Friday, November 30, 2012

R: The Scarlet Letter

In 1850, Nathaniel Hawthorne published The Scarlet Letter.  The novel tells of Hester Prynne, a woman in 1640s Boston, who is shamed by Puritan society because she conceived a child out of wedlock.  They forced her to wear a scarlet letter A, for Adulteress, on her clothes.  And yet she refuses to reveal the name of the man with whom she has consorted.  It takes 7 years for a respected but by then deathly ill minister to confess.  Her charity and her willingness to bear the town's scorn eventually turns the people around, and when she eventually dies, knowing that her daughter has grown to marry a European aristocrat and establish her own family, Hester is buried beside the man she truly loved.

In 1869, Rutgers College -- now a part of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey -- played what is recognized as the first college football game, defeating nearby rival Princeton, 6-4 under the scoring system of the day.  To stand out to each other, the Rutgers players wore scarlet scarves tired around their heads, in the style of turbans, thus inventing "school colors."

In 1961, Rutgers went undefeated, 9-0.  But they were not Conference Champions, as they were not in a conference.  Had there been a Big East Conference at that time, they probably would have been defeated by the Syracuse team led by Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis.  Instead, they were ranked 15th in the final Associated Press (AP) poll, and did not receive a bowl invitation.

In 1976, Rutgers went undefeated, 12-0.  But they were not Conference Champions, as they were not in a conference.  Had there been a Big East Conference at that time, they almost certainly would have been defeated by the Pittsburgh team led by Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett, which roared to a National Championship.  Instead, they were ranked 17th in the final Associated Press (AP) poll, and did not receive a bowl invitation.

In 1978, Rutgers invented its own bowl, the Garden State Bowl, and played Arizona State at the Meadowlands, and lost.  They didn't go to another bowl until 2005, the Insight.com Bowl in Phoenix, and again lost to Arizona State.

Starting in 2005, they have received 7 bowl bids in 8 years (presuming they get one for this season, which they should, at 9-3 and Co-Champions of their league), winning 5 of the first 6 with the 7th pending.

And, last Saturday, despite losing at Pittsburgh, Rutgers backed into at least a share of their first-ever Conference Championship, when Louisville lost to Connecticut.

*

But, last night, Rutgers and Louisville played at Rutgers Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey for the undisputed Conference title.  A full house of 52,798 attended, most of them wearing scarlet red.

But the Scarlet Knights came out in all-black uniforms, except for the silver helmets with the scarlet Rs on them.

Rutgers scored on its first possession, as Gary Nova threw an 85-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Coleman.  Louisville's John Wallace kicked a field goal in the 2nd quarter after the RU defense prevented a touchdown, and RU struck back a minute later, as Nova threw a 68-yard touchdown pass to John Wallace.

Rutgers appeared to have made it 21-3 in the 3rd quarter, when a fake field goal became a touchdown pass from kickholder J.T. Tartacoff to D.C. Jefferson.  But the referee flagged Rutgers for an ineligible receiver downfield.  Not Jefferson, the man who actually caught the pass.

It would have been an 18-point lead, and Rutgers would surely have held on and become undisputed Big East Champions.

Still, with 16 minutes to go -- 1 minute in the 3rd quarter and the entire 4th quarter -- Rutgers had an 11-point lead.  At home.

And Louisville's quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, had a broken wrist and a sore ankle, and played on anyway, having to use the shotgun formation on every play because he couldn't take a snap with that bum wrist.

One does not simply blow an 11-point lead with 16 minutes left, at home, to a quarterback with 2 injuries, on national television, with a chance to win the Conference Championship outright, and still call oneself Conference Co-Champions.  It is folly.  With fifty-two thousand men, you could not do this.

Bridgewater led a 90-yard drive that wiped 8 minutes off the clock, and threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Wright, to make it 14-10 Rutgers with 49 seconds left in the 3rd quarter.

No problem, Rutgers should be able to hold a 4-point lead with 15:49 to go, right?

Well, yes, they should.

And, no, they didn't.

Jeremy Deering took the ensuing kickoff, and got clobbered by Louisville's James Burgess, and fumbled.  As the word "No!" left my mouth, Louisville recovered the fumble on the Rutgers 20.

One play was all Bridgewater needed to throw a touchdown pass to DeVante Parker.  17-14 Louisville.

It was 16 seconds of hell.

Somehow, Rutgers managed to get back.  A Bridgewater pass bounced off the hands of Eli Rogers, and Lorenzo Waters intercepted it and returned it to the Louisville 42.

But Nova's receivers couldn't catch a cold, and RU could only get to the 21-yard line.  Nick Borgese kicked a 38-yard field goal to tie it up, 17-17.

There was 7:48 remaining.  Could RU's defense hold UL's offense for nearly 8 minutes? Is the Pope Buddhist?

Rutgers did stop Louisville cold and force them to punt.  With 4 minutes left, Rutgers was driving.  The winning touchdown seemed possible.  At the very least, a winning field goal looked likely.

With 3:53 left, Nova threw a pass to Timmy Wright.  But Wright couldn't grab it.  It bounced off his fingertips, and bounced off his knee, and went into the hands of the very same James Burgess who caused the game-changing, history-altering fumble.

Bridgewater got Louisville close enough for Wallace to kick a 29-yard field goal with 1:41 to play.

Rutgers had one last chance.  With 1:06 left, Nova threw into the end zone, but no one got to the ball.  No one, that is, except Louisville's Terrell Floyd, who made the interception.

Final score: Louisville 20, Rutgers 17.

*

Rutgers and Louisville are tied for the Big East Championship.  So is Syracuse.  If Cincinnati beats Connecticut tomorrow, it's a 4-way tie, and the tiebreakers work Louisville's way.  In Cincy loses, then it's a 3-way tie, the head-to-head tiebreaker is unbreakable, and the Big East's Bowl Championship Series berth goes to the team ranked highest in the BCS rankings, which will be Louisville.

Louisville will likely go to the Orange Bowl in Miami, although the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans is also a possibility.  Rutgers is probably going to some made-up bowl with a corporate name that I've forgotten and don't care to remember, in Orlando.

Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said after the game, "I think we have a football team right now that's hurting."

Ya think, DiNozzo?

The team is hurting? What about the fans? They have suffered with this underachieving team for years.  For decades.  Until 2008, Rutgers had a living graduate from the Class of 1917, who had been the football team's waterboy.  His name was Walter Seward, and he was the oldest living graduate of both Rutgers and Harvard Law School, and 4 months before his death, at 111 years old, he rode in the car that headed RU's graduation parade down College Avenue.  He had waited over 90 years for a moment like last night's game, and it never came.  Now, he must be turning over in his grave.

Last night, RU fans expected to witness -- in the stadium on the banks of the old Raritan, or at least on television all over the Garden State -- a championship rightfully earned.  Instead, they witnessed Rutgers' answer to the Bill Buckner Game.

(Can't call it the Steve Bartman Game, because it wasn't a Rutgers fan in the stands that had anything to do with this loss.  Although when the Bartman game happened, I was actually on the Rutgers campus.  The reason no longer matters.)

The biggest game in Rutgers history, and they blew it with an epic choke.

The previous biggest game in Rutgers history was the November 9, 2006 clash between the same 2 teams, on the same night of the week, on the same network (ESPN), which vaulted Rutgers to the Number 3 ranking in the nation, before they lost Big East games in a flop at Cincinnati and a triple-overtime thriller at West Virginia to finish 11-2 and ranked Number 12.

That letter R, officially scarlet, is looking every bit the badge of shame that Hester Prynne's A ever was.

Look at that picture.  I've seen many variations on it over the years. This is the first time I've seen it on the banks of the old Raritan.

The way Rutgers treated its fans last night reminds me of a cartoon long ago in MAD magazine. This knight (appropriate in this comparison to Rutgers) stabs a guy and says, "God save the King!" The guy he stabs says, "You idiot, I am the King!"

Same old Rutgers, always choking.

Why does Rutgers always have to do this? Why can't they come through and be a true champion?

As Tevye would have said, "Would it spoil some vast eternal plan?"

Thursday, November 29, 2012

David Courtney, 1958-2012

David Courtney has died. Born in New York but grew up in Los Angeles, moving there when his father got a job with MGM Television, he got his first job in sports in 1971, when he became a 14-year-old public relations assistant for the NHL's Los Angeles Kings. Soon, he was the public-address announcer for football and basketball games at Beverly Hills High School, and became the backup PA announcer at the Forum, to Lakers and Kings announcer John Ramsay.

In 1978, the Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association hired im as their PR Director. But the team folded, and he got a job in radio in Houston, eventually manning the PA microphone for the Astros, the Rockets, and the USFL's Houston Gamblers.

He returned to Los Angeles as the Kings's PA man in 1988, and began doing the Angels' games in 1993 and the Clippers' games in 2008. He also subbed for the regular announcers of the Dodgers and, while they were in L.A., the Raiders.

Like Joe Nolan of WABC-Channel 7 here in New York, who is also the PA announcer for Rutgers football, Courtney doubled as a traffic reporter, for three L.A. radio stations, most notably KABC, AM 790.

Courtney was the voice of the Los Angeles Kings starting in 1988, the Angels (under whatever name) since 1993, and the Los Angeles Clippers starting in 2008. Previously, he had been the PA announcer for another NBA team, the Houston Rockets.

Among the athletes he introduced as P.A. announcer were:

Astros: Joe Morgan, Nolan Ryan, Joe Niekro, J.R. Richard, Cesar Cedeno, Jose Cruz and Mike Scott.

Rockets: Moses Malone, Rudy Tomjanovich and Calvin Murphy.

Dodgers: Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser.

Raiders: Marcus Allen, Tim Brown and Howie Long.

