Tales of Bittersweet Loyalty

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Perfecting the Round Table: The NFL is Back

In Florida, Football, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Loyalty, New York, Perfecting the Round Table, Philadelphia, Washington DC on August 5, 2011 at 1:30 PM

As a companion to our Perfecting the Big Question series, we bring you Perfecting the Round Table where our contributors discuss various topics back and forth.

Rahat Ahmed (): Now that this NFL season is more or less a reality, we’ve seen an unusual amount of big-name players changing teams.  The first thing that’s struck me involve two teams who, if I had to choose at this very moment, would be my Super Bowl picks: The New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles.  The former’s coup of both Haynesworth and Ochocinco is a massive blow to the Jets, Steelers and other competitors in the AFC.  The latter somehow straggling away Asomugha from the Jets and then picking up Young in “free agency” (which is a completely underrated and potentially quite deadly move) puts them in a spot to fend off the constantly underachieving NFC East.  Some would argue that the Falcons are better equipped than the Eagles (and honestly, considering what they gave up for Julio Jones, you pretty much have to assume they think they’re going all the way), but does Vick simply have that redemption factor backing him all the way to Indianapolis?

Andrew Feingold (): I think the whole Nnamdi talks to the Jets was a smokescreen he apparently wanted to play for the Eagles all along. It was a wise decision not to sign him giving them the cap to go after Plax and re-sign Cromartie and Eric Smith. Restructuring the cap for players like LT, Sanchez, etc. gave them some more flexibility. Next up is to re-sign Harris to a long-term deal. Of course, Rex Ryan said today it’s the best roster he has seen while with the Jets.
I think the Rams and Jags did some under the radar moves which should help them out for the upcoming season. I’m sure SI will predict a Pats-Eagles SB but one thing we know is that the best team on paper does not always make it to the big game.

Marcus Bui (): I agree with Rahat’s forethought into the NFL seasons so far, that on paper, the Patriots and the Eagles are the best teams—that’s on paper though. However, with the NFL’s incredible parity, I’d like to draw the attention to two teams that I think have a legitimate chance of surprising everyone with a deep post season showing: The Texans and the Lions.

Let me be the first to say that I am a Houston fan, and as such, you have to be a realist and not an optimist if you are going to root for a Houston team or be prepared to blow your brains out. As such, this is the first time that I am excited enough about the Texans that I don’t have to start any relevant sentence with “if [insert optimistic event here] happens, we’ll make the post season for sure.” Having a top 5 offense (with arguably the #1 WR and RB), multiple D-line Pro-Bowlers with a good defensive coordinator in Wade Phillips and having the only “major” loss in free agency so far be Vonta Leach—the Texans did what teams need to do during free agency in fulfilling needs with reasonable contracts. Johnathan Joseph was considered by most to be the second best DB available after Asomugha and they picked up Danieal Manning as well. This doesn’t provide the Texans with a top 5 defensive secondary but they no longer possess the type of secondary that literally loses them 5 games a year. Pair this with a weakening AFC South, where Peyton Mannings’s shoulders has to carry not only an aging Colts team but also his recently surgically repaired neck and a below average Titans (sorry, Rahat) and Jaguars, if the Texans go anything less than 10-6, then perhaps Houston really is just a cursed city.

The other team I’d like to draw attention to is the Detroit Lions. It’s crazy that it was only a short time ago that the Lions were 0-16. It’s not crazy though that being bad makes you good—with draftees like Stafford and Suh—I would say that the Lions are my pick for this year’s NFL dark horse. The Lions have a plethora of talent throughout their team. The Lions defensive is scary good—Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Stephen Tulloch (sorry again, Rahat), etc. I also feel that their offensive side is definitely something to watch as well. Dynamic RBs in Jahvid Best and rookie Mikel Leshourne, the league’s most athletically talented wide receiver in Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, an underrated O-Line (#6 in fewest sacks allowed) and finally, Matthew Stafford—who I personally think is better than fellow young QB’s Mark Sanchez and Joe Flacco (both whom also lead playoff anticipating teams). Consider that the only real threat in their division are the Packers (sorry, Vikings and the Bears fans) but being bad in the prior year is so rewarding to NFL teams that not only do they get high draft picks, but they also get an easier NFL schedule the following year. I think saying that the Lions going 8-8 wouldn’t be too hard for anyone to swallow, but if they can steal a couple games, they’ll be in the heart of the postseason battle as well.

And with that, remember that you read it here first at Perfecting the Upset—“The Marquee matchup of Super Bowl XLVI is Texans and Lions.”

Rahat Ahmed (): As much as I like the Lions (mostly because of the Jim Schwartz-connection and his siphoning off of former Titans), they’re still a year too early.  Most importantly, as C.D. pointed out in his article, I don’t trust Stafford’s health.  And Stanton, while sufficient for running a middle-of-the-pack offense, is not the guy who can manage a game for a Super Bowl contender.  And if we’re talking about the NFC, I can see both wild card spots going to the Bucs, Falcons or Saints—whichever NFC South team doesn’t win the division.  That is a brutal division that, sadly for the Panthers even with the reassuring moves they’ve made, has 3 legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

C.D. Hale (): My thought on big-ticket free agents is this: More often than not, you’re paying big bucks for what a guy has done, not what he’s going to do. For instance, Asomugha isn’t going to improve as a cornerback, nor are other big-ticket free agents. The key is to find young, cheap guys through the draft and free agency that serve as building blocks for a championship contender. Let’s be honest, for all the high-profile pickups of the Jets and Patriots, it’s teams like Green Bay and Pittsburgh—those who build their franchises in-house—who experienced the most success last year.

As for everyone’s Patriots vs. Eagles Super Bowl prediction, it’s a simple one; it’s also the wrong one. Michael Vick can’t stay healthy, and let’s not forget that his short-armed pass into the end zone last year cost the Eagles a playoff victory against the eventual champion Packers. Meanwhile, the Patriots have become uber-reliant on aging vets the last few years. Meanwhile, they haven’t won a Super Bowl since 2004. This is not a coincidence.

Nick Britton (): I can safely predict that the Miami Dolphins will not be in the playoffs this year. I can’t tell you how annoying it is to watch the Jets and Patriots get better by the day while Miami re-signs 74-year old Jason Taylor. I don’t know that Kyle Orton is the answer but I’d prefer him to any other QB on the roster now. Unfortunately, I don’t think it matters at this point: Matt Moore of Panthers fame was signed the other day. Still Henne’s team, though. I think we’ve seen the best Henne has to offer.

The big news for the Dolphins was Reggie Bush. A lot of people were down on Ronnie Brown, but I always liked him. And I really liked Ricky Williams, as ineffective as he was. If Brown goes to the Patriots [Ed: Brown has since signed with the Eagles.], I can assure you he’ll have an excellent season. The Wes Welker Effect. I wouldn’t mind seeing Williams back. I think he might return but I doubt Brown does. My guess is Miami starts the season with Bush as the feature back and rookie Daniel Thomas out of K-State backing him up. I say just keep handing it off to Lousaka Polite. And I don’t want to make light of a serious illness, but Brandon Marshall being not right in the head was a given, no? In all seriousness, I think it’s good he’s addressed it publicly and he’s getting treated for it. Let’s just hope he can get treatment for the QB problem.

Anyway, I think you can pretty much bank on either the Pats or the Jets winning the AFC East and getting a wildcard.

The Florida team to watch this year is easily Tampa Bay. Josh Freeman is a stud and I think he’ll be a top 5 QB this year. I think they need another WR, though, to line up opposite (the other) Mike Williams. I thought Steve Breaston would be a good fit but he’s on the Chiefs now. And Maurice Stovall went to the Lions. But I think Freeman and Boise State fan LeGarrette Blount make Tampa Bay the favorite in the NFC South. Blount was a monster last year in just half a season.  I do agree with Rahat that this division is brutal.

I don’t think Michael Vick is what the Eagles need. Regardless of what I think about him as a person, I don’t think highly of him as a QB. I’ll say that last year was flukey and he comes back down to earth this year. I like the Vince Young signing though, and I like the Asomugha signing. Even with a down-to-earth Vick, there’s no way anyone in the NFC East competes with the Eagles this year.

I agree on the Patriots. I still think they win the division or a wildcard, but the balance of power in the East has shifted. They’re too old.

Bradley Freedman (): I find it hard to argue that both the Patriots and the Eagles aren’t going to be even better this year than they were last year. They are both real threats to win a Super Bowl, even though neither of them are my pick. (For the same reasons given by some of my colleagues: Vick’s unreliability and the Patriots’ age.) For what it’s worth, my Super Bowl pick is the Packers. There’s that old football cliche that when a good player comes back from an injury, it’s like adding a new signing. Considering that they were able to win a championship in spite of numerous injuries last year, I see a healthy Packers team repeating by virtue of adding the players who were supposed to be there last year.

Whether or not any of the big free agents lead their team to a Super Bowl, the nature of these signings is fascinating. I don’t remember a time when so many teams have doubled-up with superstars at key defensive positions. Vince Wilfork and Albert Haynesworth on one team? Who ever heard of a team being deep at nose tackle? Based on the early reports from Patriots training camp, Belichick may be switching to a 4-3 with Wilfork and Haynesworth in the middle. This would no doubt make Haynesworth happy, and Haynesworth is frightening when he’s happy. If Belichick is moving to a 4-3, then, along with the Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairly pairing up in the middle for the Lions, I’m looking forward to watching these two 4-3 schemes more than any team’s 3-4 in 2011. Hell, I’m looking forward more to those defensive fronts than I am most teams’ offenses.

