Sunday, October 18, 2009

Another Bad Weekend for Local Football

I don't talk much about local football here, with the occasional exception of East Brunswick High (a.k.a. Dear Old Alma Mater) and Rutgers.

Well, E.B. lost 34-13 in a big, big game against Sayreville. (A.k.a. Sewerville. This is not just a swipe: The Middlesex County Sewerage Authority has its headquarters in the Borough of Sayreville.) A win against Sayreville, which had already beaten Piscataway (a.k.a. Piss-cataway), which had already beaten us, would have forged a likely 3-way tie for the Conference Championship, giving us our first such title since 1994 -- our first without help, as Piscataway had to forfeit 2 Conference games in '94, since 1990, which, not at all a coincidence, is also the last time we beat Piscataway. A win against Sayreville would also have pretty much guaranteed E.B. a Playoff berth.

Now, we're 4-2, and the Playoffs are still possible. If we win the next 2 games, the last 2 before the cutoff date, against Jackson Memorial and Brick Township, traditional Shore Conference powers but short of that this season, we will make it in.

If we split them, we will still have a shot at the Playoffs, depending on what other teams do. If we lose them both, cue Jim Mora Sr.: "Don't talk to me about Playoffs! Are you kidding me? Playoffs?"

Rutgers, as I said yesterday, lost a bad one on Friday night, 24-17 to Pittsburgh. They spent a good chunk of the game looking like they were in it, and a good chunk looking like they didn't feel like winning it. Greg Schiano, you've got some coaching to do.

They're also 4-2, with the 2 losses coming to Big East bad boys Cincinnati (now Number 5 in the nation) and Pitt, and the 4 wins coming against cupcakes: Howard, Florida International, Texas Southern and a surprisingly poor Maryland.

Of the remaining games, next up is at Army (probably not a big threat), Connecticut at their home-away-from home in Hartford (could be tough but one of their players, Jasper Howard, died after being stabbed on-campus, so who knows what their state of mind will be in 2 weeks), home to South Florida (a tough team but Cincy smashed them this past Thursday, so I'm a little more confident), at Syracuse (they stink again), at Louisville (not what they used to be), and home to West Virginia. Any one of these games could trip RU up, but only the last, against WVU, sounds like a likely loss.

Nearby Princeton ain't doing so hot, either. They're 1-4, having just gotten beat by Brown. Brown! Even by Division I-AA standards, they're considered a poor program. The only Brown football player, past or present, that just about anybody's ever heard of is a quarterback they had back in the Forties. Guy name of Joe Paterno. Yes, Ol' Ratface himself.

The Princeton Tigers go up to Harvard this weekend. Ah, New England in the fall. What beauty. Ah, Boston in October when the Red Sox are out of it. Always a nice trip. But Harvard is going to pound Princeton.

The only other Division I team, and it's I-AA or whatever that's being called now, in New Jersey is Monmouth University in West Long Branch. Quite a few E.B. players have gone there -- I think their first Division I team had 6 E.B. Bear grads on the roster -- but none currently. They went up to Fairfield, Connecticut and beat conference opponent Sacred Heart, 42-20, evening their record at 3-3. They host the University of Albany this Saturday.

Then there's the pros. The Giants came into this weekend undefeated. But they went into the Superdome to play the Saints, who had pretty much destroyed the Jets 2 weeks ago, and the Saints treated the Giants the way Hurricane Katrina treated New Orleans, 48-28. And the Jets just got shocked in overtime, 16-13 by the Buffalo Bills at the Meadowlands, denying the Jets a chance to stay in the AFC East lead with the New England Patriots.

As Warner Wolf would say, If you had the Tennessee Titans and 58 points, you lost! 59-0 Pats, wearing their old white helmets with the Patriot Pete logo and red jerseys, as the Titans wore the early Houston Oiler outfits, as part of the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the 8 original AFL teams (which also includes the Jets and the Bills, but they didn't wear throwback uniforms today).

You can talk all you want about how Kerry Collins is a bum and how it's past time for Titans coach Jeff Fisher to bench him and put Vince Young back in there, but if a Fisher-coached defense is giving up 59 points in one game, to anyone (I don't care if it's Tom Brady and Randy Moss), then something is seriously wrong. Fisher has been in charge of the Titans longer than any current head coach has been running his current team, but they're 0-6, and looking more like the RMS Titantic than like the team that got to the AFC Championship Game last year.

