office of Human Life and Dignity hosts the Social Ministry Institute.  This one-day in-service allows social ministers, members of pro-life and justice and peace committees, priests and deacons, Catholic Charities staffers, and any interested Catholics to learn about new initiatives and network with folks.  

On Monday, September 23, the Social Ministry Institute was held at the Cardinals' Great Hall on the campus of St. Paul Seminary.  The keynote speaker was Dr. Jonathan Reyes, the executive director of the U.S. bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development.  His address spoke to the theme of the day, "You are all witnesses."

I was free to drive in for a portion of the day, to listen to Dr. Reyes' talk and to stay for lunch.  Through the kindness of Helene Paharik, who serves both the diocesan office of Human Life and Dignity, and as Associate General Secretary, I was able to meet Dr. Reyes and have some time to converse with him.

Dr. Reyes came to the USCCB [United States Conference of Catholic Bishops] in December.  He followed John Carr, who served as executive director of the same office (under several different names) for 25 years.  John retired in June 2012.  He is now director of an institute at Georgetown University, dedicated to increase lay involvement in the work and implementation of Catholic social teaching.  I knew John as an acquaintance, having attended for ten years the annual USCCB-hosted national Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, D.C. each February.  Over the years I had also had opportunities to break bread with John, when he came to Pittsburgh for various talks.

Over the past decade, John Carr became a lightning rod for criticism from certain Catholics for allegations which ranged from association with pro-abortion groups, to leading the U.S. Catholic bishops astray, to out-and-out heterodoxy.  I hasten to add I don't believe these accusations for a moment, and think that these criticisms are false, harmful, poisonous and possibly libelous.  

                                             John Carr

When Dr. Reyes' appointment was announced in September 2012, it was greeted with huzzahs from the right, and fear from the left.  Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter questioned Dr. Reyes' "thin resume" and lack of experience in the ways of lobbying in the hallways of Congress.  Amy Sullivan, in The New Republic (who knew anyone at The New Republic cared about the Catholic Church, even to criticize it?) expressed the opinion that this appointment was signaling that the U.S. bishops would pull back from an anti-poverty agenda.  On the other hand, blogger Micah Murphy cheered the appointment as "earth-shattering" and a move away from the example of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, and what he lebeled  "Post-Exposure Seamless Garment Syndrome."  (Do you think he likes the "seamless garment" pro-life metaphor of Cardinal Bernadin?)  Another blogger, Fr. Z (John Zuhlsdorf) showed his support of Reyes and rejection of Carr by sarcastically annotating the Sullivan blogpost.  Both Murphy and Zuhlsdorf implied that Carr was not orthodox in his thinking, if not out-and-out in favor of abortion.

Meeting Dr. Reyes was something other than this internet flaming.  He is a charming man, disarming with his smile and admission that, yes, his appointment by the U.S. bishops was "a non-traditional" appointment.  He is an historian by trade, with a Ph.D. in European history from Notre Dame.  He taught at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, got into administrative posts there, and then was named to direct the $35 million budget of Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Denver.  He told me that his friends on the left are skeptical of his associations with conservative Catholics; his friends on the right can't understand his hands-on advocacy of service to the poor, and founding of "Christ in the City," a ministry in Denver to bring college-age students in direct care of the poor, within a supportive Church environment.

                                     Dr. Jonathan Reyes

Dr. Reyes admitted to me that he has a lot to learn about public policy and lobbying, and trusts that his staff at the USCCB can teach him a lot.  But he also was frank to say that he brings a more evangelical perspective on the work of the bishops' conference, and the opportunity to bridge the divides between left and right in the church.  His conversation with me was peppered with the healthy "both-and" of Catholic social thought.  (For example, we Catholics both oppose abortion and euthanasia, and support pathways to citizenship for illegal immigrants and healthcare for all.  We oppose so-called gay marriage, and support more peace-building initiatives.  We oppose war, and support a family wage and increases in the legal minimum wage.)  I sensed that Dr. Reyes was not going to back down from the social justice and human life teachings of our church and our bishops.  He was interested, at the same time, of deepening the Gospel-based motivation of those who work in promoting peace, justice and human life for all human beings, and being honest that (unlike the days of Great Society and War on Poverty) today government may not always be the best vehicle to carry out this work.