Angels: Brian Downing, Wally Joyner, Chili Davis, Jim Abbott, Mark Langston, Jim Edmonds, Tim Salmon, J.T. Snow, Darin Erstad, Garret Anderson, Troy Glaus, Troy Percival, Vladimir Guerrero, Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui, Torii Hunter, Jered Weaver, Zack Greinke, Albert Pujols and Mike Trout.

Kings: Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, Luc Robitaille, Tony Granato, Rob Blake, Darryl Sydor, Adam Deadmarsh, Ziggy Plaffy, Felix Potvin, Simon Gagne, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Jarret Stoll and Jonathan Quick.

Clippers: Baron Davis, Marcus Camby, Chauncey Billups, Kenyon Martin, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

He introduced World Championship teams with the Kings this year and the Angels in 2002.

Here's a clip of him introducing the Clippers at the Staples Center.
The cause of death has yet to be announced, but in his last tweet, yesterday afternoon, he said, "I'm in the hospital waiting for an angiogram." So, most likely, it was heart trouble.

He was 54 years old.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Marvin Miller, 1917-2012

Marvin Miller has died.  He may have been the most important person in baseball since Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson reintegrated the game 65 years ago.

He is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  He lived to be 95, and they didn't elect him.

Why? Because he pissed the team owners off, that's why.

Here's Tom Verducci's article on him for SportsIllustrated.com... through Comunitee.com, a website I help produce at work.

He'll probably never be elected.  They elected his two main antagonists, Los Angeles Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley and O'Malley's puppet Commissioner, Bowie Kuhn.  They didn't elect Miller.

But when Ken Burns was doing interviews for his Baseball miniseries, he made sure he interviewed Miller.

Every professional athlete in this country, and every sports fan, is better off for Marvin Miller having gotten involved.

The owners don't see it that way, even though he, far more than they, is responsible for Major League Baseball teams going from being worth $5 million half a century ago to being worth $500 million or more today.

These are very intelligent men, who become idiots thanks to their own greed.

Miller made sure that players had their say.  As Ken Singleton, then an outfielder for the Baltimore Orioles and now a broadcaster for the Yankees, put it a few years ago, "The owners have been screwing us for a hundred years.  We've got 75 years to go."

I Am an NBA Free Agent

Last night, in overtime at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Nets defeated their crosstown rivals, the New York Knicks, 96-89.

When the Nets were in New Jersey, I would have been thrilled at such a result.

Last night, I heard the news, and I searched and searched for a damn to give.  I couldn't find one.

*

For 35 years, 1977 to 2012, I was a fan of the New Jersey Nets.  I would root, root, root, for the home team.  But they didn't win, and were a shame.

In the ABA, as the New York Nets, playing on Long Island, bouncing around until the Nassau Coliseum opened on February 11, 1972, they won the 1972 Eastern Division title, and won the league Championship in 1974 and 1976.  But when the ABA-NBA merger happened, the Nets had to pay a $3.2 million entry fee to the NBA, and $4.8 million to the Knicks for territorial invasion.  To pay for this, they had to sell the best player the franchise has ever had, Julius Erving.  Once "Dr. J" was gone, the Nets went from the best team in what was essentially basketball's answer to Triple-A baseball to the worst team in the major league.

They moved to New Jersey, playing at the brand-new Rutgers Athletic Center starting in 1977, and then to the Meadowlands when the Brendan Byrne Arena opened in 1981.  They played their last 2 seasons in New Jersey, 2010-11 and 2011-12, at the Prudential Center in Newark.

They won a Playoff series in 1984, against the defending NBA Champions, the Philadelphia 76ers, and took a pretty good Milwaukee Bucks team to 6 games in the next round.  Until then, they didn't win a Playoff series until 2002, starting a string of 4 Atlantic Division titles in 5 years, 3 in a row, and back-to-back Eastern Conference titles, losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in 4 straight in the 2002 NBA Finals and in 6 to the San Antonio Spurs the next year.

Shortly thereafter, Bruce Ratner bought the team, and turned them into a lame duck.  It took 8 years for the Nets to announce the move to Brooklyn, get the Barclays Center built, and finally make the move.  The Montreal Expos, now the Washington Nationals, were a lame duck team for half that long.

So the Nets left me.  True, they only moved 13.7 miles, from downtown Newark to downtown Brooklyn, but there is a State Line involved.  And, unlike with the Giants (whose move from Yankee Stadium to the Meadowlands was also exactly 13.7 miles by one route) and the Jets (20 miles from Shea to the Meadowlands), the name of the team was also changed.  It's a bigger culture shock.  Essentially, Ratner and new owner Mikhail Prokhorov were telling us, "Brooklyn, once viewed as a place of the past, is now a place of the future, while it is New Jersey that is no longer desirable."

Bastards.

*

But is that a reason to take out my anger on the players? Essentially, they're the same players I rooted for in New Jersey.

No, they're not.  It's a complete turnover from the Nets' glory days of 2002 to 2006.  No more Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin, Richard Jefferson, Vince Carter.  Now, they've got... Kris Humphries? I don't know how Kim Kardashian could stand him for 48 minutes, let alone 72 days.

So now, I am a sports fan without an NBA team.  I didn't leave the Nets, they left me.

They're not that far, really.  Here's how the Nets compare, distance-wise from my residence, to the other teams in the Tri-State Area:

Rutgers football: 6 miles
Rutgers basketball: 6
New Jersey Devils: 25
New York Liberty (temporarily at Prudential Center): 25
New York Red Bulls: 26
New York Giants: 33
New York Jets: 33
New York Knicks: 36
New York Rangers: 36
Brooklyn Nets: 36
New York Yankees: 43
New York Mets: 46
New York Islanders: 64 (through April 2015, then it becomes 36)

In fact, the Barclays Center is 36.4 road miles from my place.  Madison Square Garden is 36.0.  It's almost identical.

But since I don't have a car, it's a bit harder.  By public transportation, it would take me 45 minutes to get from my town's bus station to Port Authority, 5 minutes to get down to Subway level, and Penn Station and the Garden are one stop away.  Throw in the 20 minutes it takes to get from house to station, and I can be at the front door of a Knicks game in 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Whereas it's half an hour from Port Authority to Atlantic & Flatbush by Subway, making the total 1 hour and 40 minutes.

For comparison's sake, the Philadelphia sports complex is 67 miles away.  By public transport, I can be at the Wells Fargo Center, home of the 76ers and Flyers, in 2 hours and 40 minutes.

*

So what are my options?

1. Stick with the Nets.  Advantages: I still know the team.  They appear to be on the rise.  I'll be in on the ground floor of something good.  They're still close.  They're putting their past behind them.  They're got a (supposedly) nice new arena.  And Beyonce might show up.  Disadvantages: They abandoned me and my entire State.  Siding with them now might make me look like a bandwagoner.  For a team that's close, they're a bit of a pain to get to.  They put their past behind them.  While the arena may be nice, I've never been there (at least, not since construction began), and I'd be totally unfamiliar with it.  And Jay-Z might show up.

2. Switch to the Knicks.  Advantages: I know the team.  They're close.  They're easier to get to from my place.  Their past is a rollercoaster, but there is plenty of glory.  They appear to be on the rise.  The Garden, despite being the NBA's oldest arena, is undergoing a renovation that will keep it good.  And Catherine Zeta-Jones might show up.  Disadvantages: They messed my Nets up many times (John Starks vs. Kenny Anderson in 1993 being the worst example).  Siding with them now might make me look like a bandwagoner.  And Michael Douglas might show up.

3. Switch to the 76ers.  Advantages: I know the team a little.  They're reasonably close.  They're not especially hard to get to from my place.  Their past is a rollercoaster, but there is plenty of glory.  They appear to be on the rise.  The Wells Fargo Center (presuming the name hasn't been changed yet again) is a great arena, and appears to have been one of the models for the Prudential Center.  Disadvantages: They're not THAT close.  Those packets that Philadelphia's subway tokens come in are really hard to open.  And Howard Eskin might show up.

4. Switch to a different team.  Advantages: I can pick and choose.  I can get a team that might be better than the Nets, the Knicks or the Sixers.  Disadvantages: Said team will not be close at all, and very difficult to reach on a regular basis -- even if it were also a Northeastern team like the Washington Wizards (who I could learn to like) or the Boston Celtics (who I've been trained to hate for as long as I can remember, with good reason).  I would definitely be a bandwagoner.

5. Stop following the NBA entirely.  Advantages: I would be tied to no team.  I would not be disappointed by any team.  I would not have to pay attention to David Stern, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, or any of the league's other massive egos.  I would not have to root for a Texas or Florida team to beat the Celtics.  And I would not have to watch as the NBA, essentially, becomes a league designed to have 2 levels, one with 8 teams that could win the title, and one with 22 teams that are essentially feeder clubs for the 8.  Disadvantages: The NBA does seem to be better than it's been for the last few years.

So which option should I take? All of them have pluses, and all of them have minuses.  Should I stick with the Nets? Switch? If switch, to whom? Or drop the NBA altogether?

Decisions, decisions.  Such is the life of an NBA free agent.  Except, unlike LeBron, ESPN will show no interest in television my decision.

Rutgers "Wins the Big East." Whoopee.

The football team at Rutgers University is the Champion of the Big East Conference.

