Monday, November 30, 2015

Horseshoes and Hand Grenades

The New York Red Bulls almost pulled off a miracle last night. But you know what they say: "'Almost' only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades."

For the 2nd time in 3 seasons, they won Major League Soccer's Supporters' Shield, for having the best overall record in the regular season. In any other soccer league on the planet, this would have made them League Champions.

Not in MLS. Because it's a North American league, they have Playoffs. And, just as in 2013, the Red Bulls went out in the Conference Finals.

They let the Columbus Crew score on them 9 seconds -- not minutes -- into the 1st Leg, and allowed another in stoppage time, and failed to score a vital away goal, and went into last night's 2nd Leg at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey trailing 2-0.

In other words, they had to win 2-0 just to send the game to extra time. A 3-1 win would have been no good: That would have made it 3-3 on aggregate, and 1-0 to Columbus on away goals.

It took until the 3rd minute of a 4-minute stoppage time for Metro to get a goal, from Anatole Abang. For a moment, the fans -- the ones who hadn't left early, that is -- had reason to hope for a miracle.

But in the 95th minute, a minute now necessary because of the goal, Bradley Wright-Phillips hit the post, and that was it.

How much woodwork would a Red Bull work, if a Red Bull could work woodwork?

The game ended 1-0 to the Jersey Boys, but 2-1 to the Ohioans on aggregate. The Crew advance to next Sunday's MLS Cup Final, where they will host the Portland Timbers.

The Red Bulls, founded as the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, have ended their 20th season, and have still never won the MLS Cup.

They will always let you down.

*

It's been a while since I did a countdown, so here goes:

Days until the Devils next play a local rival: 4, this Friday night, against the Philadelphia Flyers, a.k.a. The Philth, at home, at the Prudential Center in Newark. The Devils next play the New York Islanders on Sunday afternoon, December 13, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn; and the New York Rangers, a.k.a. The Scum, on Tuesday night, February 2, at home.

Days until Arsenal play again: 5, this Saturday morning (our time), home to North-East club Sunderland. Arsenal played a lousy 0-0 draw with Norfolk club Norwich City yesterday, setting the tone for the Red Bulls match.

Days until the next North London Derby: 96, on Saturday, March 5, 2016, at White Hart Lane. Depending on British TV coverage, this game may be moved to the following day.

Days until the Red Bulls play again: As yet unknown, but they usually open the season on the 3rd Sunday in March, which would be March 20, 2016, which would be 111 days.

Days until the Red Bulls play another derby: Unknown when they will again play New York City F.C., the Philadelphia Union, D.C. United or the New England Revolution.

Days until the U.S. national soccer team plays again: 116, on Friday, March 25, 2016, away to Guatemala in a World Cup Qualifier.

Days until the Yankees play again: 126, on Monday, April 4, 2016. A little over 4 months.

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series: 144, on Friday, April 22, 2016.

Days until the Copa América Centenario kicks off: 187, on June 3, 2016.

Days until Euro 2016 in France kicks off: 194, on Friday, June 10, 2016.

Days until the next Yankees-Mets series: 247, on Monday, August 1, 2016. It will be played over 4 days, 2 at Citi Field, then 2 at Yankee Stadium II.

Days until the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: 251, on Friday, August 5, 2016.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 278, on Saturday, September 3, 2016, away to the University of Washington.

Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: 284, on Friday, September 9, 2016, opponent to be determined. Yes, we lost the Thanksgiving game against the Purple Bastards, again, this time 20-7 at home.

Days until the next World Cup of Hockey begins: 292, on Saturday, September 17, 2016. All games will be played at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving game: 359, on November 24, 2016, at the Shithole.

Days until Alex Rodriguez' contract runs out: 702, on October 31, 2017. Seriously: 1 World Championship in 12 seasons is better than many teams have done, but it is not acceptable for the New York Yankees, and he has failed us and embarrassed us too many times. If Brian Cashman grows a pair and buys him out before then, it will be the best thing for the Yankees.

Days until the 2018 World Cup in Russia: 928, on June 14, 2018. Hopefully, the U.S. national team will have fired Jurgen Klinsmann and hired a real manager by that point.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

How to Be a Devils Fan In Carolina -- 2015-16 Edition

The New Jersey Devils travel to play the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh next Thursday night, and go back on the day after Christmas. The 'Canes have given the Devils fits over the years, including in he Playoffs.

They didn't seem to do so from 1982 to 1997, when they were known as the Hartford Whalers. (They were the New England Whalers of the World Hockey Association from 1972 to 1979, then were brought into the NHL and changed their name to the Hartford Whalers.) But as the 'Canes, yikes. That loss at home in Game 7 of the 1st Round in 2009, going from 3-2 up with 1:20 to go to losing 4-3 still sticks in my craw.

Needless to say, I don't like the Hurricanes. And hockey doesn't belong in the South, anyway. Y'all go back to Hartford, y'hear?

Before You Go. Being in the South, it's going to be warmer in Raleigh than in Newark. But, this being December, it won't be hot. For next Thursday, the Raleigh News & Observer is predicting mid-60s for daylight and mid-50s for night, and rain.

Charlotte is in the Eastern Time Zone, so you won't have to fiddle with your timepieces. It is in North Carolina, a former Confederate State, but you won't need your passport or to change your money.

Tickets. The Hurricanes averaged 12,594 fans per game last season. That's only 67 percent -- averaging 2/3rds full. In each case, they rank 29th, 2nd-worst, in the NHL, ahead of only the Florida Panthers. For the sake of comparison, the Whalers averaged 13,680 fans per game, or 87 percent of capacity, in their last season before the move. So tickets shouldn't be very hard to come by.

Tickets in the lower level, the 100 sections, are $140 between the goals and $100 behind them. In the upper level, the 300 sections, they're $60 between and $35 behind. Seats in the 200 section are club seats and only available to season-ticketholders.

Getting There. It’s 505 miles from the Prudential Center in Newark to the PNC Arena in Raleigh. It's in that tricky range: A bit too close to fly, a bit too far to go any other way.

If you're going to drive, take the New Jersey Turnpike/Interstate 95 all the way from New Jersey to Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Exit 138 will put you on Interstate 495/U.S. Route 64 West, and that will take you right into Raleigh. You’ll be in New Jersey for about an hour and a half, Delaware for 20 minutes, Maryland for 2 hours, inside the Capital Beltway (Maryland, District of Columbia and Virginia) for half an hour if you’re lucky (and don’t make a rest stop anywhere near D.C.), Virginia for 3 hours, and North Carolina for an hour and a half. Throw in traffic at each end, rest stops, preferably in Delaware, near Richmond and near Raleigh, and it’ll be close to 12 hours.

Greyhound has 9 buses a day leaving from Port Authority to Raleigh, but only 3 of them are no-changeover routes. It costs as much as $263 round-trip (though it can be as low as $114 on advanced purchase). The trip takes 13 hours, including a long layover to change buses in Richmond. The station is at 2210 Capital Blvd., 3 miles northeast of downtown. Take the Number 1 or 3 bus in.

Amtrak's Carolinian leaves Newark's Penn Station at 7:24 AM, and arrives at Raleigh at 4:42 PM, giving you enough time to get to a hotel and then to the game the same night. The next morning, the Silver Star leaves Raleigh at 8:45 and arrives back in Newark at 6:23 PM. Round-trip fare is $229. The station is at Cabarrus and West Streets, 8 blocks southwest of the State House. Take the Number 11 bus in.

Perhaps the best way to get from New York to Raleigh is by plane. True, you'd have to change planes at Charlotte on your way to Raleigh-Durham International Airport, but if you order your ticket online at this writing, you could get a round-trip flight for just $261.

Once In the City. Both North Carolina and South Carolina were named for the King of England at the time of their initial settlements, King Charles I. Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina, was named for Sir Walter Raleigh, the English soldier who led the early English colonization of the Atlantic Coast (Virginia and the Carolinas).

