Sunday, January 24, 2010

Death Has Been Busy

Jean Simmons has died. No, not the frontman for that ridiculous Seventies hard-rock band in the makeup -- I won't insult fans of actual music by calling Gene Simmons a "singer" -- but the gorgeous British actress who starred as love interest for Laurence Olivier in the 1948 version of Hamlet, Richard Burton in The Robe, Marlon Brando in Desiree and Guys and Dolls, Burt Lancaster in Elmer Gantry and Kirk Douglas in Spartacus. She was married for a time to the British actor Stewart Granger (who, upon coming to America, had to change his name, as his real name was James Stewart and we already had one of those).

She starred in the original Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music, taking the role held by Angela Lansbury in the current revival, which also stars Kirk Douglas' daughter-in-law, a woman I like to call The Woman I Love. You might call her Catherine Zeta-Jones.

My fetish for dark-haired women with British accents (which did not start with Cazejo) would have been in overdrive for Jean Simmons if I'd been over the age of 13 in the 1950s. She was, indeed, a doll. She was 80.

*

Irwin Dambrot has died. He played basketball for City College of New York, and was the biggest star on a team that won both the NCAA and NIT Championships in 1950. By a weird coincidence, they beat the same team in each Final, Bradley University of Peoria, Illinois, which would also lose the 1954 NCAA Final to LaSalle, thus losing to both the first New York City team and the first Philadelphia team ever to win the NCAA.

CCNY thus became the first team ever to win both. They remain the only one, because the rules now prevent one team from participating in both, partly as a result of the '50 runs. Those runs were enmeshed in a point-shaving scandal that could have ruined college basketball, and pretty much wrecked it in New York. CCNY and arch-rival New York University (NYU, also based in Manhattan) cancelled their programs, only to come back later as Division III teams; Long Island University (LIU, in Downtown Brooklyn) and Fordham (The Bronx) came back to Division I but have never really been the same; and St. John's (Jamaica, Queens) took about a decade to recover before Joe Lapchick put together one more good team in the mid-1960s and Lou Carnescca brought them back to the national spotlight in the 1980s.

CCNY coach Nat Holman, himself a great player in the 1920s, called Dambrot "the greatest player I ever coached." But Dambrot was 1 of 7 players caught up in the scandal in 1951, all pleading guilty to misdemeanor conspiracy charges and all (including Dambrot) except one receiving suspended sentences.

Dambrot became a dentist, and most of the guilty players also went on to careers that provided some sort of service to their communities, which speaks to the true measure of their character, as well as to Holman's teaching. Dambrot was 81. His nephew Keith Dambrot is the head coach at the University of Akron, in Ohio.

*

Robert B. Parker has died. He created the private detectives Spenser, brought to life by Robert Urich in the NBC drama series Spenser: For Hire (which also made a star of Avery Brooks as Spenser's pal/sleuthing partner Hawk); and Jesse Stone, brought to life by Tom Selleck in a series of CBS TV-movies. Parker also wrote Double Play, a novel about a (completely fictional, thankfully) plot to kill Jackie Robinson to prevent him from reintegrating baseball in 1947.

Parker is the only person I've ever seen in public wearing a Boston Braves cap. Nevertheless, the Massachusetts native had long since given up that ghost and adopted the Red Sox, working them into several of his stories. Let's just say that his writing was better than his rooting. A lot better. He was 77.

*

Erich Segal has died. He wrote Love Story, made into a film starring Ryan O'Neal as Oliver Barrett IV, a Harvard hockey player. The film was also the 1st film for Segal's classmate, a former Harvard football player named Tom Jones, who played in that epic 1968 "Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29" game. But since there was already a singer named Tom Jones (Stewart Granger's revenge?), he had to use his full name, Tommy Lee Jones.

Jones' roommate at Harvard was Al Gore, and when the Vice President, running for President in 2000, said he was the model for Barrett, right-wingers called him a liar. Except Gore never said he was the model for Barrett. Segal said that Gore was the model for Barrett. Did I mention that right-wingers are a bunch of lying bastards? I guess being a Republican means only having to say you're sorry "if you offended anyone." Segal was 72.

*

All this, not long after the deaths of the great R&B singer Teddy Pendergrass, Anne Frank's protector Miep Gies (at age 100), Gumby creator Art Cloakey and Taco Bell founder Glen Bell.

Hope this isn't a sign that the Jets' dream will die in Indianapolis today.

*

The Montreal Canadiens went into the Prudential Center on Friday night and beat the Devils, then went home to play the Rangers in an Original Six matchup, and smashed them, 6-0. In football, this would be like losing 42-0. In baseball, this would be like losing 12-0. In basketball, this would be like... just another day at the office for the Nets.

Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau, a member of 10 Stanley Cup winners and Captain of a record 5 of them, suffered a stroke last week, and is recovering in Montreal. He is 78, and has already survived heart trouble and cancer. He is now a year younger than his predecessor as Habs torch-bearer, Maurice "the Rocket" Richard, was when he died. Here's hoping the most popular living person in Quebec gets well soon, and can return to the organization he helped to make the Yankees of hockey.

The Devils bounced back last night, beating the Islanders at the Nassau Mausoleum, 4-2. It was tied 2-2 with 7 minutes left in regulation, when Bryce Salvador, who'd given the Isles an own goal, scored his 3rd goal of the season -- that's about 3 seasons worth for him. Salvador, Salvador, how many times are you gonna score? Zach Parise added an empty-netter for the final.

*

Days until the Devils play another local rival: 13, Saturday night, February 6, at Madison Square Garden against The Scum. Then a home-and-home with those other bastards, the Philadelphia Flyers.

Days until the 2010 Winter Olympics begin in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, right here on this continent, if not in this country: 19. Less than 3 weeks.

Days until the NHL's Olympic break ends (at least for the Devils): 37, on Tuesday, March 2.

Days until Opening Day of the 2010 baseball season: 70, the Yankees playing the Red Sox at Fenway for the ESPN Sunday-night season-opener. Just 10 weeks.

Days until the next North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham: 76, on April 10, 2010 at White Hart Lane.

Days until the Yankees' 2010 home opener: 79. Just 11 weeks.

Days until the 2010 World Cup begins: 137.

Days until the World Cup Final: 168.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 223, presumably on Saturday, September 4.

Days until the new Meadowlands Stadium (still unnamed) opens: 224 (actually 75, if you count an opening show, but I'm counting until its actual purpose, its first football game, which I presume will be the first Sunday of the 2010 NFL season, September 5).

Days until East Brunswick plays football again: 229 (presumably), on Friday, September 10.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 305.

Days until Derek Jeter collects his 3,000th career hit: 493 (currently projected as June 1, 2011).

Days until the Rutgers-Army football game at Yankee Stadium: 657 (November 12, 2011).

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Jets Have Won... Me Over

I've never been a Jets fan, having been driven nuts as a kid with all the glorification of Joe Namath and his whopping two postseason victories. It was awfully hard to square that with the broken-down wreck I was then watching. (See also, "Orr, Bobby, Number 4 of the Chicago Blackhawks." At least Walt Frazier of the Cleveland Cavaliers still had some moves.)

I hated Mark Gastineau. I laughed at the Jets drafting Ken O'Brien instead of Dan Marino. Even I was cringing over Marino's "fake spike" play. And even the most rabid Giants fan (whose own team was pretty bad at the time) had to have sympathy for Jet fans watching Rich Kotite go 4-28 in '95 and '96... seriously, Bubby Brister at quarterback?

And, of course, there was the fact that, just as most Giant fans turn to the Yankees in baseball season (old-school with old-school), most Jet fans are also Met fans (new jack with new jack). And, for 20 years, the Jets shared Shea Stadium with the Blue & Orange. Have I ever mentioned that I hate the Mets? And that I didn't like Shea, either? These were 2 more reasons to hate the Jets as well.

Most of all, as with the Giants, I hated the Jets for moving to my home State of New Jersey but keeping the New York name.

I've never hated New York City. I love it. It really is the greatest city in the world, and it might still be that even if the Yankees had only been as successful as, well, the Mets. But, damn it, if you play in New Jersey, you should call yourselves "New Jersey."