Don't everybody get up and applaud at once.
The Scarlet Knights never make it easy on their fans.  Even when they win a game in blowout fashion, there's complications.  Sometimes they only lead 3-0 at the half before winning 31-0.  Or, sometimes, they lead 31-0 at the half, and they hang on to win 34-19 or something like that.  Or they win despite a bunch of turnovers, winning only because the other team did the same.  Or they win but sustain an injury that helps wreck the season.
In true Scarlet fashion, with a chance to win the title outright on Saturday, Rutgers backed into a share of the title.  They played away to the University of Pittsburgh, a team they almost never beat outside Piscataway, and lost, 27-6.  They did not look like champions at all, against a team that usually does compete for the Big East title (both teams soon moving to different leagues being, for the moment, irrelevant), but has not been very good this season: They advanced to just 5-6, 2-4 in the Big East.
Nevertheless, the University of Louisville, the other main contender for the title, lost to the University of Connecticut.  As a result, Rutgers can do no worse than finish in a tie for the title.  They are, at the very least, Co-Champions.
So Rutgers falls to 9-2 overall, and 5-1 in the Conference.  Syracuse University has creeped back into the mix, at 5-2.  (I know, the grammatically correct word is "crept," but I like thinking of Sorry-excuse as creepy, so I'm making it "creeped.") Louisville and the University of Cincinnati are both 4-2.  Pitt, as stated, is 2-4.  So is UConn.  Temple University is 2-5.  The University of South Florida is 1-5.
There are 3 Big East Conference games remaining this season.  On Thursday night, Rutgers hosts Louisville in what was already presumed to be the title decider.  On Saturday afternoon, Cincy visits UConn, in a game that suddenly has implications.  And on Saturday night, Pitt goes to USF in a game that is meaningless to everyone but Pitt: A Pitt win makes them 6-6 overall, and thus bowl-eligible.
Here's the scenarios.  Scenarioes? Scenarii?
* Rutgers beats Louisville: RU finishes 6-1 in the league, and wins the title outright.  What happens between Cincinnati and Connecticut doesn't matter at all, at least not as far as the title is concerned.
* Rutgers loses to Louisville, and Connecticut beats Cincinnati: RU, UL and Syracuse all finish 5-2.  RU beat 'Cuse and Cincy, UL beat RU and Cincy, 'Cuse beat UL but lost the other 2.  That means 'Cuse finishes 3rd in this tiebreaker, so it becomes head-to-head between RU and UL, so UL is "the real champion" and gets the Big East's Bowl Championship Series berth.
* Rutgers loses to Louisville, and Cincinnati beats Connecticut: RU, UL, 'Cuse and Cincy all finish 5-2, a 4-way tie.  (This has happened before, in the Big Ten in 1990, between Michigan, Michigan State, Illinois, and the team that was awarded their Rose Bowl berth, Iowa.) So against each of the other 3: RU beat 'Cuse and Cincy but lost to UL, UL beat RU and 'Cuse but lost to Cincy, 'Cuse beat UL but lost to RU and Cincy, and Cincy beat 'Cuse but lost to RU and UL.  So RU and UL are 2-1, while 'Cuse and Cincy are 1-2.  So, again, Louisville is "the real champion" and gets the BCS berth.
Bottom line: The winner on Thursday night is the Big East Champion.
It is, literally, the biggest football game in Rutgers history.  A history longer than any other school's, except that of Princeton University, the nearby former rival against whom RU played the first 2 college football games ever, on November 6 and 13, 1869, 143 years ago this month.
The 2006 Rutgers-Louisville game, previously considered the biggest RU game ever, is still important in the program's development.  But this Thursday night's game is much more important.  It will determine whether Rutgers is a true champion, or a champion with a big honking asterisk.
*

Days until Arsenal play another competitive match: 1, tomorrow, away to Everton, at Goodison Park in Liverpool.  After fantastic wins over North London arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur (a.k.a. "Spurs" or "The Scum") the preceding Saturday and over defending French champions Montpellier on Wednesday, Arsenal went up to Birmingham (the name of a Southern city in America but of a Northern city in England) and played a turgid 0-0 draw against Aston Villa in a continuous pouring rain.  Hopefully, they'll shake it off and beat the Toffees on Wednesday.

Days until the Devils play again: Who knows.  All NHL games have been cancelled through December 14.  Also cancelled, originally to be held after that date, are the Winter Classic, set to be played on New Year's Day between Detroit and Toronto at the University of Michigan's 111,000-seat stadium; and the 2013 NHL All-Star Game, set for Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, home of the Columbus Blue Jackets.  As in 2004-05, we may not have a season at all.

Days until the Devils play another local rival: Who knows.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 2, this Thursday night, home to Louisville.  The Big East title decider.

Days until the U.S. National Soccer Team plays again: 71, on February 6, 2013, away to Honduras, in the last, "Hexagonal" round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers, for the region that encompasses North America, Central America, and the Caribbean nations.  A little over 10 weeks.  If they finish 1st or 2nd in this group of 6 -- and they definitely should win, certainly should finish no worse than 2nd behind Mexico -- they qualify for the 2014 World Cup.

Days until the next North London Derby: 95on Saturday, March 2, 2013, at White Hart Lane.  (This is corrected, I had it too low by 20 days.) A little over 3 months.  That March 2 date presumes that Arsenal are not paired up with Spurs in either the FA Cup or the League Cup.

Days until the Red Bulls play again: Unknown for sure, since the 2013 MLS schedule has not yet been released.  But, if the pattern holds, it will be on the 3rd weekend in March.  If it is on the Saturday of that weekend, March 16, then that would be 120 days.  Just 4 months.  This year's MLS Cup Final will be a rematch of last year's, when the L.A. Galaxy beat the Houston Dynamo, and it'll be at L.A.'s home field, the Home Depot Center in Carson, California.  Which means the Gals' Robbie Keane will have won as many league titles in a little over a year as his former club, Tottenham, have won in their entire 130 years.
Days until the Red Bulls next play a "derby," against either the New England Revolution, the Philadelphia Union or D.C. United: Also unknown, until the schedule is released.  Most likely, the season opener will not be against one of those teams.
Days until the Yankees play again: 125, on Monday, April 1, at 1:05 PM, at home at Yankee Stadium II, against the Boston Red Sox.  A little over 4 months.  Beat The Scum!
Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series begins: See the previous answer.
Days until Alex Rodriguez collects his 3,000th career hit: 278 (estimated around September 1, 2013).  A little over 9 months.

Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: Uncertain, since the 2013 schedule has not been released.  But if the usual pattern holds, it will be on the 2nd Friday in September... which, next year, just so happens to be a Friday the 13th.  Oy vey.  Anyway, if that's the way it works out, then it's 290 days.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 366.  Next year's Thanksgiving Day is November 28, so it's slightly more than one full year until our next annual Turkey Day beatdown by the Purple Bastards.  This past Thursday, they beat us 34-0.

Days until Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands: 432 (February 2, 2014).  Under 14 months.  Of course, we have no idea who the opposing teams will be.  The possibility exists that either the Giants or the Jets could be in it -- or both.  To this day, no team has ever played a Super Bowl in its own stadium -- in spite of multiple hostings by Miami, New Orleans and various California teams.  Only 2 have done so in their home metro area: The 1979-80 Los Angeles Rams, whose home field was then the L.A. Coliseum, and they lost to Pittsburgh at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena; and the 1984-85 San Francisco 49ers, whose home field, then as now, was Candlestick Park, and they beat Miami at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, which had a much larger capacity than Candlestick.
Days until the 2014 Winter Olympics: 437 (February 7, 2014).
Days until the 2014 World Cup in Brazil: 562 (June 12, 2014).  Under 19 months.
Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 700th career home run: 627 (estimated, around September 15, 2014).  About 22 months.
Days until the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: 1,347 (August 5, 2016).  Under 4 years.
Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 756th career home run to surpass all-time leader Hank Aaron: 1,403 (estimated -- I'm guessing around the end of 2016, around September 30).
Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 763rd career home run to become as close to a "real" all-time leader as we are likely to have: 1,615 (estimated -- estimating 28 home runs a year, taking his recent injury into account, I'm guessing around April 30, 2017, at age 41).  Under 4 1/2 years -- if he can.  And even if he does, will he still be a Yankee when he does it? Your guess is as good as mine -- and his.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Oh, Oscar, Oscar, Oscar

So today I had lunch with one of the legends of New York sports, the ageless columnist of the New York Herald, the one and only Oscar Madison.

Okay, he's not quite ageless. He's 90 years old, and all that cigar smoking has long since robbed him of one of his vocal chords, reducing his voice to a raspy version of his old-time New Yawk tawk. But time has not dimmed his mind, nor dulled his wit. The guy has still got it, and still cranks out a column once a week.

And he still uses a typewriter. And not an electric one. Forget a computer: "I don't need a computer to do word processing," he says. "I can process my own words."

I met him at the Blind Pig on East 14th Street, which I introduced him to, even though it's quite far from his apartment on the Upper East Side. With its Prohibition-era decor, I figured he'd like it, and I was right. ("Blind pig" and "blind tiger" were both synonyms for a speakeasy, an illegal bar run during Prohibition, 1920 to 1933.)

Over a couple of beers, and with the Ohio State-Michigan game on TV (Ohio State won, 26-21), I asked him to give me his current thoughts on local sports.

On the NHL lockout: "What's the matter with the owners? They think they got leverage over the players? Like they were NFL team owners? They're idiots. The players can go off and play in Europe, and make lots o' money there. The owners are just shootin' themselves in the foot. And that can hurt. I know, my old buddy, retired cop Murray Greschler, did that once."

On the Knicks: "Boy, oh boy, I like the way the Knicks are playing. Carmelo Anthony is putting his ego in check, and the team is just cruising. I just hope nobody gets hurt. Knick players have a nasty habit of getting hurt at just the wrong time.

On what the Knicks mean to him: "I've covered the Knicks from the beginning, when the NBA began in 1946. I was the first Knicks beat writer for the Herald.  I loved covering basketball at the old Madison Square Garden. And when the new Garden really was the new Garden, it seemed so outta this world, and the Knicks were, too. You shoulda seen Walt Frazier back then. He was the coolest man in the galaxy, never mind the world. Even Joe Namath wasn't as cool as Frazier. I loved those Knicks. And, you know, they were a big thing to help get me through my recovery from cancer in 1993, with Ewing and Oakley and Starks. They really helped me bounce back. Them, and my old buddy, Felix Unger. Except the Knicks weren't hypochondriac neat freaks. And I never, ever heard Pat Riley honk with bad sinuses!"

