Monday, February 22, 2010

The 1980 Gold Medal: It Was NOT a Miracle

The U.S. hockey team beat Canada, 5-3, in a fantastic group-stage game at General Motors Place in Vancouver -- rebranded "Canada Hockey Place" for the sake of the Olympics. It was the 1st time in 50 years that the U.S. beat Canada in Olympic hockey.

It's being called the greatest upset in the tournament since February 22, 1980, 30 years ago today, when the U.S. beat the Soviet Union in Lake Placid, New York, and then went on to beat Finland 2 days later for the Gold Medal.

Hail the Champions:

From Massachusetts, all from Boston University: Goaltender Jim Craig, right wing and team Captain Mike Eruzione, right wing Dave Silk and defenseman Jack O'Callahan.

From Michigan, but attending Ohio's Bowling Green State University: Defenseman Ken Morrow and center Mark Wells.

From Wisconsin, and the University of Wisconsin: Center Mark Johnson and defenseman Bob Suter (coached by later Pittsburgh Penguins coach "Badger Bob" Johnson, Mark's father).

From Minnesota, and the University of Minnesota: Head Coach Herb Brooks, defensemen Mike Ramsey and Bill Baker, center Neal Broten, right wings Steve Christoff and Eric Strobel, goaltender Steve Janaszak, left wings Rob McClanahan, Buzz Schneider and Phil Verchota.

From Minnesota, and the University of Minnesota's Duluth campus and team: Right wing John Harrington and center Mark Pavelich.

And from Minnesota, but the University of North Dakota: Right wing Dave Christian.

Schneider had also played on the '76 U.S. Olympic team. Harrington and Verchota played on the U.S. team again in '84. Brooks had played on the '64 team and was the last player cut from the '60 team that won the Gold Medal on home ice at Squaw Valley, California, a team that included Christian's father and uncle.

Broten and his brothers Aaron and Paul all played in the NHL, and all for the New Jersey Devils, as did Mark Johnson. Suter's brother Gary became an NHL star, and Bob's son Ryan is on this year's team.

"We Beat the Russians!" It was a great moment.

But a "miracle"? Miracle, my Yankee Doodle ass.

The Top 5 Reasons the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Win Was NOT a "Miracle"

Or, if you prefer, ESPN style...

The Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame the Soviet Union for Losing the 1980 Olympic Hockey Gold Medal.

5. Viktor Tikhonov. The USSR boss panicked when Mark Johnson scored with 1 second left in the 1st period, pulling Vladislav Tretiak, supposedly the best goalie in the world, for Vladimir Myshkin.

It wasn't that bad a choice, as Myshkin was terrific for 38 of the last 40 minutes. But when Johnson and Eruzione scored to take the U.S. from 3-2 down to 4-3 up halfway through the 3rd, it looked like Tikhonov had blown it.

After the game, the media looked for a Soviet who spoke English, and found Viacheslav Fetisov. They asked Slava what went wrong. He shrugged his shoulders and said, "Coach crazy!"

4. Vladislav Tretiak. The great goalie did screw up. Besides, his whole reputation was based on that 1972 Summit Series, in which he collapsed down the stretch.

Was he a deserving Hall-of-Famer? Yes. Was he as good as, say, Martin Brodeur? For 20 minutes, he was exactly as good as Jim Craig, who turned out to be a scrub by NHL standards.

3. Home Ice Advantage. If that game is played just 75 miles away, in Quebec, the Soviets win. But it was in the "U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" The Soviets were in a cauldron of patriotism, and they couldn't handle it.

2. No More Mystique. The big reason the Soviets were so heavily favored going into this game is that they embarrassed the U.S. team 10-3 at Madison Square Garden mere weeks before. They had beaten several NHL teams over the past few seasons. And most of the 1980 Soviets had also been on the 1972 team that pushed Canada's NHL All-Stars to the brink of an embarrassing defeat in the "Summit Series."

But by February 1980, those Soviet players and their tactics were no longer a mystery. We knew their tendencies, their strengths, their weaknesses. On top of that, the U.S. had already tied a strong Sweden team and beaten a Czech team that was stronger than the Swedes. The Soviets were great, no question about it. But familiarity bred courage. The Americans weren't afraid of the big Red bastards anymore.

