Monday, January 30, 2012

Yup, I'm Already Anxious About The Super Bowl

Some of you might have noticed that I didn't post any sort of update over the end of last week, and given that my Giants are in their second Super Bowl in five seasons, you'd think I'd be a little more eager to talk shop. Well, I've been busy with a few things, but most of it revolved around being too enveloped in anxiety to think rationally or logically about Super Bowl XLVI or what I should write about it. I did, however, realize that it's been an awfully long time since I actually used this blog for what it was originally supposed to be used for -- actually posting chapters from this book I'm supposed to be writing. We're long overdue for one and with the Giants back in the biggest game of all and facing the New England Patriots one more time, it seems like an appropriate time to break out the full story of perhaps the game I've most anticipated attending of any I've ever been to -- and how it fulfilled pretty much everything I could have hoped for.

So, without further adieu, here is an excerpt, for the first time in a long time for my big opus, the story of when Frankie Williams and I trucked up to Boston this past November to see the Giants visit the Patriots, in a chapter I've cheerfully titled "Patriots Facking Football". You'll have to bear with me. Even though I've edited it down some, it's pretty lengthy.

Originally written November 8, 2011

For whatever reason, the number 42 has a tendency to show up more often than most. In the most obvious of sports terms, 42 was the number worn by Jackie Robinson. In my favorite book, Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the number 42 is determined to be the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything. And perhaps most notably for my purposes, 42 was the number of what so far has been the greatest night of my life.

That night came on February 3, 2008, when a group of friends and I watched in my basement as after more than a decade of watching our hearts pounded repeatedly by the New York Giants, they finally reached the pinnacle in the biggest game there is against the greatest team I ever saw in the most dramatic way possible, defeating the undefeated New England Patriots 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII. Some might question that this was actually the greatest night of my life, but they need to understand the unique culmination of events. Not only was the game as riveting as it was, but it was something I had waited for since I was eight years old when I finally caught of whiff of professional football. The Giants were the first team I fell in love with and my childhood dedication, so strong that I made my mother drive me around to multiple malls so I could get a 1997 NFC East Division Champions hat, was repaid with continual heartbreak in utterly brutal fashion. The Giants postseason collapse in 1997 against Minnesota, the 24-point blown lead in the postseason against San Francisco in 2002, the Jay Feely misses three field goals with a share of the NFC's best record on the line game against Seattle in 2005, the blown 21-point lead in the final ten minutes against Vince Young and the Titans in 2006 and worst of all Super Bowl XXXV against the Ravens.

It all stung.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

So The Giants Are Going To The Super Bowl. In Case You Hadn't Heard.

Like most of you, I spend a little too much time refusing to accept that I've grown up and am now responsible for myself. As a result, I still haven't changed my home address to my current apartment in New York City on several things, meaning that when I recently joined the Packers season ticket waiting list, I used my childhood home in New Jersey. As a result, when I waited anxiously to receive my confirmation letter assuring me that I was officially on the list, I knew the first person to receive it would actually be my mother. I did think it was somewhat odd however that the letter had not yet arrived, and so when in the middle of last week my mother informed me that I had received mail from Green Bay, Wisconsin, I immediately became tight-lipped.

You see, I mailed off the request to join the list in late October, so the fact that it wouldn't arrive until right before the Giants faced the Packers in the playoffs at Lambeau was somewhat curious and potentially ominous in my mind. As a result, I kept it quiet for fear of embiggening my sense of foreboding anxiety. But with that game out of the way and my mother giving me all of my old mail on Saturday afternoon, I felt better when I opened up the letter. Of course, I still was a bit wary since the Giants had this thing called the NFC Championship Game Sunday night.

True to my word I was curled up anxiously on my friend's couch throughout Sunday night's festivities, which constituted, in no uncertain terms, the single most uncomfortable, torturous, emotionally exhausting football game I have ever watched with a vested interest in my entire life. And yes, that includes Super Bowl XLII. This was a game that for three hours was a hard slog between two great teams that refused to give an inch, didn't make mistakes and didn't need the great equalizer of horrendous weather to put either side at even money -- though they got it anyway. The word "epic" is bandied about a little too frequently these days, but this game, with the brilliant performance of Eli Manning, the relentless speed and pressure of what is an absolutely scary 49ers defense and an inability to settle the matter in the given 60 minutes was absolutely, uncompromisingly epic.

I have never felt so drained after watching a game, a fact that was of much relief to my 60-year-old father who assumed his exhaustion afterward was a sign of age. To get cliche, this was a 15-round heavyweight bout with a Super Bowl trip on the line, and when it was all said and done, I collapsed on the floor ecstatic, but mostly just relieved, that it was the Giants who got to throw the last punch. Elizabeth had her own interpretation of the moment.


