Friday, April 30, 2010

1995 NFL Mail Bag: The Seattle Seahawks

Football nerds like myself might have taken large note yesterday with the news that Seahawks left tackle Walter Jones announced his retirement after 13 seasons. The left tackle is one of the more unsung positions on the field, or at least it was until the widespread release of The Blind Side last year, but the Seahawks, upon the announcement that Jones was retiring, were quick to regard him as one of the greatest of all time. And given some obscure but no less valid statistics, they probably have a point.

After all, the man was called for holding nine times. In his entire 13-year career.

That's just plain nutty. Almost as nutty is the fact that, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Seahawks have already retired Jones' No. 71, rather than simply waiting for the season opener or a nationally televised showcase at some point this year. Then again, considering that former Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren called Jones the greatest offensive player he ever coached -- and Holmgren coached Joe Montana, Steve Young, Brett Favre and possibly the greatest player of all time, Jerry Rice -- perhaps this type of thing is warranted.

The Seahawks wasted little time in Jonesing up their website, with direct links to both Washington governor Christine Gregoire's declaration of Walter Jones Day, and, my favorite part, a video of Walter Jones highlights. The highlights are my favorite part for the simple reason that I couldn't fathom how one can edit together a highlight reel for a left tackle that lasts three minutes and 22 seconds. And yet, somehow the Seahawks did it.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Welcome to Round 2

Yes, I know many of you would probably expect me to continue talking about the Mets, who, amazingly won their seventh in a row yesterday to stay atop the NL East by completing their first sweep of the Dodgers in 15 years. Exciting time are afoot in Queens, as New York takes its 1/2-game lead into Philadelphia this weekend for the first major challenge of the season. Of course, it would have been 1 1/2 games were it not for a late rally by the Phils in San Francisco yesterday, but I'm not looking a gift horse in the mouth.

First place is first place, even if April is still April.

But the more pressing an exciting news comes in the way of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which, after a wild Game 7 that saw the No. 1 team in the League blow a 3-1 series lead in the opening round, hits Round 2 tonight with no break whatsoever -- a rarity for the NHL. Instead Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus gets underway in San Jose tonight, with the rest of the second round following suit tomorrow and Saturday. These aren't exactly the matchups I was expecting, peculiarly the 4, 6, 7 and 8 seeds were the ones to advance in the Eastern Conference, and with no Devils and no Capitals getting in the way I can't possibly imagine a scenario in which Sidney Crosby and the Penguins don't get to the Stanley Cup Finals.

And a rematch with the Wings for the third straight year doesn't seem all that crazy either. But of course, that's why they play the games.

And to that end, here are my certain to be just as wrong as they were in the first round predictions for the second round of your Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

First Person To Pinch Me Gets Punched In The Face

Yes, some of you might have noticed something peculiar as you sat down on the porch with a mug of coffee and your freshly delivered copy of the New York Times this morning that by some peculiar miracle the New York Mets are in first place in the National League East.

Yeah, the Mets that all the doomsayers had losing 90 games. Those Mets. They're somehow atop the NL East this morning after a six-game winning streak, and today may be the only time they're in that place this season, so for the love of God don't shit on my parade.

I'm not sure how long, exactly this can be expected to last, given that the Mets had to win six games in a row to get here, my best guess is "not very", but it does bear reminding that the Mets haven't even played all that well during this streak, which was capped off by New York's first doubleheader sweep of the Dodgers in 39 years yesterday. In fact, last night's 10-5 whupping of L.A. was the first time the bats really broken out during the Mets' current hot streak, with most of the victories built on what has been a surprisingly solid pitching staff so far.

Stunningly, before the Dodgers scored in the fourth inning of the night cap, Mets pitching had racked up 20 consecutive scoreless innings. Sure, some of you might deride that by saying the Mets nearly pulled that off once this year inside of a single game, but the fact that Johan Santana still looks to be winning ball games despite a drop in velocity and Mike Pelfrey may have finally got it bears some notice. John Maine has been shaky and each Oliver Perez outing still feels like a tightrope walk two millimeters wide, but the bullpen, which has an ERA of 2.61 right now, has somehow managed to pull it out each time, to the tune of eight wins in New York's last nine games.

