one down. one to go.

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That’s me. At Piper’s. I’m not hard to find.

A thing I should have done last night: Take a photo of the wings-and-beer spread we brought over to AJ’s house. It was … impressive. And delicious.

I don’t think four dozen wings will be part of the second AUCNFFC payoff Thursday night, but it could be fun regardless. As a reminder: Two seasons ago, winner Kewyson opted to donate his winnings to a night out for Pittsburgh AUCNFFC players … and we’re going to make good on that Thursday.

As I said before, if you’ve ever been an AUCNFFC contestant, show up at Piper’s Pub Thursday night — I’ll be there around 7:45 or 8 — and I’ll buy you a beer. I can’t imagine we’ll get there, but I’ll buy one beer per person until I hit $50 … or until it’s time for me to go home.

And if you want to stay for another, and maybe watch some basketball … or not … please do. I hope I see you there.

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Hoops ain’t happening.

uksurrender

It would start sometime around now.

This week would normally be when the first posts about my annual college hoops contest — this year would have been the Twelfth Annual Uncle Crappy NCAA Final Four Challenge (Brought To You By Bocktown) — would start showing up on the blog.

For several years now, that last part — the BTYBB part — has become pretty important to the annual shindig. The support of Chris Dilla, the owner of Bocktown, has make the AUCNFFC pools a lot more fun for me … and, I’m sure, for you guys too.

Bocktown closed earlier this year. I’m still bummed about it. And that, combined with an insanely busy schedule this spring, means I’m going to skip doing the pool this year.

My intention is to bring this back after a one-year break … but no promises, boys and girls. We’ll see how things are going next March.

The other thing I need to take care of: the winners of the past two AUCNFFCs. To last year’s winner, AJ: I’ll give you a $50 gift certificate to the bar/restaurant of your choice. Or I will buy $50 worth of wings and beer and Mrs. Crappy and I will show up for dinner at your place. You pick.

And as you may recall, Kewyson, our 2015 winner, graciously donated his $50 winnings to be shared communally by whatever AUCNFFC participants could make a date of our choosing. I’m going to make good on that promise on Thursday, March 23. If you’ve ever been an AUCNFFC contestant, come to Piper’s Pub that evening and I’ll buy the beers until my $50 tab runs out.

I hope to see you there. And I hope to see you back here for TwAUCNFFC (Brought To You By Something Else) next spring.

someone stopped.

You know how a bad surprise can leave a pit in your stomach for hours?

I’ve had one since this afternoon.

I spent the weekend in Columbus, mostly to see a Picasso exhibit at the Columbus Museum of Art. After a couple of beer-related stops this afternoon — and a White Castle lunch in the car — I hit the road back to Pittsburgh, anxious to see Mrs. Crappy and Mr. Charlie, both of whom I missed like crazy since I left on Friday.

There’s an odd stretch of I-70 between Newark and Zanesville where the freeway balloons to three lanes in each direction … for no apparent reason in a sparsely populated part of central Ohio. It’s great when you’re trying to make good time, but there is, inevitably, a brief bottleneck when the highway narrows back to two lanes.

And that’s why I was stuck in the passing lane just after the merge. When I spotted a tiny moving thing right on the far shoulder of the freeway.

It was a kitten.

Traffic was heavy. I couldn’t get over to stop. If I had pulled over on the left, I would have had to run across the freeway to get back to the tiny cat.

I sped up. There was an exit just ahead. I turned around there and headed back to the west at 120 miles an hour, looking for the first cut in the jersey barrier so I could turn around again. After that illegal U-turn, I eased over to the right lane and plodded along the shoulder, looking for the kitten, while other cars passed and honked.

I didn’t see it again.

Part of that is good; I didn’t see a dead kitten on the shoulder of the freeway, and that’s a whole lot better than the alternative. But I hate not knowing, and that’s the stone that sat in my gut for the rest of the trip home.


It’s easy to not stop. I’m sure I’m not the only one who saw the baby cat — and maybe I wasn’t the only one who tried to do something — but we’re all on the interstate because we’re going somewhere: Zanesville, Cambridge, Wheeling, Pittsburgh, someplace further east. We’re interested in making good time, getting to where we’re going, seeing the people we haven’t seen all weekend while we were away. I can’t blame anyone for that; I was thinking the same thing when I left my folks’ house this morning.

