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.