On the Yankees: "Aw, you talk about Felix, that Derek Jeter reminds me of him. He's gotta be Mr. Perfect. And yet, sometimes I think Alex Rodriguez is more like Felix. All those, whatta ya call 'em, neuroses. A-Rod is ridiculous! All that money, and the Yankees can't hit in the postseason? What were they waiting for, an engraved invitation?"

On the Mets: "Let me tell you something, the Mets wish they had the Yankees' problems, and not their own! I coulda told ya from a mile away that Bernie Madoff was a no-good lousy bum! But Fred Wilpon? He couldn't see it. He always wants to see the good in people. But you gotta watch out, at all times. And now, the Mets can't see the Pennant from a mile away. They couldn't see the Pennant if they were in the Giants' new ballpark."

On the Jets: "You know, Mike, I read that piece you did on Rex Ryan, why you think he's failed. I'm not sure if he's the reason, or if the general manager, Mike Tannenbaum, is the real problem. But these Jets were so close to a Super Bowl, and they blew it. And now, they got no confidence. And it doesn't help that Darrelle Revis went out for most of the season with an injury. There's no way the Patriots woulda hung 49 on the Jets if he was out there. Maybe 35."

On Tim Tebow: "No. No way. He's not the answer. Unless the Jets are playing the University of Tennessee. Then, Tebow can win. He's not an NFL quarterback. He's not a guy with a million-dollar arm and a five-cent head. He's a guy with a minimum-wage arm and a five-cent head! And it ain't the religion, either. Terry Bradshaw talked about having faith all the time. He still does. And people thought he was dumb. But you know what? Terry got the job done. He had the skills. Tebow doesn't have Terry's skills, and he never will. No matter who the coach is. Firing Ryan and replacing him with somebody else isn't gonna turn Tebow into another Bradshaw, or another Steve Young, if you wanna use a lefty as an example, and a successful one. Firing Ryan might help Mark Sanchez, but it won't do squat for Tebow."

On college football: "I don't know much about college football. Ask me about college basketball."

On college basketball: "I think these kids who are doing the 'one and done' thing are hurting everybody. The NBA, 'cause they're gettin' there and they're not ready for it, so they end up sittin' on the bench, doin' nothin'. Their college teams, 'cause they get left in the lurch. Themselves, 'cause they're not getting the right training. And I'm not even talking about their time in class. I'm talking about listening to their coaches. You think Krzyzewski and Pitino and Calipari are teaching a kid everything he should know in one year? Baloney! Oh, that reminds me, I think I left a sandwich on the sofa. Or was it on my bed? No, that was a tuna fish sandwich on my bed. The baloney's definitely the one on the sofa."

You left two sandwiches out? Oh, Oscar, Oscar, Oscar...

"What are you, Felix's grandson?"

Well, one of my Grandpas was a bit of a neat freak. And a photographer. And a clothes horse. And a hypochondriac. But he liked sports, not opera. He and Felix probably wouldn't have gotten along.

"Yeah? Maybe I woulda liked him."

Oh yeah, you would've.

Just out of curiosity, Oscar, how did Felix die?

"You don't wanna know."

No, really, I do.

"Well, it was May 17, 2004. He was 84. He'd been slowing down for a while. Anyway, he lost his balance in the kitchen."

Yeah, that's right, he was a really good cook. So, what happened, he fell on his own knife?

"No. He was carrying a pot of gravy from the stove to the table. And when he lost his balance, he spilled the gravy all over himself. He got so angry at himself that he gave himself a heart attack. Boom, that was it.  No more Felix."

Felix died as the result of a mess that he made?

"Yeah. Talk about your irony."

*

In case you're wondering, I've been watching the DVDs of The Odd Couple. Felix was played by Tony Randall, who did die on the date in question, from pneumonia, resulting from heart bypass surgery. Oscar was played by Jack Klugman, whose own throat surgery and cancer recovery were written into The Odd Couple: Together Again, the 1993 TV-movie that was a sequel to the 1970-75 ABC series.

Oscar worked for the New York Herald. In real life, a paper by that name existed from 1835 to 1924, published by James Gordon Bennett Sr. and Jr. Its 1895 headquarters, across from the main Macy's store at the intersection of 34th Street, 6th Avenue and Broadway gave the intersection its name: Herald Square. That building was torn down in 1921.

When Bennett Jr. died in 1924, the sensationalist Herald was purchased by the far more sedate New York Tribune, and the resulting New York Herald-Tribune was one of the most admired papers of its time, the nation's leading mouthpiece of Northeastern-style liberal-to-moderate Republican politics, the kind espoused by New York State's Governor Nelson Rockefeller and U.S. Senators Kenneth Keating and Jacob Javits.

The 1962-63 New York newspaper strike doomed it (and also the broadsheets Journal-American and World-Telegram & Sun, and the tabloid Mirror), and on April 24, 1966, it published its final edition. But in 1968, its weekly New York magazine was revived, and is published under that name to this day.

The show's producers used the Herald name for their fictional paper because the real paper's former style seemed to fit Oscar's personality. (The New York Ledger, the tabloid shown on the current ABC series Castle, is also fictional.)

Tony Randall appeared on The Tonight Show more than any other performer, 105 times.

Jack Klugman is still alive, having turned 90 this past April 27. In fact, he is the only remaining one of the Twelve Angry Men from the 1957 film to still be alive. John Fiedler was the only other actor from that film to have also appeared on The Odd Couple.

Oddly enough, the show was not the first time Randall and Klugman had acted together: In 1955, when anthology series were all the rage on television, they both appeared on an episode of Appointment with Adventure.  In real life, they were great friends without, as the show's famed opening suggests, driving each other crazy.

All of Oscar's lines in this post are what I would imagine him saying, and are partly based on things Klugman said on the show.

And, no, I've never actually met Jack Klugman. Nor did I ever meet Tony Randall. I'm not sure I would have wanted to meet him. I don't carry a coaster. "Oh, rings, rings, rings!"

The DVD collection includes an appearance they made on The Mike Douglas Show to promote The Odd Couple, shortly after its 1970 debut. Turns out that Klugman was going bald, and wore a toupee for most of the show's run. That's why he was so often wearing a Mets cap: He didn't like wearing the toupee. But he wore one for his later series, the NBC crime/medical drama Quincy, M.E., so maybe he'd gotten a better one -- perhaps in consultation with Charles Nelson Reilly, who had a great hairpiece, and who was on Match Game with Klugman's then-wife, Brett Somers. (In fact, Jack was on the 1st episode of the 1970s revival of Match Game, on July 2, 1973, and occasionally appeared with Brett, although the nastiness that led to their breakup came through on the show.) Randall would also later appear on an NBC series, the sitcom Love, Sidney.

Here's a recent photo of Klugman.  In spite of his age, and surviving cancer nearly 20 years ago, he's doing fine.
UPDATE: Or so I thought. He died just a month after I posted this.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Ryan Out!

I'm thankful that I didn't go to the East Brunswick-Old Bridge game yesterday, Thanksgiving Day.

The Purple Bastards scored 20 points in the first quarter and coasted from there, beating Dear Old Alma Mater, 34-0.

I'm also thankful that I'm not a Jets fan.  They looked like turkeys out there, and they got stuffed, losing to the New England Patriots, 49-19.

Lots of Jets fans are already calling for quarterback Mark Sanchez to be benched in favor of Tim Tebow.

Yes, because, when you've got a quarterback who isn't getting the job done, the answer is to go to another guy who can't throw a football with sufficient accuracy.

Face it, going from Sanchez to Tebow will do nothing more than taking a playboy quarterback who can't throw and replacing him with an evangelical quarterback who can't throw.  You'll be pleasing Pat Robertson and Rick Santorum, but you'll still be condemning Jet fans to a poor offense.

No, the first problem to solve lies elsewhere -- and if it's solved, maybe it would be better for Sanchez.

*

In case you've forgotten, Rex Ryan made his name as a defensive coordinator -- like his father before him, Buddy Ryan, who built the great Chicago Bear defense of the 1980s.

Rex was with the Baltimore Ravens from 1999 to 2008, and as defensive line coach helped build the defense that dominated the NFL in winning the League's 2000 championship, Super Bowl XXXV.  Some observers called the 2000 Ravens' defense the NFL's most dominant since his father's '85 Bears.

Starting in 2005, he was their defensive coordinator.  In 2008, he was granted the additional title of assistant head coach.  All through that time, while the Ravens occasionally struggled on offense, their defense remained strong enough to keep them in Playoff contention.

In 2009, Rex was named head coach of the Jets, for whom his father had been a coach on their Super Bowl III team of 1968-69.

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote the following...


getting to back-to-back AFC Championship Games is good, right? Of the 16 current AFC teams, 5 have not done it: The Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Kansas City Chiefs -- and of those, the Begnals and Chiefs have been around for the entire life of the AFC. Make it 7 teams if you count the Tennessee Titans as being separate from the Houston Oilers.

On the other hand, how many teams have lost back-to-back AFC Championship Games? The Oakland Raiders (3 straight, 1973-75), the Oilers (1978-79), the San Diego Chargers (1980-81), the Cleveland Browns (1986-87)... and the Jets.

(In the NFC, there's been the 1970-71 San Francisco 49ers, the 1972-73 Dallas Cowboys, the 1974-76 Los Angeles Rams, the 1980-82 Cowboys, the 1992-93 49ers, and the 2001-03 Philadelphia Eagles.)

Well, so what? The Buffalo Bills won 4 straight AFC Championship Games... and lost 4 straight Super Bowls as a result! Does that mean that their coach, Marv Levy, failed? Actually, yes.