Founded in 1792, Raleigh is home to about 430,000 people, making it the 2nd-largest city in the State, behind Charlotte. The Raleigh-Durham area, known as the Triangle (or the "Research Triangle," to give it a tech-savvy nickname to suggest it's an East Coast version of the Silicon Valley) is home to a little over 2 million people. This ranks it 23rd among NHL markets, and would rank it 27th in the NBA, 29th in the NFL, and 30th and last in MLB, Don't expect it to ever get a team in the other markets, though.

The State House is the divider for addresses. The north-south divider is New Bern Avenue east of the State House, and Hillsborough Street west of it. The east-west divider is Halifax Street north of the State House, and Fayetteville Street south of it.
The State House

Capital Area Transit runs buses around Raleigh. The fare is $2.25. GoTriangle serves the Triangle region: Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. There is a light rail system being planned for the area, but it won't open before 2026.

The sales tax in North Carolina is 4.75 percent, but it rises to 6.75 percent in Raleigh.

Going In. The official address of the PNC Arena is 1400 Edwards Mill Road, at E. Stephen Stroud Way, about 5 miles west of downtown Raleigh. Stroud Way separates it from Carter-Finley Stadium, home field of the football team at North Carolina State University. N.C. State also uses PNC Arena as its basketball home, succeeding the Reynolds Coliseum, where it won National Championships in 1974 and 1983.

Parking is $15. If you're using public transportation, use Bus 100. That will get you to Blue Ridge Road at the State Fairgrounds, but then you'll have to make a left on Trinity Road to the stadium and the arena.
The arena opened in 1999 as the Raleigh Entertainment & Sports Arena, and was named the RBC Center from 2002 to 2012. Concerts held there this year include Eric Church, Kenny Chesney, Taylor Swift and Sam Smith.

The rink is aligned northwest-to-southeast. The Hurricanes attack twice at the southeast end, the sections with 2 and 3 as the middle digit.

Food. This is the South, tailgate party country, and North Carolina is among the places in this country particularly known for good barbecue. Tailgating is usually not done before NHL games, but there are enough options to satisfy all but the most discriminating foodie.

A bar called The Locker Room is at Section 110. Pub 300 is at, no, not Section 300, but Section 312. North Carolina BBQ Company is at 104, 115, 123, 130, 306 and 326; The Carvery sandwiches and chips (potato chips, not what the British call thick-cut fries) at 104 and 123; Metro Deli at 104 and 326; Sausage Stop at 105, 120 and 304; Rituals Coffee Company at 105 and 120; Dos Bandidos pseudo-Mexican food at 112; South Street Cheese Steaks ("cheesesteak" is one word, guys) at 123 and 324; Fire It Up! Grill Stands (burgers, chicken, fries, onion rings, corn dogs) at 130 and 301;

For dessert, there's Nutty Bavarian at 101, 116 and 316; Gourment Pretzels (as if there is such a thing) at 103, 118 and 304; Breyes Ice Cream at 105, 110, 126, 309 and 329; Dippin' Dots at 105, 110, 120, 306 and 326; Sinfully Sinnamon at 110, 128 and 304; Twisted Waffle at 116 and 322; Poppin' Plants popcorn and cotton candy at 118, 124, 130 and 324.

Team History Displays. Despite having been around for only 18 seasons (17 if you don't count the canceled 2004-05), the do have some history, which they display with banners for their 2006 Stanley Cup; their 2002 and 2006 Eastern Conference titles; and their 1999, 2002 and 2006 Division Championships.
The name banners are not in place of retired numbers.
They represent Olympians on their team.

Their retired number history is complicated. When the Whalers moved to Carolina to begin the 1997-98 season, the previously retired Number 2 for Rick Ley (defenseman, 1972-1981) and Number 19 for John McKenzie (right wing, 1977-79) were returned to circulation. The Hurricanes have never issued Number 9, which Gordie Howe wore with the Whalers (right wing, 1977-80), and consider it unofficially retired, as there is no banner to recognize it.

Number 2 has been retired anyway, for defenseman Glen Wesley (1994-2008, 1997-2008 in Carolina). Number 10 is retired for Ron Francis (center, 1981-91 in Hartford, 1998-2004 in Carolina, and now the team's general manager). Number 17 is retired for Rod Brind'Amour (center, 2000-10).

Steve Chiasson (defenseman, 1996-99, 1997-99 in Carolina) was killed in a car crash in 1999. The 'Canes have not reissued his Number 3. But they can't retire it, because he was driving drunk.
Several Whalers were named to the WHA's All-Time Team: Gordie, Mark and Marty Howe; Rick Ley, John McKenzie, Dave Keon, Al Smith, Andre Lacroix, Ron Plumb, Ted Green and Tom Webster. Despite the achievements that Ron Francis and Rod Brind'Amour had already had, and would add, when The Hockey News named its 100 Greatest Players in 1998, Gordie Howe was the only player they selected who had played for the Whalers/Hurricanes franchise, unless you count the sad last few games of Bobby Hull. (Not even Keon.)

Mark Johnson and Rob McClanahan, members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, played for the franchise when it was still the Whalers. No members of the Team Canada that beat the Soviets in the 1972 Summit Series did so.

One of the streets in the parking lot of the arena is named Peter Karmanos Jr. Drive for the team's owner.

The Arena also holds banners for the N.C. State basketball team: Their 1974 and 1983 National Championships, their 1950, 1974 and 1983 Final Four berths, their 13 regular-season conference titles, and their 17 conference tournament wins. They also have 23 "honored numbers," including 1983 heroes Dereck Whittenburg (25), Sidney Lowe (35), Thurl Bailey (41) and Lorenzo Charles (43); but only 1974 hero David "Skywalker" Thompson's Number 44 is actually retired.

According to a May 12, 2014 article in The New York Times, the Charlotte Hornets' reach doesn't get much beyond the Charlotte area. Then again, it doesn't help that the Hornets play 168 miles from downtown Raleigh. The most popular NBA team in the Raleigh-Durham area, as it has been since the dawn of the 21st Century (dovetailing nicely with the post-Michael Jordan fall of the Chicago Bulls), is the Los Angeles Lakers.

Stuff. The Hornets Fan Shop is on the Trade Street (south) side of the arena. The arena website mentions that it sells not only Hornets merchandise, but Jordan brand items. Just so you know who's in charge. (Of course, that means that, in 5 years, Jordan the owner has won nothing, not even a single Playoff game, which must truly gall Jordan the player. Then again, Bill Russell was a lousy coach when he didn't have Bill Russell playing for him.)

Hockey is not exactly a glamour sport in the South. In North Carolina in particular, it trails basketball, football and NASCAR (which, of course, is not a sport). So there haven't been many books written about the 'Canes. And, since hurricanes frequently hit the Carolinas (hence the name of the team), if you type "Carolina Hurricanes" into Amazon.com, you get books about local storms.

Erin Butler recently published the Hurricanes' edition in the Inside the NHL series. And after the 2006 Stanley Cup, the sports staff of the News & Observer published a commemorative book, titled Whatever It Takes.

Commemorative DVD sets were produced for the 2006 Cup and the team's 10th Anniversary in 2007, but that's about it as far as videos go.

During the Game. A November 19, 2014 article on The Hockey News' website ranked the NHL teams' fan bases, and listed the 'Canes' fans 23rd out of 30, saying, "Canes put weak product on ice, so fans won't come even if tickets are cheap."

At least your safety is unlikely to be an issue. Unless you're going to a basketball game between Duke University and the University of North Carolina -- especially at Duke -- North Carolina fans, in any sport, don't have a rough reputation.

Amanda Bell is the regular National Anthem singer for the 'Canes. Their fans haven't yet come up with a chant more imaginative than "Let's go, 'Canes!" Their theme song is "Noise" by the Chris Hendricks Band. Their goal song is "Song 2" by Blur (a.k.a. "Whoo Hoo"), and, according to actor Liam Neeson, who, despite being from Northern Ireland, is a big hockey fan, the 'Canes have "the manliest goal horn in the league."

Their mascot is Stormy the Ice Hog. Fortunately, he's not a wild boar, a warthog, or even a Razorback hog like the University of Arkansas' mascot. He's a friendly-looking brown pig, whose jersey has Number 97 in honor of the year the team moved to North Carolina.
After the Game. Unlike Charlotte, whose sports facilities are now all downtown, Raleigh's arena and football stadium are in a suburban part of town, 2 islands in a sea of parking. Crime should not be an issue: Most likely, you will be safe, and if you drove in, so will your car.

