Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Dropping the Ball, Dropping the Ball

Happy New Year to all.

Every year, in New York's Times Square, at one minute to midnight on New Year's Eve, a ball is dropped to signal the New Year.

Since the Mets are so good at dropping balls, which one will be chosen for the Times Square drop?

Here are the Top 10 Ball-Drops in Sports for 2008. By "ball-drop" I mean on-field blunders or management miscues.

10. Alex Rodriguez. Maybe it's time to get him a lifetime achievement award.

9. The University of Memphis basketball team. Remember what that preening schmo John Calipari was coaching at the University of Massachusetts? They beat Temple in a game, and Temple coach John Chaney was, shall we say, rather miffed. He busted into Cal's postgame press conference, and yelled at Cal, "I'll kill you! I'll kick your ass!"

Now, I don't advocate the former, although the latter would've been fun to see. But if, for whatever reason, the incredibly overrated Calipari were not coaching Memphis in the 2008 National Championship Game, would they have blown a big late lead against the University of Kansas? Maybe, because Kansas was a very good team that deserved to win. That's why I can't rank this one any higher than 9th.

Dishonorable mention to the University of Michigan football team, for the worst season in their history, but at least they beat Notre Dame, which gets another dishonorable mention.

8. The Chicago Bears. The National Hockey League Winter Classic, to be held tomorrow afternoon, between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings? No problem there. But at Wrigley Field? No, the shape of the field and the stadium is totally unsuited to hockey! It should have been at Soldier Field, whose shape is much better-suited.

The Bears objected, saying they were hoping to host a first-round Playoff game at Soldier Field. How'd that work out, Not-So-Monstrous-Ones-of-the-Midway?

7. The New Jersey Devils. I'm taking this one personally, and they have gotten better in the season that started in October. But, in April, they blew it in the 1st round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. You do not blow it in the first round of the Playoffs in your first season in a great new home arena, or even in a halfway decent one.

And to the damned Rangers? Don't you know the Rangers are supposed to suck? Gentlemen, we must do better in 2009.

6. The New York Jets. They dumped Chad Pennington as their quarterback in favor of Brett Favre. Result? Last game of the season, the Dolphins beat the Jets, at the Meadowlands, to win the AFC East and keep the J-E-T-S-Oy-yi-yi out of the Playoffs. And on his last play (ever?), Favre looks like not just an old player but a damn fool.

Frankly, I'm beginning to wonder if the Jets even have any reason to continue to exist.

5. The Dallas Cowboys. This season, they weren't just their usual bunch of preening schmoes, they were a bunch of whining crybabies. What a magnificent season-ender the Philadelphia Eagles put on the Cowbozos: 44-6! And Tony Romo's girlfriend Jessica "the Jinx" Simpson wasn't even in the house! But Terrell Owens and Adam "Dropman" Jones were.

Dishonorable mention to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Denver Broncos, each of whom only had to win 1 of their last 3 games to make the Playoffs, and combined to go 0-6 in those games.

4. Kobe Bryant. He wanted the Los Angeles Lakers to be his team. He wanted to win an NBA Championship without Shaquille O'Neal. He got half of what he wanted.

The Shaq-Kobe question is settled for all time. Even if Kobe does someday win a title without Shaq... even if he manages to top Shaq by winning 2 without him... it won't be as "the best basketball player in the world," and it won't be with the Lakers as "Kobe's team." It'll have to be an incredibly balanced team, like the one that beat him in the 2008 Finals, the Boston Celtics.

You think Kevin Garnett cares that nobody thinks of the '08 Celtics as "K.G.'s team"? He didn't care who got the credit, he just wanted the title. And he got it.

Shaq, you spoke not only for yourself, but for everyone who's sick of Kobe's act, when you rapped, "Kobe! Tell me how my ass taste!"

3. The New England Patriots. No, not for the season of theirs that ended in December, the one that ended in February. Eighteen and one. Not Number 1.

There have been many chokes by Boston/New England sports teams, but this one is already getting overlooked, because the team benefiting from it, the New York Giants, is getting more out of it than the team that perpetrated it, the Cheatriots.

With Tom Bundchen (a.k.a. Brady) going down in the 1st quarter of the next game the Pats played that mattered, and then missing the Playoffs (even though they went 11-5 and the San Diego Chargers made it as AFC West Champs though they went 8-8), the punishment for their 3 Super Bowl cheats is... aw, hell, it ain't even close to being enough!

