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The Haul: Boys Life, Oscar Peterson, Medicine, and Versus

Stereo Jack’s could’ve easily made a few appearances on this list (always coinciding with a trip to the nearby Boca Grande for a beef birria burrito), but on most visits I come out empty-handed. If I were more knowledgeable on jazz, perhaps that wouldn’t be the case, since their just-in bin is dominated by jazz and classic rock. I occasionally found a keeper in their stacks (Spinal Tap LP, Rex’s Rex for a few bucks, a Cocteau Twins LP) and today the winner was a copy of Boys Life’s Departure and Landfalls. Five bucks is a steal, but it also brought up the whole “Ten dollar minimum for credit purchases” issue, so without any cash on me, I opted to buy some cheap filler rather than venture off to an ATM. I searched through almost every LP in the hopes of finding a $5 LP I wanted to hear, but the highlights of the rock vinyl were things I already own (Colin Newman’s A-Z, Brian Eno’s Music for Films, L’altra’s Music for a Sinking Occasion), the jazz highlights were more expensive, and the seven-inches were overpriced, so I grabbed two cheap bin CDs and an Oscar Peterson LP for my wife.

97. Boys Life – Departures and Landfalls LP – Headhunter, 1996 – $5

Boys Life's Departures and Landfalls

Boys Life is one of the few Midwestern rock staples that I never got into, despite being highly praised by everyone else remotely interested in the scene. Why the delay? One pragmatic reason and one kneejerk reason: I simply didn’t run into their albums in stores and I associated them with the irritating bits of Crank! emo that I’d heard. The former issue has since been resolved by Mystery Train and Stereo Jack’s, respectively. That latter aspect is hard to admit in retrospect, but Brandon Butler’s vocals are the weakest part of Boys Life, which is par for the Crank! course. I fully expect people to call me out on this point, but think of it this way: how many bands sing like this nowadays? It’s all mid-1990s emo vocals, which involves mumbled verses (Soo-young Park style), surprisingly melodic choruses, and straining bridges. If I’d heard Departures and Landfalls in 1996, maybe I’d ignore this aspect or even cherish it as genuinely emotional (which, I suppose, it still is), but it’s not like I can go back to Hum’s Electra 2000 and not cringe when Matt Talbott reaches for notes on “Scraper.” The reality is that neither vocalist is consistently poor, nor do they ruin the otherwise excellent music on their respective albums, but there’s a reason why they kept getting better at singing on future records. Anyway.

Departures and Landfalls didn’t fully sink in until I gave it a focused listen with headphones. The first two songs, “Fire Engine Red” and “All the Negatives,” are up-tempo rockers with jittery nerves and jagged chords, but from there Boys Life spreads out and embodies the space that the Midwest has to offer. C-Clamp is my go-to band for picturing the drive through Illinois cornfields on I-57 from Chicago to Champaign, but that image has a specific time stamp. The golden guitar tones of Meander and Return work best along with a sunset, but the periodic growl of Boys Life’s guitars fit with a late evening drive. “Twenty Four of Twenty Five,” “Radio Towers,” and “Painted Smiles” all stretch out in quiet, determined ways, building toward an eventual explosion of light and then a gradual darkening. Bob Weston’s production is perfect for this record, giving it the necessary dynamic range to capture both ends of this spectrum. Weston fills Departures with nice touches like the ghostly echoing drums on “Sleeping off Summer,” the crickets in “Painted Smiles,” and his own trumpet on the same track. Butler’s vocals work best on these dynamic tracks, since he’s not forced to yelp over churning guitars. When he sings “Let me out of here today” on “Sleeping off Summer,” it’s a perfect blend of resignation and pleading. Departures and Landfalls didn’t grab me as quickly as I thought it would, but there’s no debating whether its placement in 1990s Midwestern rock is deserved.

