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Not as Good as The First

Sicario: Day of the Soladado, is a crime-thriller offering a grim view of reality. It is uncanny that a film playing off America’s greatest border fears, has been released in the midst of renewed political debate surrounding border security and immigration reform. For movie-goers, the film is essentially everything that they have come to expect following the first Sicario film released in 2015. Spoilers below.

Following a terrorist attack in Middle America, and discovering the terrorists used the Southern Border as a point of entry into the United States, a covert operation is implemented to institute a war between the drug cartels in Mexico. The plan is a simple one, used whatever means necessary to instigate the cartels against one another, just make sure that the United States maintains plausible deniability. This brings Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) back together, to continue the crusade against the cartels they started in the first film.

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Returning To Your Childhood Neighborhood

I just saw the movie Won’t You Be My Neighbor – and it is the best movie you haven’t seen. The film is a documentary, which explores the life of Fred Rogers, and his iconic children’s television show on PBS Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. The film is the the embodiment of Martin Luther King Jr. famous words that, “darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that; only love can do that.” A simple, but powerful message.

Roger’s simply cared about people. And his mission was a simple one. He believed that children needed to be treated with respect, told that they were individuals, and reminded that they are loved. Roger’s as man, and his philosophy, is a call back to a simpler time. A time of community. A time when neighborhoods themselves were institutions fundamental in shaping culture, identity, and beliefs. It is a reminder of what was, and what can be again.

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Worth the “Upgrade”

Upgrade is the most recent film from director Leigh Whannell (of Saw fame). The Science Fiction film seems to be flying slightly under the radar, likely as a result of its microscopic budget. In an era where Sci-Fi films like Blade Runner 2049 are produce for upwards of $185 million, a $3 million-dollar sci-fi film seems to pale by comparison.
But Upgrade gets back to the basics of science fiction. In true Asimoff style, the story is a collision between mankind and technology. Set in the near future, the film explores life in the perpetual surveillance state. The film also explores implants and augmentation, and when we combine the human body with tech, where does one end and the next begin. For a Luddite like me, this is the most terrifying film I have seen in a long while.

Spoilers.

The film follows Grey (Logan Marshall-Green) an auto mechanic who makes a living in the digital-world of the future by restoring classic cars. He is a man desperately out of touch with the rest of the planet. After his wife is murdered in a car-jacking and he is left a quadriplegic. After contemplating, and then attempting, suicide, Grey ends up hospitalized where he meets a tech-billionaire who promises to restore his motor-function. STEM is how he does it, an AI spinal cord implant which help to reconnect his nervous system.

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No Point Seeing “Action Point”

Something like ten years ago, a film with Johnny Knoxville preforming his death defying stupid-human-stunts would have dragged every high schooler in America to the movie theater. My, how the times have changed. Knoxville’s latest film, Action Point, is essentially Bad Grandpa meets Jackass, again something that once-upon-a-time would have dragged viewers to a theater. Now imagine that movie, but without any redeeming or entertaining qualities. That is Action Point.

Action Point is more of the same from Knoxville, just, without the laughs. It is a film completely devoid of genuine plot or characterization. It is loosely held together by a story about a father, his backyard-built-budget theme park, and his relationship with his estranged daughter. So, there isn’t much to truly build a film around.

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‘Deadpool 2’ is Ten times better than ‘Logan’ Was

Deadpool (aka Wade Wilson), would tell you that “Deadpool 2 is ten times better than Logan was.

The first Deadpool, was unexpected bliss. Studio-heads and comic-book fan-boys fundamentally misunderstand each other. Nowhere is this clearer than with that three-letter-studio holding rights to the X-men. When the first Deadpool film came out in 2016, we were blown away – they finally managed to give us the comic-book film [we] the nerds had been begging for. So naturally – and skeptically – I wondered, would Deadpool 2 deliver to the same extent? How much of the euphoria delivered by the first film was the result of pop-culture references, unrestrained violence, and pure unadulterated shock value? Could they catch lightning in a bottle a second time?

They did. Spoilers below.

