Today is my 29th birthday. There are no plans for a party, nor for going out really. Just a table in a corner room at my new favorite bar in Austin, Billy's on Burnet. Tip off is at 8 p.m. A win would be the most perfect gift imaginable.
Virginia beats Duke about as often as the Texans beat New England. It has happened, but it's always a "Where were you when?" type moment, on par with the Kennedy assassination, or the sight of Jacoby Jones doing the Ray Lewis dance as a touchdown celebration in the Super Bowl. If we win tonight, we're stamping our tickets to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season. That is a big deal around Charlottesville way.
This was my Virginia-Duke experience during my four years in school, summed up in one inauspicious highlight:
My hope is that by awakening the ancient the ancient spirits of Nick Vander Laan, we can ward off the present day Blue Devils. Defensively, UVa is the best in the ACC. On offense, we live and die by the three. The answer to "Did you have a good birthday?" on Friday will depend in large part upon how Joe "The Great Encourager" Harris shoots the ball on Thursday.
It could be a big night.
Or, it could be a blowout.
Which would cause me to need to think of another gift.
I hear Connor Barwin throws bomb ass house parties.
No, really, I heard that exact sentence. Janelle Lynnéa said it was so:
Swear I'd kill for a bomb house party one last time. Like a Brad Jones and Connor Barwin house party. Those were the days— Janelle Lynnéa(@JaeBae_) February 27, 2013
My backup birthday wish is to be friends with Connor Barwin, so that he can throw me one of the parties he made famous during his days on 233 Emming St.
Life is good these days for the outside linebacker free-agent-to-be. He's 26 years old, a bachelor, and in line for what will likely be a tremendous payday come March 12th or soon after. That money could very well come from another team. Texans GM Rick Smith has prevaricated when discussing whether or not Barwin is considered a part of the team's "core," but Houston could still come in with an offer good enough to keep the fifth-year player in town as a reward for services rendered in 2011. Either way, Barwin is potentially only weeks away from becoming the most baller, stack-getting hipster in the NFL. He'll never touch James Harden in that category for Houston pro athletes in general, but I'm sure they'll be tweeting at each other any day now.
If Barwin had been as good at basketball as he was at football during his days at Cincinnati, I'd probably be saying that I wish I could be him for my birthday, and just host the rager myself. It's just that whole C.T.E. thing. I don't ever wish to be an NFL player anymore. I just want to be a part of someone's crew.
No disrespect to guys like Colin Kaepernick, but Barwin's got something called a work-life balance. The dude chills. It's very European. Which is fitting. Has anyone else been following his little trip through Europe on Instagram and Twitter and been thinking the same thing?
I should be live tweeting...#amsterdam— Connor Barwin (@ConnorBarwin98) February 22, 2013
Careful, Connor. The NFL's drug testers will fly across the Atlantic and surprise you.
The Life of Barwin - when viewed through his Lo-Fi Instagram lens - has been pretty sick for the last few weeks. Lots of day-drinking in Houston, lots of hanging out in foreign capitals, and though the evidence is few and far between, I'm sure there have been lots of scenes like this:
The identity of this mystery woman is unknown, as Brent Musburger has yet to lay eyes on her. She destroys Katherine Webb in my opinion. Connor got to run his pro athlete game on her during his brother's wedding in Ireland. Did he bring her? Did he meet her there? Immaterial. This is his life.
It's unclear why exactly Sean Barwin chose to get married in Ireland. His new wife Emily doesn't look Irish. She looks like your standard, hot-white-blonde-American-chick, the type that will make all future Little League coaches want to draft her son. And though Connor appears to have had a great time, there are signs that he was perhaps a little annoyed that his brother's lack of planning caused him to miss the NBA All Star Game festivities in Houston.
Wish I was around this weekend but my brother decided to get married. Have a great weekend HOUSTON! #NBAAllStar— Connor Barwin (@ConnorBarwin98) February 14, 2013
He certainly made the best of a bad situation. From Ireland, Barwin flew to London, where he met up with his good buddy Brooks Reed, fellow outside linebacker and, apparently, also an avid indie music fan.
You know someone is a scenester when not even my most sceney Austin friends have heard of the band he's seeing live and rubbing shoulders with after the show. I had never even heard of Electric Guest until Barwin introduced me to them. And though I suspect I wouldn't usually be into his kind of music, I have listened to their new album about four times in the course of writing this story. I give it two thumbs up.
Everyone's heard of the Lumineers, though. That was the next show Brooks and Connor saw in London. And their lead singer looks like he could be our elusive second WR, if he just puts on a little weight:
The trip wasn't all sex, drugs and rock and roll. These guys aren't above doing standard tourist stuff.
They had plenty of time to make jokes about how Reed didn't even get to see the field during the 2011 home win against the Steelers.
The two friends even went to Emirates Stadium to watch what the majority of the world would smugly refer to as a "real football game." FC Bayern Munich soundly defeated home squad Arsenal by a score of 3-1 that night, putting a serious dent in the Gunners' Champions League hopes, and likely angering the hordes of "Arsenal hooligans" the two Texans were
getting wasted with walking alongside before the game. (Note: one of Barwin's followers made a disparaging remark about Arsenal supporters, claiming they are the only EPL team that doesn't have "hooligans." I do not have the knowledge base to confirm or deny this claim, as I don't spend enough time watching real football. I do know enough to know that they're called supporters, not fans.)
