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PA MONOPOLY

by Alisondm » Sat Jul 22, 2006 1:06 pm

I'm a total newbie to this forum and wine in general so please don't blast me out of the water with this simple question:
In Pennsylvania we are bound by the State Store system and can only get a variety of wines thru online ordering thru the state. So far I have been able to have them get me some unlisted Argyle Pinot Noirs that I've liked in the past but I'm sensing I'm really constrained to what's really out there!
Other Pennsylvanians please let me know if this is true and are there ways around it!.............or shall we get a class action suit against the state for having a monopoly?!?! :shock:

Thanks
Alison
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Re: PA MONOPOLY

by James Roscoe » Sat Jul 22, 2006 1:26 pm

Alison,
Welcome to the forum. It's good to have you here. Your question comes up frequently. People who have never experienced the uniquie frustration of the PA state store system would be amazed. Yellow Tail is considered a "premium" wine.
As an expatriate who has to deal with this system on occassional visits home (Philly for me, Pittsburgh for my wife) I feel your pain. Maryland is not much better where greedy distributors run the system. I think the best answer is a visit to Ohio or West Virginia for "olive oil". You might find some wineries will ship in defiance of state laws, but I would not advocate this approach.
Some improvements have been made. I believe there are some superstores in the Pittsburgh area. I would check out the statestore web site to see if you could find them. Good luck with your search!
Cheers!
James
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Re: PA MONOPOLY

by Alisondm » Sat Jul 22, 2006 1:50 pm

Thanks James, for the commiseration!!!!!!!!!!

We did trek about 75 miles to our local state store.........we try to have our wish list with us in hand and we have bought several times online which ships to our local State Store. I still sense we're only seeing a teensy view of what's out there.
Traveling soon so we'll visit WV like you recommended.

Alison
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Re: PA MONOPOLY

by James Roscoe » Sat Jul 22, 2006 2:19 pm

Alison,
Where do you live? The in-laws and some of the family live out in Freeport. The rest live down nearer the city where they grew up. It was a large clan (12) so many live in other parts of the country.
Why did you have to drive 75 miles to a state store? That's amazing? Look for one of the large super stores and then travel to WVa. or Ohio.
Cheers!
James
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Re: PA MONOPOLY

by Alisondm » Sat Jul 22, 2006 2:36 pm

grew up in Monroeville when it was farm country (dating myself) so I know where that superstore is but now I'm a few counties east...in the middle of nowhere.
I'm still laughing at the Yellowtail comment cuz that's about right around here. Some of my wine friends would also say "whaddya mean decant?"
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Re: PA MONOPOLY (and this is LONG!)

by Mike Conner » Mon Jul 24, 2006 4:24 pm

Alison,

rant is on and, this is long!

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board's monopoly over wines and spirits is such an anathema upon the citizens it serves, it is difficult to know where to start spelling out the issues. And, how beer is managed within the state is also crazy.

Start with beer. Sales to consumers only in a licensed bar/restaurant (or, some clubs which have special rules) by the bottle, or you can purchase up to two 6-packs for take home consumption (the rule is a max of 192 ounces, but must be sold as the pack it comes in, not ounce quantity [so, even though 192 ounces is 16 regular 12-ounce bottles, can only do the two 6-packs as 3 6-packs is more than 192 ounces]).

Or, you can visit a 'distributor' and purchase by the case (four 6-packs). But, only by the case. No 6-packs or single bottles. So sorry for you if you just want to try a new beer. Go to a bar and see if they have it.

And, the number of establishments that sell beer is quite limited (especially in smaller rural areas) - and that most licenses are "transferred" from one owner to another at sometimes $5+ figures which the state condones (the state 'checks' on the new owners of course).

As for wine, the state claims it is the largest purchaser of wines (and spirits) in the country (which is probably true given the volume, since other 'control' state has the sales that PA does, and probably no single wine store/liquor store in the country can match it). But, that buying power doesn't seem to allow the state to leverege its power to getting the best rated wines, nor to have the best prices on the shelf (as some might figure). The buying power is at least partially eaten up by ridiculous state taxes.