But this setup also means you'll have a bit of a walk back to public transportation, and to any place serving late-night food and/or drinks. Backyard Bistro is across Trinity Road from the complex, and there's a Wendy's at Trinity Road and Edwards Mill Road. If those aren't good enough for you, you may have to head back downtown.

Downtown Sports Bar in Raleigh is the home of a local Giants fan club. It's at 410 Glenwood Avenue at Anwood Place. There are 2 places worth mentioning just off the N.C. State campus. Amadeo's Italian Restaurant is the home of a local Jets fan club. It's at 3905 Western Blvd. at Whitmore Drive. Fuhgeddaboudit Pizza, at 2504 Hillsborough Street and Horne Street, is said to be covered in various items of New York memorabilia.

If you're looking for someplace in Durham or Chapel Hill -- in case you, or a relative or friend, is going to Duke in the former or UNC in the latter, and is willing to put you up for the night -- I'm afraid I came up dry looking for references to such places.

Sidelights. Charlotte's sports history, at least at the major league level, isn't much, and Raleigh's is even less than that.

* Carter-Finley Stadium. After playing football at Riddick Stadium from 1907 to 1965 (demolished in 2005), North Carolina State moved into Carter Stadium in 1966. It was originally named for brothers Harry C. Carter and Wilbert J. "Nick" Carter, N.C. State graduates and major financial contributors. Albert E. Finley, another big contributor, had his name added in 1979. The playing surface is now named for yet another contributor: Wayne Day Family Field.
Currently seating 57,583, the N.C. State Wolfpack have won 3 Atlantic Coast Conference football titles there, in 1968, 1973 and 1979. This is in addition to the 8 titles they won in their various leagues at Riddick Stadium, for a total of 11: 1907, 1910, 1913, 1927, 1957, 1963, 1964 and 1965. Those last 3 conference titles provided the revenue for the building of a new stadium, to replace the obsolete Riddick. It features a display of 10 retired numbers, including current NFL quarterbacks Philip Rivers (17) and Russell Wilson (16), and former New York Jet Dennis Byrd (77 for them, 90 for the Jets).

It was also home to what's been called the worst team in the history of professional football: The Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks of the World League of American football. Their red, kelly green, black and white uniforms, and their jets in formation leaving vapor trails helmet logo, were weird enough. Their cheerleaders, tapping into the aviation theme and the Wright Brothers' first flight in the Outer Banks in 1903, were named the Kittyhawks. Charlotte Hornets owner George Shinn owned them, and Roman Gabriel, another N.C. State quarterback whose number has been retired (18), was their head coach.

But even with Shinn's money, Gabriel as head coach, and former pro quarterback Johnnie Walton and eventual Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Claude Humphrey as offensive and defensive coordinators, they went 0-10 in a weak league (the WLAF was nicknamed "The Laugh League") in the 1991 season. And, with no beer sold, they averaged just 12,066 fans per home game. (Even the Hurricanes can usually top that.) The team was moved to Columbus for the 1992 season and renamed the Ohio Glory.

Carter-Finley Stadium hosted a summer tour soccer game between Italy's Juventus and Mexico's C.D. Guadalajara (a.k.a. "Chivas") in 2011. It has also hosted concerts by Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd, U2 and, just this past summer, the Rolling Stones. 4600 Trinity Road at Youth Center Drive, separated from the PNC Arena by Stephen Stroud Way.

According to an article in the September 2014 issue of The Atlantic, as you might guess, the Charlotte-based Carolina Panthers, just 168 miles from the State House, are the most popular NFL team not just in Charlotte and in the Raleigh-Durham area, but in the entire State of North Carolina. However, both Carolinas have significant pockets of support for the Washington Redskins, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys, mainly due to the media saturation (and, in the Redskins' case, proximity is also a cause). In particular, these teams tend to cancel out Panther support in the ocean resort communities, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and at Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head in South Carolina.

* Reynolds Coliseum. Home to N.C. State basketball from 1949 to 1999, the William Neal Reynolds Coliseum (named for the former chief executive of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and brother of R.J. himself) hosted the Wolfpack teams that won the National Championship in 1974 and 1983, reached the Final Four in 1950, and won the ACC title in the regular season in 1950, '51, '53, '55, '56, '59, '73, '74, '85 and '89; and in the tournament in 1950, '51, '52, '54, '55, '56, '59, '65, '70, '73, '74, '83 and '87. (They haven't won either since moving into the new arena.)
The Coliseum was the home of the ACC Tournament from 1954 to 1966, and has hosted many NCAA Tournament games, and still hosts them for the women's tournament. It remains the home for N.C. State women's basketball and wrestling. It is currently undergoing a renovation that is scheduled to be completed next August, providing more space for offices and a school Athletic Hall of Fame, but also reducing the seating capacity from 9,500 to 5,600. 2411 Dunn Avenue at Jeter Drive (not named for Derek Jeter), next door to the Talley Student Union, 2 miles west of downtown.
The only Final Fours held in the Carolinas have been 1974 at the Greensboro Coliseum (N.C. State interrupting the UCLA dynasty in the Semifinal and beating Marquette in the Final) and 1994 at the 2nd Charlotte Coliseum (Arkansas beating Duke).

* Five County Stadium. Home to the Carolina Mudcats since 1991, the original owner wanted to get as close to downtown Raleigh as possible without infringing on the territory of any other team, including the Greensboro Hornets, which he also owned. Zebulon was as close as the Durham Bulls would let him get.

The Mudcats won Pennants in the Class AA Southern League in 1995 and 2003, but have not won one since moving to the Class A Carolina League in 2012. Ironically, where they were once higher in classification than the Bulls, they are now lower. 1501 State Highway 39 at Old U.S. 264, 26 miles east of the State House. Accessible by car only: No public transportation out there.

* Durham Athletic Park. Made famous by the 1988 film Bull Durham, which jump-started the minor-league baseball craze of the late 20th Century, the Durham Bulls played at the site of "The DAP" from 1926 until 1994 (with a rebuild in 1939-40 after a fire), mostly in the Class A Carolina League. Having already won Pennants in 1924 and '25, they won them at The DAP in 1929, '30, '40, '41, '57, '65 and '67.

The film, which takes place in 1987, the year before it was released (a fact confirmed by the calendar in the manager's office), gives the impression that they weren't very good, and hadn't been for a long time, but got to 1st place by the 4th of July, and then faltered. In real life, they went 67-75 that season, But they did have 6 players who went on to reach the major leagues: Kevin Brown, Kent Mercker, Mark Lemke, Derek Lilliquist, Gary Eave and Rusty Richards. Not bad for a Single-A team that was 8 games under .500. Then again, this was before their parent club, the Atlanta Braves, got good again in 1991, so they needed whatever help they could get. But Mercker and Lemke were a part of the Braves' quasi-dynasty.

The film made The DAP the most famous minor-league ballpark ever. But the park became a victim of the film's success: Soon, people came flocking to it, and its 5,000-seat capacity was now obsolete. A new ballpark was built, but the old one was left standing, and is still used for local baseball.

428 Morris Street. Unlike the Mudcats' home, The DAP can be reached by public transit from Raleigh. Take Bus 100 to the Regional Transit Center, then switch to Bus 700, and take that to the Durham Amtrak station. Then Bus 4 or a short walk.

* Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The DBAP (pronounced DEE-bap) has been home to the Bulls since 1995, and since 1998 they've been the Triple-A farm team of the Tampa Bay Rays. The Bulls have won International League Pennants there in 2002, '03, '09 and '13, making a total of 13 Pennants in various leagues at various levels.

Although it seats twice as many, 10,000, the Bulls tried to make it as much like the old DAP as possible, including the 305-foot right-field fence, nicknamed the Blue Monster, complete with the famous bull "HIT SIGN WIN STEAK" sign that was erected for the movie and kept. Even the overhanging roof, although up to public safety code, looks pretty much the same. 409 Blackwell Street at Willard Street, a 5-minute walk from the train station.

