Saturday, December 29, 2012

NFL Pricks Week Seventeen: So it's come down to this

Ok, before we get into the ins and outs of all of this, let's get one thing straight. In all likelihood, the New York Giants will not be making the playoffs this season. Considering this team was in first place as recently as three weeks ago, started the season 6-2, has absolutely beaten the tar out of San Francisco and Green Bay, put up 52 points on New Orleans earlier this month and won some big game this past February, this is all kind of a surprise for me. In fact, in the history of my teams blowing big division leads and surefire playoff berths, which is, uh, prodigious, this has quietly become one of the more unexpected ones. After dominating the Niners earlier this season and overcoming a mid-season swoon to completely rock the Packers last month, most, myself included, seemed to think the Giants were set to coast to another division title.

Apparently, so did the Giants. And they played like it.

New York has taken a total nosedive in losing five of its last seven games and as a result, what once seemed assured is now astonishingly unlikely. Lucky me, I got to be on hand for two of those brutal debacles. Perhaps the most stunning thing about this whole debacle is not that the Giants are being usurped by a talented-underachieving Dallas team or a Philadelphia outfit that generally is long on expectations if not short on results. It's that the Redskins, heretofore weak link of the NFC East that appeared firmly in a rebuilding year when 2012 started with not one, but two rookie quarterbacks running the offense, are the team poised to take the division title after an unexpected six-game winning streak.

Tomorrow afternoon and night as the NFL sorts out the final spot in the NFC playoffs, a series of tiebreakers and one particularly unlikely upset are going to be required if the Giants are going to somehow land a place in the postseason field. For one, the Giants need to actually win their 1 o'clock game against the Philadelphia Eagles. That in and of itself could be a stiffer challenge than one might think given how mediocre the Giants have been the last two months and Philadelphia, regardless of how miserable its season has been, will salivate at the opportunity to close the door on New York's unsuccessful title defense.

But if only it was so easy for the Giants to win and be in. All their opportunities to control their own destiny went out the window in Baltimore last weekend, and now to get a Wild Card berth -- the division is officially out of the question -- New York will also need Chicago to lose to Detroit at 1, Green Bay to defeat Minnesota in the late afternoon and Washington to oust the Cowboys by clinching its first division title since last century (seriously, look it up) in the final game of the 2012 NFL regular season Sunday night.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

NFL Picks Week Sixteen: On the road again for Team No. 50

After last week's totally superb performance against the Atlanta Falcons, the Giants are somehow still in position to make the playoffs if they simply run the table. Given some of the flops they've had this year I'm probably about as shocked as you are that that's still the case, but I'm not complaining either. This week the epic journey that is the 2012 New York Giants season takes them to Baltimore and, lucky me, after four years of anticipation and not nearly enough planning that was warranted by said anticipation, I will be in the stands tomorrow afternoon.

Assuming I get tickets. That's a complicated ordeal in itself, but we won't get into that.

The Baltimore Ravens will be the 50th different team I'll have seen in person at their home stadium, and while I still hold a grudge against them for some game almost 12 years ago, I'm still excited, if for no other reason than that this is a rematch of the first NFL game I ever attended back in 1997. I do, of course, hope the outcome is different this time.

Unfortunately, though, as I am on the road and bogarting my friend Lindsay's computer, I'm going to have to make this a quick update, ostensibly to let you all know that I'm going to be at M&T Bank Stadium tomorrow and so I can post my NFL picks for the weekend which, I'm sure, you've all been waiting on. At some point next week I will try to pull together a more comprehensive recap of what has happened at the game or why I've had such a doozy of a time getting tickets. I just hope that the recap ends the way I want it to.

And that I end up getting tickets. That part's pretty key.

Last Week: 6-10-0
Season: 107-111-7

Atlanta (-4) over DETROIT
New Orleans (+1) over DALLAS
GREEN BAY (-13) over Tennessee
Indianapolis (-7) over KANSAS CITY
Buffalo (+5) over MIAMI
San Diego (+1) over NY JETS
PHILADELPHIA (+7) over Washington
PITTSBURGH (-3) over Cincinnati
TAMPA BAY (-3) over St. Louis
CAROLINA (-10) over Oakland
New England (-15) over JACKSONVILLE
HOUSTON (-9) over Minnesota
DENVER (-13) over Cleveland
ARIZONA (+6) over Chicago
NY Giants (-1) over BALTIMORE
San Francisco (-1) over SEATTLE

Thursday, December 20, 2012

An overdue ode to R.A. Dickey

This June, my sister and I went to Citi Field for one of the games I foolishly bought in my five-game season package and saw the greatest pitching performance I had ever seen in person by a Met. It was a one-hit shutout against the Baltimore Orioles, a team that was 11 games over .500 at the time and would eventually get within one win of the 2012 ALCS. It was a quick, dominant and masterful display of fooling one hitter after the next. The man on the mound was R.A. Dickey.

By the time this game happened, R.A.'s competency wasn't a shock. After years of mediocrity and minor league demotions, Dickey had proven himself to be an able pitcher after coming to the Mets and renewing himself as a knuckleballer. But by June of this season it was starting to become apparent that Dickey had gained full control of his knuckleball and could contol it in a way no one really had before. This particular outing was his second one-hitter in a row (this first one was one bad hop at third base away from being a no-no) and it lifted Dickey to a stunning 11-1 record. It was exactly two months since his last losing decision, and one could have made the argument that for this two-month stretch, Dickey was the most dominant pitcher in the history of Major League Baseball.

For this and so many more reasons it is with wistfulness and complicated emotions that most Mets fans said goodbye to Dickey this week, the centerpiece of a seven-player trade with the Toronto Blue Jays. Dickey's time with the Mets was short -- just three seasons -- and the first two were unspectacular though decent. For many fans it seemed we had gotten a capable Major League starter on the cheap, one likeable due to his comeback story as he worked his way out of exile in the minors, but not much more than a 14 or 15 game winner at the high end.

In the last calendar year, though, something strange happened. First Dickey raised money for the victims of child sex trafficking while climbing Kilimanjaro. Then he released a book about his experiences that revealed not only his own literary genius and appreciation, to say nothing of his gift of prose and self-introspection, but  his own difficult experiences with baseball struggles and being sexual abused by a babysitter as a child. The book became a best seller. Both of these things continued to make Dickey an even more likeable and appreciated player, whose obvious gratitude for the chance to stay in the Majors and ultimately succeed had made him a fan favorite; he was a player you wanted to root for.

Then the 2012 season started. And he pitched.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

NFL Picks Week Fifteen: Yeah, I didn't see that coming either

Some time after David Wilson's final touchdown run in the fourth quarter gave the Giants a 52-27 lead, I thought to myself, "Wow, I can't remember the last time I saw the Giants score 50 points." There was good reason for not remembering, and that was because, well, I had never seen the Giants score 50 points before in a lifetime of watching them. That isn't to say it hadn't happened in my lifetime; it had. But I was a wee 17 months old when Big Blue closed out the 1986 regular season with a 55-24 trouncing of Green Bay. The Giants won their first Super Bowl a month later and I, much to young to be cognizant of any of it, missed out on one of the greatest offensive performances in team history.

