There were, it should be admitted up front, bad omens everywhere.

I'd read somewhere that the Redskins were 6-0 when losing the opening coin toss. Staring at the screen, after ABC crammed in as many commercials as possible in their last pre-game break, forcing the at home audience to miss the coin toss itself, I realized with some approbation that Washington was lining up to kick off.

Uh oh, I thought to myself, even as Super Adorable Kid, recently graduated from toddler status by her 6th birthday, and high as a kite on too much sugar from said celebration's cake, ice cream, and pinata contents, buzzed around the room like a three foot high Battling Top, shrieking at the top of her lungs that she wanted to paint, she wanted to play with her Play-Do, she wanted to use her new tap dance shoes, she wanted to watch her new That's So Raven! DVD, and she wanted it all NOW, NOW, NOW-NOW-NOW, regardless of whether her mom was trying to blog, her older sisters were trying to do their own Saturday post-party stuff, and I was, oh, yeah, trying to watch the opening round of the play offs, in which my team was taking part for the first time in a seemingly endless, often torturous three regular seasons.

So, after watching the Bucs offense choke badly on their first drive, I got up and moved to the back room, sending Super Dependable Teen into a sulking snit, because the TV in the back room is the only one with the ultra-high tech cable box attached to it, meaning it's the only one that gets the channels numbered between 80 and 102, meaning it's the only one she can watch Bam on.

I evicted her relentlessly and regardless (it's my goddam bedroom) and watched as Joe Gibbs' readily apparent deal with the devil went into effect, and a tipped Bucs pass at the line of scrimmage neatly flew into the hands of a Washington defender named LaVarr Arrington, who had never done a single goddam thing of distinction in the game of professional football prior to that moment. A play later, the ridiculously overrated Clinton Portis, who didn't manage to do a single goddam other thing for the remainder of the game against Tampa's top rated, #1 defense, lumbered happily into the end zone.

A few minutes further on, the still supernaturally stymied Bucs were tripped up by diabolism again, as the previously utterly reliable Cadillac Williams inexplicably fumbled a ball while being tackled. One bumbling Washington defender hopped on the ball and shambled clumsily with it a few yards, was tackled from behind and had the ball stripped away, only to see another unbelievably fortunate Washington defender somehow scoop it up and ramble into the end zone with it.

I heard Satan laughing in delight.

It was a hellish, utterly inexplicable, by all natural laws impossible one-two punch straight out of some obscure Roger Corman movie about voodoo curses. The Bucs couldn't come back from it. The Redskins' offense, bewildered, seemingly hungover, and undeniably playing well out of their depth, never managed to accomplish a single stinkin' thing for the remainder of the game besides a chip shot field goal. Mark Brunell looked baffled and irritated whenever he was on the field; Clinton Portis finally discovered what it was like to run against a defensive line that actually knew how to play the game, and the only honest assessment of the entire contest would have been that the Bucs completely shut the Redskins down... except for those two, early, freakish, Satanically inspired touchdowns.

On the other side of the scrimmage line, whenever Lucifer allowed it, the Bucs moved the ball beautifully down field. Chris Simms racked up impressive stats, only to have drives that should have easily ended in touchdowns thwarted four or five times by the flukiest, unluckiest plays imaginable, as the Redskins' infernal compact with darkness continued to torment the Bucs.

In the end, even Satan couldn't seal the game for the clueless, blithering Redskins, but no matter; the refs were in on the fix, too, and found some idiotic, unimaginable, completely insufferable excuse to take away an obvious game-tying touchdown from the Bucs... a touchdown that was so obvious, in fact, that the game announcers called it, the ABC technical people put the points up on the TV screen scoreboard, and the Raymond James Stadium crew shot off the Bucs' trademark cannons in celebration.

But nooooooo... some puny, pathetic Washington defender, badly beaten by Bucs wide receiver Edell Shepherd on the play, went sobbing like a little baby-girl to the refs that Shepherd hadn't, maybe, had full control of the ball upon being brought down in the end zone. Even Forrest Gump watching the play would have known Shepherd had the ball; it was cradled in his arms when his knees hit the field, and only came loose as he slammed full length, an eternity after the touchdown was actually official. No matter, no use; given the slightest shred of justification, the insanely biased and clearly deranged line judge was happy to rule the pass incomplete, despite all visual evidence otherwise.