And in typical fashion, the one game the Mets lost in this stretch is the one game I attended.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Ok, Maybe Just Urinating On Persistence Of Memory

I know Mondays are usually reserved for stories of visits to stadia past, I don't blame the five of you out there who read this regularly for being miffed that I'm taking a week off, but as I've said before there are only so many stories to fill the next three decades.

I'm going to take a week off once in a while to keep myself from running out of material. Particularly since I assume you're all distracted by that preview for tonight's Blackhawks-Predators game.

This week seemed like as opportune a moment as any to do so because I somehow neglected to discuss this particularly exciting news item from this past week. Yes, I had mentioned a few weeks ago my increasing angst over the NCAA's impending decision to expand the NCAA Tournament, with rumors flying high that the nearly perfect 64-team bracket would be forsaken in the name of a 96-team cacophony of increased revenues and confused office pools.

An expansion to 96 teams would have been awful for a number of reasons -- and I wasn't the only one who thought so -- but fortunately for anyone who loves college basketball or loves filling out their bracket according to which mascot they think is cutest, it won't be happening. Not immediately anyway. Instead the tourney will be expanding to a 68-team format, which is not ideal, but still the better option. And once again, I'm not the only one who thinks so. Of course, I already think the 65-team tournament we've been treated to since 2001 is a little silly anyway. While everyone adores the 64-team bracket, and rightfully so, the play-in game that pits the 64th and 65th teams in the field against one another is a worthless piece of television drudgery.

I don't think anyone bothers to watch what the NCAA calls the "Opening Round Game", and even fewer people think typical entrants like Coppin State or Morehead State have any chance of actually doing anything once they make it to the 64-team field. In fact, this game is so pointless that I'm fairly sure the only time I've watched it was when I was stuck in O'Hare airport my junior year of college. And I watch anything that can call itself a sport. Hell, as I write this, I'm staying up until 3 a.m. to watch and Aussie Rules Footy match between Geelong and Carlton FC.

And I was planning on it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

An Annual Day Of Mourning

Since I started writing this blog about three months ago, today is the first time we've hit one of those yearly milestones where I find that a team I had such high hopes for will not be bringing home the ultimate prize this year. In the case of this year, the offending party is the New Jersey Devils, and for the fourth straight year, they will be setting up their spring tee times much earlier than I had anticipated.

Pardon me while I tear my clothing and cover all my mirrors.

Ok. Unless you're a Devils fan, this probably doesn't have the same impact for you, but considering New Jersey was challenging for the top seed in the East for a large portion of the season and then added one of the top offensive threats in the game in Ilya Kovalchuk, well, this is kind of surprising. But watching this team last night made a few things abundantly clear. For one, the offense was completely nonexistent and most of the players didn't seem to really care, with the exceptions of Dainius Zubrus and Zach Parise. The Flyers, despite being the No. 7 seed and needing a shootout on the final day to make the postseason, had taken five of six from the Devils during the year. They were confident, New Jersey wasn't, and it showed. For another, the Kovalchuk deal was a gutsy move, and for that GM Lou Lamoreillo deserves credit, but Kovy clearly didn't fit into this system and he had a nasty habit of trying to play Superman every time he touched the puck.

What makes this most irksome is that more questions will start to come up around Martin Brodeur not being a big-game goaltender anymore, which, if you watched, is complete hooey. Brodeur played phenomenally in Games 3 and 4, but was behind an offense that wracked up all of four even strength goals in the series. No goaltender can manage to win when his team is making Brian Boucher look like a Hall of Famer.

Lord, I hate Philadelphia.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

With The No. 1 Overall Pick, The St. Louis Rams Select...

