Sunday, January 3, 2016

NFL Picks Week Seventeen: The one time I'm rooting for the Eagles

Well, this is awkward.

I often tell people that while the first team I ever learned to hate is the Dallas Cowboys -- an uncontrollable emotional response that can be traced to Emmitt Smith's "Separated Shoulder Game" in 1994 -- the team I hate the most is a much closer rival. The Philadelphia Eagles lie just 90 miles south of New York City and over the years have been the root of so much pain and animosity. I was not alive for the Miracle at the Meadowlands, but I remember all too well the frustration of the Miracle's second coming, as do I remember all of the other difficult losses, thrilling victories and countless epithets thrown my way when I've so much as dared to enter Lincoln Financial Field. The hatred runs so deep that there is almost nothing on this Earth that could every get me to actually root for these Eagles on a Sunday in which they face my Giants.

Almost.

This weekend, as the curtain falls on another fruitless campaign for the Giants -- as well as the Eagles -- we come to one of those ultra rare moments when these rivals are facing off and, for some obscure, highly complex reason, I'm actually hoping the Eagles fly.

How could this be? How did we come to such a pass? What confluence of events could possibly have led me astray to this unholy desire?

The answer stretches across nearly a decade of NFL history, as we look to Week 8 of the 2007 season, when the Giants and Miami Dolphins played in a rainy 13-10 snore-fest at Wembley Stadium in London. The game, which I told my father "set football back in England 10 years" was the first of the NFL's annual international series, which has now grown to as many as three games in London each season. While some teams, the Rams and Jaguars specifically, play there annually, the rest of the league seems to have been taking a steady rotation. The Giants, however, have not been back.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: The year the road went international

The turning of a calendar is a painfully arbitrary thing. I say painful not because it actually physically hurts to hang up a new calendar, though I suppose it could if you've pulled a muscle, but because it is a date that comes with extreme pomp and pressure to be celebratory, become reborn or reflect. Why couldn't we just as easily do this on, say, September 1 is the start of the Christian Liturgical calendar and has been celebrated as New Year's in the past?

The answer is, I guess, that we could. After all, this day largely just serves as an excuse to drink a lot, which is kind of funny considering there's one of those every three weeks or so on most office holiday calendars. But somewhere along the line someone decided January 1 would be the day we all started writing the wrong years on checks out of habit, so here we are.

If nothing else, like I said, it gives us an excuse to drink. As if most people needed one.

So, as the calendar makes its annual flip, I'm going to do what I always do and recount what a busy, wild year it's been -- and boy has it ever been both of those things. It all started with a bold, aggressive entirely non-serious prediction on Dec. 31, 2014, it continued in February when, for the first time, I saw a sporting event outside of North America, it included very nearly witnessing the prophecy coming through in October and now it all comes to its thrilling conclusion on Dec. 31, 2015, which I will spend, well, I honestly don't know yet. Maybe sleeping?

Considering everything I've done this year, I could probably use it. You'll see.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

NFL Picks Week Fifteen: To Cam or not to Cam

I want to acknowledge before I begin this that a) there are bigger things going on in the world right now than my fantasy team, and b) none of you care about my fantasy team. That's fine. I can accept that. But this is also my blog, so I get to say whatever the hell I want here and that's what I'm going to do. Deal with it.

Now that the preamble is done, allow me kindly to take you back to the salad days of 2012, when I made my trek to Baltimore, Maryland so I could see the New York Football Giants visit the Baltimore Ravens with my friends Lindsay and Chris. This trip was a big one for a few reasons, namely that the Ravens were the only team in the northeast megalopolis apart from the Philadelphia Eagles that I had not yet seen, the Giants were in the thick of a playoff race as they sought to defend their most recent championship and I, for the first time, was in the semifinals of my big keeper fantasy football league. This was a team I had built from nothing through an extensive system of trial and error -- perhaps with more error than not -- but had nursed on the strength of Cam Newton's arm and Giants wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz to my league's final four.

As I reached kickoff for the second round of games that chilly December Sunday, the path was clear. A Giants victory would keep the defending champs in control of their own destiny ahead of their season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles. For me, a grand total of 13 points between Nicks and Cruz would put me in the championship of my league for the first time. Given the seasons those two had put together, this should not have been too difficult.

The Giants played one of their worst games of the season, taking their fate out of their hands in a season that would end without a postseason berth. Cruz and Nicks combined for virtually nothing. The Ravens won the Super Bowl. My friend Christian, who would advance to the final against me, won our fantasy championship.