1. King David. People call the story of a team or a person that wins when supposedly overmatched a "David vs. Goliath story." The funny thing is, people forget that David didn't kill Goliath with a slingshot, which sounds like a child's toy.  He knocked Goliath out with a sling, which can be a very formidable weapon, and then used a sword to hack the giant's head off.

By the same token, several of the U.S. players turned out to be very good. Morrow immediately began to help the New York Islanders win 4 straight Stanley Cups. Broten helped the Minnesota North Stars reach the 1981 Finals and, eventually, the New Jersey Devils to win the 1995 Stanley Cup.

Ramsey was a terrific defenseman for years with the Buffalo Sabres. Johnson, McClanahan and Pavelich almost always seemed to be in the Playoffs with one team or another.

Maybe they didn't become great kings like David (or even great Los Angeles Kings like Marcel Dionne), but they did, in a manner of speaking, "unite the tribes" -- the nation as a whole for a glorious weekend, and the nation's hockey fans for all time.

By contrast, most of those Soviet players had never played a full 80-odd-game NHL-style season. Once they did get into the NHL, except for Fetisov, they did not excel. Okay, the ones who did make it were old by then; and, to be fair, their best offensive player, Valery Kharlamov, was killed in a car crash on August 27, 1981, only a year and a half later.

We'll never know how good most of them could have been, but, like a college basketball superstar who goes from playing 35 games a season to 80 and can't hack it in the NBA, it's hard to see most of the Red Army playing so many games, especially since most of the Soviet Union's "major league" cities, despite the country's vast distances, weren't any further apart than the 3,000 miles separating North America's Atlantic and Pacific Coasts.

The 1980 U.S. team wasn't just "20 college kids." The majority of them, 13 out of 20, went on to play in the NHL, and most of those turned out to be good professionals. Better pros than the already "professional" Soviets.

It was not a miracle. It was, however, the greatest moment in sports history.

And while they're no longer Communists, I still don't like the Russians. I hope we play them in the Gold Medal game again. And shred the bastards.

UPDATE: In the Medal Round in 2010, it was Canada who ended up having to face the Russians, and beat them. The U.S. did beat Finland again, in the Semifinal, but lost the Gold Medal game to Canada on an overtime goal by Sidney Crosby.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tiger Woods, 1996-2009; Eldrick, 1975-?

Orenthal James Simpson killed three people. He killed Nicole Brown Simpson. He killed Ronald Goldman. And he killed "O.J. Simpson," the guy we thought we knew, the guy we liked. Born 1967 (the year "O.J." burst onto the national consciousness with USC), died 1994.

Eldrick Tont Woods only killed one person. He killed "Tiger Woods," the guy we thought we knew. Tiger Woods, born 1996, died 2009.

People who excel, at anything, have seen themselves do amazing things. Some of them get the idea that they can do anything.

Well, sometimes, they can, until they can't. Sooner or later, the public catches on.

Even Presidents. Lyndon Johnson found out he couldn't lie about Vietnam. Richard Nixon found out he couldn't like about Vietnam or the things he did to get himself re-elected. Ronald Reagan found out he couldn't lie about the things he did to combat terrorism in the Middle East or Communism in Nicaragua. (But, to the end, he got away with lying about the harm he caused the American economy.) George Bush the father found out he couldn't lie about the economy. George Bush the son found out he couldn't like about the economy, Iraq, torture, and his own apparent saintliness -- which, in the end, was apparently only to him.

More to the point, Bill Clinton found out he couldn't like about his marital transgressions. Sports stars have had this problem, too. The New York media covered up Babe Ruth's philandering and boozing, Joe DiMaggio's suspected violence toward Marilyn Monroe and suspected ties to organized crime figures, and Mickey Mantle's attempts to, uh, break the Babe's records.

But those days are over. Joe Namath may have killed such protections with his attitude of, "Yeah, I like to fool around with ladies and have a drink now and then, so what?" So what? Joe, you might have won a 2nd Super Bowl if you'd... Oh, who am I kidding: The Babe won 7 World Series (3 in Boston, 4 in New York), Joe D 9, Mickey 7.

