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.