Friday, September 30, 2011

NFL Picks Week Four: I'm Oh So Excited For The Football Down Under

I have spent much of the last 48 hours trying to come to grips with the fact at 10 p.m. Wednesday night I resigned myself to Boston and Atlanta's postseason future and wound up missing, arguably, the single most exciting, dramatic night baseball has ever seen. For someone who utterly loves baseball, this is a tough pill to swallow. I've managed to survive somehow and I attribute this to a few factors.

A) Fortunately, as exciting as this was, it wasn't the World Series. So at least I didn't miss out on seeing the final champion-crowning moment, something I prize each season.

B) Northwestern is back this weekend, with a little something extra, against No. 1 rival Illinois, which I will watch as part of a football-palooza with Wisconsin-Nebraska Saturday night.

C) I'm still pretty jazzed by the Giants' win over the Eagles on Sunday, and excited for their game in Arizona on Sunday.

D) Perhaps most importantly, there's one more football game Friday night, well Saturday morning technically, that I'm more than a wee bit excited for even if none of you care.

Yeah, that's right, kids. A mere 14 time zones ahead of New York City, the Geelong Cats and the Collingwood Magpies are about to go head to head in the 2011 AFL Grand Final, the championship match of Australian Rules Football. Now, my adoration developed over the past three years for Aussie Rules Football is well documented here, as is my particular affection for Geelong FC. But since I started this blog in January of 2010, a mere 20 months or so ago, Geelong has endured an almost unbearable championship drought. I say unbearable only because I'm in my infancy with the game and I may need a championship inspiration to keep my interest.

Then again, knowing that I kept up with Southampton FC for the past decade despite a financial collapse and not one, but two relegations, perhaps I'm stronger than I think.

Regardless, Geelong is taking on the defending-champion Pies in search of their third premiership in five seasons, and I can't wait to get the party underway. The Cats are coming off of a fairly impressive win in the Preliminary Final last weekend against West Coast, and seemed primed to take it to Collingwood tonight, a team that lost just twice this season.

Both of those losses, however, came against Geelong.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Best Playoff Race I'm Not Paying Attention To

Last night a friend was talking to me online and hanging on every pitch of the Red Sox game against the Orioles, with great anxiety and discomfort. When this happened an odd feeling struck me as I, as a Mets fan, haven't felt this feeling in three seasons, and I miss it. There has been nothing whatsoever meaningful about the Mets after August 15th since Shea Stadium existed and as a result, I have had a tendency to be largely checked out of baseball by the time September 30th rolls around. That doesn't mean I don't pay some attention. I check the scores and watch the postseason enthusiastically every fall, but I have probably only watched two Mets games in the past six weeks and as a result had almost no idea until 48 hours ago that two things were happening. Given how much I love baseball this might be the second most unbelievable conclusion I've come to this week.

A) The Braves and Cardinals and the Rays and Red Sox are wrapped up in two of the wildest postseason races in modern baseball history.

B) Today is the last day of the regular season. On a Wednesday. Huh?

The peculiarity of baseball's regular season ending in the middle of a week as opposed to its traditional Sunday end date is a query for another time, but this all means that tonight we're going to be set for an absolutely crazy night of baseball score watching which I will probably miss out on because I'm going to be eating apples and honey instead. But still this is a fun, fun experience that I'm pretty much stunned I haven't been paying close attention to.

For what it's worth the Red Sox' collapse should, it come all the way through, could be on par with some of the greatest collapses in baseball history, a pain that my friend Katie informed I could not possible understand last night before I pointed out that I have experienced exactly that. Twice. Still, it's worth noting that the Sox, apparently, have been some 7 games or so worse this September than the Mets were in 2007, an almost unthinkable feat, while the Rays have managed to blaze through the AL East this month and tie the Sawx going into the final day. It'd be an amazing feat in and of itself, but is doubled in remarkability by the fact that the Cardinals are doing the exact same thing in the NL with one game to play.

The Mets, meanwhile, have other plans.

Friday, September 23, 2011

NFL Picks Week Three: See, Marlins? This Is How You Fucking Do It

Surely five or six of you read my long screed yesterday about the disastrous new Marlins logo that was leaked this week. It is with cognizance of that catastrophe that we get a breath of fresh air as another leaked logo came out today that is about as brilliant a recognition of a team's roots as the Marlins switch isn't. This morning it got out that the Toronto Blue Jays, who have struggled over the past decade or so with forging a brand identity (just look at all the different word marks), are going to be returning to a slightly modified version of their classic pre-1997 logo. It hasn't yet been announced what the uniforms will look like -- or even that this is in fact the new logo, though there are strong indications that it is -- but with a return to this slightly more stylized version of the Jays' old logo, one would have to assume that some variation on their early 1990s home unis and maybe the 1980s powder blue road unis that were brought back as alternates a few seasons ago might be in the mix.