That's why none of the Giants' 3 Super Bowl wins (not even the humiliation of the Cheatriots) will ever mean as much to me as the New Jersey Devils' 3 Stanley Cup wins, and the 2 NBA Eastern Conference Titles of the New Jersey Nets. (What the Nets end up calling themselves if they actually do move to Brooklyn, I no longer give a damn.)

But my antipathy toward Gang Green began to change when Bill Parcells, who abandoned the Giants to coach the New England Patriots, abandoned New England to return to New Jersey as bossman of the J! E! T! S! Jets! Jets! Jets! In just 1 year, he made the Jets no longer a laughingstock. In just 2 years, he got the Jets to within a half of the Super Bowl. They actually led the 1998 AFC Championship Game at halftime. Against the defending World Champion Denver Broncos. At Mile High Stadium, where they'd lost a grand total of 1 Playoff game ever. That the Broncos came from behind to win is no mark against the Big Tuna and his Jets.

What is, is that they fell apart after he left. And, with Marino's retirement meaning the rivalry with the Miami Dolphins has been greatly diminished, and Al Davis' descent into senility has totally ended the rivalry with the Oakland (and briefly Los Angeles) Raiders, ex-Parcells assistant Bill Belichick spurned the Jets after one day and shuffled off to Foxboro where he revived the Patriots, and made "New York" vs. "New England" matter in the NFL the way Yankees vs. Red Sox did, the way Knicks vs. Celtics and Rangers vs. Bruins both did not that long ago.

The Giants made their point in Super Bowl XLII, which made me bury my Garden State Grudge against the G-Men once and for all. And the Jets did split the season series with the Pats this fall. The Pats won the AFC East, but a fat lot of good that did them in the Playoffs.

Rex Ryan and his 2009-10 New York Jets have won me over with their desire and their infectious enthusiasm. As Rex's father Buddy Ryan did as a Jet assistant in that long-ago Super Bowl (Wow, there's a phrase that would have seemed strange when I was a kid), as defensive coordinator for the 1985-86 Chicago Bears, and as head coach for the 1986-90 Philadelphia Eagles, Rex has won a lot of fans over. And, unlike his dad, Rex is now a head coach that has won an NFL Playoff game. Two, in fact. Both on the road.

And the Jets really have no pressure on them on Sunday. A rookie quarterback loses the AFC Championship Game? Didn't hurt Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers all that much in 2004. If the Colts win, it's not that big a deal. A month ago, when the Jets needed to win their last 2 regular-season games and have a few teams ahead of them lose, making the Playoffs at all was a longshot. I think if I told most Jet fans then that the team would make the Playoffs, and would get all the way to the AFC Championship Game, and would have to face the Colts in Indianapolis, with no -- pardon me, Jet fans -- guarantee as to what would happen in said AFC Title Game, they would have jumped at the chance.

If the Jets lose, they have many reasons to believe they will be back. By contrast, if the Jets win, the Colts will once again have lost a home Playoff game that they should have won. They're only 5-3 in Playoff games in Indianapolis, all in the Peyton Manning era. If you include their Baltimore years, the Colts are 9-5, and that's not an appreciably better winning percentage.

Note also that, when the Jets did win their one and only Super Bowl thus far, they had to beat the Colts, and a Colt team favored by far more than Manning's team is. And the Super Bowl itself? Joe Robbie Stadium (or whatever they're calling it these days) isn't the historic Orange Bowl and it's in the suburbs rather than the ghetto, but it's still "Miami."

How can the Jets win? If their defensive backs can shut down Manning's favorite target, Reggie Wayne, and keep the Colts off the board in the 1st quarter, then, to borrow a phrase from English soccer, "It's up for grabs, now!" If the Jets are no worse than trailing by a touchdown at the half, as they were in San Diego last week, they'll have the Colts right where they want them. Manning's the best quarterback of his generation (Shut up, Pats fans, Brady benefited from Belichick's cheating), but he does not have a reputation as a great deal-closer.

Like Namath, who has been publicly asked about this one, I'm not making a guarantee. But I will make a prediction.

Jets 20, Colts 17.

Bring on the Saints, and let the team representing the City of 9/11 face the team of the City of Hurricane Katrina battle it out for football supremacy. Or, let Brett Favre's old team show Favre's new team what the old man is missing.

Of course, if the Colts win, then the Super Bowl will either be Manning vs. Favre, which would be quite a show; or Manning, son of former Saints quarterback Archie Manning, against his hometown team.

I really don't have a dog in this fight -- although I can't stand Favre and I want to see him lose. But even if the Vikings win, and take their first-ever Vince Lombardi Trophy, that's a great story.

I want every championship to be a great story. The team that wins Super Bowl XLIV will be a great story, no matter which one it is.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mets Need to Clean House

All the talk about Carlos Beltran's unwillingness to trust the Mets' medical staff has led some people to note the Yankees' recovery from Alex Rodriguez's spring training hip injury -- and other problems -- in 2009 and suggest that winning cures all. Or, as football legend John Madden would say, "If your team stinks, winning is the greatest deodorant."

Which brings to mind a giant billboard that covered the close right-field wall at Baker Bowl in Philadelphia in the 1930s, when the Phillies might have been the worst team in baseball -- although, with the Athletics literally just down the block (Shibe Park was at 21st Street & Lehigh Avenue, Baker Bowl at Broad & Lehigh) having been broken up for financial reasons, the Phils might not even have been the worst team in town. The ad was for soap: In small letters, "THE PHILLIES USE"; in much, much larger letters, "LIFEBOUY." And the joke was, "And they still stink!"

(The Red Sox also had a Lifebuoy billboard on their close left-field wall, before all the ads on it were taken down before the 1947 season, revealing the green paint underneath, resulting in the nickname "The Green Monster.")

The Yankees have had 2 "collapses" in the post-1973 George Steinbrenner era, 1982 and 1989 -- and while the "rebound" from the 2nd, which began in 1993, finished the job, the 1st, in 1985, didn't.

By contrast, the Mets, in the post-1980 Fred Wilpon era, have had 3 collapses: 1992, 2002, and 2009. The first two led to rebounds that included, respectively, a Pennant and a Division Title that came within one run of a Pennant. But, still, the competence that the Yankees showed in building the 1993-present contender, and the 1996-2003 and 2009 champions, has never been there.

Any team can have bad luck with injuries. Certainly, the Yankees have, at various times since I've been old enough to watch them. But, on occasion, they've managed to win in spite of those injuries: David Cone's aneurysm in 1996, Derek Jeter's shoulder in 2003, Alex Rodriguez's hip in 2009. They've managed to hold on long enough for those players to come back and make an impact, because they've made the management decisions necessary to get the players to fill out the roster and to fill in the gaps.

By contrast, the Mets have gone the 1980s -- and 2002-08 -- Steinbrenner route of "I want big stars and I want them now! Winning will follow!" And it hasn't worked in Queens any more than it worked in The Bronx. Steinbrenner got Steve Kemp, Rickey Henderson, Steve Trout, Jack Clark, Steve Sax... nothing. After the 2001 oh-so-close World Series, he let Tino Martinez go and signed Jason Giambi, and got Gary Sheffield, and brought Roger Clemens back for a not-nearly-as-successful second go-around. None of it worked.

Getting CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Mark Teixeira? None of those guys were as big of a star at their signings by the Yankees as the preceding were -- winning has made them bigger than those guys will ever be. They were team players.

So it's time for the Mets to clean house: Get rid of Omar Minaya. Have Fred Wilpon pull an Ed McCaskey (Chicago Bears) and take the keys to the car away from Sonny Boy. Get proven winners: Omar Minaya is not one, any more than Billy "Pennant? What's a Pennant?" Beane in Oakland is. And fix the organization, top to bottom.

The right people are out there. The Mets found them in time to build 1969 and 1986, and they need to find them again if they ever want to be respected like the Yankees are -- or to be respected at all.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Farewell to Arthur George... and Other Thoughts


Art Rust Jr. has died. "Arthur George," as he so often called himself, using his middle name, was a hero of mine going back a long, long way. Well, as long as I go back, anyway.

He was one of the first black sportscasters, starting in 1954 on New York's legendary rhythm-and-blues station WWRL. He would talk about sports, and interview athletes, and also some entertainers with an interest in sports, such as James Brown (a former Golden Gloves boxer) and Miles Davis.

