SPRING. Time for… football?!?

The NFL Draft is coming up. Training camp is still four months away and the preseason doesn’t start until August 8th. But I can’t help looking ahead.

2019’s schedule, just released, seems to favor the Eagles BIGLY.

Each year, the Eagles always play two games against each of the other three teams in the NFC East Division. The Giants were woeful last year, and I seriously doubt that they’ll get much better in the course of one offseason. They traded their great receiver Beckham to oblivion and they’re still arguing over whether Eli Manning can still play quarterback. The Redskins were underachievers, but that’s their reputation of late. The Cowboys won the division but, once again, were unable to do anything with it.

[The Cowboys have now won exactly THREE playoff games since they last won Super Bowl XXX after the 1995 season. That’s 23 years of frustration for Dallas fans. They’re beginning to understand how Eagles fans felt before 2017, except that their record of those 23 years has been absolute mediocrity. I expect that the Eagles and Cowboys will still swap wins this year.]

In 2019, all NFC East teams play the teams from the AFC East Division and the NFC North Division, plus two random teams based upon their divisional standings from last year. As 2nd place finisher in the NFC East, the Eagles will play the 2nd place teams from two other divisions: the Falcons and the Seahawks. Dallas gets the Saints and the Rams (both 1st place teams), while the Redskins and Giants get 3rd and 4th place teams, respectively.

Of the 16 games on the Eagles’ schedule, only 5 are against teams that finished last year with a better record than the Eagles (and that includes the stinkin’ Cowboys, twice). The AFC East has the New England Patriots and three teams that struggled. The NFC North has the Chicago Bears and three teams under .500.

Worth noting that the Eagles have a stretch of three games on the road in October, followed by three straight games at home in November.

As always, the wild card is whether the team (and especially now Carson Wentz) can stay relatively healthy. If they do, and if Wentz can trust his wide receivers as in days past, the offense should have no problem scoring points. And, as one genius sportscaster pointed out, “The only way to win games is to score more points than the other guys.”

Here’s how I break out the season:

Sep 8 Washington Redskins 7-9 W
Having the Redskins here in Philly for Game One gets the Eagles off to a good start.

Sep 15 @ Atlanta Falcons 7-9 W
Eagles just seem to have the Falcons’ number. They come close, but the Eagles seem to have a way of dashing their dreams. Even in Atlanta

Sep 22 Detroit Lions 6-10 W
I think the Lions are still looking to put together a team. A win.

Sep 26 @ Green Bay Packers 6-9-1 W
I waffle about this one. Yes, it’s IN Green Bay, but the Packers come down to the state of Aaron Rogers. Our defense makes him uncomfortable all day and the Eagles come out with a win

Oct 6 New York Jets 4-12 W
Another “trap game.” The Jets have new uniforms and may not recognize themselves. Still, they are pathetic. Five straight wins to start the season.

Oct 13 @ Minnesota Vikings 8-7-1 L
Revenge for the Vikings. Eagles are starting to believe they’re all that, and the Vikings remind them that they still have to play the game.

Oct 20 @ Dallas Cowboys 10-6 L
Still nursing from a loss, the Eagles go down to Dallas and give away a close one.

Oct 27 @ Buffalo Bills 6-10 W
Playing the Bills can make a team healthy. Bills will be no trouble.

Nov 3 Chicago Bears 12-4 L
The Bears come into Philly and take one from the Birds. Are they for real? I don’t know, but I’m giving them this game.

Nov 10 BYE

Nov 17 New England Patriots 11-5 W
The Patriots are coming off of a BYE, too, and I’m hoping that they’re looking past the Eagles to their game against the Cowboys the following week. Even so, the Eagles HATE these guys. And it’s on our turf.

Nov 24 Seattle Seahawks 10-6 L
Seattle beats the Eagles until they don’t. And they will. A loss for the Eagles at home.

Dec 1 @ Miami Dolphins 7-9 W
Eagles go to Miami at a nice time of year. Assuming that they show up for business, they win this one.

Dec 9 New York Giants 5-11 W
The Giants stink. They flat-out stink.

Dec 15 @ Washington Redskins 7-9 W
Washington’s season is probably over at this point. Eagles need to keep their eye on the road and win this one, setting up a game for the division title.

Dec 22 Dallas Cowboys 10-6 W
Unless they totally screw things up again, the Cowboys should have a record on par with the Eagles. This game will determine the division crown.

Dec 29 @ New York Giants 5-11 W (or L, if nothing to play for)
Eagles coast into the playoffs with an easy win against the Gints.

OKAY. I just gave the Eagles a 12-4 record, a division title, and possibly even a BYE for the first round of the playoffs. I’ve also given them five straight wins to start the season, five straight wins to finish the season. They will not win five straight. 11-5 is acceptable, but a 10-6 record is a FAIL, especially if it means Dallas wins the division again.

We’ve only got four months to argue.

Now Hear This

It’s a warm, sultry Summer evening. The sun has set hours ago. You step outside to enjoy a soft breeze and to watch the intricate dance of the lightning bugs. In the background is the sound of millions of Summer insects, from crickets to cicadas to god-knows-what. It is all very high-pitched and nonstop.

This is what I hear. All. The. Time.