According to an article in the April 24, 2014 edition of The New York Times, the Yankees are the most popular MLB team in the Triangle, averaging around 26 percent, with the Boston Red Sox at 20 and the Atlanta Braves at around 12. That's almost totally due to the media outreach, since the Braves are easily the closest team, 265 miles away.

Raleigh's relatively low metropolitan population means it would rank 31st and last in MLB, 29th in the NFL, and 28th in the NBA.

* Duke University. As with the Durham ballparks, reachable by taking Bus 100 to the Regional Transit Center and transferring to Bus 700. Cameron Indoor Stadium, opening in 1940 and thus celebrating its 75th Anniversary this year, is at 115 Whitford Drive. Wallace Wade Stadium, opening in 1929, is next door. Wade Stadium hosted the only Rose Bowl away from Pasadena, in 1942, because of concerns over the Pacific Coast just 25 days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Duke lost it to Oregon State. 27 miles northwest of downtown Raleigh, up U.S. Route 70.

* The University of North Carolina. About 28 miles northwest of downtown Raleigh, but in a slightly different direction, on Interstate 40. The Dean E. Smith Student Activities Center, a.k.a. the Dean Dome (where they've won National Championships in 1993, 2005 and 2009), is at 300 Skipper Bowles Drive. It's just 11 miles between the Dean Dome and Cameron.

The old court, Carmichael Arena, where the Tar Heels played from 1965 to 1986 (and won the National Championship in 1982), is at 310 South Road. Woollen Gymnasium, where they played from 1937 to 1965 (and won the National Championship in 1957), is also at South Road. And Kenan Memorial Stadium, home to Tar Heel football since 1927, is at 104 Stadium Drive.

According to an April 23, 2014 article in The New York Times, the Yankees are actually the most popular MLB team in Raleigh, a little bit ahead of the Atlanta Braves, the 2nd-closest team at 408 miles away. The Washington Nationals are the next-closest, 278 miles, but are not as popular in the Triangle as either the Yanks or the Braves.

The U.S. national soccer team has only played 1 game in the Triangle, a 1-1 draw with Jamaica in 2006, at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, about 8 miles west of the State House. The nearest Major League Soccer team is D.C. United, 283 miles, and that will remain the case after Atlanta United starts play in Spring 2017: 406 miles.

Museums. The North Carolina Museum of History and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences are next-door to each other, across Edenton Street from the State House.

The Beatles never performed together in the Raleigh-Durham area, although Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr have done so on solo tours. Elvis Presley only did so early in his career, all in Raleigh (never in Durham or Chapel Hill), at the Memorial Auditorium on May 19 and September 21, 1955; and a whopping 4 shows in 1 day at the Ambassador Theater on February 8, 1956. The Memorial Auditorium is now the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, at 2 E. South Street, 7 blocks south of the State House. The Ambassador is at 115 Fayetteville Street, just south of the State House, but was demolished in 1989.

PNC Plaza, at 538 feet, is the tallest building in Raleigh, and the tallest building in the Carolinas outside of Charlotte.

Bull Durham was filmed almost entirely in Durham and other North Carolina minor-league towns. Mitch's Tavern, site of the bar scenes near the beginning and the end of the film, is still in business, at 2426 Hillsborough Street in Raleigh. Other movies filmed in the area include The Handmaid's Tale (which used Duke University for some location shots) and Brainstorm (Natalie Wood's last film, which also did some filming at Duke).

A few TV shows have been filmed in North Carolina, most notably Dawson's Creek in Wilmington. But shows set in Raleigh are few and far between. The Andy Griffith Show, set in fictional Mayberry and based on Griffith's real-life hometown of Mount Airy, mentioned Raleigh a few times, but was filmed in Southern California. A statue of Griffith and Ron Howard as Sheriff Andy Taylor and his son Opie was dedicated by television network TV Land. It depicts them walking down the fishing trail, as seen in the show's famous opening. Unfortunately, the fishing poles the figures hold are frequently swiped. Pullen Park, near the carousel. 408 Ashe Avenue, a mile and a half west of downtown. The 100 bus gets you about halfway there. A copy of the statue stands outside the Andy Griffith Museum at 218 Rockford Street in Mount Airy, 139 miles to the northwest, near the Virginia State Line. Pilot Mountain (known on the show as Mount Pilot) is 16 miles southeast of Mount Airy.

*

The Raleigh-Durham Triangle isn't really big enough -- yet -- for a major league sports team. And the Carolinas are certainly no place for hockey. But, for better or for worse, the Hurricanes are there, and they have a Stanley Cup and are a perennial Playoff team. Maybe the Devils can show the fans down there -- the ones who show up, anyway -- what a real hockey team looks like.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Top 10 College Football Rivalries

Okay, this isn't scientific, but I checked 7 different online polls, to get as comprehensive as possible, and to weed out any outliers.

Note that I have listed all of these rivalries in alphabetical order. It has nothing to do with which team I like better, or with who has won this year's game, or with who has the better overall record, the better academics, the better mascot, the hotter cheerleaders, the better-looking uniforms, the better city, the better restaurants, or anything else. It's alphabetical order, the simplest way to do it.

Regardless of whether a poll listed 10 teams, 25 teams, or any other number, I assigned the rivalry that finished 1st 25 points, 2nd 24, and so on. Matchups mentioned in a poll but did not make the cutoff in it got 1 point.

First, a few that got mentions, but didn't make the cut:

* Mentioned in 1 of the 7: Arkansas vs. Louisiana State (hereafter referred to as LSU), Auburn vs. Georgia, Baylor vs. Texas Christian, Colorado vs. Colorado State, Colorado vs. Nebraska, DePauw vs. Wabash, Florida State vs. Louisiana State, Georgia vs. South Carolina, Grambling State vs. Southern, Iowa vs. Iowa State, Kansas vs. Kansas State, Kansas vs. Missouri, LSU vs. Mississippi (hereafter referred to as Ole Miss), Maryland vs. West Virginia, Michigan State vs. Notre Dame, Ohio State vs. Pennsylvania State (hereafter referred to as Penn State), Penn State vs. Pittsburgh (hereafter referred to as Pitt), Texas A&M vs. Texas Tech.

* Mentioned in 2 of the 7: Alabama vs. LSU, Amherst vs. Williams, Florida vs. Tennessee, Kentucky vs. Louisville, Michigan vs. Notre Dame,  Nebraska vs. Oklahoma, Washington vs. Washington State.

* Mentioned in 3 of the 7: Alabama vs. Tennessee, Arizona vs. Arizona State, Georgia vs. Georgia Tech, Lafayette vs. Lehigh, Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State.

* Mentioned in 4 of the 7: Harvard vs. Yale (#5 in one of the polls), Michigan vs. Michigan State, Minnesota vs. Wisconsin, Pitt vs. West Vriginia, Texas vs. Texas A&M,

* Mentioned in 6 of the 7: Brigham Young vs. Utah, Clemson vs. South Carolina, Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss, Oregon vs. Oregon State.

You may have noticed some interesting names missing. If this were basketball, Kentucky vs. Louisville would be a lot higher. And you would likely see Duke vs. North Carolina, Indiana vs. Purdue, maybe Georgetown vs. St. John's or Connecticut vs. Syracuse. Although you wouldn't see Rutgers vs. Princeton: That died out as a serious rivalry long before anyone not at ARPA ever heard of the Internet.

If it were hockey, Harvard vs. Yale, Michigan vs. Michigan State and Minnesota vs. Wisconsin would be higher; while Minnesota vs. North Dakota and Boston College vs. Boston University would be on the list. If it were wrestling, Iowa vs. Iowa State and Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State would be the top 2.

About any of these pairs of teams, you could use the line of the greatest of all college football announcers, ABC Sports' retired but still living legend, Keith Jackson: "These two teams just... don't... like each other!"

Top 10 College Football Rivalries

Note that every one of these games is played in late November, except where noted, and may even be playing today.

10. Florida vs. Florida State. It was mentioned in 5 of the 7 polls, but still had more cumulative points than the 4 Honorable Mentions cited above that were mentioned in 6 of the 7. This is one of the more recent big rivalries, as it didn't get noticed nationally until Bobby Bowden propped FSU up in the late 1970s.

