Thursday, December 31, 2009

This Decade's Now Expired

To the tune of "We Didn't Start the Fire" by my man Billy Joel:

Bill Clinton, Hillary, roaring economy.
Gladiator, Kurt Warner, Pierre Trudeau.
Will & Grace, West Wing, Oops, Britney did it again.
Subway Series, Yankees win it, Tony Soprano.

Who's the winner? Al Gore? Not when Jeb's the Governor.
Vote theft denies the left, our nation is bereft.
Eisenhower he's not, won't read memo that he's got.
9/11, airplanes revvin', World Trade Center goodbye!

This decade marked by fire.
It gave us the boozer, called Al Gore "sore loser."
This decade marked by fire.
He didn't pay attention, there was no redemption.

Getting tough, launching bombs, watching on our CD-ROMs.
Harrison, Halle Berry, Alicia Keys.
Reality shows, Christina, put on some clothes.
Kelly Clarkson, Simon shut up please!
Norah, Catherine, lots of people Jones-in'.
OutKast, Lord of Rings, Eminem's profane zings.
Saddam, big pest, lied into a hornet's nest.
Tampa Bay all the way, Devils take Lord Stanley!

This decade forged by liar.
Weapons of mass destruction, they're not real, distraction.
This decade forged by liar.
Bush gave us a hurtin', all for Halliburton.

Slammed Iraq, Johnny Cash, Ben and J-Lo have a crash.
Pedro makes Zimmer fall, Boone hits Wakefield's knuckleball.
Dixie Chicks, Timberlake, Janet's Super Bowl mistake.
Reagan takes his final ride, Brando, Ray Charles, Chris Reeve died.

Kanye West, Beyonce, Red Sox go all the way.
Raymond, 24, Bush has to lie some more.
John Kerry, easy vote, liars weren't on his boat!
Dick Cheney psycho, vote fraud in Ohio!

This decade wasn't higher.
It was such a creeper, always getting deeper.
This decade wasn't higher.
We just weren't gaming, we were only shaming.

Brokeback Mountain, iPod stream, Boulevard of Broken Dreams.
John Paul, Benedict, credit market quick fix.
Bush screws up again, does nothing 'bout hurricane.
Peyton Manning, White Sox, deejay Dylan, Emo shlock.
Steve Irwin, Auerbach, Saddam hangs in Iraq.
GOP blown away, what else do I have to say?

This decade in entire
was a big disaster, Cheney was its master.
This decade in entire
it gave us no cover, we're so glad it's over.

Barry Bonds' false break, "I drink your milkshake!"
Miley, Mad Men, John McCain tries again.
Economic meltdown, Sarah Palin is a clown.
End Iraq, Afghanistan, fix our country? "Yes, we can!"
Two million inaugurate, Hudson airplane, Teabag-gate.
Foreign debts, homeless vets, Yankees win, lousy Mets.
Guidos on the Jersey Shore, Jacko dies, health care law.
We can't take this crap again! Ready for the twenty-tens!

This decade's not inspired
until Barack Obama! GOP, yo' mama!
This decade's now expired
and thank God it's gone, now we can go on
and on, and on, and on...
(fadeout)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Decade From Hell Ends -- Life Begins at 40?

Time magazine called 2000-09 the Decade From Hell. Sounds better than "The Aughts" or "The Naughties."

It began, for me, with hope for a golden new Millennium in January, a Stanley Cup in June, and a Subway Series in October (and you Met fans still have nothing to say), but then came a stolen Presidential election in November, certification of that in December, and the following September, after the ignoring of several warnings, the day when the phony President in question said, "Oh, no, I thought the Presidency was just going to be giving nice speeches, waving from the airplane and throwing out the first ball -- now I actually have to govern! To lead! Help! Dick! Condi! Daddy!!!!"

To paraphrase a line from The West Wing, to sweep all 50 States in 2004, George W. Bush only had to do two things: Blow Osama bin Laden's brains out in the middle of Times Square, and then walk across the street to Nathan's and buy a hot dog. In other words, the hot dog wasn't necessary. And he had the bastard cornered. Then he let him get away, and focused on Iraq, which had nothing to do with it.

Then he violated nearly every Amendment in the Bill of Rights at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. Then he stole another election in 2004. Then he completed the first four-year term of any President with a net loss of jobs since Herbert Hoover. Compared to that, the Yankees' collapse against the Red Sox was a trivial matter.

Then he sat on his preppy, faux-Texas ass (I figured the use of the French word "faux" was appropriate here) for 5 days, doing nothing, while New Orleans drowned. Then he let the economy collapse. Five thousand American military personnel, dead for nothing. Meanwhile, the environment suffered as well.

We whined about whether we could ever get out of this. Then a White Sox fan, who knew what it was like to triumph over suffering (see the 2005 World Series), told us, "Yes we can, yes we can!" And we did.

And, while the 2001 World Series provided some thrills, and the Devils won another Stanley Cup, and East Brunswick High School finally won a football State Championship after 32 years of heartbreaking finishes, 2009 came along, and, while rough at times, was very rewarding: A President with the brains to figure things out and the heart to give a damn about his country before himself, a World Series win and a comfortable new place in which to watch it (which now feels like "Yankee Stadium"), another State Championship for E.B. Football. And while the recession and the Iraq and Afghan wars aren't over yet, it does seem like the worst is over, and the guy in charge of fixing them actually seems to want to fix them, instead of wanting merely to look like he's fixing them.

No, the 2000s were not the 1960s all over again. After all, on December 31, 1969, for all the gains of the previous 10 years, things were getting worse. Even if I had been born 13 days earlier.

On December 31, 2009, for all that we lost in the previous 10 years, things are getting better.

*

In 2010, at the age of 40, I resolve to...

* Do a better job at my new job, which looks like it will be a whole lot better than my old job: Real estate brokers are very tough to work with.

* To continue to enjoy being Ashley and Rachel's uncle. Nobody has ever made me happier. A few people wearing Pinstripes, or Scarlet and Black, or Green and White, have come close, but none has topped them.

* To get to a few more Yankee games at the new Stadium.

* To come up with the money to make a trip to Europe. It's about time I visited. It's also about time I stopped talking about Arsenal, and watching them only on television from 3,500 miles away, and actually saw them in person.

* To treat people better. I don't regret many things I've done, but I do regret many of the things I've said. (Not on this blog, though.)

Happy New Year, Happy New Decade, and may the next 10 years be brighter and safer for you all.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Yankees Sour On the Melkman

The Devils beat the Pittsburgh Penguins last night, 4-0 at the Civic Arena (excuse me, the Mellon Arena) in Pittsburgh, thus Martin Brodeur breaks Terry Sawchuk's 40-plus-year record with his 104th career shutout.

Rutgers won the St. Petersburg Bowl on Saturday night, defeating Central Florida, 45-21.

But I'm a little sour, because the Melkman is gone.

The Yankees traded Melky Cabrera to the Atlanta Braves for Javier Vazquez. There were also prospects involved in each direction.

Now, I know that Vazquez had a great season in 2009, and I've never blamed him for the 2004 ALCS Game 7 disaster -- maybe he wouldn't have been a lot better starting that game than Kevin (the Clown) Brown, but he couldn't have been much worse.

But I didn't want to lose Melky. Think about it: He's young, he's a good hitter, he can run, he can field, he's got a lot of spirit, and he should be just about to come into his own. If the Yankees are going to give him up, they'd better get a better pitcher than Javy Vazquez -- I'm talking Hall of Fame quality.

And this leaves the Yankees with only 4 outfielders on their entire 40-man roster: Nick Swisher, Brett Gardner, the newly-signed Curtis Granderson, and some guy I never heard of, picked up this off-season from the Dodgers, who barely played this past season.

This, after the Yankees let Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon both get away. Matsui has already signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but Damon is still unsigned. (UPDATE: He was signed by the Detroit Tigers, essentially as Granderson's replacement there.)

If the Yankees don't either sign Damon soon, or get a suitable replacement to play left field, which would enable Gardner to go back to being the outfielder-of-all-trades and the number one pinch-runner, then they have seriously weakened themselves, and I don't care what Vazquez brings to the rotation.

Big mistake -- unless Brian Cashman still has another card to play.

Of course, it could be worse: The Mets have still done little to improve their pathetic selves, and all the Red Sox have done to improve is get John Lackey -- who, let's face it, is not someone the Yankees are afraid of anymore, if they ever were.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Top 10 Athletes of 2000-2009

I did kind of leave things hanging in my last post, so here goes: The Devils beat the Ottawa Senators on Friday night, 4-2. This despite my mother, a.k.a. the Curse of Belleville, being in the building for the whole game. Goals were scored by Captain Jamie Langenbrunner, Brian Rolston, Jay Pandolfo, and, believe it or not, Bryce Salvador.

It was Martin Brodeur's 1,030th appearance as an NHL goaltender, breaking the record he briefly shared with Montreal superstar Patrick Roy; and his 579th win as an NHL goaltender, extending the record he took from Roy last season at 551; but not, as I'd hoped, his 104th shutout, which would have broken the record he currently shares with legendary Detroit goalie Terry Sawchuk.

The Devils are the only NHL team about whom it can be seriously suggested that their greatest player ever is a goalie. And these accomplishments, which get the taunts of "Marrrr-teeee!" from the idiotic Ranger fans answered with "Marty's better!" (seriously, when is Queen Henrietta Lundqvist going to backstop a Stanley Cup winner?), make Brodeur a serious candidate for The Top 10 Athletes of 2000-2009.

*

We never did find an appropriate nickname for this decade, did we? In the preceding century, we had the Roaring Twenties, the Dirty Thirties, the Fighting Forties, the Fabulous Fifties, the Sensational Sixties, the Silly Seventies, the Idiotic Eighties (Reagan, metal, and the Yankees didn't win a World Series; so, yes, they were idiotic) and the Naughty Nineties.

Time magazine called 2000-09 "The Decade From Hell." True that: A Presidential election (possibly two) stolen by a damn fool who gave us the worst Presidential Administration since the Civil War, combining Nixon's ethics, LBJ's warmaking ability and Hoover's economics; the 9/11 attacks, which said Administration didn't lift a bloody finger to prevent; our nation thus forced into one war we had to fight but really didn't, and used as an excuse to lie us into another war we really didn't have to fight but did; a nasty recession that began in 2001 and, for the bottom 99 percent of earners, never really ended and became a near-depression by late 2008; some awful music, movies and TV shows (though a few gems snuck in), and then there was the sports.

Who were the defining sports figures of the decade? Alex Rodriguez: Cheater, although there's no evidence he was one with the Yankees, unless you ask Cynthia. Roger Clemens: Asshole, and possibly also Cheater, although the proof, if there is any, has never been publicly revealed. David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Curt Schilling of the Red Sox: Cheater; Cheater and Asshole; Asshole and probably also Cheater. Barry Bonds: We knew he was an Asshole long before we even suspected, let alone knew, that he was a Cheater.

