Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Darkest Hour

This has been a hard year for me, for reasons that have nothing to do with sports. But, with the occasional exception -- the way Derek Jeter said goodbye, Arsenal's FA Cup win and visit to New Jersey, and a few others of lesser importance -- sports hasn't exactly helped.

The New Jersey Devils remain one man away from being a legitimate Playoff contender. Unfortunately, that one man is Peter DeBoer, the head coach.

Last night, the Devils lost 4-1 to the Washington Capitals -- while Martin Brodeur got his 689th career win as a goalie, his 1st not for the Devils, coming in to relieve, as the St. Louis Blues came from 3-0 down and beat the Islanders 6-4.

The Devils seem so dysfunctional right now.

And yet, going into today's NFL action, they have still won more games this fall than the Giants, the Jets and the Knicks combined. Devils 10, Giants 3, Jets 2, Knicks 4 -- Devils 10, the others 9.

(As I type this, the Giants are clobbering the Tennessee Titans, while the Jets are in a serious tussle -- I was going to say "dogfight," but they have Michael Vick on the roster -- with the Minnesota Vikings. So both teams could improve.)

And consider this: Of the 9 major-league sports franchises in the New York Tri-State Area, the Devils might be the least dysfunctional right now:

* The Yankees are in transition, and anybody who knows what's going to happen in 2015 is just guessing.

* The Mets are also in transition -- and have been since moving into Citi Field in 2009. They've got more hope now than they've had since then, but that's setting the bar really low.

* The Giants are coming to the end of the Tom Coughlin era. Even if they win every game they have left, that's 6-10. That loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars truly was, as the tabloid put it, the NAIL IN THE COUGHLIN.

* The Jets are coming to the end of the Rex Ryan era -- and they should have fired him 2 seasons ago.

* The Knicks are off to their worst start ever, and that includes the early 1960s, a period when, as their longtime voice Marv Albert put it, the NBA had 9 teams and 8 Playoff spots, and it seemed like the sole purpose of the regular season was to eliminate the Knicks. Phil Jackson? It doesn't matter: As long as James Dolan is the real power behind the Knicks, they're going to blow it.

* The Nets are the Nets. You can put them on Long Island, at Rutgers, at the Meadowlands, in Newark, or in Brooklyn, and they're always going to be a joke franchise. For a few years, 2001 to 2006, the Nets were a better team than almost everybody, including the Knicks, who were pathetic, stuck in the Isiah Thomas debacle. But that was an anomaly. Even with Kevin Garnett and the now-gone Paul Pierce, 2 veritable NBA legends, the Nets were a joke, and they are a joke now.

* The Rangers are also a joke franchise. That preceded James Dolan, but he hasn't helped. Yes, they just came off the Stanley Cup Finals, where all 4 losses were in overtime. But so was their only win. They weren't the best team in the Eastern Conference. Had the Devils had a competent coach, as DeBoer seemed to be in 2012, the Rangers wouldn't even be the best team in the Tri-State Area. The Boston Bruins were able to end a Stanley Cup drought of 39 years; the Detroit Red Wings, 42 years but have now won 4; the Los Angeles Kings, 45 years but have now won 2; the Chicago Blackhawks, 49 years but have now won 2. The Rangers have won 1 Finals game in 20 years, and 1 Stanley Cup in 75 years -- one Cup in three-quarters of a century. "And this one will last a lifetime!" It already has: My father -- not a Ranger fan -- lived for 71 years, and that 1994 win was the only one the Rangers had in that stretch. The Rangers got to the Finals this past spring, but once in them, they were pathetic, and proved that they didn't belong. At least when the Devils got to the Finals against the same Kings in 2012, we fought back from 3 games to none, and the NHL told the refs that they'd better make sure that the Kings win Game 6, or else the Devils might win Game 7. The Rangers? Don't tell me that they fought hard into overtime in all 5 games: They went down meekly, and then whined about the officiating, as if Gary Bettman hadn't fixed it so that it was New York vs. Los Angeles. What did they expect?

* The Islanders? Yes, they're off to a great start. But if you consider this to be inspiring, you're nuts. They don't have what it takes to get out of the 1st Round of the Playoffs. They don't have a Mike Bossy or a Bryan Trottier. Hell, they don't even have a Pierre Turgeon or a Ziggy Palffy. The last season at the Nassau Coliseum is doomed, just as the preceding 20 years, since Turgeon and Palffy got them into the 1993 Conference Finals, were an exercise in futility.

So, as ready as we are to torch our head coach, Devils fans just might have the least dysfunctional team in the Area.