Early on, I remember lying in bed late one night, listening to the insects chirping away. Then it dawned on me that it was midwinter and that there really were no insects. Not in the dead of winter! This is when I became aware of Tinnitus.

As I understand it, I have lost the ability to hear the very high, almost ultrasonic sounds. My own brain, trying to help, is “filling in” the upper frequencies with phantom sounds that only I can hear. But it is constant. It never stops. My brain is doing a crappy job of helping.

As with any constant sound, I sometimes lose awareness of it – it fades into the background (but never goes away). Most often, it’s because I’m paying attention to a rival sound – radio or TV or traffic noises.

(Naturally, as I type this, I am keenly aware of it – it is very much in the foreground.)

Along with tinnitus, I also have degenerative hearing loss, getting a little worse each year. Little by little, the range of upper frequencies that is lost to me increases. The very highest notes in music sometimes escape me. Blame playing the piano with the lid raised, year after year. Blame listening to Genesis and The Doobie Brothers with headphones turned up WAY too much. Riding a two-cylinder John Deere mower for two hours each week, unprotected, probably isn’t helping, either. Blame every loud sound that I’ve exposed myself to over my lifetime.

I’ve always had problems hearing the human voice in television and movies, especially British films with inappropriately loud music scores at a time when the characters are whispering. Or action movies, where explosions and gunfire are competing with the spoken word.

For many years, I haven’t even tried to hold a conversation in a loud bar or at a wedding reception with an ear-damaging DJ. I’ve never mastered lip reading, and there is simply no way that I can make out what anyone is saying against a backdrop of everyone else yelling to be heard.

A person with a well-modulated, well-enunciated speaking voice is a joy. There are many people that I talk with who are easily heard and understood.

Low talkers annoy the hell out of me. There are a few who poke their heads into my office and begin whispering something to me. I now cut them off immediately and ask them to speak up. Even so, after half a sentence, their voice begins to trail off again into obscurity, forcing me to blurt out, “Eh?,” like every other cranky old man. I’m always afraid that I’m going to “pull a Seinfeld” and agree to something that I didn’t actually hear. I am not going to be wearing a puffy shirt.

I wear headphones while watching the bedroom TV. I originally bought them so that my late-night TV watching wouldn’t bother my wife, who has to be up very early in the morning. But I find that they’re a godsend now. The headphones almost force the human voice bandwidth into my ear canals, so I can hear just about every word.

If I’m watching TV downstairs, I find that the surround sound speakers actually muddy the sound. There’s one center speaker that is allegedly enhancing the vocal range, but it’s not really helping. When voices get low, I find myself cupping my ears with my hands, pointing them toward the sound. (It helps. Really.) Even so, the lack of clarity and missed dialogue have me more and more lost as to what’s going on.

I watch MSNBC a lot. For the most part, this is one person speaking at a time, and that voice is the only sound coming out of my speakers. I find it easy to listen to and can pay attention to what’s being said. On the rare occasion when two guests begin arguing over each other and then the moderator joins in… Forget it. I can’t hear anything that any one of the three is saying. I can’t handle overlapping voices.

I listen to NPR all day at work. I use an iPod Nano and ear buds while I work, and, unless the topic is especially interesting, NPR is basically low background noise to distract from the tinnitus. White noise to combat white noise.

Unless I’m in the kitchen, I can’t hear a whistling tea kettle or the beep of a microwave. I’m becoming very good at guesstimating when things are going to be done.

My wife asks me if I can hear baby birds or peepers (pond frogs). Nope.

Why don’t I just buy hearing aids?

I will. Just not yet. I find that a good hearing aid can run $2,000 to $3,000. The little research that I did tells me that buying cheap gets you cheap, so I’ll get a very good, reliable pair when the time comes. No health insurance covers or subsidizes hearing aids.

Hearing aids are optional, it seems. A luxury. I’ll spend the money when I’m missing $2,000 worth of sound.

You’ll all just have to do me a favor. Speak a little louder than you normally do (you don’t have to shout), just a good-level inside voice will do. Don’t slur, don’t trail off, don’t mumble. In other words, speak to me the same way you’d speak to any other elderly gentleman.

And I sometimes find myself talking too loud, as though I’m talking while wearing headphones and am not aware of the volume. I think this is how I unconciously let people know that I’m having trouble hearing them. If I yell at you, I’m sorry. Let’s both compromise on the volume.

Here’s an ad for the new HTC cellphones. HTC incorporates a hearing test into the HTC 10, in order to maximize the “high definition audio” output for each individual pair of earbuds. They call it a Personal Audio Profile. Each time I plug in a set of headphones or buds, I have the option of taking a quick “quiz” that is used to equalize the music for my hearing. Or I can take a complete hearing test (you know, a series of high, medium, and low tones for both right and left ears) so that the phone can take my own weaknesses into account. As you would expect, the upper range is greatly boosted for my benefit. I hear things in the music from my phone that I don’t hear anywhere else. Every phone should have this feature, since every pair of ears is unique.

In the meantime, every once in a while I’ll enjoy a bit of silence. I’ll close my eyes, focus on the tinnitus, and picture myself standing out back, listening to the sound of a million insects chirping on a warm Summer evening.

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