Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Tuesdays with Terry

It was about a year ago I heard the rumor that New York Mets manager Terry Collins spent the seven or so months of baseball season residing in my neighborhood of Long Island City, Queens. While I had no independent verification of this, it would hardly be surprising. Travis d'Arnaud and Ruben Tejada are also names I had heard as possible neighbors of mine and on multiple occasions I have seen Jon Niese and his wife on the subway, while once I had to hide my amusement at seeing how peeved former-Met John Maine was about waiting in a particularly slow line at the local Duane Reade.

This isn't so nuts. I live in a growing, trendy and, as my rent has indicated, increasingly expensive area. In the seven years I've called it home the luxury high rises have sprouted from the Earth and brought with it an influx of wealthy internationals, young corporate families and fewer youthful yuppies than it used to. I'm not so crazy about the older shift in demographics, but the easy access to Manhattan and a direct route to Citi Field have smoothed over that gradual transition.

Also, the restaurants are way better now.

Still, over the past few years I had seen nary a sign of Collins roaming Vernon Blvd or grabbing a late-night deli sandwich at the E&I Grocery. And Tuesday morning as I nursed my bruises and sore muscles from running this year's Brooklyn Half Marathon and then watching the Mets tumble throughout May, I entered the elevator in my apartment building en route to an easy swim at the pool and saw none other than the man who would be manager of the NL East leaders.

Collins leaned on the back of the elevator making eye contact with no one, and I tried to respect his personal space and privacy by not staring or bothering him. The catch with this, however, is that I always use a Mets towel when I go swimming. He must have seen it, and while owning Mets paraphernalia isn't enough to guarantee one could spot the team's manager in casual clothes in an elevator, there was the distinct possibility Collins saw me, saw my towel, and assumed I knew who he was.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

I'd ask you to pinch me, but we don't want anyone else getting hurt

For the first time in franchise history, the New York Mets have won their first seven games at home. They've also won eight games in a row for the first time in five years and have a 10-3 start that has only been accomplished two other times in franchise history, with each of those seasons (1986, 2006) resulting in at least a division title and in the first case, a World Series championship. Matt Harvey is 3-0, Bartolo Colon is 3-0, Jacob deGrom is 2-1 and the staff's ERA is 3.00 even.

Oh, and the Mets have the best record in the National League.

So look, guys. I know it's early, but even though I expected the Mets to be improved this season, I wasn't quite expecting improvement like this. It's a long season with 149 games remaining and a plummet back to Earth may well be in the offing, but at the moment New York looks like a bonafide postseason contender and, at the moment anyway, in control of the NL East. There's just one small problem...

So even as the Mets begin the season tearing up the National League, there's a stockpile of absences that's starting to build up, and despite my greater hopes that it's just a required bit of adversity for a truly special season, at some point the chickens are going to come home to roost. To wit, since the start of spring training, the following issues have befallen the Mets' anticipated every-day roster:

1. Anticipated No. 2 starter Zack Wheeler needs Tommy John surgery
2. Lefty reliever Josh Edgin also needs Tommy John surgery
3. Closer Jenrry Mejia is suspended 80 games and any potential postseason games for taking steroids
4. All-Star third baseman and team captain David Wright suffers a hamstring injury
5. Reliever Vic Black has to get an MRI
6. In the span of one inning shutdown reliever Jerry Blevins and hot-hitting catcher Travis d'Arnaud each break bones that will keep them out six weeks and three weeks, respectively

So yeah, the Mets are looking great and doing great, but what in the name of Sidd Finch is going on here?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

19 innings in purgatory: My first baseball game of 2015

Mike, who for the purposes of clarification will henceforth in this post be referred to as "Duffman", was two innings late. Last week my stepmother told me she had happened upon four tickets to the Delta Suite at the Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees game on April 10 and asked me if I would make good use of them. Even with no dog in the fight, the answer to that was obvious, and so I chose to take with me Mike, one of my best friends from high school, ardent Red Sox fan Luisa, one of my best friends from college and her recently-wedded husband, Duffman.