Dr. Reyes' talk for the Social Ministry Institute gave hits of his emphases   It was more a sermon about the new moment of the Catholic Church to bring the Gospel into the world, and the furthest from a public policy snoozer.  It was "evangelical" in the classical theological meaning of the word, and not in the U.S. political sense.

I enjoyed my 40 minute conversation with Dr. Reyes, and am glad that Helene Paharik made it possible to meet him.  I am not shy to say that I highly admire John Carr, and the labors he did over a quarter-century with the bishops conference, and all the national and international initiatives he participated in, carrying out the Catholic Church's mandate to serve the poor and needy, to bring peace and justice and freedom to our sin-filled world.  But maybe there is something to be said for some slight tacking in the practical means the church in the U.S. pursues justice and peace.  My heartfelt prayers go out to Dr. Jonathan Reyes in his new position.  I pray also for his highly competent staff at the Department for Justice, Peace, and Human Development, the bishops who serve on the Domestic Justice and Human Development and International Justice and Peace Committee, and all who want the Catholic Church to bring Christ's call for "liberty to captives" to life in our world.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

35 Years

How things change.  Don't we often say that?  I am very much aware of the nature of change, as the 35th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood approaches, on September 30, 2013.  Here are a few statistical markers of the changes from 1978 to 2013:

  • World population in 1978, 4.3 billion souls (2013, 7.1 billion)--a 65% increase.
  • United States population 222 million (today, 317 million)--a 42% increase.  
  • Dow Jones average 805 (today, 15,191)--an incredible 1888% increase.  
  • Inflation 7.6% (today, 2.0%).  
  • Cost of new home $54,800 (today, $245,000)--a 447% increase. 
  • Median household income $15,060 (today, $52,000)--a 345% increase.  
  • Gallon of gasoline $0.63 (today, $3.65)--a 579% increase.  
  • Postage stamp $0.13 ($0.46)--a 353% increase.  
And our church has changed.  The biggest effect of Vatican II came in 1970 when "the new Mass" became widely used in the U.S.  The priest switched from praying in Latin with his back mostly to the people to praying in the "vernacular" (language of the people) and facing the assembly.  But in 1978 Holy Communion was only distributed by a priest (no Eucharistic ministers), only with one species (no Precious Blood offered to the congregation), and only on the tongue (not in the hand).  For four years in my first assignment at St. Therese, Munhall, there were three of us priests for only six Sunday Masses.  But we also had to help with distributing Holy Communion at two more.  Pastors still wore their black cassocks and birettas over to church from the rectory.  It was only in the early 1980s that we priests stopped coming out of the sacristy to begin Mass and go back into the sacristy at the end of Mass--no greeting of folks in the back of church or at the entrances.

In 1978 70 year old Vincent M. Leonard, the 9th bishop of Pittsburgh, ordained our class of 12 men.  There were 333 parishes in the Diocese of Pittsburgh that year (today, 200)--a decrease of 60%; 525 active diocesan priests (today, 242)--a decrease of 46%; 24 deacons (today, 110)--an increase of 460%; and about 950,000 Catholics (today, 635,000)--a decrease of 33%.  In those days the expectation was that it would take 15 to 18 years for a newly ordained priest in Pittsburgh to become a pastor.  Today if you are lucky if you get four years as a parochial vicar before heading a parish.

1978 was also "the year of three popes."  After 15 years serving as the Bishop of Rome, Paul VI died on August 6.  Albino Luciani was elected pope on August 26, taking the unique name John Paul I and honoring his immediate predecessors, the architects of the Second Vatican Council.  But he unexpectedly died of a heart attack on September 28 after only 33 days in office.  Karol Wojtyla, the 58 year old archbishop of Krakow, Poland, was elected pope on October 16, the first non-Italian to sit on the chair of St. Peter in 455 years.  He took the name John Paul II.  Next year he will be formally declared a saint.