Like many fans I was also looking forward to the sheer audacity of a Revis-Asomugha project in New York. But the trio of Asomugha, Rodgers-Cromartie, and Samuels in the secondary for Philadelphia is almost as ridiculous. Of course, this is assuming the Eagles keep all three players and keep them all at corner. If that’s the case, at any given time the Eagles are going to have a Pro-Bowl corner standing on the sidelines. It will probably be Samuels.

Defense seems to be where much of the top-level talent is in this free agent class. And defense seems to be where much of the creativity is going to be this year. Yes, it’s a heavy-handed creativity, based on the premise that two stars are better than one. But I’m looking forward to it, especially since it is not going to be the sort of thing that every team can copy. Any team can decide to incorporate multiple eligible passers with the wild cat or go to a running back tandem. But not every team will be able to stack multiple Pro Bowlers in the same position.

Andrew Feingold (): Despite the age of the Pats at certain positions, they have young pieces in line at the RB, O-line and defensive positions. They are also the favorites to win the AFC East, which means home field advantage once again. For the Jets to take the next step, they need a home playoff game and for Sanchez to develop further. While the Packers are a popular pick to make it back to the SB, I want to see if the Falcons can breakthrough.

C.D. Hale (): See, I’m not so sure being the favorite in the East is a path to home-field advantage. The Jets are tough, and the Dolphins (despite their mediocrity) tend to play the Pats hard. Meanwhile, teams like the Chargers and Colts can feast on weak divisions and perhaps carve out their own path to home-field. Plus, I’m just not sure where the Pats’ game-breakers are. Ocho and Welker are both solid No. 2 receivers, but they lack a go-to threat. The running game is good but not great. And Brady, for all his other worldliness, hasn’t exactly set the playoffs on fire the last few years. If you get to him, the Pats are extremely beatable, as evidenced by the Divisional Playoff round last season.

Call me crazy, but I think the Colts or Chargers have one more run left in them. Maybe San Diego needed to be humbled last year, to show that you can’t start the season halfway through and still make the playoffs. Plus, again, awful division.

Andrew Feingold (): The Texans are on the cusp of winning that division even though they have a tough schedule this year. Peyton just lost his left tackle, and this is the first time I can remember he’s had a major health concern coming into the season. The Chargers have an easy path but Ryan Mathews is already banged up and the defense lost Brandon Siler and Kevin Burnett. While they should win the division, the Chiefs are still a solid team and when was the last time Norv Turner won a big game?

By the way, the Pats beat the Dolphins 41-14 and 38-7 last season, and this year they will have the quarterback carousel. Clearly the Steelers and Ravens have to be in the discussion as well.

C.D. Hale (): All good points, and while I picked the Texans to make the playoffs, that division still belongs to the Colts, Manning injury or no. Manning is a machine. Yeah, he’ll miss the preseason, but he’ll be there in Week 1 steering the ship, throwing to a (finally!) healthy receiving corps. As for the Chargers, yeah, Mathews is banged up, but Tolbert is solid enough, and let’s be honest, that offense goes through Rivers anyway. The NFL is a league now won with passing and pass rushing (e.g., the Packers last year), and I’m not sure the Pats have enough of the latter to go all the way. And while Brady is a stud, Welker hasn’t been the same player since he blew out his knee and Moss left town, and Ochocinco is a Pro Bowler in name only at this point. I’d argue their best receiver is up-and-coming tight end Aaron Hernandez.

As for Baltimore and Pittsburgh, they might be the two best teams in the AFC for all we know. However, I don’t trust Flacco or those receivers, and Pittsburgh is quietly getting older on defense.

As for the NFC, it’s a toss-up. My best guess is Green Bay, as they won the Super Bowl with some of their best players on the shelf, but damn, that’s almost too easy a pick. Atlanta could get it done, but there’s something about Matt Ryan I just don’t trust. Maybe it’s that crappy nickname. Philly? Super teams rarely work in the NFL. Dallas? Wishful thinking. Tampa? Not ready. Same for Detroit. I’d say New Orleans, but they seem like a team that caught lightning in a bottle and rolled to a title. I don’t see them doing that again.

Here’s a question to turn this on its head a little bit. Who will be the worst team in football? I vote Carolina. Tough division, no QB. Hell, aside from the fact that Ric Flair is their most famous fan, they have no personality of which to speak. Plus, Jimmy Clausen seems like a punk.

Sean Koo (): I know my timing is off, but going back first I would say that there is no team that did not want Nnamdi. Regardless of his age or injury history, he is worth the risk and the Eagles got him at a bargain. Second, while both the Patriots and the Eagles made the biggest splash, neither of them will be in the Super Bowl. I think you guys have thoroughly picked apart the Patriots, so I’ll just throw in a note about the Eagles. Not even considering a Michael Vick injury, the Eagles need the most help on defense, and everyone has forgotten about how they have a new defensive coordinator who was the former O-line coach. Aside from him being completely new to coaching that side of the ball, he has never put a defensive system in place and no one can expect him to do wonders in his first year. If it was as easy as plugging any coach in, Sean McDermott would still be there.

My vote is that the Packer or Saints will come back out of the NFC. The NFC South will be brutal, but I expect the Falcons to come back to earth—by the end of the season teams were figuring them out. As much as I would love the Bucs to win the division, they’re still a season away from really contending. They need to find stability with another winning season and getting into the playoffs will be a more likely goal before making a real push the following year.

My dark horse for the NFC is the Vikings. Yes, McNabb is old, but with Percy Harvin and AD, McNabb will get them as far as Favre did, and the defense should still be solid, even with Edwards leaving.

I’d say it’ll be the Steelers again out of the AFC, but there’s just too many good teams to really tell. Colts, Pats, Steelers and Chargers as division winners—as usual aside from the 1 or 2 off years, but that’s the AFC.  Good teams stay good and the bad teams stay bad.

Worst team is going to be the Bengals. They don’t have a QB, their head coach has been through the wringer, they’re in a division with two superior teams and a promising team in the Browns. Somehow they are signing defensive free agents, but they still seem to be standing still. The Bengals challenge the Raiders for worse franchise but they even have less talent than the Raiders (who would be the best Vegas bet on possibly doing something out of no where like win the division).

Marcus Bui (): I’d agree with you Clint with the Panthers as the worst team in football. I do think they will have a 4 win season though—which might net them second or third to last though. For them to not be in last place, they need to play at their biggest strength: Their running game. Last year, they hardly ran the ball, I know, I had both Deangelo and Stewart on my fantasy team. Since their QB, WR, TE is mediocre (I think I’m being pretty lenient there), that too should promote running the ball more. The panthers are solid enough on the O-line and defense that I could feel hopeful for them. You never know, maybe they’ll surprise us. “Worst” case scenario would be they just had to wait a year for Andrew Luck.

Sreesha Vaman (): I’d nominate the Redskins as worst team in football. They might look better than they really are because they are in a tough division, but they’d be equally miserable in worse divisions. At the moment, their only QB options are John Beck, a marginal backup, and Rex Grossman. Don’t get me wrong, there is talent there.  The defense isn’t all terrible—I even started them once last year and did well that week—and they definitely took a step in the right direction by getting younger this off-season, but that means growing pains before results.

Nick Britton (): If John Beck is even on your roster, hell, even your practice squad, you’re really up shit creek. The Bengals are looking at the Redskins and saying, “Well, at least we don’t have Beck, right?”

I’ll nominate the Raiders by default. The Raiders win the title automatically until they make the playoffs or Al Davis dies.

Shaughn Balezentes (): I’m surprised no one has nominated the Seahawks as the worst team in football. They had Matt Hasselbeck for years and brought in Charlie Whitehurst last year to be his eventual replacement. Obviously they didn’t see enough in Charlie after a year with the team to think he could be an adequate replacement, so they’re solution is to go out and sign Tavaris Jackson. Granted they signed Sidney Rice as well, but who is going to get him the ball? their offensive line was a mess last year, and they think they’ve got those problems solved through the draft and the signing of Robert Gallery, except all the draft analysts say they reached for all of the linemen they drafted and Gallery has been injury prone the last few seasons. Maybe hiring Tom Cable as the O-line coach will help, but in the NFL talent wins and the Seahawks don’t have much.

Masahito Ogasawara (): As much as I’d like to feel optimistic about this season, and there certainly have been good moves made by the Texans, this culture of failure that has existed since the franchise’s inception still makes me a pessimist when it comes to this team. It seems like every year, the so-called experts on TV declare Houston as the “sleeper” or “dark horse” in the preseason, and for the past few years, they predicted that this team will finally get over the hump and make the playoffs. We all know that didn’t happen, and I’m starting to feel that those analysts jinx us every year. So regardless of all the great moves we’ve made this off-season (I have to admit, bringing in Wade Phillips alone gave me false hope for a few days that our defense got better already) until I see it, I won’t believe that this team will make the playoffs.

First, it doesn’t matter how great our offense is, it’s proven to be a moot point in the last 3 seasons when we finished in top 5. This league is about defense, as it is in any other major sports league, and until we prove on that side of the ball, we will never make the playoffs. Talking about Wade Phillips and the improvements he can bring as well as his track record of success is all fine and good, but one thing this team still lacks is the ability to pass rush. Mario Williams moving to OLB is a huge risk and still a big unknown. As great as he is, he’s still 6’7, 285 lbs. DeMeco Ryans is coming off of an Achilles’ tendon rupture and history doesn’t bode well for him as far as type of injury is concerned. I’m not optimistic how Cushing will transition to the 3-4, and he hit a major sophomore wall last year. One glaring need that our GM has ignored is the NT position.  We’re not gonna survive with Earl Mitchell/Shaun Cody at NT all season, unless you are playing Madden. Signing Jonathan Joseph and Danieal Manning was huge and will definitely help our secondary, but Wade Phillips 3-4 defense is all about the front 7 generating pass rush, and until we improve in that area, the improvements in the secondary won’t be as beneficial. And speaking of which, we still have Kareem Jackson and Jason Allen at our other CB spot, and they are very good at “escorting” opposing WRs into the end zone on a regular basis.