Side note: I just noticed that Boys Life frontman Brandon Butler went onto form Canyon, a DC-area rock group whose self-titled debut was one of the CDs I reviewed back in my Signal Drench days. Furthermore, that record featured John Wall, the drummer from Kerosene 454 who kicked ungodly amounts of ass in that group. Butler was also in the Farewell Bend, a group who shared a split single with Shiner on DeSoto. I should probably unearth Canyon and track down that Farewell Bend full-length, huh?

98. Oscar Peterson Trio – Tristeza on Piano LP – MPS, 1972 – $2

Oscar Peterson's Tristeza on Piano

When I met my wife during our freshman year of college, she had a fairly small binder of CDs. It was a mix of alternative rock she’d gleaned from Chicago radio, jazz that she’d heard from her parents and grandparents, and a few older favorites like the Beatles. She wasn’t as obsessed with music as I was/am, but she was intrigued by the existence of thousands of other bands that she’d never heard of, which was a huge step up from the usual scoffing of my high school classmates. That started my “I think you’d like this band, even if they’re not exactly my favorites” habit, which I believe started with the Get-up Kids. I’ve since learned to be far more careful with this habit, since there’s only so much feminine indie folk I can take at a given time. Fortunately I’ve found a reasonably large middle group in our tastes, usually encompassing non-aggressive indie rock, post-rock, and electronic music, while excluding hip-hop and metal. (She just confirmed this divide.)

I do think of my wife’s tastes when I’m out record shopping, however, and I picked this album up because of my wife’s fondness for Oscar Peterson, not knowing much about Peterson’s career arc. (If it had been an album called Oscar Peterson Trio by the post-rock group Tristeza, I would have been far better prepared.) My wife’s tastes in jazz differ heavily from mine; she doesn’t share my growing fondness for free jazz or fusion, instead preferring Peterson, Milt Jackson/the Modern Jazz Quartet, and other pianists like Thelonious Monk and Ahmad Jamal, Monk being a nice point of convergence.

I held off on listening to Tristeza on Piano until she was listening and could share some of her feelings on the album. From the first few paragraphs of the liner notes discussing the Brazilian flavor of the title track, I expected something different, but “Tristeza” is actually ridiculously fast jazz piano. I coined it “speed jazz,” which my wife viewed as a slight to Peterson’s technical prowess, which is pushed to its limits on that song and “Nightingale,” the only song on here that he composed. “Nightingale” does have some more typical Brazilian percussion, but both songs are driven by Peterson’s blazing hands. My wife was particularly impressed by his accuracy in these songs, since neither comes off as too fast or sloppy in the least. This style pops up occasionally during the rest of the album, but later songs like Gershwin’s “Porgy” and Jobim’s “Triste” have a more familiar pacing to what I’d heard from Peterson. My wife was impressed by both styles, but when pressed, she admitted that she preferred the more soulful style on the slower tracks, and I’ll agree with her on that point. I would’ve liked another original composition or two on the LP, but my wife was fine with hearing his rendition of “Fly Me to the Moon.” All told, she enjoyed Tristeza on Piano but wasn’t floored by it, and I think I’m in a similar state. Well worth the two bucks, at least.

I hadn’t noticed this before listening to the album, but Wikipedia notes that Tristeza on Piano was Peterson’s “eulogy of the recently deceased Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, the Monterey Pop Festival stars.” I have a hard time processing exactly how it eulogizes them—the accelerated technical prowess of “Tristeza” and “Nightingale” certainly impress like Hendrix’s solos, but there’s no mention of it in the liner notes and nothing in the music itself that felt mournful.

99. Medicine – Shot Forth Self Living CD – Def American, 1992 – $2

Medicine's Shot Forth Self Living

I picked up this CD because of its constant mentions in “underrated shoegaze albums” discussions and it certainly delivers on my expectations. Female and male vocals, loads of gauzy guitar feedback, periodic bursts of white noise, some stretched-out compositions (the opener “One More” and the closer “Christmas Song” each go past eight-and-a-half minutes), and sweet pop hooks floating through the mist: calling Medicine a Los Angeles version of My Bloody Valentine isn’t far off. Those long tracks are the highlight, but the short, seemingly radio-friendly “Sweet Explosion” and “Defective” probably got them signed. I suspect that fellow Californians the Lassie Foundation hold this album dear, since a number of these guitar sounds recall moments from that group’s excellent 1999 album, Pacifico, minus the Lassie Foundation’s twee inklings, of course. Shot Forth Self Living is too structured to be pure shoegaze and too woozy to be stock 1990s alternative, but the drifting middle-ground between the two genres makes for an intriguing listen.

