Sunday, December 30, 2007

2007 Winners & Losers: Around Here, More the Latter

Winners and Losers in sports for 2007:

Winners: New England fans. Can't sugar-coat this. They wanted a World Series "just once in our lifetime." They now have two. And they got off scot-free in the Mitchell Report. They got an undefeated NFL regular season, and no real punishment for that team's cheating, either. They got "their Celtics" back. Boston College had a pretty good season. Harvard won the Ivy League. Even the Bruins look competent for the first time in about a dozen years.


Losers: New York Tri-State Area fans. Not one of the area's major league teams lived up to expectations. The Giants came closest, making the Playoffs. But the Yankees fell short. The Nets fell short. The Devils fell short. The Rangers probably got as far as their talent would let them, but with their big start, bigger things were expected from hockey's most overpriced and most overrated team.

At least those teams made the Playoffs. The Islanders missed. The Jets dissolved into injury. The Mets had the most calamitous collapse any local team ever had, blowing a seven-game division lead with 17 games to play and not even making the Playoffs -- when this was supposed to be THE YEAR.

The Knicks? Let's be honest here: If the problems that any of the other eight big-league teams in the area had were all that Knick fans had to worry about, it would be a vast improvement. The Knicks stunk on the basketball court, and they stunk in civil court. They stunk on the boards, and they stunk in the boardroom. Any Yankee Fan who wants to say the Mets are a "disgrace," or any Giant fan who wants to say the Jets are a "disgrace," Met or Jet fans can say, No, you want a true disgrace, look at the Knickerbockers.

Even the Tri-State Area's auxiliary teams disappointed. The Liberty made a quick exit from the WNBA Playoffs. The New York Cosmos... I mean, the New York Arrows... I mean, the New York-New Jersey MetroStars... I mean, Red Bull New York, also made their ridiculous league's playoffs but made a quick exit.

Local college sports? Rutgers, which thrilled so many with a run to the National Championship game in women's basketball, saw their men's basketball team tank, and their football team, which was supposed to make a run at the Big East title, finished the regular season 7-5. Seton Hall and St. John's didn't make the NCAA Tournament, either. The days when New York City (even including its suburbs) was the center of the basketball universe are long gone.

Winners: Rutgers University. It tells you how far Coach Greg Schiano has brought this team when they can win seven regular-season games, contend for the Big East title, and go to a bowl game played in January... and the season is considered a disappointment. Ray Rice, please: One more year! And the Lady Knights did go almost all the way, and there's no shame in losing to Pat Summitt's Tennessee juggernaut. The shame came afterward, but did not fall on Rutgers:

Loser: Don Imus. Like he has the right to joke about anyone's hair. Shame on WABC for letting Curtis Sliwa and Ron Kuby go and hiring the old bastard. (You'll notice I didn't use my usual euphemism "b@$+@rd" this time.) The real shame is that this bigoted bully wasn't fired decades ago for things much worse.

Winners: Roger Maris and Hank Aaron. They still hold the records, respectively for home runs in a single season and in a career. Anybody who says otherwise is lying. That includes Bud Selig.

Losers: Mark McGwire. Sammy Sosa. Barry Bonds. And, to a lesser extent, the other players named in the Mitchell Report -- to a lesser extent because they were confronted with allegations but not proof.

Yeah, I know, we don't have the proof on McGwire or Sosa, but we also didn't have Roger Clemens or anyone else named in the Report looking ridiculous or guilty (or outright making themselves guilty, like Rafael Palmeiro) under oath in front of Congress.

Winners: The University of Florida. Few schools have ever won National Championships in both football and basketball. By winning the 2007 title in football, the Gators are the first to do it in the same schoolyear. By winning the 2007 title in basketball, the Gators are the first to do it in the same calendar year. And the first basketball team to do it since Mike Shuhshefski and Duke did it in 1991-92.