It is part of a 3-way hate triangle with Miami (see below, although Florida vs. Miami didn't even make my first cut). Particularly in the 1990s, this was rough. Fights still happen on the field. Once, a fight happened even before the kickoff.

9. The University of California at Los Angeles vs. the University of Southern California, a.k.a. UCLA vs. USC. It was mentioned in 5 of the 7 polls, but still had more cumulative points than the 4 Honorable Mentions cited above that were mentioned in 6 of the 7.

This one isn't as big as it was, but it's still a classic, with spectacular uniforms (powder blue and gold vs. maroon and gold), great old stadiums (the Los Angeles Coliseum as home ground for USC, the Rose Bowl for UCLA), and one of the closest matchups (the campuses are just 14 miles apart).

8. Florida vs. Georgia. It was mentioned in 5 of the 7 polls, but still had more cumulative points than the 4 Honorable Mentions cited above that were mentioned in 6 of the 7. "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" has to be held on "neutral ground" at EverBank Field in Jacksonville (and, before that, at the previous stadium on the site, the Gator Bowl).

7. California vs. Stanford. It was mentioned in 6 of the 7 polls, and probably only missed the 7th because that one only mentioned 6 rivalries. "The Big Game" between the East Bay school usually called "Cal" for sports and "Berkeley" for all other purposes, and the Peninsula school nicknamed "The Farm," is the best one on this list, academically speaking, although the students at the schools at #3 may dispute this. It's probably the one with the richest alumni, although those from the schools at #4 may dispute this. With either of those, people of Harvard and Yale might dispute it.

Put it this way: If the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders ever met in a Super Bowl, Cal vs. Stanford would still be a bigger game to people in the Bay Area.

6. Florida State vs. Miami. It was mentioned in 6 of the 7 polls. Miami has fallen on hard times, or else this one could be higher. And, somehow, a Hurricanes game at the Dolphins' stadium out in the suburbs doesn't have the same kind of atmosphere as one at the Orange Bowl in the ghetto.

Seminoles fans are fine with having the better atmosphere at Doak Campbell Stadium, and with having the better team the last few years. But in the 1990s, this game was every bit as big as FSU vs. the Gators.

5. Notre Dame vs. USC. It was mentioned in 6 of the 7 polls. It is held in mid-October when ND hosts in South Bend, Indiana, and on the Saturday after Thanksgiving when USC hosts in Los Angeles. It can't be held in November when the Fighting Irish are the hosts, because it would be too cold.

This is the only real intersectional rivalry in college football, and between 2 of the biggies. There are people who don't like either team, for their successes and their arrogance, but they still watch this game, for all the history involved, at and between the schools.

The last 4 were the only ones mentioned in all 7 polls.

4. Oklahoma vs. Texas. This one came in 3rd in one poll, and 4th in all the others. It is held at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, as part of the Texas State Fair, every 2nd Saturday in October, but is actually closer to the Sooners' campus in Norman than it is to the Longhorns' base in Austin.

When rich Southern men who are not used to defeat go up against each other, well, I'm surprised there isn't usually shooting afterwards.

3. Army vs. Navy. This one came in 1st in 2 polls, 2nd in another, 3rd in another, 4th in another, and 5th in the other 2.

It is always played at a neutral site, usually in Philadelphia, which is roughly halfway between the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York and the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. (They've used Franklin Field, Municipal/John F. Kennedy Stadium, Veterans Stadium, and now Lincoln Financial Field.) They've also used the Meadowlands, Baltimore's new stadium, and the Washington Redskins' new stadium in recent years.

It this the best one, academically? Maybe. The one with the best pageantry? Could be. The one with the most respect for each other? Absolutely. One where each team's given record, now and historically, really doesn't matter? You bet your brass.

Based on my ratings system (25 points for 1st place in a poll, 24 for 2nd, and so on), the last 2 were very close: 170 to 168. If you put a gun to my head and told me to write down the top 10, and rank them, these would be the 1st 2 I would think of, in that order.

2. Alabama vs. Auburn. It came in 1st in 2 polls, 2nd in 3, 3rd in the other 2. For years, it had to be held on neutral ground, at Legion Field in Birmingham, because they hate each other that much. Known as the Iron Bowl, this game has divided families, broken up marriages, and even led one angry Alabama fan to poison a pair of beloved trees in the town center of Auburn a few years back. And with both teams challenging for the National Championship the last few years, and each team having won it recently, it's as good (or as bad) as ever.

The Iron Bowl is easily the nastiest in-State rivalry. But the best one between one State and another, and the best one period, is this one, and that's far from just my choice:

1. Michigan vs. Ohio State. This one came in 1st in 3 polls, 2nd in 3, and 3rd in the other.

Michigan was the original dominant football school in the Midwest, and Ohio State coach Woody Hayes decided that he would do whatever it took to, to borrow a phrase from English football (soccer), knock them off their perch. He would never refer to his rival as "Michigan" or "The Wolverines": It was always "That School Up North" (which Buckeye fans now abbreviate to TSUN).

When Bo Schembechler, who had played for Hayes at Miami of Ohio and assisted him at Ohio State, became the Michigan coach, Buckeyes vs. Wolverines became bigger than ever, retroactively known as The Ten-Year War (1969-78). Woody would hear that Bo was recruiting in Ohio, and he'd call up the State Police and say, "Close the border! Bo's in the State!" Paranoid? Al Davis of the Raiders had nothing on Woody.

Michigan would reassert its dominance, but when Jim Tressel was given the OSU job, he said his priority was not to win the National Championship or the Big Ten Championship, but to beat Michigan. Mission accomplished: Michigan has won just twice since he took over, even though he's now gone, and former Florida maestro Urban Meyer is in charge.

You can fit nearly 100,000 fans in Ohio Stadium in Columbus, and over 110,000 fans in Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. And getting tickets for this game can be filed under "Forget it." As with Harvard vs. Yale, this is known simply as "The Game."

Ken Johnson, 1933-2015

According to Wikipedia, there are 13 men named Kenneth Johnson who are notable athletes. But one is an auto racer, and another is a professional wrestler, so it's really only 11 athletes.

I'm focusing on the most famous one, although what he's famous for is a little dubious.

Kenneth Travis Johnson was born on June 16, 1933 in West Palm Beach, Florida. A righthanded pitcher who stood 6-foot-4, weighed 230 pounds (making him huge for that era), and with an effective knuckleball, he was signed by the Philadelphia Athletics out of high school in 1952. But he was soon drafted into the U.S. Army to fight in the Korean War. When the war ended, he spent a year at the University of South Carolina, where he met Lynn Ergle, whom he married.

By the time he made his major league debut on September 13, 1958, they had moved to Kansas City. On that day, A's starter Jack Urban got rocked, so Johnson was brought out of the bullpen in the 1st inning. Wearing Number 27, he was no improvement, allowing 4 runs in 2 1/3rd innings, including a home run by light-hitting catcher (and ex-Yankee) Clint Courtney, and the A's lost to the Washington Senators, 8-5 at Kansas City Municipal Stadium.

The A's were going nowhere. (Actually, when Charlie Finley bought them in 1960, they were going a lot of places: Louisville, Dallas, Seattle. Finally, he settled on Oakland.) So, in 1961, they traded Johnson to the Cincinnati Reds, and, lo and behold, he was on a Pennant winner.

Wearing the Number 40 which he would wear for the majority of his remaining career, he went 6-2 with a 3.25 ERA for the Reds down the stretch, after going 0-4 with a 10.61 ERA for the A's to that point. He even got to pitch in the clinching game of the World Series. Okay, it was Game 5, and the Yankees won it 13-5, but, unlike his big-league debut, the defeat wasn't his fault: In the top of the 2nd, relieving Jim Maloney, who had already relieved Joey Jay, he got Elston Howard to line out to 3rd base, and got Moose Skowron to fly out to center.

And his reward for pitching 2/3rds of perfect baseball in the World Series, against one of the best teams ever, the '61 Yankees? He got pinch-hit for and relieved. He never threw another postseason pitch.