If the NFL schedule release is the start of when we really get to be bombarded with NFL news in the run up to summer camps and eventually the season, what takes place tonight might be the biggest event before the Saints and Vikings kick off on September 9th. Until the last few years, the release of the schedule was actually not the big television event the NFL has turned it into. Instead that major offseason moment came with the NFL's annual Entry Draft. It seems odd to me that the NFL would put two major events in such close proximity when the season is a good five months away, here we are. The NFL Draft is an annual feed for the football news addicts that can't get through the offseason without massive withdrawal.

Lucky us. Tonight we get our fix.

Yes, the NFL Draft starts tonight, which seems odd to say given that this is the first time ever that it has started both on a week night and in prime time. This has always been a Saturday day-long weekend affair, but now that the NFL has realized what ESPN knew for the past two decades -- the NFL Draft is a valuable television property that you can use to maximize ratings and thus rights fees by stretching it out -- we get treated to a first round Thursday night, the second and third rounds Friday night and the rest of the selection process stretching out all day Saturday.

It's a bizarre format, and frankly I always enjoyed spending a day plopped on the couch watching the selections. It was kind of like how Sundays in the fall are, but just with hundreds of players I didn't know very well, the bombast of Chris Berman, the way-too-enthusiastic intensity of Todd McShay and, obviously, Mel Kiper Jr.'s hair. The hair may have been the best part. Still, because I love football and because I'm a sheep, I will still be watching with all eyes keyed in on whom the New York Giants will be selecting with the 15th overall pick.

Of course, that moment in particular won't be happening until roughly two and a half hours in, but I will still be watching the prior picks to see what potential reaches are gone, what potential steals might still be on the board for Big Blue and what awkward moments we might get to see. Rumor has it Clemson running back C.J. Spiller might fall to the Giants at No. 15, which, potentially, would be a huge steal. At least in m mind. Most guesses though have the G-Men targeting Rolando McClain of Alabama to fill the void at middle linebacker. This would be fine too. The peculiar thing about it, though is that getting quite so wrapped up in everything and grading each pick immediately is, you know, pointless. Sure drafts can have major immediate impacts -- the 2007 Super Bowl Champion Giants got significant contributions from all seven of their draft picks that year, though that is rare -- but overall, the one thing most necessary to remember about drafts is this:

We have no idea what is going to happen with any of these players.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

An Extremely Necessary Distraction

Some of you are probably wondering why it's been a while since I've mentioned hockey. A whole week in fact. Well, I've mentioned it in my past few posts, albeit only in passing, and I could tell you about how thrilling nearly every series is so far or how nearly a third of the games have gone to sudden death overtime, but, you see, there is one series that isn't very close.

And it happens to be my series.

You see, seven of eight series are either tied or at 2-1 split so far, but the one series that isn't is between my beloved New Jersey Devils and the hated Philadelphia Flyers. After two rough games in Philadelphia marred by some iffy officiating, frustrating opposition goaltending and a bizarre decision to not play offense, you know, at all, the Devils suddenly find themselves coming home for Game 5 in a 3-1 deficit and on the brink of elimination.

What makes it so frustrating? Well for one, Martin Brodeur is quietly having one of his better postseasons in recent years. New Jersey's Game 3 overtime loss featured one of the best performances Brodeur has put on in his entire career, while Game 4 featured several spectacular saves, including one that could be on highlight reels for years to come. The other frustration is that Philadelphia has, in net, the immortally forgettable Brian Boucher, a man who has spent the past decade being a journeyman who, aside from one outrageously remarkable shutout streak while with Phoenix, has been thoroughly mediocre for most of his career.

And here he is making remarkable stop after remarkable stop. Of course, he hasn't had to make too many considering the Devils' offense hasn't felt like generating many chances. Perhaps what makes this all most bothersome is that I knew before the postseason began that of the Devils' first-round options, the Flyers were the one I was least interested in playing. And here we are.

Essentially, it feels like my clearly inferior nemesis is beating the shit out of me with the help of his prepubescent brother.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Replacing A Monument

Originally written March 23, 2010.