If James Brown were an athlete, he'd have been Frank Robinson: Controversial in some ways, but pioneering, understanding who to put up with, and how far to let them go, and no farther; and, ultimately, a unifying figure: Just as James unified Boston with that concert at the Boston Garden after Martin Luther King's assassination in 1968, so, too, did Frank bring together not just black and white teammates but black and white fans in Baltimore, which was a very tense place in 1966, when he arrived and led the Orioles to their first Pennant and first World Championship. It was a mark of respect that the O's named him their team captain almost immediately. James would have settled for nothing less.

If Miles Davis were an athlete, he would have been Bob Gibson: An intimidating, uncompromising genius. Gibson pitched in St. Louis, not far from Miles' home town of Alton, Illinois.

Arthur George later worked on WNBC-Channel 4, WMCA and WINS, before starting his influential talk show on WABC in 1981. It was this show, as well as shows by his white contemporaries Bill Mazer and Marty Glickman, that made all-sports stations such as New York's WFAN possible.

It was through his WABC show -- often on prior to Yankee broadcasts at the time -- that I got to know of him. It quickly became apparent that this man was what I already thought I was, but was far from: Somebody who knew everything about sports. He knew everybody. He wrote a few books, including Recollections of a Baseball Junkie. (Speaking of junkies, in the 1980s, he said, "If cocaine were helium, the NBA would float away.)

I've often thought about writing a book titled Confessions of a Sports NUT! If I ever do get around to writing it, I should definitely mention Arthur George in the acknowledgments. And Marty. (That's Glickman -- not Brodeur. Well, maybe him, too.) And "The Amazin'." (That's Mazer -- not the Mets.)

The last time I saw Rust was in 1996, on an ESPN Classic program called Fights of the Century. He and Jack Newfield, the great New York Post columnist who was one of the world's biggest experts on boxing, were interviewed by Al Trautwig on the subject of the second Joe Louis-Max Schmeling fight, at Yankee Stadium on June 22, 1938. Newfield was born that year, but Rust was 11 and remembered the situation very well. He knew Louis, and told the story of how Louis told a friend of his, on the morning of the fight, "I'm scared." What are you scared of, Joe? "I'm scared that I'm gonna kill Schmeling tonight." He didn't kill Schmeling, but he did knock him out in 2 minutes. Not rounds: Minutes.

Arthur George was 82. Now, of the three -- Rust, Glickman, and Mazer -- Mazer is the only one still alive. He turns 90 this year.

Bert Sugar is still alive, at 73, but while he's in the category of pundit of voluminous sports knowledge, he wasn't a New York sports radio (or TV) icon from the old days. His milieu was print. It wasn't until ESPN Classic came along in 1995 that I started seeing him regularly. I love Bert, but I haven't loved him since I was a kid. Actually, that's also the case with Glickman: I didn't really discover him until I was older. But Mazer and Rust were, as far as I'm concerned, the guys who invented sports-talk radio.

We should thank them.

I think...

Hey, it's not their fault that quite a few people have corrupted their invention. Right, Dog?

*

Two nights ago, the Devils played the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Counting regulation and overtime combined, there were 96 shots between the two teams -- and no goals. It went to a shootout, and even that couldn't find a winner in the three regulation rounds. They had to go to a fourth round, before Patrik Elias (whom Devils broadcaster Matt Loughlin calls "the Ranger Killer") finally put one past Henrik Lundqvist (whom Ranger fans call "King Henrik" and "the King of Shootouts," and Devils fans call "Queen Henrietta"). So the 104th shot of the game is what won it.

My mother said she couldn't have taken all of that. I probably couldn't have, either. Especially as I would have been stuck in the same building with 17,000 Ranger cunts (and maybe 1,000 Devils fans).

It was one hell of a battle, and the Rangers certainly did not stink. But they still suck!

The Devils have the best record in the Eastern Conference, with 65 points. In the entire NHL, only the Chicago Blackhawks, continuing their renaissance, have more, 66, but the Devils have 3 games in hand on them.

*

Devils Captain Jamie Langenbrunner has been named Captain of the U.S. hockey team at the Olympics, next month in Vancouver. Zach Parise and former Devil Brian Rafalski have been named Alternate Captains.

Paul Martin (if he's healthy) will also play for Team USA. The Rangers will sent their Captain Chris Drury (hero of the 1993 Little League World Series, I wish he'd stuck with baseball instead of hockey like Tom Glavine did) and Ryan Callahan to Team USA. No other "locals" -- New York Islanders or Philadelphia Flyers -- are on the roster.

Martin Brodeur and former Devils Captain Scott Niedermayer are on Team Canada, which will be Captained by Calgary's Jarome Iginla. No Rangers, no Islanders, and only one Flyer, new Philly Captain (but hardly a new star) Chris Pronger.

Former Devils Captain Elias will Captain the Czech Republic, where he'll be the only local. The Rangers' Marian Gaborik is Captain of Slovakia. Lundqvist backstops Sweden, where the Devils' Johnny Oduya will be a teammate. Kimmo Timonen of the Flyers will play for Finland, and his Philly teammates Oskar Bartulis will play for Latvia and Ole-Kristian Tollefsen for Norway. Mark Streit is the only Islander in the Olympics, and he'll play for Switzerland. No locals on Russia, although with Alexander Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Evgeni Malkin, they are loaded, and will probably battle it out with Canada for the Gold Medal. No locals for the other two teams to qualify, Germany and Belarus.

*

Carlos Beltran had surgery for a longstanding injury, and will likely miss Opening Day. He went to his own doctor in Colorado, without even telling Met management or Met medical staff.

This is ridiculous. It's bad enough that the Mets are making Arsenal look positively healthful by comparison. But now, the Met players don't trust their own team's doctors? Come on. Fred Wilpon is becoming more and more of a Charles Dolan, raking in the bucks from his sports operations (son James Dolan runs the Madison Square Garden Corporation and thus the Knicks and Rangers -- runs them into the ground).

Fred needs to do what Big Ed McCaskey, son-in-law of George Halas, did with the Chicago Bears when his son Mike was frittering away the talent from the 1985-86 Super Bowl season: Admit that Sonny Boy is screwing up the franchise, take it back, and give it to someone who has a clue. Someone who will restore organizational credibility. Someone who will make sure that not only will money be thrown out there to potential free agents, but that the organization is committed to winning, not just to profits from cable-TV and marketing the new ballpark.

*

This morning, Mets John Maine and Daniel Murphy -- and Mr. Met -- were on ABC's Good Morning America, promoting the team's annual winter coat drive. Certainly, a worthy cause. GMA news anchor Juju Chang, who admitting to being a big Yankee Fan, told them to "throw those coats in there." Juju, if you're really a Yankee Fan, you'd know: If they could throw, they wouldn't be Mets!

Juju also mentioned that it was only a month until those magical words: "Pitchers and catchers report to spring training." Mr. Met rubbed his hands in anticipation. On that, Ol' Big Head, we agree completely. (If English soccer fans don't mind me using the nickname of the late, great manager Brian Clough -- known, in the H-dropping accent, as "Old Big 'Ead.")

*

Ashley walks up to me and says, "I want to see Yankees!" She means the panoramic 8 x 12 photo I have of the old Stadium in my room, that Mommy (my sister) got me a couple of Christmases ago.

I finally figured it out: She doesn't want to see the Yankees, she just wants to go in my room. Hey, if the devious little girl (she just turned two and a half) wants to come in my room and see stuff (and, more likely, touch stuff), she should just say so. Like her sister Rachel does.

I am very upset at Palmer. Not Jim. Not Arnold. Not even Violet. Hap. Hap Palmer is a singer of children's songs, and he has one titled "Touch Your Toes to Your Nose," to the tune of "Turkey In the Straw." Ashley keeps jumping on the bed and touching her toes to my nose. She's not yet old enough to have stinky feet, but that's not the point. Besides, her feet are usually cold.