*

In a span of just 5 months from May to October 1961, Ken Johnson went from one of the worst teams in baseball (the Kansas City A's) to a minor-league team (the Toronto Maple Leafs, for whom the hockey team was named) to a Pennant winner (the Cincinnati Reds) to another bad team. He was taken in the expansion draft, by one of the National League's new teams, the Houston Colt .45's. Hey, it could have been worse: He could have been taken by the Mets.

He went 7-16 for the expansion Colts in '62, and 11-17 in '63. On April 23, 1964, he was 2-0, and took the mound against his former team, the Reds, at Colt Stadium, which the Colt .45's used as a stopgap facility until their permanent stadium, the Astrodome, could be built next-door. The next year, it opened, and the name of the team was changed to the Houston Astros.

The Colts/Astros weren't very good in 1964, mainly because they were very young. They had a couple of solid veterans in future Hall-of-Famer Nellie Fox and 2-time batting champion Pete Runnels. But most of their players who turned out to be good ended up doing so later, and some for other teams: Joe Morgan, Jimmy Wynn, Jim Beauchamp, and future Met All-Stars Rusty Staub and Jerry Grote.

In contrast, the Reds had a very good team in 1964. The had Frank Robinson, future Hall-of-Famer; Vada Pinson, a multiple All-Star; Pete Rose, who would have made the Hall if he hadn't ignored baseball's warnings about gambling; Deron Johnson, an All-Star; Leo Cardenas, an All-Star; and Joe Nuxhall, once the youngest player in the game's history, now "The Old Lefthander," wrapping up what turned out to be a nicer career (1952-1965) than anyone could have imagined when he got smacked in his debut, not yet 16 years old (1944).

Nuxhall was the opposing pitcher that day, and he and Johnson traded goose eggs for 8 innings. Johnson walked a batter in the 1st inning, and walked another in the 5th, but those were the only 2 baserunners he'd allowed.

Nuxhall was effectively his equal, if less spectacularly. He allowed a single to Fox in the 1st, but he was caught stealing. He then walked Runnels, but stranded him. He allowed a single to Bob Aspromonte in the 2nd, but induced a double play to erase him. He allowed a single to Runnels in the 4th, but got another double play. In the 7th, he allowed a single to Fox, and there was no double play this time, as Cardenas made an error, allowing Runnels to reach. The Colts had men on 1st and 2nd with nobody out. Now, Nuxy got a double play, and a flyout to end it. He allowed a leadoff double to Wynn in the 8th, but retired the next 3 batters to keep it 0-0.

His wife Lynn, and sons Kenneth Johnson Jr. and Russell "Rusty" Johnson were at the game. "I knew it was close," Lynn said. "Every inning he would get them out. I was getting pretty nervous. Our youngest son, Rusty, wanted to go to the bathroom, and I wouldn't let him leave."

Nuxhall himself led off the top of the 9th with a groundout to 3rd. But Johnson hurt his own cause by throwing away a grounder that Rose had hit to him. Rose got to 2nd base. Johnson got Chico Ruiz to ground back to him, and he threw to 3rd to get Rose, but he was safe. Aspromonte, the Colts' 3rd baseman, then threw Ruiz out at 1st. Pinson then hit a grounder to 2nd, which should have been the 3rd and final out, completing the (word you can't say while one is in progress, for fear of jinxing the pitcher). But, of all players to make an error at this time, it was Fox, the team's earliest (though not 1st) Hall-of-Famer. Rose scored, and it was 1-0 Reds.

Johnson got Robinson to fly to left to end the inning, but the damage was done. The Colts weren't done, though: With 2 out in the bottom of the 9th, Runnels reached on an error by 1st baseman Johnson. (A born DH before there was a DH, Johnson would soon be replaced by Tony Perez, and the rest is history.) The tying run was on 1st, the winning run was at the plate, and maybe Johnson could win the game anyway. But the batter was the Houston right fielder, John Weekly, a man who lived up to his name with a .133 batting average at the time. Nuxhall struck him out looking to end it.

The totals on the ballgame: For the Reds, 1 run on no hits and 2 errors; for the Colt .45's, no runs on 5 hits and 2 errors. WP: Nuxhall (1-1). No save. LP: Johnson (2-1). Attendance on this Thursday night: 5,426. The time of the game, a brisk 1 hour and 56 minutes.

Ken Johnson had pitched a no-hitter, for a full 9 innings. And lost the game. This had never happened before, and has never happened since.

Fox, through tears, apologized to Johnson after the game. Runnels told him, "How many no-hitters were thrown last year? Who threw them? They'll remember yours."

For the record, 3 no-hitters were thrown in 1963, 1 by Johnson's own roommate, Don Nottebart, the 1st no-hitter in the history of the Houston franchise. So Runnels should have remembered. You might have heard of the guys who threw the other 2: Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Juan Marichal of the San Francisco Giants. Also throwing no-hitters in 1964 were Koufax, and Jim Bunning of the Philadelphia Phillies, who threw a perfect game against the Mets.

On July 1, 1990, Andy Hawkins of the Yankees pitched 7 no-hit innings against the Chicago Whit Sox at Comiskey Park. But the Yankees hadn't scored, either. In the 8th, he walked 3 batters, and his fielders made 3 errors. The Yankees lost the game 4-0, but, at first, Hawkins was credited with a no-hitter. After all, he had pitched a complete game without allowing a hit.

A year later, Major League Baseball made a ruling that a pitcher could only be credited with a no-hitter if he pitched all of a team's game, went at least 9 innings, and didn't allow a hit. In other words, if he pitched 9 no-hit innings, and was relieved in the 10th, no no-hitter. If he pitched 9 no-hit innings, and kept pitching, and his team eventually won, but if he allowed a hit in the 10th, the 11th, or whichever inning, he didn't get credit for the no-hitter -- not even if he kept going into the 19th inning, having effectively pitched 2 no-hitters in 1 day.

Even if he pitched 9 perfect innings, he wouldn't get credit for the no-hitter or the perfect game unless his team won, he was the only pitcher they used, and he stayed hitless (or perfect).

Not only did Hawkins lose credit for his no-hitter (he had pitched 8 innings), but Harvey Haddix, who pitched 12 perfect innings in a 1959 game but lost it all in the 13th, lost credit for his perfect game.

During the commercial break between the 8th and 9th innings of the Andy Hawkins Game, I switched from WPIX-Channel 11 to WWOR-Channel 9, to see if the Mets' announcers were talking about what was happening at Comiskey. They were, and Ralph Kiner mentioned that only 1 pitcher had ever pitched a complete-game no-hitter and lost: "I think it's Ken Johnson." Tim McCarver confirmed: "It is Ken." I'd never heard of Johnson at that point, but you can be sure that the name has stuck with me in the 25 years since the Andy Hawkins Game, which I still have on videotape somewhere.

I don't know if Ken Johnson and Andy Hawkins ever met. If they didn't, it's too late now.

*

Colts owner Roy Hofheinz, a federal Judge and a former Mayor of Houston, gave Johnson a $1,000-a-year raise, equivalent to $7,672 now. He was invited to come to New York to appear on the TV game show I've Got a Secret.

He went 11-16 in that 1964 season, and on May 23, 1965, the Astros traded him, along with Beauchamp, to the Milwaukee Braves for Lee Maye. He ended up having his best season, going 16-10 with a 3.42 ERA. He moved with them to Atlanta in 1966, and went 14-8 that year and 13-9 the next.
But he only won another 7 games in the major leagues. He had particularly bad luck in 1969. Still with the Braves, they sold him to the Yankees on June 10. He wore Number 54 for them, later made famous by Hall-of-Famer Goose Gossage. Not only did Johnson not get to pitch for the Braves in the 1st-ever NL Championship Series that October, but he missed being in attendance at Mickey Mantle Day by 2 days.

These were not Mickey's Yankees: These were the Yankees of Joe Pepitone, Bobby Murcer, Mel Stottlemyre, Fritz Peterson, a young Roy White, and 20 guys named Jerry Kenney. Then, on August 11, the Yankees gave up on Johnson, selling him to the Chicago Cubs, allowing him to be a part of their infamous September Swoon.