But I’m so grateful for the people who stop. The ones who notice. The ones who see the strays and leave a dish of food outside. Or the ones who grab the strays from an overgrown yard in front of a vacant house or from a sidewalk along Penn Avenue or from the shoulder of the freeway and take them to a shelter.

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We shared our homes with Miles for 14 years because someone in Indiana County stopped. We share our home with Charlie because someone stopped somewhere in the East End, grabbed him and his brother and dropped them off at ARL. I’ll never know the circumstances. I’ll never know who it was. But I couldn’t be more thankful that someone did what they did.

It’s going to bother me for a long time that I won’t know what happened to that kitten. Maybe it ran back into the woods along the highway. Maybe its mother grabbed it and hauled it back to safety.

Or maybe, in the six or seven minutes it took me to get back to the spot where I saw it, someone stopped. I’ll never know for sure, but that’s what I’m hoping for.

2. one.

A couple nights ago, I was flipping channels and came across Urban Meyer’s B1G kickoff luncheon news conference from Chicago last week. After watching Urban’s far-too-brief presentation, I started feeling the familiar twitch that i seem to come up with at around this time every year.

I type the schedule into our calendar. I start thinking about tailgating food. I note the Saturdays when we won’t be traveling … but when I’ll still need to be in front of a television. The players don’t report until next week … but I’m starting to get ready now.

And if the Big Ten Network turning towards football isn’t enough, there is this surprise treat from the Associated Press: A ranking of the top 100 college football programs of all time.

Guess who tops the list?

And guess who’s now really ready for the season to start?

another lifetime ago.

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I thought I had already said goodbye to Derrick.

When I found out last week that he had died, I realized I was wrong. And this was harder than I thought it would be.

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I hadn’t seen Derrick since … my wedding, maybe, almost 17 years ago? I have a more definite memory of my last contact with him, although I don’t recall the date. It was a message on AOL, and he asked about a mutual friend; immediately after I answered, he was gone. After a couple more attempts to get him to respond — and a few more passing weeks — I understood that I wouldn’t hear from him again.

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I was mostly OK with that. That Derrick wasn’t the Derrick I worked with at The Post, or the one who had been one of my best friends when I returned to Athens. I was largely insulated from that Derrick, although I know that wasn’t the case for everyone.

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And in that respect, I’m lucky: the memories I have of the real Derrick — the one I knew in Athens, the one in these pics — I get to keep for the rest of my life. I remember meeting him, in R.J.’s office, not long after I returned to school following my Army-sponsored field trip to Germany; I think we were both a bit dubious of each other, but it was quickly clear to me that Derrick, who was editor of The Post that year, was the real deal: smart, talented and driven. I figured out something else a little later on: Derrick’s prickly exterior wasn’t as prickly as it appeared to be. If you were willing to weather a bit of abuse — and maybe give a little back — you were in.

derrick me tight

And I was. For the three years I was in Athens following my return from the Army, Derrick was one of the best friends I had. And like everyone else, I learned a lot from him too, even though I was the old guy coming back to Athens and The Post when I finished with the Army. He was so smart about journalism and about running a staff of kids who were just figuring out how to make a newspaper work. He could be intimidating — even to me, a little bit — but without fail, he’d stop and help anyone on staff figure out a writing question, a difficult source, a bit of political juggling. He wanted to be better, and he wanted that for everyone who worked for him.

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We are the sum of our experiences and the people we share them with. I wouldn’t be me if I hadn’t had that time with Derrick. I owe him. For all the time at The Post. For all the pitchers of Lowenbrau Dark at The Union. In the pink house. Above Campus Sundry. All over Court Street. For Ren and Stimpy:

For Ween:

And for that goddamned awful song he insisted we play at every single staff party so we could pogo around someone’s living room (and if anyone remembers what song that was, let me know?).

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This is the Derrick I knew. This is the Derrick I’ll remember when we attend his memorial service in Mentor-On-The-Lake this afternoon.

This time it’s for real. Goodbye, my friend.