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Photo: IMDB

In Case You Missed It: The Terror

If you are anything like me, the moment you saw the trailers for AMC’s new show, The Terror, you couldn’t help but be intrigued. The horror. The history. And the name Ridley Scott at the end, I was sold long before I even knew the plot. The show is based upon the novel of the same name by Dan Simmion, which provides a fictionalized account of the ill-fated expedition by the British Navy to map the Northwestern passage trough the Arctic.

In real life, Sir John Franklin brought two ships – the HMS Terror and the HMS Erebus – into the Arctic Circle in the 1840s, only to disappear. Those ships, and their crew of 129 sailors were lost for more than 160 years. Simmons books, published in 2007 (a decade before the real-life discovery of those two ships), provide a fictionalized account of what may have happened. However, the books are more than just historical fiction, they provide a supernatural-horror account of how the expedition may have met its grizzly end. Needless to say, when the first two episodes premiered, I simply had to watch.

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Photo: IMDB

In Case You Missed It: Krypton

I am sure you – just like me – were confused and slightly puzzled when you heard about Syfy’s new series Krypton. A Superman show, without Superman? I was not really sure how I felt about that. When the show premiered Wednesday night, I had to give it a watch.

Spoilers.

The show follows Seg-El, the headstrong and fearless grandfather of Superman. Seg-El is approached by a time travelling Adam Strange, who warns him that parties in the future (specifically Brainiac) have traveled to the past to ensure that Superman – the greatest hero in the Universe – is never born.

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Photo: IMDB

Tomb Raider, The Video Game Film They (Sort Of) Got Right

As a nineties child, I spent a great deal of my money, and an even greater deal of my time, on the Tomb Raider games. We loved the games because they were fun and walked the perfect balance difficult puzzles and great action. I remember being disappointed in both 2001 and 2003 – with the release of the first two Tomb Raider films (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life). While these films were entertaining and highly stylized, the films were unmemorable. And they lacked the genuine qualities which made the games so damn good.

Film’s based upon video games have always sucked, and the bar is set perpetually low. Whether we were watching Resident Evil, Doom, Silent Hill, or Hitman; regardless of how great the gaming franchises have been, these films have all turned out to be disappointing. Part of the reason is, that video game inspired films have, and always will have, the challenge of condensing a story told via twenty-six of hours of game play into a two-hour feature film. This is not an easy task. But Tomb Raider shows us how it is not as difficult as we previously imagined.

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Photo: IMDB

Red Sparrow: A Spy Thriller, Without The Thrills

The film, Red Sparrow, capitalizes on America’s renewed Russo-phobia. Central to the film is the fact that many in the west believe we won the Cold War, while many in Russia believe the Cold War never ended. While I agree with the sentiment completely, I do feel that the film simplifies decades of U.S. -Russian international relations into terms which can easily be digested by those who pre-November 2016, could scarcely find Russia on the map. While simplified it is does introduce to the masses three monumental facts of national security: (1) there are more Russian spies in the United States now than during the height of the Cold War, (2) Russian intelligence collection programs are built around long-term goals, and (3) the Cold War never ended, despite the fact that too many westerns believe it did.

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Photo: IMDB

Death Wish Leaves Us Wishing For More

The original Death Wish (1974) with Charles Bronson is one of my favorite actions films. It’s the prototype of the vigilante film genre; and though the later ones in the saga get a bit “over the top” [read: ridiculous], the first one is a great film. I love action movies, I won’t deny it. In fact, I will go as far as saying that I love the TERRIBLE ones. I tell you this, so you know that when I tell you the new Death Wish (2018) was bad, you know that I mean it was very, very, very bad.

I always question remakes. I think that is natural. Why are we remaking this film? How can it be different than the original? Will it be better than the original? Eli Roth had no business remaking the original.

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Photo: IMDB

Annihilation Will Blow You Away

While the rest of your friends continue to be infatuated with Black Panther, seeing it for the third or fourth time with their Movie Pass, consider seeing something a little different. Annihilation can best be described as a cinematic experience, one of those movies made to be seen in a theater. So, if you plan on waiting until the digital release to watch it, think again.