And Duffman was two innings late.

I'm a bit of a stickler for arriving to sporting events on time. I don't like to miss first pitch, but if someone else gets held up or sidetracked, and evidently this was the case, well that's their folly. Mike, Luisa and I had all been at the stadium since 5:30, watching some batting practice, at which Luisa sweet talked her way into a baseball from one of Boston's outfielders, and checking out Yankee Stadium's various exclusive areas to which our tickets provided access. First we went to the Mohegan Sun sports bar, which was about as sterile as one could imagine, and next to the Audi Club in left field, which seemed nice and elegant, but was only slightly less sterile than the Mohegan Sun sports bar. Finally we made our way through the indirect, confusing tunnels that are concourses at Yankee Stadium, and we made our way to the Delta 360 suite where our actual tickets were.

We indulged in the free popcorn, peanuts and soft drinks and watched the game slowly get underway, and all the while we wondered, "Where could Duffman be? He's not usually late to things." And then, at least in my mind, one thought began to pervade as one inning turned into two.

"What if Duffman doesn't get to see enough of the game to make his trip worth the time?"

Monday, April 6, 2015

2015 MLB Preview: I'm actually excited and I don't need to hide it

They just don't make sports days like today, anymore. Granted, to truly understand why today is so wonderful, you have to crawl deep inside the deranged psyche of a man who would contemplate staying awake until 4:30 a.m. on a school night to watch Australian Rules Football. Still, the fact remains that from the wee hours of this morning to the final hours of tonight, my brain is being treated to a smorgasbord of sports that literally spans the entire globe.

The day starts at 1:20 a.m. ET when Geelong and Hawthorn bounce for each team's opener of the 2015 Australian Football League home and away season. Yes, I know none of you really care about this sport at all, but trust me when I tell you that it is totally awesome. Of course, staying up until 4:30 a.m. when you have work the next morning isn't particularly advisable, so I only watched the first quarter before watching the conclusion of Geelong's, ugh, loss this morning as I got ready for work.

The hours after work bring more excitement still, as I get to see if at least one Big Ten family member will witness a national championship in his or her lifetime when Wisconsin takes on Duke for the NCAA Men's Basketball title, Bucky's first chance at a hoops championship since 1941. My Badger sister was following the score of her alma mater's massive update victory over previously-undefeated Kentucky as best she could from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco last night, which generally just meant waking up to a text message update from me.

Everyone experiences sports fandom in their own way.

Still the start of footy down under and the conclusion of an NCAA Tournament that was turbulent and predictable all at the same time merely serve as bookends for the most exciting part of the day. That comes at 7:05 p.m. when Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals throws the first pitch of the New York Mets 2015 season. Typically, as a Mets fan, the start of a new campaign is something I've grown to dread in my adult years, as the Amazins haven't put together a winning record since they played in Shea Stadium, and have largely spent the last six seasons tripping over their own feet on the way out of the dugout.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad.

As that most furiously-paced few weekends of the sports calendar descend upon us, there is one immutable truth about the NCAA Tournament that I am reminded of time and again:

We know absolutely nothing about college basketball.

Really. We don't. The NCAA Tournament, which tips off today, is a mind-boggling cataclysm of assumed hoops knowledge, intensive well-intention research and the massive heap of garbage that gets dumped all over it the moment Cinderella crashes your bracket. No one has any idea what will happen, beyond Kentucky probably winning, when the Big Dance starts off today, least of all me.

That, of course, doesn't stop us from trying, and to that end this year, like every year, I have filled out my bracket and made picks in my survivor pool, a pool from which I was eliminated at the end of the very first game of the tournament last year. This year I actually feel pretty good about my choices, a largely chalky Final Four with a reasonable seasoning of upsets in the first two rounds. That's generally how the tournament goes, after all, but it's the matter of which upsets you will (or more likely) won't get. This year I'm feeling reasonably confident about my faith in Buffalo and UC Irvine for no rational reasons at all, but lately I've been getting anxious as they each become trendier picks. Again, this is not in any way rational, but what, exactly, is rational about boiling a 34-game season of more than 200 teams to a 68-team single-elimination tournament?