Here in the New York area, we've seen blowups of the personal peccadilloes of Alex Rodriguez, Darryl Strawberry, Tiki Barber, Michael Strahan, Patrick Ewing, Isiah Thomas and Sean (the Slug) Avery. Frankly, I'm surprised Derek Jeter has managed to guard his private life as much as he has. Come to think of it, Reggie Jackson was a very wealthy, highly eligible bachelor (though a divorced one) in the post-Namath era, but we rarely heard anything of his love life.

But no one is immune. Not even Michael Jordan: Eventually, it came out that he had habitually cheated on his wife Juanita, and they split up.

If Jordan -- before Tiger, before Derek (still unmarried, though rumored to be engaged to actress Minka Kelly), before Peyton Manning (as far as I know, true to his wife), the original Nike-and-Gatorade man -- couldn't be protected forever, how could Tiger?

Face it, Eldrick: When the National Enquirer looks more credible than you do, you've got a problem.

He now acknowledges he has a problem. It's not the sex; that's a symptom, not the disease. The disease is an entitlement complex.

It's an old story: An athlete is told from the time he's a boy, "You are special. You can do anything." And he sees that he can do anything on the field. He begins to think he can do anything off the field. The next thing you know, he's caught in the VIP Room during a raid, or he's wrapped his car around a pole (I think you've had enough, Mr. Dykstra), or he's in rehab for some chemical or other (including, possibly, his own hormones), or he's kicked to the curb by the wife.

In Ball Four, Jim Bouton said that whatever an athlete's chronological age is, take off 10 years. This makes Tiger 24, not 34. (Of course, at the time Bouton wrote that, he was 30, therefore, by his own reckoning, he was 20.)

Tiger has admitted that he had this sense of entitlement, and that he took advantage of it. Point in his favor. He says he wants to make up for it. Another point in his favor. He also defended his wife against the allegation that she tried to clock him with a golf club, and that she shouldn't be dragged through the mud. Another point in his favor.

Right now, the first thing in his life should be straightening himself out. The last thing in his life should be what Nike, Gatorade, the PGA, and the people who still overlook his behavior want.

Being "Tiger Woods" is what got him into this mess. He has to be Eldrick again. That is the best thing for Eldrick, and the best punishment for "Tiger."

The next-best punishment for "Tiger" is to ignore him. Besides, it's golf. It's not even a sport.


Now, let's get back to the Winter Olympics, and the hashpipe. Excuse me, the halfpipe. That's not a sport, either. It's in the Olympics for one reason, and one reason only: To get the U.S. more medals. I'd rather beat the cold countries at their own games. If we do, great. If we don't, at least we're in classic Winter Olympic sports, not stuff that was made up for our benefit.

The U.S. team has beaten Switzerland and Norway. Nice. But the big game is against Canada on Sunday night. Win it, and they're in the knockout rounds. Lose it, and they'll still be in a play-in game for said rounds. So it won't be terrible if they lose it.

Besides, they may get another shot at Canada in one of said rounds, maybe even the Gold Medal Game like in 2002. I don't know if they'll win, but I hope they'll at least play the full 60 minutes; in 2002, they barely showed up for the 3rd period, and that's why Canada won: They played 60, and hard.


The Nets finally reached an agreement to play the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons at the Prudential Center in Newark. Maybe now, they'll get to experience a sellout with neither Kobe nor LeBron in sight. Come to think of it, maybe The Rock will get to experience one with neither the Rangers nor the Flyers in sight.

Here's an idea: Screw the Barclays Center proposal, and keep playing in Newark for the next 50 years! Be "the New Jersey Nets"! After all, they won't all be 5-49 seasons!

The Nets -- Nots? Naughts? Nuts? -- are still on a pace for 8-74, surpassing the 9-73 '73 76ers. They host Chris Bosh and the Toronto Raptors at the Meadowlands tonight. I'm not optimistic.


Pitchers and catchers have reported! Which means YAY! Onward and upward to Title 28!

Days until the Gold Medal hockey game: 9.

Days until the NHL's Olympic break ends (at least for the Devils): 11.

Days until the Devils play another local rival: 19, on Wednesday, March 10, at home against The Scum. Three days later, a trip to The Island to play the Fish Sticks.