Since the Mets won the World Series on October 27, 1986, between them, the Yankees, the Giants and the Devils have won 12 World Championships; the other 6 teams combined, 1 (the '94 Rangers).

There are people old enough to vote, drive a car and serve in the armed forces, who are fans of the Mets, the Jets, the Knicks or the Nets, and the Rangers or the Islanders, who have never seen any of their teams win a title. In the New York Tri-State Area, with all the benefits that can bring. Presuming that none of those teams takes a title by next June, there will be people old enough to legally drink who have never seen those teams win -- and then, watch them drink.

*

It could be worse. Much, much worse. Cleveland has 3 teams, and hasn't celebrated a World Championship in half a century, since the 1964 Browns. The Browns are doing well this season, and LeBron James has returned to give the Cavaliers hope, but who's kidding who?

Philadelphia has 4 teams, and only the 2008 Phillies have won one in 31 years, since the 1983 76ers -- and of their 4 teams, only the Eagles look good at the moment.

Washington has 4 teams, and the Nationals look good now. But the Redskins haven't won a Super Bowl in 23 seasons, and haven't even reached the NFC Championship Game since then; the Wizards haven't won a title in 37 seasons, and haven't even reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 36, since they were the Bullets; the Capitals have been around for 40 years and are 0-4 all-time in Stanley Cup Finals games; and the Nats have flopped in 2 postseasons in 3 years, extending the capital region's baseball title drought to 90 years. Ninety years.

Milwaukee has the Bucks, who haven't won a title in 43 years; the Brewers, who have never won, have just 1 Pennant in 45 seasons, and haven't won a World Series in 57 years, since the 1957 Braves; and, sort-of, the Green Bay Packers, but even they have frustrated since winning a title 4 seasons ago. The Packers look like the best team in the NFL now, but that can change quickly.

Minnesota has the Twins, who haven't won a title in 23 years; the Vikings, who have never won a title in 54 seasons and haven't even been to a Super Bowl in 38 seasons; the Wild, who are extending a tradition of America's most hockey-mad State having never won the Stanley Cup despite trying for 47 years; and the Timberwolves, who are awful and have extended the Twin Cities' NBA title drought to 60 years, since the 1954 Lakers.

Dallas has the Mavericks, who won the NBA title only 4 seasons ago; the Stars, who won the Cup 16 seasons ago but haven't been to the Finals in 15 years; the Cowboys, the last of whose 5 Super Bowl wins was 19 years ago and they haven't gotten into it since; and the Rangers, 43 seasons without a title, having lost a World Series and then blown the one the next year in a way worse even than the 1986 Red Sox, and have since blown 2 sure Division title.

Houston has the Rockets, who last won a title 20 years ago and haven't even reached the Western Conference Finals in 18 years; the Astros, with just 1 Pennant and no title in 53 seasons; and the Texans, who've never reached a Conference Championship game and have extended the city's streak to 53 years without a title (since the Oilers won the AFL in 1961).

Miami won back-to-back titles with the Heat, but with LeBron gone, the Heat are just as much of a joke as the Marlins, the Panthers and the Dolphins -- once South Florida's signature team, but haven't won a title in 41 seasons, and haven't even reached the AFC Championship Game in 21 seasons.

And that's just U.S. cities with at least 3 teams.

Things are as bad as they've ever been in Tri-State Area sports. But they could be worse.

*

And all of the teams have hope:

* Yankees: Good pitching, a couple of good acquisitions, and the good hitters can't all get hurt at the same time again.

* Mets: David Wright still in his prime, plus good young pitching, especially with the return of Matt Harvey.

* Giants: They still have Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr. looks good, and Victor Cruz will be back next season.

* Jets: As horrible as it looks, a new coach will almost certainly be better than Rex Ryan. And the chances of getting a decent quarterback in the draft are good.

* Knicks: Once the cap space clears after this season, Phil Jackson will be ready to deal, and Derek Fisher will be ready to coach.

* Nets: They do have an organization that refuses to accept losing, which is a change all by itself. And Garnett can still play a little, and lend his veteran presence to guys like Brook Lopez and Deron Williams.

* Rangers: Henrik Lundqvist chokes hard in the Playoffs, but he's not horrible. Same with Rick Nash. They may suck, but they don't stink.

* Islanders: Off to a good start, and they get out of the Coliseum and into a good arena next fall.

* Devils: Lou Lamoriello is still general manager, Cory Schneider is a good young goalie, and there's a good base with guys like Adam Henrique.

The old saying is that the darkest hour is just before the dawn. Maybe the sun will come out in 2015.

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