It’s a dirty not-so-secret of mine that despite my masochistic dedication to the New York Mets, my parents are both Yankees fans. It helps that their early lives took place when only one Major League Baseball team was in New York, but in the case of my mother, it helps even more when you grow up with Archie and Jughead in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. My father grew up in the Westchester town of White Plains, and while his grandfather was an enormous New York Giants fans – a picture of my father as a toddler in a black and orange uniform is reputed to exist somewhere – by my father’s 7th birthday there were no New York baseball Giants. With nowhere else to go, he held fast to the pinstripes, though it should be noted that for years after I was born he continued wearing his White Plains High School Class of ’69 T-Shirt, which prominently featured a pennant of the Miracle Mets.

I grew up in a different world. While my father occasionally humored me by pulling for the Amazins my mother made no such ambivalence over her loyalty. That is not to say she didn’t appreciate my fandom. She and I went to dozens of Mets games together over the years, but she made no illusions. She pulled for the Bombers. That was that.

Considering her love for the Yankees, something seemed appropriate about the New Yankee Stadium opening on her 55th birthday, but when I attempted to buy us a pair of tickets, the prices were so high even I couldn’t justify it. And then a plan was hatched. Rather than take my mother to Opening Day at the Stadium for her birthday for what would have been at least $500 for nosebleeds, it seemed a far better idea to get better seats for far cheaper to the second game for not just her and I, but the entire family, with a dinner in the Stadium’s steakhouse beforehand.

Because apparently new stadiums have those things.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Why I Love Baseball: Exhibit B

I try to make it a point to watch as many Mets games as I can during the year, which most seasons is a disastrous mistake. The jury is still out on whether or not 2010 will be as painful as some of its predecessors, but it's already provided plenty of interesting moments, and in all likelihood, the most interesting so far was yesterday in St. Louis.

I have seen some crazy baseball games in my life. But I'm not sure I've seen anything as crazy, wild, or absurdly enjoyable as the Mets' 2-1 win over the Cardinals yesterday in a 20-inning epic. In fact, I'm fairly sure I haven't since it was the longest game the Mets have played in my lifetime. But what makes early season epics like this one so much fun is not the triumph of victory so much as the amusing peculiarities that come about in the course of exhausting your bench, your bullpen and, yes your starting rotation.

To wit: Jerry Manuel used four fifths of his starting rotation in this game -- and only two of them as pitchers. While Johan Santana started and tossed seven magnificent shutout innings and Mike Pelfrey came on in the 20th for his first Major League save, John Maine appeared as a pinch runner in extra frames, while Jon Niese was a pinch-hitter. The game was so wild and crazy that by the time it ended no one seemed to remember that St. Louis starter Jaime Garcia actually was pitching a no-hitter at one point, having taken it into the sixth before the Mets finally got a base knock.

And the oddities don't end there. Here's a strange list of the peculiarities produced by the most fun game of the season as per ESPN, Mets.com and the Star Ledger.

Friday, April 16, 2010

1995 NFL Mail Bag: The Houston Oilers

I'm sure most of you are bleary-eyed after staying up last night to watch Mikael Samuelsson's overtime winner in Game 1 of the Canucks-Kings series. Surely, the Stanley Cup Playoffs has you all rapt at attention. But if I can manage to bring back your attention and wake you up a hair, I just might do it with my latest 1995 NFL Mail Bag installment, and frankly, it's been too long.

This week, I recall the curious case of the Houston Oilers, who sent me no letter, no order form and no offer to join their kids club. The Oilers only sent me a copy of their 1994 NFL Yearbook, without any explanation.

What follows in the yearbook, which has a picture of the immortal Ray Childress on the cover, is an interesting journey through memories that trend the bizarre, the comical and perhaps most of all, the disappointing. I say disappointing, and I specifically note that Childress is on the cover, because Childress is a native of the state of Tennessee, and if you glance in today's NFL standings, you'll notice the Houston Oilers are nowhere to be found.

