Sunday, December 29, 2013

New York Sports Has Had Worse Years Than 2013

2013 was a bad year for New York Tri-State Area sports.  Here's how the teams rank... and, boy, are they rank:

1. The New York Red Bulls won their first trophy, in their 18th season of play: The Supporters' Shield, given to the team with the best overall record in Major League Soccer.

But in the MLS Cup Playoffs, they crashed out in the Quarterfinals, on a goal in extra time. Victims of the one soccer league on the planet where the team that finished 1st overall is not declared league champions, and doesn't use an away-goals rule that would have seen them advance to the Semifinals. And that was the best performance of any of the area teams.

2. Rutgers University women's basketball are currently 10-2, including a 6-game winning streak, although they haven't begun Big East Conference play yet. Neither loss is particularly shameful: By 1 point away to the University of Massachusetts, and by 4 to national power (and nationally-ranked) Louisiana State in a holiday-season tournament in Brooklyn (not exactly "home court" for the Lady Knights). But they didn't make the NCAA Tournament last season, within the calendar year.

3. The New York Yankees won "only" 85 games, tying for 3rd in the American League Eastern Division, 12 games out, and missing the Playoffs completely, 6 games out of the 2nd Wild Card berth.

Injuries to Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Chris Stewart pretty much doomed them, while Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan all imploded on the mound. Then they lost Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte to retirement, and Granderson and Robinson Cano to free agency. And the A-Rod PED case hung over them like a dark cloud all season long, and still does, as yet unresolved.

4. St. John's University men's basketball are currently 11-3, but, again, that's before getting into the "meat and potatoes" portion of the schedule.

Last year, they went 17-16, losing in the 1st round of the Big East Tournament (at Madison Square Garden, officially their "second home court"), and in the 2nd round of the National Invitational Tournament (which has been far beneath the NCAA Tournament in prestige for over 40 years).

5. Rutgers University football ended their season yesterday in a bowl game, the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. For most of the game, they were either tied or within 3 points of Notre Dame. But, late in the 3rd quarter, the Fighting Irish figured out that their ground game was being stopped cold, and their aerial attack wasn't being stopped at all, and ended up beating the Scarlet Knights, 29-16.

RU finished 6-7 in their final season in whatever the hell they're calling the Big East Football Conference now.  Five times, they allowed 41 or more points (incredibly winning 1 of those).

And next year, they have to play in the Big Ten. That means they have to play old rivals Penn State. And Ohio State. And Michigan. And Nebraska. That's 4 of the biggest programs in the history of college football. Things are not about to get better on the banks of the old Raritan.

6. Seton Hall University men's basketball is currently 9-4, but that's before starting conference play. They've won just 1 game against a decent team, Virginia Tech.

The Pirates went 15-18 last season, a horrid 3-15 in Big East play. They fell out of the tournament in the 2nd round, and qualified for neither the NCAA nor the NIT.

7. Rutgers University men's basketball are currently 7-7, and that's after winning their last 2 -- but before getting into the Big East Conference schedule. Only 1 win has been over a school that would be considered Division I-A in football -- barely, as it was Army. And only 2 of those 14 games have been on the road (losses to Alabama-Birmingham, and to George Washington University in Washington, D.C.) This is going to be a hard season in Piscataway.

This, as a follow-up to last season, when they went 15-16, lost to Notre Dame in the 2nd round of the Big East Tournament, and did not qualify for either the NCAA Tournament or the NIT. Don't expect them to qualify for either one this season, either. Also, they had to fire head coach Mike Rice for verbally abusing his players. Eddie Jordan, a former NBA player and head coach who played on RU's famed 1976 Final Four team, is now in charge, and he's got his work cut out for him.

8. The New Jersey Devils have 40 out of a possible 80 points -- exactly half. Despite some heroic performances by legendary goaltender Martin Brodeur and his heir apparent Corey Schneider, goals have been hard to come by. They won last night, 2-1, with a 3rd-period goal, on the road... but that was against the Islanders, who are in an even bigger mess.