Probably nothing.

And so, because I can't rationally think of a better way to solve and understand an irrational idea, I've decided to become one of those nerds that undertakes a totally ludicrous mathematical experiment when March rolls around, in order to determine if I'm better off using my own intuition, picking based on historical matchup probabilities, or if I'm better off flipping a coin. After going through the process, I won't lie, there's a very good chance the Coin Flip bracket, in which Arizona and Oklahoma somehow faced off in the title game despite universal even odds, ends up being the most accurate. Then again the bracket ended up with University of Alabama-Birmingham, a 14-seed that is almost certainly going to get bounced by Iowa State this afternoon, reaching the Final Four.

To perform all this experimental magic, I relied on two very helpful tools my friend Chris found through Googling after I informed him of the idea. For the bracket based on weighted historic probabilities, I used this site, which has the winning percentages for each seed vs. seed matchup since the tournament expanded to a 64-team format back in 1985. To actually perform the simulations, whether they be weighted or 50/50, I used this handy site that allows you to create a percentage weighted spinning wheel and then spin away. This, of course, isn't without its flaws. After all, as we reach the later rounds of the tournaments, certain seeds will have only played a handful of times over the past 30 tournaments, or perhaps not at all. This left me with not nearly a large enough sample size of past matchups on which to base my calculated predictions, but with nothing else to work with, I went with the past, small sample size or not. The one time I had a matchup of seeds that had never met before in the NCAA Tournament (for example, a No. 5 seed and a No. 11 seed have never, ever played one another in the current tournament setup), I just flipped a coin.

Are these trustworthy methods? Well, not really. But what else am I going to do? Just watch for fun? Please.

Here's what we wound up with.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Seeing how the other half watches

This post is far overdue, particularly since I have been back from the UK for more than 10 days now, but as you all might have noticed once or twice, I went abroad to visit my sister earlier this month with the added cookie that I would finally, after 13 years of waiting, get to see my first ever (really first two) Southampton FC matches.

The five of you who actually read this know that it has been a special season on the south coast, though the Saints did a fine job of lousing that up this past Sunday against Liverpool with a little assist from the umpires. I've been keen to get out to a game for years, but this was the first time the stars had truly aligned in any meaningful way. Both of the matches were incredibly exciting to watch, though one had a significantly better outcome than the other, but it really is striking how different the experience is from a sporting event in the U.S.

We can go into the myriad differences in sporting culture between the U.S. and the U.K. such as selling tickets only a month prior to the match or the organized en masse singing throughout the crowds, but the obvious difference is the entrenched history of separation between fan bases. In the States I have watched the Mets, Giants, Knicks, Devils, Blackhawks and Northwestern play in an opposing stadium roughly 45 times.While I will often mock the predilection toward boorishness that colors Philadelphia fans and I know violence is not unheard of in an American sporting venue, I have never felt as though I was in any real danger ever, and the vast majority of opposition fans I will sit near are perfectly pleasant if not overtly friendly.

Not once has wearing my opposition colors been a problem, though some razzing has been more aggressive than others.

Prior to attending the Southampton-QPR match on Feb. 7, my first ever venture to the Premier League, I was only able to secure tickets in the home fans section, meaning I would be surrounded by QPR fans as I watched the Saints for the first time. I was explicitly told by all friends with any knowledge of or experience with the English Football Hooligan culture not to wear my Southampton shirt when I was in the stadium, a notion that sounded ridiculous to. I did not take it seriously at first, but as the game drew nearer and more and more people insisted I steer clear of provocation, I relented and wore a gray long-sleeved shirt over my Saints jersey, rendering it unviewable.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

London Calling

I can readily admit that my sports fandom verges on or surpasses the excessive much of the time. There is no disputing that. What has made me even more remarkable over the past 15 years, however, is the dedication I've shown to teams I've picked up based outside of the United States, namely Southampton FC and Geelong FC. As the Premier League has steadily increased in popularity on this side of the pond, that fascination with Southampton has gotten significantly less bizarre, though it still boggles many minds that I chose a team with little economic chance of ever winning a championship and zero cultural cache in the States. Most Americans jump for a team that actually gives them a chance at glory, the Manchester Uniteds or Chelseas of the world, or a team that should be competitive, but can still claim a hair of underdog status like Liverpool or, lately, Tottenham.