Bill Belichick and Tom Brady: Cheater, and Beneficiary of said Cheating. Brett Favre: Egomaniac who doesn't know when to get off the stage, and the way he's strung teams, players and fans along, I think he rises to the level of Asshole. Terrell Owens: Egomaniac and Asshole.

Shaquille O'Neal: Egomaniac, although not rising to the level of Asshole, but you can't tell anyone outside of Southern California that at least 1 and possibly all 4 of his rings didn't come as the result of a fix. Kobe Bryant: Egomaniac, Asshole, and by his own admission he did something wrong that goes beyond simply violating his wedding vows. Sidney Crosby: Cheater. (Yes, diving is cheating.) Eldrick Woods: The Tiger is a Tomcat.

Not one of these individuals will end up on my Top 10 list. Besides, Tiger Woods is not an athlete. Golf is not a sport.

Anyway, here I go:

The Top 10 Athletes of 2000-2009

10. Serena Williams. I could make this a joint entry with her sister Venus -- after all, Venus has won 7 Grand Slam singles titles, 5 Wimbledons and 2 U.S. Opens -- but Serena has accomplished more. She has won 9 majors, including all 4 of them at least once: The U.S. and Australian 3 each, Wimbledon twice and the French once. She has a better record in major Finals than Venus: 9-3 as opposed to 7-6. And, head-to-head, Serena has been better.

It is now safe to say that she is one of the Top 5 female tennis players ever, along with Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, Helen Wills and Steffi Graf; and that Venus is one of the Top 10, adding also Chris Evert, Margaret Court, Monica Seles and Suzanne Lenglen.

9. Bernard Hopkins. Somebody, in a bad decade for the sport, had to be the best boxer of the decade. "The Executioner" was, for all intents and purposes, Middleweight Champion of the World for 10 years. He beat Felix Trinidad. He beat Oscar De La Hoya (when doing so still meant something). He beat Antonio Tarver. And he beat Kelly Pavlik. That record is pretty strong.

8. Albert Pujols. Lifetime batting average, .334 -- highest among active players, including Ichiro Suzuki; higher than Stan Musial, Rod Carew and Wade Boggs. On-base percentage, .427 -- trailing by just .0002 only Todd Helton among active players, and higher than Musial and Mickey Mantle. Slugging percentage, .628 -- 4th all-time, trailing only Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig. OPS, 1.055 -- also 4th, trailing only the Babe, the Splendid Splinter and the Iron Horse. OPS+, 172 -- meaning he is 72 percent better than the average major league hitter over the span of his career; 7th all-time, behind Ruth, Williams, the tainted Bonds, Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby and slightly behind Mantle. Hits, 1,717. Home runs, 366 -- more than Joe DiMaggio, and nearly as many as Ralph Kiner and Johnny Bench. RBIs, 1,112 -- and his lowest total has been 103! He struck out 93 times in his first season, but hasn't topped 70 since. He's won a Gold Glove. In 9 seasons in the majors, he's never missed an All-Star Game. He's already won 3 MVP awards, 2 Pennants and the 2006 World Series, so he's got both individual and team success.

He's already a serious candidate for the title of greatest 1st baseman in National League history. And he doesn't turn 30 until next month. If he plays as long as did Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, we would be watching Phat Albert crush the horsehide until 2022. He could become, career-wise, the greatest offensive force the game has ever known except for Babe Ruth. For a generation who never saw DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg, Brooks Robinson or even George Brett, Pujols is Number 5.

7. Peyton Manning. The decade's top quarterback should be here. And it's not Tom Brady (beneficiary of cheating), nor Ben Roethlisberger (only around for half the decade), nor Kurt Warner (ditto, though not in the same way), nor Donovan McNabb (gotta win a title), nor Brett Favre (his title was 13 years ago -- believe it), nor Tony Romo (just wanted to see if you were still paying attention).

At the rate Peyton is going, most of Johnny Unitas' records, which became Fran Tarkenton's records, which became Dan Marino's records, which are now Favre's records, will become his records. Not since Joe Montana has any NFL quarterback "cut that meat" like Peyton.

Granted, he has "only" one Super Bowl win (in fact, only 1 appearance), but in 2 seasons the Indianapolis Colts lost in the Playoffs to the New England Patriots, and how can we believe those Pats wins weren't the result of cheating?

As I write this, the Colts are 14-0, with their last 2 games at home against the New York Jets and at the Buffalo Bills, which means 16-0 is very possible; and they have the top seed and home-field advantage throughout the AFC Playoffs, so they have an excellent chance at closing the old decade/starting the new decade with another title. If that happens, I will move Manning up on this list.

6. Tim Duncan. I'm not sure if he's the most virtuous player in the NBA, but he often seems like it. The San Antonio Spurs have never reached the NBA Finals without him; with him, they are 4-0. (One was before the decade began, but, still.) In a decade dominated by Shaq and Kobe, what they did together, what they tried to do apart, and their various excesses (Shaq's were silly, Kobe's were serious), and by the as-yet-unrealized hype around LeBron James, Duncan should have been the face of the NBA.

5. Martin Brodeur. He has appeared in more games, played more minutes, and won more games than any NHL goaltender ever. One more shutout, and he'll have more than any other. He has won 3 Stanley Cups, 2 in this decade, and each time he should have been given the Conn Smythe Trophy as Playoff MVP. (Seriously, the guy has 3 shutouts in the Finals, and they give the Smythe to the goalie of the losing team?) Internationally, he was the starting goalie on the 1st team from his country to win an Olympic Gold Medal in half a century.

If he's not the best goalie ever, he's on the short list for that title, with Roy, Sawchuk and Jacques Plante. And hockey goalie is the hardest position in sports, harder than catcher in baseball, harder than quarterback in football. Don't even think that goalkeeper in soccer is harder: A hockey puck comes in a lot harder and faster than a soccer ball.

4. Roger Federer. His 15 majors are the most of any male tennis player, and he's right up there with former record-holder Pete Sampras, Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver for serious consideration as the best man ever to play the sport. (Martina still tops 'em all, though, regardless of gender, era or surface.)

3. Michael Phelps. 14 Olympic Gold Medals. 6 in 2004, 8 in 2008. Great individualist and great relayist. (Or "team player," if you prefer.) He rocks the joint. Uh, that might be a bad choice of words... But then, the other serious candidate for the title of best swimmer ever doesn't exactly have the most graceful of names: Mark Spitz.

2. Thierry Henry. Along with Pele, George Best and Johan Cruyff, he is on the short list for the title of greatest soccer player who ever lived. (No, not Diego Maradona. Puh, lease.) League titles in France with AS Monaco in 1997 (the casino-driven tiny nation has a team that plays in France's Ligue 1), in England with Arsenal in 2002 and 2004, and in Spain with Barcelona in 2009. National cups with Arsenal in 2002, '03 and '05; and with Barcelona in '09. A Champions League title with Barcelona in '09. "The Double" (winning the Premier League and the FA Cup) with Arsenal in 2004, and "The Treble" (La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League) with Barcelona in 2009. 

Although his lone World Cup win with France came in the preceding decade, in 1998, he did lead them to the European Championship in 2000. Individually, he was a 4-time Premiership leading scorer, a 2-time European leading scorer, a 2-time PFA Players' Player of the Year, a 5-time French Player of the Year, Arsenal's all-time leading goalscorer, and was voted Arsenal's all-time greatest player (covering 1886 to 2008), and the all-time favorite player in the (as-yet-brief, 1992 to 2008) history of the Premier League.

Not to mention that great video he made with Spanish actress Paz Vega. (YouTube it, you will not be disappointed.)

1. Derek Jeter. Oh, how predictable, you must be saying. Only 2 rings and no MVPs, you must be saying. He can't play shortstop anymore, you must be saying.

Here's what I say: Nobody won more games in the decade. In. Any. Sport. Predictable, because he is the signature player -- perhaps of the last 40 years -- on my favorite team in all of sports? Yeah, he is.

Only 2 rings? And how many others could he have won if not for cheating? Look at the teams that beat the Yankees out, either in the regular season or the postseasons: The 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks with Luis Gonzalez and Matt Williams; the 2003 Florida Marlins and the 2006 Detroit Tigers with Ivan Rodriguez; the 2004 and 2007 Boston Red Sox with David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez (and that's just the two that were caught, how many others are still being protected?).

It doesn't mean the Yankees would have beaten Pujols' St. Louis Cardinals in 2004 or 2006, or Helton's Coloardo Rockies in 2007. (As far as I know, they were clean, as were the other teams to beat the Yankees in the decade: The 2002 and 2005 Anaheim Angels, and the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays). But, surely, there would have been at least one more title, and then this wouldn't have looked like such a homer pick.

Besides, it's my list. You don't like it? Make your own. Just make sure you don't put any cheaters on it.

Or golfers. When Tiger Woods faces a ball not sitting on a tee, but coming at him at 98 MPH from Josh Beckett; or when he attempts to drive with Ray Lewis bearing down on him; or when he has Shaq or Marty guarding the hole he's trying to putt into, then you can call him an athlete. Until then, nobody's saying that a golfer who doesn't make the cut at Augusta is "off playing baseball"; but come late April, the New York Rangers (who suck) will be "off playing golf."

Friday, December 18, 2009

Hitting 40

On December 18, 1969, a young man drove his young wife from their home in Bloomfield, New Jersey to a hospital in nearby Livingston. There was born their first child, a son, a month premature.

In those days, that was risky. In an incubator, no crib for a bed, just one week before Christmas, it was not immediately clear that the child would live. It was still not clear two weeks later, as the 1960s came to their exhausted close -- both physically and emotionally exhausted, and not just for the couple and their son -- and the 1970s began their often silly, usually painful run. It would be mid-January before they were allowed to take the boy home.

Well, you know the old saying: If you remember the 1960s, you weren't there.

I was. Barely.

And I've spent the last 40 years waiting to go home.

None of my parents' homes have ever truly felt like home to me. The apartments I've had have been refuges and storage spaces, but not really "homes." I think the closest I ever felt to being "home" was my Grandma's house, but, sadly, that is no longer an option.

There have been other homes. Two of them have been named Yankee Stadium. Two have been named Rutgers Stadium.

One didn't have a name when I was born, but shortly after the family moved to East Brunswick, EBHS renamed it Jay Doyle Field, as its first athletic director, football coach and wrestling coach died. (During the Middlesex County Wrestling Tournament, and his wrestlers continued competing. He was just 41 -- only a little older than I am now!)

Another has been named the Brendan Byrne Arena, and the Continental Airlines Arena, and the Izod Center, but is usually just called "the Meadowlands." And another is called the Prudential Center, and I'll be celebrating my birthday by going there tonight, to see the Devils take on the Ottawa Senators, in the hopes that Martin Brodeur not only breaks Patrick Roy's record for most career appearances by a goaltender, but also finally notches his 104th career shutout, to break the record he currently shares with Terry Sawchuk.