These aren't the outcomes I was looking for.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

NFL Picks Week Thirteen: The Giants took two weeks off, so I did too

Yes, I know only one of the past two weeks of NFL football was a bye week for the New York Giants, but honestly, if you saw their performance against Washington last Sunday, amazing catch by Odell Beckham aside, you'd be hard pressed to determine which week was which. The Giants turned in an illustriously awful day with first place in the NFC East on the line, which gives rise to the impression that was surely on no one's mind already, that maybe the Giants just aren't that good this season.

That doesn't mean the season is over, of course. The Skins hold a tiebreaker advantage over the Giants at the moment, but I'm not sure most people in America are prepared to say the words "NFC East champion Washington (expletive deleted)" any time soon. In fact, be it as a result of their play or their karma, I'm pretty sure if any team can manage to slip out of first place in this division, Washington is that team. My suspicion is still that the NFC East title will come down to the Giants' showdown with the Eagles in Week 17, but I might stop short of calling the winner of that game a "champion". Then again, if 7-9 is all it takes to get into the playoffs, I am fully confident the Giants will somehow ride that to another Super Bowl win over the Patriots.

Only time will tell.

I have no real explanation for why the Giants took last week off even though a game was scheduled, but as for me taking two weeks off from writing in this blog, we'll call it a combination of laziness and the busy schedule that comes with the Thanksgiving holiday. That laziness wasn't without cause, of course. Just after my last post I endeavored on one of my more fun, but above all more exhausting whirlwind trips as I ran around Chicago and Milwaukee to the tune of four sporting events in three days, with enough greasy food thrown in to make my college self blush.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

NFL Picks Week Ten: Off to see, among other things, Team No. 68

Earlier this summer I had a trip back from Japan that lasted roughly 30 hours, beginning with a massive bowl of ramen at Narita International Airport and ending at my work cubicle after a hastily-taken shower and approximately two hours of sleep. It does not actually take this long to fly back from Tokyo, but I had the foresight to schedule a 14-hour layover in Chicago that I foolishly thought would be shortened by catching an earlier connection. I would not have done this in any city that wasn't Chicago. For one thing, there are 20 flights per airline per day between Chicago and New York, and for another, should I somehow not be able to move to an earlier flight, at least I knew several people in the city with whom I could have dinner or drinks to kill those 14 hours. Unfortunately, I was not able to get on an earlier flight, and proceeded to find myself too tired to drag my luggage downtown and then back again. What followed was four pleasant hours chatting with an ex I had randomly bumped into in the terminal, and then 10 interminable hours of intermittent napping and general misery.

I deeply regret being too lazy and/or tired to leave the airport. Tomorrow, I will be flying to Chicago again. This time I will leave the airport. I'm excited about that.

I haven't yet decided if I'm going to make going to Chicago to see a Northwestern game an annual tradition, but I'm starting to think it's a good idea. Beyond the numerous friends I have in the city and the fact that it is a relatively easy trip, something just feels good about walking around campus again. I assume this is a pretty common bit of nostalgia across all college-educated Americans, and I assume I will keep this up for at least the next two years considering I already have a Chicago fall wedding on the books for 2016 and 2017 will be my 10th (holy fucking shit, 10th) college reunion.

The thing is beyond those milestone raison d'êtres, there are only so many excuses to keep flying back that sound more reasonable than "a desire to feel young again." And in my experience, not everyone thinks what you find reasonable is actually reasonable. Oh well. The only other legitimate cause I've had to return to the upper midwest, or at least within a 90-minute drive of Chicago, is to see the lone major professional sports team in Illinois or Wisconsin that I have not yet crossed off my list of teams seen. This Saturday night, however, that will come to an end.

That's right. After much delay and national panic, I will finally see that mysterious holy grail known as the Milwaukee Bucks.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

We Must Keep Dreaming

I have often told people of a dream I had once a few years ago that was at once both practical and fantastical. Visually it was something of a blur with little defined or specified aside from patches of green, brown, white, blue and orange. What I remember most clearly from this dream, however, was not I saw in my unconsciousness, but what I heard, and it was one, simple, declarative statement.

"The New York Mets have won the World Series."