Finally, I think the loss of Vonta Leach will hurt our running game a lot more than people think. He did make Foster look good last year, and our running game will suffer this year in my opinion. And no, the Colts are not going to suck, and I think Peyton’s neck will be just fine. If anything, he will have more weapons available this year (hello, Dallas Clark) and he still had the Colts winning the division last year despite all the injuries that offense had. Once again, it’s their division to lose, and they are still the clear favorite to win the AFC South.

Rahat Ahmed (): The team with the worst record in the NFL this year will not be the worst team.  The Panthers will get mauled in their divisional games and are slated to play the Colts, Texans, Packers and some other very competitive teams.  They’ll once again have the worst record, but in terms of actual gameplay, I may have to pick the Buffalo Bills.  Fitzpatrick is not a solution, though I do like him.  And losing Posluszny is going to hurt them a lot in a division packed with offensive threats (yes, the Dolphins make this list because of Marshall and Bush).

The major power that I don’t see making the playoffs this year is the Colts.  The Texans breaking out has become a broken record, but things have to click sometime.  Regardless of the final standings, the team has progressed quite a bit over the past three years, and this is the year they take the division.  The Jaguars and Titans are wild cards, but Manning can only do so much for a team that should have gone no better than 7-9 last year with the talent present.  In fact, if he does take this team to an 11+ win season and a trip deep into the postseason, we may have to once and for all anoint him the greatest quarterback ever—though that’s a different discussion altogether.

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The Future of Hockey on the Isle

In Hockey, Loyalty, New York on August 3, 2011 at 11:10 AM

Before I get to the main thrust of this article, it should be noted I’m a Rangers fan, thus hate the Islanders with an intense passion, and that colors everything I think about this situation.

But contrary to how you might interpret that sentence, I want the Isles to stay on Long Island.

I want them to stay badly.

I value this rivalry more than the Yankees and Red Sox or Arsenal and Spurs. Certainly more than the Rangers and Devils or Rangers and Flyers.

But despite Chris Botta’s original optimism on ESPN NY that the Isles would win the crucial vote, the chances of that happening are getting very slim after Monday’s referendum on the $400m loan from Nassau County to fix the old Mausoleum was voted down.

Sure, they are a perennially awful and mismanaged franchise. Nothing Charles Wang, or the people Charles Wang has put his trust in, has worked out for them, and for as bad as they’ve been over the last decade, you’d expect them to have built up an amazing team through the draft, as Pittsburgh and Washington did and Edmonton are in the process of doing. Tavares and Niederreiter aside, there are some major question marks in their system, despite Hockey’s Future ranking the organization #6 (the Rangers are #7, for the record)—especially in goal.

How mismanaged are the Islanders? The two key players from this year’s Stanley Cup finals were drafted by them: Roberto Luongo was traded after they drafted Rick DiPietro, and Zdeno Chara was traded away because they wanted Alexei Yashin, giving Rangers fans plenty to laugh at for a long time (and the Rangers returned the favor by signing Chris Drury and Wade Redden).

It’s curious to me, actually, that a lot of younger Ranger fans don’t have the raging hatred of the Islanders that older Rangers fans do. The split seems to come circa 1994, in the Cup year. Fans too young to remember the Cup hate the Devils more, or the Flyers or Penguins (mostly Crosby). But to me, and most fans who are old enough to remember the Cup (and sweeping the Isles in the first round en route to that Cup), the Rangers prime rival will always be on Long Island.

I think their fans are goobers (Gary Bettman grew up rooting for them, for Christ’s sake!), personally, but more in a playful way, not in the same way Thrashers fans were. Thrashers fans, with a few die-hard fan exceptions, deserved to lose their franchise. In the case of the Isles, it’s more that the franchise-as-run deserves to lose their fans, which has the unfortunate knock-on effect of the fans potentially losing their franchise. And the Rangers losing their prime rivalry.

It’s an interesting rivalry, in that whichever team is doing worse in the standing tends to win the season series. There’s such an intense hatred that the worse team plays with a motor that they don’t have against other teams, and it leads to absurd chants like You can’t beat us! with a callback of Make the playoffs!

So, what now though?

Might the Islanders move to Kansas City, who have an arena and desire for a hockey team? The surging St. Louis Blues wouldn’t be a fan of this idea, and might make the team less desirable as they are about to be sold by Checketts’ group.

Not only would the Blues not like this idea, but the rest of the Eastern Conference also wouldn’t like this idea. After moving the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg, and the probability that they will end up in the Western Conference once the dust settles (meaning one team currently in the West would move east—probably the Columbus Blue Jackets), moving the Islanders west of Detroit would up the likelihood of the Red Wings entering the East, something Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch has reportedly been pressing the NHL commish for years.  That’s not something any of the 14 remaining teams in the East would welcome, though something that would make Bettman want to touch himself (extra Wings games with the Rangers, Leafs, Bruins, Flyers and Habs? A ratings boon for sure).

Might they move to Brooklyn, into the Barclay’s Center, when their lease is up? It would keep them in the East, and in New York, thus keeping the rivalry alive. But as a Brooklyn native and resident, this sends shivers of disgust up my spine. The Brooklyn Islanders? No, no, no. I vote no.

Despite what Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz says, this is not a good idea. Not a good idea at all, dammit. With the bad blood between Madison Sq Garden and the group that own their farm team, the Hartford Whale, many Ranger fans were hoping it would be the Baby Rangers moving into the ice rink that the Barclay’s Center will have (which is thought to have about 14,500 seats, or 4,300 seats fewer than MSG’s 18,200 hockey capacity). Also, there’s the fact that Nets partial owner Mikhail Prokhorov says he has no interest in owning another sports team, though Wang would be admitting defeat if he sold anyway, and he doesn’t seem like the type who would give in, especially not after sticking it out for this long.

The Islanders must move out of their awful arena, of course. But they must stay on the Island, just as the Devils had to move out of their awful arena, but stayed in North Jersey.

I don’t know how this can be achieved, however. Most Nassau County voters and politicians don’t seem to want to lift a finger to help owner Charles Wang keep the Isles on the Island.

Hockey fans aside, it was the oddly ironic coalition of Tea Partiers and Democrats who turned out in force to vote in Monday’s referendum, which was expected to be an extremely low turnout, but ended at up at a “high” 17% of registered voters. This may be the only thing the two sides have ever agreed on, and was seen as a referendum on the debt ceiling bill passed in Congress over the weekend.

Long Island has some of the highest property taxes in the country already, so the early optimism seems a bit misplaced. This always seemed doomed from the start to me. Nassau Count Executive Ed Mangano (R) might have signed his political death certificate with this vote, but that’s a story for another article.

The thing is, though, if we’re to take Charles Wang at his word, he has lost around $250 million dollars on a team that hasn’t won the Cup since 1983, and Nassau County, who loved those 1980s teams so much but have the worst current attendance record in the league, are still unwilling to throw him a bone.

That’s not right.

Perfecting the Big Question: The First Game

In Baseball, Basketball, Football, Hockey, Houston, Loyalty, New York, Perfecting the Big Question, Seattle, Wrestling on July 29, 2011 at 12:03 PM

With a varied list of contributors to Perfecting the Upset, we decided it made sense to start a series of articles where we’d throw out a question to the crew and see how they stand.  This week, we ask:

What was the first game you ever attended?

(Don’t forget to check out our Allegiances table to know our loyalties.)

Rahat Ahmed
The first professional game I attended soon became part of one of my first memorable heartbreaks: Game 6 of the 1992-93 Western Conference finals between the Houston Rockets and the Seattle SuperSonics.  My uncle surprised me with tickets, which led to me frantically printing out “banners” on our old dot matrix to cheer on Olajuwon and crew. (They were terrible, but an eleven year old has to make do with the technology he has access to.)  The first five games of the series had been decided by an average of 14.4 points, all won by the team at home.  Game 5, in fact, ended in a 25 slaughter by the Shawn Kemp-led Sonics.

The game was tight through half-time until Kenny “The Jet” Smith took it upon himself and ripped the Sonics 36-15 in the third quarter with his 13-for-16 shooting.  We won 103-90.  But the real memory of that series remains in two parts: The first was Game 7, which ended in a 3 point loss at Seattle in overtime.  It was the only game in the series that went down to the wire, where The Jet had a chance to clinch it at the end of regulation but failed.  We lost 103-100 because we simply couldn’t stop Sam Perkins.  Brutal.

But what I’ve never forgotten was outside the series, and why I’ve come to hate David Robinson and the San Antonio Spurs so much: Game 82 of the regular season was against them. We won the game outright during regulation, but Hugh Evans decided to count a tip-in at the buzzer that was clearly too late.  It was enough to send the game to overtime and help the Spurs eek out a 119-117 victory.  Most importantly?  It gave Seattle home court advantage against us, even though we both ended the season with the same record.  And considering we were 2-6 against them over the past two seasons due to our inability to contain Kemp, Payton and Perkins, we could have used that.  (Perkins, especially, was one of the few players in the league who gave Olajuwon problems due to his range and height.)

We know that one decision in the regular season doesn’t lead to your final seeding, but I’ve never been able to forget about it.  My first experience at The Summit remains blood-stained by Robinson and Evan and kept us from having a go at Jordan.