How can the state 'allocate' those small production bottlings of highly sought after wines? (there are 69 designated 'Premium Collection Stores' across the state) And, for those that are not deisgnated as the premium stores, how do you spread other smaller production wines across the nearly 550 'regular' stores across the state? My father, who happens to live in an area without a 'premium' store, finds very little on the shelf wine-wise that he would consider purchasing. The closest 'premium' store is almost an hour drive for him, and the store doesn't have as large a selection of 'premium' wines as other locations historically have had.

Then, there's the price issue. Here is how the state prices wine going onto the shelves (not including their 'truckload' or special deal wines):

add 30% markup to the wholesale price
add $1.25 bottle 'fee'
upon this new total, add 18% "1936 Johnstown Flood Emergency Tax" (which was 10% when first enacted, but has since been bumped up twice)
take this new total, round up to the nearest .09 (9 cents).
This is the shelf price of the wine.

Then, when the consumer purchases the wine, an additional 6% PA sales tax (7% in Allegheny County and Philadelphia) is levied.

Example:

10.00 wholesale bottle

30% markup = 3.00
bottle fee = 1.25
Johnstown Tax 18% (upon total of 14.25) = 2.57

gives 16.82. Rounded to the nearest 9 cents gives shelf price of $16.89.

Consumer then pays 6% tax of 1.01 giving grand total of $17.89 for a bottle that cost the state $10 to purchase.

Since I don't work in the retail wine industry, I have no idea if this method of mark-up is good, bad or otherwise. Or, if their supposed buying power translates into lower wholesale pricing before the various mark-ups are applied. Certainly, low-priced wines are likely more expensive in PA (due to the bottle fee and extra tax addition), but perhaps more expensive bottles aren't so bad (although I have not really found many true 'deals' with top wines on the shelf [or, wine-geek wines]).

Next issue is the selection. I have always found wines to try/buy when I have gone into the 'premium' stores (this also takes into account pricing - I tend to be a cheapskate - especially if I know the wine is available to me elsewhere). But, walk in to their 'premium' stores with a certain wine in mind, or even a certain small region in the wine growing world, and you are more likely be disappointed, or end up with a wine from an 'off' vintage.

Although I don't buy much red bordeaux, I always enjoy shopping. IF you find bordeaux on the shelf, it will likely either be terribly over-priced if it is a wine you might be interested in buying, or more likely, from one of the 'lesser' vintages (not that that is always a poor thing). But, it will still have a not very inviting price (likely meaning, the state did not purchase on 'futures' offerings).

Oh - another annoying thing about the state system that often mystifies customers... the tendency to not take vintage into account when sending wines through its system. The state uses a 6-digit number (recently used 5-digits) for its tracking of wines. About 6-7 years ago, it was just 4 digits! These numbers are very often just re-used when the next vintage of a particular wine enters their system. So, if you do try to contact the centralized help desk to try to find a wine that is now sold-out in the closest 'premium' store, there is no guarantee that other locations will have the same vintage! It does appear they are trying to do a better job of tracking vintages in their numbering system.

Just doing a quick search of the on-line wine-location system, shows LCB number 067360, Alter Ego de Palmer for 61.29 per 750ml bottle. No vintage listed. Also, there are two numbers listed in their listings for Amiral de Beychevelle 2000, one priced at $38.89 and another at $34.99 (both 750ml). Which one would you prefer to order? (although given the price, neither).

Oh - if you do have to order something from their 'special liquor order' list, you get to pay UPS shipment cost from the warehouse to your local LCB store.

And, then, there's the general lack of knowledge from most of the store employees. Note, there are a few folks who do try to learn a little bit about wine, and are extremely helpful when you want to try to find a few more bottles from another location. But, unless something has changed dramatically in the last year or so, their knowledge base is similar to any wine retailer who has an employee that has worked about 3 weeks in the store. Not to blame unions, but the employees (unionized) have little incentive to take the time to learn more about the products they sell. It was only about 2 years ago that the state store system allowed tastings in store (this cooresponded to a larger overhaul that added Sunday hours to some locations and allowing wine and liquor accessories to be sold in the stores - previously, you could buy a bottle of wine, but not a bottle opener!).