I discovered Arsenal too late to ever make Arsenal Stadium (a.k.a. "Highbury") a "home," and as I still have not visited London (Brother, can you spare $4,000?), I can't call Emirates Stadium (a.k.a. "Ashburton Grove" or "The Grove") a "home," yet, either.

There have been other "homes," where I've watched big games. Stuff Yer Face in East Brunswick was one place where I watched some big events, but it's long gone now. The original SYF in New Brunswick is still open, and I watched some big events there.

The Outback Steakhouse on Midtown East Side and R.U.B. (Righteous Urban Barbecue) next to the Chelsea Hotel are my two favorite New York haunts for watching most sports, but for soccer (or "football"), there's Baker Street Pub on the Upper East Side if you like to sit and eat while watching, and Nevada Smith's in the East Village if you're satisfied with standing, as footie fans did on terraces of old. (What I like about Nevada's is that 3rd Avenue runs north-south, so the bar is at the south end, and there's two clocks there, so, just like Highbury, the south end is the Clock End. That makes the north wall, against which I usually lean (with or without a stool), the North Bank. Not really, but then, I never really saw Babe Ruth or Maurice Richard or Wilt Chamberlain, either, did I?

*

Regrets? I've had a lot. One I can mention: As I have never been married, and have no children of my own, I never got to take my child to the original Yankee Stadium. It is now impossible. Soon, the old Stadium's structure will be pulled down, and the "Heritage Field" will be built, putting a baseball field on the site, while the real thing operates at the successor Stadium across 161st Street.

I have a picture of the old Stadium in my room, one of those official MLB photos with the holographic logo on it. This morning, Ashley pointed and said, "That's... Yankees' old house!" Rachel said, "You take me there?"

I told them I would take them there. By the time they're old enough to go to a big-league game -- they're 2, and I went to my first live game at 8, so 2015 sounds about right -- together, we'll be able to fulfill at least part of my old dream, running the bases at the southwest corner of 161st Street and River Avenue. And I'll take them to "the Yankees' new house."

The names come and go. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were long dead by the time I was born. Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Tommy Henrich, Allie Reynolds, Roger Maris, I only knew from Old-Timers' Day, and now they're dead, too. (Henrich, who was the oldest living Yankee, died last week at age 96.) Phil Rizzuto was my broadcaster, and so was Bobby Murcer, who I at least saw play, and now they're gone. Thurman Munson and Catfish Hunter, two of the heroes of my youth, now form a battery in the great ballpark in the sky. Whitey Ford? An old pitcher. A very old pitcher. Yogi Berra? A guy who managed to mangle the language in commercials when he wasn't managing a baseball team -- and for both, he was given cash, which is just as good as money!

The girls won't know the heroes I saw play as players. How is it possible that Reggie Jackson is 63? That Ron Guidry and Dave Winfield are 58? That Willie Randolph and Goose Gossage are 55? That Don Mattingly (for all his flaws, he was very often heroic) is 48? That Paul O'Neill is 45 and Bernie Williams is 41?

How is it that I, the first person the girls ever saw hit any baseball over any fence, am 40?

They probably won't see Andy Pettitte (37) or Jorge Posada (37) or Mariano Rivera (also 40) on television. If they do see Hideki Matsui (35) or Johnny Damon (36), it won't be as Yankees. (Matsui has gone to the Angels, and not the same ones that Thurman went to in 1979; With the Curtis Granderson signing, it's beginning to look like he'll start in center field and Melky Cabrera will be moved to left.) They might still see Derek Jeter (35) or Alex Rodriguez (34) in Pinstripes. Their first Yankee heroes are more likely to be the somewhat younger guys, like Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia, or the ones younger than that, like Melky, Robinson Cano, Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain.

And if I ever do have a child, his/her first baseball heroes will be players whose names we don't yet know, either because they're still on their way up, or because they're in the majors now but have not yet been pursued by the Yankees.

*

When I was growing up (for want of a better phrase), 70 years old was concerned a full lifespan. These days, it's usually considered to be 80.

Now I'm halfway there. And my accomplishments are precious and few.

But there's another way to look at it: I'm on second base, halfway to home, and there's still plenty of time to score and help my team win before I leave the game.

Is it Ashley at the plate? Or is it Rachel? Let me see if I can steal the catcher's signals, so I can let her know what the pitcher's going to throw, and she can get a hit.

And drive me home.

That will make them smile. And the most beautiful thing in the world isn't a Yankee Stadium (either one) filled with people enjoying yet another chorus of John Sterling saying, "Ballgame over! Yankees win! Theeee Yankees win!" That's close, but that's not it.

The most beautiful thing in the world is seeing my nieces smile. And I can make that happen.

Like I said, my accomplishments, however few, are precious.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Yankee Fans Party Like It's 1999

The Yankees are World Champions, the Red Sox are in their Jean Yawkey (definitely NOT Tom Yawkey) and John Harrington era period of one-way loyalty and misguided free-agent signings, and Dan Shaughnessy is writing woe-is-Red-Sox-Nation columns in The Boston Globe. And, with the recent revelations of steroid use by David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, the Red Sox' 2004 and 2007 World Championships remain invalid, so they still haven't won since 1918 * .

I've heard of "party like it's 1999," but this is... just the way I like it.

Now the Phillies have, essentially, traded Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay, the result being that neither the Red Sox nor the Mets get either. Fine with me.

The current rumor is that John Lackey, who drove the Yankees (and other teams) crazy as the Angels' ace these last few years, is headed to Boston, pending a physical. Well, John Henry and Larry Lucchino already have Theo Epstein. What do they need another lackey for? Ha ha!

They're going to let Jason Bay go, because he's an injury risk. As Lisa Swan points out in her "Subway Squawkers" blog (rumor has it she shares it with a Met fan, but who would notice?), they're still shoveling dough at J.D. Drew, who's an even bigger injury risk and takes days off about as often as Manny Ramirez -- or even, may he rest in peace, Johnny Carson.

Sounds to me like the Boston Red Faces may be taking a lot of days off. The entire 2010 season.

Meanwhile, the Mets desperately needed another starter, and have failed to land either Halladay (still one of the top five starters in the game) or Lackey (probably one of the top dozen). Who's minding the store in Flushing? (Yes.) I mean the fella's name. (Who!)

Are you enjoying this? I'm enjoying this. I can live with another Yanks-Phils World Series next year.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Holy Double Entendre, Batman!

The Yankees will enter the 2010 season having cut loose their Wang.

The Mets will enter the 2010 season having cut loose their Putz.

'Tis the season to be silly.

*

The Mets cutting loose J.J. Putz is no big deal. But the Yankees cutting loose Chien-Ming Wang -- who was only the best pitcher in baseball for 2 years, winning 19 games in both 2006 and 2007 -- before a string of injuries began in 2008 and left him a mere mortal, is very, very depressing.

Someone will pick him up, and take a chance that he hasn't permanently wrecked his pitching career. With my luck, that someone will be an American League contender.

UPDATE: Wang was signed by the Washington Nationals, but missed the entire 2010 season due to injury. He pitched for the Nats in 2011 and 2012, washed out in an attempted return to the Yankees in Spring Training 2013, then signed with the Toronto Blue Jays but hardly pitched in the majors before being designated for assignment. He then pitched in the minor leagues for the Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox, Atlanta Braves and Seattle Mariners, before finally returning to the majors with the Kansas City Royals in 2016. At age 36, his career record is 68-34. It should be much better than that.

*

Navy 17, Army 3. Navy has now beaten Army 8 years in a row.

I was at the Army-Navy Game once. Sort of. In 2006, I went down to Philadelphia to see the Devils take on the Flyers at the Wachovia Center. The gates were opened right after the Army-Navy Game let out at Lincoln Financial Field next-door. Navy won that one, too. And the Devils beat the Flyers.

Tonight, the Devils play the Flyers on Army-Navy Day again, this time at the Prudential Center. I hope the Devils win, but I really hope it's not a shutout for Martin Brodeur. I want him to get it this coming Friday against Ottawa, so I can see the historic moment live.

Not sure if Texas quarterback Colt McCoy or Alabama running back Mark Ingram deserves the Heisman Trophy more. But Tim Tebow of Florida? No joining Archie Griffin in the Two Heismans Club for him.

*

Days until the Devils play another local rival: 0, as previously mentioned.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 7, next Saturday, in the St. Petersburg Bowl in Florida, against the University of Central Florida. Shouldn't be too tough.

Days until the 2010 Winter Olympics begin: 62. A shade over 2 months.

Days until Opening Day of the 2010 baseball season: 114.

Days until the next North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham: 119, on April 10, 2010 at White Hart Lane.

Days until the Yankees' 2010 home opener: 122.

Days until the 2010 World Cup begins: 182. A shade over 6 months.

Days until the World Cup Final: 213.

Days until the new Meadowlands Stadium (still unnamed) opens: 237.

Days until East Brunswick plays football again: 272 (presumably), on Friday, September 10, 2010.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 348. (Yes, I'm counting it down already.)

Days until Derek Jeter collects his 3,000th career hit: 518 (projected).

Days until the Rutgers-Army football game at Yankee Stadium: 700.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Curtis Granderson? What the (insert expletive of choice)?

NOTE: The following was written before Granderson turned out to be a very good pickup. I am happy to eat crow over this one. And, as it turned out, both Damon and Cabrera would soon be with other clubs.

The Yankees getting rid of pitchers Phil Coke, Ian Kennedy and, in a separate transaction, Brian Bruney, I can live with.

But what the hell (or any other expletive of choice) are the Yankees doing trading for Curtis Granderson?

He's a center fielder. The Yankees already have Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner, and there's no reason to dump either one of them.

Move him to right field? They've already got Nick Swisher.

Move him to left field? They've already got Johnny Damon.

Ah, that may be it. Damon's contract is up. But why get rid of him? True, he's going to be 35, and he's been injury-prone. He's also been damn good as a Yankee, and he's a proven winner. And he wants to stay with the Yankees. I say keep him.

So does this mean the Yankees won't keep Damon? Or that either Cabrera or Gardner is gone? Any of those would be a big mistake in my opinion.

Look, for all I know, Granderson may be a great guy, and his lefty stroke may be just right for Yankee Stadium II. But that's irrelevant: We don't have a place for him. We don't need him. And we don't need to make a place for him.

Suppose we get rid of Damon, or Cabrera, or Gardner. And replace him with Granderson. And then Granderson, or one of the 2 out of 3 that we keep, gets hurt. Then what?

Dumb move, Brian Cashman.

At least he appears to have locked Andy Pettitte up for one more year.

Monday, December 7, 2009

East Brunswick Football: State Champions!


I've been having a lot of trouble with my home computer lately. As a result, my posts have become infrequent. I apologize.

But I had to find a usable computer and post. And not because of the Nets finally breaking their 18-game losing streak.