Nick Britton
I assume that the first sporting event I went to was a minor league baseball game but I don’t remember anything about it. And when I was a young’un I saw the Washington Bullets a couple of times and the Washington Capitals once. That’s all I remember.

The first game for which I remember any details was a Seattle Mariners/Baltimore Orioles game on June 6, 1993 at Camden Yards in Baltimore. The stadium was only about a year old then. I remember this game for a couple of reasons: One, my dad had procured access to the Tyson Chicken corporate luxury box, so I got to watch the game in style; and two, there was a giant brawl in the middle of the game.

The fight I remember well but the people involved faded from my memory over the past 18 years until a friend of mine found the box score for me. I knew Harold Reyonlds, Mike Mussina and Norm Charlton were involved and that Lou Piniella got thrown out for a temper tantrum. It was an epic fight by baseball standards, and it started as baseball fights usually do: Team A’s pitcher throws at or hits Team B’s batter and then Team B’s pitcher retaliates shortly thereafter. In this case, Chris Bosio of the M’s went headhunting and Mike Mussina of the O’s nailed some dude I’ve never heard of. Fight!

What I remember most was how the fight never seemed to end. Usually, these things end quickly and everyone’s standing around. The guys from the bullpen run in just to get some cardio in. But this fight just kept going on and on. The pile kept moving around the infield like those cups in that cup game they always throw up on the video board. Fights were breaking out all over the place. McNulty and Bunk tried to break things up until the umpires stopped them (the police did try to intervene). Apparently, Ripken was at the bottom of that mess. Everyone in the stadium was standing up just in awe of a real, honest-to-god fight on the baseball diamond. I was pretty sure it was the greatest thing I’d seen in my 14 years of life so far.

The end result: Chris Bosio broke his collarbone for the second time that season. Two guys on the O’s got all bloodied up. Norm Charlton threw some punches. Eight players were ejected, including Piniella (shocker).

I only knew who won thanks to the box score. But two teams brawling out all over the diamond, that’s the kind of thing that sticks with you. The only equivalent would be Pedro Martinez throwing Don Zimmer to the ground like a bag of flour. But I wasn’t there for that.

Oh, and Cal Ripken? Ripken lived to see another day (or so).

Andrew Feingold
Technically, the first game I ever went to was Rockets vs. Knicks at Madison Square Garden on December 3, 1983, when my mom was pregnant with me. When I was old enough to hear this story, I instantly became a Knicks fan. During the 1983-84 season, the Knicks finished 47-35 and lost in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to the Celtics. As a Knicks fan, this was just the beginning of losing series to playoff rivals. Hubie Brown was the coach of the team at the time, and to this day he remains one of my favorite announcers to hear on the radio.

C.D. Hale
Survivor Series ’94. San Antonio. Freeman Coliseum. I was 12, and our poor asses smuggled food in from the outside, a pseudo-white trash family of four taking in the ‘rasslin for the night. Couldn’t have enjoyed it more, particularly when Undertaker extracted revenge by defeating Yokozuna in a casket match. The special enforcer for that main event match? A Mr. Chuck Norris, the man who doesn’t read books, but rather, stares them down until he gets the information he wants.

Sean Koo
In September ’94, my dad took my brother and me to our first Buccaneers game. It was at the Old Sombrero against the New Orleans Saints, and little did I know that this would be the start of my hatred of the ‘Aints. In the midst of the Bucs’ thirteen year run of losing seasons, Sam Wyche was trying to put a consistent winner out on the field, but even his Super Bowl resume couldn’t get it done in Tampa. In a game that you could call a “defensive showdown” or an “offensive letdown,” the Bucs lost to the Saints 9-7. It would be a couple of more games until I saw my first win, and years until my first winning season, but being in the stadium for the first time and taking in the experience in all of its smash-mouth-football glory had me hooked. Buccaneer football at the Old or New Sombrero was the only way to go.

Sreesha Vaman
My first sporting event was a Capitals regular season game against the Minnesota North Stars in 1987, but it wasn’t the first one I was supposed to go to.

On November 1, 1985, my Capitals hosted an early-season home game against the New York Islanders—those New York Islanders, who had won four straight Stanley Cups and came one win away from a fifth.  Bossy.  Trottier.  Smith.  Potvin.  Gillies.  LaFontaine.  Two Sutters.  Tonelli.  A stacked line-up, one of the greatest teams ever assembled in the NHL.

So needless to say I was excited for weeks when my friend told me that his dad got four tickets to the game from work, and I was getting the fourth ticket.

The day before the game, I stayed out playing night roller hockey with my friends in the cold Indian summer air wearing a t-shirt and shorts… and got sick.  I could barely move the next morning.  I skipped school, slept as much as I could, but couldn’t convince my mom I was healthy enough to go to the game.

The 4pm vomiting didn’t help my cause.

At 5pm I succumbed, and another friend went to the game.  I watched the Caps beat the Isles, 5-3, on television.  My friend’s dad brought me a Capitals team calendar, which was the promotion that night.

Missing that game was a source of inspiration from then on, though: I watched every minute of every Capitals game on TV (unless I went to the game in person) from that year until I went to college outside of the DC area 12 years later.

In my junior and senior year, there was some home tape-delaying involved since I was working, playing club hockey, and, for a little bit, entertaining a girlfriend who wasn’t a sports fan; go figure—but I made it happen.

Still, I wondered how great it would have been to see my Caps perfect the upset (pun intended!) against the vaunted 1980s Islanders.

I still am jealous to this day.

The Family Man’s Guide to Being a Sports Fan

In Loyalty on July 26, 2011 at 10:35 AM

Alarm goes off. Get ready in a hurry and off to work. 8-5 it. Commute home. Get everyone fed. Bath time. Story time. Bed time. Time for random to-dos, maybe some time with the wife. Bed time around 11. Wake up the next day, and do it all over again. Welcome to life as a suburban family guy, where weekend birthday parties, youth league sports and stocking up on Capri Sun and Goldfish (love those things!) trump all. That includes sports.

Once upon a time, sports came first. I suffered through the post-Patrick/Olbermann era SportsCenter, all in the name of glossy highlight packages and over-coverage. Hell, I once filled out an NIT bracket. This led to an intervention, but I digress. Point is, with two kids on the payroll, the days of diehard sports fandom are long gone. These days, it’s all about being tactical, a quality-bests-quantity approach to sports, if you will.

Below are some tips to ensuring your love of sports doesn’t wilt with the arrival of your first born, meet-the-teacher nights, 2 a.m. wake-up calls, Saturday morning soccer matches and various other time-and-soul-draining parental tasks.

*Get a smartphone. iPhone. Droid. BlackBerry. Doesn’t matter. Get something portable with a dependable 3G signal and sports-friendly apps (I recommend Yahoo! Sportacular) that deliver timely score updates. That way, when you find yourself eating that second slice of cake at a child’s birthday party (red velvet rocks), or taking in the enjoyment (misery) that is a couple’s baby shower, you’ll be prepared should this event conflict with the big game.  Speaking of which, be prepared for all of these events to conflict with the big game. The karmic gods are sadistic that way.

*Avoid ESPN. It’s like crack. If you turn it on, you won’t turn it off, and the wife will treat you accordingly. Stick to the occasional online surfing session. Besides, you should be avoiding ESPN anyway because, well, ESPN sucks.

*Be a dedicated husband and father, thus ensuring “get out of jail free” status when it comes to watching sports at your undisturbed leisure. Yeah, right.

*Youth sports—pick the right season. Most suburban youth sports leagues operate on a four-season calendar. Pick the summer session for your kids, who should be allowed no say whatsoever in this matter. Considering most youth sports summer leagues run May-July, aside from baseball’s dog days and maybe an NBA playoff game here and there (assuming the league ever resumes play), you won’t miss much.

*Be selective. The days of 24/7 sports fandom are over, my friend. Time to get selective. College football or the NFL? NBA or the NHL? Gotta pick one, or risk become an uninformed, fairweather fan of both. Pare down fantasy football participation to a maximum of two teams, only one of which should be a money league (note: kids are expensive). Avoid fantasy baseball, which requires daily updating. As for fantasy basketball, well, no one plays fantasy basketball.

And if all else fails: Get divorced, die a sad, lonely sports diehard. Hey, we can’t all be winners, can we?

Perfecting the Big Question: Most Heartbreaking Moment

In Baseball, Basketball, Football, Loyalty, Perfecting the Big Question on July 21, 2011 at 12:00 PM

With a varied list of contributors to Perfecting the Upset, we decided it made sense to start a series of articles where we’d throw out a question to the crew and see how they stand.  To start off, what better than to answer a question that most of us try to avoid thinking about:

What is your most heartbreaking moment in sports history?

(Don’t forget to check out our Allegiances table to know our loyalties.)

Rahat Ahmed
Super Bowl XXXIV, January 30, 2000

And that’s how the heart breaks: With the final play of the most important game. With the legitimacy and lore of Earl Campbell, George Blanda and Warren Moon on the line with six seconds left.  With the Tennessee Titans trailing “The Greatest Show on Turf” by a touchdown.  This was it:

Dyson comes in motion, now resettles. McNair drops, throws right side for Dyson. He dives for the end zone!

He didn’t make it.

He came up one yard short. The Rams win by a yard.