The image is worse than the reality: The Devils missed the Playoffs last season, and lost their best scorer to free-agent greed, Ilya Kovalchuk, after losing Zach Parise the same way the year before. At least the ownership situation is settled, and the team's future in New Jersey is secure.

9. The New York Rangers have 39 out of a possible 78 points -- exactly half. They are playing with no direction after making the Playoffs this past spring. And, after being signed to a new long-term contract, goalie Henrik Lundqvist is playing less like a "King" than ever. But James Dolan and general manager Glen Sather still don't seem to have any answers.

10. The New York Jets, playing their home games in MetLife Stadium, which is set to host this season's Super Bowl, went 8-8, thanks to their season-finale win, away to their longtime bête noire, the Miami Dolphins. Don't let that finale fool you: They need help, and lots of it. They do not have a reliable quarterback, and their defense is a shambles: 3 times it allowed at least 37 points. The Rex Ryan experiment has failed.

11. The New York Giants are actually worse. No, not in terms of image: The Jets' organization remains a laughingstock, while the Giants' is held up as a model of stability; in each case, those perceptions are completely fair. That remains true.

But on the field, the Giants went 7-9, and that's counting their season-finale win over the Washington Redskins, who are truly a basket case after being a serious Super Bowl threat last season.

Eli Manning, 2 Super Bowl rings or no, has become an interception machine. And defense, for Big Blue as for Gang Green the team's usual defining feature, has been bad, although injuries have a lot to do with it. Six times this season, the Giants have allowed at least 36 points. They scored 31 away to the Dallas Cowboys, 23 at home to the Denver Broncos, 21 at home to the Cowboys, 21 at home to the Philadelphia Eagles, and 21 away to the Chicago Bears -- and lost all of those games.

Like Eli, head coach Tom Coughlin can't hold the goodwill of 2 titles forever; perhaps, if he'd "only won one Super Bowl," he'd have been fired by now.

12. The New York Mets lost 88 games, finishing 22 games out in the National League Eastern Division, and 16 games out of a Playoff berth. They haven't seen the 2nd week of October in 7 years, and while (theoretically) things can change in a hurry, one does not simply suggest that the Mets will be in the Playoffs any time in the next 7 years. It is folly.

13. The New York Liberty finished 11-23, missing the WNBA Playoffs by 5 games. And yet, for the moment, the ladies are the best-performing pro basketball team in the Tri-State Area.

14. The Brooklyn Nets go into New Year's Eve game, away to the strong San Antonio Spurs, with a record of 10-20, after being hyped as being ready to "take over New York." (Yeah, Met fans like to use that expression. So did Brooklyn Dodger fans in the 1940s and '50s.)

They have the advantage of only being in their 2nd season in Brooklyn, so they don't have 2 generations of angry New Jerseyans thinking that enough is enough, and that they have had it with this team. But that works against head coach Jason Kidd, because these fans have no loyalty to him for what he did at the Meadowlands, and they want him out.

The problem is, it's hardly all Kidd's fault. Deron Williams has been hurt, Brook Lopez is out for the season, and Kidd isn't the one who brought in the washed-up and broken-down Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko.

Net management made fools of themselves by hyping the team so much, and now, they're paying the price. They did make the Playoffs last season, in this calendar year, which is something the Yankees, Mets, Giants, Jets, Devils and Liberty can't truthfully claim. But, as with the Knicks, that Playoff experience (a tough full-7-games 1st-round loss to the Chicago Bulls) seems like a long time ago.

15. The New York Knickerbockers go into their next game, on Thursday, January 2, 2014, also away to San Antonio, only 9-21. Only 3 teams have a worse record. Injuries have hurt them badly, literally and figuratively.

Even if the Nets had a better record, the Knicks might still be worse off, because the atmosphere at Madison Square Garden is getting poisonous: After finally winning a postseason game last spring (for the first time in 12 years) and also winning a postseason series (for the first time in 13 years), the fans are chanting their demand that head coach Mike Woodson get fired.

