Years from now, when scribes and scholars dictate and notate the events of David Edward Kalan in his late 20s, 2013 may rightfully be called "The Year of California." This is not a place I spent a great deal of time in growing up, nor do I have any particular strong personal connection to it. And yet, this weekend, for the fourth time this year, I will be boarding a plane and heading to that big homunculus on the left coast.
It is a bit bizarre that it all worked out this way. For some reason, however, I noticed that visits to a particular place you don't normally go to tend to come in bunches. I came to this realization about four years ago when after a grand total of zero visits in my entire life, I found myself frequently winding up at the G Train subway stop at Fulton Street. Now some might argue that California has distinctly more charm to it than the G Train, and in the case of San Francisco, which I've visitedtwice this year, they are certainly right. The jury is still out on Los Angeles, where I spent five days this past March.
Some might argue that San Diego, which I am visiting for just the second time ever this Saturday, has more charm than L.A. and certainly more than the Fulton Street G station. But if the rumors I've heard are true, the place I will be spending most of Sunday -- Qualcomm Stadium -- by nearly universal consensus, uh, does not.
When I recently told one friend that I would be making my first ever visit to The Murph (It'll always be Jack Murphy Stadium to me), we had the following exchange:
"So I'm making my first ever visit to Jack Murphy Stadium next month."
"Oh, nice! Prepare to be... not at all impressed."
Alright, folks, so remember all that talk I gave last week about how I was starting to believe in the Giants? That was fun, right? I know I had a good time with it because, after all, who doesn't love a little dreaming. Evidently, though, as I found, dreaming is really quite silly. I didn't understand that at the time naturally, but as I watched Dez Bryant slice and dice the Giants' secondary late Sunday night (or more accurately, followed in on my phone because I was not near a functioning TV), it became clear that dreaming is stupid.
It's ok. I have grown to accept that the Giants, amazingly, can't win the Super Bowl every year. After all, what fun would that be? (Answer: A lot of fun.) But even if I can't appreciate seeing Big Blue hoist Lombardi every February, there is something that will distract me this week from my football-centric misery (because let's not even talk about Northwestern right now), and that is turkey. Lots and lots of turkey.
Now, to be honest, I don't particularly like turkey if we're talking about fowl or white meats. It tends to be pretty dry if it's overcooked and that tryptophan, well, it packs a wallop. Perhaps too much of a wallop. But Thanksgiving is still my favorite holiday because if we overlook the coma-inducing nature of the meat itself or it's dryness (though my stepmother, who is cooking this year, actually makes a pretty juicy turkey), the rest of the food and accoutrements are just as tasty. And let us not forget that, if you haven't heard, on this day they play football. A lot of it.
I will be watching four football games over the course of the holiday this year, ranging from my old high school football team to NFL teams that are playing like they're in high school at the moment such as the Green Bay Packers or Oakland Raiders. Now, while I hope things turn out better for my high school than they did last year, I'll still find a way to enjoy the holiday because, hell, it's Thanksgiving. Food, drinks, football. Oh, and I guess family.
I have an unfortunate quirk in that I tend to actually believe my sports teams still have a chance as long as they aren't mathematically eliminated. This has led me to much anxiety -- or as I call it "The Mets" -- but it also gave me the foolish thought that despite their horrendous start this season, the New York Giants were not actually done for the season.
This was, in short, lunacy. After all, the Giants started out 0-6 and didn't look particularly good in the process. There was the season opener in Dallas in which they probably would have won were it not for six turnovers, and the sixth defeat in which they easily could have come back against Chicago but failed. But in between those two games the New York Giants did not look anything close to particularly good. And that put them in the NFC East cellar with considerable hole to climb out of. After all, making the playoffs after losing your first six games isn't impossible (theoretically), but it would certainly be difficult for the Giants to pull off the long, long list of teams that have pulled off the feat.
However, I'm silly. Also kind of dumb. And for that reason, I started telling people the season wasn't done. The Giants had the fortunate luck of being in the NFC East, which this season is more or less terrible, or as I like to say, "evenly balanced." That meant that a little run and suddenly Big Blue was right back in the thick of it. This was the mantra I was preaching when I went to see the Giants play the Vikings (courtesy of Listerine®), and the one I continued to preach a week later when I took my dad to see the Giants visit the Eagles (courtesy of The Eagles, strangely enough).
