Hawks tragic: Ross Stevenson not counting his chickens, even though they've already hatched. Photo: Jason South
Melbourne is truly a remarkable place. Not only was it voted the world's most liveable city (don't get too excited - Adelaide finished fifth) but it manages to survive on a 50-week calendar, two short of the rest of the world.
So what happens to the two missing weeks?
One is lost to the spring racing carnival, when local ladies morph into African tribal women, roaming in packs only to return home barefoot after dark.
The second is grand final week, where mature men lurch from function to function, ingesting vast quantities of champagne for breakfast, beer for lunch and shiraz for supper.
If only the Football Record was printed on a wine list they could multiskill.
Just this week we saw a man in a pinstripe suit wandering around Crown Casino with the desperate expression usually seen on the face of a rescued Chilean miner clutching a dead canary.
And if someone poisoned the September supply of Tasmanian smoked salmon, then half the executive boards from the top end of town would be wiped out by October.
It is the week when ticket scalpers are pursued like heroin dealers and anyone with a spare ticket becomes the most popular person in the office, until he makes a decision and then he is the most hated.
While the AFL continues to pump up the concept of the national code, the truth is Melbourne remains the heartbeat of the game.
The grim reality is that Andrew Demetriou has embarked on an expansion program not seen since Julius Caesar crossed the Channel to take on the Brits (who had the home-ground advantage).
And like Julius in the BC it hasn't gone exactly to plan for AD. Western Sydney has yet to embrace its new team, with drive-by shootings still the preferred local hobby.
In fact, local councillors have lobbied heavily for handbag-snatching to be included as an Olympic event.
Let's face it, Adelaide is filled with serial killers and, worse, serial mime artists; WA is littered with precious metals, empty bourbon bottles and killer sharks; the Gold Coast survives through expatriate Victorians and outlaw bikies, while Brisbane is dominated by property developers and cannabis abusers.
Here in Melbourne, footy is part of the fabric (we firmly believe asylum seekers should be given a DVD of the 1989 grand final as part of their assimilation package).
The biggest story of the year in Victoria was the Essendon drug issue, with Dustin Martin's contract dispute creating more interest than some silly federal election.
Talkback is dominated not by stopping the boats but by stopping Buddy from leaving town, while Kennett's curse generated more headlines than Rudd's reforms.
And the only platforms that matter today are Richmond and Jolimont.
No one seems to think it is slightly strange that the biggest glamour night on the calendar is the Brownlow, which is a glorified pie night without the pies. (As part of research for this column, we went to the event and accidentally stood on a young lady's trail as she was sashaying into the room. Luckily, it did not cause an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction.)
The game is just massive in this town. Football writers are celebrities and footballers want to be media performers. Players twitter and reporters tweet while a juicy football story just about outrates any other yarn, except a celebrity divorce.
Indeed, supporters often make a greater emotional investment than the players. We know of a respected judge who has a full-size Geelong mannequin in his lounge room and goes all misty-eyed thinking of Cat flags.
This week he has no doubt sentenced several people to death, which is difficult as he is presiding in a civil court.
At last Friday's preliminary, your correspondent witnessed a group of seemingly sensible people apparently struck simultaneously by hydrophobia when Cyril Rioli's mark was not paid (surely a decision that should have been taken to the United Nations International Court of Justice).
Sitting nearby was a perfectly calm champion footballer, who may have won Monday's Brownlow. He knew that yelling at umpires 200 metres away was just a waste of energy.
But he is wrong. We are not fans or spectators - we are participants in our own way.
Our energy and passion helps make this game and we are better for it.
We know that on Saturday there will be tears and punches thrown - and that is just in the press box. Boxing is a ghetto sport, basketball for giants, cricket for spoilt millionaires and racing for money-launderers.
Footy is for us. The players can be small or tall, from private schools or outback stations, but they are our gladiators and the MCG is our Colosseum.