But while the Bills went into their first 2 Super Bowls rather cocky, it was nothing like what Rex has done with the Jets.

Like Joe Namath in January 1969, he has been predicting, even guaranteeing, that the Jets would win a Super Bowl.

They've gotten within 2 games of achieving that, twice... but haven't done it.

This season, he was predicting it before the season. Results? So far, the Jets are 5-5.

If the Jets run the table, they'll be 11-5, which is nearly always enough to at least win a Wild Card. If they go 5-1 the rest of the way, they'll be 10-6, which is often enough to reach the Wild Card, but not always. If they go 4-2, not a bad stretch by any means, they'll be 9-7, and the Playoffs would still be possible.

Their remaining games? Home to Buffalo this Sunday (tough one, even if they did beat the Bills in Orchard Park not that long ago), at Washington (should be a win, the Redskins are terrible this season and Landover is as bad a home-field advantage as RFK Stadium was a good one), home to Kansas City (the Chiefs got pounded by the Pats last night but were a Playoff team last year and I don't expect them to roll over), at Philadelphia (who knows which Eagles team is going to show up), officially a "home game" against the Giants on Christmas Eve afternoon (and the Giants have been hard to figure as well), and closing at Miami on New Year's Day afternoon.

None of those games will be easy, not even the last: We all know that the Jets, since January 12, 1969, anyway, have had trouble playing in Miami. On the other hand, all of these games are eminently winnable, if the Jets can avoid serious injuries and Mark Sanchez doesn't throw interceptions. The Jets are fortunate that the 3 hardest games of the season, the home-and-away with the Pats and the visit to Baltimore (all losses), are already out of the way.

But even if the Jets do win at least 5 of their last 6 and make the Playoffs, what then? After 2 AFC Championship Game losses, anything less than a Super Bowl win would mark this season as a failure.

The only question left is whether it marks Rex Ryan's tenure as a failure.

This may be the most talented Jets team ever. Indeed, I think they're every bit as good as Namath's 1968 team; the 1982 team that had Freeman McNeil, Wesley Walker, and the defensive line known as the New York Sack Exchange; Parcells' 1998 squad that came within 30 minutes of a Super Bowl trip; and Herman Edwards's never-say-die "play to win the game" AFC Eastern Division Champions of 2002.

*

But Rex has raised the bar too high. And it seems like every time he opens his mouth, he puts his foot in it.

Oh, was that a double-entendre?

In his column in Sunday's New York Daily News, Gary Myers spells it out.

http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/football/jets/ny-jets-season-total-wrecks-rex-ryan-deliver-super-bowl-promise-article-1.980040

Rex Ryan made a promise he will not be able to keep. He guaranteed the Jets were going to win the Super Bowl this season, which is going to be hard to do without making the playoffs.

Broken promises. Two years ago, he said the Jets should be the favorites to win it all. He didn’t guarantee anything, but was certainly implying the Jets would finish with the trophy in their hands.

Last season he declared the Jets “soon to be champs.” Soon, as in right away. He left no room for interpretation this year...

“I believe this is the year that we’re going to win the Super Bowl,” Ryan said in February. “I thought we’d win it the first two years. I guarantee we’ll win it this year.”

Ryan became a cult hero to Jets fans craving a championship. But there’s only so many times you can make a promise, not deliver, and then expect anybody to still pay attention...

Realistically, the Jets just completed a five-day stretch that puts an end to their dreams for 2011. There is nothing they’ve shown the first 10 games that would make anybody believe they can sweep their final six against the Bills, Redskins, Chiefs, Eagles, Giants and Dolphins.

They are 5-5, the essence of mediocrity. Their five losses are more than the Patriots, Bills, Steelers, Ravens, Bengals, Texans, Titans and Raiders have. The Broncos are tied with the Jets but own the tie-breaker. Right now, the Jets are in 10th place out of 16 teams in the composite AFC standings. Taking the four division winners out of the battle for the wild cards, the Jets would have to jump over four teams to get to the second wild-card spot. All five of their losses are in the AFC, which hurts, and they would lose the tie-breaker to the Ravens, Raiders and Broncos because they fell to each to them...

This was the defense Ryan has bragged about for three years? It couldn’t stop Tim Tebow? All he can do is run and he carved them for 57 yards on the ground on the final drive. I have never seen an NFL quarterback be as inept throwing the ball as Tebow...

Back in March, I was talking with Ryan on the street right outside the hotel in New Orleans where the NFL was holding its annual meetings. It was about one month after he had issued his Super Bowl guarantee. I mentioned he would lose credibility making statements like that if he didn’t deliver. Kind of like the boy who cried wolf.

Instead of showing concern about his words losing impact, Ryan compared himself to Babe Ruth, but only after first invoking the words of Teddy Roosevelt. It was an interesting way to express his confidence.

“They talk about walk softly and carry a big stick. I love that. I agree with that 100%,” Ryan said. “But I guess I feel more like Babe Ruth. I’m going to walk softly, I’m going to carry that big stick and then I’m going to point and then I’m going to hit it over the fence.” ...

There is no joy in Jetville. The Mighty Rex has struck out... How many times can Ryan guarantee the Super Bowl? Broken promises.


*

Joe Namath guaranteed a Super Bowl win in 1969. He delivered, and the Jets were World Champions.

Mark Messier guaranteed a key Playoff win in 1994. He delivered, and the Rangers went on to become World Champions. To my everlasting dismay and disgust.

Jim Fassel guaranteed a Playoff berth in 2000. He delivered, and the Giants got all the way to the Super Bowl before losing.

They succeeded.

Patrick Ewing guaranteed an NBA Championship for the Knicks a few times. Not until 2009, when he was an assistant coach with the Orlando Magic, did one of his guarantees come true (beating the Boston Celtics in a Game 7). As a Knick, he failed.

Rex Ryan has to lead the Jets to a Super Bowl. If not this season, then the next. If he doesn't do it in either one, then he is no longer helping this team, as he once did.

If, as we go to bed on February 3, 2013, the New York Jets have won neither Super Bowl XLVI or Super Bowl XLVII, Rex Ryan needs to be fired. For cause. For failure.

Because, as things stand right now, he is a failure.

Sure, Tom Coughlin of the Giants is more likely to lose his job first... but he is not a failure. He won a Super Bowl for a New York team.

*

Now, with the Jets 4-7, with almost no hope of making the Playoffs, I think it is safe to say: Rex Ryan has failed, failed, failed.

It's time for a new coach.  Don't even wait for the end of the season.  He needs to be sacked now.

As they say in English soccer, "Ryan out!"

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Rutgers Joins Big Tent, and Thanksgiving Weekend Football Schedule

The Rutgers University football team went to play the University of Cincinnati this past Saturday, a perennial pain in the Scarlet neck and a tough place to play, and came away with a 10-3 win, to advance to 9-1 on the season, its lone loss coming in a non-conference game to Kent State.

RU has 2 games left, both Big East Conference games: This Saturday, away to the University of Pittsburgh, a truly storied program and a place RU has hardly ever won, but is 4-6 coming in and probably less of a threat than it's been in years (though it did take current Number 1 Notre Dame to 3 overtimes before losing); and the following Thursday (one week after Thanksgiving), home to the University of Louisville, which was 9-0 before losing to Syracuse in their last game.

Rutgers is 5-0 in Big East play.  Louisville is 4-1.  Everybody else has at least 2 losses.  Therefore, if Louisville wins on Saturday (they play Connecticut, and should beat them), regardless of whether Rutgers wins on Saturday (whether they're 5-0 in the league or 4-1 in it), the November 29 game will decide the Big East title.

A Rutgers win on Saturday would clinch at least a co-championship, but if they lose to Louisville, that would give Louisville the tiebreaker, and the Big East's automatic bid to a Bowl Championship Series bowl.  If, however, on Saturday, Rutgers wins and Louisville loses, then the RU-Louisville game is all but moot, and Rutgers clinches the Big East title outright.

So the Scarlet Knights are very much in the driver's seat.  This despite losing a lot of starters from the previous season, and despite losing the man who built the program, Greg Schiano, to the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  (He's doing well there: The Bucs are 6-4 and are in good shape for the NFC Playoffs, although this Sunday they have to face the Atlanta Falcons, at 9-1 having the best record in the NFC and tied with the Houston Texans for the best in the entire league right now.)

What new coach Kyle Flood has done with this team is unbelievable.

The Rutgers football team actually has a chance to win the Big East Conference title, or any league's title, for the first time.

*

So, naturally, Rutgers is getting out.

Quick question: How many teams are in the Big 10?

Trick question: At the moment, there are 12.  On Monday, the University of Maryland, currently in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), was approved as the 13th member.  Yesterday, Rutgers was accepted as the 14th member.  Big 10 Commissioner Jim Delaney, RU President Robert Barchi, Athletic Director Tim Pernetti, and Coach Flood hosted a press conference at the Hale Center, the team's offices at Rutgers Stadium (I refuse to use the corporate name) to announce the move.  Both teams will remain in their current leagues for 2013, and will begin Big Ten play in 2014.

The classic Big Ten had the following members:

* Illinois, University of, the Fighting Illini
* Indiana University, the Hoosiers
* Iowa, University of, the Hawkeyes
* Michigan, University of, the Wolverines
* Michigan State University, the Spartans
* Minnesota, University of, the Golden Gophers
* Northwestern University, the Wildcats
* Ohio State University, the Buckeyes
* Purdue University, the Boilermakers
* Wisconsin, University of, the Badgers

In 1993, the previously independent Pennsylvania State University, a.k.a. Penn State, the Nittany Lions, were added, and the league altered its logo so that the G and the T in "BIG TEN" formed a number 11.  Last year, they took the University of Nebraska, the Cornhuskers, out of the Big 12, which had been made up of the old Big 8 and half of the old Southwest Conference (SWC).