Suddenly the Giants were 0-2 (albeit against less-than-stellar competition), and afte a bye reeled off wins against the Oakland Raiders and Aaron Rogers-less Green Bay Packers.
And suddenly they were 4-6. And perhaps more shockingly, just 1.5 games out of first place due to their division rivals ineptitude.
I will put it blunt to admit that this has not been a particularly good week on several fronts. The most notable, probably, is that Northwestern a few hours ago lost yet another disaster of a game, this time to Michigan in triple overtime. The game featured several potential game-winning interceptions that Northwestern dropped, multiple fourth-down conversations in the final minute as Michigan hastily drove to tie the game, and a field goal by Michigan as time expired that forced OT and almost certainly should not have been allowed.
In the case of this particular loss, since Northwestern mustered just three field goals in regulation despite largely keeping Michigan in check and having several opportunities for touchdowns the theme of not being able to capitalize and finish drives seems to be carrying the Wildcats through the season. I can only hope that along with the numerous injuries and bizarrely unusual ways to lose that they've found will come a regression to the mean next season, because as it stands, bowling is likely not happening this winter.
The rest of my week was also drab -- though there was the bright spot in that I got to see Twelfth Night with the brilliant Mark Rylance on Thursday night -- but the real pisser was that I, like Homer in that picture up there, got the wonderful experience of being on jury duty for the first time this week. If you've never been, I will not tell you to try it, particularly since the courts will decide that option for you, but it is a remarkably inefficient exercise in institutionalized bureaucracy and hammy litigative play-acting. I was lucky in that my trial settled after a scant three days, but given the interminable combination of unctuous lawyer and self-consumed litigant on the plaintiff side of the fence, I'm glad I had to endure as little of it as I did.
Ladies and gentlemen, I do not believe in the supernatural. To a degree the idea of "what goes around, comes around" is something I do accept, but it is more due to the idea that things regress to the mean rather than it being hatched by karma. I don't by hexes, while I'm not exactly an atheist I don't really put much faith in prayer and with the notable exception of the Chicago Cubs I absolutely do not believe in curses when it comes to sports.
All that said, something is rotten in the state of Evanston, and there's no real way I can put my finger on what, exactly, it is. It is probably not a curse, but there is some funky, supernatural nonsense that has completely thrown what was the most anticipated Northwestern football season in years entirely down the tubes. To wit: One month ago, Northwestern was undefeated, ranked No. 16 in the country, coming off a 9-3 season with its first bowl victory in more than six decades and had a 10-point second half lead on No. 3 Ohio State.
And then Nebraska happened. This is a game that in so many ways I cannot begin to process not exactly because Northwestern lost despite outplaying Nebraska for most of the game in Lincoln, nor because of the fact that Northwestern missed opportunities to increase what was at one point a 14-point lead. It was how Northwestern lost in a way that was so discombobulating and disorienting that for the first five minutes after it happened I really had no idea what was going on. They say you can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, but it seems on a day like this past Saturday, Northwestern managed to do the opposite.
This is Luisa and Mike. I like Luisa and Mike. They're good people. We're friends. Two years ago the two of them were living in a small city in Germany and they allowed my friend Kristen and I to stay at their studio apartment with them. Luisa and I have known each other for a decade now and had many adventures in New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Illinois and Minnesota. And yes, Germany.
One of our adventures included a trip to Fenway Park in 2009 to watch one of the four or so great starts Johan Santana had for the Mets over the course of his injury-marred tenure. This is pertinent information because, as the picture indicates, Luisa and Mike are Red Sox fans. Well, Luisa is a Red Sox fan, Mike is a Cubs fan, which basically means this is the closest he's ever getting to a World Series championship anyway. The point is, I'm happy for Luisa. Really I am. I was with her when the Red Sox broke the curse in 2004 and know the significance this kind of event has not just for Sox fans in general, but for Luisa specifically.