In the past few days airlines have launched the biggest emergency airlift since the fall of Saigon to bring over more than 12,000 Fremantle fans.
Some are actually flying to Singapore and then to Melbourne to make sure of a seat. With airfares, top tickets, a hotel room, a corporate breakfast, dinner and a meat pie, a Dockers supporter can burn 10 grand in a weekend. And would happily do so if it resulted in their first flag.
These strangely deluded visitors seem to think they are going to win, citing their so-called impregnable defence.
Not that impregnable, it would seem - just ask Tony Mokbel. Australia's most wanted was able to give Fremantle the old heave-ho when he sailed off to Athens in his spiffing yacht the Edwena. Where was the Dockers' watertight zone then?
Locals say they are big-occasion players, citing the America's Cup victory 30 years ago. They forget one thing - they lost it four years later at Fremantle. Which is exactly how long the man behind the cup challenges, Alan Bond, would serve in prison for fraud.
Fremantle is a lovely part of Australia, with a wine bar culture stolen from Melbourne (our favourite is run by former Hawthorn premiership forward Paul ''Eddie Rabbit'' Abbott).
On our last visit we jumped on one of those double-decker buses for a quick tour.
A couple of observations: the taped patter boasting local identities including Bondy and Rolf Harris should perhaps be upgraded, and don't drive down streets with low-hanging trees in an open bus unless you want to blind unsuspecting Chinese tourists distracted by their iPhones.
While football is a traditional game it is always evolving.
When we started heading to Glenferrie Oval, the general view was anyone wearing a sleeveless football jumper was either a footballer or a psychopath.
Now middle-aged men and women wear their jumpers to the game as if they are about to sit on the interchange bench.
Of course, back then, the only people with tattoos were former members of the Merchant Navy or gun-carrying painters and dockers. It was a time when some footballers wore their hearts on their sleeve. Now they wear sleeves on their sleeve.
At the journalism school we didn't attend, budding reporters are taught it is better to use one case study than to publish swags of indigestible figures.
Which is why after the federal budget we are subjected to stories about smoking, single mothers with three kids under seven with a weakness for McDonald's.
All of us know someone who manages to function in the community satisfactorily, only to become clinically insane on game day.
Below is a case study of such a classic football tragic.
Occupation: Radio host.
Stevenson (with present on-air partner John Burns) has been the highest-rating radio personality in Melbourne since crystal sets were phased out, consistently dominating the breakfast time slot for 3AW.
He calmly interviews prime ministers, celebrities and newsworthy people without missing a beat, and yet, when the Hawks head for the MCG in September he becomes a blithering idiot.
We have studied this man's behaviour over many years and must sadly report that he is a little bit mental.
He is extremely intelligent, blessed with a photographic memory and yet appears to have the life skills of a blind hamster.
His off-air life appears to be dominated by talking or watching Hawthorn (90 per cent), buying skinny jeans online (3 per cent) and staring out of a window (7 per cent).
When he has his morning decaf at the Media House bistro and lounge bar, he responds the same way when handed a table number with his order: ''Twenty-three, Buddy Franklin'' or ''No.2, Jarryd Roughead.''
A harmless distraction you say, until you find out he tried (and failed) to name his own child so the initials would be HFC.
Three years ago, when Hawthorn flew to Perth to take on Fremantle in a final, Stevenson secreted himself on the flight and managed to sit next to one Lance Franklin, talking non-stop for the four-hour flight. No wonder we lost.
Just last week he arrived at the preliminary final wearing Gary Buckenara's 1989 premiership jumper and a complexion that could be picked up on Google Maps. In the last quarter, as the game became tighter, so did his chest. He did manage to mutter that if he collapsed, those present shouldn't bother to try to revive him. ''Just make sure the boys get home.''
We close this year's grand final souvenir Naked City column with a simple message.
Cyril Rioli: Cometh the hour, cometh the man. And Roughie? You know what to do.
It may save a life.