I'll start spelling his name right when he starts pronouncing it right. If your name begins with a K, it's not pronounced with a "shuh."

Losers: The guys behind the Bowl Championship Series. Never mind that Louisiana State is probably still the best team in the country. Never mind that LSU's only two losses were in triple overtime. There are two teams in Division I-A (or whatever the college football equivalent of "major league" is being officially called now) who have one loss or less: One-loss THE... Ohio State University and undefeated Hawaii.

If the only two teams with less than two losses aren't facing each other in the National Championship game, then, at least this season, the BCS has failed.

It's simple, really. First, tell every independent -- this means you, Notre Dame, you cowards -- that either they join one of the following eight leagues: Big East, ACC, SEC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-10, a merged Conference USA and MAC and a re-merged WAC and Mountain West, or they are automatically disqualified from the National Championship. Then split each league into two divisions.

There you go: The Division Champions are thus entered into a 16-team playoff. They play for the Conference Championships at neutral sites in their region, and then the Conference Champions move on to a round of eight. Then bring in the bowls. Big 10 vs. Pac-10 in the Rose Bowl, as God intended it. Big East vs. ACC in the Orange Bowl. SEC vs. C-USA/MAC in the Sugar Bowl. And Big 12 vs. WAC/MWC in the Cotton Bowl. (You do remember the Cotton Bowl, don't you?) Now you've got four teams.

Then you put the two easternmost remaining teams in one semifinal and the two westernmost in the other. Then you have a National Championship Game on the Saturday between the NFL Conference Championships and the Super Bowl. (This season, January 26.) Or, if you prefer, move the minor bowls to the week after the conference title games (December 8), then the major bowls the next week (December 15), the semis the next week (December 22), and the National Championship on New Year's Day as in days of old.

It's so simple, a caveman could do it. But the NCAA, the college presidents and the TV networks won't. Why? Because that would make sense, and they won't have that.

Winners: The San Antonio Spurs. It's not just that they won their 4th World Championship in the last 9 seasons. It's that they have definitively taken away from the Shaq/Kobe Lakers the title of best NBA team in the post-Jordan era.

Loser: Kobe Bryant. He has never been the best player in the NBA. In fact, when he's been the best player on his own team, his team has stunk. And with Shaquille O'Neal having excelled in Miami (when healthy), that argument is over, in Shaq's favor.

Winner: All those people who rooted against the Cheatriots this year.

Loser: Bill Belichick. Even if he does make it to 19-0*.

Winner: Craig Biggio, for joining the 3,000 Hit Club.

Loser: Pete Rose. Forever. Shut up about steroids, you lying, gambling, womanizing, tax-cheating schmuck.

Winner: Brett Favre. No, he isn't really, as Sports Illustrated said, the Sportsman of the Year. Once again, as they did for Stan Musial in 1957, John Wooden in '72, Jack Nicklaus in '78, Joe Paterno in '86, Arthur Ashe in '92, Don Shula in '93, Cal Ripken in '95 and Dean Smith in '97, SI gave that distinction as a lifetime achievement award, rather than for what he did in the calendar year. (At least Wooden and Paterno actually won National Championships in the seasons in question, but had previously won them, so why wait that long?)

But Favre now holds the NFL career records for completions, passing yards and touchdown passes. And, unlike the guy who held each of those records before him, Dan Marino, Favre has won a Super Bowl. Favre also broke John Elway's record for most wins by an NFL quarterback. And he did this when a lot of us thought he should've retired a year (or two) ago.

Loser: O.J. Simpson. Forever. I'll bet he likes to look in the mirror. Maybe "if he did it," he would find "the real killer."

Winners: Tony Romo and Eli Manning. They could've crumbled under various pressures. (Romo: The goof in last year's Playoffs, dealing with Terrell Owens, explaining to Jessica Simpson the difference between the silver screen and a screen pass. Eli: The New York media ripping him for being not as good a quarterback as brother Peyton, or even Walter Payton.) But both got teams that are only good, not great, into the Playoffs.