So all that said, here's the thing. FOX, MLB, most of the U.S. sports media, presented Boston's World Series triumph as the end of much suffering because finally, at long last, the Boston Red Sox won a World Series after 95 years of waiting. In Fenway. A World Series in Fenway afer 95 years of waiting. Apparently this must have been a deeply emotional sore spot for Sox nation because if you listen to Joe Buck's call at the final out, it seems like eons of suffering have finally been ended.
That's fine and all, but this isn't exactly a team that's been suffering. Yes, the Red Sox hadn't won a World Series at Fenway in 95 years, but in the last eight seasons before this one they were not bereft of World Series titles. They had won two of them. And judging from this video from the stands, it didn't exactly sound like the Sox were on the road when they won their second of three titles in the last decade in that Bostonian Hub of Denver, Colorado.
Also, not for nothing, but this whole jumping up and down after the final out rather than collapsing in a dog pile thing is pretty silly looking. This is how it's done.
As I told you all last week, I was quitting football following a devastating loss by Northwestern to Ohio State and the Giants' continued ineptitude. I should make it clear right now, however that I was only actually "quitting" football, not quitting football. This, it should be noted, was apparently a big mistake.
Why do you ask?
Well, for one, the Giants lost at Chicago on Thursday night to run their season record to a tidy 0-6, in yet another game where they actually played kind of decently for two and a half quarters before it all fell apart like a jenga tower after 25 minutes. With such a remarkable and unexpected run of failure to start the season, it's anybody's guess as to why I'm actually making my way to MetLife Stadium on Monday night to see the Giants play the equally hapless Vikings when I could watch from the comfort of my couch. (Answer: The tickets, food and booze are all free.)
That was then compounded by the fact that Saturday afternoon, Northwestern got the tar kicked out of it by Wisconsin in the first game the Wildcats were completely uncompetitive in in about two years. Given that my sister is a Badger, this is something I'm likely to hear about for several months.
So, I might be quitting football. Also, I'm tired and rushing to get to work today, so there will be very little of me complaining about how awful football has been for me the past two weekends (and we haven't even gotten onto the topic of the winless New Jersey Devils). Instead I'm just going to put my picks down and pretend none of this is happening.
So I'm going to keep this short and sweet for a few reasons this week. For one, I'm exhausted today and I'm not really sure why since I actually got eight hours of sleep last night. These things happen I guess. For another, I'm rushing to work right now. Thirdly, did anyone catch how the Giants played the other worst team in the NFC East, rallied to take the lead in the second half and then proceeded to turn the ball over three times and lose by 15 to a backup quarterback against their biggest rival? I know I did.
Lastly, Northwestern did almost everything they needed to do Saturday night against No. 3 Ohio State in what had the makings of a statement game and probably played the best game on both sides of the ball that I've ever seen the Wildcats play since I got my acceptance letter 11 years ago. In the second half they had a 10-point lead against the consensus favorite to win the Big Ten and a potential National Championship contender.
I'm still not emotionally ready to talk about this, which to anyone who knows me, watched the game or watched the game with me, probably isn't surprised by. As such, rather than re-watch NU's final series of the first half in my head again, a drive in which the Cats got inside the OSU 10 yard line with a chance to take an 11-point and get the ball to start the second half (the potential for a three-score lead on the No. 3 team in the country), but instead settled for a field goal and a seven-point edge that would be easily erased, I'm going to just pretend football isn't happening this weekend. Instead I will submerge myself into the baseball playoffs even though the two teams I was actively rooting for (Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh) are now out of it.
Why? Because I'm actually looking forward to this weekend of football, and while a visit from the equally-as-hapless Eagles might pave the way for the Giants' first win of the season, I'm far more concerned with the college game this time around. For you see, my alma mater, Northwestern, is on the cusp of something special. The Wildcats are 4-0 and ranked No. 15 or 16 in the country, depending on which poll you favor. Fresh off its first bowl win in more than six decades and returning most of the roster that ended the drought, Northwestern appears poised to jump in the Big Ten's upper echelon on a consistent basis, quiet the naysayers (of which I know many), and maybe take a run at the Rose Bowl for the first time in 18 years even if they probably should have taken a run last season.