Big Ten? The classic Midwestern league is now a Big Tent.

So how many teams are now in the Big 12? You guessed it: 10.  Former Big 8 members Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State; former SWC members Baylor, Texas, Texas Christian (TCU) and Texas Tech; and former Big East member West Virginia.

With the loss of former original members Rutgers, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, West Virginia, Boston College, the University of Miami and Virginia Tech, starting in 2014 the Big East will have no original members except Temple -- which, for reasons I won't get into here, were kicked out, and recently readmitted.

The new Big East will have the following schools for football: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, South Florida, Temple, current independent the U.S. Naval Academy (Navy, but the U.S. Military Academy, Army, will remain in Conference USA); current Conference USA members Central Forida, the University of Memphis and the University of Houston (also a former SWC member); former SWC and current Western Athletic Conference school Southern Methodist University (SMU), which is in Dallas; and current Mountain West Conference schools Boise State and San Diego State.

Dallas? Houston? Boise? San Diego? The Big... East?

In addition, the following are Big East schools for everything but football, all Catholic schools: DePaul of Chicago, Georgetown of Washington, Marquette of Milwaukee, Providence, St. John's of New York's Queens, Seton Hall in North Jersey, and Villanova outside Philadelphia.

Notre Dame, of South Bend, Indiana, is leaving the Big East for the ACC -- but they still won't be playing football in any league.  Is it due to cowardice? No, it's due to greed: They don't want to split their bowl money with fellow league members.

The classic ACC was Clemson, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State, South Carolina, Virginia and Wake Forest.  South Carolina and the Southeastern Conference's Georgia Tech effectively switched leagues.  Effective 2014, the ACC will be Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Notre Dame (for everything but football), Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.

The classic SEC had Georgia Tech and Tulane.  When I was a kid, it was Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana State (LSU), Mississippi (Ole Miss), Mississippi State, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.  In 1991 they added the ACC's South Carolina and the SWC's Arkansas (which had been that league's only non-Texas team, and hastened its death).  This year, the SEC added former SWC school Texas A&M and former Big 8/12 school Missouri.

The old Pacific Coast Conference had California (known as "Cal" for sports purposes but usually called "Berkeley" for all others), Montana, Oregon, Oregon State, Southern California (Southern Cal or USC), Stanford, UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles), Washington and Washington State.  Montana left in 1950, and in 1959 this league became the Athletic Association of Western Universities (AAWU) and in 1964 as the Pacific-8 or Pac-8.  In 1978, former WAC members Arizona and Arizona State joined, making it the Pacific-10 or Pac-10.  In 2011, former Big 8 and Big 12 member Colorado and former WAC member Utah made it the Pacific-12 or Pac-12.

All this is confusing to me, and I closely follow college football.  If you don't follow it closely... well, this post is here, and you can use it to refresh your memory.

*

Thanksgiving weekend football schedule, including some tasty rivalry games (TRGs), with all times listed being Eastern Standard Time (EST):

Thursday, November 22
12:30 Houston Texans at Detroit Lions, CBS
4:15 Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys, Fox - TRG
7:30 TCU at Texas, ESPN - TRG for TCU, if not for Texas
8:20 New England Patriots at New York Jets, NBC - TRG

Friday, November 23
11:00 Syracuse at Temple, ESPN2
12:00 Nebraska at Iowa, ABC - TRG
2:00 Marshall at East Carolina, CBS Sports Network (not Channel 2 if you live in the NYTSA)
2:30 LSU at Arkansas, CBS - TRG
3:00 Utah at Colorado, FX (that's FX, not Fox) - TRG now that they're both in the Pac-12
3:30 Washington at Washington State, Fox - TRG
3:30 West Virginia at Iowa State, ABC
7:00 South Florida at Cincinnati, ESPN
10:00 Arizona State at Arizona, ESPN - TRG

Saturday, November 24
12:00 Rutgers at Pittsburgh, ESPN2
12:00 Connecticut at Louisville, ESPN3 & Big East Network
12:00 Michigan at Ohio State, ABC - VTRG (very tasty)
12:00 Georgia Tech at Georgia, ESPN - TRG
12:00 Illinois at Northwestern, Big Ten Network - TRG
12:00 Indiana at Purdue, Big Ten Network - TRG
12:20 Kentucky at Tennessee, ESPN3 & SEC Network - TRG
12:30 Miami at Duke, ESPN3 & ACC Network
2:30 Baylor vs. Texas Tech at Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas, Fox
3:00 Oregon at Oregon State, Pac-12 Network - TRG
3:00 Boston College at North Carolina State, ESPN3
3:00 Maryland at North Carolina, ESPN3
3:30 Auburn at Alabama, CBS - maybe the TRG to end all TRGs
3:30 Florida at Florida State, ABC - VTRG
3:30 Wisconsin at Penn State, ESPN2
3:30 Oklahoma State at Oklahoma, ESPN
3:30 Michigan State at Minnesota, Big Ten Network
3:30 Vanderbilt at Wake Forest, ESPNU
6:30 Stanford at UCLA, Fox
7:00 South Carolina at Clemson, ESPN - TRG (a rare time when both are ranked top 12)
7:00 Mississippi State at Ole Miss, ESPNU - TRG
7:00 Missouri at Texas A&M, ESPN2
8:00 Notre Dame at USC, ABC - TRG

Sunday, November 25
1:00 Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns, CBS - TRG
1:00 Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears, Fox - TRG
1:00 Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs, CBS - TRG
1:00 Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Fox - TRG
1:00 Buffalo Bills at Indianapolis Colts, CBS
1:00 Oakland Raiders at Cincinnati Bengals, CBS
1:00 Seattle Seahawks at Miami Dolphins, CBS
1:00 Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars, CBS
4:05 Baltimore Ravens at San Diego Chargers, CBS
4:25 St. Louis Rams at Arizona Cardinals, Fox -- the current and former St. Louis NFL teams
4:25 San Francisco 49ers at New Orleans Saints, Fox
8:20 Green Bay Packers at New York Giants, NBC -- the last 2 Super Bowl winners

Monday, November 26
8:30 Carolina Panthers at Philadelphia Eagles, ESPN

I know: Atlanta and Tampa Bay are 2 of the NFL's legendary loser teams, but both are good right now, and the fact that it's a divisional matchup (NFC South) heightens it.  This should be a tasty rivalry.

Whereas Tennessee and Jacksonville are both in the AFC South, but anyone who thinks this will be a reflection of the Tennessee-Florida rivalry in the college game is probably remembering that they played each other in the 1999 AFC Championship Game -- and that the Jags have been mostly terrible since.

Nebraska hasn't been in the Big 10 long, but their proximity to Iowa will make that a tasty rivalry soon, so I'm counting it as one now.

Rutgers-Pittsburgh isn't quite a rivalry, unless you're a Rutgers fan from South Jersey, and tilt toward Philadelphia in pro sports, instead of New York like most people in North or Central Jersey.  Then, you might be a Phillies fan who doesn't like the Pirates, an Eagles fan who doesn't like the Steelers, or a Flyers fan who despises the Penguins.

*

Hours until Arsenal play another competitive match: 4, home to defending French champions Montpellier in Champions League play.

Hours until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 23.  Tomorrow morning, we get our annual Turkey Day beatdown by the Purple Bastards.

Days until the Devils play again: Who knows.  All NHL games have been cancelled through November 30 -- and the Winter Classic, set to be played on New Year's Day between Detroit and Toronto at the University of Michigan's 111,000-seat stadium, has been canceled. As in 2004-05, we may not have a season at all.

Days until the Devils play another local rival: Who knows.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 3, this Saturday afternoon, away to the University of Pittsburgh.

Days until the U.S. National Soccer Team plays again: 77, on February 6, 2013, away to Honduras, in the last, "Hexagonal" round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers, for the region that encompasses North America, Central America, and the Caribbean nations.  Just 11 weeks.  If they finish 1st or 2nd in this group of 6 -- and they definitely should win, certainly should finish no worse than 2nd behind Mexico -- they qualify for the 2014 World Cup.

Days until the next North London Derby: 81, on Saturday, March 2, 2013, at White Hart Lane.  And wasn't it fun to once again beat The Scum 5-2 last Saturday? That March 2 date presumes that Arsenal are not paired up with Spurs in either the FA Cup or the League Cup.

Days until the Red Bulls play again: Unknown for sure, since the 2013 MLS schedule has not yet been released.  But, if the pattern holds, it will be on the 3rd weekend in March.  If it is on the Saturday of that weekend, March 16, then that would be 126 days.  About 4 months.  This year's MLS Cup Final will be a rematch of last year's, when the L.A. Galaxy beat the Houston Dynamo, and it'll be at L.A.'s home field, the Home Depot Center in Carson, California.  Which means the Gals' Robbie Keane will have won as many league titles in a little over a year as his former club, Tottenham, have won in their entire 130 years.
Days until the Red Bulls next play a "derby," against either the New England Revolution, the Philadelphia Union or D.C. United: Also unknown, until the schedule is released.  Most likely, the season opener will not be against one of those teams.
Days until the Yankees play again: 131, on Monday, April 1, at 1:05 PM, at home at Yankee Stadium II, against the Boston Red Sox.  A little over 4 months.  Beat The Scum!
Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series begins: See the previous answer.
Days until Alex Rodriguez collects his 3,000th career hit: 284 (estimated around September 1, 2013).  Under 10 months.
Days until Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands: 438 (February 2, 2014).  Under 14 months.  Of course, we have no idea who the opposing teams will be.  The possibility exists that either the Giants or the Jets could be in it -- or both.  To this day, no team has ever played a Super Bowl in its own stadium -- in spite of multiple hostings by Miami, New Orleans and various California teams.  Only 2 have done so in their home metro area: The 1979-80 Los Angeles Rams, whose home field was then the L.A. Coliseum, and they lost to Pittsburgh at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena; and the 1984-85 San Francisco 49ers, whose home field, then as now, was Candlestick Park, and they beat Miami at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, which had a much larger capacity than Candlestick.
Days until the 2014 Winter Olympics: 443 (February 7, 2014).
Days until the 2014 World Cup in Brazil: 568 (June 12, 2014).  Under 19 months.
Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 700th career home run: 633 (estimated, around September 15, 2014).  About 22 months.
Days until the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: 1,353 (August 5, 2016).  Under 4 years.
Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 756th career home run to surpass all-time leader Hank Aaron: 1,409 (estimated -- I'm guessing around the end of 2016, around September 30).
Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 763rd career home run to become as close to a "real" all-time leader as we are likely to have: 1,621 (estimated -- estimating 28 home runs a year, taking his recent injury into account, I'm guessing around April 30, 2017, at age 41).  Under 4 1/2 years -- if he can.  And even if he does, will he still be a Yankee when he does it? Your guess is as good as mine -- and his.