Days until Opening Day of the 2010 baseball season: 44, the Yankees playing the Red Sox at Fenway for the ESPN Sunday-night season-opener. 6 weeks.

Days until the next North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham: 50. 7 weeks.

Days until the Yankees' 2010 home opener: 53. Less than 8 weeks.

Days until the 2010 World Cup begins: 101.

Days until the World Cup Final: 142.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 197.

Days until the new Meadowlands Stadium (still unnamed) opens: 198.

Days until East Brunswick plays football again: 203.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 279.

Days until Derek Jeter collects his 3,000th career hit: 467.

Days until the Rutgers-Army football game at Yankee Stadium: 631.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Too Much Snow Here, Not Enough in Vancouver

On the day of Super Bowl XXII, which was held in San Diego, it was warmer in Washington, whose Redskins beat the Denver Broncos, than it was in the host city. Well, Vancouver is at around 50 degrees and rainy, and here in Central Jersey it is snowing.

I wonder how many people heard that the tragic luge competitor was from "Georgia" and thought it was the U.S. State.

The Republic of Georgia has one of the sharpest-looking flags in the world. It's a shame it now covers the coffin of a 21-year-old athlete.

Every 4 years, the Winter Olympics makes otherwise sane people say things they would never ordinarily say, like, "Come on, U.S.A., knock some holes in that Swiss cheese!" and "I can't believe we choked in the Nordic combined! And to a French guy, no less!"

Last night, the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother took a few potshots at Canada -- one of the characters, Robin Scherbatsky, is from Vancouver, as is her portrayer, Cobie Smulders. The character played by Neil Patrick Harris (the kind of guy who would make his former character, Doogie Howser, refuse him medical treatment) made fun of Canadians' accents, their supposed lack of style in dress, their multicolored money, and their loves of hockey and curling.

I don't understand curling, and I understand the complaints about Canada's multicolored bills, which they had long before we did, and what's with that two-tone two-dollar coin, anyway? But come on. They're our friends. They fight like hell in wars (Lundy's Lane against us in 1814, when they were still with Britain; the Boer War, Vimy Ridge in WWI, Juno Beach on D-Day), they step in to keep peaces all over the world, they invented hockey, one of theirs came to our country and invented basketball, and they've produced women like Cobie Smulders, Pamela Anderson and Nelly Furtado (who looked dynamite at the Opening Ceremonies). And they've got a better National Anthem than we do.

But I reserve the right to make fun of the Toronto Blue Jays and Toronto Maple Leafs. The Jays because they're in the same division as the Yankees, and the Leafs because, well, even Canadians make fun of them. After all, the last time they won the Stanley Cup, or even reached the Finals, Lester Pearson was the sitting Prime Minister, not the airport.

But that beats Vancouver. The Canucks celebrate their 40th Anniversary this year, and they're 0-for-2 in the Finals, both times losing to New York: The Isles in 1982 and The Scum in 1994. The last team from that city to go all the way was the 1915 Vancouver Millionaires, led by the brothers Lester and Frank Patrick. That's 95 years. Makes the Rangers' 54-year drought seem bearable, eh?

Still, Canada should be the favorite in the Olympic hockey tournament. After all, they've got the greatest goalie on the planet. And I don't mean Roberto Luongo. How can he be the greatest: He plays for the Vancouver Canucks!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Snow Job for New Jersey's Teams

On Wednesday night, for the 2nd time in 3 nights, the Devils played the Philadelphia Flyers, the Broad Street Bullies – or, as I prefer to call them, the Broad Street Bozos. And the result was the same on Wednesday at the Prudential Center as it was on Monday night at Whatever Bank Owns This Season's Naming Rights Center in Philly: Two-nil, and the Devils fucked it up, and lost 3-2 on Simon Gagne's overtime goal. Rats!

But that's not the worst of it: The worst of it is that they played despite a 15-inch blizzard. Did they learn nothing from the January 22, 1987 game with the Calgary Flames, when only 334 people came out to the Brendan Byrne Arena at the Meadowlands? (Nope, that's not a misprint: Three hundred and thirty-four. Had you been Number 335, you could have counted the rest during a single power play. The Devils won, 7-5.)