This experience presents itself when the characters enter The Shimmer, an alteration of space-time where the laws of nature are constantly reinventing themselves. The sound design, the powerful and emotional scoring, the color pallet, and the stunning visuals all work in harmony to immerse us in this altered-state bubble. You can’t help but check Google Maps when you leave, to see if a real-life version of The Shimmer is currently swallowing up the American South. It feels real.

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R.I.P. A.I.M.

The running man is dead. The running man, remember that yellow stick-figure in motion who used to greet you every time you logged onto AOL Instant Messenger?

The other day, something surprisingly-insignificant happened, AIM is no more. After more than twenty years it, is finally offline. Should anyone even care? Does anyone care?

I care, but I do not really even know why.

Maybe it is because growing up in the 90’s, AIM was an important part of who we were. We didn’t have smart phone – we didn’t have cell phones – but we were the first generation to grow up with the Internet. We learned to use the internet in school, something out parents never did. Our jaws dropped at the dizzying speed at which America got online, and dial-up providers worked their hardest to meet the demands of a fast, democratized internet. Each month AOL seemed to release a new version… 3.0… 4.0… 5.0… 6.0….

The internet was here to stay. They promised it would change our lives – and in more ways than we could have ever imagined – it has.

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Why We Hate the Prequel Trilogy

Last year, remember how traffic felt a little lighter on December 16, 2016? Or how there were a few less colleagues in the cubicle next to you crunching away on their Doritos? Or how our nations GDP dipped three points because everyone stayed home.

No, it was not because of the approaching holidays. No, it was not because of the wet winter weather gripping both coasts. It was because Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was released in theaters and America took a collective national sick day as the hardcore Star Wars faithful, casual fans of nerd culture, and the allies of geeks everywhere took a day to visit a galaxy far, far away.

Why do I remind you of this? Because on Friday, December 15, 2017 this will all happen again. This time, in response to the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

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I like Underpants…

I never grew up reading the Captain Underpants book series by Dave Pilkey; they were as us old-folks say “before my time.” Still, something about the trailer spoke to me, and I found myself watching the film Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017).

Spoilers throughout.

In the film, best friends Harold and George, a storyteller-artist tandem obsessed with creating comic books, find themselves at odds with their fascist Principal Krupp. The Principal is obsessed with order, structure, and efficiency; all of which come at the expense of his student’s creativity, and innovation. With the use of a cereal-box hypno-ring, the two hypnotize Principal Krupp into believing he is the embodiment of their comic book magnum opus, Captain Underpants. With Captain Underpants as their principal, their harmless pranks become a welcomed addition to school, and art and music are returned to the school curriculum. They spend their day helping the Captain blend in as a convincing principal, and making sure he does not accidentally return to his natural Krupp state.

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Wonder Woman: Everything We Could Hope For… And More

I don’t know about you, but I have been anxiously awaiting a “Wonder Woman” feature film since rumors circulated in the late ’90s of one starring Sandra Bullock. For me, the films near twenty-years in pre-production hell was well worth the wait.

For starters, “Wonder Woman” is the film that we needed to finally prove the Exec’s wrong. The belief that female superhero films cannot be successful is farce! You may remember leaked emails from 2015 revealing their suspicions that female characters were not a draw in the box-office. The failure of female comic book movies – or any comic book movies for that matter – has nothing to do with the sex, gender, or ability of the character. No instead, as fans have always maintained, the failure of comic book films is the result of shoddy film making at the hands of filmmakers who do not understand the properties they are working with. “Wonder Woman” is a film seeming created by those who seem to understand, and love, the character. And what a difference it makes.

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Why I Hate the “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and Why You Should Too!

I hate the film Guardians of the Galaxy. I hate it. I understand that my position is not a popular one; but then again, I never really was that popular. Need proof? Look me up in the high school yearbook.

I hate the film and everything about it, from its Kevin Bacon inspired jokes to its talking Raccoon. I have spent the better part of the last two years trying to convince the rest of you, that I am right. With the sequel arriving in theaters, I will give this one another go.