The Cubs released him just before the 1970 season began, but he was picked up mere hours later by the Montreal Expos. They released him 20 days and 3 games later, and his career was over: 91-106, ERA 3.46, ERA+ 102, WHIP 1.199. He was a good pitcher with bad luck, never more so than on that humid Thursday night in Houston, early in the '64 season.

*

After leaving baseball, he worked for Palm Beach Atlantic University in his hometown, and later coached at Louisiana College in Pineville, where he spent the rest of his days. After his coaching, he ran a nursing service for his local Baptist church.

Ken and Lynn had 3 children: Sons Kenneth and Rusty, and daughter Janet Johnson. He would live to see 6 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren.

Kenneth Johnson Jr. is a doctor, and this past Wednesday, confirmed that his father had died in Pineville the preceding Saturday, November 21, 2015, of a kidney infection. He had also battled Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. He was 82 years old.

Unfortunately, I can't find a picture of him later than that Braves photo. Even more unfortunately, he was too ill to be honored by the Astros last year on the 50th Anniversary of his no-hitter. Nor could he be honored in Milwaukee this year on the 50th anniversary of the last Braves team in that city, or in Atlanta next year on the 50th anniversary of the first Braves team there. As far as I know, he was never invited back to any ballpark for any ceremony.

He deserved better than that. But at least his strange moment in baseball history is remembered. There have been 18,662 players to have played in at least 1 Major League Baseball game, and most of them end up being not particularly noteworthy.

"I pitched the best game of my life," Ken Johnson said at the time, "and still lost. A hell of a way to get into the record books."

Agreed. But he's in them. After all, if someone other than the man who had been the youngest player ever to appear in a big-league game (and later a beloved Reds broadcaster) had been the opposing starter, how well would we remember him?

But, in 2004, on the 40th Anniversary of his achievement, Johnson admitted to a local newspaper in Louisiana, "Instead of the notoriety, I’d rather have won the game."

Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Brief History of Football On Thanksgiving

September 29, 1621: What we now call "The First Thanksgiving" is held at Plymouth, Massachusetts, about 40 miles southeast of present-day Boston. Attending the feast were 53 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans of the Wampanoag tribe.

The foods served that day included items we would now recognize as traditional in Thanksgiving dinners: Turkey, berries, fruit, and various squashes, including pumpkins. Also served at that meal were some items which would not become traditional to Thanksgiving, but would become traditional to what would become known as New England. These included fish, lobster and clams.

Since no game that would later be called "football" was brought over by the Pilgrims, it's unlikely that such a game was played at Plymouth Plantation that day. There may have been games of some kind, but not football.

November 26, 1789: President George Washington, 7 months after taking office as the 1st President of the United States, had, the previous month, proclaimed this to be a day of thanksgiving in America.

Still no football. Sport wasn't exactly a priority in America's infancy. Survival as a nation was.

November 26, 1863: President Abraham Lincoln, trying to tap into national patriotism and to seek God's blessings during the American Civil War, proclaimed this to be a day of thanksgiving. Thus did it become the last Thursday in November -- usually the 4th, but sometimes the 5th, Saturday.

The month before, the Football Association was founded in England. But English football -- or association football, abbreviated to "assoc." and eventually turned into the word "soccer" -- wasn't played by many Americans at this point. But the tradition of Thanksgiving caught on.

November 6, 1869: Rutgers College and the College of New Jersey -- later to become Rutgers University and Princeton University -- play what's now called the 1st college football game, at College Field in New Brunswick, New Jersey, on what's now the parking lot behind Rutgers' College Avenue Gym.

The game was played 25-a-side, and was, essentially, an overcrowded soccer game. The Rutgers men got scarlet fabric -- cheap and thus easy to obtain -- and, to more easily tell each other apart, wrapped it around their heads like turbans. Thus were invented both school colors and the football helmet. Thus distinguishable, Rutgers outscored Princeton 6 goals to 4. They played each other again the following Saturday, November 13, at Princeton, and, this time, Princeton more than got revenge, winning 8-0. But neither game was played on a Thanksgiving Day.

November 17, 1869: From that day's edition of the Evening Telegraph of Philadelphia:

Foot Ball: A match between twenty-two players of the Young America Cricket Club and the Germantown Cricket Club will take place on Thanksgiving Day at 12 1/2 o'clock, on the grounds of the Germantown Club.

Philadelphia's proximity to Rutgers and Princeton, who had played the first and second recognized college football games in America earlier in the month, suggests that this match was organized by players from those games, or at least by spectators at those games.

November 25, 1869: Said game would have been played. Oddly, I can't find any source online that has the result of this game: Pretty much every site I check agrees that it happened, but doesn't say who won. The clubs merged in 1890, and the combined club kept the Germantown Cricket Club name.

It is still in business today, although they now specialize in tennis and swimming. It hosted tennis' U.S. Open from 1921 to 1923, and the Davis Cup from 1924 to 1927, and again in 1938.

May 12, 1875: Norwich Free Academy and New London High School play each other in football for the 1st time, making this the oldest high school football rivalry not just in Connecticut, but in the entire country. By the 1890s, it is moved to Thanksgiving. The schools are 14 miles apart, and Norwich leads 76-67-11. Norwich won today, 14-6.

November 30, 1876: The 1st Thanksgiving Day college football game is played. Two years earlier, a game between Harvard University and McGill University was played, a hybrid of the soccer that the Bostonians (or, rather, the Cantabridgeans) had been playing and the rugby preferred by the Montrealers. Harvard had gathered the presidents of the various colleges that were already playing football, and had the rules standardized.

This game was played at, interestingly, the site of what was long alleged to be the 1st baseball game: The Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey, outside New York City, roughly halfway between the schools involved: Princeton of New Jersey and Yale University of New Haven, Connecticut. Yale won, 2-0.

November 30, 1882: The Intercollegiate Football Association decides to hold an annual collegiate championship game in New York on Thanksgiving Day, between the 2 teams with the best records. Yale settles it, beating Princeton 2-1 in New York.

On the same day, west of Boston, the oldest public school football rivalry in the country begins: Needham vs. Wellesley, 3.5 miles apart. The rivalry is also close in margin: Wellesley leads 60-59-9. Today, Needham won, 12-7, in a game played at Fenway Park. The rivalry is 30 years older than Major League Baseball's oldest ballpark.

November 24, 1887: The two oldest high schools in America, each playing football for the first time, begin their rivalry: The Boston Latin School and English High School. They are 2.8 miles apart, play annually at Harvard Stadium (which would seem to be natural). Latin has dominated the series, leading 79-36-13, including a win today, 21-6.

November 28, 1889: Baltimore City College and Baltimore Polytechnic Institute play each other for the 1st time. They have played at Baltimore's largest football stadium ever since: Municipal Stadium starting in 1922, Memorial Stadium in 1954, and M&T Bank Stadium in 1998. Crowds of over 25,000 would attend.

However, this game is no longer played on Thanksgiving, due to Maryland extending its State Playoffs. It is now played on the 1st Saturday in November, and it couldn't be much closer, with City leading 60-58-6. City won this year's game 42-6.

The City-Poly tradition is kept alive, however. Every Thanksgiving morning at 9:00 AM, alumni -- whether they played football for their respective school or not -- is invited to play in a flag football game at Herring Run Park in Baltimore.

November 30, 1893: Gonzaga College High School and St. John's College High School, both of Washington, D.C., begin playing each other. They no longer play on T-Day if either makes the District of Columbia Interscholastic Athletic Association playoffs. St. John's won this year's game, 21-17. Gonzaga leads the series 45-41-3.

T-Day is also the day that the DCIAA holds its annual football championship game. At this writing, the game between Woodrow Wilson and H.D. Woodson was in progress.

November 29, 1894: New Jersey's oldest and most-played high school football rivalry is 1st played, in Cumberland County, South Jersey: Millville vs. Vineland. Vineland leads 66-55-17, but, today, Millville triumphed for the 7th straight year, 21-0. Today's game was their 144th meeting. (Early in the 20th Century, they would play 2, sometimes even 3, times a season.)

November 25, 1897: North Jersey's oldest high school football rivalry is 1st played, in Newark: Barringer vs. East Orange. They play at Newark City Schools Stadium, for a trophy known as The Left-Footed Kicker. They haven't always played on T-Day, due to their respective leagues' scheduling requirements.