The attendance on Wednesday night, for an opponent with a nasty rivalry and a fan base that, despite being almost as evolved as the Geico Cavemen, travels well, was 5,580. I’ve been to high school basketball games with bigger crowds. (Not many, a couple of Middlesex County Tournament "final four" games at the Rutgers Athletic Center, but it has happened.) The Devils would have been better off postponing the game, and trying to get a sellout of 17,625 at another time.

Speaking of high school basketball games, that's what the Nets said it felt like, playing at home the same night against the Milwaukee Bucks. At the Byrne… no, Continental… no, Izod Center… it is still the "Izod Center," right? Or is that "IZOD Center"?... they lost 97-77, and the attendance was 1,016.

I have seen quite a few games at East Brunswick High School's gym with bigger crowds than that. (It can hold about 1,800.) Long-time lame-duck franchise (as contradictory as that sounds) + historically bad season (still on pace to surpass the 1973 Philadelphia 76ers' 9-73 as the worst record in NBA history) + bad building + no rivalry with opposing team + no marquee star on opposing team + opposing team not having a lot of traveling fans + economy still in the early stages of recovery from a dreadful recession = pathetic attendance. One thousand and sixteen. I've been on New Jersey Transit trains with more people than that on them!

So New Jersey's 2 major league sports teams (remember, it's the New York Giants and the New York Jets, regardless of their inability to pass a geography class) both played at home at the same time (impossible until the Devils' 2007 move from East Rutherford to Newark), and got a combined 6,596 fans.

Oy vey. Sounds like a serious underbid in the Showcase segment of The Price Is Right. Twenty years ago, when Bob Barker was not only still the host, but still dying his hair. (Speaking of which, yesterday morning, in anticipation of this Sunday's NBA All-Star Game, NBA legends Bill Walton and James Worthy guest-starred in the Showcase segment, offering a trip to said All-Star Game, although the woman bidding on it lost.)

The same night: The Rangers (who suck), home to the Nashville Predators (who?), did not sell out Madison Square Garden, filling only 13,128 of 18,200 seats; the Montreal Canadiens, no strangers to cold and snow, sold out the Bell Centre with 21,273 seats in defeating the Washington Capitals (who, to be fair, are leading the Eastern Conference and do have Alexander Ovechkin); and the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins, also within range of the blizzard, got a sellout of 16,980 at the Civic Arena (excuse me, the Mellon Arena) in a win over the Islanders. There were 3 other games that night, none of them hit by the blizzard.

The NBA the same night? Only 1 other game was played anywhere near the blizzard, and it was in Toronto, where the Raptors hosted the Philadelphia 76ers, and won in front of 16,651, not a bad crowd considering the Raptors are the city's 4th team (behind the NHL's Maple Leafs, the CFL's Argonauts and MLB's Blue Jays – maybe even the 5th behind MLS' Toronto FC).

Ranger and Flyer fans, drunken animals that they both are, like to joke about the Devils' attendance. This has to stop. And we, the fans, can do some things about it.

One way that Devils management can help it to stop is that they can pay attention to weather reports, and acknowledge the fact that playing in the winter does, sometimes, mean you have to postpone games due to snow and icy roads. If you have the Black & Orange Bastards scheduled, and you're told to expect a foot and a half of snow (we got 15 inches in East Brunswick, they may have gotten 18 in Newark, and they got at least that much in Philly, Baltimore and D.C.), don't wait to see how bad the snow actually turns out to be: Lou Lamoriello, get Ed Snider and Gary Bettman on a conference call and reschedule the damn thing!


Tonight, the Winter Olympics begin in Vancouver, and the NHL goes on a break. Hopefully, it'll be less stressful than Ross and Rachel’s infamous "break" on Friends.

But I wouldn't bet on it: Paul Martin of the Devils is already off the U.S. team due to an injury, and Zach Parise may also be hurt.

It' in Canada, so Team Canada will play like they don't just want the Gold Medal, but as if they have to have it. I wouldn't mind if they did, but I want it for the U.S.

At least we don’t have a situation like we had in 1998 and 2002. Remember? There, in blue, were Brian Leetch and Mike Richter. There, in red, were Scott Stevens and Martin Brodeur. So far, so good. Except, on those occasions, Leetch and Richter, both of them Ranger Scum, were playing for the U.S., while Scottso and Marty, the 2 greatest and most important players in Devils history, were playing for the team that stood in the way of us winning the Gold, and I had to root for Leetch and Richter, and against Stevens and Brodeur.