Of the 12 of us ordained in 1978, one has died, two left the ministry after seven years, and one is off the job.  Several of my classmates have served in Lawrence County over the years.  Most of us have been pastors twice as long as we were assistants (now, parochial vicars).  Several of us have served in multiple church or multiple parish situations.  Four of us have served at the level of the diocese, one classmate is now an episcopal vicar, one is rector of a major seminary.  Almost all of us have multiple pastoral responsibilities.  the only thing we have escaped is the burden of being named a bishop.

On September 30, 1978, we walked into St. Paul Cathedral, Oakland, under black bunting, as the church mourned the death of Pope John Paul I, who had died a mere 48 hours earlier.  Since then we have prayed for three popes, served four and a half diocesan bishops (including one diocesan administrator--sorry, Bishop Paul Bradley!), preached too many sermons and celebrated too many Masses, baptisms, weddings and funerals to count.  We have more weight and less hair, more yesterdays and fewer tomorrows than when we were ordained.  But I dare to say that we are nevertheless even more committed to serving Jesus Christ and his people as priests of the Catholic Church that we were on our ordination day.

On the last Sunday of September, we will gather with our families and close friends for a concelebrated Mass and festive supper to mark this anniversary.  We have been faithful to this anniversary celebration every single year.   We'll hug each other, tell jokes, do a little clerical gossiping, whisper stories of our last visit to the doctor, and pick the guy who will host our anniversary celebration next year.  We are more cynical and yet at the same time wiser through the passing of the years.  

Please pray for my classmates and me.  Pray for all in Holy Orders--deacons, priests, bishops--who serve the church.  Pray for increased vocations to the priesthood, religious life, married life, single life, and ministry to the church.

My classmates:
  • Father Bob Cedolia, pastor, St. Anne Parish, Castle Shannon
  • Father Mike Decewicz, pastor, St. Juan Diego Parish, Sharpsburg
  • Father Sam Esposito, episcopal vicar, vicariate 2
  • Father Vic Molka, pastor, St. Valentine Parish, Bethel Park
  • Father Ben Vaghetto, pastor, St. Alphonsus Parish, McDonald, pastor, St. Patrick Parish, Oakdale/North Fayette, and adjutant judicial vicar
  • Father Tim Whalen, rector, St. Vincent Seminary, Latrobe
  • Father Rich Yagesh, pastor, Holy Child Parish, Bridgeville
and our honorary classmate, Father Dan Whalen, brother of Tim who was ordained in the great jubilee year of 2000, who is pastor of Holy Spirit Parish, Millvale, and St. Nicholas Parish, Millvale.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Is This the Power of Prayer?

For several days I've wanted to post an opinion that goes against the tide and against the pope.  I have heard for ten days or more President Obama call for a response, a military response, to the accusations that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria used chemical weapons on civilians in that country's ongoing civil war.  THAT chemical weapons were used is not in doubt.  WHO used them is perhaps in doubt (but not to President Obama).  HOW MANY died is in doubt, but estimates range from 400 to 1,500.  WHAT TO DO is the question.

Pope Francis, predictably yet fervently, came out against any additional aggression on the part of a third party (the U.S. and allies) as a response to the chemical weapons attack.  Other clerics inside the Catholic Church also spoke against an attack.

John Allen of National Catholic Reporter had an excellent analysis comparing what diplomatic actions Pope Francis is using in this crisis in Syria with what Pope John Paul II and his staff did in 2003, in the American run-up to an invasion of Iraq.  The two situations are mirrors of each other.  

A complicating factor for Christians is that President Assad may be the lesser of two very bad evils.  An opinion piece in Commonweal says Christians in Syria are more prepared to deal with the "devil they know," President Assad, even with his egregious human rights attacks, to the "devil they don't know," that is, jihadists who may challenge the right of Christians to pray and exist in Syria.   There are no "good" choices in this civil war, but if the Christians have to choose, they land on survival within a dictatorship to expulsion or martyrdom within an extreme Muslim government.

President Obama could not have called for a military strike against Syria in response to the chem attacks because it was going to raise his popularity.  Opinion poll after opinion poll have shown a general unwillingness on the part of most Americans to stomach another attack on another Middle East country.  In the light of Iraq, usually hawkish Republicans on Capital Hill have had an amnesia attack, and criticized the president for his suggestion of so-called "surgical strikes."  They've been joined by liberal Democrats, who want to remind us they said "we told you so" ten years ago, and want no more of war.  The president did change his mind several days ago, and decided not to act unilaterally.  He asked for consultations with Congressional leaders, and a resolution of support for his military response to chem attacks.  For days the news has been that few senators or representatives have enthusiastically supported the president's plan.  Whether a congressional resolution of support for the President would pass both houses is in doubt.