The next stop was Amsterdam.
Where the stereotype of people who are supposed to be tall was proven false, while the image of Americans being much wider than the Dutch was heavily reinforced.
There have been a lot of rumors floating around in the past year about changes to the Dutch legal code. The new Dutch government has been restricting the ability of foreigners to frequent the coffee shops that made Holland such a wonderful place to visit in my college years, ostensibly because of a growing problem with smuggling weed across the border to Germany. It's unclear how this has affected Amsterdam itself; every Dutch traveler I met in my recent jaunt through Latin America had a different answer for my question about this pressing matter.
Luckily for Houston Texans fans, Battle Red Blog can just ask Connor Barwin about it in our next interview with him. Hopefully for Houston Texans fans (assuming he re-signs), he doesn't know the answer. For as much as he loves life, that is still a pretty plausible scenario. Barwin seems perfectly content surrounded by vats of craft brewed beer, whether in Houston, or at the Heineken Museum:
Barwin is a bicycle enthusiast who rides to the gym - and, hopefully, the bar, unlike seemingly every other NFL player - when he's back home. Amsterdam must have blown his freaking mind in that department. That city has double-decker parking garages just for bikes. And nowhere else on earth will you see more hot girls riding around on two wheels than in the capital of the Netherlands.
There's also nowhere on earth that you'll find canals as beautiful, or Van Gogh paintings as plentiful. And, of course, a museum entirely devoted to sex.
This guy. Do you see why I want to be friends with this guy now? Man.
London to Amsterdam to Berlin...the Reed/Barwin Euro Trip just keeps going, just keeps getting cooler and cooler. They took a train to Germany in lieu of flying, which is so European of them. Perhaps they had some souvenirs in their bags that they did not want to take through airport security. Likely souvenir cans of Heineken. Or something from the gift shop of the aforementioned museum.
Whatever they took in their luggage, let's hope it was as heavy as possible. We want these guys ready for the season. Just take a second to watch what these two letter-jacket wearing jocks were doing on the train from Amsterdam to Berlin.
"Meating out," as Barwin calls doing reverse push-ups with his suitcase on his lap, taking a swig of Beck's beer, and then doing some quick, regular push-ups on the train compartment floor. The only thing that makes this scene better is if Reed busts out with a "U-S-A!" chant mid-stream.
Get some, Kaepernick.
Another live show by a band called alt-J (one I haven't checked out yet, but plan to after hearing Electric Guest) awaited them in Berlin, their third concert of the trip. This time, no backstage passes, but I'm sure life will go on for them just fine. (Connor and Brooks, y'all are welcome to rent out my house for SXSW, as it's still available.)
The next day, it was time for more touristy stuff, which obviously means the Berlin Wall.
Not only did both of us to go Jesuit high schools, but we are also history buffs. This really was meant to be.
How Barwin was able to resist making the inevitable #BullsOnParade en Español joke when he posted this photo, the world will never know.
"On the Nose with Shaun Cody" producer Drew Dougherty was all over it, though:
#TorosEnDesfile RT @connorbarwin98: That's a stadium @ Plaza De Toros instagr.am/p/WNF1NzF_3J/— Drew Dougherty (@DoughertyDrew) February 26, 2013
Reed seems to have dropped off by the time Barwin made it to Madrid; perhaps he went home early, his body worn down by trying to keep up with his running mate. The isolation probably made for some very contemplative moments for Connor, as his trip was drawing to a close.
You can imagine that he probably has a lot on his mind these days. Will I get that big contract? Will I be forced to leave the team that makes me feel like I'm in college again? What will I do with my letter jacket? Strolling through the streets of Madrid, iPod headphones in, alone with his thoughts.
Wondering if the grass is greener is a natural human response to free agency. For a patron of the arts who is about to test the open market, strolling past a building like this must have been symbolic. What does it mean? Should I stay or should I go? Maybe I'm meant to move on if I want to reach for the sky...
Or maybe not. Did he, in this moment of reflection, happen across this old Spanish man sitting on a park bench?
Surely, this made him think about Mario Williams: up in Buffalo, all alone on a bad team, millions of dollars in the bank and no ring for sale, looking into the distance and thinking back on his time in Houston, and what could have been.
Yes, I believe this is what happened. This is why Connor Barwin is going to take a hometown discount to stay with the Texans. On the day he signs his new contract, you can be sure he'll be throwing one of those bomb ass house parties, too. Brooks will be there. So will Janelle. If we resign Shaun Cody, he'll be there as well. And hopefully, so will that girl from the wedding in Ireland. Damn.
And of course, me too. That's assuming Duke wins tonight, which they won't. But if they do, if Connor Barwin has 1/10th the humanitarian spirit of J.J. Watt, he'll ask me to be his pretend best friend for the day, just to help console me. It's a win-win 29th birthday, basically.