See if you can all remember back to the heady days of early 2010. It was a wild time to be sure. Barack Obama was the first black President of the United States, we were about to see a franchise win the Super Bowl for the first time in its 40-plus year history, the Middle East and Persian Gulf were in turmoil and the Giants and Mets both missed the playoffs.
It was a different world.
It was around then that I started this here newfangled sportsing blog, which I've found to be a fun outlet though I sometimes wish I had spent the last four years perfecting other, more productive plans for my life as others have passed me by with their astounding achievements. Still, this experience has been a not-so-awful use of my time since I wrote the first entry in this space more than four years ago. However, if you've been reading this blog from the start -- and if you're a person with actual responsibilities I'd like to hope you haven't -- this was, initially, supposed to serve a very specific purpose.
That purpose was to catalog and track my progress as my set forth on the stupifying mission of seeing 122 different major league sports teams play in their home venues. So far I've done pretty well, seeing 27 new teams in the 49 months since I've started writing about it here, but I've also come to the realization that a sports-related trip once every three months doesn't exactly give you enough regular content to build and sustain a readership. And so, as a result, I've diverged, diversifying my portfolio and the various topics on here to include not just my travels, but the analytical, the quirky, the sentimental and the just plain bizarre.
Really, I have no explanation for my theory that Super Bowl XLVIII was a preamble to an impending corporate culture war between China and the NFL with the prize being total global domination. None.
I have watched a lot of sporting events in my life, which I'm pretty sure surprises none of you, and many of them can be easily recalled either for reasons of extreme triumph or brutal heartbreak. My love for the Giants, Mets, Devils, Knicks and Northwestern leave little to surprise as far as which sporting events stick out firmly in my cortex, but it might surprise some of you that of all the games I've watched in my life, one of the most painful and one that has stuck with me the most, just might be the men's ice hockey gold medal game from the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Seem like an odd choice? Perhaps it is, but follow me here. I love hockey, and despite my tendencies to snark and complain about my government and those who follow the blindest levels of American jingoism, I love my country, too. So naturally, watching the U.S. men's hockey team win the highest honor of the sport on the international level is one thing I sorely want to see and which no one has seen in 34 years, but the more important aspect is that given the randomness of the short Olympic tournament and the fact that the tournament only happens once every four years. This means there are only so many chances to bring home the gold when major hockey nations like Russia, Finland, Sweden, the Czech Republic and, uh, those guys to the north are also gunning for gold.
Canada, for its part, is a perfectly lovely place if I remember it correctly. Of course, I haven't actually been there in nine years so that's hard for me to verify, though am going there next week (more on that next week), but they all seem pretty nice. Except for when they get in the way. Given what I do for a living, I deal with more than my fair share of Canadians, and I've heard more than one of them get all giggly when they talk about the gold medal they won when Sidney Crosby managed to slip the puck past Ryan Miller in overtime four years ago.
And so, as the U.S. looks to finally recapture gold four years later, and has looked by far like the best damn team in Sochi so far, why am I so nervous to see those pesky Canadians standing between America and a shot at gold on Sunday?
I was talking with a friend of mine yesterday morning who covers the NFL for ESPN.com when they abruptly curtailed one of our daily conversations with, "I have to go to my top secret meeting now!"
"What's that?" I asked.
"I can't tell you. It's a secret assignment. If I could tell you it would be a nonsecret assignment."
"I don't know, but I've been sworn to secrecy. You might know by the end of the day."
"Oh, so it's like big news that will be on ESPN?"
"Yes. And everywhere else."
This had all escaped my mind and I headed off to work for eight hours and then came home to settle in for a poker game in which I lost $24, which qualifies as a win for me most of the time. A few hours into the game, a friend checked their phone and said, "Um, I think an NFL player just came out." As it turned out, this was not, exactly the case, though Mizzouri defensive end Michael Sam is likely to be the first NFL player to have done that after he is drafted this April, but upon hearing it, the dots all connected in my head and my first thought was, "Oh wow, so that's what they were working on."
My second thought: "He could be a pretty good NFL linebacker. The Giants could use that."
Amazingly, the concern over whether or not Sam will be readily accepted by his NFL peers in the locker room or if he'll have to deal with the stupidity and bigotry the American public is heir to was significantly further down the list, and in a world where Russia seems to be on the defensive for discriminatory laws against homosexuals while it tries to showcase itself to the world during the Winter Olympics, perhaps that's telling.
Michael Sam will be fine. He may or may not end up being a good NFL player, but it seems reasonable to assume that the fact that he is sexually attracted to men rather than women will not be the reason he ends up eventually not playing in the NFL when his career ends. While the reaction has been almost universally positive, there is definitely that stupid vein of thought (and as a thinking man who played football for nine years and knows the NFL exceedingly well, believe it me it is, in fact, utterly stupid) that the NFL is just not ready for the increase in media attention or potential locker room dischord this might cause right now (But we'll be just fine in a decade when no one who currently works in the League is there) because this is a "man's game" built on the artifice of faux masculinity and a facade of manly bravado. Or perhaps more disconcerting, there is the torrent of GMs insisting this will hurt Sam's draft stock even though the GM speaking in question is, in fact, not the bigoted one.