Sunday's raucous victory over the Saints is right up there in the greatest offensive performances New York has had in franchise history, and while I thought the Giants would get caught up in a shootout with New Orleans given their superb offense and mediocre defense, I never could have foreseen anything like this kind of resounding statement win. Even after the first quarter, which featured a mundane 14-7 score, just about the most bizarre opening seven minutes of a game I've ever seen, and a decision to punt on the opening drive that drove me utterly, utterly bonkers (we can get into why punting is often the wrong decision some other time) it never would have occured to me that we might be in for the offensive show from the Giants we ultimately got.

Much of that, of course, can be put on the shoulders of Wilson, who has shown flashes throughout the season of his speed when he gets limited touches in the return game, but Sunday put on a clinic for how to move the ball on the ground, resulting in three touchdowns and a franchise-record 327 all-purpose yards. He became the first player in NFL history to record 200 return yards and 100 rushing yards in the same game. It was an absolutely mind-boggling performance that will be talked about for years by Giants fans.

But does it mean anything?

This was an all-too-necessary victory for the Giants, who could have feasible ended Sunday in a three-way tie for first place in the NFC East with a loss. At one point Sunday it looked as if a two-game lead would be possible with Washington and Dallas both losing late to Baltimore and Cincinnati respectively. But after each of them completed an unlikely comeback on the final play of the game (as did the Eagles, all of this happening within a 10-minute span in a nightmare scenario for Giants fans) the pressure was suddenly on New York to win a game that, from the outset, appeared an enormous challenge.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

NFL Picks Week Fourteen: Is this the best franchise name change ever?

Some of you may or may not remember back in the ancient year of 1994 when the New Jersey (now Brooklyn) Nets toyed with idea of changing its name to something a little more New Jerseyan. Sure, there was nothing really wrong with the name "Nets." It was succinct, simple, catchy and related to the game of basketball sicne the hoop has, you know, a net on it. But no, this wasn't good enough. And so it was that the Nets came very close to changing their identity to something a little more appropriate for the Garden State. That identity was, of course, that of the Swamp Dragon. Now, don't bat an eye at that. You all associate New Jersey with the great, mythical swamp dragon, right? No? There's no such thing as a swamp dragon?

Shit.

So when it became clear to the Nets organization that this would have been a terrible, terrible idea the fever passed. It would have been a curious notion. It is very unusual that teams change their nicknames in the modern era and they almost never do so unless the franchise has moved within the past season or two. Generally that's only the case if a team moved on such short notice that it couldn't establish a new brand identity in time for the next season. The best example of that is probably the Tennessee Titans, who played two nomadic seasons in Memphis under the name Tennessee Oilers in between their move from Houston to Nashville. Those types of slow transitions are almost always a thing of the past now, as one could see from the Atlanta Thrashers' transition to the Winnipeg Jets in a matter of weeks.

It's this type of quick transition that makes the news coming out of New Orleans this week so interesting and exciting. Now, I know the Hornets did not begin in New Orleans, but after 10 years in the bayou they're more or less entrenched in their current locale. As a result, I'm not entirely sure what would have been the impetus for the name change, though I imagine Tom Benson's ownership had something to do with it, but this is a rare bird, no pun intended. And not only is it rare, but it is awesome.

Now, just why, exactly, do I think "Pelicans" is such an awesome name? I know it's not exactly an animal that strikes fear into the hearts of men, but something expansion franchises haven't quite realized in the past 20-30 years is that your team name doesn't have to strike fear. That's what your players are supposed to do. For too long new team names have either been ferocious animals with no connection to the local area (are there Jaguars in metropolitan Jacksonville?), abstract concepts (yeah, we get it, Minnesota has wilderness) or weather patterns (is Oklahoma City particularly known for its thunder?).

Pelicans is a nickname that not only represents something related to its home city (the pelican is ubiquitous in the gulf region and the state bird of Louisiana), but it is a name that has a far-reaching tradition in New Orleans sports. My favorite thing about it, however, is that something about the name "Pelicans" harkens back to a day when sports team names had an air of traditionalism less concerned with inspiring awe and more concerned with forming an identity, oftentimes one connected to the local area. While this is somewhat in line with a trend we've started to see develop of teams naming themselves for local connections or history (Houston Texans, Columbus Blue Jackets or Washington Nationals for example), it still seems unlikely that in the modern day we'd have any Gophers or Sooners. We certainly wouldn't have 76ers or 49ers.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

NFL Picks Week Thirteen: So let's talk about that Giants-Packers game

Many of you (three or four) read about my emotional response to this season's Northwestern football campaign in one of my more depressing posts in a long while. It was so depressing, in fact, that it was almost more painful to write than it was to watch NU's debacle of a basketball game against Maryland later that night. Such is the case of being a Northwestern fan, but I am extremely fortunate in that the other football team with which I've cast my lot has had a remarkable habit in recent years of being, well, surprisingly dependable.

Sometimes.

Much has been made of the New York Giants and their annual November swoons, peculiar disappointments and then their remarkable ability to rise to the occasion. Of course, they haven't always risen to the occasion. Past seasons have seen them eliminated from postseason contention in stadium finales, lose win-and-in games on the road in blowout fashion and blow an essentially guaranteed division title in the most spectacular fashion I've ever seen anyone lose a game of anything ever. Those are pretty debilitating defeats, with that last one the first to spark and actual physical outrage from me in literally years. But considering the Giants have had a remarkable tendency to rise to the occasion when it wasn't expected of them -- something that has somehow won them two Super Bowls in the past five seasons, it's all the more baffling. It's almost as if the Giants become better when they face stiffer competition and worse when they don't.

So this past week, with the mighty Green Bay Packers coming to town and the Giants reeling from consecutive losses, one of which being an unbelievably surprising blowout defeat in Cincinnati, many had assumed New York's annual November swoon was in full swing. After all, this is a team that looked like world beaters with a 5-0 start in 2009 only to lose its next five games. But then something strange happened. The Giants didn't just win against Green Bay Sunday night. The beat the utter crap out of them. Oh, and did we mention that a Giant literally saved someone's life after the game?



Even for the most optimistic Giants fans out there, this was a surprise.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Northwestern and the season of what could have been

I have realized in my decade as a Northwestern football fan that there are a few certainties that are unavoidable. For one, the Wildcats will break my heart. Regularly. This is unavoidable. It's a lesson I learned fairly early on in my undergraduate tenure in Evanston. For another, they will be competitive nearly every season and often exceed expectations. Finally, that competitiveness will be limited, and real, significant, actual windows for a Big Ten title or a Rose Bowl berth will be rare and close quickly.