Palmer also has a song titled "Daddy Be a Horsie." Ashley doesn't seem to grasp the facts that I am not Daddy, and I am not a horsie. Daddy, my sister's ex, also has a problem with his legs, although not the same as mine, so he can't "be a horsie," either. And both grandfathers, while still alive and somewhat active, are too old to do that sort of thing. (At least they have both grandfathers: By the time I was their age, one of mine was dead, and the other was an invalid due to decades of torrential smoking.)

I'm not really mad at Hap Palmer. After all, somebody has to play those CDs and DVDs for the girls. Thanks a lot, Mom/Nana!




*

Days until the Devils play another local rival: 5, next Monday, a matinee on Martin Luther King Day, against the Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum.

Days until the 2010 Winter Olympics begin in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, right here on this continent, if not in this country: 30. One month.

Days until the NHL's Olympic break ends (at least for the Devils): 48, on Tuesday, March 2.

Days until Opening Day of the 2010 baseball season: 82. Less than 12 weeks.

Days until the next North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham: 87, on April 10, 2010 at White Hart Lane.

Days until the Yankees' 2010 home opener: 90. Just 3 months.

Days until the 2010 World Cup begins: 150. Just 5 months.

Days until the World Cup Final: 181. Just 6 months.

Days until the new Meadowlands Stadium (still unnamed) opens: 205.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 224, presumably on Saturday, September 4. I can't find an official schedule anywhere. They know they're playing Army at Yankee Stadium on November 12, 2011 (that's Army, not Notre Dame, as I said in yesterday's "Top 10 Reasons to Hate Notre Dame" post), but a simple schedule for the calendar year we are now in, isn't available? Only 3 games are fully set (including playing Army in the first college football game at the new Meadowlands Stadium), and even then not completely, as the times could be changed for TV purposes.

Days until East Brunswick plays football again: 240 (presumably), on Friday, September 10.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 316. (Yes, I'm counting it down already.)

Days until Derek Jeter collects his 3,000th career hit: 486 (projected).

Days until the Rutgers-Army football game at Yankee Stadium: 668.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Top 10 Reasons to Hate Notre Dame

As a Rutgers fan, I am quite pleased that Brian Kelly has left the University of Cincinnati, which just won back-to-back Big East Championships (including back-to-back throttling of Ye Olde Scarlet Knights), for the University of Notre Dame.

Hopefully, Cincy will now follow the pattern set by the University of Louisville, which was such an arrogant pain in the ass until their bastard coach Bobby Petrino left for the Atlanta Falcons, then left them in the lurch (not all his fault, there was a problem with their quarterback, some guy named Vick), for the University of Arkansas, and they haven't done well either, while the Falcons rebounded under a new regime.

In November 2011, Rutgers will play Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium. It won't be the same Yankee Stadium in which Knute Rockne lied to his players about George Gipp on his deathbed giving a damn about what happened in some future football game he wouldn't see, or the same Yankee Stadium in which Notre Dame and Army played "The Game of the Century" in 1946. (Some Game of the Century: Final score, 0-0. At least in soccer tournaments, they go to extra time, penalty kicks or a replay.) It'll be the new Yankee Stadium, and RU should be ready to take on Kelly's Smellies.

What's that? You didn't know? Well, Notre Dame stinks.

You see, like all people with taste, I hate Notre Dame. Granted, I'm Protestant, but if Boston College football, and Georgetown and Villanova basketball, are any indication, there's a lot of Catholics who haven't drunk the South Bend Kool-Aid, either. Some of them have even got to be Irish (particularly at BC).

I went around the Internet looking for assists on a top 10 reasons to hate Notre Dame. I came upon several. I came upon one, done by a University of Michigan fan, who came up with a Top 111. Nope, that's not a misprint: One hundred and eleven.

I could say a few words about Michigan fans, but that Top 111 reference gave me a chuckle.

Top 10 Reasons to Hate Notre Dame

Dishonorable Mention: The way they treated Tyrone Willingham; the way they put up with even more losing from Charlie Weis before they finally realized that being white doesn't make you a good coach; giving Joe Kuharich enough of a profile so that he would eventually be hired as coach and general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles (How'd that Sonny-for-Norm trade work out, Joe?); and undeserved Heisman Trophies: Paul Hornung in 1956 over Jim Brown, Johnny Majors and Tommy McDonald; John Huarte in 1964 over Jerry Rhome and Dick Butkus, when Orange Bowl-winning quarterback Joe Namath wasn't even in the Top 10 (well, it's not like he went to a football school, it was only the University of Alabama, and besides, Huarte had the better pro career, right?); Tim Brown in 1987 over Don McPherson, Lorenzo White, Craig "Ironhead" Hayward, Keith Jackson (the tight end, not the broadcaster), Daniel Stubbs, Chris Spielman, Ken Norton Jr., Deion Sanders, and, oh yeah, Thurman Thomas. (Granted, Brown is worthy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as are some of the preceding, but do you think he would have been chosen if, like White, he had played for, say, Michigan State? Michigan State only won the Big 10 that year, after all. And beat Notre Dame along the way.)

One of the ironies about the above is the guys who didn't win the Heisman with Notre Dame: Joe Theismann -- who changed the pronunciation of his name from the "THEEZ-man" it had been in South River, New Jersey so that it would rhyme with "Heisman" -- finished 2nd to Jim Plunkett in 1970 (and then Plunkett beat Theesman in Super Bowl XVIII 13 years later); and Joe Montana got stuck in the Billy Sims-Charles White buzzsaw in 1978 and '79.

Then again, Beano Cook's whacked-out prediction that Ron Powlus would win the Heisman twice... well, let's just say that Tim Tebow came a lot closer to matching Archie Griffin. Powlus came closer to matching Archie Bunker.

Here we go:

10. The Notredame Broadcasting Company. It used to be that the only college football games NBC would broadcast would come on New Year's Day: An early bowl game at 12 or 1, then the Rose Bowl at 4:30, finally the Orange Bowl at 8. The BCS messed that up (and ABC got the Rose Bowl contract), but these things happen.

But one school making a unilateral deal with a network? This wasn't like the 1970s and early 1980s, when The NFL Today was followed by a Dallas game so many times that CBS seemed to stand for Cowboys Broadcasting Service. This was obscene.

9. Lou Holtz. He was annoying enough before going to South Bend. But ever since he stepped onto that campus, he has been so, so hatable.

There's an old joke (this also comes from a Michigan fan) about a guy who walks into a bar and says he's the world's biggest Notre Dame fan. Another guy in the bar, who hates Notre Dame, asks him how he knows this. The ND fan says he's such an ND fan, he has a tattoo of Joe Montana on one side of his ass, and a tattoo of Paul Hornung on the other. Naturally, our man in the bar with an ounce of taste doesn't believe anybody would be so stupid as to tattoo a pair of guys who haven't played for Notre Dame in decades on his gluteus maximus. So the ND fan drops his pants and moons the other guy. He's got to prove it, after all. And the other guy says, "I can't make out Montana on the left, and I can't make out Hornung on the right. But that's definitely Lou Holtz in the middle."

Actually, in the original joke, it was Montana on the left and Rick Mirer on the right. But aside from angry Seattle Seahawk and Chicago Bear fans, still fuming that such a stiff ever took snaps for them, who remembers Mirer today?

8. The Ethnicity Issue. Another old joke: What do you call five Italians, three Poles and three black guys? "The Fighting Irish."

True, Frank Leahy was Irish, and so were two of the Four Horsemen, Jim Crowley and Elmer Layden. So was Dan Devine, and Leon Hart might have been.

But, ahem. Knute Rockne was Norwegian. The other two Horsemen? Don Miller was English, and Harry Stuhldreher was German. Their 1st Heisman winner was Angelo Bertelli, Italian. Johnny Lujack, Polish. Hornung? Sounds German. Huarte? I think the name is Welsh, but don't quote me. Theismann? German. Ara Parseghian? Armenian. Holtz? German. And, oh yeah, Daniel Ruettiger Jr. -- a.k.a. "Rudy"? German.

Yet if someone is Irish, and especially Irish Catholic, rooting against Notre Dame is "against your religion." Oy vey.

7. Going 6-5 and Still Going to Bowl Games.

6. Ara vs. Herm. In 1966, knowing that a tie would not hurt his chances for the National Championship, Parseghian had his Irish run out the clock in their 1966 "Game of the Century" against Michigan State.