For what? He dragged that team to those achievements last season. He can't be blamed for the injuries. He didn't sprain Carmelo Anthony's ankle. He didn't strain Raymond Felton's groin. (At least, I hope not, that would be an entirely different can of worms.) He didn't sign the perpetually injured Kenyon Martin (who's been battling injuries since breaking his leg in his senior year at the University of Cincinnati, thus beginning one of the most disappointing careers in basketball history). He also didn't cause Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith to become bricklayers (both under 36 percent from the field). He also didn't sign Tim Hardaway Jr., thinking that he'd be as good as Tim Sr. was (and still might become, but not yet, not by a long shot).

Woodson's not the problem, it's Knick management, for bringing in the bums and the broken-down.

16. The New York Islanders have 29 of a possible 78 points, after having made a rare trip to the Playoffs this past spring. Only 2 NHL teams have a worse record.

Putting aside the college teams, the Liberty, and the Red Bulls... Of the 9 main teams, the baseball and football teams blew their Playoff chances for 2013, both basketball teams and the Islanders will need miracles to make it in their current season, and only the Rangers and Devils look like they have even a remote chance.

Can it get any worse?


Bill Cosby, Temple University track star, had a story about his first time headlining as a comedian in Las Vegas.  This was in the early 1960s, when a black man starring in a comedy show, or in anything else, was still quite rare in America.  Apparently, his newfound fame wasn't helping him win in the casino:

You should never challenge "worse." Don't ever say, "Things couldn't get worse." Worse is rough...

I was down to my last two hundred dollars. I mean, not to my name, but I lost all I could sign for. And I said, "I'm gonna win something! It can't get worse!"

I went over to the roulette wheel. And got two hundred dollars' worth of quarter chips. Covered the table -- I mean, covered the table! Red and black, even up. I'm going to win something before I go to sleep. And the guy spun the ball and it fell on the floor.

Of course, it can get worse. Indeed, it has been worse:

* 2008: The Yankees, Mets (on the last day of the season), Jets, Knicks, Nets and Islanders all missed the Playoffs. The Devils lost in the 1st round, the Rangers in the 2nd. And the Giants lost in the Divisional Playoffs to their arch-rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles.

* 1989: The Giants and Knicks won their Divisions, but crashed out in the Playoffs (in the G-Men's case, in "The Flipper Anderson Game" against the Los Angeles Rams). The Mets finished 2nd, but no Wild Card in those days. The Yankees fell apart. The Rangers crashed out in the 1st round, and the Devils and Islanders missed. The Nets were their typical dreadful selves, and the Jets were 4-12.

* 1975: The Nets had won the ABA title the year before, and would win it the next year, but not this one. The Knicks, having won 2 recent NBA titles and come close to 2 others, got old in a hurry. The Yankees and Mets both had reasons to hope while playing in Shea Stadium, but neither made the Playoffs. The Giants and Jets couldn't see the Playoffs with binoculars. And, in those pre-Devils days, the Islanders shocked the Rangers in the 1st round of the Playoffs -- perhaps the beginning of the chant "Rangers suck," and perhaps also the beginning of Ranger fans' turning from among the classiest and most knowledgeable in hockey to being a bunch of drunken troglodytes. The Isles had a thrill ride before falling in the Semifinals.

* 1959: Only the 4 older teams were around then. The Giants won the NFL Eastern Division, but lost the Championship Game to the Baltimore Colts for the 2nd year in a row. The Knicks made the Playoffs, but lost in the 1st round to the Syracuse Nationals (who became the Philadelphia 76ers in 1963). The Yankees finished 3rd, winning only 79 games, their fewest between 1925 and 1965. The Rangers missed the Playoffs.

* 1945: The last year of World War II remains the last year in which no New York Tri-State Area team made the postseason -- partly because there were only 3 teams, as the Knicks did not begin play until 1946-47.

Writing in today's New York Daily News, Hank Gola suggests the absolute nadir was 1966. He's got a case. Here's how bad it was, keeping in mind that the Nets, Devils and Islanders did not yet exist:

* Yankees: 10th in the single-division AL, 70-89. Only 3 other times have the Yankees finished last: 1908, 1912 and 1990. Age, injuries, and a dried-up farm system had caught up with them, and it had been only 2 years since they reached Game 7 of a World Series. Ralph Houk, who had previously managed them to the 1961 and '62 World Championships and the '63 Pennant, had to come back in from the GM's office, but there was little he could do.