The Giants will probably be okay. The Jets? This is a big test for rookie head man Rex Ryan. If he can get them to shake off this loss and get going again, they should be a Playoff team. But these are the Jets, so you never know. Just when you think they're great, they start stinking up the joint. And just when you think there's no hope, that's when they do something to fool you into thinking there is.

I'm glad I'm not a Jets fan. Are you listening, sister of mine? (She is one.)


October 18, 1889, 120 years ago today: For the 1st time, a postseason series is played between 2 champions of baseball leagues that are both from New York. The best-6-of-11 series between the Brooklyn Bridegrooms of the American Association (3 players on the team previously, and later, known as the Dodgers had gotten married during the previous offseason) and the New York Giants of the National League (formerly the Mutuals, manager Jim Mutrie had described them as "my big boys, my giants") opens at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan.

The Bridegrooms win, 12-10 in 8 innings. Oyster Burns is 4-for-5 with 3 RBIs‚ including the game-winning double in the bottom of the last inning.

October 18, 1919, 90 years ago today: Pierre Trudeau is born. Prime Minister of Canada for all but 9 months between April 1968 and February 1984, he threw out the ceremonial first balls before the 1st Montreal Expos home game at Jarry Park in 1969, the 1st Toronto Blue Jays game at Exhibition Stadium in 1977, and the first game the Expos played at their new home, the Olympic Stadium, also in 1977. His only participatory sport, as far as I know, was skiing, in his beloved Laurentian Mountains in Quebec.

October 18, 1925: Tony Lazzeri, 2nd baseman for the Salt Lake Bees of the Pacific Coast League, hits his 60th home run of the season, in a 12-10 victory over the Sacramento Solons in the final regular-season game of the year. It is an inside-the-park drive in the 7th off Frank Shellenback.

The 21-year-old Lazzeri also had 222 RBIs, which may still be a North American professional record. However, given that the weather in California allowed for a longer season – though as a mountain city, Salt Lake probably had some problems with snow at both ends – the PCL season was 200 games long. Lazzeri's record was accomplished in 197 appearances. He would soon be signed by the Yankees and go on to a Hall of Fame career.

October 18, 1928: Keith Jackson is born. Whoa, Nelly, he's the greatest college football broadcaster of all time. My goodness.

October 18, 1933: A good birthday for a future football coach. Forrest Gregg is born. He and Herb Adderley are the only men ever to play on 6 NFL Championship teams, and the exact same ones, too: 1961, '62, '65, '66 and '67 with the Green Bay Packers, and '71 with the Dallas Cowboys. This includes Super Bowls I, II and VI. Packer coach Vince Lombardi called this Hall of Fame offensive tackle "the finest player I ever coached."

He went on to coach for Tom Landry in Dallas, take the head job with the Cleveland Browns, and got the Cincinnati Bengals into Super Bowl XVI, their 1st trip to the season finale. After his alma mater, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, got "the death penalty" from the NCAA, having their program suspended for a year due to recruiting violations while already on probation, he was named head coach, held the program back another year so it could rebuild, and got them back onto a footing where they've been able to consistently compete as what college basketball would call a "mid-major." Lombardi and Landry would be proud.

October 18, 1939, 70 years ago today: Mike Ditka is born. A star at the University of Pittsburgh, he practically invented the position of tight end with the Chicago Bears, helping them win the 1963 NFL Championship. He went on to the Dallas Cowboys and helped them win Super Bowl VI.

He then served as an assistant to Landry, including Super Bowl XII, and was the last head coach hired for the Chicago Bears by team founder-owner George Halas. Ditka got them into the Playoffs 7 times, including winning Super Bowl XX. In other words, the Bears haven’t won a World Championship without Ditka having some part in it in 63 years. He was the first tight end elected to the Hall of Fame.

Amazingly, though, the Bears have never retired his Number 89. They should. (UPDATE: They since have.)

Unfortunately for Ditka, and anyone else born the same day, this was also the day that Lee Harvey Oswald was born. Another guy with a connection to Dallas – in fact, he was living in Irving in 1963, 8 years before Texas Stadium opened and the Cowboys moved there.

Some people will never be convinced that he is the one and only person behind the assassination of President John F. Kennedy – and I'm one of them. But there is no doubt that, later that day, he killed a Dallas police officer, Patrolman J.D. Tippit. And there were other reasons to conclude that Oswald was scum. When Jack Ruby killed him 2 days later, it meant that the chances of us ever hearing the full story were probably gone forever; but other than that, it was no great loss.