In all fairness, they'd lost their top 2 quarterbacks and a running back to injury, and they were playing on the road, and still held the mighty Spartans to just 10 points and denied them the win. But what was it that Herman Edwards taught us? "Hello? You play to win the game!"

Ara is now 86, hasn't coached a down in 35 years, and did win a lot of games, big and small. So when does he get to live down "Tying one for the Gipper"? Never.

5. Undeserved Rooting. Notre Dame makes otherwise sensible, tasteful people root for Boston College. And USC. And Michigan. And Miami. And, dear God, Penn State. That's where I draw the line: If the Tarnished Dome is playing Ratface's Shittany Lions, I cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame, holding my nose to hide all my shame.

4. Subway Alumni. People who couldn't meet Notre Dame's stringent academic standards (unless they can play football, in which case they don't need no stinkin' academic standards), and have never set foot in Indiana, much less in South Bend, "cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame." There have been times when the three biggest football teams in New York City were: 1. Giants; 2. Notre Dame; 3. Jets. And the Patriots were often 4th in Boston, behind Notre Dame, BC and Harvard.

This is where Rudy comes in again: Daniel Ruettiger Jr. was from Joliet, Illinois, which is 115 miles from the University of Illinois, and 109 miles from South Bend -- but at least UI is in the guy's home State. I could see not wanting to go to the even closer Northwestern University, but they weren't all that bad then: They finished 2nd in the Big 10 in 1970 and again in '71. As for the Illini: What, the alma mater of George Halas, Red Grange, Buddy Young, Ray Nitschke, Jim Grabowski and Dick Butkus (and a few great players since) wasn't good enough for you?

3. Conference Cowards. They say the reason they haven't joined the Big 10 or another league is that they don't want to split the bowl money up with the other teams in the league. Bull fucking shit: They just don't want to get their heads handed to them by Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State every year.

In the last few years, Notre Dame has played each of those schools, and also Northwestern, Illinois and Indiana. In fact, they play Big 10 schools Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue every single season. That's 8 of the... 11. Okay, aside from what to call the Big 10 (and what to then call the Big 12), what's the issue? Cowardice, plain and simple.

2. The God Complex. Notre Dame is not the Catholic university of America. There is "The Catholic University of America," but CUA is in Washington, D.C. and plays a Division III football schedule. Anthony Davis tells of his amazing performance for USC against Notre Dame in 1974, running into the end zone, and there's an elderly nun waving a crucifix at him, saying, "Nobody does that to Notre Dame! You must be the Devil!" (She would have been more accurate waving it at A.D.'s USC predecessor, O.J. Simpson.)

Then, of course, there is the mural on the wall of the library tower, with the Lord raising his hands in a blessing. But since it overlooks Notre Dame Stadium, he's called "Touchdown Jesus." Men and women of Notre Dame, do you really think God or Jesus or any of the saints care one bit about who wins a football game?

It's been said before, and I'll say it here: All those athletes thanking God or Jesus when they win, you never hear them mentioning any part of the Trinity when they lose. (Come to think of it, how come I never hear, "I want to thank the Holy Spirit"? Except maybe at that parochial high school outside Atlantic City.)

The only example of it that I'm aware of was in 1951, when Ralph Branca gave up that home run to Bobby Thomson, and he was met by his soon-to-be-wife's brother, a priest. Ralph said, "Why me?" And the priest said, "Because God knew your faith would be strong enough to bear this cross." Well, did Gerry Faust, Tyrone Willingham or Bob Davie ever ask, "Why me?" when they failed to "wake up the echoes"? After all, it's not like they ever got a school put on probation.

Which brings me to Number 1. If the current NCAA regulations had been in place in 1920, Notre Dame's athletic program -- the whole thing -- might have gotten the "death penalty." Because of what they did to protect one man.

1. The Gippers. George Gipp was an alcoholic. He was a compulsive gambler, who bet on anything, including his own team. He attended classes about as often as the Pope lit a menorah. He hardly ever showed up for Mass, too. Yet because he was the best football player Notre Dame had yet seen, Knute Rockne got the administration to keep him on the team.

When he died -- in those pre-penicillin days, you really could die from strep throat -- if he said anything to Rockne, it was probably, "Put a hundred bucks on the 4 horse in tomorrow's 7th race at Arlington for me." It sure wouldn't have been, "Tell the boys to win just one for the Gipper."

Twenty years later, the film Knute Rockne, All-American was made. (Rockne was actually a pretty good player himself, at least by the standards of 1913.) Pat O'Brien played Rockne. Playing Gipp was a young actor who'd been a radio announcer, including a recreator-by-telegraph of Chicago Cubs games for WHO in Des Moines, Iowa. His name was Ronald Reagan.

If the truth about Gipp had been told, Reagan would have been much more likely to have the Richard Widmark role in Kiss of Death than he would to have the kindly role in Bedtime for Bonzo. It would have been highly unlikely that he would have been cheerfully called "the Gipper," he probably wouldn't have been elected Governor of California, and it might not have taken the United States of America until 2008, with the year's economic meltdown and never-ending stupid war based on lies and greed, to come to the obvious conclusion that conservatism does not work.

So Notre Dame gave us something worse than hundreds of football defeats, the massive egos of Hornung and Theismann and Holtz, two ridiculous movies and a bunch of arrogant fans who have never set foot any closer to South Bend than in Toledo: Notre Dame gave us the Reagan Revolution.

Personal foul. Offense. Very offensive. Half the distance to the goal line. Fourth down.

Punt, Irish, punt. (Not a pun on the currency of the Republic of Ireland.)

And if you actually are Irish and are reading this, trust me, there are worthier football teams to receive your cheers.

All of them.

Except Penn State.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Former Hero Comes Clean -- Sort Of

When I was a kid, back in the 1970s, the Weekly Reader did a poll to determine the top heroes of schoolkids. For 4th graders and 8th graders alike, for boys and girls alike, the Number 2 hero was Neil Armstrong.

The 1st man to walk on the Moon was Number 2.

Number 1 was O.J. Simpson.

Now, it says something about my generation of kids that we were willing to select a black man over a white man as our Number 1 hero. And it's not like O.J. hadn't done some amazing things. He led his college's football team to a National Championship, and only Woody Hayes' 1968 "Super Sophs" stopped them from getting another. He won the Heisman Trophy. He won the NFL's Rookie of the Year. He became the 1st man in pro football to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. He made 80,000 people pay to watch the Buffalo Bills play in bitterly cold weather. He went on to rush for over 11,000 yards in his career. In a time when over 20 guys have rushed for over 10,000, he was the 2nd man, after Jim Brown, to do it, and only at the end, when he was a broken-down 49er, did he play in a 16-game season (and then not all 16). This was something.

Then again, he only played in 1 NFL Playoff game, in 1974, and the Bills lost. It wasn't his fault that he played during the same decade as Shula's Dolphins, Noll's Steelers and Madden's Raiders. Nor was it his fault the Bills had no D back then.

In fact, in 1995, there was a joke that, for the first time in his life, O.J. had a good professional defense.

Aye, there's the rub: At some point, O.J. became a former hero.

Lots of guys become former heroes. Pete Rose.

Which brings me to Mark McGwire. Apparently, he's finally "here to talk about the past." He finally admitted to using steroids.

He says that he did it for comeback from injury, not for increased batting power.

Riiiight. And I root for the Yankees because I liked Reggie Jackson's Volkswagen Rabbit commercial, not because they won the World Series when I was 7 and 8 years old.

In today's Daily News, Mike Lupica (in a rare moment of common sense on the subject of baseball) says that if McGwire expects us to believe he didn't do it to increase his hitting power, then he's deluding himself.

Without steroids, McGwire would not have recovered to become an apparently Hall of Fame-worthy player. Sammy Sosa would not have become one. Neither would Jose Canseco. Nor Juan Gonzalez. Nor, ha ha, David Ortiz. Nor Mike Piazza. Nor 2000s Yankees Gary Sheffield and Jason Giambi -- and Giambi won't make it anyway. Brady Anderson would not have hit at least 50 home runs in a season. Nor would Luis Gonzalez. Nor would Albert Belle.

Rafael Palmeiro might have made it to Cooperstown without steroids. So might Ivan Rodriguez.

Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, and, yes, Alex Rodriguez did have the talent to reach the Hall without steroids. They did it anyway.

And if any of those guys did not use steroids, then they can sue me. But then they'll have to say, in court, under oath, that they did not use steroids. Bonds already fell into the perjury trap. The others won't. Well, maybe Manny. He might be just that stupid. We know he's just that arrogant.

Mark McGwire is back in baseball, as the hitting instructor for the St. Louis Cardinals. But who would listen to an admitted cheater?

Well, some of the best hitting instructors weren't very good hitters: Walt Hriniak, Charlie Lau, and current Yankee instructor Kevin Long. As for Don Mattingly, he was a really good hitter -- for a while, a great hitter -- but he's proven to be a lousy hitting instructor. (Or else he would have gotten a ring that way.)

One Cardinal who doesn't need McGwire's instruction is Albert Pujols. He might turn out to be the best hitter since The Babe Himself. Even better than the Cards' best hitters ever to this point, Rogers Hornsby and Stan Musial.

Please, Albert, be steroid-free. We want to believe in you.

Big Mac? Can he redeem himself? Rose hasn't. Shoeless Joe Jackson wasn't given the chance to try.

McGwire is trying to come clean. But as Shakespeare (whom I've already quoted once in this post) would have said, a little water doesn't cleanse him of this deed. He won't get out the damned spot anytime soon.

It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying... we do not yet know what.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

J, E, T, S, Patriots Suck!

New York Jets 24, Cincinnati Bengals 14. Looks like Darrelle Revis ensured that Chad Johnson will have to go back to his old name, rendering "Ochocinco" persona non grata.

This is the Jets' 1st Playoff win in 5 years, and enjoy it while you can, because the next game is going to be at the Indianapolis Colts. With their full squad. Oy vey.

Except... No, it won't!

Baltimore Ravens 33, New England Patriots 14! In Foxboro, no less! Ray Rice of Rutgers scores 2 touchdowns, including an 83-yarder on the first play from scrimmage. The Pats go down hard at home. I guess the Cleveland version of Bill Belichick was coaching. Either that, or Belichick couldn't figure out how to cheat in this one. When he can't cheat, he's the Cleveland Belichick.

The '01 Rams, '03 Panthers and '04 Eagles would like their rings, thank you very much. Bastard.

Anyway, the Ravens winning means they go to Indy to play the Colts, while the J-E-T-S-Jets-Jets-Jets will go to San Diego to play the Chargers.

Let's see: Would I rather play in nice, sunny San Diego, or under a dome to keep out the elements? Frankly, I don't think it matters, because the Jets and their fans will be warm either way. Besides, now that we know Mark Sanchez can play quarterback in the cold, who cares?

Dallas Cowboys 34, Philadelphia Eagles 14. So the Cowboys win their 1st Playoff game in 13 years (since Bill Clinton's 1st term as President and the Yankees' 1st World Championship in the Joe Torre era, ah, those were the days), Tony Romo wins his 1st Playoff game ever (gee, maybe Jessica Simpson really was a jinx), and the Eagles will go into the 2010 regular season making it a full 50 years since their last title.

December 26, 1960, beating the Green Bay Packers, 17-13 in a thriller at venerable Franklin Field -- which, unlike Veterans Stadium, not only still stands but still hosts football, even if it is just Ivy League (University of Pennsylvania).

Arizona Cardinals 24, Green Bay Packers 10 at the half (as I type this). Aaron Rodgers is not yet the Playoff quarterback that Brett Favre is, but at least he hasn't yet revealed himself to be the NFL's biggest diva, either.

And you thought it was T.O. Or Ochocinco.

Uh-uh. I will believe Brett Favre has played his last game on the 4th day that he is in his grave. I'll give him 3 days, just to be sure. Although, to hear people in Wisconsin tell it, playing for Minnesota makes him more like Judas.

Ease up, Cheeseheads, at least he didn't play for Da Bears.

Then again, Jesus forgave Judas. I suspect Packer fans will one day forgive Favre. After all, he wanted to stay, but the team pushed him out. Sort of like the Boston Red Sox pushing Roger Clemens out when he wanted to stay, and Red Sox have forgiven Clemens, haven't they? Haven't they?

Look who I'm talking about: Sox fans. Fans of a bunch of cheaters. In two sports. At least. And I'm not even counting the point-shaving scandal at Boston College a few years back.

Just another good weekend if you're a New York fan who hates New England teams. Heck, all 3 Tri-State Area hockey teams won. The Rangers (who usually suck) beat the Boston Bruins, so that's yet another New York victory over Bahhhhston; the Devils crossed the border to beat the Montreal Canadiens ("Monsieur, do you have anything to declare?" "Yeah, we won!"); and the Islanders beat the Phoenix Coyotes.

Of course, the Devils have to resume that suspended game where they trailed the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-0 midway through, when the lights went out at the Prudential Center. Well, only half the lights. It's not like the 1988 Stanley Cup Finals, when the Bruins were so desperate to have the Edmonton Oilers NOT clinch in a sweep at the Gahhhhden that the lights mysteriously went out.

Now, if we can just find a way to prove the Celtics cheaters on any of their 17 titles... There's got to be something.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Rating the Stadium & Arena Finales

I should have done this on Sunday night, or on Monday, but the home computer is operating with all the efficiency that the Jets usually offer – but not on Sunday!

I don’t know who embarrassed the Giants more: Themselves, with their putrid performance in their last game at Giants Stadium; their opponents in said game, the Carolina Panthers; or the Jets, for a spectacular, Playoff-clinching performance in the actual last game in Giants Stadium.

Stadium and arena farewells listed here begin with the move of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the baseball version of the New York Giants in 1957. While I could have mentioned the football Giants' last game at the Polo Grounds in 1955, nobody really cared. Except maybe baseball Giants owner Horace Stoneham, who sure missed Tim Mara's rent checks.

Dodgers’ last game at Ebbets Field: September 24, 1957, beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 2-0. Did not seriously contend for the National League Pennant.

Team owner Walter O’Malley may have been the least sentimental person ever involved with New York Tri-State Area sports, and so no closing ceremonies were held. The game was on a Tuesday night, and only 6,702 fans turned out. No Dodger legends were invited, although several of the "Boys of Summer" were still on the squad.

Organist Gladys Gooding, "the only person to 'play' for the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Knicks and New York Rangers," must have ignored any memos she got from Lord Waltermort, because she played several farewell-type songs, such as "Am I Blue" and "Give Me Five Minutes More."

At the game's conclusion, somebody cued up the record of the team's theme song, "Follow the Dodgers," which Gooding wrote. This was in terrible taste, as no one wanted to follow them to L.A., and she knew it, and took it off, and played "Auld Lang Syne." But at least they won, with Danny McDevitt pitching a shutout.

Performance: 9. Ceremony: 1 (and even that 1 is credited to Gooding). Total: 10.

Baseball Giants' last game at the Polo Grounds: September 29, 1957, lost to the Pirates 9-1. Did not seriously contend for the National League Pennant.

The same Pirate team that couldn't hit McDevitt pounded the Jints. But at least Stoneham – who infamously said, "I feel sorry for the kids, but I haven't seen too many of their fathers lately" – understood the weight of the moment, and invited back several Giant legends, including Carl Hubbell, Bill Terry and Larry Doyle. Also invited was Blanche McGraw, who said of her husband, "If John were here, this would break his heart."

Although he wasn't a retired Giants great, Bobby Thomson had recently been reacquired, and posed for photographers, pointing to the spot where his 1951 "Shot Heard ‘Round the World" landed.

Still, only 11,606 came out, many of them singing, to the tune of "Good Night Ladies"...

We want Stoneham!
We want Stoneham!
We want Stoneham
with a rope around his neck!

Performance: 2. Ceremony: 6. Total: 8.

Mets' last game at Polo Grounds: September 18, 1963, lost to the Philadelphia Phillies 5-1. Lost 111 games.

Only 1,752 came out to see the last baseball game at 155th Street and 8th Avenue, on the site where professional baseball had been played since 1890, and in that particular stadium since 1911. One Met fan was quoted as saying, "Not many really cared, did they?