Loser: Michael Vick. It doesn't have to be forever.

Winner: Rich Rodriguez. No, he didn't get West Virginia to the National Championship, but he took a good program and made it a great one, and now he gets to go to Michigan, and try to take a once-great program and make it great again.

Losers: Bobby Petrino and Nick Saban. I could tell you why, but I got a better offer from a blog in the SEC.

Winners: New Jersey Devils fans. No more Meadowlands Arena/Brendan Byrne Arena/Continental Airlines Arena/Izod Center. No more changing buses at Port Authority, no more having to go from New Jersey to New York to New Jersey to see New Jersey's hockey team. No more vicious wind whipping off the Hackensack River across that treeless parking lot. No more of that creepy pedestrian overpass between the Giants Stadium and arena parking lots. No more one level of concourse for two levels of seats, clearly patterned after the Nassau Coliseum, which is not the model to choose. And no more sharing an arena with the lame-duck Nets.

And while we're at it...

Winner: The City of Newark. Brick City is back, and the Prudential Center, modeled after the Bell Centre in Montreal and the Whatever Bank It Is This Season Center in Philly (it is still Wachovia, right?), is as good as any arena in the league. And the team... well, we'll see. One game, they look ready to have a Cup parade down Broad Street (the new Broad Street Bullies?); the next, they look like they're hoping for a lucky shot while Marty Brodeur holds everyone off. But at least we don't have to deal with the Meadowlands anymore. Unless we wanna go see the Nets. Or the Giants. Or the Jets.

Losers: The New York Rangers and their fans. They both suck, no matter how the team is doing.

Losers: The Yankees and their fans. How can a team that made the Playoffs be losers? Well, there was the most obvious loss: Phil Rizzuto. We lost other legends from the World Championship teams of the black-and-white era: Tommy Byrne, Hank Bauer, Clete Boyer. Then there's the loss that isn't here yet, but we can all see it coming: Yankee Stadium.

The whole year looked like a struggle just to make the Playoffs. And then the way we went out -- BUGS! -- no, as I said before, don't blame the bugs, the Yanks just didn't hit. Alex Rodriguez had one of the best years any hitter's ever had, but he's still a loser for how his personal life got splattered on the front pages, not just the back ones; and for how he failed in the Playoffs... again! And then screwed up the contract talks... How can a guy who got a $275 million contract be a loser? That's how.

Joe Torre gone in a dubious way. Hey, at least he took Don Mattingly with him, so the Curse of Donnie Baseball moves to a team that really does deserve to be cursed, the putrid progeny of Walter O'Malley. And Joe gets his pal Scott Proctor back.

But it got worse: Just this week, we learned the sad story of Jim Leyritz's drunken crash. Of course, on came the Mitchell Report, casting doubt on the 1996-2003 title era, giving Met fans, Red Sox fans, and all Yankee-haters the chance to say it's all illegitimate. Never mind that the Report also fingered some Mets, including Lenny Dykstra of the sainted sinners of 1986. And that it let the Red Sox off without so much as a tsk-tsk.

Did I mention the Red Sox? We now have to listen to their inebriated reprobate fans spew out foul-mouthed mentions of two World Championships since our last.

And finally...

Winners: The Yankees and their fans. Of course. And I'm not just talking about the 26 World Championships. I'm talking about hope for 2008. Joe Girardi in as a kick-starter of a manager. No more Mattingly. No more Proctor. No more Carl Pavano. Hank Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman decided to keep the young talent rather than roll the dice on the overrated Johan Santana. Said young talent has another year under its belt. The Red Sox are a year older, and Josh Beckett really doesn't do well in even-numbered years. So there is reason to hope.

Even if there are only 81 more games scheduled for the one and only Yankee Stadium we ever really wanted. (Or 82, if you count the All-Star Game.) Nothing left to do but see to it that a few more games are scheduled. For October.

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