I’m tempted to scan in the artwork and annotate every facet of the art that’s typical to early 1990s major-label cut-out alternative rock. There’s the vague cover art, likely a negative of a photo of their favorite bar. There’s a colorized panel of a playground with an overlay of unconnected photos. There’s little consistency in terms of a color scheme. Even the all-caps font for most of the text (like they’d only use one font!) seems stereotypical to the era. My preference for vinyl is quite apparent, but the three-panel art of Shot Forth Self Living must’ve been designed with the confines of the compact disc in mind.

100. Versus – Two Cents Plus Tax CD – Caroline, 1998 – $2

Versus' Two Cents Plus Tax

Versus recently played a reunion show in Boston with a guest appearance from Unrest frontman Mark Robinson, but I passed on attending. While I enjoy the fuzzy indie rock of 1994’s The Stars Are Insane and parts of the more polished, but less compelling Secret Swingers (specifically “Lose That Dress,” “Glitter of Love,” and “Ghost Story”), Versus lost my interest as they gained fidelity. I’d heard a few songs from Two Cents Plus Tax early in the file-sharing era and enjoyed “Radar Follows You,” lazy rhyming and all (a consistent problem for Versus lyrics), but I missed the dynamics of “B-9” (which I first heard on the soundtrack to Half-Cocked, a fine indie-rock compilation) and the lilting pop of “Circle” and “Blade of Grass.” By the time of their 1999-2000 stint on Merge, I felt like they’d outstayed their welcome, especially given the number of 1990s indie rock bands who split around that time: Pavement, Archers of Loaf, Polvo, Seam, etc. Perhaps as penance for my MP3 of “Radar Follows You,” I grabbed this cheap copy of Two Cents Plus Tax for two bucks plus tax, hoping that I’d given the group enough time to sound fresh, but unfortunately it’s pretty much what I expected. At the very least it reminded me to give The Stars Are Insane a few spins in late summer, since it’s tailor-made for that season.

Record Collection Reconciliation 31-35

31. Slayer - Reign in Blood - Def Jam, 1986

Slayer's Reign in Blood

Why I Bought It: Finding a copy of Reign in Blood with the shrink wrap intact (originally $8.29 at Good Vibrations; I paid less) forced me to finally confront one of metal’s classics. I say confront because I turned away from metal videos when they came on MTV during my sheltered youth in the 1980s. Being fond of Phil Collins-era Genesis and Men at Work made even hair metal sound like the product of Jordan, Minnesota. By the time any of my close friends got into metal it was high school and the band was Metallica, so the impact was doubly limited. I’d already gotten into indie rock and hearing James Hetfield’s thin wail on Kill ’em All in Chris Williams’ Chevy Cavalier was more likely to make me laugh than to turn me to the dark side.

Verdict: Slayer does not fuck around. The first line of the record is “Auschwitz, the meaning of pain.” The music is equally unrelenting, a brutal combination of heavy riffs, lightning-fast solos, pummeling bass drums, and Tom Araya’s remarkably clear vocals—no guttural emanations here. If you’re going to sing about topics that will offend Tipper Gore, why not have her understand what you’re singing about, right? The band’s secret weapon is the half-speed breakdown, which makes the forthcoming solos in “Necrophobic” seem even faster. These ten songs are remarkably lean, infusing the technical precision of speed metal with the economy of American hardcore.