Dear Old Alma Mater, East Brunswick High School, Da Bears, won the Central Jersey Group IV football championship on Saturday afternoon, defeating Brick Memorial 9-0 in a snowstorm at the College of New Jersey (formerly Trenton State College) in the Trenton suburb of Ewing.

This is the 4th time the Big Green have been State Champions in football. Well, Sectional Champions. New Jersey has definitive champions, or at least group champions based on enrollment, for every sport except football. But we'll take it.

In the system that was in place until 1973, sectional champions were chosen by which team had the best won-lost record. In 1966, and again in 1972, E.B. finished 7-1-1, and was declared co-champions. To this day, I don't know who the other co-champions were in either season. I do know that, each time, the one loss was to South River, generally considered our arch-rivals between the 1960-61 schoolyear (when we began varsity-level sports, with the football program starting the following year) until 1975-76 (when, due to the severely-reduced enrollments at South River and some other schools due to new schools opening, they were dropped to a new league).

In 1974, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) instituted the Playoffs, and that season only the top 2 teams qualified. From 1975 to 1997, the top 4 did. Since 1998, it's been the top 8.

We reached the Central Jersey Group IV Championship Game in 1984 and 1985 (losing both times to J.P. Stevens, the '84 game a heartbreaker where our undefeated season was lost by 1 point), and lost in the Semifinals in 1980 (under deeply scandalous circumstances to Raritan High of Hazlet), 1987 (an Ice Bowl blowout by Old Bridge, then known as Madison Central), 1988 (another blowout by Madison), 1990 (a thriller against Trenton Central) and 1994 (a close loss to Piscataway filled with bogus officiating). We lost in the Quarterfinals in 1998 (falling way behind against Manalapan but almost coming all the way back).

We just missed qualifying for the Playoffs in 1977 (winning our 1st 5, then tying our next 2 and losing our last 2), 1978, 1981 (missing largely due to a Rain Bowl loss to Cedar Ridge, the since-closed other Old Bridge school), 1986 (my senior year at EBHS, that really burned me up), 1992, 1995 and 1996. In each of those seasons, had the 1998-present setup been in place, we would have qualified. Would we have won the Central Jersey Group IV title in any of those seasons? I'm still convinced we would have won in '86, but that's my own bias. I don't think we would have won it all in any of the others.

Ironically, the 2 times we've won it all in the post-1974 Playoff Era, we didn't need the extra 4 seeds. In 2004, we got the 2nd seed, and beat Brick Township in a tight contest, then Hillsborough in a mind-bending overtime thriller, and finally upset Jackson Memorial at Rutgers Stadium, 17-14, to finally throw the monkey -- nay, the 800-pound gorilla -- off our backs. To make it even more amazing in hindsight, Jackson Memorial (then usually referred to as just "Jackson," since Jackson Liberty was still being built) had won the previous year's title, and would win the next year's title. It was the only game they lost in those 3 seasons.

But after 32 years of waiting (20 for me), filled with shocking collapses, dodgy refereeing, bad weather and coaching brainlocks -- I'm talking defeats of Redsoxian or Cubbish or Buffalo Billsian proportions -- we'd finally done it. December 5, 2004: A date which lives in ecstasy.

Just once. Like fans of other teams that are said to be "cursed," I said, "Just once. Just let them win it once in my lifetime." I'd waited 20 years. When we finally won it, I thought it would keep me satisfied for the next 20 years. As it turned out, I only had to wait 5, before the footsteps of our diminutive but come-up-big quarterback Matt Mariano were followed in. (Yankee Fans will not be surprised to know that our big winner was named Mariano. Of course, he's Italian, not Panamanian.)

*

Coach Marcus Borden, known in the Eighties for a superb passing attack, has for 20 years now run an option offense, similar to the wishbone, calling it the flexbone. Running it these last two seasons was quarterback Mauro Tucci -- whose father, Mauro Sr., also happens to be my parents' doctor. It's a good family. Although I have to question the sanity of Mauro Jr. and the other E.B. players who played the whole game in short sleeves. Only a few did, but, seriously, they must've seen too many old Green Bay Packer films.

Anyway, we were the 4th seed, despite losing a late-season game to Brick Memorial, the defending CJ IV Champions, who only got the 6th seed. But under the current system, being the 4th seed gave us a home game in the quarterfinals, where we beat West Windsor 27-0 in a steady rain. The Pirates aren't a bad team, but they couldn't get anything going, and Tucci, Mike Weber and Jared Lynch ran all over them, while our defense, led by the brothers Anthony and Nick Gudzak, shut them out.

The Semifinal put us in Sayreville, who'd beaten us 34-13 earlier in the season and won the Greater Middlesex Conference Red Division Championship. (They'd also beaten Brick Memorial in the regular season, avenging their loss in the 2008 CJ IV Championship Game.) But Weber was hurt in that one. Due to scheduling quirks (including playing nearly the entire 2007 season on the road because Jay Doyle Field was being converted to FieldTurf), we've now played Sayreville away 5 times in the last 4 seasons. To make matters worse, from 1961 to 1990, 30 seasons, we played them 28 times and went 27-1; since 1991, we've played them 20 times and gone just 7-13. (It's still 34-14 us, a pretty good record.)

But we scored an early touchdown to take a 7-0 lead. Then Borden ordered Tyler Yonchiuk, son of his former assistant (and former Edison High head coach) Gerry Yonchiuk, to squib the ensuing kickoff. Orders followed, but bad orders. It gave Sewerville a short field, and they scored, and got the 2-pointer to take the lead, 8-7. (That nickname isn't just trash talk on my part: The Middlesex County Sewerage Authority is actually headquartered in Sayreville. And their stadium really does stink.)

But on the final play of the 1st half, Yonchiuk kicked a field goal to make it 10-8 E.B. You should have seen the looks on the Bombers' faces. They could not believe they were losing a Playoff game on their own field. To their most hated rivals! They were stunned. We were in their heads, and the looks on the Bears' faces showed that we knew it.

Yonchiuk added a field goal in the 4th quarter to make it 13-8, and that was crucial, because it meant Sayreville needed a touchdown to win. And their final drive got down inside our 5, and their kicker would have been able to win it, turning 10-8 us into 11-10 them. Instead, they needed a touchdown to make it 14-13 (pending the conversion), but our secondary shut them down, and we won.

Amazingly, Brick Memorial, so long in the shadow of "big brother" Brick Township but now the defending Champions, upset Hunterdon Central of Flemington, and then upset their next-door neighbors (albeit in the adjoining County) Howell to set up a rematch with us in the Final. The regular-season game with BM was 37-34 them -- the most points we'd ever scored without winning in 49 seasons of varsity football.

The Final was to be a very different story.

*

Rutgers was playing West Virginia on Saturday afternoon, making Rutgers Stadium unavailable for State Finals. So TCNJ was used for Central Jersey Finals, and Kean University in Union for North Jersey Finals. There isn't really a large stadium in South Jersey, unless you want to count the 6,000-seat minor-league ballparks in Camden and Atlantic City, so the higher seeds hosted those games. (The first State Finals, in 1974, were held at the Atlantic City Convention Hall, now "Boardwalk Hall," with 17,000 seats but only enough space for an 80-yard field.)

Anyway, while Rutgers nearly came back from a 21-3 deficit but lost 24-21, the weather changed from steady rain to snow, with some wind, right before our kickoff. E.B. won the toss, and wisely decided to defer our choice to the 2nd half. We held Brick Memorial on their 1st possession, and I took that as a very good sign. And Lynch broke off a long run to put us in superb position. But we fumbled the ball away on the next play. So everyone knew this was not going to be another shootout.

The Mustangs had a lot of trouble, as both the artificial field and the ball were slick. Tucci later described the field as being like a skating rink, and several times I saw him click his heels. Not to try to get back to Kansas, or even to signal to his running backs, but to get the snow out of his cleats. He moved us enough to get into field goal range, and Yonchiuk booted it through. It was 3-0 Bears, and I had the sinking feeling that this might be it. That might be all the scoring. (We had a 6-0 loss many years ago, but never a game where both teams combined for less than that.)

At halftime, it was still 3-0, as our defense held, and the Mustang offense had all kinds of trouble, blowing a field goal attempt with 2 minutes left in the half. Strangely, while their center sent their punter some awful snaps, we didn't block any. We did get some great field position, but couldn't do much with it.

By contrast, Yonchiuk, our punter as well as our placekicker and kickoff man, didn't have any trouble with snaps, but had one of his punts blocked. Still, they couldn't take advantage. Joe Quaglieri, Pete Sorrento, and the Gudzak brothers were magnificent. I know, bad weather tends to hurt offenses, but advantage must still be taken, and my Bears did. And, let's not forget, Tucci and his offense had to play in the exact same weather that made the Mustangs struggle.

I've seen E.B. play football in bitter cold. I've seen us play in driving rain. I once saw a game suspended late in the 4th quarter, with us up by 2 touchdowns, when a thunderstorm was highlighted -- literally -- by a lightning bolt striking one of the light towers. (I swear, I'm not making that up: September 26, 1986, at Brick Township. You ever see 5,000 people run screaming for their cars? I have. The NJSIAA declared the game officially over 2 days later.) But as far as anybody can determine (and I asked people who've been around since the Seventies and even the Sixties), this is the 1st time in nearly half a century of football that E.B. has played in the snow.

Not that it wasn't also very cold. Thank God I brought gloves, or else I wouldn't have made it. (Two days later, those gloves remain soaked. At least my sneakers have almost dried out.) As it was, the combination of cold air, cold snow, and cold aluminum stands froze my feet.

There was an elderly couple, watching their grandson play, and they were bundled up in a blanket. A Bears blanket. A Chicago Bears blanket. Except we, the fans of the East Brunswick Bears, weren't sitting on frigid Lake Michigan, the way the NFL Bears do with Soldier Field. TCNJ is 3 miles inland, and there's a big difference between being on a Great Lake and being on the Delaware River. (Though when the wind comes blasting in off the Hackensack River, it sure makes the Meadowlands parking lot feel like Siberia.)

At halftime, the Brick Memorial cheerleaders started a snowball fight with our cheerleaders. It was all in good fun. But I couldn't resist going into my old "Crazy Mike" mode, and played on the theme of the opposing mascot, the Mustangs: "Let's send these horses to the glue factory!" And "Giddyup on outta here, horsie!" And, referencing the Ford sports car, "These Mustangs need a tune-up!" (Sorry, no "Yippie-ki-yay, motherfucker!" or "You're a horseshit team!" or even use of the word "gelding." This was high school ball. Different standards apply when you're yelling at kids instead of young men in college or seasoned professionals.)

Slowly and carefully, knowing that as long as we held the ball, they couldn't score, and that the lead meant that both the clock and the weather were our allies rather than Memorial's, Tucci led a 3rd-quarter drive that Bill Parcells would have loved. He got us to the 12-yard line, and then our offensive line opened a hole through which Santa Claus could have driven his sleigh. Mike Weber didn't need 8 reindeer to guide him through (although, in the cold, he may have had a red nose), and he scored a touchdown. Despite making the field goal earlier, Yonchiuk missed the extra point.