We're not even the only ones who think so. This much was made clear to me in an exchange I had with an Ohio State fan while waiting to use the bathroom at the upper west side sports bar NU's New York alumni chooses to congregate at each Saturday. But it was that very same conversation, offered with subtle unknowing condescension, that illustrated what can be so frustrating about convincing outsiders of why you believe in this team.
"Northwestern's pretty good this year."
"Yeah, we're pretty excited."
"Yeah, I even think they could go to the Rose Bowl. You know, since they might finish second when Ohio State goes to the national championship game."
The point was offered without humor, without sarcasm and with total belief. We are a force to be reckoned with now, but that force is still equivalent to the little engine that could. Most people, no matter how clued in to the empirical evidence of wins and losses they might be, still refuse to believe the Wildcats are ready to consistently play with the big boys. I suppose there is plenty of legitimate reason to hold that belief. After all, Northwestern's football history before even a few years ago was an ignominious one at best. There were fits and starts and flirtations with success in the 40s, 50s and 60s as men like Otto Graham, Pappy Waldorf and Ara Parseghian came through Evanston, but by the late 1960s a dark age set in that wouldn't end until the mid-90s and included such horrors as a record 34-game losing streak and Dennis Green.
Northwestern turned it around and had a miracle Rose Bowl run in 1995, and since then the school has been at least a mildly successful contender, but it has hardly established anything close to consistent top-15 or even top-20 credentials. The chance, finally, to serve notice that those days are over, however, comes this weekend.
If you're a Mets fan like I am, it may shock you to know that Major League Baseball actually continues its season when the Mets stop playing each fall. In fact, there's a whole tournament of games in October that ends up actually determining whom we consider the champions of North American professional baseball, culminating in what is known as a "World Series." It's ok if you're unfamiliar. I was once unaware myself. It's probably a side effect of living in Queens. Now, however, I'm more than aware and actually excited to see what good baseball looks like. We got our first glance of it last night when David Price, who has both the world's best first name and wears the world's greatest number, pitched a seven-hit complete game gem to put Tampa Bay past Texas and into the final Wild Card slot of the 2013 MLB playoffs.
Of course, saying they've earned a playoff berth is kind of silly when last night's game was effectively a playoff already and tomorrow night's win-or-go-home date with Cleveland is basically the same thing, but who am I to tell baseball it can't use whatever taxonomy it thinks will help it sell more merchandise? Nobody, that's who.
What I can do, however, is tell you whom I think will be winning this whole shabang when its all said and done. I warn you that these predictions may be slightly biased by disliking other teams or the desire to see a fresh matchup (Who wouldn't find it kind of fun to have a Rays-Pirates World Series? You know, aside from FOX executives.) and I also warn you there is a good chance they will be wrong.
Yes, I know that sounds funny of me to say when my preseason prediction for who would play in the 2012 World Series was completely spot on even if I didn't pick the right winner, but I'm willing to admit I'm not perfect. And if you don't believe I'm not perfect, well, you can just take a look at my preseason predictions for this season and realize that folks in Toronto have already turned their attention to hockey season (which starts tonight, by the way).