It shouldn't be a surprise that I might dream about hearing this. If you read this blog, if you know me personally -- hell -- if you've seen me walking on the street, you know I've been a Mets fan roughly two and a half decades. You know I've cared about this team so long that it felt less like a choice than a happenstance akin to my having brown eyes or being Jewish. You know that I've shamelessly peppered my nephews with Mets merchandise in hopes they, too, will feel the same way one day.  That I might dream of the Mets winning the World Series may be a bit sad for a 30-year-old man, but it is hardly a shock.

What was noteworthy about this dream, was not that it was about the Mets winning the World Series, but rather, that my it was the only time I can recall dreaming, pausing my dream and then rewinding my dream so I could see it twice. Even my subconscious knows seeing this team that is often so inept and dysfunctional win a world championship is such a ridiculous concept, it had to see it twice to verify what, in fact, it was seeing.

I'm not sure if that says more about the Mets or my neuroses -- or perhaps how misaligned my priorities are -- but it certainly says that in my very core, I don't really believe I'll ever see this happen.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

NFL Picks Week Eight: The Mets have the Royals right where they want them

Ok. I'll be honest. Game 2 last night did not exactly go how I wanted it to. Actually, it went the exact opposite way of how I wanted it to. Down 1-0 in the World Series, but with the Mets' top pitcher this season Jacob deGrom and Kansas City's wildly unpredictable Johnny Cueto facing off, I anticipated the Mets would win the game and earn a split in KC. Most importantly, though, the key was getting to Cueto early, not just because it would mean runs on the board, but because the Royals' bullpen had expended itself dramatically in that epic 14-inning win in Game 1. Kick Cueto to the curb early, force an already tired bullpen to throw six innings and you might have the Royals on their heels for the rest of the series.

A complete-game two-hitter that saves a tired bullpen and puts the Mets down 2-0 is not exactly what I was looking for.

But hey, here we are. The 2015 National League Champion New York Mets are headed back home to Citi Field facing a 2-0 deficit in the World Series ahead of Game 3 Friday night. It didn't have to be this way. The Mets have blown three separate leads over the first two games of this series, and almost certainly should have taken Game 1, which Kansas City tied on a solo home run by Alex Gordon with New York two outs away from victory. But ifs and buts, etc. What's done is done and all the Mets can hope to do now is even the score with three games in Queens this weekend.

Surprisingly, I actually like their chances. After all, Noah Syndergaard has basically been dynamite this postseason and Steven Matz, well, everyone says he's really great, so he must be even though I never see him pitch into the sixth inning. What I'm saying is, Mets fans across the boroughs are having a bit of a doomsday freakout right now, which, uh, I guess is understandable. But we could very easily be sitting here in three days with the series all square at 2-2 and Matt Harvey on the mound at home in a pivotal Game 5.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Ya Gotta Believe

When the calender turned this past December, I looked toward 2015 with anxious anticipation as well as disbelief that in just a few short months I would somehow be celebrating my 30th birthday. I also looked forward with amazement at how in just a few short hours my nephew Sammy, would be celebrating his first. Since before Sammy was born I have done my best to pepper him with gifts and plant the seeds so that years from now he might watch the same teams I do with the same feelings. Of those gifts, there is no other team for which he has gotten more silly pieces of paraphernalia, than the New York Mets.

Time flies and over the past week I have received the revelation that somehow, someway, it has now been half of my life since the Mets were last in the World Series, and nearly all of it since they had actually won the damn thing. After all, I was a mere one year, three months and 13 days old on this exact date 29 years ago, which, incidentally, happens to be the last time the Mets won a world championship. Sammy's parents don't care very much about baseball, though my brother does claim, ironically, to be a Kansas City Royals fan. But their ambivalence opened the door for me to shower their son with Mets-related clothing, the goal of which, of course, was to warp his mind into being one of those sad folks who invests themselves in this aimless second-fiddle franchise.

I had a plan in place, though. Babies grow. They grow fast. Most clothing you can buy for them is sized in terms of months rather than years because they won't fit very long, and so I made a conscious decision to buy Sammy Mets clothing sized for the ages at which they would be in season. 2014 wasn't supposed to be breakout season for the Mets, though, and so when it came to his first jersey, I opted for the 18-month fit as opposed to six. My argument was the Mets might actually be decent in 2015 and wearing the jersey wouldn't be an embarrassment. Keeping that foresight in mind, along with my nephews impending first birthday on Jan. 1, 2015, and that the Mets' lone championship in my lifetime came when I was all of one year old, I proclaimed for my annual year in review that this would be it, and I titled that post "2015: The Year the Mets Win the World Series."