There are many other little details that fall through the cracks. I still think there is no truly knowledgeable wine person who overlooks the wine buying (certainly, not the fine wine buying). So, I believe PA often becomes the dumping ground for the lesser wines and off vintage stuff that other retailers (through their distributors) don't wish to purchase.

There have been many attempts to get the state out of the wine and liquor business. Since the LCB provides $350million+ to the treasury's general fund (mostly from taxes, but some of it from operating profit), there is little likelyhood that the legislature will abolish it and leave a large whole in their already tight budget. And, if the state keeps the 18% tax for alcoholic products (not to mention the 6% sales tax), what incentive is this for anyone to want to compete as a fine wine retailer (especially given the possible future of even more loose borders for selling wine across the country - which of course isn't going to happen tomorrow, but hopefully, it will come).

Now, the state of PA will allow its citizens to purchase wine from out of state if 1.) it is not listed in the LCB catalog, 2.) you have it delivered to a state store, 3.) pay $4.50 to the state for 'processing,' 4.) pay the 18% Johnstown tax and the 6% state sales tax (that the winery/retailer is supposed to be collecting and passing back to the state), and finally, 5.) show a proper invoice/sales receipt showing the taxes have been paid and such when you go to the state store to get your purchase (of course, you have to be 21 years old....). Simple, huh? Oh - and of course, the person selling you the wines has to have a state license to sell to you... I couldn't find the price to get that license.

OK, rant off

Occasionally, there are good deals to be had at the state store... especially if a wine has already gotten into the distribution channel, and just then gets a high score from one of the big gun scorers . . . case in point a number of years ago was '91 Dominus . . . I think Arpy had given the wine a decent score range when first tasted. The wine was being distributed when Arpy then bestowed a 99 point rating (I think it was 99 points), and the price shot up all over the country. So, if you had not already purchased it, suddenly the price doubled or more. In PA, that doesn't happen. So, my dad and I were able to find some magnums of the wine for $70 per . . . which was less than most locations were selling 750ml bottles for. Another example has been Pegau Chateauneuf du Pape (when/if you could find it). PA has almost always had the lowest price in the country for that wine (up till the 2003 vintage). But, with the high score received recently for the 2003, the PA price now is one of the lowest in the country (if they still have stock). Two years ago, they had on sale the Noval LB 'Finest Reserve' Porto (a yummy non-vintage port made similarly to a late bottle vintage LBV) for $11.99 per. Bought and enjoyed a bunch of bottles! (it was a good price for a very good port IMO).

So, occasionally, miracles happen.

Lastly, although the rant light is not lit, I did want to mention that the state's track record for getting wines from the warehouse to the stores was pretty poor - at least in regard to temperature control. They claim to have changed things, but I can't imagine that every vehicle that delivers wine to the stores is temperature controlled. My father had ordered a case of a tasty champagne after getting a few bottles at one of the 'premium' stores. After opening the first bottle from the case, he noticed it was not even close to being the same wine as the few singles he had bought and drunk. All the bottles from the case were damaged - and he theorized they must have been subjected to extreme cold (it was winter) for some duration of time before he purchased the case (he didn't take them back as they were still reasonably drinkable, and I think there is a time limit for returning wines - if they take back opened wines, that is [I don't know for sure]).

OK, enough. Unfortunately, none of the above really does any good for you Alison... if you really want good wines at reasonable pricing, I'd do my best to shop out of state. There are a few retailers who do go around the state's rules for direct shipping (I shant list them so they will continue). Or, you can make trips to other cities outside the state and make your purchases there and discretely bring them back to your cellar. Both options my father has done. Kinda a pain in the butt, but with limited choices (thanks to a monopoly), you have to improvise. He's also lucky to have a son in a state that does not have a monopoly (although I still suffer being in one of the felony shipping states - which I get around by shipping to NC...) so I do feed him some bottles now and again.

