Friday, December 31, 2010

NFL Picks Weeks Seventeen: In Which I Look Back on 2010

I'm not entirely sure how I did it, but after taking a few deep breaths and looking back, well, I'm not sure how I managed to come up with a nickname for each week of football picks that started with the phrase "In Which". Damn I'm good. It should be noted of course that this is one of the few that makes sense, and given that we're approximately 23 hours away from the dawn of 2011, well, it seems appropriate that I spent one last day checking out a brand new team I had never seen before. Granted, that this one team was the New York Islanders who don't play nearly as far from my home as most other new teams I've seen makes it less impressive, but if you understood the trials and tribulations that Debs Francisco and I undertook in our public transportation adventure to Uniondale, N.Y. and back, you'd understand why it was far more difficult than going to, say, Indianapolis.

Getting out to an Islanders game is, in fact, not even the least bit easy. Each leg of the trip from door to door took roughly two hours and 40 minutes and required going in the wrong direction at least once. Once there, however, Debs and I were not disappointed. Not only did we have fantastic seats, but, well, it was an awful lot of fun for a game I had no real vested interest in. While the Islanders won in a fourth-round shootout, with both goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Rick DiPietro standing on their heads the entire time, the real news of the night was that Sidney Crosby's 25-game scoring streak came to an end at long last. It's always fun to see a little bit of history.

I will say, however, the Islanders' postgame celebration was a bit much.

I've been told Nassau Coliseum is one of the more antiquated and awful arenas in all of sports, and I won't lie and tell you it isn't, but the atmosphere was tremendous last night, the setting intimate and fun, and the experience generally pretty enjoyable, even if the concourses felt like you were in a bowling alley from the 1970s. In many ways it felt like a Fenway Park for hockey, but without the charm. Many amusing things happened along the way and at some point I will have a full report ready for everyone, but for the time being, my trip to Nassau Coliseum, and my venture of the 37th different team I've seen in the flesh, is a nice capper to my year.

And what a year it was.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

On The Docket: An Impromptu Trip To Nassau Coliseum For Team No. 37

Ah, yes, Nassau Coliseum. The old barn. If by "old" you mean "completely decrepit and falling apart" and by "barn" you mean "only fit for livestock". Or so I've been told. I've actually had one or two people tell me the arena is a decent place to watch hockey, but I'm going to reserve judgment either way until later tonight when I make my first ever trip to see the New York Islanders and knock yet another team off that vaunted list of 122.

What's that? Shocked that I've never seen a sports team play at home when its home is in the same metropolitan area I've spent 21 years of my life in?

Well, so am I. In fact, I find it downright mindboggling that I've never actually made a trek to Uniondale to see the Isles ply their trade or check out their home building. A rational look back on it reveals the reasons are many: a) I'm a Devils fan, b) the Devils and Rangers are both closer to where I grew up and live currently, c) it is almost impossible to get to Nassau Coliseum on mass transit.

Once I decided to do this whole "see every team in the MLB, NHL, NBA and NFL" thing I knew the day of reckoning that forced a trip out to Long Island would come, but for some reason I just continued to push it further and further back -- though there have been a few near misses and close calls. If it's right there, the urgency to get moving seems to not be particularly pressing. But at long last I've decided to finally get off my rear with the help of an equally eager coworker, which will see us take the LIRR from Penn Station to Hempstead, NY, then a bus from the Hempstead Transit Station to the Coliseum -- this is after I've already taken a subway from my apartment to Penn Station. All in all, it's a tidy 90 minute trip on mass transit to get to a suburban hockey arena with little around.

But oh boy, am I excited.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

NFL Picks Week Sixteen: In Which I Forget Week Fifteen

Let me tell you all, I have had a doozy of a week so far and once you're done reading through that riveting Senators-Predators preview you're reading I'm going to tell you all about it. Ok, good. Yes, I know things could be worse, and in general life is fine, but some of you might have noticed that I didn't write for a whole week, and that is because when some awful, horrifying, unexpected, gut-wrenching things happen you are left speechless.

I am without speech. Still.

Sunday's colossal debacle against the Eagles, which saw the Giants go from likely No. 2 seed to playoff life support in a matter of seven and a half minutes is not something that I have yet been able to comprehend or grasp. In fact, I'm still not able to speak about it out loud with thoughts of anger and depression over what could have been. Granted, the Giants aren't exactly done. If they defeat the Packers this Sunday they'll have clinched a berth and will still have an outside chance of winning the No. 5 seed lottery to face whatever dung pile "wins" the NFC West, but should Big Blue not come through in Green Bay they'll need help on the final day of the season.