The lyrical content is extreme to say the least—“Angel of Death” is about concentration camps and Nazi physician Josef Mengele—meaning that I’m unlikely to ever memorize the lyrics to “Raining Blood” and shout along in the car. Yet it’s hard not to think of Silkworm’s “There’s a Party in Warsaw Tonight,” a decidedly un-metal song in which Andy Cohen sneers “There will be peace / On mounds of teeth / I’m no fool I’m gonna slave all the people to me.” While Slayer’s Reign in Blood may be one of the few pure metal records in my collection (I can’t in good conscience count Isis and Nadja LPs, since those initially appealed to me for their non-metal [read: post-rock] characteristics), it’s not comprised of completely unfamiliar elements, a point that should finally overturn any lingering hesitance towards approaching the genre.

32. Dis- / Panel Donor - Split Single - Lombardi, 1995

Dis- / Panel Donor split single

Why I Bought It: While the past few years of canon-exploring has diminished its place in my active listening pile, mid-’90s Midwestern indie rock still holds prime real estate in my tastes. Hum was my gateway drug to Castor, Love Cup, Shiner, Zoom, Dis-, and a handful of other key groups that utilized the heavy guitars of grunge in tricky, non-grunge fashions. Dis- transitioned nicely from the distorted weight of their early records (The Small Fry Sessions 1 & 2 and M 386.D57 1994, with its library catalog–inspired title that screws up my record collection spreadsheet, are worth grabbing if you ever see them) to the solid combination of dark humor and math-rock on their 1996 swan song The Historically Troubled Third Album. While I was able to track down Dis-’s CDs and single in Champaign since they were released on Poster Children’s 12 Inch Records imprint, Panel Donor eluded my grasp until late in my Midwestern stay, at which point finding their self-titled debut seemed more exciting as a trophy of my tastes than an actual album to obsess over. I’ve finally listened to most of it in the current incarnation of iPod Chicanery and it’s been a comfort food in the midst of a considerable amount of unfamiliar cuisine.

All of this leads me to how I actually found the Dis- / Panel Donor split single. I finally made it up to Mystery Train in Gloucester, MA on Memorial Day and I was astonished to find a good amount of Midwestern indie rock vinyl during my mad dash through their inventory. In addition to this single, I grabbed Table’s first seven-inch (a math-rock trio whose bassist Warren Fischer [whose hilarious entry on Wikipedia deserves a mention] now resides in the electro-clash outfit Fischerspooner), a Boys Life / Giants Chair split single, Boys Life’s first LP, and Panel Donor’s Surprise Bath LP among some other non-Midwestern sundries. Upon seeing that Sonic Bubblegum, the label for that Panel Donor album and Dis-’s Historically Troubled CD, was based in Brighton, MA, I realized a possible origin for these seemingly displaced records. I’ll have to return to Mystery Train with more time and money on hand and fully scour both vinyl and CD bins for similar Midwestern oddities.

Verdict: Dis- contributes an early version of “Suddenly Everyone Is a Smoker,” the first song of theirs I heard after its inclusion on a My Pal God / Actionboy / Ohio Gold sampler CD featuring C-Clamp, Hurl, and Dianogah among others. It’s fairly similar to the version on The Historically Troubled Third Album, pushing the drums and distorted guitar up in Steve Albini’s mix. Dis- records featured a rotating cast of drummers (Matt Morgan, Peter Pollack, Chris Cosgrove respectively), so seeing Chris Manfrin credited for this performance wasn’t too much of a surprise. Manfrin also appears on Seam’s final two records and Dis- offshoot Sixto’s self-titled disc, and currently in the post-Silkworm group Bottomless Pit.

Panel Donor’s “L.T. Weightman” features former Zoom guitarist Jeremy Sidener, who joined up after that self-titled debut I mentioned earlier. After a shouted, aggressive verse, the guitars and distorted bass move through some downbeat, melodic passages before returning full force for a powerful ending. It’s easy to remember why I love this stuff. When I either get a USB turntable or a stereo input for my laptop, I’ll rip this single for your listening pleasure, but until then, keep digging through those dusty seven-inch bins.