Thanks,

Mike


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Re: PA MONOPOLY (and this is LONG!)

by Alisondm » Mon Jul 24, 2006 7:07 pm

:wink: I think you need to go put on your carpal tunnel splint now, Mike!
All that typing!

Thanks for the facts though, I knew I was screwed but you just really put a name to it!

So I hear Tennesee is a nice place to live.........and no state stores!

-Alison
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Re: PA MONOPOLY (and this is LONG!)

by Mike Conner » Tue Jul 25, 2006 12:24 am

Alison,

Not to worry... when I get into rant mode, the carpal tunnel syndrome seems to fade away . . .

Yes, Tennessee is a nice place to live. But, we aren't the best place for wine-dome. Yes, we have some reasonably decent stores in Knoxville, but just not quite the volume of business to support a really great store (nor is there any truly passionate wine geeks in charge of any store). And, since TN law makes it a felony to ship wine (or other alcoholic beverages) into the state, it is more difficult to find retailers to ship to us (like PA, there are a few who go around the laws, but not everyone).

Thanks,

Mike


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Re: PA MONOPOLY (and this is LONG!)

by Don P » Tue Jul 25, 2006 8:55 am

Mike:

Testify, brother! Yes, Alison, the PA control with State Stores is an awful thing. Interestingly enough, I just had a discussion with Robin yesterday regarding the AWFUL control of the distributorships over the industry down here in Maryland, where we suffer from a simliar fate at the hands of a short-sighted system.

RANT ON


My problem with the system is a twofold thing down here in the Old Line State. First, having the distributors control the wines makes for a very finite selection list the stores and restaurants are exposed to. Granted, the term "finite" is a bit loose here, but I know for a fact distributors like National will only pick up a wine that has mass appeal and as we all know, equates in many cases to, "...lowest common denominator." Because of this, certain vineyards I have discovered (i.e. Madrigal, Rusina) are forced to try and wriggle in with smaller distributors who don't have as broad of a market presence.

Second is a local issue that only highlights the zaniness of of the law. I know not many people think "wine country" when they think of Maryland, but there are a few here in the state that make some market-worthy stuff. As a matter of fact, I live about three miles away from one that makes the only MD-based Pinot Noir, and it's not half bad given the weather elements they have to work with. Right now, local wineries are able to slide by the distribuorship requirement and sell directly to stores and restaurants in the state. Unfortunately, there is a movement at the state capital headed by the craziest kook to ever sit in the Controller chair to make the local places use distributors even for all local sales of their products. For those of you who know the wine-making business, it's a very hard industry to be successful in and requires attention to not just the product, but the exhorbitant costs to produce it as well. Because of this, local wineries in Maryland are able to survive because of the direct-sale model. If they are forced to use a distributor for even local sales, my fear is that there is not enough volume production to drive "wiggle room" in their price to allow markups through a distributor. Ultimately, their wines will be priced out of the market because of the mandatory middle man and drive them out of business. Overall this is pretty ironic, since Maryland touts its wine industry as ,"...a strong up and comer." Sadly, the distributor lobby has a stronger presence than the wineries, so I don't see the story ending well.

RANT OFF

So, as you can see, the system is whacky all over the place. For your issue, I'd go nuts whenever you're down here or in W Va. My inlaws live in Moon TWP, and they go hog wild when they're here before they travel back. It's like hosting a bunch of bootleggers when they visit :-).

Hopes this adds to the perspective...

DP
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Re: PA MONOPOLY (and this is LONG!)

by Alisondm » Tue Jul 25, 2006 9:38 pm

Thanks for your info.......I'll just keep driving gently thru MD on my way to OBX since you say I'm not gonna gain much there.

I went to the local state store tonight to pick up something spur of the moment.......realized we already have most of the premium selections.
Could only find 1 Sauvignon Blanc (cut down the decision time) but did come away with a Tuscany that I'm enjoying as we speak. :D
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Re: PA MONOPOLY (and this is LONG!)

by Alisondm » Tue Jul 25, 2006 9:40 pm

HEY, how come I'm a cellar rat...did I miss some rite of passage?
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Re: PA MONOPOLY (and this is LONG!)

by Andrew Hall » Tue Jul 25, 2006 10:27 pm

I am not going to defend the indefensible that is PA licquor laws. I will tell you how to maximize your utility.

