Monthly Archives: October 2014

Mistaken for Melvin Seals

Melvin Seals, left, and Bradley Rhea of Terrapin Flyer get ready for Monday's gig in Cleveland.

Melvin Seals, left, and Bradley Rhea of Terrapin Flyer get ready for Monday’s gig in Cleveland.

“Excuse me, are you Melvin Seals?”

That was the question posed by a young tech in the downstairs green room at Beachland Ballroom Monday night. Oddly enough, the tech directed the question to me, as I sat on a couch talking to good friend and bassist extraordinaire Bradley Rhea and his uncle, Frank Rhea, before Terrapin Flyer took the stage for the final gig of a seven-day fall tour.

I immediately looked at Brad, eyes wide open in surprise.

Brad tried to hold in his laughter, but the odd hilarity of the moment couldn’t contain it.

Now, I was once told I looked like David Spade. A couple people approached me for autographs several years ago, thinking I was former Penguins fan favorite Colby Armstrong. A few others believe I bear a strong resemblance to Brian Hackett, one of the primary characters of the 1990s NBC comedy “Wings.” (That remains my favorite lookalike comparison.)

But this … this was different.

See, I’m 5-foot-8 on a good day, 5-7 most days. Not to brag, but I’m in good shape for a 40-year-old. I’m mostly known as a sports writer, which I no longer am,  in parts of Western Pennsylvania. I’m also white.

Melvin Seals is recognized by some as the best Hammond B-3 organ player on the planet, and he couldn’t differ more in terms of physical appearance. He’s tall. He’s large.

And he’s black.

The rest of Terrapin Flyer feeds off another signature jam by Hammond B-3 organist Melvin Seals.

The rest of Terrapin Flyer feeds off another signature jam by Hammond B-3 organist Melvin Seals.

Of course, Grateful Dead fans know Seals well. He joined Jerry Garcia Band in 1980 and remained with the popular side-project of the Dead’s frontman until Garcia’s death in 1995. After that, Seals played with JGB and many others. He’s beloved by many members of the community, and his name is the biggest of Terrapin Flyer, a top-notch Dead tribute band. which also includes Ratdog guitarist Mark Karan. My friend, Brad, is a bassist, vocalist and the main reason for my weekday road trip, as I was giving him a ride back to Westmoreland County after the show. (Later on that night, when Doug Hagman introduced Brad to the crowd, the fellas up front loudly let him know he was the man. A few even bowed. A few others sought out his autograph after the show. Yep, he’s that good, and parts of the country outside our neck of the woods are finding that out.)

Bradley Rhea, right, signs autographs after Monday's gig.

Bradley Rhea, right, signs autographs after Monday’s gig.

In the techie’s defense, he obviously doesn’t follow the Dead, and, I was the new guy in the green room at the time, though Seals was sitting on the other side of a coffee table, fresh off telling me about his fear of hitting deer when he drives in certain areas of the country at night. Seals didn’t look up when the tech asked me if I was him, he continued to sign his name to Terrapin Flyer prints, which would be sold at the merchandise table outside the ballroom at Beachland, located in Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood.

Seals simply said, “You ready for me?”

The techie answered affirmatively, and, a few minutes later, Terrapin Flyer was on its way upstairs to perform for the seventh time in seven days in a seventh different city, earning fans at every venue.

A print autographed by members of Terrapin Flyer.

A print autographed by members of Terrapin Flyer.

Scripting success?

Friday was a somber day for news. A school shooting left at least two people dead in the state of Washington, and a one-man-crime-spree shot three deputies, killing two.

Mindless, needless tragedies occurring about the same time.

In Pittsburgh, more accurately in select parts of Western Pennsylvania, Friday wasn’t somber. It was joyous.

And the reason why …

The script returned to Pitt Friday.

The script returned to Pitt Friday.

Yes, that’s a helmet. It’s the head gear worn by the University of Pittsburgh football team, or Pitt, as it’s been known in athletic circles for decades. The script helmet, a design of former head football coach Johnny Majors, symbolizes the best era in modern Pitt football – 1973 through, let’s say, 1985. Pitt was an NFL breeding ground in those days. Tony Dorsett, Mark May, Hugh Green, Dan Marino, Bill Fralic, Jim Covert, Rickey Jackson, Curtis Martin and many other top-shelf talents wore the script.