The Titans announcers became quiet.  All of us who had stayed loyal to the Oilers after they left town stood still, mouths agape, in shock and dismay.  After avenging the Frank Reich comeback from 1993 with the Music City Miracle, we thought we were predestined to win it all, but Kurt Warner and crew had other plans.  An incredible game, a grand-standing finale for bystanders, forever etched in the annals of Super Bowl history as one of its most fantastic finishes.  But for us, it was nothing short of devastation.  Losing isn’t the end of the world, but when it happens by inches, the pain learns to linger on a lot longer.

Shaughn Balezentes
ALDS Game 3, October 13, 2001

You guys already know the play. Terrence Long doubles down the right field line. Jeremy Giambi tries to score from first. The right fielder makes an errant throw to the cut-off man. Every time I see the replay, I remember the few seconds where it looked like Giambi was going to score the tying run. Those few seconds were an eternity. In those seconds I thought, “This is it! This game is ours!” Then Derek Jeter sprints into the play and casually flips the ball to Jorge Posada.

I’ve never been humbled so instantly.

The real problem with “The Flip” wasn’t so much that the A’s lost that game. I always hear Yankee fans talk about “The Flip” as if it was limited to that specific game. Yankee fans are fucking idiots. “The Flip” forced a Game 4. In Game 4 Jermaine Dye fouled a ball of his shin so hard his bone shattered like plate glass in a Michael Bay film; he’d never be the same hitter again. We lost the series in Game 5. If we had won Game 3, there’s no doubt in my mind that Oakland carries the momentum of a Yankee sweep and wins the World Series. If we win the World Series, maybe Jason doesn’t run to New York that offseason. Maybe we’re able to extend Johnny Damon. We had the pitching. We had the hitting. Maybe we become the most dominant team of the decade.

Of course I’ll never know how it could have been. That’s the tragedy of “The Flip.”

Fuck Derek Jeter.

Rob Boylan
Champions League Final, May 17, 2006

Arsenal versus Barcelona in the Champions League Final at the Stade de France. The most bittersweet moment of my life. What an amazing run up to the final from an Arsenal point of view, though. It was one that saw Henry score a brilliant goal at the Bernabeu (that later featured in the shitfest Goal 2) in a 1-0 aggregate win over Real Madrid, and after the most perfect Arsenal goal ever against Juventus at Hughbury—Pires stripping the ball from former Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira, shunting it up to Henry, who pushed it on to future captain Cesc Fabregas who pushed the ball low past Juve keeper Gianluigi Buffon—to the last minute penalty save by Jens Lehman against Riquelme at Villareal that I could not physically bring myself to watch, all while setting the record for most consecutive clean sheets (10) and the record for longest time between goals allowed (995 minutes).

The week of the final started in scandal when the original match ref was pictured wearing a Barcelona shirt in a Norwegian paper, and things only went downhill from there. Despite already being despised by the club’s fans, Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell found themselves in the starting XI, where we featured our regular Champions League formation that season, the thoroughly non-Arsenal 4-5-1.

In the 18th minute, Arsenal’s world collapsed when Eto’o went through on goal and was tugged on my Arsenal keeper Jens Lehman, who was red carded for his effort, the goal Giuly scored on the loose ball disallowed. It was the second season in a row an Arsenal player had seen red in a final, after Jose Reyes was shown two yellows in the FA Cup final against Manchester United.

Both teams and both sets of fans, I think, would have preferred Lehmann stay on and the goal stand. Things got ugly from there and had ramifications beyond the match itself. Robert Pires was subbed off to bring on substitute keeped Manuel Almunia, and this was one of the reasons Pires left Arsenal for Villareal. Arsenal drew blood first, in a terribly uncomfortable way, when Emmanuel Eboue dove to get a free kick, which led to a Sol Campbell goal. It was wiped out in the second half when, despite Deco’s consistent diving in the box, it was Henrik Larsson who made all the difference. Eto’o scored in a goal I swear was offside (have not watched it again), and then Beletti scored the winner in a shot that Almunia should have had. Beyond this point is not a blur so much as a blank.

I’ve seen the match only once, live as it happened, and have never been able to watch it since. I had to close my eyes during the opening credits to the 2007 Champion’s League, where they showed that rotten bunch of bastards lifting the cup even. The team that got us to the final was not allowed to play in manager Arsene Wenger’s last ditch attempt to keep both wantaway players, Cole and Campbell, at the club — an effort which failed. Eboue was named defensive player of the tournament, but that was hardly a consolation for the Arsenal fans who have seen nothing but disappointment in the league and Cups since.

Nick Britton
World Series Game 7, October 27, 1991

Being a Braves fan in the 80s kind of sucked. They were decent in the early 80s, winning the West Division in 1982 behind Dale Murphy. But it was all downhill from there. The 1990 record: 65-97. In 1991, though, it seemed a bit different. At the halfway point, they were a game under .500. And then they began dominating the West and ended up a game up on the Dodgers for the pennant. The seven game series against the Pirates was a good one and had Drabek not injured himself, we might not be talking about the 1991 Series today. But the Braves won and soon found themselves in the ever-depressing Metrodome for Game 1 of the World Series. This was heaven for me: My favorite team in the World Series. I was the happiest fourteen year old in the world. Some funny stuff happened in that series: Kent Hrbek, the bastard, pulling Ron Gant off first base; Rick Aguilera pinch hitting; Mark Lemke being called a “World Series hero.” By the time Game 6 rolled around, Atlanta was up 3-2, and I was pumped. The pain began in the 11th inning, seeing Kirby Puckett pumping his fists after his game-winning home run. That stands out as the iconic video clip from the 1991 World Series, but Game 7 was the game that mattered.

Here we were: Hometown hero Jack Morris versus John Smoltz, riding high on a brilliant postseason (and pitching against his boyhood idol). And it was truly an epic game. Morris and Smoltz tossed shutouts for eight innings, before Smoltz was removed for Mike Stanton in the eighth and then Alejandro Peña in the ninth. Lonnie Smith was fooled by Greg Gagne and Chuck Knoblauch fake double play, and he only made it to third on Terry Pendleton’s double. He should have scored. And I remember feeling bad, like that was the play that would spell the end of this magical season. And it was. With runners on second and third and no one out, Ron Gant grounded out and Sid Bream grounded into a 3-2-3 double play.  The game goes scoreless in the 9th and the Braves do nothing in the top of the 10th, everything went the Twins’ way. Dan Gladden stretched a single into a double. Knoblauch sacrificed him over to third. Peña then intentionally walked both Puckett and Hrbek to load the bases. Gene Larkin hobbled up to the plate and promptly drove one to deep left-center. I remember the feeling, hearing, “The Twins are going to win the World Series!” over the television, but still hoping Brian Hunter would somehow catch the ball (not that it mattered; there was only one out). I can’t even remember how I felt, but I knew that I’d invested way too much in this season for it to end the way it did. I was convinced after the game I’d never see the Braves in the World Series again.

I was wrong of course, there was more heartbreak left to come, but nothing quite like this Game 7.

Andrew Feingold
NBA Finals Game 6, June, 19, 1994

The New York Knicks had two chances to win the 1994 NBA Finals. It would have made it their first title since 1973 and third overall in team history. They lost Game 6 86-84, in a game where John Starks scored 27 points. Game 7 was a lot different, Starks shot 2-18 from the field including 0-11 from downtown. He missed all 10 of shots in the fourth quarter as the Knicks lost the game 90-84 and the Finals as well. Ewing shot 42% from the field and was only 3-of-6 from the foul line. Hakeem averaged 25 points in Games 6 and 7, becoming the nemesis. What would have happened if the Dream didn’t block Starks as he shot at the last second in Game 6?

Bradley Freedman
Regular Season, August 4, 2007

On July 31, 2007, Kyle Davies was traded to the Kansas City Royals from the Atlanta Braves.  On August 4 at Old Yankee Stadium, Davies gave up Alex Rodriguez’s 500th career home run in his first start as a Royal. I was there, sitting in the right field stands, not too far from the Bleacher Creatures. (The Creatures are perfectly nice to Royals fans because the Royals pose no actual threat.) From the time I first moved to New York I had been to Yankee Stadium every year when the Royals came into town. I never once saw them win.

When A-Rod hit his homer I thought, “Welcome to the Royals, Kyle Davies.” Or was it actually the other way around? “Hey, Royals: Welcome to Kyle Davies.” In the four years since, he has remained in the Royals’ starting rotation and amassed a statistical record that has legitimate baseball analysts suggesting he may be the worst starting pitcher in baseball history.

In sports, there is one kind of heartbreak that happens when your team comes close to achieving greatness and then it all falls apart. But this was the other kind of heartbreak. It happens when your team is so far from any hint of postseason and has been falling apart for so long that every game feels the same. But then sometimes out of nowhere the team will find a way to fall apart in a slightly different way, because even a slug must occasionally make a left turn. And that different way of failing reminds you how far from glory the team really is.

This wasn’t a communal heartbreak. It was mine alone. It was mine because I was there. Because I had been there the summer before, and the summer before that watching the Royals lose. There is no shame in giving up a homer to A-Rod. But after years of coming to the Bronx with my fellow KC transplants (most of whom had already abandoned the worn-off novelty of Yankee Stadium) I knew my annual visits to Yankee Stadium were over. Welcome to the Royals, Kyle Davis–this is what we do. We are the set-up men for the glory of other teams. Welcome to Kyle Davies, Royals–he’s gonna fit in just fine. We are the guys you catch a glimpse of on SportsCenter, standing with our hands on our hips as the other team’s fans scream with delight. It was that screaming, more than anything, that was the breaking point. As the crowd around me roared I felt embarrassed not by the Yankees, but by the Royals. There were better things to do in New York than watch Kansas City baseball.