I hate Guardians for one simple reason: lazy storytelling. Essentially, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) is a carbon-copy of the Avengers (2012) formula, just with a relatively obscure series from deep within the Marvel vaults. And yes, before you start questioning me and my fan-boy creds, I am in fact one of some twenty-five people who has ACTUALLY read the Guardian’s books.

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Confessions of a Cubs Fan: Ode to Opening Day

I do not care what any of the pessimists say, in my mind, 2016 will always be a great year. Despite the unprecedented celebrity deaths or the political divisiveness, what could possibly be better than the Cubs finally winning the World Series?

I remember last November – packed like sardines inside a Cubs bar, as far as you could possibly be within the continental United States from Chicago – watching Kris Bryant smile as he made the final out of the World Series. My eye’s welled with tears. I passionately embraced random strangers. I cheered and hollered and sang “Go, Cubs, Go” with my new friends loud enough to wake the dead. The improbably had finally happened, the impossible had finally happened, the Cubs won. The Curse of the Billy-Goat was finally broke. In that moment, I couldn’t help but share the sentiment of the final lines of the movie Moneyball (2011).

“How can you not be romantic about baseball?”

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It’s Morphin’ Time!

Jason David Frank – or maybe you better remember him as Tommy Oliver – has to be credited as one of the driving forces behind the new Power Rangers movie. After the internet hyped some really great Power Ranger shorts, JDF approached series creator Haim Saban about the possibility of a mature Power Ranger movie following the Green Ranger (which would have been awesome to watch). Instead of limiting the film to just the Green Ranger, we get a full cinematic reboot of the series in the new film Power Rangers (2017).

These Rangers are very different from the ones we remember. While in the series Zordon instructs Alpha to recruit “teenagers with attitude,” the original Power Rangers severely lack the attitude. They are essentially “squeaky-clean” kids with martial arts skills. These new Power Rangers – screw ups, trouble makers, and even bullies – are edgier, bringing a certain amount of depth and realism to the characters. While the purists might see this as tainting the beloved heroes, to true intention is to sever the “campiness” which defined the series in favor of something more “realistic”.

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The city of Peoria, Ariz., and the Peoria Sports Complex played host to Air Force Week during a 2007 spring training baseball game between the San Diego Padres and the Milwaukee Brewers March 21. Airmen were invited to attend and the Luke Air Force Base Honor Guard posted the colors. The Wings of Blue parachute demonstration team jumped in the game ball. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

Making Baseball Great Again

Baseball, our national pastime. For a while there, it seemed like baseball, the sport built on tradition, was not going to stand the test of time. With spring training coming to a close, it seems like baseball fans everywhere should optimistically look forward to a great season.

So why has baseball struggled?

For the early part of the new millennium, baseball has had an issue of branding. After the steroid era, the sport was in a real funk. Having to rebuild a brand, and rethink a sport which had celebrated offensive power for at least a decade. Baseball also needed to regain trust. Trust of the many players who were seemingly thrown under the bus during the steroid witch hunts, and trust of the fans who felt they had been cheated and deceived by the league. Almost a decade removed from the congressional hearings and Department of Justice investigations, the sport seems to be leaving the past in the past and a new baseball is emerging.

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Don’t Switch Consoles Yet

On March 3rd, Nintendo released their newest gaming console — the Switch — and it looks like it is on track to be another failure. Do not get me wrong here, I have nothing but love for Nintendo, but sometimes Nintendo irks me more than a crying baby in a movie theater.

The first problem is: March…? Seriously, why on earth would they release a gaming system in March? Especially since the Switch will be hitting shelves with only nine games available. Instead of releasing the system immediately, why doesn’t Nintendo wait until November 2017, when most gamers are in the market for new systems, and the number of games accompanying the system break double digits? The news first broke about the Switch in October, 2016, and this would offer Nintendo an additional nine months to promote and manufacture hype.