You guys, the Winter Olympics are officially underway in Sochi, Russia. As you all might remember from four years ago, I'm a big fan of the Winter Games, with particular affection for some obscure sports like curling and short track speed skating, though there is one sport, in particular, that gets my bull running when it comes to the quadrennial showdown. It shouldn't be particularly surprising which.
We, as a society, with our Snowpocalypses, sitcoms, literotica and Branjelina just love our silly portmanteaus. This got ramped up into overdrive last fall when my beloved Festival of lights fell on the third Thursday of November and gave us the gift of Thanksgivukkah. With these prior examples it would seem there is almost no end to the possibilities nor the appetite of ridiculous combined names, but all of us -- ALL OF US -- appear to be missing the boat when the biggest game crosses paths with world's biggest population.
Yeah, that's right, kids. Chinese New Year happens to fall on this very weekend, which, at the same time, just happens to be the weekend of Super Bowl XLVIII. My good friend Michael, who will not be watching the Super Bowl with me because he is a Chinese American who will be ringing in the new year with his family, coined the most appropriate terminology for this weekend, and that is:
"Gong Hay Field Goal!"
It makes perfect sense, but it also begs the question of why hasn't this particular portmanteau caught on with the public? Is it because no Chinese citizens currently play in the NFL? Is it because the NFL has blatantly ignored the growing population in the East in terms of marketing?
And so I am but left to wonder: Is the NFL scheduling Super Bowl XLVIII on the weekend of Chinese New Year one last gasp effort to co-opt the world's next superpower? After all, the NFL has already conquered the North American sports landscape and, for at least this weekend, New York City. Just ask someone who lives here. If the NFL's growing popularity and power continues to expand we may well be hurtling toward a Rollerball-esque future of sports representing corporate power and stabs at global hegemony a little faster than we anticipate. And it might just bring the real death we were anticipating.
There's something you might have noticed about me -- I don't really keep it a secret -- but I am an alum of Northwestern University, a place I couldn't be prouder of at the moment (but I'll have to get into why the NCAA is an immoral cartel some other time). It's a pretty spiffy place. The educational quality is tough to match, the proximity to a major American city is fantastic, and the campus itself is truly beautiful. Well, for about eight weeks out of the year anyway. The rest of the year it's pretty damn cold. Being as stupid as I was in my college years I opted to run outdoors throughout the winter, -20-degree wind chill be damned.
The weather was something I did not miss. Unfortunately for me and anyone else that resides in New York City over the past month, however, this Polar Vortex business had to come down and gum up the works, plunging our typically chilly January into an utterly frigid one. This has prompted a wave of people wearing layers, bright red faces and a barrage of tweets by people complaining about how cold it is as if the ability to wear the aforementioned layers does not exist. If I have any advice to people enduring these extremes, it is that, if they're not so into those temperatures, they should not do this:
They should not stand outside for five hours watching a hockey game.
I know this because that's exactly what I did this past Sunday afternoon, as my New Jersey Devils played one whole period of outdoor hockey against the New York Rangers at Yankee Stadium before standing around for 40 minutes while the Rangers scored six straight goals, as part of the 2014 NHL Stadium Series. Obviously that last bit of the whole deal didn't exactly please me, but on the plus side I got to freeze to the bone in the name of taking some pretty awesome pictures like this one or this one once the snow began to fall. And as an added bonus, the Devils shirked the temptation to wear gaudy new "futuristic" alternates in favor of their throwback uniforms from when the franchise first moved to New Jersey in 1982. Silly as they may look, I am always in favor of those fantastic green shorts.
Some of you might have noticed that there were some football games yesterday. I watched them. Some of you probably watched them. The first one, for all of its pregame sturm und drang, was actually something of a dud, as the Broncos easily and almost mechanically did away with the Patriots in what had been billed as another chapter in the eternal Peyton vs. Brady rivalry. A coworker of mine noted as the game ended that this was a big feather in Peyton's cap, to beat Brady again. I suppose for the sake of argument this is true, though I think it's kind of silly when one considers a) Peyton Manning has already been to the Super Bowl twice and won it, along with the game's MVP award, once, b) That time Peyton won the Super Bowl, he beat Tom Brady and the Patriots to get there while leading an oft-forgotten and epic rally from 18 points down to do it, and c) (This is my most fervent point, here) Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have never been on the field at the same time. Ever.
Really, it's true.
You see, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning both play quarterback, which is a position that is only on the field with the offense. Two offenses do not play on the field at the same time. Ever. So really, when Peyton Manning beats Tom Brady or vice versa they're not so much beating the other as they are beating the collection of 20 or so players that rotate in on the defensive side of the ball. This makes the whole argument kind of foolish.