Southampton is a different breed. No one -- no one -- gives a damn about this team in the United States. The Saints are the British equivalent of a lovechild between the Kansas City Royals and Milwaukee Bucks, a forgotten small-market blip that has bursts of aw-shucks little-engine-that-could competitiveness buttressed by the cold hard truth that they will never consistently be able to play in the same sand box as the big boys. They have little relevance and little efficacy in the States and the only thing more remarkable to me about Southampton's back-to-back promotions to return to the Premier League a few years ago was the fact that three separate strangers actually mentioned it to me when they saw me at brunch proudly wearing my kit the morning Saints returned officially to the top flight.

The interim years were difficult not just because the team's fortune took a steep nosedive, which I've alluded to here before, but because it was that much more difficult to follow how it was doing. Back in 2008 and 2009 the Premier League wasn't consistently televised in the U.S. so one can only begin to imagine how difficult it was to watch matches down in the third division. I spent irrational amounts of time watching play-by-play tickets on BBC Sports' website and Twitter trying to painstakingly glean whatever nuggets of information I could. That I bothered to do all of this for a team that played in a mid-level British city an ocean away was all the more bizarre considering that, like my Geelong Cats of the AFL, I've never seen them play a match in person.

Well, that all changes on Saturday.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Hey, who wants to check out a museum or something Sunday night?

I feel distinctly out of the loop lately. I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe it's because I'm planning my impending trip to London or maybe it's because I'm just too damn confused from trying to figure out upgrading my iPhone, but there's apparently a professional football game on Sunday night and it kind of snuck up on me.

I love the Super Bowl. Since the age of eight, making a huge deal out of the NFL's annual championship showcase has more or less been my annual raison d'etre. This coming Sunday is basically a national holiday for me and I pretty much count down the minutes until I can watch football, stuff myself with wings and try to explain to people (again) that punting on fourth down is almost always a stupid strategy.

This year, however, Super Bowl XLIX just isn't doing it for me. It's not because I'm angry with out of touch athletes who won't do the media's bidding (Ed: He's actually a nice guy), disillusioned with a League that is rampant with violent criminals (Ed: It actually isn't), concerned about the NFL's lukewarm response to a very real head trauma epidemic (Ed: But it's getting better!) nor is it because the media is hyping up one of the lamest scandals I've ever heard of (Ed: The Pats may not be wrong). I'm mostly just not all that hyped up for this reason:

A matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots is super boring.

Seriously. These are two teams with zero collective history, come from cities that have no cultural rivalry and are almost as geographically far apart as two Super Bowl participants can be, and I have no strong feelings about either team one way or the other. Yes, I realize I live in New York so I'm supposed to hate any team from Boston, but let's be honest. I root for the New York Giants, New Jersey Devils and New York Mets, all of whom have major geographic rivals that play in Philadelphia, rather than Boston. In fact, the only times the Giants have played the Patriots with anything significant on the line that might foment a genuine rivalry, the Giants have won each time.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The toughest ticket in town

There are a lot of things about ticket-purchasing that are internecine and complicated. When to buy, where to buy, how much is reasonable, what secondary vendors are most likely to provide the best deal, where to buy from if you want actual hard tickets, etc. It's a complicated dance, but at least when it comes to buying said tickets in the United States, I think I've got it more or less down.

England, on the other hand, is a whole new ball game literally and figuratively.

