Tuesday, January 29, 2013

I am an irrational person, or why I can't enjoy Silver Linings Playbook

I like the New York Giants. You all know this. I am not quiet about it. Consequently, I do not like the Philadelphia Eagles. I am not quiet about this either. In fact, when people ask me what the major deal-breakers I have when dating women are, I boil them down to something like "smokers, Republicans and Eagles fans." And I usually note that the smokers and Republicans are negotiable. I simply cannot imagine sitting on a couch on Sundays for 60 years listening to someone scream out "Fly, Eagles, Fly" 16 times a season -- or heaven forbid more than that. Really.

If one had to peg the sports franchise I dislike the most, the Eagles would probably be the winners -- in a walk. The Dallas Cowboys may be the first team I learned to hate, but the Eagles were the first I learned to loathe, and that kind of emotion runs deep.

It is because of this that I had been wary about seeing -- or at least spending any money to see -- the widely-praised Oscar-nominated film Silver Linings Playbook. Yes, it has Robert De Niro, who just might be the best actor of his time, and yes, Jennifer Lawrence isn't half bad looking and is pretty good at the whole acting thing, too, and yes it is supposed to be a fine, fine film, and yes, it does provide definitive proof once and for all that Chris Tucker is still alive (which I was oddly reminded of in my e-mail this afternoon). But it also happens to have main characters -- and a plot -- that are deeply entrenched in their love for and have their lives enormously affected by the Philadelphia Eagles, and that, for whatever petty, stupid reasons I may have, just didn't appeal to me one bit. I simply couldn't comprehend enjoying a film if the Eagles were in any way positively reflected.

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't necessarily think anything at all associated with the Iggles is pure evil. I actually call some Eagles fans (well, two of them) among my friends and I've even tried to be magnanimous about it once in a while, so at worst the Eagles organization and its fans are maybe only 98.7% pure evil, but the simple fact remains that the city of Philadelphia, its sports teams and often its fans during my visits have always stuck in my craw. I have had no visit to the City of Brotherly Love for a sporting event in which I was not heckled or criticized for wearing my own team's colors in a way that was more consistent, inappropriate or predictable than one would find anywhere else. Of the 23 major league sports teams in the United States' Northeast Megalopolis, the Philadelphia Eagles are the lone team I have yet to see in person, and while this isn't intentional, it hasn't really been accident either.

Basically, if you're reading between the lines here, I don't much like the Eagles.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

So can we talk about how much I missed hockey?

Yes, yes, yes, I know none of you are really going to be as excited about this as I am when all the attention focused on the American sports world right now has to do with the first annual Har-bowl spectacular, but really, how many stories about the strong bond between these two brothers can you read over the next two weeks? Answer: not very many. It's going to get boring after a while. It might get nearly as redundant as the stories about Ray Lewis chasing a title in his "last ride," a story that is only important because there are obviously no players on the 49ers with long productive careers that have never won a championship or anything. So don't worry, we probably won't be hearing about any of them, just like we haven't heard about any of them so far.

The Harbaugh brothers and Ray Lewis are basically going to be the only people in the Superdome next weekend.

Until then, however, we need something to fill our time and I have just the thing for you. There was quite a bit of skepticism from media pundits about how hockey might be negatively impacted by its third major work stoppage in 20 years, but attendance, TV ratings and ticket sales all seem to argue otherwise. Now, anyone who was following the action leading up to the season openers probably could have read the tea leaves and known fan response would be strong, but for me, personally, as I sat down on my couch last night and watched the Devils thump the Flyers on national TV while I watched the Blackhawks pick up a big division win against St. Louis on my iPad, all I could think was one thing.

"Holy crap, I missed this."

Now, I probably watch more hockey than most of you so perhaps I was simply going through withdrawal since my addiction wasn't being fed, but watching a game you love when you've gone longer than expected without seeing it is a hell of a lot of fun. And so far, it's been a hell of a lot of fun. Granted, I may simply be feeling that way because the Devils are 2-0-0 while the Rangers and Flyers are both winless with five games played between them, but how could I not be enthused when Ilya Kovalchuk is potting penalty shots or making beautiful saucer passes like this one?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Hallelujah, hockey is back! Oh and there's football.

As I watched the puck drop between the Devils and Islanders last night to start the long-awaited NHL season I realized just how much I missed watching my team and watching hockey in general. In many ways, it was a bit of a cathartic day and my only regret was that I wasn't back in the office like I have been in years past to absorb as much of it as I possible could.

I needn't fear though. In the crazy, hectic 48-game shortened schedule there will be plenty of hockey to watch in the 99 days that will compose the NHL regular season, and I for one, really can't wait to be distracted by it on a nightly basis. In fact, despite being on about five hours of sleep right now, I just may stay up late watching the Blackhawks visit Phoenix tonight because, well, I missed it all that much.

I could expound upon this a little more, but I'm short for time and I pretty much laid out how I think this season will pan out in some extensive detail here. You can read up on it if you're so inclined.

In the meantime, though, I'm content to just sit back and watch the puck drop. Oh, and watch some football. I suppose I should get into that since there are some sort of kind of big games today. Here's how I'm expecting them to go, and it is only slightly biased by my own hopes toward the outcome.

AFC Championship Game
(4) Baltimore over (2) NEW ENGLAND

NFC Championship Game
(1) ATLANTA over (2) San Francisco

Enjoy the football, and welcome back to hockey season, everyone.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Oh, holy crap, it's 2013 already?