Monday, November 19, 2012

There Are Rivalries, and Then There Are RIVALRIES

Why do I have a soccer picture leading this post off? You'll find out shortly.

This coming Thursday, which is Thanksgiving Day, the football team at East Brunswick High School will face Old Bridge High School for, depending on how you measure it, either the 19th or the 52nd time.

With their 15-7 loss in a "consolation game" to Freehold Township on Friday night, EB goes into "The Battle of Route 18" at 2-7.  OB are now 7-2, and (due to Hurricane Sandy messing with the schedule) are still in the State Playoffs, when another round should have been played by now (i.e. this should be their 11th game, not their 10th).

The game will be played at Vince Lombardi Field, at what is now Carl Sandburg Middle School, formerly Old Bridge High West Campus, Madison Central High and Madison Township High.

I know, naming a school after a poet in a town where most of the people are illiterate, it's weird.  It's also weird that the stadium is named after Lombardi, who has no connection to the school, or even to the town.

If you count the school only under its current name, mascot and colors -- Old Bridge High School, the Knights, purple and black -- then we've played them every year, and always on Thanksgiving, since 1994.

If you count their previous incarnations, then we've played them every year since they started playing football in 1963, 50 regular-season meetings, plus 2 Playoff games.  They were named Madison Township High School from 1963 to 1974, and Madison Central High School from 1975 (when the name of the town was changed to Old Bridge) until 1993 (when it was reconsolidated with Cedar Ridge High School, which was broken off from them in 1968).  Their mascot was the Spartans, their colors navy & sky blue.  They were an early-season game from 1964 to 1979 (except for 1974), and again from 1982 to 1987; they were a late-season game in 1963, 1974, 1980 & 1981, 1990 & 1991, and a Thanksgiving opponent since 1994.

If you count only under the OBHS label, the Purple Bastards lead us, 15-3.  If you count under all labels, they lead us 29-20, with 2 ties.

East Brunswick and Old Bridge, adjoining towns, have their schools 8.3 miles apart -- since OB's stadium is at the old school, now a middle school, from stadium to stadium it's 6.4 miles.  Most high school rivalries, including those played on Thanksgiving Day, are roughly that close.

Among the classic, some no longer played, Middlesex County football rivalries, here's the distances in miles:

Woodbridge vs. John F. Kennedy (crosstown rivals): 1.6
Madison Central vs. Cedar Ridge (the two former OB schools): 1.8
New Brunswick vs. St. Peter's (NBHS' crosstown rival is now closed): 2.3
South Plainfield vs. North Plainfield (Union County): 3.2
South River vs. Sayreville: 4.7
Highland Park vs. Metuchen: 5.5
Edison vs. J.P. Stevens (crosstown rivals): 5.7
Perth Amboy vs. Carteret: 5.7
East Brunswick vs. Old Bridge: 6.4
Piscataway vs. Franklin (Somerset County): 6.9
North Brunswick vs. South Brunswick: 8.7

New Jersey and a few other Northeastern States still have Thanksgiving Day rivalries.  But most States that used to have them have dropped the tradition for State Playoffs.  New Jersey has tried to have its cake -- or, rather, it's turkey -- and eat it, too.  Some other big ones from around the State include Newark's Barringer vs. East Orange (first played in 1897), the Paterson matchup of Eastside vs. JFK (formerly Central), Hackensack vs. Teaneck, Westfield vs. Plainfield, Roselle vs. Roselle Park, Union vs. Lindon, Bloomfield vs. Montclair, Belleville vs. Nutley, Clifton vs. Passaic, Irvington vs. Columbia (which serves South Orange and Maplewood); the Jersey City battles between Ferris and Snyder (now an early-season game), and Dickinson vs. St. Peter's Prep, which would be played at the old Roosevelt Stadium, a 24,000-seat minor league ballpark; Hamilton Township of Mercer County having Hamilton vs. Steinert; the Shore Conference battles of Middletown North vs. Middletown South, Long Branch vs. Red Bank, Red Bank Catholic vs. Rumson (school size prevents RB & RBC from being regular opponents), Asbury Park vs. Neptune and Lakewood vs. Toms River (now Toms River South); South Jersey crosstown rivalries such as Cherry Hill East and Cherry Hill West, Camden vs. Woodrow Wilson, Pennsauken vs. Bishop Eustace, Haddonfield vs. Haddon Heights, and Hammonton vs. St. Joseph's; Gloucester City (which is actually in Camden County) vs. Gloucester Catholic; Atlantic City vs. Holy Spirit of neighboring Absecon; Ocean City vs. Pleasantville; and the oldest one in the State, in South Jersey, the Cumberland County classic between Millville and Vineland, which dates back to 1894.

The State of New York isn't big on the tradition.  Xavier of Manhattan and Fordham Prep of the Bronx have been playing since the 19th Century, often at the Polo Grounds, and after its demolition at Downing Stadium on Randall's Island.  These days, when Fordham Prep is the home team, they play at Fordham University's Jack Coffey Field; when it's Xavier, they play at a stadium at Floyd Bennett Field, a former airport in Brooklyn.

In The Bronx, Cardinal Hayes and Mount St. Michael play each other on Thanksgiving.  In nearby White Plains, public White Plains takes on parochial Archbishop Stepinac.

With the exception of Philadelphia and its immediate suburbs, Pennsylvania has mostly abandoned the tradition.  But one such matchup is worth mentioning, because it straddles the Delaware River and thus the State Line: Easton vs. Phillipsburg, annually played at Fisher Field at Lafayette College in Easton.  They've played each other every year since 1905 and on each Thanksgiving since 1916.

The New England States used to be very big on it.  But Vermont doesn't do it anymore, and Maine is down to just 1 such game, in the State's largest city, Portland: Portland vs. Deering, every year since 1911.  Massachusetts remains the pace-setter for high school football on Thanksgiving, with matchups such as East Boston vs. South Boston, Boston Latin vs. Boston English (played since 1887 and usually at Harvard Stadium), Medford vs. Malden and Winchester vs. Woburn.  (No, Winchester High was not named for the Boston native M*A*S*H surgeon or anyone in his family.)

Connecticut still has 47 such games, some dating back to the 19th Century.  New Hampshire is no longer all that big on the tradition, but the State's largest city, Manchester, hosts its city championship on the day.  Rhode Island has a few.  A cross-State game is played between Stonington High of Connecticut and Westerly High of Rhode Island, just 2.6 miles apart.  There was a time when these 2 schools played twice a year, and with this year's matchup being the 150th, it is the most played high school football game in America.  Overall, the Stonington Bears lead 68-65-17, but on Thanksgiving, the Westerly Bulldogs lead 47-40-11 -- either way, it's quite close.

In Baltimore, Calvert Hall and Loyola used to be part of a doubleheader at Memorial Stadium.  They still play every Thanksgiving, now at M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Ravens.  But Baltimore City College and Baltimore Polytechnic Institute -- a.k.a. City vs. Poly -- while still being played in November at the big football stadium in town, is no longer played on Thanksgiving.

The cities of Washington, D.C., Buffalo, New Orleans and San Francisco used to have their city championships on Thanksgiving.  D.C. still does, and also hosts Gonzaga vs. St. John's on Thanksgiving.  San Francisco also still hosts its city championship on Thanksgiving, at the new version of Kezar Stadium, built on the site of the original home of the 49ers in Golden Gate Park.  But the only true T-Day rivalry played west of Missouri is nearby, in San Jose, between Abraham Lincoln High School and San Jose High Academy since 1945 at a neutral-ground college's field.

*

College football usually isn't played on Thanksgiving anymore.  There've been a few such rivalries, such as Alabama vs. Auburn, Georgia vs. Georgia Tech, Texas vs. Texas A&M, Nebraska vs. Oklahoma, Mississippi (Ole Miss) vs. Mississippi State.  Mostly, though, these games are now played the Friday or Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend.  This year, the only game being played on T-Day is Texas vs. Texas Christian (TCU) -- not Texas A&M.  Louisiana State (LSU) and Arkansas, Arizona and Arizona State, Washington and Washington State, and the new rivalry Nebraska created with next-door Iowa by joining the Big Ten, are on Friday.

Saturday will see some biggies: Ohio State vs. Michigan, Alabama vs. Auburn, Florida vs. Florida State, Georgia vs. Georgia Tech, Notre Dame vs. Southern California (USC), Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State, South Carolina vs. Clemson, Tennessee vs. Kentucky, Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State, and, while it isn't a particularly big rivalry, it could decide the Big East title: Rutgers vs. Pittsburgh.