It's fine. I've accepted that, and frankly, I'm not sure rooting for an Ohio State or a Michigan where success is so regular and expected that it loses its meaning is really for me anyway. More to the point, I've realized I will probably watch Northwestern play football some 700 more times or so before I die and letting myself get too crazed about one loss is probably an irrational and unhealthy way to experience following this team.

That last one is a message that could probably be applied to any sport, really.

And so ever since college I have tried to follow this team with measured appreciation, not letting it get me too down when they suffer a brutal loss like last season's blown 18-point lead to Illinois or when the Cats surrendered the biggest comeback in Division I-A history my senior year against Michigan State. These are simply bumps in the road and issues that will happen. Regardless, I will continue to follow them because, aside from the obvious connection of it being my alma mater, one year they will finally succeed and reach the goals we've hoped for -- Big Ten titles, the Rose Bowl, National Championship contention -- and all of this will make those years all the more satisfying.

But then I think about this year.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

NFL Picks Week Twelve: Oh crap, it's Thanksgiving

I would tell you all I have been busy and just plum didn't have the time to write something up here, but the brutal honesty is that I've simply been distracted by sleeping in and watching Freaks and Geeks on Netflix. Yes, I know I should have a better excuse than that but, if we're being honest, with the Knicks actually losing last night, the Giants coming off their bye week and the Mets not having any news there is really, well, nothing to write about anyway.

And yet somehow I still found a way to write that paragraph. I know, I'm impressed, too.

All that said, today is Thanksgiving, which just so happens to be my favorite holiday of the year. Sure, July 4th is a great time and Purim is alright I guess, but when you get down to basics Thanksgiving has three major requirements: Eat, Drink, Watch Football. Granted, turkey isn't exactly the first meat or even bird I'd choose to make a holiday revolve around if I really had my druthers, but you've got to find an excuse to eat it at some point really. Still, "Eat, Drink, Watch Football" is basically the guiding principle I try to have on most of my football Saturdays and Sundays so when I actually get the institutionalized excuse to do it, how could I not consider it the best?

The only issue I ever have with Thanksgiving is if the Giants should somehow be scheduled to play, as was the case three years ago. Sure, I love Thanksgiving, and I love watching the Giants, but three years ago the Giants apparently couldn't get over their tryptophan hangover and got pushed around like whimpy pre-schoolers in the sand box. That disaster of an evening ruined my favorite holiday.

So, now every year I'm overjoyed when I see the Giants aren't playing on Thanksgiving, but this season's Turkey Day is hardly without implications. The Redskins play the Cowboys in the day's afternoon game, which given the standings might actually convince me to.... root for Wash(choking sound). Sorry, I think "choke" is probably a more apt description for Dallas given the last few years, but I can't really force myself to say the words "root for Washington."

Surely you readers understand.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

NFL Picks Week Eleven: The Giants will definitely not lose this week

So, I'm still stinging a bit from this past Sunday when I saw the Giants get walloped in Cincinnati like the French in, well, any war since 1700 or so. That's ok though, because I won't have to worry about experiencing that kind of unfotunate pain this week. That's not necessarily a good thing, of course. The only reason I can't is because this is the interminable bye week, a gruesome 13-day stretch in which there is no New York Giants football and I am left to entertain myself merely with the rest of the NFL or my fantasy teams, which these days are not a particularly happy subject. Sure there's also Northwestern football, but after last week's loss at Michigan and this week's fairly important matchup at Michigan State, I'm not so sure that's a happy recipe.

So, really, what am I to do with myself?

Well, in this case, I'll talk about the one sports team I've got that's actually making things happy at the moment. No, it's not the Mets, though with R.A. Dickey's Cy Young award and the announcement that next season will feature totally awesome new blue alternate jerseys, I suppose you could make an argument. But no, it's that other blue and orange team I've got, which is a remarkable feat considering of all the sports teams I've ever followed, in my history of fandom they are without a doubt the absolute least likely team to give me any sort of positive news whatsoever. That team, astonishingly, is the New York Knickerbockers.

Now, I know I'm somewhat hard on these blue and orange engines that could, but after the past decade I'm not entirely sure how you could blame me. The Knicks have been a complete disaster through most of my late adolescence and early adult years, as I've chronicled before, but in the last few years they've started a mild improvement, first with a playoff appearance two seasons ago and then with a real, actual postseason victory in a first-round loss to the Heat this spring. So while the sting of enduring the Isiah Thomas era isn't entirely gone, it's pretty clear that things seem to be on the way up at the Garden.

But if you were going to tell me that with 117 games played so far in the NBA season it would be the 'Bockers standing not only with the top record in the league but as its last undefeated team, well, I probably would have suggested you stay away from the sports book. It's not that I thought the Knicks would be bad this season. I actually had quite high hopes. But I never, at any point, thought they'd be the top dog in the NBA. And with a sterling 5-0 record here we are, as the Knicks face the league's second-best team (standings-wise) tonight in San Antonio.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Oh, so that's what it feels like to get the crap kicked out of you

Ladies and gentlemen, I love the New York Giants. Really, I do. If this isn't already painfully obvious from reading this blog or talking to me ever once in your entire life, well, you just haven't been paying even the most minimal amount of attention. As a result of this love, I do silly things for the Giants. I wear the same jersey each weekend if they've won, I wore the same pants and underwear each Sunday of last season's Super Bowl run and two or three times a year, I venture to a new and different city for the pleasure of seeing Big Blue in a different environment.

On some occasions, however, this leads to problems.

See, I love seeing new places, new stadiums, new game environments and  seeing the Giants win. I like seeing the Giants win anywhere. But there are few things worse than watching the Giants get the crap kicked out of them, fewer still than seeing it happen in person and almost nothing is worse than seeing the Giants get the crap kicked out of them in person when I've flown halfway across the country to see it.

This Sunday I got a refresher in just how brutal that can be when I went out to Cincinnati to visit my lovely friends Isabel and Joe and to see the Giants visit get shockingly pulverized by a Bengals team they were widely expected to beat if not do so convincingly. Now how pulverized is pulverized? Let's just say it's pretty pulverized. The New York Giants played the single worst game I have ever seen them play in person and, given the potential of the current group which just nine months ago had a pretty big win, may have played the single worst game I've ever seen them play period. Now, there is some close competition for this. After all, I did fly to Indianapolis two years ago to see the pain and brutality that was Manning Bowl II. But that was a game against a team with not just high expectations, but that just so happened to be the defending AFC Champions.