"Even the Met organization, including former Giant board members Joan Payson and M. Donald Grant, didn't make an effort to include any New York baseball legends, although Casey Stengel was the manager, and Gil Hodges and Duke Snider were now on the Met roster.

Performance: 2. Ceremony: 0. Total: 2.

Jets' last game at Polo Grounds: December 14, 1963, lost to the Buffalo Bills 19-10. Missed AFL Playoffs.

In their 1st year under the Jets name, after 3 seasons as the New York Titans, it was the city's AFL outfit that played the last event at the old Harlem Horseshoe. But they were awful, and the game was nothing to write home about, and there was no ceremony. Why would there be? This was a team in its 4th season, so who were they supposed to bring back, Al Dorow?

Performance: 4. Ceremony: 0. Total: 4.

Knicks' last game at the old Madison Square Garden: February 10, 1968, beat the Philadelphia 76ers 115-97. Lost in East Semis, also to 76ers.

This was mere months after Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer & Co. won the NBA Title with a then-record 68 wins, so even in the Knicks' own building, beating the Sixers by 18 points was no mean feat. But as far as my research can reveal, there was no ceremony.

Performance: 10. Ceremony: 0. Total: 10.

Rangers' last game at the Old Garden: February 11, 1968, tied the Detroit Red Wings 3-3. Lost in Stanley Cup Quarterfinals to the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Wings weren't an especially good team at the time, but they did still have Gordie Howe and Alex Delvecchio. And, this time, there was a ceremony. Following the game, there was a "final skate," featuring NHL legends, and not just from the Rangers: There was the still-active Howe, Montreal god Maurice Richard, even Boston old-timer Eddie Shore. In this instance, the Rangers most certainly did not suck.

I can't find any word as to whether any New York Americans were invited. Some should have been, as the Old Garden was their house – and it was theirs first, in 1925-26, and it was their success that season (at the box office, anyway) that led to the creation of Garden owner/promoter George "Tex" Rickard's team, "Tex's Rangers."

Performance: 5. Ceremony: 9. Total: 14.

Giants' last game at Yankee Stadium: September 23, 1973, tied the Philadelphia Eagles 23-23. Missed NFC Playoffs.

With all the recriminations between Giants owner Wellington Mara and New York Mayor John Lindsay – leading to Lindsay not allowing the Giants to use City-owned Shea Stadium until the Meadowlands could be ready, forcing them to spend the remainder of '73 and all of '74 at the Yale Bowl in New Haven – it was probably for the best that there was no ceremony.

There was, however, a ceremony with Giant greats at the Giants Stadium opener in 1976. Lindsay's successor, Mayor Abe Beame, let the Giants play at Shea in '75, along with the Mets, the Jets and the temporarily exiled Yankees, but I'm not including the Yanks' and Giants' Shea farewells, especially since both later played regular-season games at Shea.

As for the Giants’ Yankee Stadium farewell: Performance: 5. Ceremony: 0. Total: 5.

Yankees' last game at the pre-renovation Yankee Stadium: September 30, 1973, lost to the Detroit Tigers 7-5. Were in Playoff contention until August.

Not much of a game, and not much of a ceremony. About all the Yankees did was pull up home plate, to give to Claire Ruth, and 1st base, to give to Eleanor Gehrig. They did, however, invite a lot of big names to that season's Opening Day, as it was The Stadium's 50th Anniversary; and to the Stadium's reopening in 1976. Both times, the first ball was thrown out by Bob Shawkey, who started and won the 1st game at The Stadium in 1923.

At the '76 opener, guests included Mrs. Gehrig (Mrs. Ruth was dying and unable to attend), Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, football Giants star Frank Gifford, and Joe Louis, who defended the heavyweight title at The Stadium several times, most notably against Max Schmeling. But if The Stadium in 1923 opened with a bang (from the bat of the Babe), in '73 it closed with a whimper.

Performance: 3. Ceremony: 0. Total: 3.

Nets' last game at the Nassau Coliseum: April 1, 1977, lost to the Indiana Pacers 89-88. Missed Playoffs, and at 22-60 went from being the final ABA Champions to having the worst record in the NBA in just 1 season – which is what happens when you have to sell the ABA's best player, Julius Erving, to pay the Knicks a $4.8 million territorial indemnity fee, on top of the $3.2 million they had to pay to get into the NBA in the first place. That's $8 million, or over $30 million in 2009 dollars.)

There was little point in saying goodbye to the squat little building on the Hempstead Turnpike, although they almost won the game, and it was appropriate that their last game as the New York Nets was against the other team that could have been called the pride of the ABA: Between the two of them, the Nets and Pacers played in 6 of the 9 ABA Finals, including the 1972 Finals against each other (the Pacers won).

Performance: 4. Ceremony: 0. Total: 4.

Nets' last game at the Rutgers Athletic Center: March 28, 1981, lost to the New York Knicks 90-88. Missed the NBA Playoffs, with a horrible 24-58.

They did come close to winning the game and beating the team that should have been their arch-rivals, and they did get better the next season, starting their Meadowlands tenure with 5 straight Playoff seasons. But they didn't really show it here, and there was no ceremony to mark their leaving of the building now known as the Louis Brown Athletic Center (but still usually called "The RAC," pronounced "rack"), on RU's Livingston Campus in Piscataway.

Performance: 4. Ceremony: 0. Total: 4.

Jets' last game at Shea Stadium: December 10, 1983, lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 34-7. Missed AFC Playoffs.

The Jets did hold a ceremony with former greats, including Joe Namath, but this frigid finale was more notable as the last NFL game for Steeler quarterback Terry Bradshaw.

Performance: 1. Ceremony: 6. Total: 7.

Devils'’ last game at Meadowlands/Brendan Byrne/Continental Airlines Arena: Regular Season, April 8, 2007, lost to the New York Islanders 3-2; Playoffs, May 5, 2007, Game 5 of NHL Eastern Conference Semifinals, lost to the Ottawa Senators 3-2.

The Devils are the only Tri-State Area team ever to have an official farewell knowing they were going to play at least 1 home Playoff game in the building. After 25 years in the arena soon to be renamed the Izod Center, the Devils didn't have a whole lot of "greats," but the 3 Stanley Cup teams did give them plenty of names to bring back, including Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko and John MacLean. A few other big Devils names couldn't make it, as they were still playing, such as Scott Niedermayer, Brian Rafalski, and, ugh, Scott Gomez. (Did I mention that the Rangers suck? Well, they do.)

The Devils opened their history with a home game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but it was somewhat appropriate that the regular-season finale was against the NHL's superteam of the early 1980s, the Isles, who stunk in the late 2000s, but, for whatever reason, usually managed to beat the Devils. It didn't matter that much, since there were still Playoffs to be held, and while the Devils did beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 1st round of the Playoffs, those pesky Senators filibustered their season to death.

Performance (actual finale): 3. Ceremony (official finale): 6. Total: 9.

Yankees' last game at the old Yankee Stadium: September 21, 2008, beat the Baltimore Orioles 7-3. Stayed in contention for the Playoffs until just before then, and officially eliminated in their next game.

The ceremony brought back Yankees dating back to 1947 with Yogi Berra. Although the actors portraying Babe Ruth and the rest of the 1923 Stadium-openers was a tacky touch, the guy playing Casey Stengel, complete with mismatched socks, was a hoot.

It was the first time I’d ever seen all three Stadium perfect game pitchers (Don Larsen, David Wells and David Cone) together. Whitey, Reggie, Guidry, O'Neill, and the huge ovation for the last announced former star, Bernie. It was very nice to bring back the widows of Phil Rizzuto, Thurman Munson and Catfish Hunter, the daughter of Elston Howard, the sons of Mickey Mantle, Billy Martin and Roger Maris, and the family of Bobby Murcer.

Especially the Murcers: Bobby had died shortly before that season's Old-Timers’ Day, and it was too soon for them to come back, the wound still too fresh, so this was the right way for the fans to say goodbye and thank you. Anybody who wasn't touched by David Mantle hugging Kay Murcer in center field, and by Mariano Rivera escorting Cora Rizzuto out to shortstop, has no heart.