Then, not long after Steve Pederson arrived as Pitt’s athletic director in 1996, Pitt became Pittsburgh and the script disappeared. Nevermind that Pitt’s program floundered with the script during Majors’ second, completely awful, tenure as head coach, Pederson, who said back then it was time for the athletic programs to move on, committed an unforgivable sin in the eyes of many Panthers fans.

A few logos were instituted over the years. Then, On Friday and seemingly out of nowhere, Pederson announced the script was returning to Pitt’s football helmet, while the current block-lettered Pitt, which is pretty sweet in its own right – would remain the athletic department’s main logo.

Celebration erupted. Pitt twitter exploded with glee. Oct. 24, 2014 will be forever recognized as the day the script returned to Pitt football.

So, what does it mean? Not much really, though the timing is certainly interesting.

Pederson appeased a salty portion of Pitt’s disenfranchised fan base. And no doubt merchandise will be sold. The script will probably add a few more eyes of this afternoon’s homecoming against Georgia Tech.

But, until Pitt starts recruiting better players, the script isn’t bringing back the glory years.

Terrapin Flyer soars into Pittsburgh

Terrapin Flyer opened a brief tour Tuesday in Pittsburgh at Rex Theater.

Terrapin Flyer opened a brief tour Tuesday in Pittsburgh at Rex Theater.

Need a quick way to lose three to five pounds? Get your dance on with Terrapin Flyer.

Terrapin Flyer hails itself as “Chicago’s premier Grateful Dead tribute band.” Given the outfit’s lineup, which includes Melvin Seals of the Jerry Garcia Band and Mark Karan of Ratdog, it’s safe to say Terrapin Flyer is a hot ticket outside the reaches of the Midwest.

Like Tuesday in Pittsburgh.

Deadheads packed Rex Theater on the South Side for the start of a brief Terrapin Flyer tour, which runs through Monday, when the band plays Cleveland’s Beachland Ballroom.

It marked Terrapin Flyer’s first Pittsburgh appearance, and it was a memorable one for fans and a pair of band members (bass player and founding member of Grinning Mob Bradley Rhea and vocalist Kara Cavanaugh) from Western Pennsylvania .

Terrapin Flyer lineup: Melvin Seals (Hammond B3 organ), Mark Karan (lead guitar, vocals), Doug Hagman (rhythm guitar, vocals), Bradley Rhea (bass, vocals), Jim Farmer (drums), Kara Cavanaugh (vocals). 

From left, Kara Cavanugh, Bradley Rhea and Doug Hagman doing work.

From left, Kara Cavanugh, Bradley Rhea and Doug Hagman doing work.

With the exception of a quick soundcheck, Terrapin Flyer did not rehearse before kicking off its fall tour. And Melvin Seals didn’t arrive until about 7:30 p.m., just 30 minutes before the scheduled start.

No rehearsal. No problem. Terrapin Flyer sounded tight through a sweaty, energetic first set, which quickly had the Pittsburgh crowd getting down. By the time the band kicked into “Mister Charlie,” there weren’t many sets of stationary feet. “China Cat Sunflower” paired with “I Know You Rider” hit the right spots, but the highlight of the opening set may have been the final song, “Deal.”

Pittsburgh setlist: (Set 1) The Harder They Come, Sugaree, Mister Charlie, They Love Each Other, Friend of the Devil, My Sisters and Brothers, Walking the Dog, Big River, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Deal; (Set 2) How Sweet It Is, Don’t Let Go, I Second That Emotion, Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, Catfish John, Highway 61 Revisited, Tangled Up in Blue, That’s What Love Will Make You Do.

The second set opened with the James Taylor classic, “How Sweet It Is” and Terrapin Flyer added depth and power to the song. “I Second That Emotion” was the highlight of a show, a perfect showcase for Doug Hagman’s vocals and Seals’ electric playing. Seals was explosive, and his play erupted during the Bob Dylan classic “Highway 61 Revisited.” If the Pittsburgh show is any indication, Seals is at the top of his game. There’s a lot of ways to define badass. For some, it might mean The Undertaker’s unbeaten streak at WrestleMania. For others, it could signify former Steelers linebacker Greg Lloyd. To me, badass is Melvin Seals flailing away to the delight of the crowd and bandmates.