I stop at the Superstore @ Bethel Center (near South Hills Village) on my way between Ohio and WV. Yesterday I picked up 01 Gravner Breg, a Hexamer Eiswein, Caprai 25 Anni, a Rosenthal-imported Valtellina and some other things all at competitive or below-market prices. Browsing around, I can find some very interesting wines that are simply not available in Ohio. Gravner is unusual just about anywhere.

Plan on making two trips. Go and pour through everything, especially the special cold room. Write down everything that looks interesting or you are not familar with. Go home and check the prices or learn about the wines. Then return and make purchases with full knowledge.

A.
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Re: PA MONOPOLY (and this is LONG!)

by Robin Garr » Tue Jul 25, 2006 11:05 pm

Alisondm wrote:HEY, how come I'm a cellar rat...did I miss some rite of passage?


Alison, this forum software comes with automatic "ranks" that change when you hit a certain number of posts. When we set up this latest generation of the forum, I was going to turn it off, but then I thought it would be funny to set up a series of joke levels like cellar rat and wine geek and wine guru. They don't mean anything at all, but as you see, it's fun to check in and find that you've bumped up to the next level!
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Re: PA MONOPOLY (and this is LONG!)

by James Roscoe » Wed Jul 26, 2006 12:10 am

The one name you don't want to see is "forum janitor." That's a real job! Where's my secret decoder ring?
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Re: PA MONOPOLY (and this is LONG!)

by Alisondm » Wed Jul 26, 2006 8:22 am

Don't misunderstand me........I'm proud of my cellar rat status!!!!!!!!!
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Re: PA MONOPOLY (and this is LONG!)

by Art Morris » Wed Jul 26, 2006 3:19 pm

Allison:

I live in Morgantown,WV. You're only about 75 mi. away. There are 3 very nice, privately owned wine shops in my area. Their selection is vastly superior to what you're offered in Pa. Additionally, they are quite knowledgeable and helpful. I understand your plight. I actually work in Pa. and occasionally venture into a state store on my way home. (Usually without much success.) On my last visit, I was searching for some nice dry Rose, to enjoy in the hot weather. The salesman TRIED to be helpful, taking me directly to the big jugs of Gallo. :roll: Later I found exactly what I wanted locally.

If you would like to e-mail me ( amorris50@aol.com) I will be happy to assist you with info and directions.

CHEERS!

Art
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Re: PA MONOPOLY (and this is LONG!)

by Don P » Wed Jul 26, 2006 5:59 pm

Hey Alison:

Go Mountaineers - beat Pitt! Also, if you're looking get some Gallo, you might want to give Franzia a try as well - they have wine in a box; no issues with cork spoilage there :-D.

DP
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Re: PA MONOPOLY (and this is LONG!)

by James Roscoe » Wed Jul 26, 2006 6:12 pm

Okay, now we're getting personal! Pitt is #1! I can remember going down to Morgantown and watching Danny Marino and the boys put a 48 -0 thrashing on the WVU Mountaineers in old Mountaineer stadium. There was plenty of moonshine in the stands and who knows what underneath. I also made it to the opening of that poor excuse of a stadium they have now. John Denver was on hand to sing "West Virginia" and the Mountaineers barely got by the Cincinnati Bearcats. Morgantown was a great place. The WVU fans were always gracious losers back in the day. I wish my Panthers could still play like they did in the early eighties.
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Re: PA MONOPOLY (and this is LONG!)

by Don P » Wed Jul 26, 2006 7:18 pm

Sorry to Hear About Your Alliance, James:

Ha ha ha. I just have to get another dig in to say that the only reason I supported the Mountaineers is because they abhor the Panthers like my true blue alliance. MY true allegiance lies with - all bow down, now - the mighty Nittany Lions of Penn State! As a matter of fact, my wife is from Pittsburgh, and I have comprimised that I will root for her precious Steelers if she lights candles with me at my Joe Paterno altar :-).

