Smoke, Pig, Ritual

We have this ritual in our house. First televised Hog hoops game, we declare it Ribs and Pigs. It is almost always a Wednesday. And I go get us some barbecue, and we eat ribs watching the Hogs. Usually, they are stomping some early season cannon fodder. Usually, we are seeing some new players we have read about, but have not seen. Our fingers and faces crust over with sauce. I yell at some lousy defense, even though we're up twenty.

We did this, pretty much as described above, Wednesday of this week. 'Cue? Check. Pudknocker victim? Check. New players? Check check check check check check check. Sauce on face? Check. Lousy D? Check. 20-point win. Check.

There is something comforting and uplifting in the ritual of Ribs and Pigs. There is always room for hope. This year, no exception. Fortson has real promise. Clarke, real promise. Washington looks way more in shape and way improved. Sanchez, much better. Welsh, seems mature. And whoa, Jason Henry. Dude is an athlete. He can play.

Granted, Texas Southern is a sacrifical lamb for the ages. They played zero D, and still, at times we looked ragged. We also, apparently, have never practiced free throws. Well, other than Rotnei. Wave at people as they go by baseline and miss half your free throws and you will get pounded in conference. Even a really down conference. But I have to say, Pel is building the right way. Not this year. Maybe not next. But year after, we could slay some people.

So, we learned of Courtney's do, and Rotnei's shot, and Washington's moves down low, and Jason's studly game, and that Brandon Moore and Andre Clark have a ways to go. But hey, that's what Ribs and Pigs is all about. Get to know them. Assess the chances.

Another ritual I have. The new calendar arrives. I enter, in red ink, each and every game on the schedule. Indicate home or away; whether it is televised, and if so on what network; tipoff time. The SEC Tourney weekend. First round of the NCAAs (also known as High Holy Week). Regionals (the best weekend of the tourney). Final Four. Championship game. The Hogs are not likely to make it into the NCAAs, but the red ink still lays out my life for the spring. And I sure don't want any jinx from breaking tradition.

I've been doing this since the early 1980s. The glory days.

Early on in Ribs and Pigs, I decided one year I'd get the ribs from Sim's. The original Sim's, at Short 33rd and Arch. This is maybe 1984 or so. I had been to Sim's for lunch, when Sim's, like many good barbecue joints, is a model of diversity, laborers and businessmen, black and white, all crowded into the small single room and scarfing down greasy ribs and chopped pork covered in that pungent green mustardy sauce, as loud R&B blares from the old style jukebox. It hasn't changed much in 20 years.

Now, there is true dissension on this, because my wife insists she was with me that evening we called in an order of ribs. I remember being by myself. Doesn't matter, really. All I know is that visit was when I discovered that Sim's was a different place at night. A neighborhood place. And it wasn't my neighborhood. My recollection is that the place fell silent. Loud, raucous conversation stopped. All heads turned my way. A child stopped mid-skip. Oooops. There were no white businessmen in there.

I (or we) got our ribs and got the heck out of there. I still blame that night, the hasty retreat and some poorly packed ribs for a nasty sauce stain that never came out of my old Honda.

The only thing that has really changed at Sim's is that now, stenciled on the door, are warnings: "No hoodies. Keep your hands in view."

And the rituals continue. Ribs and Pigs; red schedule in calendar. Now all I need is the Hogs to return to those days of glory. My rituals are in order; I'm ready.

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