Canada won, so Scottso and Marty got their Gold Medals. In all honesty, the Canadians worked harder to win that game, and deserved to win. It remains the only Olympic hockey game the U.S. has ever lost on home soil. (We didn't enter a team in Lake Placid in 1932, we won the Gold at Squaw Valley in 1960 and at Lake Placid in 1980, and we got all the way to the Gold Medal Game at Salt Lake in 2002.)

On the U.S. team: 5 from Michigan, 4 from Minnesota, 3 from New York State (but none further east or south than Ithaca), 2 from Connecticut (Chris Drury of Trumbull and Jonathan Quick of Hamden, both closer to Boston than to New York), and one each from Massachusetts (Ryan Whitney of Anaheim, from Scituate, smallest Bruin State total ever, I think), California (Brooks Orpik of Pittsburgh, from San Francisco), Missouri (Paul Stastny of Colorado, born when Slovakian-born father Peter played for St. Louis), Pennsylvania (Ryan Malone of Tampa Bay, from Pittsburgh), and, for the first time ever that I know of, New Jersey (Bobby Ryan of Anaheim, from Cherry Hill, outside Philly).

On Team Canada: 8 from Ontario, 4 from Quebec (including all 3 goaltenders: Brodeur, Roberto Luongo and Marc-Andre Fleury), 3 from Saskatchewan, 2 from Manitoba, 2 from Alberta (Jarome Iginla and ex-Devil Scott Niedermayer, like Iginla born in Edmonton, but raised in Cranbrook, British Columbia), 2 from British Columbia (they, along with Nieder, are thus playing in their home Province, not just their home country), 1 from the Maritime Provinces (Cindy, excuse me, Sidney Crosby from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia), and Dany Heatley, born in Germany when his Calgary-born father was playing there and married a German woman, so that sort of makes 2 from Alberta and 3 from B.C., if you put Niedermayer where he grew up rather than where he was born.

When we get to February 22, the 30th Anniversary of the 1980 victory over the Soviets, I'm going to show you why it was not a "miracle." No, seriously, it wasn't a miracle. Stay tuned.


Hours until the 2010 Winter Olympics begin in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, right here on this continent, if not in this country: 4.

Days until the NHL's Olympic break ends (at least for the Devils): 18.

Days until the Devils play another local rival: 26, Wednesday, March 10, at home against the Rangers (a.k.a. The Scum).

Days until Opening Day of the 2010 baseball season: 51, the Yankees playing the Red Sox at Fenway for the ESPN Sunday-night season-opener. Just over 7 weeks.

Days until the next North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham: 57.

Days until the Yankees' 2010 home opener: 60. Two months.

Days until the 2010 World Cup begins: 118. Less than 4 months.

Days until the World Cup Final: 149.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 204. Less than 7 months.

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

Days until East Brunswick plays football again: 210.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 286.

Days until Derek Jeter collects his 3,000th career hit: 474.

Days until the Rutgers-Army football game at Yankee Stadium: 638.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Saints Alive!

It's easy for any team's fans to say, "We deserved this." But, possibly not since the Detroit Tigers won the 1968 World Series, a little over a year after the most notorious race riot in American history happened within walking distance of Tiger Stadium, has a place needed a big win more than New Orleans needed the Saints winning Super Bowl XLIV.

Sure, New York needed the World Series wins of the Yankees in 1977, '78 and '96 -- though it didn't get the one in 2001, when it needed it a lot more -- and the Mets in '69 and '86. But, aside from the NBA's Hornets, the Saints are all New Orleans has in terms of big-time sports. Unless, that is, Tulane University has won something big in the last few... decades. The Sugar Bowl and the Bayou Classic are one day a year, while the Super Bowl and the NCAA Final Four are events they host every few years, but generally don't play in.

Sean Payton must have titanium testicles (which are even more solid and powerful than "brass balls") to have called for the onside kick to start the 2nd half. It was a message: "I'm afraid of Peyton Manning, so screw him, I'm taking the ball."