That ridiculous ruling was huge, and cost Tampa Bay the game, as the instant replay regulation requires irrefutable visual evidence to overrule the call on the field. Had the ruling been proper, for a touchdown, no amount of instant replay analysis could have thrown it over. Since it went the other way, though, an undeniably in the bag refereeing corps was happy to throw the touchdown out.

It's small consolation to me that had Tampa won (as they richly deserved to) they'd have had a horribly tough job beating the Bears in Chicago in January next week. It's even smaller consolation to me to contemplate the demolition and dismemberment that Gibb's inept and incompetent Washington Capitals... er, I mean, Redskins... will receive next week against the Seahawks.

Making the day complete, of course those useless, worthless Jaguars couldn't knock the loathed Patriots out of the play offs for me, either. One small shining jewel of pleasure for me in these playoffs is that it is statistically impossible for both Indianapolis and New England to get to the Super Bowl this year; one of them has to be eliminated. Now if only it could be both of them, I'd be very pleased. I have nothing against either the Bengals or the Seahawks; if both of them could end up advancing to the Super Bowl, I might not watch the game, but I wouldn't care overmuch who won.

Enough football. The season is effectively over for me. If Gruden has enough sense to pour piss out of a boot, he'll leave Simms in charge of the offense next year, and as long as Cadillac and Galloway stay healthy, and Clayton can get healthy again, the Bucs will be unstoppable. I'll just have to wait for that. (It would be nice if somewhere under the salary cap, Bruce Allen found a few million bucs for Mike Alstott, who has shown once again that he is a uniquely valuable and irreplaceable offensive resource for the team.)

Meantime, life is hardly bad here, and in fact, is wonderfuly good, for all the customary reasons I still never quite manage to become accustomed to. Staring around me sometimes at the astonishingly joyful tableau that my life has somehow, inexplicably transformed itself into these last eight months, I am left speechless and even breathless at just how inexplicably and undeservedly fortunate I am. Forget about Joe Gibbs; to all apparent observation, I myself must have signed some kind of compact with Satan to suddenly have everything turn out so right for me in such short order. Yeah, my football team got robbed, but on the other hand, I've got a super home to live in, filled with SuperKids and SuperGirlfriend, and even if I'm a clumsy, babbling, blundering dolt much of the time (as was evidenced yesterday, by an incident I won't go into detail regarding, save to say that it involved me attempting to carry a breakfast tray into the living room for SuperGirlfriend and failing miserably, with results that ended up throwing the family into a blue funk for much of the day, until SuperGirlfriend worked her inevitable magic and, once again and as always, cleaned up my karmic mess for me), well, life is pretty darned sweet for me.

And it's not just me that thinks so. Yesterday, at SuperAdorable Kid's slightly belated birthday party, her poor dad had to spend the entire afternoon watching me in my home that I share with his ex-wife, watching SuperAdorable Kid swarm affectionately all over me (no matter how often I tried to redirect her attention to her natural father, out of a sense of pity for the miserable schmuck), even on one occasion haplessly overhearing as SuperAdorable Kid identified the back bedroom, where SuperGirlfriend and I sleep, as belonging to her "mom and dad" as she gave her friend Ashley a tour of the apartment.

I felt bad for him. But, as he mentioned when he was leaving, he was off to Lexington... a phrase that we know (and he knows we know) means he was going to meet one of his many Internet paramours for a little post-birthday party bliss. So I'd gather his night ended with a bang rather than a whimper, and I say good for him. Who needs boring domesticity when you're a newly single man with a modem? To paraphrase Derek Smalls, people should envy him.

Us, we just cleaned up after the party, ordered in Chinese food, watched a frustrating football game, kissed the kids goodnight, and went to bed. Watched a little bit of The Last Boy Scout in the back bedroom, then off to sleep, with my brand new, second hand copy of Peter O'Donnell's fourth Modesty Blaise novel, A Taste For Death, sitting on the bedside stand waiting for me to resume reading it next morning.

Once again, I close by invoking the animated Gambit -- life just don' ged much bedda dan dis.

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