But for all the chops this band possesses, and those chops are extraordinary, the four-part harmonies may be more impressive. For confirmation, check out the recording at archive.org/details/TerrapinFlyer2014-10-21.

Go ahead, listen and dance. Drop a few pounds.

Fantasy stud, dud and pickup

Some years, every decision made is the wrong one.

About 11:30 a.m. last Sunday, I opened the home laptop and cued up the home page to the Roody Poo Fantasy Football League, founded in 1999 by yours truly and running strong in its 16th season. The league is an homage to quirky fantasy football. It favors scoring, and is the only league I know of to dock a quarterback six points for throwing a pick six.

It’s been a rough few weeks for Hadji’s Skeleton Achers, making strong lineup decisions essential. And I faced a dilemma at the quarterback position.

Matt Stafford or Joe Flacco.

Seems like a no-brainer most weeks. Stafford is one of the better quarterbacks in fantasy, a point-producing, throw-first quarterback capable of rushing for a touchdown every week. Flacco is in the midst of a bounce-back season. Still, we’re talking about a guy that couldn’t beat out Tyler Palko at Pitt (#PalkoFacts).

It wasn’t a no-brainer last Sunday. Stafford was missing Calvin Johnson and Flacco was facing the Buccaneers. Still, when I went to my team page, Stafford was in his usual starting spot. The temptation to insert Flacco was strong.

“Daddy, we have to go to church.”

Anna beckoned. I had to go. Stafford stayed in the lineup. Flacco threw five touchdowns. He outscored my entire starting lineup. Hadji’s lost.

Last week, Branden Oliver was the stud selection. The Chargers tailback delivered with 101 rushing yards, four receptions and a touchdown. Terrence Williams was the dud, and, despite a a highlight-reel catch on a third-and-20 to help Dallas beat Seattle, he had just two catches for 70 yards. Brian Quick was the pickup and, well, let’s hope the young man has better games than what he had Monday against San Francisco.

On to this week’s selections.

Stud – Ben Tate, Cleveland. Love the Browns offense. Really love the Browns running game, and Tate is a big reason why. He had two touchdowns last week against Pittsburgh. The guess here is he finds the endzone at least once and tops 100 yards against Jacksonville.

Dud – Zac Stacy, St. Louis. Seattle’s defense is going to be angry, and they’re going to take it out on a bad team in the Rams. Stacy didn’t look good against San Francisco. Avoid.

Pickup – Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville. Sure, the Jaguars stink. But chances are they’ll be throwing a lot against Cleveland, and the Browns are primed for a letdown after beating the Steelers. Shorts is finally healthy and worth owning.

Ace Frehley: No Regrets

Awk!

Ace Frehley has maintained his sobriety for years. I read parts of his books while drinking sangria.

Ace Frehley has maintained his sobriety for years. I read parts of his books while drinking sangria.

Ace Frehley used that expression frequently in interviews during the heyday of KISS, which occurred in the mid to late 1970s. Awk was part crutch, as Frehley struggled in social settings for years. It was also part asshole, the creation of someone often obliterated on alcohol and cocaine. Frehley said, “Awk,” so often, it was originally the only speaking line given to him for “KISS Meets Phantom of the Park” – a movie so awful even Gene Simmons might deny being involved. Frehley wasn’t pleased, and his dialogue was eventually reworked, even as the original lead guitarist of the recent inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame used filming as an excuse to snort coke and be merry around Los Angeles.

This much, and many other intimacies of Frehley’s life in and beyond KISS were revealed in No Regrets, which was released in 2011. Frehley was sober for nearly five years at the time of releasing the book, which he received help from Joe Layden and John Ostrosky.

Frehley admits his memory isn’t sharp. “Let’s face it – my memory isn’t what it used to be. Speaking with old friends and coworkers jarred my memory, allowing me to recapture the true flavor of some of the stories within these pages.” 