It was supposed to be a joke.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

NFL Picks Week Seven: This is really happening, isn't it?

There is a certain element of drama that disappears from the game when the outcome is no longer in doubt. The last time the New York Mets won the National League pennant, a five-game romp over the Cardinals in 2000, I remember being on the phone with my father during the final outs as I watched on the couch in the den of my childhood home. As the Mets inched closer and closer to the World Series, leading 7-0 as Mike Hampton was in the midst of a masterful three-hit shutout, there was no angst, no worry, no concern. I just told my dad, "Let's end this thing already."

This was the only time I had seen the New York Mets win the pennant until last night. The Mets wrapped up their first ever four-game sweep in a best-of-seven postseason series with an 8-3 win in which they had put up a four-spot before the Chicago Cubs ever came to bat and ended a series in which they never trailed once. It is a delirious, euphoric moment, but in no tangible way does it really feel real. There are probably many reasons for that. For one, these things always feel bizarre in the moment, and not as if they're a part of history. For another, I'm not really used to seeing good things happen to the Mets. And lastly, it was just so damn easy. The Cubs were a Vegas and popular favorite heading into this series and the Mets toyed with them as if they were the Murderer's Row Yankees facing a group of high schoolers. The Mets' offense struck early in each game and the pitching locked the Cubs' considerable offensive power down with literal trouble in a way that doesn't so much prove New York's championship bonafides as it does defy belief.

And at the heart of it, that's the issue. This, what the New York Mets are doing, defies belief. This doesn't seem real or possible for a team that was tip-toeing around .500 for the first half of the season while putting out lineups where people like John Mayberry Jr. and Eric Campbell took turns batting cleanup. This team is now going to its first World Series since I was a sophomore in high school with a starting rotation that some are calling one of the best young groups ever assembled, a lineup that is mashing when it has to and a second baseman who hit a career high of 14 home runs this season, but now has apparently been anointed by the blood of Jesus.

It all makes no god damn sense.



Monday, October 19, 2015

This is what magic feels like

There is something about witnessing a postseason run for one of your teams that, in the moment, doesn't quite make it seem real. In the particular scenario in which that team is noted for a history of heartbreak when it's good, mediocrity when its not and generally tripping over its own feet, it is doubly surreal. What the New York Mets are doing right now, however, might make surreal seem ordinary. That New York is riding the arms of its long-touted pitching staff is not exactly a surprise. But ripping off two wins to start the NLCS against the favored Chicago Cubs, beating their two ace-caliber pitchers in the process no-less, and doing so with Curtis Granderson and Daniel Murphy delivering almost all of the offensive punch is something to behold.

And, I can tell you, it's something to see.

I have been to more than 180 Major League Baseball games in my life. According to my Hardball Passport profile, 138 of those have involved the New York Mets, though given that I wasn't quite as dedicated to keeping track of my ticket stubs in the 1990s, that number, in reality, is almost certainly higher. Until Saturday night, I had never seen the Mets play in the postseason in person. I did have tickets to the first round in 2007 and 2008, but we all know what happened there. Three years ago I decided on a whim to see my first postseason game when the Yankees and Orioles played in Game 5 of the ALDS.

I'm not sure why I did that. For years I had said I would avoid the postseason until I saw my Mets playing there myself. Perhaps I just saw a deal too good to pass up on an afternoon I was free, perhaps I got tired of waiting. While that afternoon was fun, it was no different or worse for me than any other baseball game. I had no care or investment. It was just nine innings between two teams with whom I have almost no connection.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

NFL Picks Week Six: Oh, right, so that's what it feels like

I remember this. The tension, the angst, the agita. It's all coming back to me. Nine years is quite a gap to go without being invested in October baseball, and the way it twists your stomach in knots was long forgotten and yet feels all too familiar. I often tell coworkers of a conversation I had in 2011, when the New Jersey Devils endured their first season without a playoff berth since 1996, when I was just shy of my 11th birthday. As I watched the postseason that spring I told my coworker how I experienced the most bizarre phenomenon during that first round.

I enjoyed it.

This is not unusual. Watching your team play a postseason game is a stressful, nerve-wracking affair, and when it comes to baseball, I had nearly forgotten just how stressful it can be. I was reminded of it this past Friday, when after a long day of hiking around Glacier National Park with two good friends and a heart dinner of grilled buffalo ribeyes in Kalispell, Montana, I settled in in my friends Dave and Caitlin's living room to watch the Mets play the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLDS with them, my friend Frankie and Dave and Caitlin's black lab mix Bergen. Almost instantaneously, stresses rippled through my body in a way I hadn't experienced since October 19, 2006, when the Mets lost Game 7 of the NLCS to St. Louis in what would be their last postseason game for almost a decade.