And ain't all that just a bit angst-inducing?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

NFL Picks Week Fifteen: In Which I Care About The Knicks Again

Holy shit.

After a decade of ambivalence towards a team that made mediocrity seem good, I actually care about the Knicks again. For those of you who haven't been paying attention, New York has won 13 of 14 games with their last being an impressive victory over the Nuggets Sunday afternoon. While another winning streak was halted last night in a heartbreaking last second loss to the Boston Celtics, there are a few things to notice here about this team. First of all, Amar'e Stoudemire is a monster in the front court, plain and simple. I was among the chorus of individuals who viewed him as a nice signing for the 'Bockers this offseason, but not one that could singlehandedly turn a franchise's fortunes around. His role was best as a second fiddle to someone like LeBron James, who shockingly landed elsewhere.

I was wrong.

Not only can Amar'e be "the guy", but he's thriving of late. Of course, second of all, for me to say he is the sole reason for the Knicks' recent good fortune would be shortsighted. Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton and Wilson Chandler have all played parts in the resurgence. Third of all, this game, even as a loss, proves the Knicks can play with the big boys. This wasn't a fluke, this wasn't random and it could be a harbinger of the team's return to relevance in a League in which New York has been an utter non-factor for the past decade. I have at times lamented both the Knicks' absurd mediocrity and my own youthful foolishness in choosing to root for them, but perhaps, at long last, that may no longer be the case.

Wednesday night's wild shootout with Boston was the second time the Garden rocked this week, and MSG hasn't had that kind of basketball excitement in it since the Knicks lost to San Antonio in the 1999 NBA Finals, or maybe even since the days of Patrick Ewing and John Starks. Now things are different and even the opposition, in this case Paul Pierce, recognizes it. After the game last night Pierce noted, "The Knicks have arrived."

So, in the midst of all this excitement, I bring to the table a curiousity wholly related to the sudden rise of Mike D'Antoni's boys.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Good Thing I Didn't Buy That Ticket To Minnesota

At the beginning of every NFL season I take a look at the schedule to see what trips I might be interested in taking around the country. Because the Giants only visit teams in the AFC once every eight years, those, clearly, are at a premium. Look no further than last season's trip to Kansas City, this season's trip to Indianapolis or next year's planned jaunt to New England for evidence of that. NFC trips I still like to make, but there is far less urgency, and it might be for that reason that I opted not to go to Minnesota this season for the Giants' Week 14 showdown with the Vikings.

Given that I have a good friend at the University of Minnesota and I have a soft spot for the upper midwest, it was certainly a consideration, but boy am I lucky I opted to pass on that trip this year. For those of you who haven't seen, a blizzard hammered Minneapolis this weekend, which despite the Giants' best efforts to beat the snow to the punch -- they left 3.5 hours earlier than scheduled -- the weather was so bad New York was actually diverted to Kansas City for the night. There were serious concerns Saturday night over the fairness of holding a noon CT game Sunday afternoon that would require the Giants to leave Kansas City at 7 a.m. for a game five hours later, and while the Vikings pushed for the game to stay on schedule -- with the inherent competitive advantage, who could blame them -- the logistical nightmare of mobilizing an entire football team at such short notice finally pushed the NFL to postpone the game until tonight, still to be played at the Metrodome.

At this point, with Monday and Tuesday off from work at ticket prices dropping precipitously in Minneapolis due to the scheduling change, I once again began looking up plane flights, and very nearly purchased one that, because it was cheap, was nonrefundable.

Good thing I chose to wait a few hours. While most of us were sleeping, God intervened.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

NFL Picks Week Fourteen: In Which I Talk About John Lennon

Unless you decided to spend your free time under a rock yesterday, you probably heard that it was the 30th anniversary of John Lennon being shot to death outside the Dakota apartment building in New York City by an awfully disturbed individual named Mark David Chapman. Now, I'm pretty quick to point out that my favorite band of all time is The Beatles, without a doubt, and while I actually enjoy George Harrison's solo work the best of the Fab Four, Lennon's individual oeuvre is still fantastic, and his musical genius is clearly evident throughout The Beatles' musical arc.

I try not to be a sap on too regular a basis, but I spent most of yesterday listening to Lennon's later work -- Imagine, Double Fantasy, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band -- on a loop for most of the afternoon because, well, if you watched ESPN for four minutes at any given time yesterday you were reminded that Lennon's death was first announced to the world by Howard Cosell during a Patriots-Dolphins game on Monday Night Football. ESPN put on a fairly interesting piece, which, bizarrely, didn't mention that New England's kicker that night, who was preparing for a game-winning kick as the news was announced, was the only Englishman in the game at the time. A written version of the story takes a much larger focus on Smith.

