Wednesday, November 24, 2010

NFL Picks Week Twelve: In Which I Eat Turkey

Last year I discovered something magical, which is that I absolutely, positively, completely, entirely, 100 % hate when the Giants play on Thanksgiving. Now, I love watching the Giants play, so why would I not want to combine that with what is, easily, my absolutely favorite holiday?

Well, last year, I learned the reason was pretty simple.

The Giants played in the final matchup of the NFL's annual Turkey Day triple-header with a visit to Denver against the Broncos. What resulted is that Big Blue, in the midst of the playoff race, laid an absolutely massive egg at Invesco Field, accelerating the downfall of a once promising season that started 5-0 and ended 8-8.

And perhaps worst of all: it ruined my fucking day.

Thanksgiving, you see, for me is an amazing 24 hours. You have very few requirements for Thanksgiving and they're almost all related to sitting on a couch, eating and watching football. What the hell else could be better? Now, I will admit, of the various types of meat or fowl available, turkey is hardly my favorite. Unless it's cooked by someone exceptionally talented, there is a tendency for the bird to wind up dry and unsatisfying, but fortunately, there are newer, more exciting remedies for that if the usual pooling of gravy doesn't do the job.

But by and large the combination of food, family, friends and football all seem to add up to the absolute greatest holiday an American can experience, and I generally love every minute of it. Last year, however, Big Blue's embarrassing display took my favorite day of the year and soured it to almost absurd lengths. No food, family, friend or other football game could have made that fun. And so this season, when the schedule came out and I saw that the Giants were nowhere to be found on the third Thursday of November I was as relieved as can be.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

An Overdue Wrigley Wrecap

Surely, y'all noticed that I mentioned on more than one occasion that this past weekend I headed out to Chicago for the first time in three years to catch Northwestern lay a big, fat second-half egg against Illinois at Wrigley Field. The fact that the Wildcats rallied from a rather surprising early 14-point deficit only to turn belly-up after the long break notwithstading, the whole experience was pretty tremendous and unique for a whole host of reasons. Also, the trip had some pretty amusing moments. As a result, I'm here to give you a way-too-long recap of the festivities from start to finish in that discursive way you've all come to expect from me.

Here. We. Go.

I had been looking forward to this trip for several reasons, most notably because I have an awfully large soft spot in my heart for the Windy City and it had been far too long since I had been there -- nearly since I graduated from Northwestern, in fact. To boot, I'd be seeing several good friends in a massive defacto reunion, and the chance to see my college football team play in one of the most legendary venues in American sports only added to the excitement.

The night before jumping my 9 a.m. flight to Chicago, however, I was stuck at work past 1 a.m., which meant I'd be getting very little sleep before booking it to the midwest. This was mitigated by the fact that part of my late stay at the office was the result of some very exciting and potentially life-altering career news. I found 18 hours later that a few of my friends wanted to congratulate me by bringing some balloons by the office, which they then realized would go for naught as I was in the Norris Student Center Bookstore in Evanston, IL at the time. Either way, it was clear by the time I arrived at Laguardia that I was going to be extremely tired and in need of a nap on the plane.

So it's just my luck that I was sitting in front of a loud five-year-old who had a delightful habit of kicking the back of my chair.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

NFL Picks Week Eleven: In Which I Go Back to Chicago

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, this weekend I will be making my first visit to Chicago in more than three years, which, to put it mildly, is far too long. New York is my home and the greatest city in the world, but my four years in Evanston, Illinois and in close proximity of the City of Broad Shoulders will always give Chicago a fond place in my heart. This week it will likely cost me the chance to see most of this weekend's NFL action -- though don't worry, my flight lands in time for me to comfortable catch kickoff of Giants-Eagles --but it's a worthwhile endeavor.

And why, you ask?

Well, as you can see the marquee on Chicago's Wrigley Field was painstakingly painted Northwestern Purple for this Saturday's Northwestern-Illinois game, which will be the first college football game played in the friendly confines in more than 70 years. Squeezing a regulation football field inside has proved something of a challenge, and in some cases, like the distance from the end of the east end zone to the right field bleachers, it is almost laughable as to how tight the game will be played. Since the last college and professional football games were played in Wrigley club seats have been added to the field level which have squeezed the area a bit. The orientation Northwestern seems to be going with is a bit odd considering that the field ran north to south when the Bears played in Wrigley, rather than west to east. Looking at artists' renditions, however, it seems clear officials anticipated this considering they didn't bother drawing uprights in the east end zone in their early depictions.