In this particular instance of course, I was lucky. It was a tiny bit of misfortune that the Mets' first postseason series in nine years happened to fall almost entirely throughout the course of a trip to Montana, but luckily they have technology out there now even if my friends there somehow don't have cable. That first game, a dominant strikeout-laden win for Jacob deGrom, though, was relatively stress free. Game 2, which I watched partially at a condo in Big Sky and partially at a nearby bar called The Broken Spoke, was a less pleasant experience and the night that will be singled out in this series if the Mets don't reach the NLCS because of the slide heard 'round the world. I may or may not have made a scene in front of several people I don't know, but on the plus side, the credit card minimum there was only $6 and you still needed to buy two drinks to reach it. Game 3, the most-enjoyable game of the series for obvious reasons, I watched at my friends' Sarah and Jeff's place in Missoula, along with their insanely adorable 18-month-old Marshall, who has a knack for industriousness and may or may not be a good luck charm.



And then there's Game 4.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

NFL Picks Week Five: THE METS ARE PLAYING IN A PLAYOFF GAME

Montana is one of a handful of states in the lower 48 bereft of any major league professional sports teams. That doesn't mean there's no reason to visit, obviously. Montana also happens to maybe be the most beautiful place on Earth. That Montana lacks any major league sports teams isn't a bad thing, but it does make it a curious place for me to spend what might be one of the busiest sports weeks on record.

That week already began on Tuesday when the Astros bored the Yankees to death in the AL Wild Card Game and continued last night when Jake Arietta turned the Pirates into mincemeat as the Cubs took the NL Wild Card Game. Nothing like watching a 98-win season go down the tubes in a winner-take-all frabrication designed for TV. I'm also fortunate in that I was too lazy to blog my MLB postseason bigs on Tuesday like I should have, considering I was going to pick Pittsburgh to win the World Series. The zaniness continues tonight when the American League Division Series kicks off, and the NFL's Week Five schedule gets underway. It was compounded last night when the NHL dropped the puck on the 2015-16 season, during which I will watch the Blackhawks try to defend their Stanley Cup championship and I will cheer the Devils' inexorable march toward the best odds in the Auston Matthews (or whomever) Sweepstakes. No. 13 Northwestern, newly sporting its highest national ranking since 2000, has one its biggest games in years as it visits No. 18 Michigan Saturday afternoon.

Also there are some baseball games this weekend that I'm kind of interested in.

There aren't many things in life that would set my heart aflutter like a deep New York Mets playoff run, and I use the term "aflutter" in the most literal sense as my angst and agita throughout is sure to cause some irregular beats. That said, it is just my luck that the first time the Mets play a real, bonafide postseason game in my adult life happens to fall in the middle of a vacation to the mountain west. Luckily for me, facing the Los Angeles Dodgers means the opening two games of the series will be in later time slots. Game 1's 9:45 pm ET start has not gone over so well back east, but as I am spending all of Friday hiking around Glacier National Park, my mind has been put at ease over not having to balance one of the few chances in my life to truly experience untouched natural splendor with one of the few chances in my life to watch the Mets play an October game that matters.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

NFL Picks Week Four: Is there a Ralph Around Here?

Ladies and gentlemen, much like my beloved New York Mets, I am in the midst of a drought. Much like my beloved Mets, that drought will end this month. Now, I'm not really naive enough to think my drought, which is all of nine months, is as significant as the Mets' which has lasted nine years, but I'm as excited for mine to end this weekend as I am for the Mets' to end on October 9. Ok, that's not entirely true, but it is enough nines to make Herman Cain proud. Except this is marginally more sensible.

Look, here's the point. I started this blog several years ago with the stated intentions of chronicling my irrational goal of seeing every sports team in the four major North American sports leagues play a home game. Unfortunately, there aren't enough teams, enough trips or enough money in my bank account to have a new adventure ready for posting each week, so I have often verged into other topics. Even as I've done that, however, I have still managed to make progress on my goal, typically matching or exceeding my ideal pace of six new teams per year for the next three decades or so.

Then 2015 came.