Still, with the snow continuing to fall, and the temperature still dropping, midway through the 3rd quarter, a 9-0 lead looked awfully safe. As it turned out, it was completely safe -- if you've got a defense like ours. In the 3 Playoff games combined, we allowed just 8 points, and even those 8 were the result of a bad kickoff. You just don't see that in the Playoffs. You particularly don't see too many shutouts in State Finals. But the Grizzly D was up to the task.

I used to have this fantasy, in the days before we finally won it all. I imagined E.B. finally making it back to the Central Jersey Group IV Championship Game, but it would be played at Giants Stadium, in bitter cold, possibly in snow, with that tin can's swirling wind making it even worse. Could we possibly survive in such a situation? Now, while the venue was different and the wind wasn't strong enough to be a factor, the fantasy had come close enough to coming true. And we were not only surviving, we were thriving.

The minutes counted down. The Mustangs were totally flustered. They had 2 drives in the last 6 minutes of regulation. And each time, one of the Gudzak brothers intercepted a pass, first Anthony with about 5 minutes left, and then Nick with about 2 minutes to go. In all,  just 12 passes were attempted in this game, 10 by Brick Memorial, 2 by Tucci. None were completed, and 4 were intercepted (3 by us, 1 by them).

While the 2004 win over Jackson Memorial was not decided until the final play (a missed field goal), this one was pretty much ended by Anthony Gudzak's interception. Nick's almost seemed like we were piling on. (Not that I wasn't glad to have it. It could have been 9-6, or 9-7 -- 9-8 wouldn't have made an appreciable difference -- and they could have tempted fate and the snow with an onside kick and gotten into field goal range.) But an anticlimatic finish is acceptable when it's your team winning the State Championship.

Afterward, the players and cheerleaders made snow angels in the end zone. They didn't want to leave. We, the fans, however, wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. It wasn't quite Green Bay cold, but Chicago cold? Cleveland cold? Buffalo cold? On this night, Trenton cold was cold enough, thank you very much!

And while we're on the subject of gratitude, thank God nobody got seriously hurt. There could have been any number of injuries in this game. Yonchiuk took a little bit of a knock, but he played the rest of the game, and as far as I can tell, nobody was hurt to the point where, if there were another game the next week, they would have missed it. Those football players who will go on to play basketball or wrestle starting next week should be fine.

To Coach Borden, his staff, and his players: Thank you, gentlemen. You have made half a century of Bear alumni proud. You played superbly, and cleanly. You did it, and you did it the right way, holding your intensity without giving up an ounce of class -- not an easy line to walk, but you walked it, and you walked off with the title.

East Brunswick Bears
State Champions
1966 1972 2004 2009
Conference Champions
1965 1966 1967 1968
1969 1970 1972 1984
1986 1987 1990 1994

E.B. Forever!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Throw a Net Over Us

The New Jersey Nets set a new NBA record, most losses to start the season, 18. This breaks the record of 17 set by the 1988-89 Miami Heat (an expansion team, no surprise there) and tied by the 1999-2000 Los Angeles Clippers (the Clippers, so no surprise there, either).

Appropriately, it was the Dallas Mavericks who provided the defeat. The team that features Jason Kidd. When Kidd arrived at the Meadowlands in 2001, he turned the team from one of the biggest joke franchises in all of North American sports into a genuine title contender, winning the Eastern Conference in his first 2 seasons, the Atlantic Division in his first 3, and winning a 4th Division Title in his 5th. From 2002 to 2006, the Nets were one of the best and most entertaining teams in the NBA.

But when Bruce Ratner bought the team, he started breaking them up. First Kenyon Martin was traded. Then Richard Jefferson. Then Kidd himself. Finally, Vince Carter, not a part of the '02 and '03 seasons but a sensational player obtained thereafter, but by the trade his time had gone and thus his trading away was somewhat justified.

There is no longer any reason to watch the Nets. They are a horrible team. They have terrible injuries and who knows when the injured players will return. They play at the Brendan Byrne Arena... check that, the Continental Airlines Arena... check that, the Izod Center, one of the worst arenas in North America. They fired coach Lawrence Frank and replaced him with Kiki Vandeweghe, the general manager who helped put them in this situation; the only nice thing I can say about Kiki is that his father, Dr. Ernie Vandeweghe, was a pretty good player for the near-miss Knicks teams of the early 1950s (3 straight trips to the NBA Finals, 1951-53, but lost them all).

What do the Nets have going for them? A new arena in Brooklyn, which we now think will open in time for the 2012-13 season. It was supposed to open this season. The Nets have now been a lame-duck franchise longer than the Montreal Expos were. Whatever they're going to be called when they move to Brooklyn, if they do, they won't be my Nets any more than their 1977 move to New Jersey (first to Rutgers, then to the Meadowlands in 1981) meant that they were still the New York Nets that Long Islanders loved in their ABA days.

What else do the Nets have going for them? Space under the NBA's salary cap. Yeah, that helps. If, that is, they know what to do with it. If there's one thing the Nets have proven in their 32-year New Jersey existence, it's that they are one of the most incompetent personnel-movers in basketball.

What do the Nets have going for them right now? Uh, great seats available! In a lousy building in the middle of nowhere...

Anybody who pays to watch the Nets now is just putting money in Ratner's already deep pockets, and for what? A lousy product with no hope of ever getting better. Face it, the Knicks are dreaming if they think the enormous cap space they've cleared is going to get them LeBron James or Dwayne Wade -- and Chris Bosh isn't exactly an enticing Plan C. The Nets don't even have that hope.

So maybe the people who pay to watch the Nets should have a net thrown over them. I've paid to watch the Nets one time in the Ratner era. (It was against the then-defending NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs. No sign of Tony Parker's wife, Eva Longoria, although she was shown at the game on the 11:00 news. No sign of Nets part-owner Jay-Z and his squeeze -- now wife -- Beyonce, either.)

I will not be paying to watch the Nets again, unless the Russian trying to buy the team from Ratner tells him to take his Atlantic Yards and shove them up his ass, and moves the team to the Prudential Center in Newark where they should have been from the day that place opened in October 2007. At least then, they'd have one of the best arenas in the land, instead of one of the worst, and it wouldn't be in the middle of nowhere.

They'd still be a bad team, though. Throw a net over us.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Ups and Downs of the E.B. Bears

EB's win over Monroe, earlier in the season.
It was the only game Monroe lost all season.

Dear Old Alma Mater, East Brunswick High School, Da Bears, won a tremendous victory in the State Playoffs last Friday night, defeating Sayreville on the road, 13-8, and advancing to the Central Jersey Group IV Championship. It will be played on Saturday, December 5, at Trenton State College -- excuse me, at the College of New Jersey -- in Ewing, Mercer County.

Then, yesterday, just as we did during our run to the CJ IV Championship in 2004, we lost the Thanksgiving game to Old Bridge. This time, 23-17. We didn't play well at all, but the game turned when a touchdown pass that would have made all the difference (i.e. with the extra point we would have won 24-23) was nullified by a totally bogus penalty by the moronic, blind, Old Bridge-favoring referee.

My father went to the game with me, and he said he got his money's worth. "So did the ref," I said.

Now, this is very tricky. If I absolve the ref, accept that sometimes officials make mistakes, and that maybe this call was not a mistake, and admit that my team simply didn't play well enough -- which is true -- then I'm blaming a bunch of 16- and 17-year-old boys, calling them incompetent, which isn't fair, because they've played so well this year, fully earning their trip to the Finals.

On the other hand, if I accept that my team truly was robbed by a stupid/blind/incompetent official, then it sounds like sour grapes. Well, considering that some grapes are green (like my Bears) and some are purple (like the evil Knights), that may be an appropriate analogy.

Still, that's 17 losses to the Purple Bastards in the last 19 years. And get this: The last 3 times we've beaten them -- 17-0 in 1990 (when they were still known as Madison Central, their colors were navy blue and sky blue, and their teams were called the Spartans), 33-18 in 1994 (the first year Madison and Cedar Ridge had been reconsolidated under the OBHS name after being separated in 1968), and 35-12 in 2007 -- it was a blowout. When The Scum keep it close -- 7-6 in 1996, 24-21 last year, and 23-17 this time to cite 3 examples -- we lose. (They've also won some blowouts: In the 2004 title season, they beat us 21-0; and, of course, the 55-3 blowout Madison laid on us in 1988... I wonder if they still call that the Game of the Century in Scum Town?)

Moral of the story: When you play The Scum, shred 'em.

Days until we play them again: 363. In football, anyway. There will be other sports, but the only winter or spring sports in which both teams are usually good are wrestling and track. In high school sports, football and basketball are the two sports that matter, far beyond any other, and even with the former 2 schools combined into 1, they've rarely been a factor in basketball, either boys or girls.

*

The title game will be very different this time. Not just because it will be played at a 15,000-seat stadium at a Division III college, instead of the then 42,000-seat (now 53,000-seat) Rutgers Stadium. And not just because we were underdogs in 2004, against Jackson Memorial, whereas this time we're playing Brick Memorial (ironically, the school closest to where my late Grandma lived), and while they beat us in the regular season, 37-34 (making this the first of EB's 49 seasons in which we've played 2 schools twice, after the Semi against Sewerville), we had the higher seed in the Playoffs (4th as opposed to 6th), so we might be favored, and we'll probably get to wear our home green uniforms as opposed to our road whites.

But the big reason this one will be different is that we have now won a State Championship. In 2004, we hadn't won since 1972 (and had previously won in 1966), which was before the State Playoff system began in 1974. We had to win that one.

This time, with a title comparatively recent, if we win, it'll be wonderful; but it we lose, it won't be terribly sad. We'll have the 2004 title to fall back on.

And, of course, we'll have the knowledge that, both times, we won a "State Championship" (really only a regional championship for the largest classification by enrollment), but lost to our most hated rivals. There will always be that shadow over the 2004 title, as there would be over the 2009 title should we win a week from tomorrow.

Still, it's been a really good season. We beat teams that, going into the Semifinal round, had been ranked Number 1 and Number 2 in the County (and, in fact, we're still the only team to beat that Number 2 team this season), and, for 5 days (Sunday morning through Thursday morning), we were ranked Number 1, something that hadn't happened in 19 years. (Even in 2004, there was another team in the County, on the north side of the Raritan River and thus in another "section" of the State Playoffs, that beat us and went on to win that section and take the County's Number 1 ranking in the local paper.)

But I still hate Old Bridge. You can't spell "slob" without "OB." And never, ever run over a bicyclist with your car in Old Bridge. It might be your bike.

How did the Old Bridge guy find his sister in the woods? Very nice.

I know, these are variations on criminal/inbred/stupid/classless jokes you've seen elsewhere. Well, if the shoe fits, they should wear it, no matter how smelly their feet are.