And I didn't notice at the moment, shocked as I was by the gutsiness of the call, but the Colt player who touched the ball, making it live even though it didn't go the otherwise necessary 10 yards, was former Philadelphia Eagle Hank Baskett, who is now best known as the husband of reality-show star Kendra Wilkinson. I suspect that the next time Kendra gets together with fellow E! show stars Kourteney and Khloe Kardashian, sisters of Kim, girlfriend of the Saints' Reggie Bush, that they'll have something to talk about.

But this game was not lost, it was won. Don't blame the Colts for "choking" or "folding": The Saints took it to them, hit them hard, made their own breaks, and didn't screw up. Besides, most of those Colts already have rings from 3 years ago. This is not a loss on the scale of the one their Baltimore forebears had in Super Bowl III, which was, as we tend to forget, avenged 2 years later when they beat the Cowboys.

I went up to get a drink from the fridge, and when I came back, I saw a commercial with a middle-aged woman saying, "I still worry about his health." I thought it was an anti-smoking ad. Turned out to be Tim Tebow's mother.

If those hypocritical gasbags at "Focus On the Family" were as smart as they think they are, they wouldn't have announced they were sponsoring that ad. They would've just bought it, and let it air. Had they done that, I think there would have been no controversy whatsoever.

And yet, after the game, when Drew Brees was holding his 1-year-old son, with headphones on the boy's ears to protect him from the noise, to me, that was a better statement about the joy of parenthood and "the sanctity of life."

The Who used to be great. Now they are washed up. The spirit was willing, but, Roger, I'm sorry, your voice is not what it was. Pete's fingers still work, but it's time to make this their farewell appearance -- no, no, really, they should mean it this time.

By contrast, Queen Latifah was great on "America the Beautiful," and, unlike fellow East Orange, New Jersey native Whitney Houston, XIX Super Bowls ago, she didn't need to lip-synch. And Carrie Underwood did a fine job on "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Amazing: She got to the Super Bowl before her former "Cowboy Casanova" Tony Romo did. What kind of putz cheats on a woman like Carrie Underwood? Good thing he didn't cheat on Queen Latifah, or she'd have creamed him. And not just because he plays for the Dallas Cowboys, although that's reason enough.

And how about this: The only Dallas Cowboy we saw at the Super Bowl was Ed "Too Tall" Jones during one of the Geico commercials. And, in another, the Cavemen finally come off looking good in one of them. I guess, if Jay Leno and David Letterman can make peace, so can Geico and the Cavemen.

How about 88-year-old Betty White, talkin' trash and takin' names? And Abe Vigoda, about to turn 89, in the same ad. Not only is he still alive (contrary to varying reports since 1982, apparently), but he hasn't aged a day in 35 years. You go, Sue Ann and Detective Fish!

Congratulations to the Saints, to the people of the City of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana. As was said after another championship -- one this New Jersey Devils fan wanted to end differently -- "This one will last a lifetime!"

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Why I'm Rooting for the Saints

Super Bowl XLIV -- that's 44 for those of you not yet infected with gridhypeitis -- will be played this Sunday, at Sun Life Stadium, the once-again-renamed home of the Miami Dolphins, in the Miami suburbs. It will kick off at around 6:30 PM Eastern Time. The opposing teams will be the AFC Champion Indianapolis Colts and the NFC Champion New Orleans Saints.

The Colts won the Super Bowl just 3 seasons ago, and, in their Baltimore incarnation, also won NFL Championships in 1958, 1959 and 1970-71 (Super Bowl V). The Saints are in their 1st Super Bowl in 43 seasons of trying.

I used to have several reasons not to like Indiana. But there's no point now. The reasons I'm rooting for the Saints are as follows:

* They've waited longer.

* Peyton Manning, Rutgers man Gary Brackett, and most of the current Colts already have a ring -- including head coach Jim Caldwell, an assistant to Tony Dungy 3 years ago.

* The State of Louisiana has suffered so much, even if you look beyond Hurricane Katrina.

* Louisiana's Bill Dickey helped the Yankees win a lot more Pennants than Indiana's Don Mattingly. (Okay, that was cheap shot.)

* The Saints have Reggie Bush, whose girlfriend is Kim Kardashian; the Colts have Hank Baskett, whose wife is Kendra Wilkinson. (So much for "You on your own now.")