C.D. Hale
Western Conference Semifinals Game 5, May 13, 2004

Two words: Point 4. Yep, Derek Fisher did it again, serving up a steaming pile of NBA lore to help set my Spurs’ quest for another NBA championship off-kilter with his off-balance buzzer-beater. Not only that, but it was the Lakers doing the derailing. I’ve never fully gotten over that one, even if the Spurs would later claim two more titles.

Sean Koo
NFC Championship, January 23, 2000

In Kurt Warner’s coming out party, the Rams blazed through the regular season and playoffs with “The Greatest Show on Turf” until they hit a brick wall playing against the Bucs’ dominant defense. We held the Rams to five points throughout most of the game, and we seemed to have an answer for everything they threw at us. Even after the Rams scored the only touchdown of the game—a thirty yard strike to Ricky Proehl over Brian Kelly—I felt like we had enough to strike back and take the lead for good. Behind rookie Shaun King, the Bucs actually moved down the field in convincing fashion, but in the final moments a completed pass to Bert Emanual that would have put us at the Ram’s 22 yard line was overturned because the ball touched the ground despite the receiver maintaining possession. We lost the call, the game, and our ticket to the Super Bowl. Afterward, the NFL clarified the rules to basically say the Bucs were robbed. That was a slap in the face to go with the heartache of watching the Rams later win the Super Bowl.

Masahito Ogasawara
Western Conference Finals, May 29, 1997

As a die-hard Rockets fan, it has to be Game 6 of the 1997 Western Conference Finals. First, it was against the Utah Jazz, and every Rockets fan can tell you the pure hatred we all have for the Jazz (although, Rahat with his article may say otherwise these days). Second, I had such high expectations that season, with us having three future hall of famers in Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Charles Barkley. At minimum, I expected to see us in the Finals, hoping to play and beat the Jordan-led Bulls, so people could finally shut up about the Rockets’ two championships being won during “Jordan-less” seasons.

Well, the Bulls did their part by winning the Eastern Conference Finals on May 28, the day before Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. I won’t recap the whole game, but the Rockets were basically up by 10 points in the final minute, and everyone pretty much thought it was over. Then in the last moments of the game, John Stockton throws up a 35 footer at the buzzer into the basket with Barkley on him to send the Jazz to the Finals. While most people may remember that year because of the Bulls winning the Finals and Jordan’s “flu game” in Utah, I will unfortunately always remember this game for the wrongest of reasons.

Sreesha Vaman
Olympics Hockey Gold Medal Game, February 28, 2010

We were the upstart Americans, thirsting for payback from losing the 2002 medal to Canada.  We had defeated Cocky Canada in the round robin, sheer determination triumphing over superior skill.  When Zach Parise scored with 28 seconds left to send the game into overtime, I thought the tide had finally turned the USA’s way.  We believed.  We prayed.  We hoped.  And we cried when Sidney Crosby snuck one in past Ryan Miller to give Canada the gold.  It figures that it would be Crosby, who had a terrible Olympics but was lauded as a “hero” because of that one goal, and who has all the skill in the world but has as much personality as a dry piece of stale bread that’s been sitting in the cold toaster oven for six hours.  The one bright spot was how much support the U.S. team got: The TV ratings were the second-highest of any genre all year behind the Super Bowl, and the topic dominated talk shows—I distinctly remember Craig Ferguson shaking his fist at the camera and vowing to win gold in 2014.

Now it’s your turn: What is your most heartbreaking moment in sports?  Leave a comment and let us know.

Nadeshiko and the Power of Healing

In Japan, Loyalty, Soccer on July 20, 2011 at 7:00 AM

It’s ten past five o’clock in the evening of July 17th, 2011. The bar is completely silent except for one voice… My own. In New York City—the one place in the U.S. with a sizable contingency of faithful soccer followers—and I’m the only one cheering for Japan over the red, white and blue in the Women’s World Cup Final. The “short little ladies,” as the Japanese coach called them, of the Nadeshiko Japan has just pulled off one of the greatest upsets in the history of sports.

Going into the game, the sentimental value on Japan’s part was well publicized and documented due to the tragedy of the March 11th earthquake and tsunami and the subsequent nuclear disaster in northern Japan. Many of those affected by the calamity are still living in shelters, and in a nation like Japan with its homogeneous society, the tragedy has truly united the country. Men and women. Young and old. Soccer fans and baseball fans. For this reason, and not because they were such heavy underdogs, Japan was easily the sentimental favorite for anyone outside of the U.S.

There was no doubt that the U.S. played better overall and should have won the game. The first thirty minutes put supporters of the Japanese in constant fits of agony. Every five minutes, it seemed like the U.S. was on a break, threatening the Japanese goalie, only to see the ball somehow go wide or hit the post. The more the U.S. threatened, the more Japan escaped without conceding a goal, the more I began to wonder if I was about to witness one of those magical sports moments. Even when the U.S. went ahead 1-0, then 2-1, I had a feeling Japan was somehow going to come back. It was one of those inexplicable moments where the weight of a catastrophic tragedy propels the game to a whole new level of drama, inspiration and magic. In such moments of pure emotion and adrenaline, better talent and performance doesn’t always equate to victory. And when element of perseverance in the face of tragedy is associated with the underdog team, the story often seems to end in a fairytale fashion: A perfect upset. Japan, while clearly being dominated for much of the game, scored their first goal off a lucky bounce that resulted from a clearing miss by the usually reliable Ali Krieger. Their second goal came off a corner kick where Homare Sawa somehow, almost magically flicked the ball off the right side of her foot from a spot where math would deny her an appropriate angle. Two unbelievably fortuitous goals that were in stark contrast to the beautifully crafted goals by Alex Morgan and Abby Wombach. How did this happen? While religion lies low on my mind, do I dare call it divine intervention? There’s just no other way to explain how Japan won a game where they didn’t have possession, typically their area of strength, were outclassed at almost every position and went up against Hope Solo in penalty kicks with a very shaky goalkeeper on their side. Studio heads take note: Hollywood couldn’t have scripted this any better.

Whether it was sheer luck or divine intervention, it was yet another reminder of the power of sports and its healing power. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t directly affected by the tragedy in Japan. But knowing that my own father, who never sacrifices sleep in order to catch a game on television, woke up at 3:30am Japan time on a Monday to watch this game, I know how much this game meant to him, how much this game inspired him and how much he wanted to be inspired by this game. There is no doubt there were more cheers and tears at dawn across the country on Monday than any other moment in its sports history. Consider what the Saints winning the Super Bowl meant for New Orleans, even five years after Katrina. Now, make that an entire nation and only four months after a tragedy of much bigger magnitude. The degree to which this victory has both inspired and healed the country cannot be stated in mere words.

Finally, I leave you with the meaning of Nadeshiko, the nickname of the Japanese women’s team: While the literal translation is “pink dianthus flower,” which is known to be very tough and resilient, the term-in-use actually comes from the phrase Yamato Nadeshiko, which signifies “ideal Japanese women with grace and beauty.” Japan not only won the World Cup, but also received the FIFA Fair Play Award, a recognition fitting for Nadeshiko, especially for their graceful, technical style of play. Even an average Japanese soccer fan can’t even name more than a few players on this team, much less know that there’s a women’s league in Japan. But these previously unknown “short little ladies” of Japan are now standing taller than ever, and for many days, months and years to come, will forever be revered as heroes in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Dear Baseball: We Can Still Be Friends

In Atlanta, Baseball, Loyalty on July 18, 2011 at 7:00 AM

Baseball and I, we met at Parker Field in Richmond, Virginia in September of ’83. It was a hot, humid night. A thunderstorm loomed in the west, just above the stadium lights.

Alright, most of that isn’t true. I do know that we met at Parker Field, but I have no idea when it was. I don’t even remember Parker Field. It was torn down in 1984 when I was 6, and I’m not that good at remembering things anyhow. Parker Field was the home of the Richmond Braves, Atlanta’s top farm team. Its replacement, The Diamond, opened in 1985 and is still there today. The R-Braves are not.

Since Richmond was the final stop for kids on their way to Atlanta, I saw some great players: Glavine in ’87, Smoltz in ’88, Justice in ’89, Chipper in ’93. I’d later see these same kids on TBS every night. It never really seemed like I had a choice: The Atlanta Braves became my favorite team. By the time I’d moved on from tee ball, I had Dale Murphy posters plastered on my wall. I was mimicking Ozzie Virgil’s catching stance. I was convinced Zane Smith was the best pitcher ever. Remember, though, the Braves sucked for most of the 80s. They were horrible.  Really, truly horrible. My friend Jason always made fun of the Braves. And he was a freaking Blue Jays fan.

And then ’91 happened. That’s when baseball and I really hit it off. That’s when we took our relationship to the next level.

(To this day, I hate Kent Hrbek. I still check and see if the Giants or Reds lost, even though it’s been almost 20 years since they were in the NL West together. I’d put Mark Lemke in the Hall of Fame. I think Terry Pendleton deserved that MVP.)

Baseball and I spent a lot of time together in those days. Baseball cards provided me the first opportunity to refine my obsessive organizational skills. I watched Baseball Tonight religiously. Every year in early July, I’d plan out All-Star Game night: The right TV angle, the best position on the couch, dinner, the dessert. I could tell you every team’s opening day lineup. I created each All-Star team in Baseball Stars (SHEFLD of the ‘92 National League team was an absolute monster). I’d watch the Cubs on WGN in the afternoon and then the Braves at night on TBS.

But somewhere along the line, at some point in our relationship, things began to change.