I fucking hate Old Bridge. And if we had won... I'd still fucking hate them.

On the bright side, Thanksgiving dinner went really well. Which is amazing, because I provided most of the food this time, and even shared the cooking duties with my mother. She and my father were both impressed.

My sister and her daughters weren't there, for reasons that should remain private. But she's hosting a brunch for us and some friends this morning. Would she have been impressed with my performance? She'd probably be impressed that, between me and Mom, we didn't blow the damn house up!

It was a very good dinner. But I would have traded a mediocre dinner for a win a few hours earlier.

I hate Old Bridge. Days until we in East Brunswick try to redeem ourselves with a State Championship: 8. Let's go, E.B., E.B., let's go!

Oh yeah: Rutgers plays at Louisville today. A win... doesn't help them much, since they'll still go to one of those bowls that didn't exist 10 years ago, probably in Charlotte, or a return trip to Toronto where they won in the 2007 season.

This is how far Greg Schiano has taken the RU program: Just 5 years ago, a Rutgers fan would have undergone a root canal without novocaine just to go to any bowl game. Now, when we go to a bowl that's not one of the former (and occasionally still) New Year's Day biggies, we're disappointed.

But there's still a championship (Big East and possibly National) level to which Schiano hasn't taken them. This year wasn't it, either. We'll see.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Top 10 New Jersey Devils Wins (Of 1,000)


There was a historic moment in the history of New Jersey sports on Saturday, November 14, 2009. And I didn't realize it until I read the Sunday Star-Ledger.

Here's the headline: "Gunter runs for 119 years to help power Princeton by Yale."

Runs for 119 years? Now, I realize that Princeton University has been playing football since 1869, and Yale University for nearly that long. As of November 6, the anniversary of "the first college football game" (even though it was more like a soccer game between two teams of 25) between Rutgers and Princeton in New Brunswick, the Tigers have been going at it for 140 years.

But I don't think they have any 119-year-old alumni, let alone any 119-year-old players. If they do have any 119-year-olds on their roster, then someone needs to contact the NCAA, because I think said player's eligibility ran out. Probably around the time that former Princeton professor and University President Woodrow Wilson was elected to a considerably higher Presidency.

Here's the opening paragraph of the S-L article: "Kenny Gunter gained 119 yards on 23 carries, including a 3-yard run for the game's first score, as Princeton defeated Yale, 24-7, yesterday in Princeton."

Princeton advanced to 3-6 in a tough year, and still trails Yale in one of college-football's oldest surviving rivalries, 72-50-10.

*

All joking aside, I did miss a bit of a milestone: While I noted the Devils' win over the Washington Capitals on Saturday night, I was unaware that it was the 1,000th win in franchise history.

Counting only from their time in New Jersey, and not their pathetic early days as the Kansas City Scouts from 1974 to 1976 and the Colorado Rockies from 1976 to 1982, the Meadowlands Marauders -- sorry, old habits are hard to break -- the Mulberry Street Marauders now have an all-time record of 1,000 wins, 852 losss and 248 ties.

That means they've won 47.6 percent of their games, although with the advent of the shootout in the event of overtime not settling things, it's easier to win games that are tied after regulation. So they've gotten at least a point in 59.4 pecent of their games. Quite impressive, considering that up until the 1987-88 season they were, to use Number 99's words, "a Mickey Mouse operation on the ice." (I still won't use the name of that traitor to the game if I can avoid it -- and not because of that remark, either.)

Those 1,000 wins, of course, are only counting the regular season. If I were to do a list of the Top 10 Devils Wins, there would be a lot of postseason play in there.

So... with the hope that this list will have to be revised in the spring...

Top 10 New Jersey Devils Wins, 1982 to 2009

Of course, the two biggest "wins" in Devils history came on June 30, 1982, when, following Dr. John McMullen buying the team on May 27, officially approved the Rockies' move to New Jersey; and on October 6, 2004, when the Newark City Council approved the building of what became known as the Prudential Center, so the team could finally get out of their uncomfortable crib at Exit 16W. (It was a "childhood home": We loved it, but it not a suitable place for us as adults, and we had to get out. Besides, in this case, "father," meaning the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, did not know best.) With that in mind, here's the top ten, in my opinion (which isn't the only one that matters, only the one that matters the most in this space):

Honorable Mention. December 23, 1992, Madison Square Garden, New York, New York: Devils 5, New York Rangers 4. Despite being already 23 years old, this was my first live hockey game. Although I loved the Devils, it had only been a year or so, since the publicity blitz the NHL put on for its 75th Anniversary season (1991-92), that I got into the game at the kind of level where I just had to go to games. Don’t ask me how I got a ticket for this one, because I don’t remember.

The Garden was loud. I couldn't even hear John Amirante sing the National Anthem. I never realized that 18,200 people in an enclosed building could sound louder than 55,000 fans in an outdoor stadium -- the noise couldn't get out. The Rangers led 4-1 in the 3rd period, and their 18,000 maniacs were giving me a hard time. (I'm assuming my fellow Devils fans numbered about 200 that night.) But Stephane Richer scored, and suddenly it was on. The Devils tied it up in the last 2 minutes. In English soccer parlance, "Four-one, and you fucked it up!"

In overtime, Richer struck again, firing a laser beam that John Vanbiesbrouck still hasn't seen. I got out of the Garden real fast. But happy. This game may have been forgotten by just about everybody except me – and Richer, and the Beezer – but I'll cherish it forever. After all, unlike the Yankees and Rutgers football (but like East Brunswick football and, strangely, the usually woeful Nets), the Devils won the first live game in which I saw them.

10. October 8, 1982, Brendan Byrne Arena, East Rutherford, New Jersey: Devils 3, Rangers 2. Three days after debuting at home with a 3-3 tie against the then-equally woeful Pittsburgh Penguins, the Devils played a nearby team for the 1st time. Then, it was hard for anyone but Islander fans to say, "RANGERS SUCK!" Still, at the time, this was a franchise that was technically 3 days old, and officially 3 months old, against one that was 56 years old. For crying out loud, they were founded in the Coolidge Administration.

Beat the Rangers in a game that really matters? At the time, we were glad simply to beat anybody. To get our first win against the guys 8 miles down Route 3 (which flows into the Lincoln Tunnel Approachway)? It was sweet. But there would be sweeter ones to come.

9. February 3, 2006, Byrne (by now Continental Airlines) Arena: Devils 3, Carolina Hurricanes 0. A February game? Sure, it's yet another shutout for Marty, but what's the big deal? Especially since the Canes ended up beating us in the Playoffs a few weeks later and won the Cup?

The big deal is that it was Scott Stevens Night, and his Number 4 was retired. By raising our 1st retired number banner, along with the 3 Stanley Cup banners, 4 Conference Title banners and 7 (now 10) Division Title banners, it was a confirmation that our little franchise had finally grown up. Just as were our 1st Playoff berth in '88, our 1st Playoff Series win the same year, our 1st Conference Finals berth the same year, our driving of The Scum to the limit in '94, our 1st Cup Finals and win in '95, our first former player elected to the Hall of Fame (Peter Stastny) in '98, our 2nd Cup win in 2000, and our 3rd Cup win in '03.

But this was the 1st time we were able to mark a great Devils career as complete. (After all, who remembers Stastny as a Devil instead of as a Quebec Nordique? And Viacheslav Fetisov is remembered mainly as a Soviet, then a Detroit Red Wing.) It was our chance not only to announce that, yes, we have some history now, but also to say, "Thank you" to the most important player in the history of the franchise.

Marty is the greatest player in team history, but Scottso, because of how he lifted us up and turned us from pretenders into champions from 1991 to '95, is the most important, and will never be toppled from that perch.

8. April 14, 1988, Byrne Arena: Devils 6, New York Islanders 5. This was Game 6 of the Patrick Division Semifinals, and it was the 1st time the Devils ever won a Playoff Series. And against the team that had cast a very long shadow over New York hockey since their own such victory in 1975, a shocker over the Rangers (who, as Isles fans taught us, suck).

It was really all over for them: This was Captain Denis Potvin's last game, Mike Bossy had already retired due to a nasty back injury, Billy Smith was fast becoming a backup and would retire in another year, Bryan Trottier was mainly a reserve (though would play long enough to help Pittsburgh win 2 Cups), Clark Gillies had been traded 2 years earlier and had just retired, Butch Goring had been retired for a year and Bobby Nystrom for 2. The era of Big Island Hockey was over. (And except for a nice Cup run in '93, it has never returned.) And the Devils had delivered the eulogy. The Rangers couldn't do it. You know why? Because the RANGERS SUCK!

7. April 3, 1988, Chicago Stadium, Chicago, Illinois: Devils 4, Chicago Blackhawks 3. Last game of the regular season, and the Devils could clinch a Playoff berth for the first time ever (unless you count the 1978 Colorado Rockies), but a tie wouldn't do the trick: They had to win.

And they were losing late, but John MacLean scored to send it to overtime. Since this was the regular season, OT was only 5 minutes, another goal had to come fast. Johnny Mac did it again, scoring the most important of his (still a team record) 347 goals in a Devils uniform, past Hawk goalie Darren Pang (now a broadcaster), getting tripped up and copying the famed 1970 Bobby Orr pose.

Except, as thrilling as that must have been for Boston fans, they were up 3 games to 0 in the Finals. They were going to win that series sooner or later. MacLean's goal was far more important to his team. It may be the most important goal in the history of any franchise, except maybe for the one that sent the Isles on their way in 1975, by Jean-Paul Parise. (Of course, father of Zach.)

6. May 26, 2000, First Union (currently Wachovia) Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Devils 2, Philadelphia Flyers 1. Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Fly Guys took a 3 games to 1 lead, and had Game 5 and possibly Game 7 at home. But these were not the fearsome 1970s Bobby Clarke, Bernie Parent, Dave Schultz Flyers. These were the Eric Lindros Flyers. Even Kate Smith and her mighty pipes couldn't have saved them.

This was a Philly choke on the level of the '64 and '77 Phillies, the '77 and '81 76ers, the '02 Eagles, the '04 St. Joseph's basketball team, and Smarty Jones. And the Flyers' tough-guy, "Broad Street Bullies" image was shattered forever when Scott Stevens introduced Lindros to his associate, Mr. Shoulder.

It wasn't quite, to use Bruce Springsteen's line, "Well, they blew up the Chicken Man in Philly last night, and they blew up his house, too," mainly because 1980-81 Philly Mob boss Philip Testa got his nickname because of his "cover," a poultry business, while Lindros could have been called "the Chicken Man" for other reasons, if ya know what I mean.

But it was as effective a hit as either the Jersey or Philly Mob has ever pulled off, and Lindros was never the same. Already feuding with the former Captain turned general manager (as a "grownup," he now preferred to be called "Bob" Clarke), he never played for the Flyers again. And, except for the 76ers' run into the 2001 NBA Finals, no Philly indoor team has gotten this close to a World Championship since.