Because with the way the Giants are(n't) playing that will bring me at least a little bit more happiness. The New York Giants' season to this point has been an exhibition on just how football games can turn on a dime at various points before spiraling out of control. Am I silly enough to think New York could actually be 3-0 instead of 0-3 this season? Well, not really. While the Giants did have a lead at one point in their game against Denver two weeks ago it was clear they were outmatched by a superior unit -- or at least what was playing like a superior unit. But New York's season-opening loss in Dallas was an exercise in open-palmed forehead slapping as the Giants had a chance to win in the final minutes despite ending the game with an astonishing six turnovers. In this past weekend's "football game", and I use that term extremely loosely, the Giants were nearly tied with the Carolina Panthers after David Wilson trotted into the end zone following a Cam Newton interception deep in Carolina territory. That, however, was nullified in the following sequence of plays:
1) Cam Newton pass intercepted by Aaron Ross returned to Carolina 17
2) 1st and 10: David Wilson 17-yard touchdown run nullified by holding penalty on Will Beatty
3) 1st and 20: Eli Manning sacked at Carolina 34 for loss of seven yards
4) 2nd and 27: Manning completes 7-yard pass to Victor Cruz to Carolina 27
5) 3rd and 20: Manning completes 7-yard pass to Cruz to Carolina 20
6) 4th and 13: Josh Brown misses 38-yard field goal
From the point the Giants had a game-tying touchdown run against the Panthers nullified things proceeded to unravel not because the Panthers were significantly better, but because the Giants seemed resigned to defeat for no particular reason. One could say it was because the Giants' discombobulated offensive line was so out of sync that it gave up five sacks of Eli Manning in a single half for the first time since Sept. 17, 2006, but even that comparison isn't particularly apt since New York actually won that game. Amazingly, that was a game I actually didn't see because I was in the stands at Green Bay that day, though I was enthusiastically following it on the out of town scoreboard.
So yeah, I won't be talking about the NFL anymore today.
Last weekend after I posted here I noticed a bizarre scheduling quirk that, at least to my knowledge, has never actually happened before. There are two football teams (or rather, two American football teams) that I follow, and unless you have never ever ever read this blog before (and I can't imagine why you're just starting now if you haven't), you know they are the New York Giants and the Northwestern Wildcats. They are not similar teams in statue or achievement, though ironically the less accomplished one is generally the more consistent, but they both have my unconditional love nonetheless.
Fall weekends for me generally revolve around Saturdays watching Northwestern at the New York alumni bar, and then watching the Giants on Sunday in a panic room with padded walls. If you're a Giants fan, you know it's the only way.
This weekend the Giants had a much publicized matchup against the Denver Broncos in which the Giants were definite underdogs and the two teams playing were almost an after thought because it was Manning Bowl III. I have been to one of these before when the Giants visited Peyton's then Indianapolis Colts in 2010. That game was just about as satisfying to watch as this one which is to say, "not very." Curiously, each of those games was played the day after Yom Kippur, but despite past influences I'm fairly certain the NFL didn't consult the lunar calendar when planning either of these.
The Giants game was highly unpleasant to watch -- or at least the second half of it -- which really spoiled what I had told my friends was a "weekend Bronco hunt" because at some point Friday afternoon, I realized Northwestern's foe for the weekend, Western Michigan University, also goes by the nickname "Broncos".
How had this not occured to me? How often can this even happen? After all, there are no Buckeyes, Wolverines or Badgers in the NFL. No Gophers or Spartans either. The NCAA FBS is bereft of Steelers and Jets. Cowboys and Redskins are in short supply.This weekend NU does face the Maine Black Bears, which I suppose would lineup nicely if the Giants were playing Chicago this weekend instead of three weeks from now, but even then the match is a stretch at best.
You'll have to excuse me if I make any mistakes in this entry here. I'm a little turned over-- err, hungover. Right, hungover. See, I got turned over six times this weekend. I mean, hung over. Hung over. Whoops. Man, I'm still dizzy. That'll happen when you've had too much to drink, which I assume is what the entirety of the Giants' offense did before their season opener at Dallas this past Sunday.
And why do I think that?
Because how else can you explain their stupendous six turnovers Sunday night, tied for their most in a game in the last 26 years, and three turnovers on their first three possessions of the game. Two of those turnovers were returned for touchdowns, including Brandon Carr's back-breaking 49-yard pick six to close out the game. Six turnovers is a lot for several games, let alone one, and it becomes particularly glaring when the final margin of victory for Dallas, which thieved the ball away a half dozen times and thus presumably would dominate the course of the game, was ..... five points. Five.
That's just a crackerjack performance right there, ain't it? It isn't often that I think to myself, "They probably would have won if they only committed five turnovers," but life is all about new experiences, isn't it? And on Sunday night, the Giants gave me one of the more bizarre new ones I had ever had: watching a team almost win when every player that touched the ball had his hands coated in crisco during pregame warmups. That became apparent after a starting first five minutes in which Eli Manning threw an interception on his first play of the season, the Giants then fumbled the ball away after driving from their own 20 to the Dallas 7 yard line, and then the Cowboys intercepted another pass at midfield on the very next possession.