33. Hüsker Dü - Warehouse: Songs and Stories - Warner, 1987

Hüsker Dü's Warehouse: Songs and Stories

Why I Bought It: Considering my fondness for most of Sugar’s catalog and selections from Bob Mould’s solo work, checking out Hüsker Dü was long overdue. After finally listening to Zen Arcade and New Day Rising, I nearly bought the former on Record Store Day, but figured I’d have plenty of shots to grab that record since SST vinyl has been plentiful at Newbury Comics. Finding a used copy of Warehouse at Record Exchange in Salem, MA, resulted in a slight impulse buy. Should Warehouse be the first Hüsker Dü LP in my collection? I doubt it. But coming from the pop end of the Bob Mould spectrum suggests that Hüsker Dü’s finale might appeal more to me than the group’s die-hard fans.

Verdict: Warehouse is a double LP, but the reminders of Zen Arcade don’t extend to this album’s concept or diversity. The routine of switching between Bob Mould songs and Grant Hart songs can’t keep Warehouse from dragging. Virtually all of the record’s twenty tracks are competent entries into 1980s college rock; some hint at their past shredding, some slow down to let Mould’s guitar jangle ring out, but it’s hard to consider those songs curveballs. Well, I was surprised by the cheesy leads on Hart’s “Too Much Spice”; perhaps Mould included them out of spite.

While I’m disappointed by the whole of the record, the highlights redeem the purchase. I typically prefer Mould’s compositions to Hart’s, but the latter’s “You Can Live at Home” closes out the record on a high note. “I can be fine, I can be free / I can be beautiful without you torturing me / Walk, walk away, keep on walking away / Go / You can live at home now / You can live at home now” is a scathing way to conclude their final record and the extended exit is accompanied by Mould’s most inspired guitar squall. Mould’s “These Important Years,” “Ice Cold Ice,” and “Could You Be the One?” nearly match “You Can Live at Home” with their strong melodies and forward propulsion. If the album was cut down to a single LP, I’d sing its praises and lament how long it took for me to track down a great entry into Bob Mould’s history of melodic guitar rock. But unfortunately Mould and Hart (I’m leaving Greg Norton and his awesome mustache out of this one) chose bulk over quality control.

34. Panel Donor - Surprise Bath - Sonic Bubblegum, 1997

Panel Donor's Surprise Bath

Why I Bought It: As I previously mentioned, finding a horde of Midwestern indie rock at Mystery Train Records in Gloucester, MA, was too good to pass up. I was fortunate to see the back of this LP, since the front doesn’t include the band name and I was unaware that this album (or 1996’s Lobedom and Global) even existed. I should clearly pay more attention to Built on a Weak Spot for his thorough posts on Panel Donor and other Midwestern favorites—his mp3s are still up if you’d like to sample any of Panel Donor’s three albums. On a side note, the album cover looks like a manipulation of a still frame of Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle. Weird.

Verdict: The addition of Zoom guitarist Jeremy Sidener helps Panel Donor sound, well, more like Zoom, which isn’t a bad thing in my book. Nothing here rocks quite as hard as their song from the split single with Dis-; instead, the best songs linger in mid-tempos, exchanging woozy guitar riffs and melancholic vocals with the aplomb of the best low-key Polvo and Zoom songs. “Surprise Bath” and “Kid Throws in for Pillowing” pull this trick off marvelously, making their dynamic shifts seem almost invisible. Surprise Bath lacks some of the vocal hooks that push Zoom and Castor above many of their Midwestern brethren, but there’s a depth to this record that begs for more listens.

35. Nick Lowe - Pure Pop for Now People - Columbia, 1978

Nick Lowe's Pure Pop for Now People

Why I Bought It: Friend and occasional collaborator Mark T. R. Donohue / Western Homes mentioned seeing a Nick Lowe concert in a recent LiveJournal post, explaining that Lowe is “one of the chief inspirations of all my ambitions as a songwriter… if Western Homes music is Christianity, then Nick Lowe is the father, Elvis Costello is the son, and Alex Chilton is the Holy Spirit.” While I’ll never equal his fondness for Elvis Costello (believe me, few can), I’m more than willing to check out Lowe based on Mark’s recommendation. This record was originally called Jesus of Cool in the UK and featured a different album cover; the title change is understandable, but why they removed the photo of Lowe with a dual-necked bass/guitar is beyond me.