But Frehley remembers enough, and, after reading, it’s amazing the man is still alive let alone touring. (Full disclosure: I’ll be hitting Ace’s Nov. 15 show at the Palace Theater in Greensburg and have traveled to other states to see the legend do his thing.)

Frehley takes us from his time in grade school to his work with bands pre-KISS. Frehley once drank too much at a Grateful Dead show, where he worked his way backstage and came within a few feet of legendary Jerry Garcia, whom Frehley described as “down to earth” despite being one of rock’s biggest stars at the time. He woke up at the venue to discover he was alone and locked inside.

Frehley’s true excess began in earnest once KISS became a money-making machine shortly after the release of Alive. Frehley drank. Frehley snorted. Frehley cavorted (though this book makes no mentions of his alleged bisexual escapades that Peter Criss addressed in his autobiography.) Frehley had multiple brushes with death, was pulled over driving drunk by police on several occasions and destroyed relationships along the way.

But as he was ruining his life, KISS kept them in theirs, mostly because Frehley was worshipped by fans. Frehley reveals that, contrary to what Simmons and Paul Stanley say as time passes, he voluntarily left KISS – not once, but twice. The latter came after a highly successful reunion spurred by KISS’ appearance on MTV’s Unplugged and was fueled when, according to Frehley, Simmons snubbed him by cutting scenes of his daughter from the movie Detroit Rock City.

Among other tidbits revealed by Frehley – he was close friends with John Belushi, he dislikes Tommy Thayer, delights that his KISS solo album was better than and outperformed his bandmates’ releases and is rightfully proud of his work with KISS with a few exceptions like Music From the Elder.

Frehley’s book doesn’t hit hard. He doesn’t come across as bitter or whiny, and it appears he really wants to make the reader realize he’s just a likeable, happy-go-lucky guy who wants you to like him like everyone else does..

Finally, toward the end of the book, Frehley does let it fly.

“Since 2001, every move KISS has made has been premeditated and part of a well-orchestrated plan. Nothing, including their attempts to minimize my contributions, has been left to chance.

So, you might wonder now, ‘How does Ace feel about Kiss today?’ (Notice he didn’t use all caps here.)

Fair enough. Here’s my response: 

At this point in my life, I just need to let things go. Holding on to resentments can really make you ill, so I’ll leave the dirty work to my attorneys. I can sum up the KISS situation in just five simple words: ‘What goes around, comes around. No matter what happens, I’ll be just fine.

That being said, in reality, I think they’re just a bunch of dirty rotten whores. Awk!”

While Frehley tries hard to comes across as likable, it’s not something he needs to sell. Just watch the band’s induction into the rock hall and listen to the crowd roar in approval when Tom Morello mentions his guitar hero, “Ace Frehley.” There’s something about Ace that makes people root for him, and that’s what makes you crack a smile when you’ve finished this book.

Steelers in need of a Dusty finish

Don’t rest easy, Yinzer Nation. Your Steelers aren’t the Steelers you’re used to seeing, unless, of course, you followed them during lean times in the 1980s, pre-1970s and, gasp, parts of Bill Cowher’s tenure.

In other words, the Steelers stink.

But stinking has them at 3-3, well within playoff contention. Sure, they lost to Cleveland, but the Browns are better than Steelers fans, who took to social media to remind everyone about the six Super Bowls without nary a consideration Cleveland won eight NFL titles back in the day, want to believe.

The Browns are better, and the Steelers are reeling. Coming off Sunday’s blowout, the Steelers were criticized by Bill Cowher and Hines Ward. Naturally, their critical remarks were taken seriously by fans, who believe Cowher is 15 times the coach Tomlin ever will be (not true) and that Ward is the epitome of unselfish play (also not true). Cowher must forget he lost nearly every big game he coached. As for Ward? Well, he celebrated a reception for negative yards because it was his 1,000th. That, folks, was the single cheesiest moment of Steelers football the past decade.

There was talk of being “soft”, “elevator music” and “fire Tomlin and Haley.” It’s been a rough week in an increasingly trying season.

How did a franchise so accustomed to postseason play hit times harder than Dusty Rhodes having his leg broken at the hands of the Four Horsemen? (For the record, Rhodes goes down as the greatest face in the history of the business. Don’t believe me. Watch this clip and soak in its awesomeness.)