This year has been slowed by several other commitments, be they vacations, visiting family abroad or still being stuck in that brutal stretch in which everyone you know is getting married. I have capitalized on this to some extent, finally seeing my beloved Saints for the first time when I stayed with my sister in London and experiencing the insanity of Japanese sporting culture as I made a mid-summer trek around the globe. I even managed to combine a wedding in California this past June with trips to see the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A's.

The catch here is that none of these teams were both in North America nor teams I had never seen before. In fact, the last time I ventured outside my sports comfort zone within the lower 48 was way back on December 7, 2014 when I watched the Giants pulverize 22 homeless men masquerading as the Tennessee Titans. Since then it's been nothing but watching the same teams I always watch, and if you happened upon a Devils or Knicks game last season you know that can't be a good thing.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Pave paradise. Put up a parking lot.

Much has happened in my life since 2006. I've graduated college, moved to New York and worked in a job long enough to vest a pension. I've seen two siblings get married, two cousins and countless friends across the U.S. I've gone on vacations to 21 countries across four continents. I've seen 53 new major league teams in five different sports play home games across 33 cities in four countries over three continents. I've seen the Giants win a Super Bowl unexpectedly, collapse into mediocrity and then unexpectedly win the Super Bowl again. I've seen three of my four favorite North American teams move into new buildings, I've seen Bruce Springsteen in concert six times and I've even become an uncle.

I have not, however, seen the New York Mets play a postseason baseball game.

That drought, mercifully, will end next week when the Mets face (and possibly host?) the Los Angeles Dodgers on Oct. 9 in Game 1 of the National League Division Series. That I may be hiking in Glacier National park at the time makes me a bit anxious, but with the magic of modern technology, I'm clinging desperately to the hope that I will still be able to see the magic on a phone or at a local bar. But the fact that it is happening at all, is important. The life of a Mets fan, so often, is an exercise in masochism or, if one wants to believe it ultimately serves a higher purpose, asceticism.

I am not one of those people. There is not higher calling or ultimate lifestyle reward for being a Mets fan. In fact, so often there is no reward at all, large or small. That has been particularly true over the past near-decade since Carlos Beltran was unable to get the bat off his shoulder (though given the nastiness of a 2006-Adam Wainright curveball I refuse to be one of those who still bears resentment against Beltran). The last nine years of living with the Mets has included two epic collapses, the acquisition of one of the greatest pitchers of his era only to see him breakdown over the course of his contract, a ponzi-scheme fueled bankruptcy, front office turmoil and, and yes I know I've mentioned this, but it cannot be stressed enough, a high-ranking front office employee who challenged a clubhouse full of minor leaguers to a fight.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

NFL Picks Week Three: This entry canceled by the Pope

Some of you following the news this week may have noticed that some guy named Frank is visiting New York today and tomorrow, which is apparently bringing every Catholic out of the would work. The Pope is in town and that means tons of traffic changes, early office closings and New York generally being in a dizzy tizzy. The upshot of this is that I am also too busy to write a full entry in this blog -- or at least too lazy -- because the holy father has made it so.

Pope Francis will curiously not be hosting a mass at Yankee Stadium, which is the typical public location for a sitting pope to do so out of concern for his exhaustion, but he will be hosting a mass at Madison Square Garden. This, I believe, is the closest this trip will get to anything sports-related, which is a damn shame considering John Paul II's visit to St. Louis in the late 1990s that included a private audience with Mark McGwire, and a hilarious photo of him receiving an authentic jersey from the St. Louis Blues that I have to imagine he wore regularly around St. Peter's. He certainly wasn't wearing it around the rink.

I don't much believe in Catholicism or the Pope's significance on a religious level (which really shouldn't be a surprised considering the obvious), but I will admit I know people that need his guidance. The New York Giants have a rare Thursday night tilt against the Washington Redskins tonight, and if anyone could use the help of a higher power to get back on the straight and narrow, it's probably my boys in blue. Following consecutive back-breaking losses that could otherwise have the Giants in commanding early position in the NFC East, the Giants need a win desperately to get back into the race, which is a lot to say in Week 3 of the season, but it isn't wrong.

It is rare that both the New York Giants and the Holy Father are in the same general geographic area at the same time -- there aren't many football fields in the Vatican, though I hear there are some good livestock shows -- but I can only hope some of his influence can rub off on Big Blue as they make a bid to save their season. If Francis manages to have an impact on his brief visit to New York, well, maybe I'll start believing in miracles.

If nothing else he might leave with a pretty sweet personalized jersey.