The most interesting thing for me about this entire thing is that the piece shows behind the scenes footage of Cosell debating with Frank Gifford on whether or not to reveal the news. In retrospect, I have difficulty finding it appropriate to announce the murder of a cultural icon during the midst of a football game, to say nothing of the bombastic tone of Cosell's voice at all times, but it's a fascinating moment both because of the news being announced and because of the remarkable contrast with today's media circuit. With the immediacy of 24-Hour News channels, the internet and, maybe most importantly, twitter, that kind of information would never be kept under wraps before falling in the lap of a sports announcer, regardless of how famous he is.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

My Channukah Gift To All Of You

Some of you might remember the original purpose for this blog, and if you don't, well, that certainly seems reasonable. For those of you who don't, the original plan was to make this a forum for me to occasionally discuss sports while mostly keeping track of my travels as I seek out all the various and exciting sporting events this country has available at its professional ranks. Lately, however, it hasn't really been doing much of the latter, which, clearly is my fault.

In fact, the last time I posted a story about my trips -- aside from last month's visit to the Northwestern-Illinois game at Wrigley, was July 11th. Oops. I suppose I should post one of these more often than once every five months. After all, the idea, originally, was to do it every week. But that might have been shooting a little high.

Either way, I know you've all been experiencing a life that is, in general, severely lacking without these stories, so I've come to cure your ills. And while this story is still pretty rough, distended and doesn't quite come full circle in the conclusion like I'd like it to, but it is a totally awesome stadium, a vaguely interesting, and given that we're currently in the middle of the annual Jewish festival of lights, and that this story is excerpted from a chapter that is supposed to deal with my Judaism, it seemed reasonably prescient for you all to see at this time of year.

And so, without any further ado, I present to you my long, distended, and unlikely-to-be-read-in-its-entirety-by-anyone story of my trip earlier this year to see the Giants get absolutely waxed by the Indianapolis Colts.

Originally written September 28, 2010.

It was on a bus in a rest stop just outside the southern Israeli City of Eilat that Brian Garfinkel said something that let me know I wasn’t alone in my own insanity.

“I heard it through the grapevine that you have a short-term plan to see all the professional sports teams,” he said.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

NFL Picks Week Thirteen: In Which We Learn Oil Money Can Buy ANYTHING

One of the great things about this summer's 2010 FIFA World Cup was not just the inspiring and then heartbreaking performance of the U.S. team, but that it was an event uniting a continent and a nation with a history of racial and social tensions so profound, that putting on such a successful show for the world was an accomplishment in and of itself. While South Africa is now experiencing some issues filling its World Cup venues, the tournament itself was a tremendous and uplifting event for any fan of the beautiful game.

So with the decisions to be made for 2018 and 2022 today, it's good to see that FIFA had absolutely no interest whatsoever in maintaining that inspiring storyline. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that my personal preferences for each event -- that would be England in 2018 and the United States in 2022 -- would have had the same uplifting social impact that the Cup in South Africa did, but at least England is a nation with a soccer history as rich as any could be, as well as one that would be 52 years removed from its last turn as host by the time 2018 rolled around. In the case of the U.S., people can bash soccer fandom in this country all they want, but the blunt fact remains that the United States is still a vibrant, growing melting pot of numerous international cultures that all put a dramatic importance on the game. Include the fact that by 2022, the increasing Hispanic population will no doubt be a potent force in U.S. society, and that for the 2010 World Cup more tickets were bought by Americans than any other nationality, well, the U.S. seems like a pretty reasonable place to bring the World Cup back to.

Instead, however, the 2018 World Cup and the 2022 World Cup will be played in Russia and Qatar, respectively, proving once and for all that you just can't beat oil money. Now, I don't want to come off as bitter here, nor do I want to appear ignorant of the nation Qatar, which, yes, I did know existed, if for no other reason than because Northwestern has a campus there. But, regardless, there's no way around the fact that these are two countries feeding off petroleum, a source of energy the world is supposed to be weening itself off of, and the fact that either nation would otherwise be an unlikely candidate makes it seem almost obvious that some foul play might have been involved. To any impartial observer -- though I admit, I'm not one -- there are a number of concerns and questions to be asked. After all, Qatar is a country of less people than nearly every U.S. state and it happens to be smaller in size than Connecticut. In fact, only Delaware and Rhode Island have it beat on the minimization scale.