It had nothing to do with The Strike. Strikes happen. It had nothing to do with The Steroids. I would have probably done steroids if I played pro baseball.  And it had nothing to do with The All-Star Game Determines the Home Team in the World Series. Oh, I know it’s really stupid, but it’s a small blip on the radar. None of those really pushed baseball and I apart.

There were some little things I started to notice, little pet peeves that I thought our love could overcome. At times, ESPN’s coverage of baseball (everything, really) stumbled into yellow journalism. Joe Morgan, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver made watching baseball almost unbearable.  The lack of any sort of competitive balance went from annoying to bothersome to deplorable in a matter of years. The Hall of Fame voting. TBS dropping regular coverage of the Braves. I was sure we could weather those storms.

See, I never wanted to admit that I saw the end coming. But my eyes began wandering a bit. I mean, have you seen hockey in HD? I began thinking about others more, thinking about spending more time with football. But I always came back to baseball. This distance between us, it grew in the tiniest of increments, and then one day, I woke up and those little increments had become one giant gulf.

I didn’t seem to know baseball anymore. I couldn’t tell you many opening day lineups. I didn’t know where some free agents had gone. (Jeff Francoeur is on the Royals now? And he was on the Rangers last year?) I can’t tell you the Braves’ 25-man roster right now. I’ve even skipped World Series games. I admit there were World Series games where I didn’t see a single pitch. I saw my friends spending more and more time with baseball and began to feel guilty (yes, I’m talking about you, Wells).

And there was that day, the day when I learned something about baseball that I couldn’t fully live with. On the surface, it didn’t seem like a big deal. But it felt like a big deal: That seedy underbelly of your family-friendly, hometown Minor League Baseball. The way small cities and communities are cowed into giving up the farm for a team that was once the pride of another community. The way these small baseball teams could hold towns hostage. They tell me that, after all, baseball is a business. But that doesn’t really make it any less ugly.

Remember Richmond, where baseball and I met? Allow me to digress. Those very same R-Braves, they moved to Richmond in 1966, the same year the big league Braves moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta. For the next 43 seasons, the R-Braves were Atlanta’s top minor league team. Freaking Dusty Baker played for the R-Braves, that’s how long they’d been around.

The R-Braves were owned by their parent club in Atlanta. They’d seen The Diamond and they knew it was a pit. A giant, sterile, concrete pit. It was old and dated before the first pitch. They came to town, and they told the Richmond, “We want a new stadium. Richmond should build us a new stadium.” (Not an exact quote.)

The “…or else” is always understood. When minor league team owners get antsy for a new stadium, they make a trip down to your City Hall, schedule a couple of lunch meetings with your Elected Officials. There is always another city who will build a state-of-the-art, shiny new stadium. And the Richmond VIPs made the decision (or non-decision) to take some time and explore their options. In the end, though, the R-Braves became the Gwinnett Braves after the 2008 season. Go find Gwinnett on a map.

(Postscript: A year later, Richmond got an Eastern League franchise affiliated with… wait for it… the San Francisco Giants.)

Richmonders had been going to R-Braves games for 43 years. LBJ was still President. Richmond was a stalwart of the International League, a five-time champion. But Gwinnett County was willing to put their taxpayers on the hook for a stadium that won’t be paid off until 2038. The taxpayers pay for the facility and its maintenance, the team keeps ticket and concessions revenue.

It’s a good business model for the team. It sucks for everyone else. Head up north and ask Edmonton about Nolan Ryan moving the city’s team to Round Rock, Texas. Ask Ottawa about the Lynx. Next year, ask Yakima, Washington and Kinston, North Carolina. Hell, go ask the fine people of Portland, Oregon: They’ve made getting screwed by baseball franchises into an art form.

I’ll paraphrase Henry Hill from Goodfellas for the kids: Screw you, pay me.

So, what does all of this have to do with me and baseball? We all grow up and with age comes a little perspective. A reshuffling of priorities. Perhaps a little touch of cynicism. I wasn’t too old to love baseball, I just didn’t love it the same way. I could no longer buy into the idea that baseball should be as loyal to its fans as its fans are to it. The fans always lose that fight. And that’s when baseball and I went down to the courthouse and filed. Irreconcilable differences.

My baseball cards, they’re in a box in the basement. I don’t get (that) mad anymore when I think about how Dale Murphy isn’t in the Hall of Fame. I own a Minnesota Twins t-shirt. And I’ve been known to wear it.

Some days I do miss what baseball and I had. And don’t misunderstand me, baseball and I still talk. Some nights the wife and the kid, we all get together and spend some time with baseball, watching the Braves when they’re on. We watch Dan Uggla ground into double plays and Derek Lowe throw his 88 mph fastball and I think back to the Braves of the 1980s. I follow Dale Murphy’s Twitter feed. I’m counting down the days until I can play catch with my son.

Baseball and I, we still have those memories. A Sunday game at Camden Yards. That 1995 World Series. McGwire’s home run (despite all that came later). Miserably hot Spring Training games in Arizona. And I still plan on creating new memories with baseball: There are many more stadiums to visit, many more teams to see. And I’ll always love the game’s history: The cowboy days of the 1800s, the turn of the century chaos, etc.

But our relationship, it’ll never be the same as it was.

Now Playing in Washington: A Discount for Ovie

In Hockey, Loyalty, Washington DC on July 14, 2011 at 7:00 AM

When Tomas Vokoun signed with the Washington Capitals in the first week of free agency this summer, the 35-year-old Czech native wasn’t shy about telling anyone that would listen that he took a significant cut in pay to play for the Capitals.

Wait, what was that?

Vokoun made $6.5 million last season with Florida, the last year of a multi-year contract with the Panthers.  He turned down multi-year, more lucrative offers from the Panthers to make less than a quarter of that this season, $1.5 million for one year in DC.

I’m not sure I followed that.  The more lucrative offer was where he was already playing?

See, this is a foreign concept for D.C. sports fans, especially Capitals fans.  For decades, we watched stars take less money to avoid the Beltway.

None of this was ever confirmed by the players, but many high-profile hockey stars were known to have turned down more lucrative offers from the Capitals to play elsewhere in the 80s and 90s (nobody can fault players for avoiding D.C. in the 70s).

I never faulted the players who turned down bigger deals from the Capitals to stay where they were.  Sometimes, the right decision for your family isn’t the most lucrative one for you; besides, a million to a guy making multiple millions for decades isn’t as much as it is to us common folk.

I also understood that some players turned down D.C.’s bonanzas to play in their hometowns.  Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Detroit and Boston have made a veritable paper fortune banking on this hometown discount.

(It’s worth noting that Potomac, Maryland native Jeff Halpern gave the Capitals a hometown discount for his services next season—that is definitely the first time in history that’s happened!  But it won’t be the last: some D-I college hockey scouts say that D.C. is now a must-visit on the recruiting trail.  That’s really exciting to guys like me who grew up playing youth hockey in the area.  And I don’t regret this not being part of my club hockey career—my position of Left Bench was already occupied at most schools.)

I was perpetually frustrated by the players who signed with new teams and took less money than what the Capitals were offering.  In the 80s and 90s, the Capitals were a regular playoff team, including a 19-year run of post-season play, but were always just one or two players away from jumping the big hurdle.

There were flashes of brilliance: Dale Hunter clinching the series for the Caps, after D.C. trailed the Flyers 3-games-to-1, with an incredible overtime goal in Game 7 in 1988; the run to the conference final in 1989, when the Druce was Loose to knock out the vaulted Rangers and pushing the Caps further than they had ever gone before; the run to the Stanley Cup final in 1998 against Detroit, when all of the pieces just seemed to fall into place until Esa Tikkanen deked Chris Osgood but slid the puck wide of the empty net in Game 2.

The fan base was loyal and motivated—sure, it wasn’t Toronto or Boston or even St. Louis, but surely D.C. was a better stop than, say, a dying Minnesota North Stars franchise, the remote village of Quebec City (to non-francophones, anyway) or Hartford, the insurance capital of America.

What would have happened if just one of those big-name stars gave Washington a chance?

And then it happened.  A bona fide superstar gave D.C. and the Capitals that chance: Alexander Ovechkin.  In a now-infamous article, The Hockey News suggested at the start of the 2007-08 campaign that the Capitals should trade Ovechkin and rebuild with depth instead of relying on one star.  Traditional theory held that Ovie needed out of D.C. to start building his legacy.  Instead, Ovie bunked tradition and signed a 13-year, $124 million deal to essentially pledge his entire career to Washington.  That signature single-handedly put D.C. on the proverbial hockey map.  Who wouldn’t want to play with the game’s most exciting star?

Capitals fans know this part of the story already: Building sells out—perpetually; Caps make the playoffs—perpetually; Caps become the darlings of the league and the city, and NBC’s Al Michaels notes on Sunday Night Football that there are more Capitals jerseys than Redskins jerseys in the stands at FedEx Field.

And now this: Jason Arnott waives his no-trade clause at last year’s trade deadline—for one team.  Tomas Vokoun takes a 76.6% paycut to play in D.C.

I still have to pinch myself just thinking about it.

The Tiger Woods That Saved Golf

In Golf, Loyalty on July 13, 2011 at 10:00 AM

The 1997 Masters is my earliest golf memory, which probably doesn’t make me unique among mid-20’s Americans. What does make me unique is why I remember that tournament. When asked about anyone in the field catching Tiger Woods after Saturday’s third round, Colin Montgomerie said:

“There’s no chance humanly possible that Tiger is going to lose this tournament. No way.”

I remember being confused. I had played a bit of golf at that point and just began casually paying attention to the PGA Tour. The tour seemed random in a way that nearly turned me off. Every event, from what I could tell, was just a whole lot of waiting around until Sunday afternoon when someone would hit a lucky or unlucky streak, and the tournament would be decided. So, with 18 holes to play, how could there be no chance for Tiger to lose? I wouldn’t really understand for another three years.