October 18, 1946: Frank Beamer is born. He turned the football program at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, a.k.a. Virginia Tech, from a laughingstock into training stock for the NFL.

October 18, 1949, 60 years ago today: George Hendrick is born. The 4-time All-Star hit 267 home runs, and was a member of 2 World Championship teams, the 1972 Oakland Athletics and the 1982 St. Louis Cardinals. Now a coach for the Tampa Bay Rays, he will only autograph Cardinals memorabilia.

October 18, 1950: Connie Mack's sons, Connie Jr., Earle and Roy, take legal action that removes their father from the operating ownership and manager's job with the Philadelphia Athletics after 50 years.

Counting his time running the Pittsburgh Pirates before that, he managed a big-league record 54 years. But he is 88 years old and senile, and had managed just 1 winning season in the last 17. It was long since time for him to step aside, but he never would, until his sons forced his hand.

He retains his title as president of the club, but it is purely ceremonial now. Before his death, Shibe Park will be renamed Connie Mack Stadium; but the A's will also be sold by the House of Mack in 1954, and moved to Kansas City. "The Grand Old Man of Baseball" dies in 1956, aged 93.

Longtime A's player and coach Jimmy Dykes ends up succeeding him as manager, and the results are little better, which is one of the reasons for the move.

October 18, 1951: Mike Antonovich is born. A star hockey player at the University of Minnesota, he was a member of the original 1982-83 New Jersey Devils, but his best years were in the 1970s in the WHA, with the Minnesota Fighting Saints (no, I'm not making that name up, they played in St. Paul, and they did do a lot of fighting) and the New England Whalers. Now a scout with the St. Louis Blues, he shares his exact date of birth with Mork & Mindy star Pam Dawber (who's married to actor and former UCLA star Mark Harmon) and novelist Terry McMillan.

October 18, 1952: Jerry Royster is born. The speedy outfielder played in the 1974 World Series for the Dodgers, spent 1987 with the Yankees, managed the Brewers briefly in 2002, and is now the manager of the Lotte Giants of Busan, Korea – the 1st non-Korean manager in Korea's top baseball league.

October 18, 1954: Texas Instruments announces the 1st transistor radio. Baseball fans everywhere rejoice, for now they can listen to ballgames almost anywhere, from the office to the beach. Well, they'll have to wait until Summer 1955 to listen to them on the beach. Maybe April 1955, if they live in California and can get PCL games.

October 18, 1955: Ralph Kiner, formerly a great slugger for the Pittsburgh Pirates, calls it quits due to a back injury. He is about to turn 33 years old. He hit just 18 home runs for the Cleveland Indians this past season.

Years later, as a broadcaster for the Mets, a player hit his first major league home run, and Kiner says, "You always remember your first." His broadcaster partner Tim McCarver said he didn't remember his 1st: "You'd think I would, because I didn't hit very many." Kiner: "I don’t remember my last home run, because, at the time, I didn't think it would be my last!"

That last home run was Number 369 – and he did that in only 10 seasons, a career shortened at the beginning by service in World War II and at the end by his injury. If he'd been able to play 20, double 369, and you've got 718. He could have surpassed Babe Ruth before Hank Aaron did.

October 18, 1956: Martina Navratilova is born. Sorry, Roger Federer, but Martina remains the greatest tennis player who ever lived, of any gender, of any era, of any nationality.

October 18, 1958: Thomas Hearns is born. "The Hit Man" was Welterweight Champion of the World and one of the most devastating punchers of all time.

Also, Kjell Samuelsson is born. A defenseman from Sweden, he played for the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers and didn't gain a reputation as a thug – an amazing achievement. More importantly, he was a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins when they won the 1992 Stanley Cup.

October 18, 1959, 50 years ago today: Christopher Russo is born. No word on whether the future sports-talk host known as "Mad Dog" said to the people in the delivery room, "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand goodaftanoon evwybody! Howayoutoday?"


October 18, 1960: Yankee co-owners Dan Topping and Del Webb officially relieve Casey Stengel as manager. He gives the press a prepared statement where he announces his resignation. Then he says, "I guess this means they fired me." And "I'll never make the mistake of being 70 again."

Also on this day, Erin Moran was born. Not an athlete, but as Joanie Cunningham on Happy Days, she played a cheerleader at Milwaukee's fictional Jefferson High School.