Two short years after I got my mail from the Oilers, owner Bud Adams pulled up stakes and took his franchise to the Volunteer State, where they now play as the Tennessee Titans. Yes, I know, over the course of sports history, teams move for one reason or another, but it's somewhat distressing to see a team with history as rich, and a place so important as the Oilers leave town.

The Houston Oilers literally changed American professional football in 1960. With the NFL being a tight group unwilling to accept overtures from business men across the country who wished to enter an expansion franchise into the league, Adams and late Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt banded together with six other men, who would come to be known as "The Foolish Club", to create a rival known as the American Football League. While the AFL experienced some hiccups in the early going, and was considered a second tier operation in comparison to the NFL, success soon came that would dramatically alter the game.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

Some of you might remember a few years ago when ESPN produced commercials for college football Bowl Season, or "ESPN Capital One Bowl Week" as they call it, where the Worldwide Leader advertised its plethora of Bowl matchups to the strains of Andy Williams' "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year". These ads weren't all that annoying -- it's not a bad song -- but they were on all the time. If you so much as turned on your TV for four minutes of Sportscenter, you were bound to come across it, probably more than once.

There rub here comes in the fact that, well, Bowl Season isn't the most wonderful time on the year in the sports calendar. There are a number of sporting events that are far more exciting and intriguing, such as the NFL Playoffs, the MLB Playoffs, March Madness -- well, pretty much all of them really. Bowl season by comparison is utterly lame, and you can trace that to the fact that all but one of the 30-some games that are played are completely and utterly meaningless. And from the looks of it, that won't be changing any time soon, particularly with websites like these promoting a playoff.

No, the most wonderful time of the year on the sports calendar is actually in the spring time, and while I'm sure a number of you will tell me I'm being nepotistic or generally ridiculous, I really believe the most wonderful time of the year is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. For those of you who remember the excitement of watching the U.S. and Canada face off twice in the Winter Olympics earlier this year, that tournament was dramatic, exciting and gripping in all facets. Well, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are like that every night for two months. The change in tension and level of play from the regular season to the postseason is perhaps more dramatic than in any other North American sport with epic overtime moments dotting its historic landscape. Not to mention that the Stanley Cup Playoffs drive women crazy.

Oh yeah, and they start today.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Motown And The Matchup That Never Was

Originally written January 8, 2010.

I remember sitting in my college apartment during Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS. It was a fairly sizable apartment, number 2N at 2060 Ridge Avenue, near the corner of Ridge and Simpson. It had three very large bedrooms at a relatively reasonable distance from campus and a relatively reasonable price considering. There was ample street parking and a lot that was free on weekends right next door, not to mention a nifty little porch in the back alley where I would sit to study when the weather was nice.

Of course in Evanston, that was about four weeks out of the school year.

There was one problem with the living room, however, in that I’m fairly certain it was, well, slanted. It drifted towards one corner, which everyone noted when they came by. That debate, typically, was reserved for more light-hearted and drunken occasions of which, being that it was my senior year of college, there were many. But the night of Game 7, the lighthearted conversation was scarce.

The Mets were playing that night. After rallying to force Game 7, tonight was the night, at long last, I would see my Mets return to the World Series. They had gone six years earlier, when I was 15 years old, but I didn’t nearly appreciate the staggering difficulty of the feat. I spent most of my teenage years watching the Yankees win titles, and assumed, finally, it was the Mets turn to make a run.

That was foolish. After seeing them drop to the dregs of multiple 90-loss seasons in the early part of the decade, 2006 was an exciting blast of fresh air. That was a year when everything – absolutely everything – went right.

And then the NLCS came against St. Louis, and the bats went cold. All of them.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Changing Of The Guard in U.S.A. Hockey

The first hockey trading card I ever owned, was a 3-D hologram of Mike Modano taking a slapshot. The year was 1995 and Modano, on his way to becoming the most prolific American-born scorer of all time, was in his sixth season in the NHL at the time with the Dallas Stars (nee Minnesota North Stars). Modano, who has topped 500 goals and 1,300 points during a Hall of Fame career, is the rare breed of star who was prolific, the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft, a champion (Modano won the Stanley Cup with Dallas in 1999) and who spent his entire career with one franchise.