The 2000 U.S. Open was the 1973 Belmont Stakes and Tiger was our Secretariat. It was a spectacle masquerading as a golf tournament, featuring Woods, after a rain-delayed second round, building a 1 shot lead into 10 nearly in a single day. He won by 15 in a rout that crystallized the notion of the greatest performance I’ve ever seen. It made sense of Colin Montgomerie’s quote from three years earlier and became the lens that I’d evaluate golf through for the rest of my life. It’s commonly said that golf is a game that can never be perfected, but it’s hard to imagine anything more perfect than Tiger’s assault on the 2000 Open.

Tiger Woods is and will always be a hero of mine. I don’t care about the harem of women he kept at various Tour stops. I don’t care about the rumors of drugs or kinky sex. It’s absolutely irrelevant to me.

I’ve thought a lot about why I feel that way, and the honest truth is that the “scandal” never surprised me. Baseball players take steroids. Football players gouge each other’s eyes out at the bottoms of pile-ups. Famous, rich, good-looking athletes cheat on their spouses. I’d love to design a world where that weren’t the case, but I’m only a spectator in this one and never got that chance. I consider myself a pragmatist and wear that term with honor, so it never made sense to me that anyone would be surprised—to say nothing of outraged, shocked and upset—to learn that the wealthiest athlete in the history of the world, in the prime of his career, would be anything less than faithful. This isn’t a value judgment about Tiger’s decisions. It’s much closer to a question of statistics, of how likely it was that he wasn’t doing these things in the first place. Fantastically unlikely. American sports heroes are false idols, and they always will be. That simple realization makes any salacious reveal the expectation, not exception. Sports heroes are not real people. None of our heroes are, and it’s irresponsible to treat them that way—it’s never been why we’ve loved them, and it’s only peer pressure that turns our love into hatred.

However, after the last three years of trials and tribulations, of tabloids and injuries, I’ve admitted that I’m upset and almost angry at Tiger. It’s illogical to be sure, purely emotional. But that’s little solace in the face of a failing hero.

I’m upset because a source of stability—Tiger’s dominance—was suddenly taken from me. It made for evergreen sports broadcasting fodder to debate whether Tiger was bad for golf. Wasn’t it boring to take the variety out of the winner’s circle? Didn’t all the “Tiger proofed” courses take the beauty out of golf? Of course not. Tiger’s decade on the PGA throne gave golf a story. It gave kids, and really all golfers, a story that lasted more than 72 holes. It questioned the idea of what’s possible in the same way that airplanes and space shuttles must have in their time. It was as close to perfect as an athlete can be in a game that chews up perfection and spits it out.

I’m upset because it’s yet another piece of evidence that my childhood is over. Graduating from school, moving across the country, getting a job and paying bills are easily rationalized by not feeling like a grown up, no matter what the pieces of paper in your mailbox suggest. But watching greatness collapse is undeniable. It’s the most tangible biological clock I have.

But most of all, I’m upset because I can’t tell when it’s time to give up. When Tiger won the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg and then went straight into surgery, a lot of people called a coming decline. In hindsight it’s hard not to say that they were right, but sadly it’s not that simple. The flashes of greatness that have come since are almost the worse possible form of temptation, they make it too easy to still hope against hope.

The 3-iron into the 18th for eagle on Saturday at the 2009 Presidents Cup, the Saturday 66 at the 2010 U.S. Open and the front nine blitz on Sunday at the 2011 Masters were all-too-powerful reminders of what once was. But with each passing week, with each Did not play that gets logged for Tiger in another major, they look more like mirages and less like sparks capable of reigniting the fire that I loved so much. There’s a sense of cognitive dissonance for me because each instance was, without a doubt, as good as Tiger has ever looked, right up to the 5-wood into the 8th green for eagle on last Masters Sunday. It was perfect. It was also fleeting, and that’s the most disappointing thing I’ve ever learned about sports.

For a long time I refused to accept what now seems like a reality, that the Tiger Woods I met at 12 years old is gone forever. In a Peter Pan “never want to grow up” sort of way I had come to believe—even to know—that it was just a matter of time until any bump in the road was smoothed and his spot at the top revisited. In letting go of that faith, I’m reminded of my first memories of golf, that it’s random and not fit for domination. I was lucky enough to grow up at the perfect time to witness one of the greatest aberrations in the game’s history. It was beautiful, but it wasn’t permanent, and I’ve grown to accept its consequences in the last 14 years. I’m no longer upset that golf isn’t a game fit to crown kings and certainly not to appoint dynasties. I miss the thrills they bring, but I look forward to the surprise when they come.

There is a fable that has many versions, but my favorite is one of a king that commissioned a single sentence to make a happy man sad and a sad man happy. It was meant as a taste of humility for the time’s greatest poet. The result is now famous: This too, shall pass. I certainly hope so.

For every time Tiger withdraws from a tournament, snap hooks one out of bounds or shows his age on a major championship Sunday, I’m reminded of the great shots. The 6-iron from a bunker, over water on the 18th at Glen Abbey to a pin tucked on a nothing patch of green; the 2-iron from 260 that flew the green on the 16th at Firestone; the 3-iron trick shot from a bunker over a tree at Hazeltine.

The kick in the chest, after all of this, is how I gave up the battle. It was when Steve Williams went to caddie for Adam Scott in the U.S. Open this year. I have no doubt that Tiger will flash his incredible talent for us again, but when you believe your guy still has it, you don’t moonlight with the competition. And when the insiders give up on the guy, I’m forced to do that same.

College is Where I Lose Myself

In Loyalty on July 6, 2011 at 10:00 AM

UConn wins its third NCAA basketball championship in twelve years: I kind of remember watching that game. Ohio State loses its iconic head coach, and then its starting quarterback bolts for the NFL: Sounds interesting, maybe I’ll read up about it. South Carolina captures back-to-back baseball championships: Did you know they’re good at baseball?

I’m a sports fan, but I’m a man without a team—A college team that is. How does someone find a college team? I’m still searching and haven’t made any progress. Without a team, I’ve never been able to completely engage in the college game. I’ll always follow the big bowl games and fill out my annual bracket, but it wouldn’t change a thing for me if the scores were reversed and the losers and winners flipped.

I grew up in the Florida Bay Area where the large populations of Seminole, Hurricane and Gator fans never came up with a clear winner for my heart. Other kids had parents who were alumni at their favorite college team or went with the school with recent successes—but the Baruch Bearcats don’t strike fear in many hearts, and the last thing I wanted to be was a fair-weather fan. I couldn’t go the regional route either. The local school—South Florida—didn’t have any resemblance of a competitive team in football or basketball until I was well out of town. So, I focused on the Tampa pro teams and figured I’d find my college team eventually. Even though I bled creamsicle orange and white and then pewter and red for the Bucs, I had no passion to follow the amateurs. And without the passion, I barely followed at all. For the longest time, I had no idea how the bowl games figured out its participants, the rule differences between college and pros (who needs the extra 11 seconds on a shot clock?) or even know about the collegiate commercials that ran on repeat. To me the pros were the only game, and I figured I was all the better.

For school, I went to Cornell for my discovery years, and that didn’t help me out much on finding a college team. While I was there, the football and basketball teams didn’t exactly light the fire in me to follow the Ivy League. I didn’t care for hockey, lacrosse or women’s polo, so Cornell’s top teams were out. As much as I love Cornell and stay loyal to their athletics, I didn’t have a reason to get excited about football Saturdays on ESPN’s College Gameday, or get to learn the NCAA basketball divisions—Maybe I need to gamble more? There were the magical years of Cornell basketball during Steve Donahue’s tenure, but that was more once in a lifetime, and I went to the heartbreaking sweet sixteen game against the semi-pro Kentucky team. There’s enough for me follow up on Cornell basketball but they’re not consistent enough to be on television so I can watch at a bar or even online—is that too much to ask? I tried to piggy back on the brothers and friends that went crazy for the Gators, but I felt more like a poser than anything else. What was next?

I now live in New York City. While it may never sleep, there’s still not much time nor island space for a college team. At the very least, here was where I found a girl who’s crazy about Mizzou sports. After I turned in my man-card, I followed her home to MU and was lucky enough to go to my first college football game at their homecoming against Oklahoma, then the #1 ranked team. Game day was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. From the crack of dawn to game time, the whole town was psyched about the upcoming battle. The only sad face I saw was the clerk at the supermarket who didn’t have the foresight to call in sick that day. From tail-gating to the game and to the incredible dominance Mizzou threw down on Oklahoma, I was a part of the community of crazies going rabid in the stands, outside the stadium and all over town. What was I thinking missing out on this greatest of American pastimes known as college athletics? Despite having this eye-opening experience, I couldn’t just jump on the Mizzou bandwagon. I was still just a visitor.

So here I am now, still without a college team to follow and with only in-the-moment interest in the games going on. The personalities help: Melo, Reggie, KD or Tebow for an amazing run, but after they leave, my interest fizzles. Contributing to my friends’ unhealthy obsessions with their teams gets me by, but after those games end,  I’m still stuck on the other side. But one day I’ll get my own team. Maybe I’ve got to go back to school just to live up the life as a Tiger or a Wildcat or a Horned Frog. Maybe I’ve got to find an academic job working as a Hoya or an Orange or a Trojan. Or maybe I’ve got to wait much longer until my non-existent kid goes to Ohio State… And when the following year, the next kid goes to Michigan, I’ll be stuck all over again… a man without a team.