Verdict: Situating Lowe between Elvis Costello and Big Star makes a considerable amount of sense—aside from the scathing “Music for Money,” he sticks closer to power pop than the edgy new wave found on Costello’s early records, perhaps separating his own music from his role as the in-house producer for Stiff Records’ early punk and new wave records. Lowe instead chooses to reference ’50s rock, ’60s pop, and ’70s disco in his power pop/pub rock crossovers. Since Lowe had already issued an EP called Bowi in response to the 1977 release of Low, “(I Love the Sound of) Breaking Glass” is a likely reference to that album’s “Breaking Glass,” stealing a bit of its Berlin shiver for a righteously melodic single. “No Reason” and the tongue-in-cheek (Bay City) “Rollers Show” also stand out as inspired examples of Lowe’s songwriting, but the tidy running time of Pure Pop for Now People doesn’t allow for any filler. He may show a bit of discomfort in the various rock guises featured on the cover, but the biggest strength of Pure Pop is Lowe’s ability to incorporate those guises with subtlety and wit instead of making the album sound like a mix tape of his tastes.

The Narrator Is Breaking Up

According to their MySpace page, The Narrator is playing two final shows (Chicago and New York) in May. I'll look into making it down for the New York show, but given that I'm going to three other shows that week, it might be tight. If you haven't checked out All That to the Wall or Such Triumph, you have some research to do; those are two of the finest straight-up indie rock albums of the decade. I don't want to think of how many times I played "Son of Son of the Kiss of Death" in my car within the last year. It's too bad that a vinyl pressing of All That to the Wall never came to fruition, but I'm glad that I got to see the band twice.

Mt. St. Helens - Of Others

At only ten songs and barely thirty-three minutes, Mt. St. Helens’ self-proclaimed “magnum opus” values economy over accumulation, a rare and admirable aim amidst far too many bloated track listings. Of Others is an enormous step up from their prior attempts at combining Chicago punk aggression with mid ’90s D.C. complexity, gearing more toward the latter without losing the bite of the former. I usually call out bands for the hubris of tags like magnum opus, but I’ll be damned if Mt. St. Helens didn’t shame their past work on Of Others.

The band’s improved across the board. The balance between dynamic, mid-tempo tracks (“The Time of Low Volume,” “Seething Is Believing”) and muscular rockers (“City Of” and “Massive Dosage”) is spot-on, giving Of Others more range and than its predecessors. Quinn Goodwillie’s vocals no longer relapse into yelping/bellowing after finding a solid melody, suggesting that his work in the poppier Sleep Out has bled over. Ben Geier’s drumming trades flash for purpose, earning the long-awaited improvement in drum production. The guitar lines are tighter, complementing rather than crowding each other. Even the slight missteps are forgivable: the devil-horn evocation of “Centicorn” doesn’t fit into the album’s nervous energy, but at only a minute long, the ode to a hundred-horned unicorn is an intriguing departure before the closing slow burn of “Interruption.”

Of Others will be officially released on August 31 on Two Thumbs Down Records, the band’s new home after Divot closed shop. No word on a national tour or a vinyl pressing, but those in the Chicago-land area should hit up the record release show at the Beat Kitchen.

Best Possible Super Bowl

Aside from a curiously formed preference for Dan Marino over Joe Montana, I didn't start following football with any rooting interest until I went to college in Illinois. My roommate Rick made sure that he had more than enough time to watch the Bears game every weekend, and since the Colts were the regional AFC team, I ended up watching both teams most weeks as well. One solid defense, one solid offense. The Bears also played in Champaign during my time in school, but given my complete inability to purchase tickets for live sporting events in advance, I missed out on that opportunity.