The Steelers could use a few good, hard-working men like Dusty Rhodes. But there’s only one Dusty. And there’s 50-some Steelers heading toward a third-consecutive nonplayoff season. Not exactly a Dusty finish (Google it.)

So what went wrong? Here’s a few things:

Draft decisions

Let’s look at the Steelers’ 2009 draft class (in order): Ziggy Hood, Kraig Urbik, Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis, Joe Burnett, Frank Summers, Ra’Shon Harris, A.Q. Shipley and David Johnson. How many are still in Pittsburgh? If you said, “none,” you’d be correct. Hood hung around but never looked like a first-rounder. Wallace and Lewis provided good value considering each were selected in Round 3, but neither were retained. Losing an entire draft class is difficult to overcome, particularly for a franchise that fancies itself more of a clearance rack shopper than a big spender in free agency. To compound matters, no player from the 2008 draft class remains. That’s two wasted draft classes.

Ryan Shazier – the 2014 No. 1 pick – hasn’t been healthy (preseason or regular season). Jarvis Jones – the top pick in 2013 – played poorly as a rookie and is now injured. Picks were wasted on players like Mike Adams and Landry Jones. Alameda Ta’amu and Chris Rainey made headlines for off-field issues. Cameron Heyward – the 2011 No. 1 pick – regressed this year after displaying potential late last year.

Bad drafts fall on Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin.

Scouting

Speaking of draft picks, the Steelers select an overwhelming number of players from Power 5 (ACC, Big Ten, SEC, Big 12, Pac-12) conferences.

Why?

Are they not interested in scouring smaller schools and Division II and III for talent, or just too lazy?

Then, there’s the issue of chartacter. Choir boys aren’t required in the NFL, but the Steelers are making practice of reaching for players with issues. How many of those reaches have panned out?

Loyalty

Troy Polamalu played well in 2013, but nowhere near his old form. He can’t cover slow, plodding tight ends. Running backs blow by him on pass plays and the defense regularly gives us chunk plays over the middle. The Steelers needed to release Polamalu two years ago.

Same goes for Brett Keisel.

Same goes for Ike Taylor, who, sadly, still ranks as Pittsburgh’s best cornerback as he stands injured on sidelines.

They held on to James Harrison and Hines Ward too long. With Harrison and Keisel back, how soon until Ward is signed to bolster receiver depth?

Fantasy stud, dud and pickup

The No. 1 factor to fantasy success? It’s probably luck. If not, it’s being alert.

My defense of a championship in one highly competitive league I’m part of got off to a miserable start. Aaron Rodgers struggled. Eddie Lacy did nothing. Ben Tate was injured. So was Jordan Cameron. Zach Ertz fizzled. It goes on and on from there.

How bad was the first month? Try an 0-4 record and the low point total in the league. But, following the third week, fortunes began to change even if it didn’t show up in the win column in Week 4.

That’s when some poor sap of an owner cut T.Y. Hilton. Yep, the same Hilton who went for 1,000-plus yards in his second season and caught seven touchdowns as a rookie. Sure, Hilton hadn’t scored a touchdown, but had this owner watched the Colts? Andrew Luck throws it 40 times per game, if not more. Hilton’s too good to cut.

Yet, there he was. The Florida International product sitting on the waiver wire.

Surely, with the eighth waiver pick in a 12-team league, there was no way my sorry, winless bunch would get Hilton. No matter. I made the waiver claim. To my surprise, he landed on my roster and was quickly inserted into my starting lineup.

My team nearly won Week 4 with Hilton in. Finally, Revis Christ broke through the win column in Week 5 and, this Thursday, Hilton put together a game to remember – 9 catches, 223 yards (one shy of a team record) and his first touchdown of the season. His 39.3 points certainly gives me a chance to get to 2-4.

One game at a time.

Why tell the story? Well, for one, it’s not wise to give up on Pro Bowl-caliber talent. Two, fantasy leagues aren’t won in September.

Stud – Branden Oliver, San Diego. Chances are most owners in your league didn’t know who Oliver was before he gashed the Jets’ tough run defense for 119 yards and was a key figure in the passing game. Chances are he’s no longer available in your league. San Diego is physically imposing and the best team I’ve seen to date this season. Oakland stinks and the Chargers are riddled with injures in the backfield.