His wife isn't bad looking either.

I am not wanting for new reasons to feel old these days, but I got a new one this week when Modano and one night later Keith Tkachuk, both played their presumptive last games in front of their home crowds. Tkachuk, another one of the greatest American scorers of all time with both 500 goals and 1,000 points to his credit,wasn't fortunate enough to lift Stanley at any point in his 18 year career, but he was still one of the more dangerous and talented American players of his era.

In fact, Modano and Tkachuk were two of the pillars of the vanguard of American hockey. There was no 1980 Miracle on Ice moment for either of them, but the U.S. experienced some of its greatest success on the ice with Modano and Tkachuk in tow. Both were crucial parts of the 1996 World Cup of Hockey team which shocked Canada in the Championship round with two comeback wins in Montreal, as well as the Silver Medal squad from the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

This Just Might Be The Worst Marketing Idea Ever

Ok. Ok. .... Ok. For a while I have been considering writing an ode to what I consider the greatest sports-related commercial of all time, and others that I think are in the discussion, and while I have decided that I will bring them up, albeit later in this post, I came across, at work last night, a commercial that all of you will be bombarded with this coming weekend.

See, some of you might have heard that there's this golf tournament this weekend. I'm pretty unfamiliar, but apparently there's a lot of money and some green jackets involved. In any event, not only is there a golf tournament this weekend, but this Tiger Woods fellow is making his return to the tour after taking several months off to patch up family issues that resulted with his own personal infidelities. Now, I've touched on these topics and how I think some of -- or really all -- of the issues Tiger has to deal with are best left to him and his wife.

After all, these are his problems, and they are personal problems and they're nobody's business but his and Elin's. However, while I still believe the job of working out his marriage is not something the public needs to be involved in, despite Tiger's obviously manufactured and uninspired public campaign to help his image, the irrational passionate part of my brain wants to smack Tiger in the face after witnessing this.



This, and I don't think I'm speaking too irrationally here, might be the dumbest commercial in history.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Halftime Score Was What?

Yeah, that's right. The score at halftime of this year's NCAA Women's Basketball Championship Game was an absolutely riveting 20-12.

That's 32 points. Total. Between the two best teams in the country. In 20 minutes.

Now, I don't want to come off as some sort of misogynist. I'm actually quite to the contrary. I'm a strong proponent of gender equality and I find women who are domesticated, well, boring. I like the independent, challenging ones. I voted for Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama in the 2008 New Jersey Democratic Primary because I wanted my future daughters to feel as though they had no obstacles, and if one of them tells me she wants to be a cheerleader instead of a soccer player, well, there could be issues.

But I'm sorry. This game was every reason that people think women's basketball is boring in a nice tidy package. It was a nonstop feast of layups, missed layups, beneath the rim basketball and more layups. Also, the eventual winning team scored 12 points in the first half. They scored 12 points in the first half.

Twelve.

That, is, well, not a lot of points. Considering UConn, the mighty juggernaut of an absurd 78 straight wins and counting, averaged 81 points per game throughout this season, a 12-point first half is downright bizarre. Sure, there's the chance Stanford just played a flawless defensive game in the first half, but considering the Cardinal only managed to get 20 points, it seems more likely that for a sport that stresses its focus on fundamentals, the first half was fundamentally awful.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

What If Verbal Kint And Dave Kujan Just Died Of Brain Aneurysms?

Well if that happened we'd probably all be a bit frustrated because it would be just about the least satisfying ending to a great movie we could possibly imagine -- short of the two of them just hugging for a few minutes. No Keyser Soze, no Kobayashi, no Dean Keaton. The Usual Suspects is just a big fat dud at the end.

That would totally suck.