Now, my rooting for the Saints has nothing to do with the Colts having beaten the Jets. Although my sister, a Jet fan, is taking the Colts for that reason.

When I was a kid, if the Yankees lost the Division, or won it but lost the ALCS, I automatically rooted against the team that beat them for the rest of the season. In 1979, I wanted the California Angels (which didn't work) and then the Pittsburgh Pirates (which did) over the Baltimore Orioles.

In 1980, I wanted the Philadelphia Phillies over the Kansas City Royals (the Phils won). In 1981, it didn't matter, as the Yanks lost the World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and that was it. In 1982, the Yanks bombed out, with the Milwaukee Brewers winning the AL East (seriously), but I had no trouble rooting for the Angels in the ALCS, as they had my man Reggie. But the Brewers won, and yet for some reason I think I rooted for them against the St. Louis Cardinals in the Series (the Cards won). In 1983, I rooted for first the Chicago White Sox, then the Phils, over the Orioles (neither of which worked).

By 1984, I realized how immature this was. Or maybe, regardless of how badly the Detroit Tigers beat the Yanks that year, I couldn't bring myself to root for George "Hemmorrhoid" Brett and the Royals in the ALCS.

The Colts are favored, as they should be. And there's nothing wrong with rooting for them. Peyton Manning really did move, this season, from the level of superstar to the level of the all-time greats. He, not Brett Favre, or John Elway, is the greatest quarterback since the glory days of Joe Montana.

But I think that, outside of Indiana and the people who love Peyton's commercials, the Saints are America's Team. (Shut up, Cowboy fans, you front-running cocksuckers.) God knows, they've earned that, with the way they rallied the City of New Orleans, and indeed the entire State of Louisiana, after Hurricane Katrina. They became the symbol of the restoration of one of America's most significant cities.

Now, winning the Super Bowl wouldn't "finish the job." No city sees all its problems come to an end when its team wins a Super Bowl, a World Series, a Stanley Cup, or whatever. But it will be closure for the time of trial that began with the hurricane.

What does Indiana have, in their entire history, to match that? A few tornadoes? The average person outside Indiana can't cite a single terrible thing that happened there. (Indeed, Indianapolis, thanks to a conciliatory speech that Robert Kennedy made there, was one of the few cities that didn't have race riots in the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King.) In contrast, everyone knows about Katrina. There are people who might ordinarily root for the Colts, possibly because of Manning, who are supporting the Saints because of their role in the Crescent City's rebirth.

Don't go to a bookie with these picks. If I'm going with my head, it'll be Colts 34, Saints 14. But if I'm going with my heart... Saints 21, Colts 17.

I think we'll all want to be in that number when the Saints go marching in.

Although... In the last few years, we've seen the Patriots win 3 Super Bowls, the Broncos 2, one each for the Rams and Buccaneers (no, I haven't been smoking pot). At least getting into one over that stretch have been the Falcons, the Titans (formerly the Oilers), the Panthers (who didn't even freaking exist until 1995), the Eagles, the Seahawks and, I still can't believe it, the Cardinals.

If those teams can at least get into the Super Bowl, and some of them can even win one, why can't the Jets?

(Because they're the New York Jets, that's why.)


Days until the Devils play another local rival: 2, Saturday night, at Madison Square Garden against The Scum. Then a home-and-home with those other bastards, the Philadelphia Flyers.

Days until the 2010 Winter Olympics begin in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, right here on this continent, if not in this country: 8, next Friday night.

Days until the NHL's Olympic break ends (at least for the Devils): 26.

Days until Opening Day of the 2010 baseball season: 59, the Yankees playing the Red Sox at Fenway for the ESPN Sunday-night season-opener. Under 2 months.

Days until the next North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham: 65.

Days until the Yankees' 2010 home opener: 68. Under 10 weeks.

Days until the 2010 World Cup begins: 126.

Days until the World Cup Final: 157.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 212.

Days until the new Meadowlands Stadium (still unnamed) opens: 213.

Days until East Brunswick plays football again: 218.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 294.

Days until Derek Jeter collects his 3,000th career hit: 482.

Days until the Rutgers-Army football game at Yankee Stadium: 646.