The NFL has had Thanksgiving games almost from the beginning, formerly including Bears vs. Cardinals when both were in Chicago, and the New York Giants playing the Staten Island Stapletons, before the latter went out of business due to the Great Depression in the early 1930s.  Starting in 1934, the Detroit Lions have played on the day every year except during World War II; for a long time, in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, the Green Bay Packers would be their opponent every time.  The Dallas Cowboys started the tradition in 1966, and a third game has been held in prime time since 2006, although it's not the same teams every year.

*

But most college and pro sports rivalries in America aren't as close as high school rivalries.  And they're certainly not as close as international club soccer rivalries, with several pairs of rivals flirting with danger by "groundsharing": Both teams using the same stadium, including in Milan, Moscow and Rio de Janeiro.  In North America, the only MLS teams that do it are the Los Angeles teams, L.A. Galaxy and Chivas USA.  It's also done in the Mexican league.

USC and UCLA -- the University of Southern California and the University of California at Los Angeles -- have their campuses 10.7 miles apart.  They played each other this past Saturday, UCLA winning 38-28 to clinch a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

There's a few college basketball rivalries that are that close, or thereabouts.  The best-known is Duke in Durham vs. North Carolina in Chapel Hill, who, of course, also play each other in football.  They're almost exactly the same distance as USC-UCLA: 10.8 miles.  Throw in North Carolina State in Raleigh, and it's about 25 miles from both Duke and Carolina.

Boston University's arena has Northeastern University's 2.1 miles to the east and Boston College's 3.3 miles to the west.  In Cincinnati, the University of Cincinnati and Xavier are less than 3 miles apart.  Philadelphia's Big Five? The University of Pennsylvania's Palestra is 3.5 miles from Temple's Liacouras Center, 4.3 from St. Joseph's Michael J. Hagan Arena (formerly Alumni Fieldhouse), 7.4 from LaSalle's Tom Gola Arena, and an even 10 miles from the Pavilion at Villanova.  And, while their football rivalry went by the wayside over 30 years ago, Rutgers and Princeton, the original college football rivals, still play each other in basketball (Rutgers won this week), are just 17 miles apart from Old Queens in New Brunswick to Nassau Hall in Princeton.

But most of the biggies in college football are not that close.  Observe:

California vs. Stanford: 40 miles
Southern Methodist vs. Texas Christian (SMU vs. TCU): 41
Oregon vs. Oregon State: 43
Utah vs. Brigham Young: 47
Michigan vs. Michigan State: 65
Georgia vs. Georgia Tech: 70
Kentucky vs. Louisville: 79
Texas vs. Texas A&M: 105
Indiana vs. Purdue: 115
Penn State vs. Pittsburgh: 136
Virginia vs. Virginia Tech: 137
Iowa vs. Iowa State: 137
Florida vs. Florida State: 150
Alabama vs. Auburn: 160
Tennessee vs. Kentucky: 171
Michigan vs. Notre Dame: 177
Indiana vs. Kentucky: 179
Tennessee vs. Vanderbilt: 181
Ohio State vs. Michigan: 185
Grambling State vs. Southern University: 216
Minnesota vs. Wisconsin: 265
Washington vs. Washington State: 289
Iowa vs. Minnesota: 303
Florida vs. Georgia: 345
Texas vs. Oklahoma: 369
Nebraska vs. Oklahoma: 454
USC vs. Notre Dame: 2,100

Each of those, as my Grandma would have said, is a fur piece.

*

As recently as 1952, there were 5 cities with at least 2 teams in Major League Baseball: New York (3), Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and St. Louis.  From 1958, the first year the Dodgers and Giants were in California, to 1961, the year before the Mets began play, it was 1, Chicago.  When the Athletics moved to Oakland for 1968, it was back up to 4 metropolitan areas: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Wrigley Field to U.S. Cellular Field: 8.6
Yankee Stadium to Citi Field: 10.1
AT&T Park to Oakland Coliseum: 17.0
Dodger Stadium to Angel Stadium: 30.9

But until Interleague play began in 1997, these teams did not play each other in the regular season.  Their fans may hate each other's teams, and each other, but they're not real rivalries.

Take a look at the distances for these major rivalries in the "Big Four" North American sports -- remember, I'm measuring between the stadiums/arenas, not the city centers:

New York Knicks vs. Brooklyn Nets: 6 (also Rangers-Islanders starting in fall 2015)
New Jersey Devils vs. New York Rangers: 12 (it was 8 from the Garden to the Meadowlands)
San Francisco 49ers vs. Oakland Raiders: 21 (not a real rivalry anyway)
New York Rangers vs. New York Islanders: 28 (as long as they Isles are in Uniondale, anyway)
Los Angeles Kings vs. Anaheim Ducks: 31 (Lakers & Clippers share Staples Center, so that's 0)
New Jersey Devils vs. Philadelphia Flyers: 89
Golden State Warriors vs. Sacramento Kings: 89
New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles: 96
New York Mets vs. Philadelphia Phillies: 109
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns: 135
Edmonton Oilers vs. Calgary Flames: 190
Houston Rockets vs. San Antonio Spurs: 192
New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox: 206
New York Jets vs. New England Patriots: 207
Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers: 213
New York Knicks (and Rangers) vs. Boston Celtics (and Bruins): 216
Miami Heat vs. Orlando Magic: 234
Dallas Mavericks vs. Houston Rockets: 242
Cleveland Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals: 253
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Detroit Red Wings: 286
Dallas Mavericks vs. San Antonio Spurs: 271
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Ottawa Senators: 279
Chicago Bulls vs. Detroit Pistons: 294
Chicago Blackhawks vs. St. Louis Blues: 298
Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals: 303
Philadelphia Flyers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins: 308
Montreal Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins: 308
Montreal Canadiens vs. Toronto Maple Leafs: 337
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Golden State Warriors: 367
San Francisco Giants vs. Los Angeles Dodgers: 380
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Sacramento Kings: 391
Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints: 470
San Diego Chargers vs. Oakland Raiders: 484
Denver Broncos vs. Kansas City Chiefs: 610
Washington Redskins vs. Dallas Cowboys: 1,366

Aside from the ones in the same metro area, they're all pretty far.

Mets vs. Atlanta Braves was never a real rivalry.  Neither is Knicks vs. Miami Heat.  Neither was Detroit Red Wings vs. Colorado Avalanche: These were all high on hate, but burned out quickly, partly due to one team or the other falling off, but mainly due to distance, the kind of proximity that could keep it alive.  There's only 3 rivalries in all of North American sports that can truly overcome that much geographical distance: USC-Notre Dame, Lakers-Celtics, and Redskins-Cowboys.

*

But the intensity is so much greater in club soccer.  I'm not even going to get into the ones in Europe and South America.  Just the ones in Britain.

Imagine that, instead of playing each other 6 times a year, every year since 1999 (and 3 times a year in 1997 and 1998), the Yankees and Mets have been playing each other 18 times a year, as often as the Yankees and Red Sox (or the Mets and Phillies) do.  And instead of them playing in ballparks 10 miles apart in adjoining Boroughs, imagine that they played at opposite ends of Central Park, at 81st Street, where, in real life, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History actually stand.  Just ONE mile apart, across a park.

That's Liverpool Football Club and Everton Football Club: Playing for the acclaim of the city of Liverpool and England's Merseyside region, just one miles across Stanley Park from each other.

The intensity of these British "football" rivalries is off the scale.

Liverpool vs. Everton, Liverpool: 0.9 miles
Aston Villa vs. Birmingham City, Birmingham: 3.1
Sheffield United vs. Sheffield Wednesday, 3.8
Arsenal vs. Tottenham, North London: 4.1
Manchester United vs. Manchester City: 4.3
Celtic vs. Rangers, Glasgow, Scotland: 4.3
Bristol City vs. Bristol Rovers: 4.4
West Ham United vs. Millwall, East to South London: 7.1
Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. West Bromwich Albion, West Midlands: 10
Newcastle vs. Sunderland, North-East: 13
Derby County vs. Nottingham Forest, East Midlands: 16
Watford vs. Luton Town, Hertfordshire vs. Bedfordshire: 19
Portsmouth vs. Southampton, South Coast: 20
Liverpool vs. Manchester United, North-West: 31
Cardiff City vs. Swansea City, Wales: 40
Manchester United vs. Leeds United, the old "War of the Roses" Lancaster vs. York: 41
Norwich City vs. Ipswich Town, East Anglia: 43

And nearly every one of these matchups goes back to the 19th Century, at a point when baseball's American League, organized professional football, organized professional hockey, and pretty much the game of basketball itself did not yet exist.

And you can't get away.  The supporters of the other club are all around you.  You run into these bastards at work, on the way to work, on the way home from work, on your lunch hour, when you go shopping.  Lose to your hated rivals, and they get in your face with the result until the next one.  Win, and you hold the hammer over them, and tell them they have nothing to say... which never stops them, of course, the wankers.

In contrast, think of how few Red Sox fans live in the New York Tri-State Area -- or how few Yankee Fans live in New England in general and Boston in particular.  They may be noisy, but they know they can't act up too much, because they're well outnumbered.  And while Washington is the nation's capital, any Dallas Cowboy fans living there are going to be surrounded by people who despise the Cowboys.

It's not that way in soccer.

Except for a very few college rivalries, it's not even close to being the same.

Certainly, a high school rivalry can't match that.

No matter how much my Big Green self hates those Purple Bastards.

And while Old Bridge will almost certainly lay waste to my beloved E.B. Bears on Thursday, I'm still basking in the glow of this past Saturday's North London Derby, where Arsenal, as they did the last time the teams faced each other (February 26), came from behind at home to beat Tottenham 5-2.  It was Groundhog Day at New Highbury.

Good thing, too.  Not just for my fellow Gooners.  But because I couldn't have taken Arsenal losing to Tottenham AND East Brunswick losing to Old Bridge within a span of 5 days.