I bring this up because that's pretty much what we got last night with Duke's victory in the NCAA National Championship Game. Don't get me wrong. The game was phenomenal the whole way through, and Butler proved they belonged on the national stage, but after one of the greatest tournaments in recent memory, the team that wound up cutting down the nets was the one team that absolutely no one wanted to see win. And that leaves a profoundly unsatisfying taste in the mouths of just about everyone who doesn't live in Durham, North Carolina.

And it's quite a shame that we lost what could have been the most appropriate ending to such a wild month of basketball when Gordon Hayward heaved up a potential game-winner three-pointer from half court and it clanged off the rim at the buzzer. We were this close to getting what we wanted -- a moment in college basketball that would have been talked about and replayed for decades -- a small school in its home town knocking off mighty Duke University for the National Championship with a buzzer-beater.

Alas, it was not meant to be, and all we have to remember it by is an incredibly lame game story by whomever was writing it for the AP. He actually writes "What a game!" in the story. Good lord.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Tales From Prudential Center II

I know that hockey talk is a bizarre choice when I can be talking about Opening Day for my beloved Mets today, but it has occurred to me that if I simply post a chapter of my book every Monday, well, I'm likely to be tapped out of material within three years or so.

And we can't have that.

So I will try, on Mondays, as a bit of a temporary experiment, to write about other sporting experiences that won't necessarily make the book. Unless, of course, the Eagles and Redskins happen to make the most bizarre trade ever, in which case, I might get distracted. But that isn't happening today (though for the record I don't think either team wins the deal, but slight edge to Washington), so instead I'm going to regale with you my venture out to the Devils-Blackhawks game this past Friday night.

The peculiar thing about going to Devils games, is that the crowds are not always great. Perhaps this is skewed by the fact that my work schedule doesn't allow me many weekend nights off -- my Devils games often come on Tuesdays and Wednesdays when the crowds are sparse -- but this was a different case. By luck of the schedule I was given the night off, but as the Devils, my lifelong favorite team, were facing the Blackhawks, a team which I have had a soft sport for ever since I worked for them in college, I would have made it a point to be at this particular showdown.

Remarkably, a number of other New Jerseyans did the same thing. In fact, the crowd was not only large, but also vocal, and you could sense it as you walked in. People were gathered all around the outside of the arena, crowds were drinking and kids were playing hockey in a makeshift rink in the plaza next to Prudential Center. It was an unusual, but welcome sight for a Devils fan always wary of his fan base's meager reputation.

Once inside the arena, not only was the crowd a sea of red jerseys -- no not because there were also Hawks fans -- but the chants and cheers were loud and in unison. For possibly the first time since watching the team at Brendan Byrne Arena, I didn't just feel like I was at a hockey game. I felt like I was at a Devils game.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Your Completely Incorrect And Only Slightly Biased 2010 Baseball Preview

Sometimes when you're young, Opening Day seems like some far off beacon and you count down the days excitedly until it's here. Other times, you're so preoccupied with life that it kind of sneaks up on you, even though you've been reading stories and watching Spring Training games on TV almost daily. 2010, for me, is most certainly the latter. In fact, it didn't hit me until about three days ago that baseball season was pretty much here. Hockey, college basketball, Israel and life in general have all conspired to keep me in the dark, but after a few moments of contemplation I'm ready.

Maybe.

This is a peculiar season for me because, as a Mets fan, everyone seems to think disaster is going to strike and 81 wins is a pipe dream. A remarkable change in my mind considering this team, which was mostly injured all of last season, has a largely unchanged starting lineup from the one Sports Illustrated picked to win the 2009 World Series. This team reminds me an awful lot of the 2007 New York Giants, who, after a disappointing 2006 season in which they were expected to contend for a Super Bowl, naysayers had finishing 4-12 before they made a remarkable run to the third Super Bowl title in franchise history.