Unlike our friends in Florida, who, really, can never seem to get anything important right anyway, this is a tremendous job by the Jays to bring back a logo that is not only aesthetically pleasing and universally loved, but also brings with it the weight of history and accomplishment as it presided over Toronto's two World Series Championships in the early 1990s. This is how it's supposed to be done.

On a side note, Joe Carter's walk-off home run to win the 1993 World Series, since you were wondering, is the earliest baseball moment that I vividly remember watching.

A return to this logo just might be the most exciting thing to happen in the Rogers Centre (nee SkyDome) since Carter touched 'em all, although there have been some other highlights like Jose Bautista's power stroke, Roger Clemens' Cy Young seasons or the numerous times some couple "accidentally" had sex in the outfield hotel without realizing they could be seen inflagrante delicto by about 55,000 people, which are artfully recounted, along with whether or not the Jays actually won the game, here.

This is phenomenal news on the whole and it brings with it even more phenomenal news in that we're almost at the weekend, and that means what? Yeah. Football. Now, granted, this Saturday's college bonanza will be less exciting for me than usual, because a) I'll be working and b) Northwestern has its bye this week. Now that could be good news considering it gives an extra week of rest before what appears to, at long last, be the impending return of quarterback Dan Persa, but it also allows Northwestern to stew for a bit and think about what it did last weekend when my highly anticipated Sailgate to West Point went, uh, not as planned.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dear God, the Marlins Can't Possibly Be Serious Can They?

Now don't get me wrong. I enjoy the exploits of Crockett and Tubbs as much as the next guy, and I'm sure those delightful pastels were really in in Miami when it was 1983, but I don't think I'm alone in thinking the Florida -- soon to be Miami -- Marlins may have overreached a wee bit when they developed the new logo that was leaked this week. The Marlins have been fairly mum on whether or not the logo is real and all will be answered in about six weeks when the team unveils its new branding strategy on Nov. 11 in preparation for the franchise's move into its new baseball only facility next season. I can understand wanting to make a bruhaha over the whole thing. After all, a new ballpark means a new era, and considering the Marlins' usually quite tepid attendance they really can't be faulted for wanting to rebrand the organization and start anew.

But let's look at a few things. Firstly, let's look at that new logo. You may say that the first thing you notice is the new color scheme or the interesting use of perspective in its color shading or the subtle marlin-esque shape emanating from the top left. But really, the first thing you're likely to notice, above all else, is that it is terrible. Like, seriously. It's really really bad, and if you glance at the official logo for the new ballpark, which has the same blue, orange and yellow, it seems fairly clear that the new Marlins logo is probably real because of the cross-branding opportunity.

Here's the next thing. The current Marlins logo, is actually, one of the better ones in Major League Baseball in my opinion -- at least among teams that came into existence in the last 30 years. It gets the point across, it's not overly complex, the colors make sense for a franchise named after a fish in southern Florida, and the marlin itself actually looks pretty dignified. Even the word mark is solid. There's no reason to dramatically change any of this. Logic would seem to dictate that the only thing you'd really need to do is replace the F with an M, kind of like this. See? Problem solved. The uniforms themselves are also pretty solid, considering the color scheme and the eloquent design.

Lastly, however, and most importantly, while there have been minor tweaks, like the addition of black as a major accent or even dominant color in the early 2000s, the uniforms have been relatively unchanged in the franchise's existence. And this is worth noting because in the franchise's existence the Marlins have won two fucking World Series Championships. The owners may think a rebranding is necessary to signify the new ballpark, but your old uniforms have history to them. If you have a history of winning in a certain design, you don't make changes, or at least not ones this drastic. See the Yankees, Red Sox or Cardinals if you need any clarification.

Friday, September 16, 2011

NFL Picks Week Two: Set An Open Course For The Virgin Seas

That's right people. I'm breaking out my finest Styx album (That's Edge of the Century, in case you're wondering) to tell you that this weekend, or more specifically, tomorrow, I am sailing away. (Get it?). Of course, I'm not sailing away along the river Styx nor am I going to be gone for any extended period of time -- it's only about 14 hours that I'll be gone and only about six of them will be set at sea, but I will be sailing. And tailgating.

