back to the Black Table

OK, non-football fans, stick with me here.

Marty Mornhinweg is the head coach of the Detroit Lions. He was hired by Matt Millen, whom the Lions tabbed to be their general manager and president of football operations two years ago, even though his only real credentials were a moderately impressive playing career and an ability to act like a large drunken oaf on camera as a commentator for FOX.

Mornhinweg's hiring came as a surprise to many in the NFL community; his coaching career, to that point, had been rather pedestrian, serving as offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, where he was credited with guiding along the career of quarterback Jeff Garcia. In his first season, Mornhinweg distinguished himself by becoming so fed up with his team's "loafing" that he left a practice halfway through, hopped on his motorcycle, and drove away. One Lions player was quoted at the time: "Well, Coach really does like his motorcycle."

In his first season, Mornhinweg led his Lions to a 2-14 record and developed a reputation as a specimen residing somewhere between "imbecile" and "buffoon." With his bulging eyes, sagging cheeks, rather psychotic cheeriness and, most notable, his whiny, nasally pipsqueak voice -- he sounds like Jackie Martling from the Howard Stern Show -- made him into a league-wide joke in record time. It was difficult to imagine how players could possibly taking this ludicrous little man seriously (NFL Films could always be counted on to show a "Come on, guys, let's go get em'!" highlight as his team failed to suppress giggles at the sight).

But what stuck the most about Mornhinweg was his absolute certainty no move he made was ever wrong, no matter how idiotic; he was the only person who believed his own bullshit. You could just see him smirking to himself after he made a decision: "God, I am a great coach!"

Then came November 25, 2002. The Lions, 3-7 on the season, traveled to Champaign, Ill., to play the Chicago Bears. The game, poorly played by both teams, went into overtime.

All season the NFL has been in the midst of a fierce debate about how it structures its overtimes. Opening possession of the overtime period is decided by a coin toss; whoever wins the toss chooses to go on offense first, and, as anyone can tell you, it's tougher to score when you don't have the ball. Since the first team to score in overtime wins, the perception is that a mere coin flip is unfair; a team could conceivably lose a game in overtime without having the opportunity to touch the ball, giving the winner of the coin toss a disproportionate advantage.

The Bears' and Lions' captains took to midfield in a swirling wind. The referee flipped the coin, called "Heads" in the air by the Lions. It landed heads. Lions' ball, right? Cut to Mornhinweg, headset around his neck, girth busting out of his sweater, pupils the size of saucers, finger in the air, thundering to the heavens, Zeus on the mountaintop, releasing his epic screed for all humans to absorb, admire and pass down from generation to generation:

"WE WANT THE WIND!!!!!!!!"

And it was so. Mornhinweg decided that, rather than taking the ball like a normal person, he would put the wind at his team's back, presumably to make it easier to kick field goals. His players looked at him as if he had a rather large penis growing out of his forehead. He just folded his arms and nodded, infinitely pleased with himself, the only guy who gets it.

It goes without saying: The Bears never relinquished the ball, scoring on their first possession to win. And Marty Mornhinweg's place in history was secure: "We Want the Wind," a new shorthand for "I'm About to Do Something Completely Self-Destructive and Brainless, and Not Only Am I Not Aware of It, I'm Absolutely Certain It's the Best Idea I've Ever Had!"


Six years ago, I hosted a New Years Eve party with my fiancee in Bourbonnais, Illinois. Three days earlier, I had driven the three hours from Mattoon to ask her parents for her hand in marriage. It was a beautiful evening. Her father looked me in the eye, told me it would be an honor to have me in their family, and gave me a hearty hug. That night, I surprised her with an engagement ring, and she said yes, and the future spread out ahead of it and looked glorious.

The New Years Eve party was my idea, a way to show off the happy couple (and, of course, the ring). All of our friends, hers coming from the surrounding Bourbonnais area, mine driving up from Mattoon, were going to be there to celebrate us. The ex-fiancee's parents were going to a party on the other side of town and wouldn't be back until long after midnight, so, essentially, the soon-to-be-newlyweds were in charge, a couple of college kids playing dressup, planning and organizing a completely adult activity, showcasing how worldly and mature we were.

Oh, how adult we were going to be. We bought four different boxes of wine, three cases of domestic beer and various snack items, including four bars of Velveeta and a load of Ritz crackers. The ex-fiancee and I scoured the already immaculate home, vacuuming, sweeping, mopping, even dusting (there is no worse chore than dusting; you won't convince me that it wouldn't just be easier to duct tape everything valuable down and blasting the place with a leaf blower). My primary objective, however, was taking care of directions and on-the-road inquiries from incoming partygoers. Being so adult and mature, I broke into the boxes of wine about 4:30. My ex-fiancee raised an eyebrow. It'll be fine, I explained; I just want to be nice and loose and social by the time everyone arrives.

Half the box of Franzia chardonnay was gone by the time the first guests arrived, and I was, well, loose, to say the least. I told my friend Tim's girlfriend (whom I'd just met) how, unlike what a mutual friend had told me, she didn't come across as a ghost of a troll, not at all. I asked a couple, whom I'd also just met, if they anticipated having anal sex to ring in the new year. Perhaps my most immortal moment was asking the ex-fiancee's best friend if my soon-to-be-bethrothed had ever slept with any of the male members of the party. (And I certainly wasn't prepared for the answer.)

Around 11 p.m., I started to feel rather drowsy, and kinda unbalanced. I headed to the back porch, where I ran into a Bourbonnais resident whom I hadn't spoken to. "Dude, congratulations. [The ex-fiancee] is totally hot, man. You're a lucky guy. You want a hit?" He handed me a joint. Hey, it was New Years. Why not? Before he had a chance to notice, I had smoked half of it. I handed it back to him with a deranged giggle, and a subdued burp. Then back to the party.

I floated around, looking for the ex-fiancee. About 20 minutes went by, and I couldn't locate her anywhere, though, to be fair, it's quite possible that I was just spinning around in a circle, unable to find an exit from the kitchen. Wooziness engulfed me. It seemed a good idea to lie down, so I crashed in the first room I could find. Just need a little rest. I'd be back to kiss her at midnight, absolutely.

The light turned on. "Will! There you are!" The clock read 3:15 a.m. In the doorway stood the ex-fiancee, my friend Tim, his girlfriend, and the ex-fiancee's parents. I was lying in their bed. "What are you doing in here?" Sitting up, I looked at them, blinked, and attempted to come up with an appropriate self-depricating joke. I was halfway through the first word when I paused, turned to my left, and vomited all over the floor of the ex-fiancee's bedroom. I then fell back onto the bed and, unwittingly, released an intensely violent fart.

Her parents slept in her room.


This last New Years Eve, I visited with some friends in Brooklyn. Three relatively tame drinks went down the gullet before I paused to take three hits off a joint from a man I didn't know. At 1:30, right when we were all about to play Taboo, I turned to my female companion and muttered, "You know, I'm starting to not feel well." I then stumbled to the host's room and laid down, moaning. Somehow, we struggled downstairs and caught a cab. When we arrived at our eventual destination, I, for the first time in six years (to the day), I threw up all over the sidewalk, three times.

We want the wind!

Sometimes, it seems like my life is nothing but a long string of "We Want the Wind" moments, repeated endlessly, with nary a lesson learned from one fiasco to the other.