Friday, January 20, 2012

If You're Looking For Me Sunday Night, I'm the One In the Fetal Position

I've seen the New York Giants play many big and important football games in my day. Those games include countless playoff games, countless de facto playoff games in the regular season, two NFC Championship Games and two Super Bowls. The results, generally, have been positive. I have had my heartbroken by the Giants on numerous occasions, but overall, I'd have to say that my fandom has been rewarded in the 18 or so years that I've followed to team intimately. I must admit that my outlook would probably be significantly different were it not for the wondrous night that was Super Bowl XLII, but given what some fan bases have to deal with, in particular ones in this same city, I have hard time complaining when I take in the long view.

In the course of my years as a fan, however, I don't think I've ever come across a game in which I'm less certain of what to expect than the game that will kick off at 6:30 p.m. Sunday night. As the Giants get ready to take on the 49ers in San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game, I have anxiously oscillated between complete confidence and utter uncertainty. The one thing I know for certain is that I cannot wait for Sunday and that's more or less been the case since the Giants capped off their impressive upset of the Packers last weekend.

Really.

I don't think 10 minutes have gone by since Sunday night that I haven't gone over the various matchups, positives, negatives, historical implications or weather reports in my head. I'm trying to distract myself for two hours right now by watching The King's Speech finally, but since I'm writing this blog entry, it's clearly not taking. I'm still far more interested in Jake Ballard's knee than George VI's voice, and there's really not a whole lot that will change that before Sunday. Or ever, frankly, but especially this week.

Having seen the Giants already play in San Francisco this season -- in person no less -- I have spent most of the week feeling cautiously optimistic for a few reasons, even though the Giants lost that game. For 1) New York's defense is far healthier, and better than it was then. 2) Ahmad Bradshaw and Osi Umenyiora were among several regulars that did not play in that game. 3) Eli Manning is playing football right now at a higher level than he has ever played in his entire career. 4) Statistically, the Giants dominated that last game anyway with more yards, first downs and time of possession. 5) Were it not for a flukish interception that resulted in two Niners touchdowns in a span of 61 seconds in the fourth quarter, New York probably would have won the game. 6) The Giants very nearly tied the game anyway, getting down to the San Francisco 10-yardline before a fourth down pass was batted down in the final minute. 7) This came after Mario Manningham dropped a game-tying touchdown catch seconds earlier.

So for all these reasons, I'm feeling good. But there's a caveat.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

So I Had A Pretty Good Weekend If You Didn't Notice

Let's put it simply folks. There are roughly nine different sports teams in the world that I pay fairly close attention to. They are in no particular order of significance, the New York Giants, New York Mets, New York Knicks, New Jersey Devils, Chicago Blackhawks, Northwestern University football team, Northwestern University basketball team, Southampton FC and Geelong FC.

Of those nine, six of them currently play a sport that is still in season, and all six of them played this past weekend. In an unfortunate -- and fairly embarassing -- performance in Oklahoma City Saturday night, the 'Bockers were unable to come away with a victory against Kevin Durant and company, a team that, given its very legitimate championship aspirations, isn't so much a shame to lose to as it is a shame to lose to them in the complete and utter manner the Knicks did.

However, if we can look past the unfortunate performance of the Knicks this past weekend, we can see the following: The Devils, in a Saturday afternoon in Winnipeg, rallied to beat the Jets for their fourth win in five games. The Blackhawks rebounded from an overtime loss in Detroit Saturday to knock off the Sharks, who might be the hottest team in hockey, Sunday evening. On Saturday, Southampton waltzed into Nottingham Forest and came away with a 3-nil victory that keeps them tied with West Ham atop the nPower Championship standings and inching closer and closer to finally returning to the Premier League. And perhaps, most notably of all these teams, my dear alma mater, Northwestern, still seeking its first elusive berth in the NCAA Tournament, pulled off the signature win it may have needed to beef up its tournament resume, shocking No. 7 Michigan State at Welsh-Ryan Arena Saturday night, just days after barely falling to No. 13 Michigan in Ann Arbor in overtime.

So so far we're doing pretty well.

Oh, right. Then there's the Giants. Now, when I said earlier that I listed those teams in no particular order, there is one spot in the hierarchy that I should probably make exceedingly clear. I began rooting for the New York Giants when I was eight years old. While I had declared myself a Mets fans a few years prior, the efficacy was minute at best. Big Blue, on the other hand was the first team I ever fell in love with. Seeing them succeed, in many ways, is what makes me go between the months of September and January. And this weekend they succeeded in a big damn way, absolutely stunning the 15-1 No. 1-seeded and consensus best team in football Green Bay Packers Sunday night at Lambeau Field in a 37-20 victory that was not just a playoff victory, but utterly and completely dominant.