Dud – Terrance Williams, Dallas. Williams is a touchdown machine and a big reason why the Cowboys are the surprise of the NFC. The problem? Well he’s produced an awfully high percentage of touchdowns on a low number of targets. Against Seattle this week, expect Williams’ touchdown streak to stop and his low number of targets to continue.

Pickup – Brian Quick, St. Louis. Quick has quietly and consistently produced top 15 numbers at the position. He’s had nine targets in three of four games, and already has career highs in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. Sure, the Rams have an unproven quarterback in Austin Davis and a tough opponent in San Francisco, but Quick is a must own.

Last week, Eli Manning was the choice for stud and he finished with 200 yards and two touchdowns. Hardly, studly numbers but enough to get a win if you started the right people. Larry Fitzgerald finished with three catches for 57 yards and no touchdowns, a worthy dud selection. No touchdowns for Fitz through four games. Travis Kelce was the suggested pickup and the big tight end found the end zone last week.

Love letter to South Oakland

Living in South Oakland gave me two fake teeth.

The incident happened my second full weekend as a student at the University of Pittsburgh. It was early September 1992, and a small group of freshman stumbled back from a series of South Oakland apartment parties about 3 a.m. A car full of drunk ladies drove by on Bouquet Street and nearly swerved into us as they tooted and hollered. (What can I say? We were a good-looking group.)

We were also a naive posse. I came from the mountain town of Somerset. Another hailed from Erie. There was a fellow from Silver Spring, Md., a guy from Scottdale and his roommate from near Williamsport. None of us were particularly street smart, and we certainly had no idea that, in the early 1990s, parts of Oakland were beyond unsafe to peruse.

“Ha ha, suckers!”

That’s what the guy from Erie yelled at the passing car full of women. I was trailing behind the other four, and, on the other side of Bouquet Street were three guys looking for trouble.

“What you say?” The shortest one yelled. Pretty sure they heard, “Ha ha, you f@!!ers.”

No sooner had I looked up than my four “friends” had taken off and I was surrounded by the trio. They bullied me against a wall outside David Lawrence Hall and the shortest guy threw a forearm into my mouth. The trio all lunged at me and, somehow, I saw an opening and sprinted away across Forbes Avenue without looking for traffic and up the stairs into the Towers Lobby.

The adrenaline was pumping, and I felt an overwhelming sense of relief getting inside that lobby, where another day later that school year I’d have an O pizza knocked out of my grasp by a Pitt football player on crutches. But, back on track, that’s when a much kinder Panthers football player I’d been a room down the hall from during freshman orientation stopped me.

“Dude, your mouth is bleeding,” he said.

I took my arm and wiped it across my mouth. There was a lot of blood. At the same time, my tongue touched the back of my bottom row of teeth. One was missing. (The other would fall out years later while covering a high school football game – a direct result of that forearm blow from my freshman year.)

It’s the type of experience that could sway many to seek refuge on a campus a little less busy. For a guy from Somerset, that could mean maybe Frostburg State or Pitt-Johnstown or even Millersville.

Not this guy.

Pitt was it for me. It still is. It always will be. Once South Oakland sets its claws into you, it never lets go.

And, no matter how far removed I am from being a college student, South Oakland – from Bouquet to Atwood to Ward to Dan Marino Field off Parkview Avenue, will be home. It’s hard to say South Oakland is where I finally grew up, as my actions there weren’t usually responsible, but it’s impact was significant and strong.

Sure, Pitt’s campus lacks white-picket fences and expansive stone buildings. Students must hustle across busy four-lane heavily traveled roads. Take away the Cathedral Lawn and there aren’t many patches of grass. Walking the streets late at night can be dangerous, though police helped clean South Oakland up considerably over the years. (Those fancy North Oakland residents rarely had much to worry about.)  And there’s no doubt the area is more corporate today than it was 20 years ago. Gone are landmarks like Zelda’s, C.J. Barney’s, The Attic, Upstage, Telaropa, Miami Subs, Roy Rogers in the basement of the Cathedral and Calico’s and some great apartments near campus that were demolished and turned into university housing. Pitt Stadium gave way to the Pete, though many of us believe that’s a significant upgrade.