The Babe's 91-year-old daughter, Julia Ruth Stevens, throwing out the first pitch to the injured Jorge Posada (had to work him into the ceremony somehow) was a nice touch. The Yankees won the game, although it was touch-and-go for a while. Derek Jeter's short speech after the final game was a proper sendoff. I was actually glad that the Yanks hadn't made the Playoffs, to take the suspense away – as the next entry proves.

Performance: 9. Ceremony: 10. Total: 19.

Mets' last game at Shea Stadium: September 28, 2008, lost to the Florida Marlins 4-2. As a result, for the 2nd straight season, they missed the Playoffs due to losing a season finale to a weak Marlins team. Had the Mets won that day, or had the Milwaukee Brewers lost, there would have been a 163rd game, and it would have been at Shea the next day. Instead, well, what did you expect: They're the Mets!

The postgame ceremony was nice, with most of the living '69 Mets, and most of the '86 Mets, on hand, though it's still hard to think of Yogi and Willie Mays as Mets. And what about who wasn't there? Rest in peace Mrs. Payson, Casey, Gil, Lindsey Nelson, Bob Murphy, Tommie Agee and Tug McGraw. But Davey Johnson, the only living human to lead the Mets to a World Series win, wasn't there. Nor was Mookie Wilson, one of the most popular Mets ever and the man who make the Game 6 win happen. Compared to that, Dave Kingman was a poor substitute.

Tom Seaver couldn't reach the plate to get the last pitch to Mike Piazza. I realize he was 64, but Julia Stevens wasn't that much further off the plate a week earlier, and she was 91! (Seaver did throw a perfect strike to Piazza for the Citi Field opener, though.)

And what was with that walk out to the center field fence? I understand that Seaver represents the 1969 and 1973 memories, and Piazza 1999 and 2000. But there was no representative of 1986. The right way to do it would have been to have Seaver, the team's 1st Hall-of-Famer, flanked by Gary Carter, the team's 2nd HOFer, and Piazza, who will likely be the team's 3rd HOFer (unless it ends up being proven that he was yet another steroid freak). You would have had the '69 and '73 postseasons, with the '86 and '88 postseasons on one side and the '99 and '00 postseasons on the other. What about 2006? I guess the wound from Yadier Molina, and the fact that the '06 Mets were roughly the same teams that shredded their fans' hearts in '07 and '08, were still too fresh to have anyone represent them at the end.

Performance: 2. Ceremony: 6. Total: 8.

Giants' last game at Giants Stadium: December 27, 2009, lost to the Carolina Panthers 41-9. As a result, missed the NFC Playoffs. (They still would've needed to win the next week, which they didn't.)

Despite having brought back several greats from the 1976 to 2009 era, the current G-Men dropped a major league stink bomb – as if the Meadowlands area needed any more bad smells.

Performance: 0. Ceremony: 5. Total: 5.

Jets' last game at Giants Stadium: January 3, 2010, beat the Cincinnati Bengals 37-0. As a result, made the AFC Playoffs, where their final status remains to be determined.

Granted, the Bengals didn't exactly put up much of a fight, but, still, thirty-seven to nothing. This was the kind of game the Giants should have put up, but, instead, got put on them.

Now, the Jets' years at Giants Stadium, 1984 to 2009, contained some great memories: Jets 51, Dolphins 46 in '86; Parcells' '98 masterwork; the Monday Night Miracle in 2000; Herman Edwards bringing them back from the brink with "You play to win the game!" for the '02 Division Title; the beginning of the Mark Sanchez era).

But they also contained some disasters. Dan Marino's fake spike comes to mind). And, let's face it, Giants Stadium was never the Jets' home – not even when they were the official home team in games against the Big Blue Wrecking Crew. The new stadium that opens next door will officially be just as much Gang Green's home, if for no other reason than it won't have another team's name on it. (Although that's not why the Giants left Yankee Stadium).

The Jets brought back a few members of the New York Sack Exchange, plus Wesley Walker, Freeman McNeil, Al Toon, Wayne Chrebet and Curtis Martin. They even brought back some Shea guys like Namath. But the best thing the Jets ever did at Giants Stadium was get the hell out – and they went out in a blaze of glory. (They needed a blaze of something, because it was an icebox that night!)

Performance: 10. Ceremony: 7. Total: 17.

*

1. 2008 Yankees 19
2. 2009 Jets 17
3. 1968 Rangers 14
4. 1968 Knicks 10
5. 1957 Dodgers 10
6. 2007 Devils 9
7. 2008 Mets 8
8. 1957 Giants (B) 8
9. 1983 Jets 7
10. 2009 Giants 5
11. 1973 Giants 5
12. 1977 Nets 4
13. 1981 Nets 4
14. 1963 Jets 4
15. 1973 Yankees 3
16. 1963 Mets 2

The Islanders are the only one of the Tri-State Area's 9 major league teams still playing in their original building, and if the "Lighthouse Project" ever moves forward, they will remain in the Nassau Coliseum for the foreseeable future. If it doesn't, there is a chance they'll move into the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and once again share a building with the Nets. Of course, that thing has to get built first. There's even talk that the Nets may leave the Meadowlands and play at the Prudential Center in Newark, sharing it with the Devils. Smart. But only until the Barclays Center, on which construction still has not begun, is ready. Dumb. Newark is a basketball town, Seton Hall University draws well there, and the Nets would probably sell out The Rock more than the Devils do.

I wonder what the Nets will do when they finally get the Barclays Center nearly ready to go, and can officially, finally, schedule their last home game in New Jersey – which, presumably, won't be a Playoff game, even if it takes another 5 years to leave the old barn at Exit 16W. I wonder if new owner Mikhail Prokhorov will care enough to bring back Buck Williams, Mike Gminski and Albert King? Who knows, by the time the damn thing is finally built at Atlantic Yards, the Nets will be able to bring to the Meadowlands finale Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson – they might all be retired, and I don’t mean early due to injury. This team has already been a lame duck franchise longer than the Montreal Expos were (5 years as opposed to 4). The New Jersey Nets can’t even die with dignity.

Then again, neither did Shea Stadium. At least Gladys Gooding tried to host a proper funeral for Ebbets Field.

Congratulations Andre Dawson

Congratulations to the new Baseball Hall-of-Famers. Yesterday, Andre Dawson was the only player selected by the Baseball Writers Association of America. A month ago, the Hall's Committee on Veterans selected Whitey Herzog, one of the top managers of the 1970s and '80s, and Doug Harvey, easily the most respected living umpire -- and now the only living ump in the Hall.

Dawson should have been an easy choice: From 1977 to 1992, he was one of the very best players in the game. He hit 438 homers despite playing half his career in the cavernous Montreal Olympic Stadium, collected 2,774 hits, and won 8 Gold Gloves despite knees that got hammered on the Big O's hard turf.

If he'd played his whole career with the Cubs, under the Chicago media spotlight, rather than just 6 seasons, he'd be in, just like 1960s-70s Cub left fielder Billy Williams, whom Baseball-Reference.com says is the player most statistically resembling Andre, and who had fewer homers and hits, and has hardly anyone questioning the justice of his election.

Bert Blyleven just missed -- again. I'm sorry, is 287 wins, 3,701 strikeouts, and two World Series rings, while playing a big chunk of your career for weak teams in Minnesota and Texas not good enough? It is good enough.

Roberto Alomar just missed, in his 1st year of eligibility. Mike Francesca of WFAN says Alomar is "a no-brainer" for the Hall of Fame. No, he's not. His Met years may have doomed him. Let's not think he was on the same level as HOF 2nd basemen like Joe Morgan and Ryne Sandberg. He wasn't, even at his best. And that's got nothing to do with his 1996 spitting incident, for which even the aggrieved party, umpire John Hirschbeck, has long ago forgiven him.

Mark McGwire: Up to 23 percent in his 3rd year of eligibility. Forget it.

I saw Andre Dawson hit 2 home runs, and they were both blasts: In 1991, to center field at Shea Stadium for the Cubs against the Mets, as the 2nd half of 10th inning back-to-backs with Sandberg that gave the Cubs a win; and in 1994, over the Green Monster at Fenway Park for the Red Sox against the Blue Jays, a grand slam that gave the Sox a lead they would not relinquish.

He was superbly talented, a team player, class all the way, and this honor is overdue. Congratulations, Hawk.