And as a result, I spent the rest of the night listening to "San Francisco" by Scott McKenzie on repeat because the New York Giants are headed to the Bay Area to face the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.

Friday, January 13, 2012

NFL Divisional Playoff Preview: When Hockey and Musicals Collide!

I'm not going to deny that I was way too excited about something special this week, but in case we haven't yet discussed the magic, I'm going to explain some of the details right now. See the woebegone Atlanta Thrashers are no more in the NHL this season after packing up and moving to Winnipeg. In doing so they took on the old moniker of the long-since departed Winnipeg Jets. That, in and of itself, is not terribly significant. However, what happened this Thursday night was, as for the first time the reborn Winnipeg Jets faced off with the now 21-year-old San Jose Sharks.

.....

If you don't quite understand why this is exciting, I suppose I'll have to spell it out for you. The Jets are playing the Sharks. Yeah, that's right Broadway nerds. Thursday night in Winnipeg, for the first time in 15 years in the NHL, we had a fucking rumble. And if you want to know just what happened, here are the full highlights of the showdown. Tony! Bernardo! Maria! What a night in Winnipeg!

Ok, ok. So that wasn't exactly what happened at the MTS Centre last night. In actuality the action looked less like a bunch of jazz and tap dance vets and more like this, but what man with a rudimentary fandom of West Side Story wouldn't get excited about the two namesake gangs facing off on a sheet of ice? I've listened to "America" and "Tonight, Tonight" far too many times on childhood car trips not to get excited, and as the preview I wrote for the game this week, well, I might have gotten a little carried away with the subtle in-text references to the Sondheim and Bernstein masterpiece.

Yeah, I'm not sure if you caught them, but there are 11 references to the show in there. Someone really should have kept me under control. Either way, I had been looking forward to writing this preview for about six months, so considering all the anticipation I thought it turned out quite well. The game, too, was, well fine I guess. All things considered, I didn't really have a horse in the race, but no one was fatally stabbed attempting to defend their sister's honor from a group of delinquent xenophobic teenagers so there's that. My only disappointment, really, is that the game didn't feature any moments where the players spontaneously broke out in song like they did in the classic film "Score: A Hockey Musical". But you can't have everything.



Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What You Don't Need To Win A BCS Title? Touchdowns, Apparently.

Yes, yes, I know. Trent Richardson scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter and so the BCS National Championship Game wasn't without six-pointers last night. But at this point I should note that with a missed PAT after the score, even that was screwed up.

You can save all your salvos about great defense and the toughness of the SEC. Frankly, I'm pretty tired of it. I don't care if both of these defenses were great -- and make no mistake about it, the Alabama defense is great -- but anyone who watched last night could tell you that the offenses were absolutely, utterly, without qualification, completely pitiful. Seriously. They were bad. They were unbelievably, ridiculously bad. LSU last night gained less than a 100 yards of total offense, and I don't care how good the defense you're playing is, no No. 1 team should have an offense that gains under 100 yards in any game let alone a national championship game.

So here's my big point with all this complaining. The BCS sucks. Really, it does. It's a heartless, monopolized cabal that obfuscates suggestions, ignores criticisms and when someone makes a good suggestion for fixing the system it performs the rhetorical equivalent of pointing into the distance, yelling "Look over there!" and running away. It is a pitiful, pathetic, obstructive organization that not only prevents college football fans from getting a logical champion but also works against its own self interest for reasons I can't begin to comprehend because a college football playoff would bring in a ridiculous amount of money.

Have they seen what kind of money the NFL television contracts bring in? The BCS conferences seem intent on holding the current system as it stands -- despite multiple challenges that are currently gaining steam due to restrictions of interstate commerce inherent in the system -- because they want the money to stay within the power conferences. Will the little guys get a taste of the cash more regularly if the current system is swapped out for a playoff? Probably. Will the big guys still get more actual money if this happens anyway? Certainly.

But before I get into why the BCS is stupid and how it could easily be changed to something more equitable, entertaining and ultimately more profitable for everyone, I'll explain why last night's game in particular, well, sucked. We were told these were the two best teams in the country, and indeed their defenses were phenomenal. But the offense was terrible, and in the case of LSU this was almost certainly not solely a result of the defense being great. I said all that earlier. Here, however, is the issue. The No. 3 team in the country in the final polls was Oklahoma State, a highly entertaining team with an offense to match that lost one game all season and did so on the road in double overtime.

Oh, and their coach is a man.

Why should this team, which arguably had just a strong a claim to the championship game as any other, not have gotten its shot? Why should we be deprived the chance to see if Alabama's incredible defense can lock down Oklahoma State's which topped 50 points six times this season? Why shouldn't we get the chance to see if Oklahoma State's offense can score on the vaunted Crimson Tide defense? Why was this not even a possible result of the games on the field in college's postseason? Instead we were treated to a boring, slobberknockery clusterfuck of a game in which the score in the fourth quarter was 15-0 with no one even getting a whiff of the end zone.