The Bengals are not a bad team. They have some very nice pieces like quarterback Andrew Dalton and stud wide receiver A.J. Green, to say nothing of the fact that they did make the playoffs two of the last three seasons. But Cincinnati isn't an overwhelmingly good team either, or at least not yet, and this shouldn't have been a challenge so overwhelming the Giants couldn't handle it. And yet there I was in the fourth quarter watching my hapless outfit while Isabel, a Cincinnati native, took pictures of me at my most despondent while she smiled in the foreground as you can see above. I suppose it's fortunate that the middle finger I was flashing is cropped out of the shot.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

NFL Picks Week Ten: Heading to my old (almost) Kentucky home

It's that time of year again folks: the time where I travel frequently in a brief span and all of you start telling me how I travel all the time. None of you seem to have picked up on the fact that all of my traveling comes in quick short bursts, but that's fine. I'm not one to get picky. Still, when it comes to football season I tend to make a few trips in a short span in hopes of knocking off a few stadiums and this weekend will be no exception as I make my first-ever trip to southern Ohio (and Kentucky!) to see the Giants face the Bengals Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.

This comes right on the heels of my longer-than-expected stay in Chicago two weeks ago and about six weeks ahead of my planned trip to Baltimore to see the Giants play the Ravens. Once that one comes in late December I think I'll be sitting pat for a few months until I make another trip and all of you tell me I'm a jetsetter again. Until then, though, I'm getting ready to bask in the glory that is Cincinnati this weekend.

Really!

And not just because it was once the center of U.S. reform Judaism. No, there are plenty of reasons to be excited. For one, it's a whole new city I've never been to before ever. For another, I'll be hanging out with my buddy Isabel, whom I haven't seen in months and will now get her second sports-related trip with me in the books after she and I saw the Mets knock off the Braves two years ago in a game that didn't prove utterly meaningless at all. Other exciting plusses to the trip? Well, apparently Cincinnati is widely known for a concoction called Skyline Chili, so I suppose I'll have to be giving that a shot since it's famous and all.

And then there's the fact that for the first time ever in my life I'll actually get to be in Kentucky! Yes, I know, Cincinnati is actually in Ohio. But in a remarkably fun twist of geographic confusion, its airport isn't. Cincinnati's international airport is actually located across the river in the Bluegrass State, which is a bit weird, but it does give me an excuse to say I've been to Kentucky, a state that has long fascinated me for no real reason in particular. I'm probably just excited because it's a chance to knock another one off the list.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Don't blame me. I voted for Kodos.

I know this is generally a blog for me to riff on sports. That's cool and all, and it really is my main interest, but I also am a bit of a political junkie as some of my text-embedded hyperlinks have shown in the past. I think that's probably a good thing really. We all need to be well-rounded. But yesterday's Presidential Election was the latest edition of what is easily one of if not my single favorite uniquely American spectacles. After all, it is a complex, heightened drama with massive buildup, exciting swings, excitable news broadcasters, distinctive characters and real world consequences.

What's not to love?

Last night's excitement proved a good distraction from Sunday's utterly disappointing loss by the Giants to the Steelers, and a good distraction until I head to Cincinnati this weekend to see them bounce back against the Bengals (more on that tomorrow). But it is often so much more than both those things. It is a remarkable thing to truly see the American democratic machine in action at its most national and most basic levels, even if the mere act of voting took me two hours yesterday due to a highly unorganized polling station. But that is the price we pay -- along with frostbite, apparently -- to get the kind of influence and participation in our governing system that some societies in the world can only dream of and others dare not to at all.

There is a particular kind of greatness in America that I feel every time the presidential elections come around even if it doesn't go my way, as was the case in high school and college. But those are the breaks and the prices we pay. Plus these elections give me the opportunity to write topical stories in my professional life that aren't particularly informative but are just way too fun to write if you're a history nerd. The best part about it of course is the comments which are, for lack of a better word, fantastic in their criticism, even though most of the commenters failed to realize that ESPN.com ran an article that was based on the exact same premise.

These are the types of things pop culture turns up on election day. Well that and Donald Trump.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

NFL Picks Week Nine: Koufax is easily still my favorite Sandy

As a child in Hebrew school I had at least 18 times about how Sandy Koufax showed the world where his true priorities lied when he refused to pick in Game 1 of the 1965 World Series as a result of it falling on Yom Kippur. While it was never explicitly said, the tacit understanding for all of us was that if you weren't prepared to give up pitching in the biggest baseball game of your life to properly observe the day of atonement well, you just might not be up to snuff in the eyes of Judaism. View that interpretation of the events as you may, but I think with the constant hammering of this idea in my head between the ages of 9 and 16 and the fact that I naturally love baseball, and I think it's safe to say that Koufax has probably had a larger direct influence on my life than any other Sandy I'm really aware of -- since we all keep track of those things after all.

That may have changed a little bit this week.

See, some of you may have heard a few rumors that there was this big ol' storm thing that hit New York City named Hurricane Sandy. Or was it Superstorm Sandy? Or Frankenstorm? Or Snoreastercane? Or whatever silly portmanteau we choose to put it down in the history books as, but the point is there was a lot of wind and rain and flooding and stuff in my neighborhood this weekend, so that was pretty cool. So cool in fact that it completely through my life into topsy turvy disorder even though I wasn't in New York.



And just how did that happen, you might ask? Well, as I mentioned last week, I trekked out to beautiful Chicago this past weekend for my much anticipated and sure to be awkward five-year reunion at Northwestern University. The first three days of the trip went about as textbook as they could be as the friends, the pizza, a Northwestern victory the team tried very hard to lose and a fair amount of awkwardness ensued as planned. All the while, however, this hurricane thing was picking up some serious wind off the east coast -- so much so that it eventually developed into the largest hurricane by windspan (I think I made that word up just now but it works) on record.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

NFL Picks Week Eight: Time passes much too quickly

During my sophomore year of college I lived next door to two men who represented very different cities. Of course, if you want to be really specific about it, Evan and Alan weren't from San Francisco and Detroit so much as they were from Piedmont, California (which has had its own fun bit of news recently) and Farmington Hills, Michigan, but there was no doubting the metropolitan areas and sports teams with which they identified. Their annual Madden franchise seasons would often end with their San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions facing off in the NFC title game and a simulated Super Bowl that no one felt the need to play. The real champion had already been decided after all.

Evan and Alan's run-ins with their sports teams have not happened often in real life though. Sure the Red Wings and Sharks have had their fair amount of postseason meetings, but that, as long as they've known each other, has been where the line has ended. Their teams rarely faced off, and have never done so with a championship on the line.

That trend ends tonight.

At the beginning of this year's baseball season, I made the prediction of a San Francisco-Detroit World Series, a bit of prognostication I got right for the first time since, well, probably ever, but even then I knew it could mean an unwanted bit of tension between the two former roomies. We time will yet be able to tell if the two manage to remain friends during what is likely to be a bitter, tightly-contested World Series, but in many ways it feels like a strangely appropriate time for these two franchises, which have a combined 30 pennants between them, to meet in the Fall Classic for the very first time. That is because when Game 1 starts tonight in San Francisco, we'll be seeing a matchup of two teams I very closely associate with two of my good friends from college, and this weekend just so happens to be my five-year reunion at Northwestern University.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

NFL Picks Week Seven: The ultimate test of Nap Time's impact

Oh, those plucky Wildcats. They are a pip, are they not? See anyone who has had the misfortune to call themselves a fan of Northwestern athletics has come to terms with two very clear, immutable truths.