2. The New York Mets. They should open Citi Field on February 2, because the last 2 Septembers have been "Groundhog Day." They should get Bill Murray to throw out the first ball. Except he can't. Partly because he's a Chicago Cubs fan. And partly because, at the end of the film Groundhog Day, he got it right. The Mets never do. The Curse of Kevin Mitchell lives.

True, the Yankees were eliminated a week sooner, and were out of the race sooner. But that means that, unlike the Mets, they didn't put their fans through an extra month's worth of misery, not to mention almost an identical misery of the preceding season. And they were able to close out Yankee Stadium, if not with another World Championship, then at least with a win and without embarrassing themselves.

The Mets, as usual, were unable to die with dignity.

And the Number 1 Biggest Ball-Drop in Sports for Calendar Year 2008:

1. The Met Fans. The Flushing Heathen fell for it. Again. When will they ever learn?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Oh, Say, Can You CC? Yes, We Can! And Flash In the Hall

CC Sabathia is apparently about to sign with the Yankees. So he gets the best of both worlds: He pitches for the baseball franchise, and he can afford the off-season house on the West Coast that he wants, leading many to think he would sign with the Dodgers.

Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez, who set a new single-season record by recording 62 saves with the Angels, has signed with the Mets. Which means K-Rod walks home a Pennant-losing run with the bases loaded (think: Kenny Rogers in 1999), or gives up a cheap home run to some banjo hitter (think: Armando Benitez many times from 1996 to 2001 or Aaron Heilman in 2006).

The Cleveland Indians appear to be close to signing Kerry Wood, the former Cubs starter whose brilliant career was cut short by injury, until he became their closer this year, and was reborn. Then they got rid of him. Dumb decisions like this are why, in the words of Steve Goodman (the late, great songwriter who wrote the train song "The City of New Orleans"), "The law of averages says anything will happen that can, but the last time the Cubs won a National League Pennant was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan." 1945.


Joe Gordon, the Yankee 2nd baseman from 1938 to 1946, was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans' Committee.
Good choice. But, again, two obvious choices got hosed: Ron Santo, the Cubs third baseman of the 1960s and 1970s, and Gil Hodges, the Dodgers first baseman of the 1940s and 1950s, who managed the Mets to the 1969 World Championship.

"Flash" Gordon, nicknamed for the comic strip character played in movies by Olympic swimming Gold Medalist Buster Crabbe, died in 1978, so he won't be accepting in person. Hodges died in 1972 while still Met manager, and has never been able to speak up for his own cause, which includes being one of the top power hitters of his era, the best-fielding first baseman of that time, and did I mention that he actually managed the Mets to a Series? Santo, the top National League third baseman of his time and a really good hitter, is still alive, and broadcasting for the Cubs, but has diabetes and has lost both legs to it, walking on prostheses and crutches. I don't know how much longer he has, but if anyone in baseball has reason to be bitter (through everything that's happened to both himself and the Cubs), he's the one.


Days until the Devils play another nearby rival: 2, Friday night, at home against the Rangers (who suck).

Days until Rutgers plays again: 19. (I'll have an entry about them soon.)

Days until the end of the Bush Administration and the Obama Inauguration: 41.

Days until the dismantling of the original Yankee Stadium begins: 95.

Days until the new baseball season begins: 119.

Days until the new Yankee Stadium opens: 127.

Days until East Brunswick plays football again: 275.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 351.

Friday, December 5, 2008

RU Football, Very Good; EB Football, Not So Much

When does a loss to your biggest rival stop hurting? When I get over East Brunswick High School's 1986 football loss to Madison Central, the school now known as Old Bridge High, I'll let you know. (And we didn't even play them on Thanksgiving back then.) Anyway, as to the latest, it's taken me eight days to "get over it" enough to post about it.

EB lost the Thanksgiving game, 24-21. We took a 21-17 lead in the 4th quarter, but poor pass coverage let Old Bridge get close enough to score a winning touchdown. The difference was two field goal attempts, one in the 2nd quarter and one on the final play, that went wide in the wind. We can't blame the kicker, especially for the last one: From the 13-yard line, in that wind, we should have gone for the winning touchdown instead of the tying tie.