The 2010 Mets, in a sense, seem similar to me. Of course, I'm also a naive wide-eyed optimist. So view it for what you will. I acknowledge that the pitching after Johan Santana doesn't scare a baby, but John Niese showed promise before becoming the umpteenth Met to go down with an injury last year, John Maine and Mike Pelfrey have both shown flashes of being solid Major League pitchers and, who knows, maybe Oliver Perez finally puts it together.

Ok, that last one is a bit of a stretch.

But who knows? It could wind up better than we think. That's why they play the games. I caution you all with the knowledge that I am making my picks as I write this so there's a good chance it will seem ridiculous. And as I always say when I have to write these things, none of you are probably going to remember what I wrote in November anyway. Always the silver lining.

Off we go:

Friday, April 2, 2010

An Apology And A Dave Sighting

I'm sure the 10 of you out there that check this on some sort of vague basis are probably very upset that I'm not going to have my weekly 1995 NFL Mail Bag up today, but unfortunately, a change in day-long plans, which start pretty early on my watch, are forcing me to postpone it for a week.

I hope you can manage.

In the meantime, some of you who took a gander at NHL.com yesterday might have come across this gem of a story about Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz. Yeah, that's right. I got my first byline on a non-preview story, which kind of makes me feel like a real sportswriter for the first time since college. Maybe, just maybe my friends out there will take a read and realize that hockey is, you know, awesome.

And speaking of hockey, a friend of mine pointed me to this article yesterday, which notes that March of this year was the first month to not see a murder in the city of Newark, New Jersey since 1944. That's 66 years, which is quite a stretch. Clearly, Shaun Rodgers wasn't going all Rae Carruth at EWR like he could have, though that doesn't excuse him from the fact that bringing a loaded gun into an airport in your carry-on luggage is outrageously stupid.

What does this have to do with hockey? Well, there's never been a safer time to go see the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center in downtown Newark. And as I've had my share of not feeling safe in Newark, if now is the time, I'm certainly taking advantage tomorrow by attending the New Jersey Devils-Chicago Blackhawks game. As a life long Devils fan and a one-time intern for the Hawks, it should be a pretty special night.

Also, my seats are fucking awesome.

If you happen to be there, don't be afraid to come find me. Until then stay tuned for this weekend. I'm sure the Final Four and MLB Opening Day will provide no shortage of fodder for me to ramble on.

Happy Friday everyone.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Defecating Publicly On Persistence Of Memory

Yeah, I know. That's a pretty vulgar title, and certainly a number of you are displeased and perhaps confused as to why I'm making that the title to this entry. I rather enjoy the work of Salvador Dali and spent most of college with a poster of "Soft Watch At The Moment of First Explosion" over my desk, but ruining an artistic masterpiece in such a foul manner is pretty much the only way I can accurately describe what the NCAA is apparently planning to do. Reports came out yesterday that Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney believes an expansion of the NCAA Tournament to 96 teams is "probable".

The issue will not be determined until the NCAA board gathers to vote on the matter on April 29th, but the thought of altering what, to this point, has been possibly the most intrinsically perfect of American sporting events is wholly unpalatable to just about everyone who watches college basketball, with the exception of coaches and college presidents. And why would they bother expanding the tournament field from 65 to 96 teams? Well, you don't have to be an Ivy Leaguer to figure that one out.

Money. Duh.

This summer the NCAA has the option to opt out and renegotiate its television contract with CBS, and with 30 more games potentially on the docket, that contract becomes a whole lot more valuable. For the coaches perspective, being the skip for a lower-level college team that can now make the dance allows you to burnish your laurels a little more than an NIT berth would, and as for the big program coaches, soft first-round matchups lend the prestige of saying you've made it to the second or third round more often than you used to.

Of course, if these seem like particularly material or vain reasons to expand what is, theoretically, a purely scholastic event about the love of sport, that's because, well, it is. Now I'm not naive. I know this event stopped being about pure competition long ago. Now fortunately, the NCAA is unlikely to pull an Avery Brundage and continue to insist that Division I college sports are all about the love of the game when they clearly aren't. It acknowledges that the bottom line rules here.