In 10th grade, I got home from a weekend camping trip to find my grandfather waiting for me. I had expected to find one of my parents in that cold parking lot, but there Granddad was, his breath coiling up.
My parents hated me riding with my grandfather, damn near forbidding it after he was in a series of wrecks in the mid-'80s - one with me in the passenger seat. So yeah, something was wrong.
It turns out dad wouldn't have been able to object this time, as he was at Emory, having suffered a heart attack earlier that afternoon.
Sixteen years later, dad hasn't experienced any more major heart problems. He's dropped about 70 pounds, and he's kept it off. The nightly dinner of two cheeseburgers and a bag of Doritos - an entire bag - has been replaced by fruit, veggies, stuff with "organic" on the label, and pungent blender concoctions that convince you, if the man is willing to drink that crap, he really wants to live. The guy is healthy.
Still, on Thanksgiving morning, when my phone showed him calling but revealed a woman's voice on the other end, I saw my late grandfather standing in the parking lot all over again.
"Josh, your dad has had a heart attack. You need to come home."
I was in Florida, and the holiday meal was just hitting the table at my mom's house. Fifteen minutes later, though, my brother and I were headed north, figuring out how to eat mashed potatoes out of Tupperware on I-75.
I won't prolong the drama nearly as long as it was on that six-hour drive - dad is fine. It turns out, after being initially diagnosed with a heart attack, he turned out to be suffering from a much less serious problem with his esophagus. He was prescribed medication, told to see his regular physician for a follow-up, and released within 24 hours.
I had already changed my original Saturday plan, though, and I wasn't about to change it back. Instead of going to the Georgia/Georgia Tech, I wanted to spend the day with my dad. He was still in a weak state, so I gave my tickets away and we watched it together at his house. Late Saturday afternoon, I looked at my dad and decided to tell him what was weighing on my heart at that moment. I cleared my throat, wiped a tear from my eye, and we locked stares.
"Dad, I'm glad you're alive and all, but thank God you went to the hospital. If I had gone to that game, I would fucking kill myself."
Jacksonville @ Chicago (-6 1/2). My back is bruised after I patted it so much for calling the Jaguars' sucktastic season a few months ago. PICK: Chicago
Minnesota (-7 1/2) @ Detroit. Let's see if this makes sense - Minnesota's pair of Pro Bowl defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams were suspended four games for having an illegal substance in their system. Yet they go to court this week and get the suspension temporarily overturned - meaning it can easily (and probably will) be reinstated next week. The Vikings have four games left. If the guys play in this game - against the capital-S Shitty Lions - but still end up getting four games off, they would miss any potential first round playoff game. Take a look at your opponent, Williamses. This is one of the weeks you want to take a seat. (Of course, as long as they're out in two weeks against the Falcons, I truly don't care what they do). PICK: Minnesota
Houston @ Green Bay (-5 1/2). Oh, Houston, Houston, Houston. The team of my new favorite non-Falcon player, Mr. Steve Slaton. See, last week ol' Josh was down in his fantasy football matchup with only four minutes to go. Seemingly insurmountable odds, especially for a late Monday night game. Alas, Slaton took our Rooster Illusion team onto his back, rushing for two touchdowns in the final four minutes, including a 40-yard scamper to seal the win. Yes, another win. Take a look at the schedule so far:
What is missing from that? Here's a hint: it starts with an "L." Yes, two weeks from the end of the regular season, I am living the impossible dream. What every little boy from coast to coast sees when he closes his eyes at night - the prospect of an undefeated fantasy football season. Are you getting chills yet? PICK: Green Bay (sorry, Steve)
Cleveland @ Tennessee (-14). I've said a couple times that it's nice to feel, for once, the Atlanta Falcons are better off without me as their General Manager. For over a decade, I've honestly felt I would have done a better job drafting and signing players than Atlanta management (and the history has mostly proven this). But the current Falcons front office is finally smarter than I am, and I'm thankful. Now it's on to the Braves. With John Schuerholz as general manager, the Braves were in good hands. New GM Frank Wren, though, has been consistently unimpressive, and the recent signing of Javier Vasquez doesn't change my opinion. I don't mind giving up prospect catcher Tyler Flowers - the guy was never going to play in Atlanta. I do mind, however, giving him up for a pitcher whose best years are behind him, and whose best years weren't even all that great to begin with. PICK: Tennessee
Cincinnati @ Indianapolis (-13 1/2) @ . My primary complaint about Vasquez so far, by the way, has been his age. Just too old to invest that kind of money in, too many years already on that arm. And then it hit me like a ton of Depends. I am five months older than him. PICK: Indianapolis
Atlanta @ New Orleans (-3). Oh ma' goodness. I found out this week that a local movie theater - one of those fancy ones that serves beer and food - shows the Falcons games on the big screen. Every week. For free. And maybe afterward, I can sneak into Twili - I mean The Punisher: War Zone. Because it's manly. PICK: Atlanta
Philadelphia @ NY Giants (-6 1/2). Go Giants. Not because I care, it's just "Go anybody playing the Eagles, Cowboys, Redskins, Vikings, Bears, Packers, Buccaneers and Panthers." PICK: NY Giants
Kansas City @ Denver (-9). In my Netflix recap this week, let me direct your attention to two slabs of delight: Wall*E and "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia." Of course, I'm anywhere from six months to two years late on these, so there's a chance you're already awares. But having watched the entirety of the former and the first disc of the latter, I implore you to begin digesting each one immediately. Wall*E is the biggest reason yet I've seen to get a Blu-Ray player, actually. I didn't love it quite as much as The Incredibles (my personal Pixar fave), but that might change when I see it in HD. PICK: Denver
Miami @ Buffalo (PICK). And by "@ Buffalo," the NFL actually means "@ Toronto, in a Dome stadium at room temperature." Dolphins roll. PICK: Miami
NY Jets (-4) @ San Francisco. Upset alert. ESPN's Monday programming will be full of "What's happening to the Jets" stories. And the NFL will instantly start rigging Jets games so they can get the NYG-NYJ Super Bowl it so covets. PICK: San Francisco
New England (-4 1/2) @ Seattle. And how about another one? As I type up these picks, I'm noticing the SEC Championship point spread has Florida by 10. Against undefeated Alabama. I'm in the minority here, I get it - and I'm also viewing this through a pair of Gator-loathing eyes - but I'm sensing an upset here. This has all the makings of USC/Texas 2006, when the Longhorns were more-than-a-touchdown underdogs and given almost zero chance of an upset. So I'm calling it. Alabama 27, Florida 24. PICK: New England
St. Louis @ Arizona (-14). PICK: St. Louis
Dallas @ Pittsburgh (-3). PICK: Pittsburgh
Washington @ Baltimore (-5). Yeah, I wanted the Falcons to take Jake Long over Matt Ryan. I was wrong, wrong, wrong. A thousand times wrong. But my desired QB - Joe Flacco - ain't exactly lookin' like a smelly pile either. PICK: Washington
Tampa Bay @ Carolina (-3). Well, at least one of these teams will lose. As a Falcons fan, I really can't tell you who I'm rooting for here. It is a monumentally important game in the NFC South, but I won't know who to pull for until next week, when Atlanta finishes their game with the Bucs. Maybe a tie? PICK: Tampa Bay
Last week: 8-8