One might just say that I'll be sailgating. Anchors aweigh.

For the two of you who read this that don't really see what I'm getting at, I will spell it out pretty clearly. I will be part of a four-boat, 600-person armada that is drunkenly sailing up the Hudson River tomorrow morning as we go to see our beloved Northwestern Wildcats meet the Black Knights of Army. This isn't part of the professional sports team journey that this blog is supposed to chronicle -- and really doesn't -- but it's one of the trips I have been most excited for, well, probably ever. In fact, the only thing I can think of that comes close in excitement and novelty for me is probably last November's trip to see the Wildcats at Wrigley Field in Chicago, which had a multitude of exciting aspects.

This one is a little different, it's really just a brief day trip, but the sheer novelty of it all, a floating tailgate up the hudson to see a game at what is supposed to be one of the most beautiful settings in college football -- that would be Michie Stadium -- is just too cool not to be excited about. Wouldn't you be? I'm pretty pumped up, even if I am about as sour on college athletics as can be after reading this masterpiece of investigative sports journalism, but it's going to be fun, damnitt. It might just be the second greatest thing I've heard of in the past few months, (or the third), and for that I can thank the wise people over at Lake The Posts for putting the whole thing together.

I'm going to bring a camera along with several cases of beer to make sure I have some rational way to document this whole thing -- my memories may get hazy after a while -- but out of respect for our armed forces I'll probably try to maintain a stable sense of decorum between when we arrive and when the cadets march in three hours later. It should be a grand time had by all and I'll try my best to document and report the goings on to you next week, as well as more details about the Wildcats (hopefully) 3-0 start even without starting quarterback and Heisman hopeful Dan Persa, who still hasn't been announced as able to play on Saturday. Of course, in the non-conference schedule, why risk it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wait, They Were Still Technically In The Race?

I know what you're thinking. I was shocked, too. Yesterday afternoon I received what would otherwise have been the potentially devastating news that the 2011 New York Mets were officially eliminated from playoff contention.

It's ok. We know it hurts. Let it out.

Ok, I'm good. And actually, like most of the human race, I had no idea that the Mets technically could still have made the playoffs. Of course, we have to use the term "technically" pretty prominently here, considering making the postseason would have required the Mets to run the table for the rest of September, and for the Braves and about five other teams to lose out, which -- and I'm not doctor -- probably isn't going to happen. Just a guess.

And so we write the final chapter of a year that started with so much promise and so many possibilities. So much promise, in fact, that at the time of its beginning I actually forgot pitchers and catchers had reported that week. Yes, it was an ambivalent six months or so in Flushing this season, and right on cue the Mets celebrated their early offseason with their fifth-straight loss, a 2-0 whuppin' from the world beaters that are the Washington Nationals, and the news that the best person the pitching staff, for obvious reasons now that any chance of a playoff berth has been snuffed out, will go the entire year without stepping on the mound at Citi Field.

This is all a pretty tragic development considering there was so much uplift Tuesday when the Mets hosted Star Wars night at Citi Field, a tremendous display of cancer-fighting nerdery. That the good vibes coming from wookies and storm troopers traipsing around the stadium should be sullied by the Amazins' tremendous ineptitude is a shame for everyone who lovingly wears the blue and orange. On the plus side, we can get cheered up slightly by the fact that Dr. Sean McNamara was walking around the field for some reason before the game. I imagine he was there to help the Mets players change their appearances in case they were too embarrassed to be seen with the uniform on.

But even in this torrent of the Mets letting down their fans, Dr. McNamara and George Lucas in one week is the optimism that comes with a new season, and almost like clock in hopes of distracting dismayed Mets fans from the fact that one season had just ended, Major League Baseball released its preliminary 2012 schedule yesterday morning in a flurry of team-specific e-mails which, as someone who has bought tickets from multiple teams I got about six of them. Of course I was only interested in one of them, and if there's one great way to stop thinking about the 2011 season, the first on in years in which I didn't see the Mets somewhere on the road, it's figuring out how to get back on the horse and see what city I want to follow them to in 2012.