Pope Francis, following that 2003 script, at his audience on Sunday, September 1, called for a "day of prayer and fasting" by Catholics, and all persons of faith, for Saturday, September 7.  He asked that all pray for an end to the civil war in Syria, no further escalation of violence [that is, that the U.S. not drop bombs on Syria], and a beginning of diplomatic talks leading to peace.  Who among us couldn't support prayer?  I added my rosary and my Masses that day for the pope's intentions.  

Yet...I have to say that in my mind and heart, I've supported President Obama in his call for a military response to the use of chemical weapons (probably) by the Assad government.  I feel that the use of these weapons cannot go without response, and that the only response Assad and his supporters will understand is more bombs.  

So to my shock when I awoke this morning, I heard (1) Secretary of State Kerry yesterday seemed to sarcastically suggest at a press conference that the only response to a military strike would be Syria submitting its chemical weapons to international control.  Then he added (my words, not his), fat chance.  (2) The Russian and Syrian foreign ministers picked up on this seeming throw-away line, and jumped on it as a possibility. (3) The French government, about the only other country to support President Obama's call for military response (after Great Britain's Parliament handcuffed the prime minister), set three conditions, which seem to be acceptable to Assad and his Russian backers.  (4) Obama was scheduled to do a full-court media blitz yesterday, with interviews on multiple networks.  He changed his tune and said, a-ha, a diplomatic solution would be an even better response to the international crisis of prevention of chemical weapons being used in war, than any military response.  Let's see what our diplomats can do.

I (and the world) don't know where this is going, as of today (Sept. 10 about noon E.D.T.).  But it causes me to wonder....How could such a change come about, from weapons to diplomacy, if not through the power of prayer? 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Pope of Surprising Phone Calls

Pope Francis is not only the "pope of surprises" but also the "pope of surprising phone calls."  At least three times in the past month Pope Francis has picked up the telephone in his small two-room suite and called folks who have written him letters.  On August 18 Francis phoned Stefano Cabizza, a 19-year old Italian engineering student.  Ten days earlier he called Michele Ferri, the 14-year old brother of a gas station operator in Pesaro, Italy, who had been killed during a robbery.

And last weekend there was a report that the pope talked with Anna Romano.  The 35-year old Romano had written to the pope that her boyfriend had revealed he was married when she told him she was pregnant.  Her boyfriend also told her to get an abortion, advice she was determined to ignore.  Romano said in the letter that she feared she would not be able to find a priest to baptize her baby.  She said, "The pope told me I was very brave and strong to decide to keep my baby, and that he would personally do the baptism if she could not find a priest.

Reportedly the Italians are amazed at such informality, calling him "the cold-call pope."  By all accounts, there is no bishop-secretary saying to these folks, "His Holiness the Bishop of Rome wishes to speak to you, please hold the line."  Rather, he dials the number himself and says simply, "This is Pope Francis."  He insists on using the informal Italian "tu" rather than the formal "Lei" in speaking with his new friends.  To the 19-year old, the pope jokingly asked, "Do you think the apostles called Jesus Your Excellency?"

One Italian columnist, Beppe Severgnini, writing in Corriere della Sera, had fun with these phone conversations, and offered advice concerning phone etiquette with the pontiff.