This brings into focus my bigger point about why this game wasn't all that exciting and, I thought, probably wouldn't have been from the start. The Patriots this season, despite their record, were not the New England Patriots of seasons' past. Their defense was a cobbled together mix of separate parts that weren't bad by any stretch, but certainly weren't great either, their offense was one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, a few competent receivers and a brilliant coach and their schedule was a relatively easy slate that allowed them to fluff their record against a mediocre collection of division foes and a cross-conference matchup with two very bad teams (Tampa Bay and, surprisingly, Atlanta).
The Broncos, meanwhile, with the best offense in the game and a fairly strong defense to go with it, were likely to outclass a defensive unit that simply didn't measure up (like Seattle's might in two weeks) and the rest of the holes were easily filled in. Of the four teams left, the Patriots were easily the fourth best, and to me, by a fair margin it seemed.
As the clock ticked to midnight on Tuesday, I won't lie to you all and tell you I was in the most sane of mindsets. After all, New Year's isn't exactly a sedate holiday, but I think I managed not to get too crazy -- a plus since I had work at 11 a.m. on New Year's Day, which is just as fun as you would imagine. Dems da breaks, right?
But among the garbage flying around in my head at that moment -- in addition to the alcohol -- was my mental check list of things I needed to take care of in the coming days. For example, I was going to need to start looking seriously at plane fares for places like Montana, Los Angeles and Spain. I also need to finally buy my sister a wedding present, which I'm shamefully behind on doing. I also needed to make sure I had purchased enough infant Giants and Metswear for my impending nephew and try to jump start writing in my personal life again.
And then there was this thing. I'm not sure if you noticed since none of you actually read this, but I've kind of been neglecting this here blog. And by "kind of been neglecting" I mean I've "completely been neglecting" this blog. But hey, at least I know I'm neglectful. I'm working on it, I swear. Somewhere on my mental checklist between "do the laundry" and "find out what that smell in the kitchen is," I realized I needed to update you all on my 2013 year in review.
I've done this year in review thing threetimes by now, and I rather enjoy them. It's always fun to take a look back on where your life took you and how it changed. I needed to make sure I remembered to do this before I became too inundated with other responsibilities and curiosities, and while 2014 looks like it may be a doozy (I've already trekked to Long Island in a blizzard for a hockey game) I can't move on completely without meticulously categorizing the last 12 months.
So before we get to the nitty gritty, I suppose I ought to explain that I didn't write an update last week because, er, what happened last week? Whatever it was, it took precedence, and the Giants actually ended up winning on Sunday afternoon, so part of me is wondering if perhaps the secret is that I should stop writing at all. Then again, I guess there's evidence to the contrary that superstitions are dumb and all. (Unrelated sidenote I just thought of: Was Weatherford properly handling a low snap on that game-winning field goal against the Niners a universal correction for the infamous Trey Junkin game nine years earlier?)
In any event, sorry that the four of you out there who bank on this for your entertainment (I'm looking at you, Evan) had to take a week off, but as the horrendous 2013 football season winds to a close, I am back and ready to throw both last week and this week's incorrect picks at you. Before you point out the absurdity of posting picks for several football games that happened a week ago, I want to make it clear these picks all come from my Yahoo picks league, which will be made clear by the fact that a large number of them, even after the fact, are wrong.
If you still are skeptical, you need more hobbies.
Before I get there, though, can we talk about how happy I am that this football season is nearly done with? It's not that 2013 was a bad year in general. I mean, my sister got married, I made four trips to California, I found out I'm going to be an uncle and ensured my nephew's life would be ruined by purchasing his first Mets jersey for him, and I made a trip to Africa, which was still great even though the airport burned down two days before I was supposed to leave.
But let's call a spade a spade here. I like sports a lot. And if we're talking about sports, this wasn't so great. The Devils missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs a yaer after a miracle run to the Stanley Cup Final, the Knicks are a colossal disaster, the Mets saw their first sign of pulling out of the darkness go under the knife with Tommy John surgery and, well, then there was football.
I don't expect much when I visit San Diego. That isn't meant to be a slight. The city is lovely, the embarcadero has beautiful views of the Pacific, the California burrito at El Indio and the accompanying tortilla chips are truly delicious. If you have the chance to fly across the country to eat there your plane ticket will not have been a waste. The people, with the exception of one possibly stoned 60-year-old woman I met on the city trolley, are lovely. The night life is good even if you end up falling asleep by 10 p.m. What's more, I didn't even expect the Giants to play well when I traveled 3,000 miles to get there.
But look. When I go to San Diego, I don't think it's so unreasonable of me that I expect it to, at the very least, be warm.
For some reason, even in this most modest request, San Diego, California was unable to comply last weekend. A city that makes its bones with a steady stream of 78-degree days with almost no humidity 365 days a year came up far short, as every day I was there the temperature peaked at, maybe, 60 degrees. And even that was a rarity. During the game itself temperatures settled in in the mid-50s unless you were one of the fortunate souls to be sitting in direct sunlight. All of this meant that I felt about as hot as the Giants' offense in a spectacularly mediocre showing.
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.