Clearly it was much easier to build a hockey rink there, even if they had to come up with ice.

Either way, the field is finally starting to come into shape and I can't help but be outlandishly excited about it. Or at least buy all the crap merchandise that's being churned out for the occasion. Personally, I opted not for the ephemeral, but for the eminently reusable Northwestern football jersey. I chose Dan Persa even though I know he will be out with a torn achilles after spearheading last week's stunning upset of No. 13 Iowa, but he'll be back in full force next season to lead NU to its inevitable 2011 BCS National Championship. It's totally gonna happen. Just wait for it.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Redemption Song

Sports are funny things sometimes. As a sportswriter -- either real or wannabe, depending on how you look at it -- I know one of the key things you're always looking for is a common theme or the best story, which typically means trying to determine what player has shamed himself and must do what he can to pull him from the depths. Rarely does it happen quite so quickly though. This week, however, Ilya Kovalchuk managed to do just that. Of course, it's a bit far out for us to readily assume this will change what has been a bitterly disappointing season for the New Jersey Devils, but their high-priced winger may have finally tallied the big goal fans and ownership alike have been waiting for.

And it may have come at just the right time for everyone.

For those who watch hockey, it was hard to escape notice of Kovalchuk's flubbed shootout goal, which capped a loss against Buffalo earlier this week. The video played all over major hockey news stations like TSN and CBC, was a fixture on Sportscenter for the proceeding 48 hours and inspired me to go through every painful loss I've endured as a sports fan.

But Kovalchuk is too good to stay down for long. Now his track record is yet to prove that he's the type of player who can shine in those big moments or carry his team to the playoffs, but his goal-scoring talent is too obvious to deny to any hockey viewer worth their salt. But in a season like this one for New Jersey, that flubbed shot seemed less a one-time error than a symbol all this season has been.

For me personally, I've started to react to the Devils in a way I had only reserved for Mets teams of the late 2000s, and so when I checked my phone Friday to see New Jersey was down 2-0 early against equally as mediocre Edmonton -- I was occupied most of the early evening -- I simply had the feeling of bemused resignation.

Friday, November 12, 2010

NFL Picks Week Ten: In Which I Forget About Thursdays

Boy those NFL Thursday night games sure do throw a wrench into things, don't they? When the NFL decided to inexplicably begin its Thursday Night Football slate two weeks before Thanksgiving, when one traditionally begins to associate Thursdays with football, the League may not have accounted for the frustrating lapses in setting fantasy football lineups and, er, weekend football picks.

And so, when everyone realized the Falcons were playing the Ravens last night about 90 minutes before kickoff, it set off a furious mad scramble around the world to make sure all the appropriate lineups were set and bye weeks had been avoided. In the case of one NFL beat writer I know, the thought of making sure Matt Ryan was starting in place of the bye-week bound Philip Rivers completely slipped their mind. And such is the nature of those newfangled Thursday games.

Yes, those of us who watched were treated to one of the most tremendous games we'd see all year, as the Ravens managed an impressive fourth-quarter comeback only to see it unravel on a stellar final minute drive that was called by Ryan's touchdown pass to Roddy White, but because it was Thursday, and with a stunningly small amount of pregame fanfare, most of us didn't notice and the whole thing felt somewhat artificial.

But at least the Falcons were wearing those totally sweet throwback uniforms. Even if they weren't their sweetest throwback uniforms being displayed here by wrestling superstar Goldberg during his brief NFL career.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sometimes You Just Want To Hit Your Head

Friends, enemies, acquaintances, I am no stranger to heartbreak. Both in real life and as a sports fan I have taken my fair share of difficult metaphorical stomach punches -- though fortunately far more in the sports department. Over the years just about all of my teams have had at least one utterly frustrating, deflating brutal defeat that has thrown me into emotional disrepair. To wit:

The Mets -- This team is a special breed with numerous tough losses to swallow since I started paying diligent attention, but the Kenny Rogers Ball Four in Game 6 of the 1999 NLCS, Armando Benitez's inability to strike out Paul O'Neill in Game 1 of the 2000 World Series, the final games of the 2007 and 2008 regular seasons and Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS all bring a special kind of pain with them.