What Pitt lacks in landscapes it more than makes up for in grit and character. Oakland is the land of Mike Ditka, Jonas Salk, Andy Warhol, Anti-Flag and DeJuan Blair. People don’t choose Pitt because of a sports team or the ideal campus community. Pitt is chosen because it’s a great institution. It overflows with diversity and blends into its urban setting.  It offers culture, music, arts, entertainment and the best porches/balconies in Western Pennsylvania. It bustles with energy. It’s alive 24/7. It bursts with pride. It wreaks of stale beer every Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning.

In other words, South Oakland’s the perfect place.

Search for the perfect pumpkin beer, part 2

Here at Kovak’s Corner, a primary concern is evolving humankind, which is why the search for the perfect pumpkin beer is an ongoing quest.

The search will continue through Halloween, when the top five and bottom five choices will be revealed. As for the winner, well I’m purchasing a case of it. (So no matter what, I can’t lose!)

It’s proven a daunting task, one which has grown larger than expected. This is why it’s being broken up into at least two parts. To check out the first search, click https://kovakscorner.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/search-for-the-perfect-pumpkin-beer/. It was originally posted Sept. 5 and randomly added to as beers were sampled. Eleven beers are featured.

On to Part 2.

America’s Original Pumpkin Ale, Buffalo Bill’s Brewery – Came across this ale at my favorite Greensburg eatery – Parkwood Inn – and sampled it on the deck while partaking in a plate of hot sausage tortellini. It’s certainly solid – decent pumpkin flavor, nice mix of spices. It claims to be the original.

The OG of pumpkin beers.

The OG of pumpkin beers.

Pumpkin Ale, Wolaver’s – Another Parkwood purchase, this beer presented a first for me – gluten free. Full disclosure, the first taste sucked but subsequent drinks proved better. So, this beer grew on me. It’s made with Vermont pumpkins (the company hails from Vermont) , but the guess here is I won’t be supporting the Vermont economy again.

Never tried a gluten free beer until sampling this. I prefer my gluten.

Never tried a gluten free beer until sampling this. I prefer my gluten.

Smashed Pumpkin, Shipyard Brewing Company – Before embarking on this search, Shipyard’s Pumpkinhead ranked as my favorite in the genre, and it may still be, but I’m holding off on revisiting that selection until the end of this search. As for Smashed Pumpkin, it was referred to me by a relative, who happens to be a highly decorated person of the law. The relative went as far as sending three of these, along with three of the next beer on this list. Smashed Pumpkin is a definite contender. Bursting with pumpkin and cinnamon flavor, every sip is a calming and soothing mouthful of greatness. Oh, and it’s 9 percent alcohol, so it packs a little kick. Well done Shipyard, well done.

Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin is one of the best presents I've ever received.

Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin is one of the best presents I’ve ever received.

Night Owl Pumpkin Ale, Elysian – Another gifted pumpkin beer, the spices and pumpkin flavor perfectly complement the dark color and incredible texture. The beer doesn’t smell as pleasnt as others, but the taste makes it a legitimate contender. Brewed in Seattle, Night Owl has seven pounds of pumpkin and pumpkin seeds per barrel. Blended with spices, including ever-important all spice, it’s close to perfection.

Elysian Night Owl's flavor will have you howling, not hooting.

Elysian Night Owl’s flavor will have you howling, not hooting.

Pumpkinhead, Shipyard Brewing Co. – The distinct bottle, with the Headless Horseman adorning a jack o’lantern and hoisting a beer, is eye-catching, and led to a purchase several years ago. The taste, just the right blend of cinnamon and pumpkin, continues to bring me back. Full disclosure: This ranked as my favorite long before this search. It may still be. Tough to beat. Another positive, rather than brag about everything Shipyard puts into this special brew “natural flavors” is all it provides.

My original favorite pumpkin beer.

My original favorite pumpkin beer.