In a midweek afternoon game, rescheduled from a rainout and in drizzly weather again, the smallest crowd in Yankee history showed up: 413 fans. Red Barber, tired of broadcasting for the Yankee organization, "committed suicide by cop," and had the cameramen pan the 67,000 seats that remained empty, and was fired.

At the end of the next season, the team would consist of a crumbling Mickey Mantle, Joe Pepitone, Mel Stottlemyre, and 22 guys named Steve Whitaker. (Bobby Murcer had been drafted and would miss '67 and '68.)

* Mets: 9th in the NL, 66-95. And that was the best record in their 5-season history to that point. They finished 1 place higher than the decrepit Pinstripes (can't really call this edition "the Bronx Bombers"), but the Amazin's still had a poorer record, 5 games behind.

And they made a huge mistake in the draft: With the top pick, they took high school catcher Steve Chilcott, who got hurt and never made the majors. The alleged reason they didn't take the guy who went as the 2nd pick was that he was a black guy with a white girlfriend. Actually, she was Hispanic. As, in part, was he. You might have heard of him: Reginald Martinez Jackson. He would win 3 Pennants each with the Oakland Athletics and the Yankees, and nearly help the California Angels win 2 more.

Hope was on the way, though: The next year, Tom Seaver would arrive. But, to this day, the Mets have won 4 Pennants, 2 fewer than Reggie did in half the time.

* Giants: Had their worst season ever, 1-12-1. Kind of a bad year to be at Yankee Stadium, and not just because of the poverty and crime that was increasing in the surrounding South Bronx neighborhood. They also lost the highest-scoring game in NFL history, 72-41 to the Washington Redskins.

Incredibly, head coach Allie Sherman was brought back for another season. Much like Coughlin now, he was holding on to memories, having guided the Giants to the NFL Championship Game in 1961, '62 and '63. (The win in '56, and the losses in the '58 and '59 title games, were under Jim Lee Howell.)

* Jets: In Joe Namath's 2nd year, they started out 4-0-1, but, as Jet teams tend to do, crashed. The rest of the way, they went 2-6-1. Overall, against the American Football League, they were 6-6-2. At the time, a performance like that, against competition like that, could have been summed up by Flushing resident Archie Bunker (Carroll O'Connor), had All In the Family been on the air yet: "Well, whoop-dee-doo!"

* Knicks: Finished 30-50, 2nd-worst record in the NBA. Dick McGuire was a fantastic player before this, and would be a brilliant scouting director after this, but was a terrible head coach. Hope was on the way, though: After another season, they would draft Walt Frazier.

* Rangers: Finished dead last, with 47 points, 27 points out of a Playoff spot. Incredibly, in the next season, they closed calendar year 1966 in 1st place, and would make the Playoffs in 1967, the last "Original Six" season.

* None of the local college teams did much, either, although St. John's did win the NIT the year before.

* Even the Beatles couldn't sell out Shea Stadium, as they had the year before.

1966 was the year John Lindsay began his Mayoralty with a transit strike, and he tried to brush it off by saying, "New York is a fun city."

"Fun City" soon became a nickname, every bit as sarcastic as calling the Mets "Amazin'" was at the time.

So, Tri-State Area fans, remember: Not only could it be worse, but it has been worse:

* No more stadiums or arenas in ghettos. (No, the Prudential Center doesn't count. Nor does the Nassau Coliseum, nor does the transfer you have to make to get there without a car, from the LIRR to the bus at Hempstead Terminal.)

* Plenty of available, if overpriced, parking.

* Decent bathrooms.

* Good food, albeit at nutty prices.

* And management has plenty of resources in order to build (or rebuild) the teams and make them better. (With the apparent exception of the Mets.)

All we need now is for such building to happen, and for the teams to then perform.

It could be worse. A lot worse.

It can also be better. And it will be, eventually.

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