A) Northwestern will never make the NCAA Basketball tournament. Ever.
B) Northwestern's football team will be pretty good even though no one else believes it, and said team will always lose when it finally has an opportunity to prove it is a decent team.

Don't believe me on that last one? I've got a whole host of bitter, painful losses that could back that up. There was another cruel, bitter reminder of this just two weeks ago when my Wildcats decided to wave bye-bye to an 11-point fourth-quarter lead when we were ranked for the first time in four years at Penn State, a school, that two years ago rallied from a 21-point deficit against us to give Joe Paterno his 400th* career win. In fact, in the 10 seasons in which I have faithfully watched Northwestern fling the pigskin, I have seen a track record littered with these kinds of debilitating setbacks.

It's what we do.

That loss at Penn State two weeks ago was particularly irksome since a win would have given Northwestern its first 6-0 start in a while, and by "in a while" I mean "five decades". Conveniently, that 6-0 start was also the last time Northwestern was ranked No. 1 in the country. Now, I know 6-0 starts are not exactly as exciting as they used to be since most schools have a tendency to open up the season with four cupcake non-conference opponents. Northwestern's 2012 schedule wasn't too different, although three of the four teams the Cats played, Boston College, Vanderbilt and Syracuse are all in BCS conferences, but regardless of who was on the schedule, a 6-0 start would have not only meant a national ranking above 20 for the first time that I can remember, but the inside track at Northwestern's first real Big Ten title shot in oh..... a decade or so, and maybe their last decent chance in a while.

Some of you might think I'm dreaming and being fanciful, but when you look at the facts, I'm not wrong. To wit: The Big Ten is down on the whole this season. Michigan State's pre-season talk is appearing to be a mirage, Michigan is talented but not yet proven, Wisconsin is having an off season despite its record, Illinois is horrible, Iowa, Minnesota and Purdue are average at best and Indiana is playing like Indiana, and arguably the best two teams in the conference, and certainly in the Leaders division, Ohio State and Penn State, aren't bowl eligible this year due to sanctions. Add into that that Northwestern's offense has been running amok most of the season on opponents' defenses, NU's defense is actually not so awful, and that the Wildcats don't play OSU or Wisconsin this year and, well, the road is about as light as it's ever going to be. And when one considers that next year OSU and Wisconsin return to the schedule while Indiana and Purdue leave it, well, it's certainly the lightest it will be in a while.

Monday, October 15, 2012

So can we talk about how awesome a day Sunday was?

You know, there are occasions where you suffer really annoying days or even really annoying weekends in the sports world. It's just kind of the nature of things unfortunately, but those things, I've found, are necessary. After all, how could I have enjoyed the Giants' two Super Bowl wins in the last five years with the appropriate amount of appreciation were it not for all of the really devastating, demoralizing and infuriating setbacks they've suffered in the tenure of my fanship. In all fairness, I probably could not have enjoyed the high points the Giants have brought in the last few years without the perspective that heartbreak brings. After all, if I ever see the Mets win a World Series, it will doubtlessly be all the sweeter after having experienced the embarrassment and pain that has been being a Mets fan for the past 20 years or so.

But in addition to enjoying championships, there are simply little things, a lucky confluence of events that make you happy -- great days where everything in the sports world that you're hoping for goes your way. And boy howdy was yesterday a great day.

See the New York Giants entered this week about to experience what can in no uncertain terms be considered an utterly brutal stretch of their schedule. Every game Big Blue plays from here on out will either be against a division rival or against a team that made the postseason last year. This includes matchups with the Steelers, Falcons, Packers, Eagles, Cowboys -- even the Redskins are looking less and less like the NFC East's weak link by the week. So when New York headed out to San Francisco for a rematch of last season's NFC Championship Game, the prevailing narrative appeared to be that the Niners, perhaps deserving of consideration as the best team in football after consecutive poundings of the Jets and Bills, were destined to get revenge for January against a Giants outfit that, despite its defending-champion status, was simply not up to snuff after a rocky 3-2 start to the season.

Indeed, it appeared that very well might be the case when the game started, as San Francisco reeled off back-to-back 12-play drives that seemed to show offensive versatility and dominance even though the 49ers managed to come away with only three total points. It was at this moment that I started to get concerned the Giants might be missing out on a golden opportunity considering what had happened earlier in the day.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

NFL Picks Week Six: This is why everyone hates the Yankees

Well, I don't really hate the Yankees, truth be told. My relationship with New York's other baseball team is actually a bizarre and somewhat circuitous one that vacillates between hatred and indifference. When the pinstripes won the World Series in 1996, 11-year-old me was actually vaguely excited and impressed by the pageantry, but by the late 1990s and early 2000s jealousy had reared its ugly head and I was full of flat-out hatred for that team in the Bronx. It was a pretty standard trope for folks like me, die-hards who watched diligently as their team suffered one disappointment after another while the other team in the public sphere won four championships in five seasons -- all during my formative years as a sports fan to boot.

But then in college, things got weird.

Everyone has a tendency to be curious, to wonder, to experiment just a little, and in my case that took the form of a girlfriend who happened to feel about the Yankees the way I felt about the Mets. This wasn't as big an obstacle as one might think even though when I was first told of her Yankee fandom my immediate -- and entirely serious response -- was "Oh, we'd probably never get along," but for the duration of our relationship my disdain for the Yankees was muted almost entirely and by the time we broke up I had no energy to re-discover the hate.

I haven't found it yet either, and I don't really plan to. After all, the Yankees and Mets play just six times a year -- four starting next season -- and don't directly compete for a playoff spot. But I know all too well why everyone else hates them and periodic reminders come up. Look no further than earlier this season when my father and I saw the Yankees play the Blue Jays and while Toronto would eventually win the day, it took 11 innings. That game appeared all but over in the ninth until Derek Jeter, whose long-ball proficiency I had been deriding all game, clocked a game-tying dinger to force extras, which prompted from me the only response anyone ever has in these situations.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Black cards, black cars. All black everything.

In the last few years there's been an almost shocking explosion in sports stadia in the New York metropolitan area, something of a remarkable development considering that none were built between 1982 and 2007. Since then, however, the Devils, Mets, Yankees, Giants and Jets have all gotten new buildings, while Madison Square Garden has been undergoing a multi-year renovation that, given its cost, might as well be a whole new building anyway.

And then there's the Barclays Center, a new building for the recently re-christened Brooklyn Nets that has flipped the dynamic of New York basketball while bringing a new world class arena to an area that already seemed about as built up as could be. See before the Nets pulled up stakes from New Jersey at the end of last season after a 35-year stay and ditched their eternally late-90s/early 2000s-esque blue and red and occasionally silver uniforms for a much more minimalist -- and snazzy -- set of black and white duds, they were more or less an afterthought in the New York sports landscape. Sure, the Nets had made back-to-back NBA Finals appearances in the early 2000s with one of the more exciting teams in recent memory -- a group composed of in-their-prime stars like Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin with a strong supporting cast like Richard Jefferson and Keith Van Horn that pushed the ball electrically under the stewardship of Byron Scott. And sure, they were by leaps and bounds more successful than the colossal cluster playing out the Isiah Thomas error (note: not a typo) at Madison Square Garden.