I suppose the Marino over Montana bias lingered, since I have always preferred Manning's big numbers and play-clock theatrics over Tom Brady's winning ways. My dislike for the Patriots started after they won their first Super Bowl. Beating the Rams (I may have lived in the Midwest, but I have no affinity for any St. Louis team) and Kurt Warner was one thing, but after they beat ther Colts to make it to Super Bowl XXXVI and subsequently defeat the Carolina Panthers (a hard team to root for, I assure you), the talk of their "dynasty" and Tom Brady's place in history began. I couldn't believe that two championships in three years equated to a dynasty, even in an age of parity. When they came back the next season and defeated the Colts in the opening round on their way to beat the Eagles, I couldn't begrudge their claim to such language, but that particular game brought the realization of my primary reason for disliking the Patriots: how arrogant they'd become from this success.

So much of the national hype and love for the Patriots has involved how they "do the right thing" and set a positive model for a "true team." I remember hearing constant talk about how they were above poor forms of sportsmanship, but nevertheless, they routinely stepped down to T.O.'s level in that Super Bowl to mock his celebrations. I started noticing just how much they celebrated after every play, every down. L.T.'s post-game tirade last week was overblown, but got at the core of my issue with the Pats. Acting like you've been there before isn't the most exciting form of celebration, but it's not nearly as off-putting, either.

Meanwhile, I enjoyed watching the Colts. Peyton Manning was the opposite of the caretaker quarterback; he took chances, tried to make plays, brought excitement to the game. He wasn't coming up huge in the playoffs, but I remember watching the Red Wings have to claw their way up the playoff ladder before they finally broke through to the finals and to the Cup two years later. Every response to Manning's shortcomings, to the Colts' failures, seemed overblown, unaware of this progression. Tom Brady stepped into a situation and won a Super Bowl, but certainly didn't win it on his own, which was what analysts expected Manning to do.

Last year's push for an undefeated season was great, but even if Nick Harper's shoestrings hadn't betrayed a sure touchdown, the fact that the Broncos, not the Colts, had dethroned the Patriots made a potential Colts championship seem underwhelming. The Colts didn't manage to get homefield throughout the playoffs this year, but beat the Patriots to get homefield against them. I couldn't bring myself to actually root for the Patriots against the Jets or Chargers, but I knew the Colts had to beat them in order to truly get over the hump.

Manning's first two playoff games were different from playoffs past. Despite the interception totals, he wasn't risking his team's chance to win. It's hard not to think of Yzerman's shift from offensive juggernaut to two-way threat under Scotty Bowman. Yzerman's statistics went down, but they had to for the good of the team. The Colts defense also finally looked impressive, particularly Bob Sanders, who I enjoy thinking of as a human missile.

The AFC Championship delivered almost every poetic turn I could imagine. The Colts were down big early on the strength of another baffling display of the Patriots' combination of grit and luck (the fumble for TD) and a poor decision on Manning's part, but the last drive of the first half helped them regain their composure. I was watching the game with a few Patriots fans and enjoyed pointing out how the Colts could easily score a TD with the opening possession of the second half and bring the game within one score. Once Manning wore down the Patriots' defense with his newfound patience, he could finally play his game. The Colts scored on a two-minute drill with Manning's seemingly injured thumb and a nearly catastropic Reggie Wayne reception (the sort of play that would have gone the other way almost any other game), but won the game with the Brady interception. The Wings not only needed to beat the Avalanche in order to have another shot at the Stanley Cup, but had to adjust their game in order to beat the Avalanche. The Colts adjusted.

Throughout the season I had hoped that the stars would align in the playoffs and I would be granted a Bears v. Colts Super Bowl. With a few rare exceptions, I'm typically underwhelmed by the teams that make the Super Bowl, but this match-up is great on paper and for my rooting interests. As you might have guessed from the comparative emphasis in this post, I'm rooting for the Colts, but it's great to have a championship game in which I'll be happy with either outcome.

Now all I need is a Detroit Red Wings v. Buffalo Sabres Stanley Cup final.