I'm not sure what reason all of you have for coming here to read this blog -- really, I'm not -- but I do know that it must be something, whether its the spot-on NFL predictions (almost .500 this year!) or the astute sports commentary, there has to be a draw. Or you're all wasting your time. Whichever it is, I appreciate the page views. That said, I can certainly say with certainty what my favorite thing that I write about here is and it is, without question, my end of the year recaps in which I not-so-briefly detail every nook and cranny about my sports-going, world-traveling, not-so-great-with-women-but-I'm-getting-better-I-swear life.

It's pretty fun, right?

Well, perhaps you don't really remember since I've only done it twice, but if we roll the calendars back to late 2011 or even late 2010, you can see with amazement, and possibly amusement, all of the airports, sports venues, countries or In-N-Out Burgers I've been to. Yes, it's important information, and that's why I'm making sure to get all of it to you post haste so long as I can write enough bullshit to get me to the jump first.

But some of you might have noticed that by "post haste" I actually meant "when I finally remembered." That's because if you're clever or read calendars you no doubt noticed that today is actually January 15, 2013 and not January 1, 2013 or some time in late December 2012. That is because due to some very important and very technical reasons, my 2012 year in review was delayed because a unexpected thing happened where I completely and totally forgot about it.

Many of you probably find this shocking. Others (and by "others" I mean "none of you") merely found it interesting. But the important thing is that none of you realized it at all because only four of you read this. Fortunately for everybody involved, however, I eventually remembered. And so, without further ado, here it is.

Friday, January 11, 2013

There's football this weekend! And it just might be interesting!

Ladies and gentlemen, if you're like me -- and if you're lucky, you are -- you love playoff football. In fact, when the Giants decided to go belly up for no real reason whatsoever this December, part of me was mildly comforted because I was free to watch the NFL playoffs without anxiety or agita. I was simply going to get to sit back and watch some top-tier football for the sheer enjoyment of it. This is a phenomenon I first realized back in 2011 when the Devils, enduring their worst season in nearly two decades, missed the playoffs for the first time since I was just hitting puberty, and I realized that watching your team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is more angst-inducing than fun. Who knew?

However, for me to enjoy this peculiar phenomenon, there is one odd quirk that has to come through for me.  The games actually have to be good.

Last weekend, the NFL kind of came up short on this one. The Packers romped over the Vikings in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the score would indicate -- though it did feature some hilarious Joe Webb pseudo passes -- the Ravens made relatively quick work of the Colts while ESPN and CBS tried desperately to sell the angle of it being Ray Lewis' last game in Baltimore and then there was the Texans and Bengals. In the game that seemed the closest matchup of the week, Houston got past Cincinnati in a game that was somehow amazingly uninteresting to watch despite being a one-score game in the final two minutes. Perhaps it was the fact that neither team is particularly sexy, interesting or a traditionally beloved franchise on par with, say, Green Bay, Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, but good lord, how was this game so boring? I don't get it.

Yes, I acknowledge that the Seattle-Washington game which wrapped up the weekend was actually not half bad since it did include a double-digit comeback. After the first quarter, however, Washington looked about as lively as Stephen Hawking at a funeral and by the time the game was over the Seahawks had opened up a 10-point lead and people were less interested in who was playing than who wasn't.

So yeah, that was probably the worst opening weekend of playoff football in a long time, so if I'm going to convince myself that watching these games is worthwhile when the Giants aren't playing in any of them, the NFL is going to have to do better. Fortuantely for all of us, I think they're about to this weekend. Yes, as much as I don't really like some of the teams playing (Baltimore, New England) and don't really have an opinion one way or the other about the rest of them, there isn't one matchup this weekend that looks like a dud to me.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Ripping the 64-year-old monkey off your back

Bowl games are completely meaningless. For many they are a sign of college football's rich tradition and the greatness of scholar athletes competing simply for the love of the game in sport's purest sport. Those many people are all delusional. College football is a business and the athletes at most major Division-I programs are not for zest of sport nor being particularly challenged academically. The NCAA is a feeder league and a proving ground for the few fortunate ones that will some day play one down in the NFL or any one of a half dozen minor professional leagues. And the bowl game, that concept, is one riddled with farcical awe and manufactured history. The games do not sell out, for all but the national championship game they have virtually no purpose, school's often lose money when their teams earn berths due to an inability to sell their compulsorarily-bought ticket alottements and no one in the world remembers that Central Michigan beat up Middle Tennessee State in the 2006 Motor City Bowl (since re-named the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl). The bowl game is a heartless, monetarily-driven racket that uses the facade of rewarding student athletes to bring money into the pockets of sponsors, broadcasters and nonsensical bowl committees and for decades has shamelessly prevented an actual college football playoff that could legitimately determine a national champion by on-field performance rather than a homecoming prom vote.

But as a college football fan, one has to rationally accept these conditions and pretend not to be blinded by them, because all you can really hope for is to see your team do the best it can given the parameters of the system, and in those unlikely seasons when you play for a national title, that means winning a bowl game. I may know rationally in my head that bowls are pointless and that for many the winner of, say, the 2013 Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl will be long forgotten by both, but, as an alum for a program so-maligned as Northwestern, there is no getting around the fact that Northwestern did the best it could given the parameters of the system for the first time since two years before my father was born.

And goddamnit it felt good.

To understand the reasons a victory in a mid-level bowl game were so satisfying, it is really necessary to understand the psyche of being in a school that because of its focus on academics rather than athletics, is always derided when it comes to the games. Sure, Northwestern has had its moments of triumph in the sports we take pride in but no one else really notices, but college athletics really come down to two beasts: football and basketball, and when it came to either we were marked as the losingest football program in NCAA history (a mark we relinquished to Indiana this season), a team with the longest bowl-losing streak in the country at nine games, a team that hadn't so much as won a single bowl game since the 1949 Rose Bowl, a team that had the longest overall losing streak in college football history and a basketball program that somehow has never qualified for the NCAA Tournament.