Man, I am SO looking forward to football season. It means it's time to break out the Cabs and let the fun begin...

DP
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Re: PA MONOPOLY (and this is LONG!)

by James Roscoe » Wed Jul 26, 2006 7:30 pm

I'm sorry you couldn't get into a good school. Joe Paterno? Is he still alive? I remember racing though Happy Valley one cold rainy afternoon when we beat Penn State behind Danny Marino yelling and screaming. We were well lubricated at that time too.) There are no gracious losers at Penn State. When is Penn State going to move pack to Pennsylvania? At least Pitt understands it's on the east coast not in the midwest. Of course it would be nice if my Panthers could put together a football team.
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Re: PA MONOPOLY (and this is LONG!)

by Carl K » Wed Jul 26, 2006 8:52 pm

You mean like the time our Nittany Lions beat ya'll from Pitt 48-7? As I remember it (and I was at that game), Dan Marino was your QB at that game as well.

But this thread is supposed to be about Alison's question, so let me just give a big Hey ya'll to Alison and welcome to our little corner of the web. As you can tell, I also spent some time in PA and I remember Monroeville quite well. I was first introduced to finer wines when one of girlfriends' father pulled out some wine his brothers who still live in the old country sent him as a gift, but it wasn't untill I got aaway from the PA state store system that I really learned what fine wine was all about. Still, you'll find that no place is perfect, or even really great, here in the U.S. South Carolina allows wineries to ship directly to consumers as long as the winery buys a SC liscence, but the number of wineries who feel that it is worth the time and trouble to get that liscence is very small. Why? Because SC is still seen as a redneck state where (cheap) beer and whiskey rule :cry: . In fact I had a rep from one winery tell me in an e-mail that it wouldn't be worth their while to buy the liscence just to sell an additional 3 or 4 cases a year :evil: ! Your best bet? Make plans to vacation in an area with either wineries or the rep to support large and numerous wine stores (like New York or Chicago just as an example) and do some serious shopping while there. Next best is to cross the border occasionally and see what's there (sort of the way my fraternity brothers and I used to bring in fireworks from Ohio).
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Re: PA MONOPOLY (and this is LONG!)

by James Roscoe » Wed Jul 26, 2006 9:01 pm

Carl K wrote:You mean like the time our Nittany Lions beat ya'll from Pitt 48-7? As I remember it (and I was at that game), Dan Marino was your QB at that game as well.


First of all the score was 48-14 (Penn State guys never could count!) assuming you're talking about the game in old Pitt stadium Thanksgiving weekend 1981. Pitt was ahead 14-0 at the end of the first quarter and then Marino started throwing interceptions. I had all my Penn State relatives in town to watch the game. Fortunately there was a keg of Iron City to drown my sorrows. I believe Pitt was ranked #1 and State was #2 or #3 before the game. I can't remember. Pitt had won two years in a row. (Yes, I have hijacked this thread for a little walk down memory lane.) I think Paterno wasn't made of wax then either.
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Re: PA MONOPOLY (and this is LONG!)

by Carl K » Thu Jul 27, 2006 9:40 am

You're right, I guess my age is starting to show since they always say . . .um, what were we talking about? Oh yeah, I remember now. Marino was definately a great QB. But in that game he just couldn't quite seem to hold it together. I remember thinking at the time that he shouldn't have partied quite so hard the night before, then I found out he hadn't and started wondering if maybe he should have after all. And I think we were actually ranked even lower than 4, but I must admit I can't really be sure.
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Re: PA MONOPOLY (and this is LONG!)

by James Roscoe » Thu Jul 27, 2006 10:14 am

There were a lot of rumors about Marino's drug use in college, but that's all they were. He certainly gets in the mix of greatest quarterbacks of alltime. He also comes across as a true Pittsburgh kid even at 45 years old and having spent half a lifetime in south Florida. I kind of like that being married to one myself.
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