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Lego My Batman

If you are anything like me, “skepticism” best described your thoughts when learning of The Lego Batman Movie. Yes, I love Lego’s. And yes, I love Batman. But “The Caped Crusader” in an animated film depicted by the world’s favorite plastic block construction toys? Sounded like too much of a good thing to me, perversely so in fact. I just did not think that Lego Batman could do the character justice. I did not think it could tell a Batman tale that anyone over 11 years old could get behind. I am glad to say: I was wrong.

Spoilers throughout.

The premise for the film is a rather simple one—what if Batman believed himself to be the bad ass that we believe he is? That’s Lego Batman, a narcissistic, frat-boy superhero who always saves the day, and always knows the he will. Lego Batman sacrifices friendship and relations out of his commitment to the superhero craft and out of his fear of losing others in the same way he lost his parents. Lego Batman’s narcissism is so profound, that even the Joker is disillusioned by it. In fact, we find that the Jokers criminal behavior is largely attention seeking. He just wants validation from Lego Batman, and to be accepted as the plastic hero’s arch nemesis.

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Who You Should Vote for NEXT Election!

If you are anything like me, the 2016 Presidential Election has grown into something akin to a trip to the dentist. Physically traumatic, emotionally scaring, and the momentary relief experienced upon conclusion, is rapidly replaced with a burning feeling of dread deep within my gut reminding me that I have to do this all in a few years. That was this election. Our collective angst and displeasure prior to the 8th of November, was rapidly replaced with even greater feelings of anxiety and discontent following the election. Our Nation has evolved into a media circus that is Trump, protests, and recounts. Then, in four years, we get to do it all over again! The only person I know truly ecstatic about the candidate they voted for was my friend Matt, a self-absorbed, egomaniac with sociopathic tendencies who decided to write himself in as President on his absentee ballot. Much like the other candidates on the ballot, he was more concerned with title-leadership and self-meriting than actually serving or finding solutions to make the world better.

Look at the two major Presidential Candidates. Both were accused of criminal activities by their opposition. One candidate possessed all the admirable qualities of a school yard bully. He spent most of the campaign placing blame and infighting, and barely seemed to embrace the ideals of his party. The other candidate was the candidate who was pre-ordained by the party elites and big donors to be the victor of the primary (despite popular support for her challenger) and she didn’t seem to understand how to work this thing we call “email”. You could not realistically place your hopes on Gary Johnson, after a few slip-ups his campaign fizzled out faster than a can of pop left open in the fridge.

Even after the election was over, the madness never stopped. With recounts, underway in key swing state, we are doomed to continue living the horrors of the 2016 elections for another month. We knew that no matter who won, we would all lose – our time, our brain cells. Eating raw shrimp left outside on a hot summer day is less nauseating than this past election. Most voters felt trapped between a rock and a hard place, as they were forced to pick the lesser of two evils. America, we could have done better. We should have done better. We need to do better. Today, let’s beginning grooming a unifying candidate for the 2020 election.

America, I have found the solution.

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sports post

Livin’ In A Sports-Fans Paradise

maxresdefaultWith the Olympic Games in Rio behind ups and the start of football season around the corner, I came to a realization.  Here in ‘Murica, we are not just about apple pie, gun rights, and freedom – we are also about sports.  In fact, when we really think about it, we would be hard pressed to find a better nation for sports fans.  This is evidenced by the United States’ performance at the Olympic games which ended in 121 total medals.  Few places have both the diversity and depth within their sports culture.  Yes, there are fitter nations or nations with more passionate “futball” fans, but few places have such an abundance of competitive sports.  Those of us within the United States are really fortunate enough to be living in a sports-fans paradise.

But as I watched the Olympics, I could not help but think about the array of sporting events which we have far too minimal exposure to living in the United States.  That got me thinking, what are a few of the other sports from around the world which we do not realize, are even sports.  Sure – football and baseball will always remain the cornerstones of American sporting culture.  We are unlikely to shed the contributions from our Canadian neighbors-to-the-North, basketball and hockey.  The rise in the popularity of soccer and the expansion of Major League Soccer show that it is here to stay.  Since, we have a long history of adapting sports, I got to thinking, what are some of the other sports which would be welcomed in the mainstream American sports culture.  So, in the name of multiculturalism, the shared human experience, and sportsmanship which the spirit of the Olympics breed, I decided to investigate some of the more obscure sports from around the world.  It turns out, most of these are already exist in niche communities in the United States, and I think it would serve us well to integrate these events into our collective, mainstream sporting culture.