But much like the Jets to the Giants, the Mets to the Yankees or, perhaps more closely, the Devils to the Rangers, the Nets would never have the same magnetism and cache as the Knicks regardless of far superior on-court successes. New York was the 'Bockers' town, particularly considering the Nets toiled in the aimless swamps of New Jersey (though they did play on Long Island while in the ABA).

The Barclays Center just might change that, though. The Knicks will never play second fiddle in the Big Apple, but the Nets are angling for a sizeably larger piece of the pie by moving to Brooklyn to become the borough's first major league sports team since the Dodgers left in 1957 and by opening up a brand-spankin'-new world class arena at the cross section of several major neighborhoods. This brought with it much buzz and much controversy, and for me, of course, much curiosity. After all, checking out these new stadiums is kind of my thing, and with one so close I just would have to jump on the opportunity.

Doing so is kind of tricky with the Nets not opening their home schedule until Nov. 1, but, as we Jewish suburbanites so often say, "Thank goodness for Jay-Z."

Thursday, October 4, 2012

NFL Picks Week Five: Wait They're Still Playing Baseball?

You'll have to excuse me if I didn't realize they were still playing baseball. See, I've been following a team that hasn't been playing meaningful baseball for months, so I pretty much assumed the games had all stopped. Also, I was a bit busy paying attention to the championship of a sport that was totally way more exciting.

Whoops.

Far be it from me to not realize that Major League Baseball wasn't done yet, and that we had a triple crown winner to boot. So I guess given all of that, it's time for me to take a long, hard, nuanced look at the teams vying for the 2012 World Series title and tell you just who, exactly, is going to win it all. This, unfortunately, is complicated by two very big problems. The first one is that I haven't really been paying a whole lot of attention to baseball over the second half of the season since my team would almost certainly have been relegated to the minors if American baseball had that kind of a system. The second issue is that MLB's new two-team Wild Card system with its bizarre one-year-only lower seed opening at home in the Division Series thing is confusing me so much that I don't really know who's going to have an advantage depending on whom they actually play.

Seriously, it makes no sense. But I will tell all of you this, which is certainly an uplifting situation. I did watch most of yesterday's Rangers-A's game in which Oakland won the AL West after leading the division by itself for a grand total of zero days this season. And goddamn, those yellow jerseys they've got are sweet, aren't they? I mean look at them. I'd buy one if I wasn't so attached to my minor league baseball team.

So really, what this all means is that most of what you're about to read is based mostly on hunches and very little on actually educated knowledge. As a result, you should probably bet your entire life savings on it because what you're about to read is so-so right, it'll totally make back all the money you lost by leveraging your future on my not-entirely-correct preseason picks -- though I totally got three of the division winners and six of the 10 playoff teams right.

Be impressed people.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Dave's obligatory AFL Grand Final Blog Entry

Look. We all know I love the AFL. We all know none of you are ever really interested in hearing me talk about it. But let's just both try to be blissfully ignorant of those facts -- and the fact that doing so only really benefits me -- for the next ten minutes while I talk about tonight's main event. Or tomorrow morning's if you want to be specific.

I am a big supporter of the Geelong Football Club, as I've mentioned at least once or twice here, but unfortunately for all of us, the Cats, despite appearing poised for a title run after ending the season on an impressive hot streak, were ousted in the opening round of this year's Finals in a particularly brutal drubbing at the hand of Fremantle FC. That doesn't mean, of course, that footy ends for the season, much like how the Major League Baseball season, miraculously, manages to go on after the Mets get eliminated from the pennant race in June every year.

No, footy continued on for the past month somehow and when all the dust settled the two teams I hated made it to the Preliminary Finals, that would be Collingwood FC and Hawthorn FC, were one win away from playing in the Grandaddy of them All Down Under. Fortunately for my sanity, Collingwood got whooped by Sydney last weekend, but unfortunately Hawthorn managed to gut out a tight win over Adelaide in the opposite Preliminary Final, setting up a Sydney-Hawthorn clash in the Grand Final Saturday afternoon, or rather, very early Saturday morning if you're in the U.S. This was unfortunate for me as it means Hawthorn still has a chance at winning it all and because Adelaide had sort of become my de facto No. 2 team because a) Geelong man Brenton Sanderson is their head coach b) their uniforms are fucking awesome.

Alas, both games didn't go how I wanted them to, but hey, at least it means I still have a vested interest -- seeing Hawthorn get embarrassed tonight -- and in the end that can't be bad. Now, I know all of you people are wondering why, exactly, I so dislike Hawthorn, and I suppose the best way to explain it is that the first AFL match I ever watched was the 2008 Grand Final, in which the very heavily favored Geelong Cats were upset by the rival Hawks. This will be Hawthorn's first stab at taking it all since then -- the Cats won two championships in that span -- while Sydney will be going for its first title since 2005 when Leo Barry, Nick Davis and company snapped the longest championship drought in AFL history.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

NFL Picks Week Four: The Greatest Casualty of the 2012 New York Mets Season

In life I have known very few things that mattered and were certainties. Death. Taxes. Chicken McNuggets. And Keith Hernandez's iconic mustache. There are some people very important, very near and dear to me, that have had close, intense relationships with Keith's robust facial hair. My most important and tortured of baseball franchises, the New York Mets, are as linked to Keith's pushbroom as they are to the borough of Queens itself. Through great moments in the franchise's history, Keith's whiskers have been there. In 1986 when the Amazins won it all the mustache was there. As long as Hernandez has been in the booth, it was a part of the Mets Family. Even when Emmitt Smith and Randy Johnson had their own emotional distress, the mustache was there for them. The American Mustache Institute has bestowed remarkable recognition on Hernandez's cookie duster.

Even Jerry Seinfeld understood the importance of the mustache.

But all of that is just a memory now. Today, for purposes of charity and maybe catharsis after what has been a brutal second half of the season, Keith Hernandez sat down in a barber's chair outside of Citi Field and said goodbye to the hirsute facial state we all held so near and dear. It is a in no uncertain terms, a difficult, dark and troublesome day if you are a Mets fan. And there are no two ways around it.

This is, simply put, a devastating moment for all Mets fans, and there is no one that we can place the blame on other than the team itself. Much like the girlfriend who breaks up with you simply because she is in a rut in her life and something -- anything -- needs to change, Keith clearly felt that a new look was in order after the Mets' utterly disastrous second half of the season. This was Keith telling us all that he knew something or someone had to shake things up, and as this season winds its way down this is his sign that we all need the Mets to do better a year from now.