October 18, 1967: The American League approves Charlie Finley's move of the Athletics to Oakland‚ California. Kansas City is promised a new team by 1971. When Senator Stuart Symington of Missouri and Mayor Ilus Davis of Kansas City threaten action against the move‚ possibly including the revocation of baseball's exemption from antitrust laws, AL President Joe Cronin reopens talks‚ and the expansion deadline is moved to 1969.

October 18, 1968: Bob Beamon sets a world record of 8.90 meters in the long jump at the Olympic Games in Mexico City. The crowd is stunned. But as an American, not familiar with the metric system, Beamon doesn't know what 8.90 meters means. The old world record was 27 feet, 7¼ inches. Beamon's jump is 29 feet, 2½ inches. He has broken both the 28-foot and 29-foot barriers.

The record stands for 23 years. Beamon was a native of South Jamaica, Queens, New York, the same neighborhood that produced Governor Mario Cuomo, rapper 50 Cent, and my Grandma.

October 18, 1970: Doug Mirabelli is born. He is best known as Tim Wakefield's personal catcher on the 2004 and 2007 World Champion * Boston Red Sox.

October 18, 1973: The Mets win Game 5 of the World Series, 2-0 over the Oakland Athletics at Shea Stadium, behind the 3-hit pitching of Jerry Koosman and Tug McGraw. Cleon Jones doubles in a run in the second and Don Hahn's triple scores the other run.

The Series now moves out to Oakland, and the Mets need to win only 1 of the last 2 games to win their 2nd World Series. It would take them another 13 years to get that 4th World Series game won.

October 18, 1975: Alex Cora is born. The starting shortstop of the 2007 World Champion * Boston Red Sox, he is now with the Mets.

October 18, 1986: Maybe the Mets' World Series win this year isn't "inevitable" after all. The Boston Red Sox win Game 1, 1-0 at Shea, when Tim Teufel botches Rich Gedman's routine grounder in the 7th inning‚ allowing Jim Rice to score the game's only run. Bruce Hurst and Calvin Schiraldi combine on a 4-hitter for the Red Sox.

October 18, 1988: Mark McGwire's home run off Jay Howell in the bottom of the 9th gives Oakland a 2-1 win in Game 3 of the World Series. This is the 1st time, and it remains the only time, that 2 games of a World Series end with walkoff homers. However, this will be the only game in the Series that the A's will win.

October 18, 1992: The Blue Jays even the World Series with a 5-4 win over the Braves in Game 2 in Atlanta. Pinch-hitter Ed Sprague's 2-run home run in the top of the 9th proves to be the margin of victory‚ marking just the 2nd time in Series history that a 9th-inning homer turns a losing margin into a winning one. The other was Kirk Gibson's homer in the 1988 Series.

October 18, 1997: For the 1st time, a World Series game is played in the State of Florida. The Marlins take Game 1‚ 7-4 over the Cleveland Indians at Joe Robbie Stadium‚ behind rookie Cuban pitcher Livan Hernandez. Moises Alou's 3-run homer in the 4th inning is the big blow for the Marlins‚ who are outhit by the Indians‚ 11-7.

October 18, 1998: The Yankees strike early‚ scoring 3 runs in each of the 1st 2 innings. They go on to cruise to a 9-3 win in Game 2 behind Orlando Hernandez, brother of Livan and nicknamed "El Duque" (the Duke). Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada connect for homers.

October 18, 1999, 10 years ago today: Yankees 6, Red Sox 1, in Game 5 of the ALCS. For only the 2nd time, the Yankees clinch a Pennant at Fenway Park. The 1st was on September 25, 1960, back when Pennants could still be clinched in the regular season. El Duque wins the clincher and is named series MVP. Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada homer for the Yanks.

October 18, 2004: The Red Sox outlast the Yankees‚ 5-4‚ in 14 innings to force a Game 6 of their ALCS. David Ortiz again is the hero (cough-with a sidekick named "Steroids"-cough)‚ driving home the winning run with a bloop single. Ortiz also homers‚ as does Bernie Williams for the Yanks.

October 18, 2005: Longtime Bay Area sportscaster Bill King dies. See the October 6 entry.

October 18, 2006: The Mets edge the Cardinals, 4-2 at Shea, to even the NLCS at 3 games apiece. Jose Reyes gets 3 hits for the Mets, including a homer, and John Maine gets the win. The Mets go into Game 7, 1 win away from the National League Pennant and a trip to their 5th World Series. They're still looking for that win.

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