I do want to say this in Flyer fans' favor, though: Just about everybody who roots for the Black & Orange admits that this was a clean hit. (The refs thought so, too: Stevens was not penalized.) Contrast that with the moronic troglodytes who befoul Madison Square Garden, who still insist, 30 years later, that Potvin's hit on Ulf Nilsson was dirty. (That one wasn't penalized, either, and Nilsson himself has said many times that it was a clean hit.) Flyer fans may be sadistic brutes, but they understand the game. Ranger fans are just alcoholic, illiterate, barely linguistic Neanderthals.

5. June 9, 2003, Byrne (Continental Airlines) Arena: Devils 3, Anaheim (then "Mighty") Ducks 0. Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and after a rough first 6 games (including Paul Kariya's Game 6 goal after coming back from yet another Mr. Shoulder from Scottso – now that’s tough), this one was never really a contest. Coach Pat Burns put Ken Daneyko in after not putting him in for any of the preceding Playoff games, and Dano's veteran presence fired up the crowd, since it was pretty much sure to be his last game, and the crowd fired up the team.

The writers gave the Conn Smythe Trophy for Playoff MVP to Jean-Sebastien Giguere of the Mighty Schmucks. Now, really, Martin Brodeur has 3 shutouts in the Finals, including Game 7, a feat last accomplished in 1945 – before V-E Day! – and they give it to the goalie of the losing team? Giguere posed for a photo with Commissioner Gary Bettman and then skated off real fast. He knew he didn't deserve it.

But the Devils deserved that third Cup. Now they had won more Cups than the Flyers, and only 1 less than the Rangers (in a lot less time) and the Islanders (in a bit less time). The fools could still make jokes about our attendance (and they still do), but they know we have the better recent history.

Hold on a second, you must be thinking. If the Devils have won 3 Stanley Cups, why is one of them only the 5th biggest win in team history? What could be bigger than a Stanley Cup? How about a win without which none of those Cups would have happened:

4. June 11, 1995, the Spectrum, Philadelphia: Devils 3, Flyers 2. This was Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Why not Game 6, when we clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time? Because of the emotional effect of this Game 5.

With 44 seconds left in regulation in a tie game, Claude Lemieux, already putting together one of the greatest postseason performances in any sport, fired a wobbly 65-foot shot at Flyer goalie Ron Hextall. The red light went on.

I saw this on TV at Ruby Tuesday at the Brunswick Square Mall in East Brunswick, and I think I hit the roof. I know I yelled, "Yessss!" And nobody looked at me like we Devils fans weren't worthy of being around Ranger or Flyer fans. This was a special moment. That it was against the Broad Street Bozos made it all the better.

3. June 10, 2000, Reunion Arena, Dallas, Texas: Devils 2, Dallas Stars 1. It was actually 12:30 AM on June 11, Eastern Time, when those of us in New Jersey saw it. Some of us, barely, because Game 5 went to 3 overtimes and this Game 6 was in a 2nd OT. For the first time in years, I was tired of hockey. It was the 26th period of hockey in the Finals. Keep in mind, a Finals going to Game 7 with no overtimes would be 21 periods. I kept thinking, "Please, somebody, put an end to this."

Finally, the Devils did, as Patrick Elias sent one of the best passes in hockey history to Jason Arnott, who shoveled the winner past Ed Belfour.

Gary Thorne had the call on ABC: "Back to the point, Stevens stepped up to hold it in, Hull stole it, Stevens holds it in again, shot it right through the top of the crease. Elias centered, shot, score! The New Jersey Devils have won the Stanley Cup! Jason Arnott with the game-winning overtime goal!" And Bill Clement, the 1974-75 Flyer, followed Thorne and expressed the feelings of all of us: "Ho ho ho ho ho! Ohhhh... Finally! The ending of the movie!"

Okay, that's 2 Cups – 1 Cup to go, and there's still 2 wins left to cover. So what's the win that could possibly be bigger than 2 Cup wins?

2. April 29, 2006, Madison Square Garden: Devils 4, Rangers 2. Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Three times, the Devils had faced The Scum in the Playoffs. Three times, The Scum beat us. This 4th time, we beat The Scum. Swept them. Clinched in their house. Humiliated them.

True, they have since beaten us in another Playoff series, the 1st ever played at the Prudential Center. But they've never swept us. And they can never again say we've never beaten them when it counts. Four straight! We beat The Scum four straight!

And they've still only got 1 Cup since Pearl Harbor, while we've got 3 Cups since Oklahoma City. I’d say "Do the math," but if they could do the math, they wouldn't be Ranger fans. (I know, I know, a lot of them are also Yankee Fans. They're smart from May to October.)

But, as they said on Highlander, "In the end, there can be only one." And this one is obvious:

1. June 24, 1995, Byrne Arena: Devils 5, Detroit Red Wings 2. Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and the 1st World Championship for a true New Jersey team. (Remember, those 3 Super Bowls were won by a team proudly calling themselves the "New York Giants," the last of them with the "ny" on their helmets.)

Even if the Devils end up becoming to the Stanley Cup's 2nd 100 years what the Montreal Canadiens were to the Cup's first 100 years, there will never be a more special moment for the team than 11:09 PM on June 24, 1995, when Mike Emrick said these words on Fox: "The championship to New Jersey! The Devils have won the Stanley Cup!"

A year earlier, a Ranger fan had hung a banner at the Garden that said, "NOW I CAN DIE IN PEACE." On this night, a Devils fans held up a sign that said, "NOW I CAN LIVE IN PEACE." Well, maybe not in peace, but as long as the Rangers remain stuck on 1994, we can say to their stupid fans, "What have they done for you lately?"

EB and RU Roll Along; Robert Enke, 1977-2009

Joe Martinek

I was sick as a dog on Thursday night, so I didn't go to the Rutgers game. My father went, though, and he was very pleased by the Scarlet Knights' performance.

By the way, why do people say "sick as a dog" but also "healthy as a horse"? A horse's health is considerably more precarious. And one is alliterative, the other isn't, so that can't be it.

Anyway, Rutgers upset Number 24 South Florida. Crushed them, 31-0. This was their best performance of the season, by a long shot. They are now 7-2, guaranteed to get some kind of bowl invite -- unless the NCAA puts them on probation sometime in the next month. This is highly unlikely, since if RU were under investigation for any wrongdoing, chances are it would have been leaked to the press by now.

*

I felt a lot better on Friday. The hyperdensity in my sinuses vanished, my dizziness faded, and the worst of it was my usual November-to-January cough, the one that arrives before Thanksgiving and sticks around through Christmas all the way until New Year's. But I was functional again.

So what did I do? Naturally, I went to a football game and sat in the rain, wind, and by the second half cold for two and a half hours. A mass o' chism, I know. But how often does East Brunswick High School get a home game in the State Playoffs? This was only the second time in the last 19 years that we did -- and only the second season in 24 in which we won one.

I had to go see my EB Bears. They're not the team I've loved the longest, but they are the team I've been closest to, having been a student manager (not to be confused with any form of coach) for the baseball and wrestling teams back in the Eighties. It's the only sports institution (and sometimes it has seeed like a mental institution) where I've been involved from the inside of the organization, not just watching from inside the stadium or arena walls. More than any other team on the planet, this is my team. And of all teams I root for, it's also the one I share with the fewest people, making it seem even more like mine. I share this team with a few thousand, not with a few million.

This is the 1st time in nearly half a century of coexistence that both EB and RU are in postseason play in the same season. Ever. And despite the nasty weather, and the opponent being a creditable West Windsor team, we won 27-0, and advanced to the Central Jersey Group IV (largest-size school) Semifinals. A fantastic performance by the Bears, and a few of the few who braved the weather to show up said it was similar to RU's performance the night before.

It was our biggest point spread ever in Playoff competition, and it evened our all-time Playoff record at 6-6. Still, since New Jersey went to Playoffs to determine its high school football State Champions (or at least Sectional Champions) in 1974, there's only that one title, in 2004, which is the last time we made the Playoffs. We reached the Finals but lost in 1984 and '85, lost in the Semifinals in 1980, '87, '88, '90 and '94; and lost in the Quarterfinals in '98, the year it went from the top 4 teams making it to the top 8 -- under the current system, we would also have made the Playoff in '77, '78, '81, '86, '92 and '95. Still, 10 times in 36 years isn't bad. Several nearby schools have done better, but a few would love to have done even half as well as we have.

Next Friday night, the Semifinal presents us with a rematch against Sayreville. At their dump. I hate that place. The Sayreville students and parents are a bunch of arrogant schmucks. To make matters worse, due to the renovation of our field 2 years go, this will be the 4th time in a row that we play them away.

We shouldn't even be playing them. They're the top seed. Hunterdon Central of Flemington, the 3 seed, got beat by 6 seed Brick Memorial. This afternoon, 2 seed Howell hosts 7 seed Montgomery. The lowest remaining seed should be playing the highest-remaining. In other words, if Howell wins, then the Central Jersey Group IV Semifinals should be Brick Memorial at Sayreville and East Brunswick at Howell (6 at 1 and 4 at 2); while if Montgomery pulls off the upset, it should be Montgomery at Sayreville and Brick Memorial comes back to EB for a rematch of that shootout where they beat us last week (7 at 1 and 6 at 4). But the way the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association set it up, it's not about seeding, it's about brackets like the NCAA basketball tournament.

This isn't the 1st time the NJSIAA has screwed EB football over, nor even the most egregious such example. There are still some people angry over what they did to us in 1980. If I feel like it, I'll mention it this week, although I don't remember it happening but I do know most of the details.

Anyway, after Sewerville, the next game will be the regular-season finale, on Thanksgiving Day against Old Bridge, a.k.a. The Scum, a.k.a. the Purple Bastards. Thank God and the schedule-maker that we have it at home. I don't want to go to Sayreville and Old Bridge within the span of 5 days. It's bad enough my job is on the Sayreville-Old Bridge border, and that each of the 2 ways I can get to work by bus has to pass one or the other of their fields. But having to visit both in the span of 5 days? I still haven't gotten my radiation suit back from the cleaners!

Regardless of what happens against The Scum, if we beat Sayreville, then we advance to the Central Jersey Group IV Final against the Howell-Montgomery-Brick Memorial survivor, sometime during the weekend of December 5, most likely at Rutgers Stadium. So, as in 2004, we may end up playing a bigger game at that place this season than Rutgers does.

*

The Devils won last night, 5-2 at home over injury-plagued Washington. That's their 8th straight win. A bad as they were at the start of the season, losing their 1st 2 games at home to their two most hated rivals, the Flyers and the Rangers (who suck), they are now in 1st place in the Atlantic Division.

The night before, they won their 9th straight road game, one off the '06-'07 Buffalo Sabres' NHL record.

But the Nets fell to 0-9, losing 81-80 to the Miami Heat. Last-second shot by Dwayne Wade. So close.