Just how bad has it gotten?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Will the Red-Hot Mets Win the World Series Tonight?

Hot. Red hot. That's right folks. After a weekend sweep of the epic Miami Marlins the New York Metropolitans are the hottest team in town. That's three wins in a row, which makes them hotter than the Giants, hotter than the Jets, hotter than the Yankees. Hell, it even makes them hotter than the chicken and rice stand on 53rd and 6th. This group of Amazins is downright unstoppable.

There will be endless excitement for me tonight as I head to Citi Field for my final game of what has been an awe-inspiring and truly memorable 50th season for the club. With the way that this team is playing right now, after all, how can you not be excited? Ruben Tejada's thrilling walk-off hit from yesterday and R.A. Dickey's chase of 20 wins and an unlikely Cy Young are just a few of the reasons. What's even more exciting is that it's all positive stuff coming out of Queens this September. There are definitely no concerns over retaining the best position player in club history not named Mike Piazza, no public comments by the manager that the team has quit on the season, no irrational decisions to shut down the best pitching prospect the team has had in years on the basis of debunked silly science, no concerns over the fact that the team has scored more than three runs just 8 times in 20 games this month, no $50 million wrapped up in albatrossian contracts for next season, none of it at all.

Nope, it's nothing but good vibrations for my Mets right now.

In fact, this team is so good that, well, I'm going to say it. I really believe this could be the season that, at long last, my dream comes true and I see the New York Mets finally win the World Series. In fact, it could even happen tonight. Against the Pittsburgh Pirates. In September. It totally can. Forget the fact that Pittsburgh is in the NL, the World Series won't be played until almost November and the Mets are, like, a billion games under .500. They can still win the franchise's third championship tonight. They are that good. I mean, just look at these standings.

Twenty-three games out of first place? Twelve and a half games out of the Wild Card? An already guaranteed losing record? A home record that's 11 games under .500? BFD!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

NFL Picks Week Three: 82 Reasons I'm Happy it's Football Season

I will readily admit first of all that I did not watch the Mets game last night. Instead I had more important things to do like rock out for nearly four hours, but I would be lying if I didn't admit that I had checked the score of their matchup with the Phillies a few times. Now I know what you're all wondering: "Dave, why on Earth were you bothering with the Mets at this point?" And indeed, that is a valid question. After all, the Mets entered last night 15 games under .500 and 23 games back of first place. It's also, mid-to-late September. So clearly, the Mets are -- I'm going to go out on a limb here -- not in contention for a playoff spot.

Don't worry. I'm not delusional. While I still follow the team on a daily basis, I checked out on this season quite some time ago. My thoughts now mostly involve seeing what pieces the team has available for the future and what new fantastic ways the Amazins can find to lose a baseball game. They really excel at that.

Last night this apparently involved letting down stud pitching prospect Matt Harvey in his last start of the season due to the arcane Major League philosophy on innings limits, after he had turned in another superb outing. So good in fact -- 7 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 7 Ks, 3 BB -- that you'd think he'd pretty much be a lock to win with those numbers. But you would also probably think that if you watched another team play baseball regularly. See, Harvey so far has put up tremendous numbers in his first cup of coffee in the Majors. In 10 starts he's managed to put together a totall of 59.1 IP with 70 Ks, only 26 BBs, a solid 1.15 WHIP, a decent .200 BAA and an extra sharp-looking 2.73 ERA. If Harvey were at the MLB innings minimum he would have the fifth-lowest ERA in all of baseball, which would also mean the Mets would have two of the five lowest ERAs among starters along with R.A. Dickey. Also, he's from Connecticut, which makes him sort of a local boy.

So with impressive numbers like that, particularly for a rookie, Harvey's won-loss record has to be equally impressive, right?

Monday, September 17, 2012

None of you will care about this, but I'm going to talk about it anyway

Ladies and gentlemen, I enjoy fantasy football. Sort of. It's fun to manage your own team and see how the squad you build would compete, but it is also a game that, like actual football, is frustratingly prone to random variation in small sample sizes that don't really bear out the results you expect or that they should. As a result, depending on how good the people you're playing with are, fantasy sports, which can already be a fairly cruel mistress, are all the more cruel when it's football.

At the moment I have four fantasy football teams, and despite a rather impressive Week 1 in which I somehow won all four of my matches, I did not expect that trend to continue. Of all of these leagues I am in a keeper league that, over my four-plus years as a member, I have developed a carefully cultivated reputation of being, well, not very good at fantasy football. I could explain why this is the case, pointing out the steep learning curve or the sad-sack pool of players I was saddled with in my first two seasons as I carefully built a champion, but that would all be a distraction from the real truth that, uh, I just wasn't very good.

All that said, I have carefully and painstakingly worked for multiple seasons to make trades for proven performers (Victor Cruz or Hakeem Nicks), make savvy draft picks (Darren Sproles or C.J. Spiller) or make draft picks that wind up just being totally and completely lucky (Cam Newton). After four years of dramatically awful seasons -- and one season where I should have made the playoffs before my team spectacularly collapsed down the stretch -- I felt like this season I finally had a squad that would at least make the playoffs and compete for the money if not win the whole damn thing. How that all plays out remains to be seen, but this week there was still an interesting occurrence that I have not yet managed to grasp the morning after.

If you play fantasy football you might know what exactly that was, but in case you don't, all of the players above that I listed had huge fucking games this weekend. As a result, I had a huge fucking week in fantasy football.

How big are we talking? So glad you asked.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

NFL Picks Week Two: Is the Best Year of My Life Over?

A few months ago a coworker of mine jokingly -- and hoping he would be wrong, it should be noted -- told me that 2012 was clearly going to be the "Year of Dave." On the surface this seemed like the silliest of reverse jinxes, but after a few months I started to wonder if maybe he had been on to something. After all, Northwestern basketball didn't make the NCAA Tournament, which was the basis for calling this the "Year of Dave" -- in fact they failed to in particularly crushing circumstances -- but the Wildcats probably got about as close as they've ever come to reaching the dance, and, well, when I looked beyond that, things were pretty darned good.

In fact, I think I would be particularly hard pressed to find a 12-month stretch in the world of sports in which more things went my way than during the 12 months that began on October 1, 2011. To wit:

-- On October 1, Geelong rocked Collingwood in the fourth quarter of the 2011 AFL Grand Final to win its third Premiership in five seasons.
-- On November 6, Frankie and I headed up to Foxboro, Massachusetts where we saw the Giants rally past the Patriots in the best sporting event I've ever seen in person, period.
-- On December 31, my constantly maligned Northwestern Wildcats reached their fourth consecutive bowl game, albeit a loss to Texas A&M in the mildly underwhelming Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.
-- On February 5, for the second time in five years after a dramatic and unexpected playoff run the fucking New York Football Giants fucking won the fucking Super Bowl.
-- In early April, the Mets, somehow some way, were actually sort of kind of not bad.
-- On April 28, after seven years of angst, two relegations and financial troubles, my Southampton Saints rocked Coventry City to finally earn promotion and return to the Premier League.
-- On May 6, the New York Knicks did the remarkably unthinkable by actually winning a playoff game for the first time since I was a sophomore in high school.
-- On May 26, the New Jersey Devils righted 18 years of wrongs as Adam Henrique scored in overtime of Game 6 against the New York Rangers to seal a berth in the Stanley Cup Final.
-- On June 1, Johan Santana did what I never thought possible and somehow threw the first no-hitter in New York Mets history in the franchise's 50th year.