The Bears' final record is 4-6, including 5 leads blown in the second half, 3 of them in the 4th quarter, 2 of them within the last 4 minutes. And this is the 16th time in the last 18 years we've lost to the team that puts the "OB" in "slob." It's 13 out of 15 since we started playing them on Thanksgiving in 1994; overall, going back to 1963, their first season of football (they were known as Madison Township until 1975, when the town's name was changed to Old Bridge, then they were Madison Central until merging with crosstown Cedar Ridge in 1994), and our third, the once-Blue, now Purple Bastards lead 27-19-2. (I'm not counting our record against Cedar Ridge, which was pathetic for nearly all of its football history from 1969 to 1993; if I counted all games against teams from Madison/Old Bridge Township, EB would lead 35-30-2.)

It's too bad, because I really, really, really wanted to do to them what English "football" fans sometimes do, which is take the Monkees' tune "Daydream Believer" and adapt it for their arch-rivals, in my case the school that plays its games at the intersection of U.S. Route 9 and County Route 516:

Cheer up, 516!
Oh, what can it mean
to a... Sad Purple Bastard
with a... shit football team!

Alas, despite their final record of 3-7, they were not shit on Thanksgiving, and they've got a lot of guys coming back. But then, so do we, and next year, it's at Jay Doyle Field, a.k.a. "Bear Mountain." The Big Green will be ready for the Purple Bastards.

We'd better be...


In 2004, Rutgers beat the University of Louisville at home. In 2005, Rutgers went out to Louisville, then highly-ranked, and ran out onto the field and jumped on their midfield logo. Big mistake: Louisville won, 56-5. In 2006, Louisville came into Rutgers Stadium with both teams undefeated on November 9, and pulled off a 28-25 nationally-televised win that still ranks as the program's signature win, and ruined Louisville's Big East and National Championship hopes, and in some ways their program hasn't recovered. (Rutgers fell apart shortly thereafter, but has stayed good.) In 2007, on the road, Rutgers lost on a last-minute Louisville field goal.

These two teams, conference opponents but separated by 750 miles, just don't like each other.

They played last night in the regular-season finale for both teams. Rutgers came out like a house afire, and torched Louisville for seven touchdowns, while the RU defense totally smothered the Cardinals. The Scarlet Knights led at halftime, 49-0, and cruised to a 63-14 victory. With ex-Louisville coach Bobby Petrino now making a mess of things at the University of Arkansas, I don't expect Louisville to get much in the way of revenge next season.

After a 1-5 start, Rutgers is now 7-5, and will definitely go to a bowl game, probably the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Oh, the prestigue.) Four straight years of bowl games after over 100 years of the bowls being in existence and only one visit to any by Rutgers -- and that one we made up ourselves just so we could go and we lost it and didn't revive it because only 25,000 people showed up at the frigid Meadowlands.

Coach Greg Schiano was a happy man last night. So was quarterback Mike Teel, who broke a Rutgers record and tied a Big East record with 7 touchdown passes.

Good way to end a rollercoaster of a regular season. RU finishes 5-2 in the Big East, which will be no worse than 2nd behind Cincinnati, their highest finish ever. If Pittsburgh or West Virginia wins on Saturday, that team (or both) will be 5-2 and be tied with Rutgers. If they both lose (not likely), RU will be 2nd all but itself.

You know who I feel sorry for? The cheerleaders who had to do all those push-ups every time RU scored last night.

The Devils beat the Philadelphia Flyers in overtime in Philly last night. And they blew up their house, too. (Sorry, they didn't really blow up the Wachovia Center. I just drifted over into a Bruce Springsteen song.) Tomorrow night, they go up to Montreal to play the Canadiens, who beat the Rangers last night. Did I ever mention I hate the Rangers?

I still haven't heard anything new about the Yankees trying to sign CC Sabathia.

So the Mets are going to keep the name Citi Field for their new ballpark, despite CitiGroup's troubles. They're finally building what looks like a decent ballpark, and they screw that up, too. But then, what did you expect: They're the Mets! You know what M-E-T-S stands for, right?



Days until the Devils play another nearby rival: 7, next Friday night, at home against the Rangers (who suck).

Days until Rutgers plays again: 22, on December 27, presuming they actually are headed for the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, against a team yet to be determined but definitely from the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Days until the end of the Bush Administration and the Obama Inauguration: 46.

Days until the dismantling of the original Yankee Stadium begins: 100.

Days until the new baseball season begins: 124.

Days until the new Yankee Stadium opens: 132.

Days until East Brunswick plays football again: 280.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 356. You can tell a rivalry is nasty when the team that loses starts counting down the days until the next clash with 365. I must be getting mature in my middle age: I didn't start a new count in my head until 364.