So, people, where am I going?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Week One: Yes, Virginia, There Is A Season

Unless you live under a rock, you're well aware that there was way too much angst this season about a lockout canceling the NFL season. When I say too much angst, I don't mean because angst would be an inappropriate response. To be sure, angst, is a mild way of putting how the sports world would react if the NFL season were actually imperiled, but to any rational, thinking person, there was never really a chance that this would happen. The differences in CBA negotiation were not big enough to warrant it, and there was simply too much money to be lost if the sides didn't make an agreement.

I haven't read the agreement yet, nor will I, truth be told, but I'm fairly certain there's a clause in it to prevent the kinds of uniforms Boise State, Georgia and (holy crap on a stick) Maryland wore this weekend. Now, Boise State's giant Bronco helmet logo actually isn't half bad, and these duds weren't nearly as horrendous as the weird gray and blue ones they wore against Tetris-ified Virginia Tech last year. As for the Terps, I happen to actually be a huge fan of the Maryland state flag and love that it's been subtly incorporated into the uniforms of the Ravens and Orioles.

But the key word is subtle. These things are the very definition of eyesore, and depending on who you talk to, may or may not have been stolen from a Baltimore-based roller derby team.

As I've said before, this is one of about a thousand reasons that college football, love it as much as I do, just will not measure up to the NFL for me. Uniform stability is right up there with quality of play, quality of organization and reasonable means of determining a champion. And so, given my love for the NFL, it is with great joy that I get ready to watch some very exciting football this weekend. No, not just Friday morning's Qualifying Final between Geelong and Hawthorn -- though that will be awesome -- but professional American football, which kicks off Obama style on Thursday night with Green Bay and New Orleans and then reaches a high point for me Sunday afternoon when the New York Gia play the Redskins on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. I'm calling them the New York Gia because half the team, apparently, is already injured.

Despite those injuries, I will be making may plans to see the Gia this season on multiple occasions. I've already got my flight booked to San Francisco, am working on going up to New England to see Big Blue face the Pats, and am very seriously considering trying to find someone to go to New Orleans with me to see the Giants play the Saints as it's a Monday night game and those are far easier for me to take off work for than the Sunday variety.

Until then, however, I'll just be watching on TV. Again I will be picking games each week against the spread in my inevitably failed quest to beat Vegas -- it's a good thing I don't actually bet on sports -- but before I tell you who will win this week I suppose I need to tell you who's going to win in general.

And with that in mind, it's time for my almost certain to be wrong 2011 NFL Season Predictions.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

And So It Begins

Here we are people. At long last, the fall is here. Well, not technically, but the calendar has turned to September, there are far fewer opportunities to BBQ and most importantly football is starting, which is refreshing after mostly being consumed with seasons that aren't real. So as far as I can tell, it's fall now and once the leaves start to change colors I'll have that confirmed for me. In the case of football, I am about as excited as I am every year, which is very, and even though the New York Giants won't be starting the regular season for 10 more days -- they actually have a preseason game yet to be played tonight in New England -- I am still ready to defend their underrated postseason chances.

I won't be doing that here, after all with this much time until the NFL season kicks off and my propensity for procrastination, my NFL preview will have to wait until next week. I will however opine on yet another season starting for my beloved Northwestern Wildcats. And next week you just might here me talk about the Geelong Cats' hunt for a third premiership in five years, but we'll get to it when we get to it.

Back to Northwestern. College football was never my biggest thing growing up, but covering it for and attending a Big Ten school dramatically changed me in my undergrad years and now I really can't get enough of it. In fact, it's almost downright upsetting to me that there are only 48 hours each Saturday and Sunday in the fall with which I can jam in my football viewing. There needs to be more. Either way, college football technically starts tonight when my sister's alma mater, Wisconsin, hosts UNLV and Mississippi State takes on Memphis, but for me it all comes down to Saturday, the opening for my Cats at Boston College.

The town of Evanston is getting particularly excited this year, so much so that they probably should clean out the water supply, and why shouldn't they? Northwestern continues to be on the upswing under coach Pat Fitzgerald, who has built on the foundation laid by the late Randy Walker -- and to a lesser extent Gary Barnett -- to make the once moribund program consistently competitive. No, we haven't touched a Big Ten title in about a decade or so now, but NU has played in more bowl games in the past decade than it had in the previous century. In two of the last three seasons Northwestern should have won an Alamo Bowl matchup with a team that nearly played in the BCS National Championship Game the year before, and should have won an Outback bowl against a team that won a BCS National Championship a year later.

Northwestern has also managed to play in January 1st bowl games the last two seasons. Really. Look it up.