So, uh, is it getting any better than this in the course of one calender year for me? Because, in all honesty, I really don't think so. This was a confluence of events that is virtually unrivaled for me in my life and quite possibly unrivaled by any person ever that wasn't living in Boston for the last 12 years. In fact the only stretch in my life that can even come close would be that magical period from October 2000 through June of 2001 when three of my favorite teams all reached their respective championship rounds, a feat I hadn't seen before or since.

But even in that particular case, which on a practical level, was amazing, on a visceral level it was painful as each team lost.

With all of that taken into account, yes, it seems hard to imagine that I ever have or ever will experience anything quite this amazing again. After all, two championships (and a league promotion which is roughly equivalent), three championship round appearances, a bowl game and a long-sought-after no-hitter don't arrive often, let alone within such short proximity.

All of that is well and good, but the problems start in that I'm slowly realizing that my Monrovian stretch of sports fandom just might be winding down -- or done completely. I know that eventually I'll have to accept it, just as resolution has so readily been accepted throughout popular culture in the most important of places.

That doesn't mean I have to like it though, and if we take a look at the evidence that my lucky period is done, well, it's rather compelling.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I was in Ms. Bennet's English class

Initially I was going to write a post about how my year of sports greatness appears to be over this morning, but given the significance of the day it feels as if that might be inappropriate. I will write something about it tomorrow with my usual bit of sports obsession and snark, but today instead I will re-post one of the few things I've ever written here that was entirely non-sports-centric. At some point I will post what I wrote about attending the Giants-49ers game last Veterans Day weekend, which deals heavily with 9/11 and the years after it, but due to time constraints that will have to wait, possibly until next September.

Instead, here is my post from May 2, 2011, the day after U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden:

Originally written May 2, 2011, titled after Bruce Springsteen's "Waiting on a Sunny Day."

I was telling dirty jokes in my study hall with Brian Caliccio when the planes hit the towers on September 11th. It's truly bizarre years later to look back at that exact moment, to know what was happening and not have had a clue. In fact I didn't even get a whiff of the attacks until I walked to my fifth-period English class when on the way there, Harry Shuldman stopped me to warn of concern that a plane might crash into the school. I was blissfully unaware, and being my snarky self -- and in a big Manchurian Candidate phase -- I told him to "play a little solitaire" continued to class, and at that moment my friend Mike Wong told me the news.

I was naturally baffled and incredulous to it all, as was another classmate, Anoosh Montasser, who like me refused to believe this was feasible, but I soon found out it was and then found that the entire school was being released at noon though, for some reason, we were never told why.

The details of that day are permanently etched in my brain and will be until I die or Alzheimer's gets the better of me some decades down the road, and while I was fortunate enough to lose no one personally connected to me that day, it was and still is impossible to think that anyone in the New York area didn't lose something, be it a loved one, their innocence or their naivete. This was a day no one who lived near this city will ever forget for better or worse.

Last night it was impossible not to have my mind go back to that day when I heard the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed in a firefight with U.S. forces. There is an immediate part of me that wanted to relish vindictively. After all, this was the man who orchestrated the greatest horror our country had seen in my lifetime, and anyone who has lived in New York knows that it is a weight that sits on our shoulders -- always -- even if we don't realize it.

I first became aware of the news, like any good Mets fan, while I was in the middle of watching the Mets play the Phillies on Sunday Night Baseball. The game itself wasn't where the news came from, a friend IMed me to tell me to turn on the news, but watching it through that lens was as interesting a picture of the American reaction as any. In no uncertain terms, the visuals of fans chanting U-S-A as the word spread through the crowd was highly surreal, and it took me back to a Mets-Braves game I attended on the first weekend that baseball was back in New York after the attacks. Throughout the game, montages of first responders were shown on the jumbotron and jingoistic cheers rippled through Shea Stadium.

If the hair didn't stand on your neck, you weren't human.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

NFL PREVIEW 2012: The World Champions Kick Off Wednesday

So something strange happened this weekend in that I made a domestic trip that, much to the shock of everyone who asked me why I was going out of town, did not include a sporting event. No, instead I was headed to the barbecue-opolis known as Kansas City not for baseball, nor football, nor soccer -- though strangely I almost did two of those three -- but for a wedding for my good friend Susie, star of such previous episodes as "Dave discovers that drinking laws are way too lax in Missouri" and "The American Royal BBQ Festival is the most American thing you will ever do." Susie has always been such a trooper about my dragging her to Kansas City sporting events in the past, and so while I did flirt with the idea of seeing the Royals Friday night (the game was eventually rained out anyway), flipped out in the middle of Arthur Bryant's while watching Northwestern try its best to blow the Journalism Bowl and wrestled with an invitation to Saturday night's Sporting Kansas City game, I instead dedicated my entire weekend to wedding-related activities.

And BBQ. Seriously, I ate BBQ for five straight meals.

As a result, I have very little to tell all of you about this past weekend that would have any real strong connection to what this blog is supposed to be about, though the wedding and its ancillary activities were superb on the whole, but fortunately, you don't need me to blather on with stories about my attendance at a new sports venue since a) I've already seen the Royals and Chiefs and b) there's a whole new bigger sports-related item to broach and that's the fact that the World Champions will be opening up the NFL season in roughly 34 hours against the Dallas Cowboys. (NOTE: For the rest of this entry, the New York Football Giants may be interchangeably referred to as the World Champions.) Because they're the World Champions.

Because the World Champions will be opening the NFL season for the second time in five years Wednesday night, that means my back is a bit against the wall to get out what all of you have really been looking forward to this fall, and that is not the World Series, the Jewish high holidays nor the 2012 General Election, which should be a total barn burner that provides memories for a life time when an empty chair gives its victory speech in November. No, you guys are looking forward to my super duper almost certain to be COMPLETELY 100% ACCURATE AND INFALLIBLE NEVER TO BE QUESTIONED 2012 NFL Predictions. I should warn you that the records predicted are more in the ball park of where I expect teams to finish and not meant to be exact. As a result they will not add up to the perfect 128-128 record that the NFL's 256-game scehdule requires. That said, these are guaranteed to be absolutely correct in every way, which means read, enjoy, tell your friends and then run to Vegas, because for the love of Kansas City BBQ, I will not be wrong.

Nope. No way. It's a slam dunk.