Perhaps more irksome, what was lost in all of this is that the Giants' much-beleagured 31st-ranked in 2012 defense actually played pretty well. After all, when Dallas managed to get three turnovers off New York in the first three drives it managed to turn that bounty of opportunity into... three points. And even that could be chocked up to the fact that Dallas' first possession started at the Giants' 15 yard line, already well within field goal range. In the course of the game, Tony Romo threw for 36 completions, but managed only 263 yards, relatively paltry for that kind of passing success rate. The Cowboys as a whole managed just 331 yards, a mediocre output considering the absurd amount of extra opportunities afforded them by six New York turnovers. Of Dallas' 36 points, 13 of them were scored by the defense. Of the remaining 23 points the Cowboys scored, 10 of them came off drives that began inside New York's 20 yard line. That leaves a grand total of 13 points Dallas scored on real, sustained offensive drives.
Ok, everyone. Relax. Take a few seconds to lower your heart rate if you need to. I know. It's been a long seven months -- a trying seven months. But we did it. We survived. We've gotten to the light at the end of the tunnel. And now it's time to celebrate.
Tonight, in Denver, Colorado, football will return.
Yeah, I know college football started last week, and that is no less significant. Hell, I told you all about it right here and then flew across the country to watch my Wildcats eke out a 44-30 win against Cal. And yes, "eke." If there's a way to eke out a 14-point win, this was it. Northwestern makes a habit of trying to make winning more difficult than is really necessary, and damn are the Cats good at it. This past Saturday was a textbook example, but I mean, NU can always count on getting two pick-sixes from the same linebacker in one half, right? Sure. Either way, it was good enough to move Northwestern up to No. 19 in the AP Poll, so that's certainly progress.
In any event, it was a great weekend in San Francisco and Berkeley (I mean, isn't a weekend there great?), and I had a tremendous time introducing Bert to D-1 college football even if the outcome wasn't quite what he was looking for, and I tailgated with friends I don't see often for six hours. In addition to beer, this included jian bing, which I had never really heard of but is some awfully good eatin'. I have to assume it's solely responsible for China's economic boom over the past decade or so.
But while I do love college football and the numerous amazing burritos it provided me access with this past weekend, we all know the NFL is the cream of the crop, and in less than nine hours, that will be getting fully underway for the 2013 NFL season. Unfortunately, I will have to wait a while for the Giants to get in the swing of things -- New York doesn't play until Sunday night this weekend -- but I still plan on spending an irrational amount of time watching football this weekend (in multiple countries). After all, that's the excitement the NFL inspires when it finally comes to be that time of year. How else could you explain me doing something as silly as joining the season ticket waiting list for a team I have no particular feelings forone way or the other?
I like football. I'm not sure if you guys realized this, but if you didn't now you do. You also, quite possibly, have never spoken to me ever. Like not once. But hey, far be it from me to judge how well you may claim to know me if you're ignorant of my not-so-nascent obsession with pigskin. Whether or not you're familiar though, you probably will be by the time you're done reading this because I'm about to talk about football -- and don't worry, it's the American variety this time.
See most of the year is spent ambling around and waiting. There are bright spots. The opening weekend of March Madness might be the best four days in American sports and the Stanley Cup Playoffs may have no equal when it comes to a postseason tournament. Then there's baseball, which can get you through the lazy summer days with its steady dependability and penchant for October drama. But while I love all of these events and the sports themselves, we all know that football, when push comes to shove, is what makes my bull run.
The pros, unfortunately, are still seven days away, but college football with its rampant unpredictability and excuse for daytime drinking every Saturday gets kicked off tonight when North Carolina and South Carolina take the field at 6 p.m. ET. I would be lying if I told you I was ready to settle in and watch the whole thing, I may watch some of the second quarter while I cook dinner, but as long as there is football on the TV it will mean I am thiiiiiis much closer to watching a game I actually care about.
"And when will that happen?" some of you might be asking.