As you might have noticed from that handy sidebar I've got of future planned trips, I will be in the UK to visit friends and family in early February. As this will be my first time in jolly old England since I was 13 (and I practically remember nothing about the place), I'm extremely excited for a variety of reasons, but paramount among them will be my first-ever Premier League matches. My visit spans Feb. 5-14, a stretch in which my Southampton FC is both visiting Queens Park Rangers in London and hosting West Ham United at St. Mary's. This, obviously, was not an accident.

I've been following Southampton for some 13 years now through both thick and thin, and right now times are thicker than Louie Gohmert's head (Topical State of the Union joke!). Just four seasons ago, Southampton was toiling in the third division of English Football with the likes of Dagenham & Redbridge and Oldham Athletic. This season, following consecutive promotions and a potentially devastating sell-off last summer the Saints are in the midst of their most remarkable season in decades. Southampton is currently third in the Barclays Premier League after a huge wins away at Manchester United and Newcastle United and is one win away from the fifth round of the FA Cup.

That is an astonishing rise for a club that was bankrupt, in the third division and has the popularity, budget and brand efficacy in England the Sacramento Kings have here. It may also not last if rumors of major sell-offs coming this summer are to be believed, so, damnit, I'm going to see the magic while I can.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Patrik and Me

I have mentioned before that my first Devils game was on Dec. 7, 1995. I won't claim this was when I became a Devils fan. That had already happened 18 months earlier and by this point nine-year-old me had already freaked out in my parents bedroom as I watched the Devils seal their first Stanley Cup championship some six months earlier. As I noted in that chapter when I looked up the game story, as a peculiar footnote, the Devils, dealing with injuries, had called up several prospects including a young winger named Patrik Elias, who was making his NHL debut. My dad and I drove to the game. Elias, apparently, got a private jet. There was no reason to remember this -- Elias wouldn't even score his first NHL goal until the next season -- but it's always fun to know I was there.

In many ways, it's unfortunate that nearly all of Elias' career has been eclipsed by sharing a locker room with, arguably, the greatest goalie of all-time. Elias is not exactly in the same rarified air as Martin Brodeur, and at this point his membership in the Hall of Fame is probably a borderline prospect, but the quiet Czech has managed to carve out one of the most unsung, impressive careers in the last two decades. He's been an elegant offensive weapon displaying skillful quick hands and a penchant for big goals. Elias never really seemed to demand the spotlight. He always seems understated with the media, which, as someone who has interviewed him before, I can verify.



But much like Teddy Roosevelt, Elias has spent his career wielding that big stick and probably getting less attention than he should for it, both because he plays for a team that, too, prefers avoiding the spotlight and because he often has played in the shadows of hall of famers. Even on the night Elias became the Devils' all-time leading scorer he played second fiddle as Brodeur became the winningest goalie in NHL history the same evening.

Then again maybe not. It was St. Patrick's Day after all.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2015: The Year the Mets Win the World Series

Yep, that's right. I'm placing an awfully large amount of responsibility on Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard, two pitchers who didn't toss an inning in the Major Leagues in 2014, but what the hey. I haven't got much else to look forward to sports-wise, so why not? Since we've last spoken (which is what I'm going to cheekily call the intermediate period in which I was too lazy to post my NFL picks (Final record: 120-132-4)), a lot of things have happened and they aren't particularly positive. First there's the Giants ending their mediocre season in a loss to the Eagles, though I guess the fact that it's over might be a positive, and then the Devils decided to make one of the more bizarre coaching moves I can remember. The Devils then proceeded to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins and sully their chances in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes. Southampton dropped out of second-place in the Premier League after a rough five-match losing streak, and then the Knicks, well, the Knicks are apparently still playing basketball, so that's either a negative because they're so awful or a positive because they've somehow managed to continue putting a team together for 48 minutes despite being so awful.

I can't decide.

This brings us to the Mets, who, along with the Geelong Cats, are one of just two teams I follow on the entire planet that haven't lost a game in the past month, and that's only because they haven't played. The Mets, somehow, have become my one last hope for satisfaction, and that brings us to 2015. For the first time in quite some time the Mets actually have some reasons to be excited, although we only get to see one of them each day. At the start of the 2015 MLB season, the Mets' starting pitching rotation should feature Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler and Jon Niese. Those first four could be a first or second starter on most Major League rosters. Each of those four is under 26 years old, and Jon Niese isn't much older.