The Giants -- At long last in February 2008, I was rewarded with the greatest upset in football history, but prior to that, a tough beating in Super Bowl XXXV, an almost absurd Trey Junkin-capped collapse in the 2002 postseason against San Francisco, Jay Feely's three missed field goals in Seattle in 2005 and the blown 21-point lead in 10 minutes at Tennessee in 2006 had left me wondering if glory would ever come.

The Devils -- Even a team with 16 consecutive playoff appearances and three Stanley Cups has had its share of tough setbacks, with Game 7 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals and Game 7 of the 2001 Stanley Cup Final chief among them. Oh yeah, and this gut punch which I still wince while watching.

The Knicks -- The entire decade of the 2000s. Isiah Thomas.

Northwestern -- This season alone has been a bitter pill with a blown 21-point lead to Penn State just last week to go with collapses at home against No. 7 Michigan State and a broken, battered Purdue team. But just for good measure, let's throw Michigan State's 35-point comeback in 2006, last year's Outback Bowl and the 2008 Alamo Bowl in there for good measure. And don't forget that Northwestern is the only school in the BCS conferences to never make the NCAA Tournament.

Hell, even Southampton FC, with its Inigo Idiakez botched PK against Derby County in 2007's flirtation with Premier League Promotion, and Geelong FC, with this year's painful Qualifying Final loss to St. Kilda and the departing of Gary Ablett have gotten in on the act.

But given all of that pain, what happened to the New Jersey Devils and Ilya Kovalchuk last night was something else entirely.

Friday, November 5, 2010

NFL Picks Week Nine: In Which I Look Toward The Future

It's probably a little too soon to be talking about this already -- the trip isn't for two more weeks -- but the bye week and a flurry of bad news related to my Devils periodically causes the mind to wander. Fortunately, the Giants return to action this weekend against Seattle so I won't have to wander much longer, but I couldn't help but get jazzed upon seeing the photo to the right.

Yeah, you're seeing that right. That's Northwestern's home gridiron painted in the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field in Chicago. For those of you who aren't aware, on November 20 the Wildcats will be leaving their regular home of Ryan Field (nee Dyche Stadium) for the mecca of National League baseball when they take on Illinois. It will be the first college football game played at Wrigley in nearly 72 years and the first football game of any type since the Bears left for Soldier Field in 1971.

The novel setting, the joy of watching my alma mater in person and the excitement of returning to Chicago for the first time in three years all add up to an awfully pleasant distraction from what has been a two weeks in sports ranging from boring to depressing -- though I guess the Knicks' 2-2 start is mild cause for excitement. Beyond the anticipation of the Wrigley game, however, the biggest cause for excitement for me has been Southampton's race back up to the promotion zone of League One, which I'm sure you've all been paying attention to.

Oh, and the Giants won the World Series, which I guess is pretty cool considering it ended one of the more underrated title droughts in baseball history. The best part about it for me, however, was getting an e-mail from a friend in Australia congratulating me when she didn't realize that the San Francisco Giants are not the New York Giants. Really, it's a pretty honest mistake, and considering she was the absolute first person to congratulate me when the Giants actually did win the Super Bowl three years ago, I'd say she's earned a lifetime of sports-centric passes.

Monday, November 1, 2010

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

This morning I think it's easily apparent that I made one of the funniest mistakes of my life earlier this fall. What was that, you say? Well a cursory glimpse at the my NFL season preview details this amusing and noteworthy prediction:

"NFC East

1. Dallas - DID YOU HEAR THE COWBOYS MIGHT PLAY IN THE SUPER BOWL IN THEIR HOME STADIUM OHMYGOD. 11-5."

So there you go. With the season yet to begin I, like, many thought that the Dallas Cowboys' combination of proven talent and chips on various shoulders would propel them to a division title -- to say nothing of the excitement that could come with being the first team to play in a Super Bowl on its home field.

But I did think Wade Philips' overly lax, player friendly style would lead to a lack of discipline that cost Dallas in its Super Bowl quest. I didn't, however, think it would cost them seven games into the season, but after yesterday's utterly hilarious 35-17 loss at home to the Jacksonville Jaguars that is exactly what has happened.

And hot damn I couldn't be happier.

Dallas' near absurd tumble into sub-mediocrity is almost so ridiculous -- the team is clearly better than 1-6 would indicate -- and so unexpected -- Tony Romo's injury could never have been predicted -- that if you happen to like, well, any other team in football, you can't help but feel giddy over the catastrophe in Big D.

Fucking giddy.