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The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – It Will Be On Facetime

Unless you were living under a rock, you will recall the foiled coup d’état attempt in Turkey. The Turkish military attempted to seize control while President Tayyip Erdogan was vacationing on July 15, 2016. The President took to Facetime to encourage the populace to take to the streets in support of the elected government. Now if you are well versed in Turkish history, you will remember that military coups are not uncommon. The military intervened in 1960, 1971, and 1980. In 1997, the Turkish military executed a “post-modern coup”. The military – the secular defenders of the constitution – has initiated coups to restore order and to protect the secular nature of the republic created by Ataturk.

SEDAT SUNA / EPA
SEDAT SUNA / EPA

This is one of the reasons why many find this attempted coup so suspicious. The Turkish government continues to point the figure at Erdogan’s longtime rival, an Islamic Cleric living in Pennsylvania. Yet, accusations that the secular military would support radical aspirations to overthrow the government seem unfounded giving its institutional history. Furthermore, the hasty and unplanned execution of the coup which failed to lockdown national media, the presidential palace, and transportation centers seems out of character for a military which successfully orchestrated 3 previous military coups. For this reason, accusations continue to fly of Erdogan’s knowledge and even orchestration of the coup. Now, the President has the opportunity to imprison his opposition, implement centralized control, and even dismantle the military, the one institution threatening his authoritarian ambitions. This also portrays the longtime Islamist Erdogan as the secular defender of the Turkish Republic, creating an ideal scenario where he can maintain his agenda under the guise of defending secular democracy from elements (in the media, military, and education systems) which he feels threaten the will of the people.

Other theories have circulated that Iran is behind Turkey’s instability, as a means to destabilize western relations with their longtime neighbor. Some argue that Iran is simply trying to set pieces in motion to bring about the Islamic Republic of Turkey. While a secular, democratic Turkey with strong ties to the west and NATO may not be in Iran’s best interest; the creation of a Sunni Islamist government in Anatolia could rise to challenge Iranian interest as well. Either way, all the facts regarding the attempted coup remain a mystery.

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And God Bless Football

The former sports writer in me felt compelled to crank this one out.  Football will never be the same.  Peyton Manning, “The Sheriff”, is finally going to ride off into the sunset.  He will be one of the lucky few to do so after winning on the game’s biggest stage.

I remember in 2003 when Manning led the Colts to three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to defeat the Buccaneers.  I remember the 2007 AFC championship game when the Colts overcame an 18-point deficit in the second half to beat the Patriots.  I remember the 2009 Colts – Dolphins game, when Manning carried the team to a victory despite the Colts having the ball for only 15 minutes’ in total possession.  I remember in 2013 when Denver beat Baltimore after Manning threw seven touchdowns in the season opener.  I have seen every game; and as a Hoosier, I am sure my sentiments towards Manning are obviously clear.  Nonetheless, I have no interests in debating his game play or ranking his Hall of Fame career right now.

The press conference to commemorate number 18s, eighteen seasons in the NFL, was somewhat typical.  As expected, the Bronco’s praised Manning for his contributions to the team during the past four years– two Super Bowl appearances, an MVP award, and the most record-setting offense in league history – and thanked him for coming to Denver.  Manning thanked the teammates he played with, the organizations he played for, the coaches he played under, and the fans he played before.  He did so with the eloquence, sentiment, and self-deprecating comedic wit we have come to expect from Manning.  In the end, Manning delivered one of the most memorable and heartfelt retirement speeches in the history of professional sports (at least in my opinion).

But Manning ended his remarks with something I didn’t expect.  He said “God bless each of you, and God bless football.”  God bless football.  And God bless football? (more…)