  • "Papa Bergoglio is maybe the last guy on earth who actually calls land lines.  If you hear your home phone ringing, therefore get ready."
  • "Don't go overboard in one direction or another in addressing the pope.  Calling him 'Frankie' would be inappropriate.  'Your Holiness' is safe, but don't get carried away with appellations such as 'Your Magnificence' or 'Your Megagalacticness.'"
  • "Don't be afraid to be normal, and use humor.  If Pope Francis wanted to be bored, he would have called a government minister."
  • "Pope Francis has a good sense of humor.  Tell him that's a beautiful thing, because irony is the sister of mercy; allowing yourself to smile and to forgive the imperfections of the world."
  • "Don't ask for anything practical, like a sponsor slip or a favor.  He's an important man, but he's not a bureaucrat."
  • "Ask about Benedict's health, which will make him happy."
  • "Don't end the conversation yourself, but let the pontiff decide when to say goodbye.  If your wife or mother starts yelling that the dinner is getting cold, ignore them.  Then when you are pouring the wine, say, 'The Successor to St. Peter says hello.  So, what's for dinner?'"
This whole "pope calls ordinary people" makes me nervous.  What if he gets the idea of calling ordinary priests?  I know how my blood pressure has risen in the past when the secretary says, "The bishop is on line one."  What would I say to the pope?  "Have you made your pledge to Parish Share or the diocesan capital campaign?"  "What's the matter with the Steelers?"  "What's the latest Vatican gossip?"  "Do you think I should trade in my new car and buy a used car?"

So, if Pope Francis broke the Vatican bank and made a trans-Atlantic phone call to you next Sunday, what would you tell him?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Rejected

Here's another cute (and biblical) prayer, given to me by Lillian Betts, one of the faculty at St. Vitus Catholic School.  I call it "The Rejected."

God, grant me the Serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the Courage to change the one I can, and the Wisdom to know it's me!

The next time you feel like God can't use you, remember...

  • Noah was a drunk
  • Abraham and Sarah were too old
  • Isaac was a daydreamer
  • Jacob was a liar
  • Leah was ugly
  • Joseph was abused
  • Moses had a stuttering problem (and was a murderer)
  • Gideon was afraid
  • Samson had long hair and was a womanizer
  • Rahab was a prostitute
  • Jeremiah was too young
  • David had an affair and was also a murderer
  • Elijah was suicidal
  • Isaiah preached naked
  • Jonah ran away from God
  • Naomi was a widow
  • Job went bankrupt
  • John the Baptist ate bugs
  • Martha worried about everyting
  • Zaccheus was too small
  • Peter, James and John fell asleep while in the garden
  • Peter betrayed Christ
  • The twelve apostles ran away when Jesus was arrested
  • Paul was too religious
  • Timothy was too young and had an ulcer...AND
  • Lazarus was dead!

What's In a Team Name? III

Yesterday, Peter King, the Sports Illustrated senior writer and guru behind the blog, announced that he will no longer use the nickname "Redskins" for the Washington football team.  Here's what he wrote:

I've decided to stop using the Washington team nickname.  It's a name you won't see me use anymore.  The simple reason is that for the last two or three years, I've been uneasy when I sat down to write about the team and had to use the nickname.  In some stories I've tried to use it sparingly.  But this year, I decided to stop entirely because it offends too many people, and I don't want to add to the offensiveness.  Some people, and some Naive American organizations--such as the highly respected American Indian Movement--think the nickname is a slur.  Obviously, the team feels it isn't a slur, and there are several prominent Native American leaders who agree.  But I can do my job without using it, and I will....I have no idea if this is the right thing to do for the public, or the politically correct thing to do, and I'm not going to sit here and try to preach about it and tell you if you like the name you're wrong or if you hate the name yo're wrong.  I can just ell you how I feel: I've been increasingly bothered by using the word, and I don't want to be a part of using a name that a cross-section of our society feels is insulting.

It's one thing if the New Republic or Slate magazine decides to stop using the Washington nickname.  It's quite another when a high-profile, veteran, and well-respected pro football writer/tv commentator like Peter King decides to stop using the nickname.  He did not speak for his Sports Illustrated colleagues, or for the magazine himself.  It will be interesting if this is a one-time only thing, or if his decision starts a bandwagon.

P.S.  Another writer, commenting on King's decision, says his new name for the Washington team should be "Department of Football."  How about "Bureaucrats"?  

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What's in a Team Name? II

A few weeks ago I criticized the NFL team representing Our Nation's Capital to change it's racist name to the Washington Gridlock.  Maybe momentum is building.  Here's a great passage from Gregg Easterbrook's NFL blog, "Tuesday Morning Quarterback."  By the way, you can read Easterbrooks's funny and iconoclastic thoughts every Tuesday (when else?) during the football season here.  Is "Insiders" better than "Gridlock"?