Why do I even bother to pay attention? They're going to be playing their home games in Brooklyn in 3 years. Or maybe 4.

Or maybe not at all. There's a report on the Star-Ledger's website in which Mikhail Prokorov, the prospective new Russian owner, may move them from the Meadowlands to the Prudential Center if Bruce Ratner, trying to sell the team even as he tries to build the Atlantic Yards project (which appears to have been all he cared about all along, the dirty cunt), can't get that deal done.

Newark is a great basketball city. The Nets had two exhibition games at The Rock that had attendance comparable to the Devils' regular-season games against non-rivals. It's so easy to figure out, a Caveman could do it! Why can't Ratner?

Couldn't he make just as much money with the Nets in Newark -- and with all the questionable construction contracts floating around in New Jersey -- as he could with his Frankenstein baby in Brooklyn? Does he have to take the team I loved from 1977 to 2006 when he announced he was taking them away? Did I mention he was dirty cunt?

*

Last week, Robert Enke stepped in front of a train in Neustadt am Rübenberge in northern Germany, and allowed himself to be hit. He was only 32 years old, and left a wife and an infant daughter.
He was a goalkeeper for soccer team Hannover 96. (The name means that they were founded in Hannover, Germany in 1896.) Previously, he had played for his hometown team, Carl Zeiss Jena; for Borussia Mönchengladbach; for Lisbon, Portugal giants Benfica; and for Barcelona. He made 8 appearances for the German national team.

He had a history of clinical depression and panic attacks, and his depression got worse after another daughter died of heart trouble soon after her birth.

His death has shocked European soccer, and many of his teammates and friends have taken to social media, begging people feeling the same symptoms that he felt to get help rather than follow his path.

*

Days until the Devils play another local rival: 1, tomorrow night, against the Flyers in Philadelphia. Going for the record-tying 10th straight road win, but it sure won't be easy against the Broad Street Bullies and their crypto-human fans.

Days until East Brunswick plays football again: 5, this Friday night.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 6, this Saturday afternoon, up at Syracuse, a.k.a. Sorry-excuse.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 11. I want this one. Real. Bad. As much as I hate Sayreville, if we lose the Playoff game to them but still beat the Purple Bastards, I will glady take it.

Days until the 2010 Winter Olympics begin: 89. Less than 3 months.

Days until Opening Day of the 2010 baseball season: 141.

Days until the next North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham: 146, on April 10, 2010 at White Hart Lane.

Days until the Yankees' 2010 home opener: 149.

Days until the 2010 World Cup begins: 209.

Days until the World Cup Final: 240.

Days until the new Meadowlands Stadium (still unnamed) opens: 264.

Days until Derek Jeter collects his 3,000th career hit: 545 (projected).

Days until the Rutgers-Army football game at Yankee Stadium: 727.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Top 10 Sports Odd Couples

On November 13, Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence. That request came from his wife.

Deep down, he knew she was right. But he also knew that, one day, he would return to her.

With nowhere else to go, he appeared at the home of his friend, Oscar Madison. Several years earlier, Madison's wife had thrown him out, requesting that he never return.

Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?

That was the opening narration in the 1st couple of seasons of the TV version of The Odd Couple, a situation comedy based on Neil Simon's play. The play debuted on Broadway in 1965, with Art Carney as Felix and Walter Matthau as Oscar. (Simon said he wrote the Oscar part with Matthau in mind, but Matthau supposedly wanted to play Felix. It wouldn'’t have worked.)

In 1968, a film version was made, with Jack Lemmon playing Felix and Matthau again as Oscar. From 1970 to 1975, ABC aired the sitcom, and it has become next to impossible to imagine anyone but Tony Randall as Felix and anyone but Jack Klugman as Oscar – and while Randall went on to Love, Sidney and Klugman to Quincy, M.E., it has become equally difficult to imagine them in any other roles.

I have, however, seen 2 other productions of the stage version of The Odd Couple, one a high school play and one a professional from the "Plays In the Park" series at Roosevelt Park in Edison, New Jersey, and both were really good, especially considering that the high schoolers were playing middle-aged men. I really believed these 16, 17-year-old guys were Felix, Oscar, Murray, Speed and the others. (I also saw the "Plays In the Park" guys do a pretty good version of Grease, with a tricked-out golf-cart standing in for "Greased Lightning" the car.)

Now, the year that Gloria Unger asked Felix to hit the bricks has never been specified. But since the sitcom began in 1970, it could have been 1969. Which means it could have been 40 years ago today that Felix moved in with Oscar and the hilarity began to ensue.

Top 10 Odd Couples In Sports

These are all people in sports who, at least for a time, plied their trade together, but seemed opposites, and often feuded. In some cases they eventually made up, in some they did not.

The "Felix" character is listed first, the "Oscar" equivalent second.

10. Al Kaline and Denny McLain, Detroit Tigers, 1965 to 1970. Kaline has been Detroit's most popular living sports figure for over 50 years – more even than Gordie Howe and Steve Yzerman. For 5 years, McLain was a talented pitcher who tried to get away with a lot – but not everything they said he tried to get away with in Year 6.

Without McLain's remarkable 31-6 season in 1968, Kaline would have retired without appearing in a World Series. But McLain alienated so many of his teammates by his annus horribilis of 1970 that few had anything good to say about him when he was gone.

And even in 2007, when the twice-imprisoned McLain published his memoir I Told You I Wasn’t Perfect, he still took shots at Tiger teammates like Kaline, Bill Freehan and Mickey Lolich. Tug McGraw may have thrown the pitch and used it as the title of his first autobiography, but if there was ever a pitcher in baseball who was a true screwball, it was Denny McLain.
Mickey Stanley has to sit between McLain and Kaline.

9. Terrell Owens and Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia Eagles, 2004-05. McNabb is no slob, but in being willing to do whatever it takes, including risking injury, he is the Oscar here. T.O. is the Felix because he's so whiny and needy and has to have everything done his way.
They were only together for 2 seasons, and with injuries to both it added up to maybe 1 season's worth of games. But if you're an Eagles fan, it probably felt like longer. A lot longer. T.O. is the Buffalo Bills' problem as of this writing.

8. Julius Erving and Moses Malone, Philadelphia 76ers, 1982-86. Doctor J was the most stylish player in NBA history – on the court, anyway. (Off the court, even the Doctor couldn't touch Walt Frazier.) By comparison, Big Mo was, to use a hockey term, a grinder. He didn't play dirty, but he wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty. The Philadelphia 76ers reached the NBA Finals with Julius in 1977, 1980 and 1982, and the Conference Finals in 1981, but they couldn't get over the hump.

Philadelphia fans have often mocked the pretty boys of sports, and Dr. J was a rare exception. But the Sixers needed that blood-sweat-and-tears type to get them to the title. Andrew Toney was one, Bobby Jones was another, but Moses Malone was a special player. Few players have ever had the kind of season he had in 1982-83. Dr. J got his ring, but I hope he at least took Moses out for a nice dinner at Le Bec Fin afterwards.
Big Mo (left) was just what the Doctor (right) ordered.

7. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, Chicago Bulls, 1987-98. I'm not sure I have to explain this one. I suppose I could list Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant – but they would both be "Felixes."
6. Punch Imlach and Frank Mahovlich, Toronto Maple Leafs, 1958-68. Punch (real name George) was the coach and general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs team that won 4 Stanley Cups in 7 years from 1962 to 1967. Mahovlich, a.k.a. the Big M, was his best player.
In the NHL's official 75th Anniversary book, hockey historian Charles Wilkins wrote, "It has been postulated (by, among others, Frank himself) that Punch drove Frank nuts. It has also been postulated that Punch was one of the few people who understood Frank. It stands to reason that one extraterrestrial – one, albeit, from the opposite end of the galaxy – should understand another." For the record, Imlach was Toronto born and raised, while Mahovlich is from Timmins, Ontario.

Today, Mahovlich is with the Senators in Ottawa – but not the hockey team. He was appointed a member of the Canadian Senate. (Their government is a bit different from ours.)

5. Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson, Dallas Cowboys, 1989-94. True, Jimmy is quite fussy about his hair, but that's about it. And Felix would probably have found Jerry to be an incredibly crass, classless individual.
Well, let me put it this way: "New York class" and "Dallas class" are 2 very different things. Jerry is definitely the "Felix" here.

4. George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin, New York Yankees, off and on from 1975 to 1988. This might have been Number 1 if it could ever have lasted. Phil Pepe of the New York Daily News has compared it to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton: When they were together, they couldn't stand one another; when they were apart, they missed each other terribly. Liz and Dick married and divorced twice, while the Boss and the Brat split up 5 times.

But they will be forever linked. Without George, Billy would never have managed the Yankees; without Billy, George might never have won a World Series. Actually, you could throw in Reggie Jackson and make this an Odd Trio, although there wasn't a comparable character in The Odd Couple to Mister October, despite several sports-connected figures having appeared.
Billy, George, Thurman Munson, Reggie.
Thurman is the only one not willing to smile.

3. Vince Lombardi and Paul Hornung, Green Bay Packers, 1959-67. Hornung was one of the greatest all-around football players who ever lived. Just ask him. Lombardi never bragged about his achievements, though they were legion. His greatest achievement may have been getting along with Hornung and getting him to make the most of his talent for the sake of his team.
Hornung, Bart Starr, Lombardi

2. Christy Mathewson and John McGraw, New York Giants, 1902-16. It doesn't seem right to list the player first and the manager second, but, in this case, the player was the Felix and the manager was the Oscar.

This was a total reverse of the Lombardi-Hornung relationship: McGraw was the short, nasty, profane, hot-tempered bastard, which makes him sound a lot like Lombardi, but Lombardi would never have cheated to win. McGraw, as a player, was proud of the corners he cut. (Literally: If he was on 1st base, and he thought the umpire wasn't looking, he'd run right across the infield to 3rd base without going for 2nd. He got away with it a few times in those days of just 1 umpire.)

By contrast, Mathewson was tall, handsome, and a superb all-around athlete like Hornung (his alma mater, Bucknell University, named its football stadium after him), but would have been totally out of place in a red-light district, never needed a curfew, and the only time he ever gambled was on checkers. (But he was a hustler at that game, and very good at it.)
The Little Napoleon and Big Six

McGraw used to say, "The main thing is to win," while Lombardi said, "Winning isn't everything, but it's the only thing." Still, I think Lombardi would have appreciated Mathewson more than McGraw. Hornung? Definitely would have liked McGraw better.

1. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees, 2004-present. Okay, maybe A-Rod isn't a slob, but his personal life, his contract issues and his on-field performance have often been quite messy. And Derek doesn't whine when a relationship ends. Or honk when things don't go his way. Then again, we don't know what he does when the cameras aren't on, do we?
But, as with the TV show – which ended in 1975 with Gloria taking Felix back and Oscar getting the 1049 Park Avenue apartment all to himself again – things have worked out.