Pumple Drumkin, cisco brewers – There once was a pumpkin beer from Nantucket … Ok, ok, let’s not go there. But Nantucket is where this canned selection hails and, well, I just couldn’t resist. The main reason? I’m an unabashed supporter of “Wings” – the great 1990s NBC comedy starring Tim Daly and Steven Weber. I’ve been told on more than one occasion I resemble Brian Hackett, the happy-go-lucky pilot played by Weber. I’ve been called a lot worse. As for the beer, it’s a bit hoppy. Not that hops are bad, but it’s tough tasting the pumpkin. Overall, a very good beer.

Buy this beer and read the rhyme on the can.

Buy this beer and read the rhyme on the can.

Spooky Tooth Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Fat Head’s – Brewed in Ohio, I picked up this dark version of the seasonal treat at Nakama, a sushi/hibachi joint on Pittsburgh’s South Side. Figuring the beer had ties to my favorite sandwich place in Pittsburgh – Nakama’s Carson Street neighbor, Fat Head’s Saloon – and the place of the city’s second-best french fries (The O still rules this genre), it seemed logical to give it a try. The friendly bartender rimmed the glass in cinnamon and sugar (not my favorite thing), which really gave this beer a strong cinnamon smell. As far as aroma goes, Sppoky Tooth is wonderful. It’s texture is rich and dark. The spices, from nutmeg to clove are evident. It has all the ingredients for a perfect pumpkin beer, but something was missing – namely a good taste. Maybe it was the rimmed glass, but this beer was a bummer.

This beer had all the makings of a good one, but the taste was off. Maybe Nakama had a bad keg.

This beer had all the makings of a good one, but the taste was off. Maybe Nakama had a bad keg.

Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Weyerbacher – Brewed in Easton, home of former heavyweight boxing champion Larry Holmes, this pumpkin ale packs a punch. Maybe it’s the cardamom, which is a subplot to a fantastic episode of Cheers. It’s the bloody mary contest, and Cheers gets ahold of cardamom until Woody sneezes it away because of an allergy. Back to point, this darker outing boasts a wonderful blend of spices and just the right amount of pumpkin flavor. Like a piece of pumpkin pie.

Heavy on spices and darker than the average pumpkin ale, Weyerbacher found a winning formula.

Heavy on spices and darker than the average pumpkin ale, Weyerbacher found a winning formula.

 

Fantasy stud, dud and pickup

Anyone think Steve Smith had something to prove against Carolina? Smith delivered in a big way for the pass-happy Ravens and the receiver is a big reason why Joe Flacco has been one of the best fantasy quarterbacks. Smith finished with seven receptions, 139 yards and, most importantly, two touchdowns.

Jason Witten had five receptions for 61 yards, sadly both are season-highs for the Cowboys tight end. Dallas is running the football with greater regularity, and Witten is losing targets to emerging players like Terrence Williams.

LeGarrette Blount had four carries for 25 yards. He’s the established backup in Pittsburgh, but this was certainly disappointing production in an embarrassing loss to Tampa Bay. Even with Le’Veon Bell emerging as a top five running back, Blount will get touches, assuming the Steelers keep producing on offense.

Last week, Smith was our stud, Witten our dud and Blount the pickup. Blount was a bust, but we’ll stick with the previous picks.

On to choices for Sunday.

Stud – Eli Manning, New York Giants. Manning is so up-and-down that he’s not owned in about 1 in every leagues and usually relegated to bye-week starting. If you have Manning, get him in your lineup this week. Atlanta’s defense is not good. OK, it flat out sucks. Anyone watch the Vikings gash them last week? The Giants are home and Manning has an elite red-zone target in tight end Larry Donnell.

Dud – Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona. This one hurts. I covered Pitt football during Fitzgerald’s time there, and he still ranks as the most amazing athlete I watched regularly during my former life as a sports writer. (Full disclosure, the Observer-Reporter’s Heisman Trophy vote went to Fitzgerald during his sophomore season.) But that was then. This is now, and while Fitzgerald remains a big name in the game, his production isn’t anything to brag about. He’s no longer Arizona’s primary target.

Pickup – Travis Kelce, Kansas City. If you’re in a league that starts tight ends, and this guy is available, go grab him. At 6-5, Kelce offers a big target for Alex Smith, who prefers the short to intermediate passes. Kelce has touchdowns in each of the past two games, and don’t be surprised if he grabs one at San Francisco.