Slate magazine, newly divorced from the Washington Post, will no longer refer to this team as the Redskins, finding the term racists.  It's blowin' in the wind -- the Redskins will not be Redskins much longer, and on one gives a hoot what Chainsaw Dan [Snyder, the owner] thinks.
TMQ banged the drum for years about eliminating the Redskins name.  Then, when the world seemed to lose interest, I returned to using the name in the column.  Now that interest is rising anew -- two lawsuits are in progress -- this column will go back to calling the franchise in question the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons.  Not only is Redskins inappropriate, the Washington part isn't right either, as the team practices in Virginia and performs in Maryland.  Like Slate, I will use "Redskins" only in direct quotation of others.  Persons or Potatoes will be the column's shorthand, bounding off Tony Kornheiser's great line that "Redskins" would be a fine name so long as the logo was a side dish of potatoes.
Wouldn't it be nice if, rather than acting defiant, Chainsaw Dan showed people that he cared?  That would be possible only if he cared.  The Persons recently finished 108th in the rankings of fan value published by ESPN The Magazine.
To what should this team's name be changed?  TMQ thinks the franchise should be rechristened the Washington Insiders.  In winning seasons, they'd be the powerful Insiders.

Foolishly Predicting Pigskin Winners III

I should have known better.  I should have known better than to predict that our flightless birds, a.k.a., the Pittsburgh Penguins, would win the Stanley Cup in the spring.

A Chicago Blackhawks-Pittsburgh Penguins final would have been sweet.  But how could our hometown heroes only manages two goals -- ONLY TWO GOALS -- in four-plus games with the Boston Bruins.   Wait till next year.  (Oops, I mean wait until September 11, when NHL training camp begins!)

So, no more hometown favorites.  I have not been happy with the way our other heroes, the Pittsburgh Steelers, conducted themselves in the off-season.  Unloading veterans is one thing, getting new or drafted players to step up and take their place is another.  Poor Ben Roethlisburger.  I think he's at the peak of his physical and mental powers, and he has few targets, no running game, and a leaky O-line.  The LeBeau defense will again be stout.  But without an offense to chew up yards and time, the aging stars on defense can only do so much.  Wow.  I predict another 8-8 season, another miss at the playoffs, another wasted year without pursuing that 7th Super Bowl ring.

That said, the NFL should be as exciting as ever.  It's wide open -- again.  The story lines make the sports writers giddy.  Will Peyton Manning put it all together for a second ring?  How will running backs/disguised-as-quarterbacks Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, and Colin Kaepernick deal with sophomore slump?  Can Chip Kelly's silly-fast Oregon offense work in the NFL?  Will the Bengals, Browns and the Texans break their usual playoff swoons?  Can Tom Brady and Bill Belechik take the mess in New England and make another run for a fourth losing Super Bowl since the spy-gate fiasco?  Will Andy Reid make magic in Kansas City?  And will Rex Ryan end up mayor or sanitation engineer of New York (er, New Jersey swampland)?

So here are my predictions:

NFC East division winner:  New York Giants (4)

NFC North:  Green Bay Packers (3)

NFC South:  Atlanta Falcons (1)

NFC West:  Seattle Seahawks (2)

Wild cards:  San Francisco 49ers (5), Philadelphia Eagles (6)

Packers over Eagles
49ers over Giants

Falcons over 49ers
Packers over Seahawks

Packers over Falcons

AFC East: New England Patriots (1)

AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals (4)

AFC South: Houston Texans (3)

AFC West: Denver Broncos (2)

Wild cards:  Baltimore Ravens (5), Indianapolis Colts (6)

Texans over Colts
Ravens over Bengals

Patriots over Ravens
Broncos over Ravens

Broncos over Patriots

SUPER BOWL 2013:  Packers over Broncos

I know, those of you with long memories will tell me that I picked the Packers to beat the Patriots last year.  The Ravens had everything right happen to them down the playoff stretch, and the Pack fell short.  But Aaron Rogers is a proven commodity, and the Packers are a class act.  They know how to win.  This will be their year.

Let the games begin!