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.