This is what we get with the BCS. Some of the national championship games have been great, but many have been less than exciting and rarely have they been satisfying or clearly resolved which team was the best in the country. And yet the BCS continues to insist that it is the best system we've had yet and the best we possibly can have -- though ESPN is reporting all day that they are meeting this afternoon to finally discuss some fundamental changes.

That said, I'll believe these changes when I see them. In the meantime, I'm going to clarify why we need a new system by presenting every stupid argument BCS head Bill Hancock typically comes up with, and explaining why each of them are utter nonsense.

Friday, January 6, 2012

An NFL Playoff Preview That Mostly Doesn't Talk About Football

It's very odd that I'm doing it this way, particularly considering that I love football and, well, I only really like basketball, which is what this is will sort of focus on, but as a newsman you need to understand what is prescient and newsworthy at the time. And since almost none of you will care both about the news I'm going to tell you for my future trips or my certain to  be incorrect NFL playoff predictions, I'm going to talk about what I want.

Deal with it.

See, I've never been to Texas. Well, that's not exactly true. I've been to Dallas on multiple occasions -- once in 1998, once in 2005 and once in 2011. However, on not one of these occasions did I take a single solitary step outside the delightfully enormous Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. I will say that it has some delightful amenities, namely a McDonald's where the mcnuggets are twice the size of normal mcnuggets (because everything is bigger in Texas), and a terminal in which TVs dot the concourse every five feet, which enabled me to sprint to my gate without missing a moment of the fourth quarter of Tiki Barber's 200-plus yard rushing effort against Kansas City in 2005.

So really, it's a great airport.

But what lays beyond DFW nobody knows. Or, well, at least I don't know. But if all goes according to plan, I will find out this March, when I boldly step outside the airport so I can see the Blackhawks visit the Stars on March 16 and then see the Mavericks host the Spurs one night later. I'm pretty excited for a number of reasons, but since I haven't actually booked a plane flight or put in for time off from work yet, this is still very much a pipe dream. But as I slowly pull the pieces of the plan together, the very first piece of the puzzle came into play last night when I came home and found out that my four tickets to the Mavs-Spurs game had arrived.

Considering the opportunity to see two teams that are so good in a rivalry that's not half bad -- and that I get to see the Hawks the night before -- I'm pretty excited. Particularly since I now have a satellite in Dallas since the intrepid Nomaan Merchant has relocated there. When he first told me he would be moving to Dallas, I asked him how long he expected to be there and Nomaan said, "Long enough for you to see the Giants visit the Cowboys, if that's what you're asking."

He knows me well.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The New York Giants Won A Professional Footbal Game Last Night

I enjoy football, which I've probably mentioned once or twice. The only problem with this is that the I follow a team called the New York Giants. True, it could be worse. After all, I need to look only at the other tenant of the Giants' home stadium to know that it's perfectly easy for a franchise to go 43 years (and counting) without a whiff of a championship. Or I could be a Cardinals fan and go six decades. It's clearly not the worst station in life.

Oh, but the Giants have a way of making pain real in a particularly special way, and the last three seasons were delightful examples of that. In 2008, the Giants seemed destined for a second Super Bowl title in a row until Plaxico Burress got his own leg in his sights. Literally. After that cataclysm, the Giants started off 2009 5-0 and looked like world beaters again before a late collapse caused them to miss the playoffs for the first time in five years. In 2010, Big Blue had its own destiny in its hands before getting dismantled by Green Bay in the second to last game of the season and thus losing control of its fate. The Giants would miss out on the postseason despite beating Washington in the final week and going a solid 10-6 that season.

So this year, when the Giants went 6-2 to start the year punctuated by a thrilling victory at New England that yours truly was in attendance for, it seemed like there were two distinct possibilities. A) New York was back and ready to make a solid run at the division title and deep run in the playoffs, or B) the inevitable collapse was on its way.

Four losses in a row later and it seemed pretty obvious which option was the likely outcome, particularly with a defense that looked more like a dairy product from Geneva than a professional football team.

Oh, but this season was a bit of a surprise, and with a little help from those lovable Choketacular Boys from Dallas, New York was able to make a run and force a winner-take-all de facto NFC East Championship Game at the Meadowlands on the final night of the season. While it was technically still a regular season game -- also the 100th meeting between the Giants and Cowboys all time -- last night's showdown was, more or less, a playoff game, and as the closest thing to a playoff game Giants fans have had in three years, I was pretty excited about it. While there were moments of anxiety, particularly in the third quarter, most of the game was a thorough dismantling of one of Big Blue's biggest rivals -- including a first half that was far and away the most complete first half the offense and defense played all season.