That's a pretty good reason to be excited about the Amazins, and it's about time, too. The Mets, and this will be shocking to most of you, are currently in their longest championship drought ever (really!) at 29 years. 2015 will mark 15 years since the Mets' last appearance in a World Series, which, amazingly (see what I did there?) is also the longest the team has ever gone without winning the National League pennant. 2015 is also the year in which I will turn 30 years old, which is an ethical crisis in and of itself, but it means at 30 years of life and the last 15 of them without seeing the Mets reach the Fall Classic, I will have officially spent half of my life since I last saw the Mets play a World Series game. I suppose you could say this same occurrence happened when I turned two, but it's more useful for me to explain my neuroses with it now.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

NFL Picks Week Fifteen: Music City is great, but look both ways

This past weekend I made my first-ever visit to Nashville -- or to the entire state of Tennessee for that matter -- and after being told by friends and coworkers that it was one of the most enjoyable towns you can spend three days in I must report back that it is all true. I had a tremendous weekend full of good friends, a family-required visit to our distant uncle Jack, pulled pork topped with mac-n-cheese, I had a ton of fun at the Blackhawks-Predators game and the Giants actually won for the first time in two months.

There was only one minor thing that went wrong.

Ok, I may be blowing that slightly out of proportion. When I say "hit by a car," what I really mean is more "nudged by a slowly rolling automobile and not suffering even a bruise," but the shock is about as dramatic as you could expect, particularly when after being stuck in traffic for an hour in search of a restaurant and a parking space we found the restaurant had free valet parking. Irony. In any event, on Friday night just hours after arriving in the Volunteer state, my friend Jill and I walked in downtown Nashville toward our ultimate destination, Puckett's Grocery, a highly-recommended home of greasy southern fare that truly hit the mark. Just let your eyes get lost in that fried cookie dough brownie sundae I had for dessert. The only stumble came when my brother frantically called me after hearing from his wife that someone had written on Facebook about me getting hit by a car.

I probably should have explained in more detail that I was merely bumped by a driver who wasn't looking as he made a right turn on a red light (and also that I had the right of way), but people only communicate in 140 characters or less these days, so I was in quite the pickle.

No matter.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

NFL Picks Week Fourteen: My first trip to Music City

So, I didn't write an update in this here blog last week. Was it because I couldn't bear the impending mediocrity that was Northwestern's masterpiece in egg-laying against Illinois on Saturday, which cost them a bowl game? Was it because I somehow knew the Giants would blow a 21-point lead against the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team with a total of 13 wins in the past four seasons? Could it be because I anticipated Southampton's disheartening 3-nil loss to Manchester City and its rough 1-nil loss to Arsenal just a few days later? Was it because the Devils continue to struggle and the Knicks continue to be the Knicks?

No, I was just busy.

But there is no escaping the fact that for many reasons, it has been a busy week. Beyond the fact that all of my teams seem to be terrible at the moment, I've had my own bit of personal work to sift through, like this story on U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Jeff Sauer, and an obituary for late Montreal Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau. Then there's the added quirk that my complete childhood and everything I know to be true and just in this world was shattered on Tuesday afternoon.

It's been a tumultuous few days, which may or may not entirely explain why I never got around to telling you all what my picks were for last week's NFL games. I went 9-7-0 in case you were wondering, which I'm sure you weren't.

All in all, the whirlwind has left me somewhat exhausted and mentally spent, which means I could really use a vacation, and just as luck would have it, I'll be hopping on a plane to Tennessee tomorrow. My impending trip to Nashville, one of the few major American cultural hubs I've never been to, has me pretty excited, even if it involves watching the New York "Football" Giants play the Tennessee Titans in what has the look of a high-intensity battle for top-five draft position. Doesn't get any better than that.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

NFL Picks Week Twelve: On what it means to win in South Bend

On Oct. 2, 2004, I was a sophomore in college going on a jog along Northwestern University's Lakefill when at the north end I came across an enormous gathering of Ohio State fans tailgating on the shores of Lake Michigan. On this night Northwestern would be playing Ohio State in front of a national TV audience looking for its first win against the Buckeyes in 33 years. Campus was alive with anticipation for reasons no one really knows. I remember walking along Sherman and Simpson and seeing students tailgating and playing beer pong in their backyards, almost as if it was a real college. For myself and a group of friends from freshman year, our preparation of choice was a power hour at our friend Sparky's apartment on Simpson St.

We got drunk, we had a blast and on Noah Herron's 33rd carry of the night we beat Ohio State in an overtime thriller. To that point, and I say this without irony, it was the greatest night of my life.

When you went to a school that has framed itself as a perpetual underdog thanks to its remarkable history of football ineptitude, moments when you are pitted against a legendary nationally-recognized program and somehow seize them are particularly special. Experiencing those moments when you are young, dumb and, well, you know, have a special kind of youthful optimism about them. You don't know what tough turns life can take in your 20s in terms of a career, family, friends or romance because you're a college kid, and all that matters right now is you can rush the field and there's beer to drink.

I still get the opportunity to celebrate sports victories that carry a special brand of surprise or joy, but it is rare that I get to experience the kind of fresh-faced child-like exuberance that comes with an upset victory in college sports. I do not live on a college campus anymore, though I suppose one could argue New York City provides access to the same kinds of vices, and so the magic of a football upset, while still invigorating, does not always carry similar heft.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

NFL Picks Week Eleven: Three years of waiting to see our lady

Last weekend, Northwestern played Michigan in what can only be referred to in the loosest of terms as a "college football game." I say without hyperbole that this was probably the worst-played football game I have ever seen in my life between any two teams at any level relative to the (theoretical) amount of talent on the field. In what was ultimately a 10-9 defeat for my Wildcats against that bitterest of bitter foes, the game was so inexplicably discombobulated that it very nearly verged into the territory of "fun bad" as we all drank in the local alumni bar and watched the mediocrity (and that's being generous) ensue.

To wit, this clash of cretins featured the following incidents and factoids:

-- Northwestern finished with -9 yards rushing due to quarterback Trevor Simien taking multiple sacks.
-- NU at one point started a drive at Michigan's 15-yardline and came away with no points.
-- Michigan had an averaging starting field position of its own 42 and somehow scored merely 10 points.
-- Punting on 4th and 26, NU's punter bungled the snap and kicked it with his left foot for 20 yards.
-- Michigan fumbled at one point after snapping the ball into a man in motion in the backfield.
-- Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner missed a handoff because he tripped... on nothing.
-- Northwestern missed a 36-yard field goal.
-- NU had no plays over 20 yards and its longest rush of the game went for a whopping six.
-- Michigan converted just one of its 12 third down opportunities.
-- Michigan and Northwestern combined for six turnovers including four very bad interceptions.
-- Gardner finished the game with a QBR of 5.2. Simien wasn't much better at 38.9.
-- NU did not score on its first 12 drives. In the second half, three of those drives began in Michigan territory.
-- Somehow NU strung together a 95-yard drive that ended in a field goal to end the shutout.
-- The game ended when NU scored a touchdown with three seconds to go, but opted for a game-winning two-point conversion on which Simien was quickly sacked rather than overtime despite having out-gained Michigan by a significant margin in the fourth quarter.
-- Michigan knew the exact play that was coming on the two-point conversion.

This was, in no uncertain terms, a tremendously bad football game, that part way through brought comparisons to an epic encounter in 1939 between Texas Tech and Centenary College in which driving rains made offense nearly impossible and the teams resorted to punting a total of 77 times in hopes of recovering a weather-driven muff at the other end of the field. A whopping 67 of those punts occurred on first downs, including 22 of them on consecutive plays in the second half. I would say that game was equally as bad as Northwestern-Michigan was, but at least that one had a coherent strategy.