November 24, 1898: The oldest rivalry west of the Mississippi River -- barely west of it -- is first played between schools in the St. Louis suburbs, 5 miles apart. And it could not be much closer, with Kirkwood leading Webster Groves 39-37-5.

If those numbers sound low for a rivalry that began in the 19th Century, it's because they haven't played every season. In the event that either school reaches the State Playoffs, the schools have an agreement that their junior varsities will play on Thanksgiving Day instead, to keep the tradition going. Kirkwood won today, 42-13.

*

November 28, 1901: The longest-running high school football game in the South is first played, between Woodberry Forest School of Woodberry Forest, Virginia and Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia, outside D.C. Although 88 miles apart, it is still an intense rivalry known simply as The Game.

November 26, 1903: The 1st Harvard Cup is held, the championship of the City of Buffalo. The game was always held at All-High Stadium, before the Buffalo Public Schools joined the New York State Public High School Athletic Association after the 2009 season.

November 30, 1905: Xavier High School of Manhattan and Fordham Prep of The Bronx play New York City's Thanksgiving classic, officially named the Turkey Bowl. They played many games at the Polo Grounds, and then at Downing Stadium on Randall's Island. These days, when it's Xavier's turn to host, they play in Brooklyn at the Aviator Sports and Events Center at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn. When it's Fordham Prep's, they play a few doors down at Jack Coffey Field on the Fordham University campus. Xavier won today, 15-13, but Fordham Prep still leads all-time, 48-39-5.

Also on this day, the annual cross-State, cross-river rivalry between Phillipsburg, New Jersey and Easton, Pennsylvania begins. Easton won the 1st game, 26-0, and leads the series 62-42-5. It's actually been broadcast live on ESPN a couple of times. They play at Fisher Stadium on the Easton campus of Lafayette College. Today, Easton won 26-0.

November 27, 1913: Stonington High School of Connecticut and Westerly High School of Rhode Island play for the 1st time. The game ends in a scoreless tie. Although across a State Line from each other, they are just 2.6 miles apart.

Stonington leads the overall rivalry 73-66-17. But if only T-Day games are counted (and you can be sure that this is how Westerly counts it), Westerly leads 45-43-9. Stonington won today, 25-0.

November 25, 1915: Abington Senior High School and Cheltenham High School, 3 miles apart in the suburbs north of Philadelphia, play each other for the 1st time. Abington leads 56-34-6. Future Baseball Hall-of-Famer Reggie Jackson was a senior in the 1963 game, leading Cheltenham to a 13-7 win. Cheltenham won today, 41-36.

November 29, 1917: East Boston and South Boston -- Eastie and Southie -- play each other for the 1st time. The game is held annually at White Stadium, which is well to the southwest of both schools. Eastie walloped Southie today, 41-8.

November 27, 1919: Loyola Blakefield School and Calvert Hall College, private schools in the Baltimore suburb of Towson, Maryland, begin playing what is now the oldest continuous Catholic high school football rivalry in America. It has often been held as a doubleheader with City vs. Poly at Municipal, Memorial and M&T Bank Stadiums, and is televised on WMAR-Channel 2. Loyola leads the series 49-39-8, but Calvert Hall won today, 6-0.

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November 25, 1920: The 1st Thanksgiving Day parade is produced, by Gimbel's department store in Philadelphia. Gimbel's went out of business in 1986, but the Philly parade is still held every year, and is billed as America's oldest Thanksgiving Day parade.

It features floats, balloons, marching bands (local and otherwise), and celebrities. It goes up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and ends at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Yes, the building whose steps Rocky Balboa always ran up.

The American Professional Football Association, which would become the National Football League in 1922, plays its 1st season's T-Day games. Only one of the games could be called a local rivalry,and the Akron Pros, led by back-head coach Fritz Pollard and end Paul Robeson, both black, defeat Jim Thorpe's Canton Bulldogs 7-0.

The Dayton Triangles beat the Detroit Heralds 28-0. The Hammond Pros (who are an NFL team) lose to the Chicago Boosters (who are not) 27-0. The Rochester Jeffersons (who are an NFL team) lose to All-Tonawanda (who are not) 14-3. The Columbus Panhandles (who are an NFL team) and the Elyria Athletics (who are not) play to a scoreless tie.

And the Decatur Staleys beat the Chicago Tigers 6-0. An urban legend states that the stakes of this game was that the loser would leave the league. Actually, the evidence that the Tigers were even in the league is slim. But they played the next week, and then never played again. Meanwhile, the Staleys -- a "company team," or what English soccer fans would call a "works side," made up of employees of the A.E. Staley Starch Company -- move to Cubs Park (renamed Wrigley Field in 1926) the next season and become the Chicago Bears. The name lives on: Their mascot is named Staley Da Bear.

November 30, 1922: A vicious fight breaks out at Comiskey Park, and even George Halas, the Bears' founder/owner/head coach/two-way end, gets involved. The Chicago Cardinals win the crosstown rivalry 6-0.

November 27, 1924: New York's traditional parade begins with the 1st Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Every year, the parade begins at the American Museum of Natural History at 77th Street and Central Park West, turns down Broadway at 59th Street/Columbus Circle, turns down 7th Avenue at 45th Street/Times Square, and ends at 34th Street/Herald Square in front of Macy's headquarters store.

The first float includes an animatronic turkey wearing a Pilgrim hat, and the last has Santa Claus on a sleigh, thus signifying the start of the holiday shopping season. Ho, ho, ho!

Also on this day, the San Francisco public high school championship is first held on Thanksgiving. The source I have said it's played at Kezar Stadium, but that can't be, because Kezar didn't open until the following year. The old 49ers stadium was demolished in 1989 -- before the earthquake that interrupted that year's World Series -- and was replaced with a smaller facility that now hosts only high school sports.

November 26, 1925: Harold "Red" Grange, just 5 days past his last game for the University of Illinois, plays his 1st professional football game. That was within the rules at the time, as there was no NFL Draft, let alone restrictions connected to it.

It is the annual Thanksgiving Day tussle between Chicago's NFL teams, the Bears and the Cardinals, and Wrigley Field is packed to the gills to watch "the Galloping Ghost" put on his Number 77 jersey for the Bears -- the same colors as UI, dark blue and orange, and the first truly famous uniform number in North American sports. (The NHL wouldn't adopt numbers for another year, and Major League Baseball not until 1929.) The game ends in a scoreless tie.

Grange is one of the greatest all-around players in football history, a sensational running back and one of the best defensive backs of his era. He is also, by far, the most important player in the history of the NFL: If he had failed, the NFL might never have become bigger than it was in 1925, and likely would have gone out of business during the Great Depression, and another sport would have had to fill the gap between the end of the World Series in October and Opening Day in April. Maybe it would have been soccer, that other "football."

But Grange did succeed, and, along with his coach George Halas and his contemporary Jim Thorpe, he was one of the 1st 3 men elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

November 25, 1926: Central Jersey's oldest rivalry is 1st played, Perth Amboy vs. Carteret. Perth Amboy won today, 18-7. Also, for the 1st time, an NFL game is played in New York City on a Thanksgiving Day. The New York Giants defeat the Brooklyn Lions 17-0 at Ebbets Field. The Lions will not play the 1927 season. The Giants will win the NFL Championship.

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November 30, 1933: The New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers play each other in football on Thanksgiving Day. No, I'm not making that up: There was an NFL team in Brooklyn from 1930 to 1944. The Giants win 10-0.

The Giants had played the Staten Island Stapletons on T-Day from the Stapes' establishment in 1929 until they went out of business after the 1932 season, and would play the Dodgers through 1939. Aside from the New York Yanks -- officially "Yanks," not "Yankees" -- playing in Detroit in 1950, there would not be another New York team playing an NFL game on Thanksgiving until 1972, the Giants would not do so again until 1982, and no New York team would host another T-Day game until 2010.

November 29, 1934: Detroit Lions owner George Richards gets the NFL to schedule his team for Thanksgiving Day, against the defending NFL Champions, the undefeated Chicago Bears, with the greatest running back tandem ever, Red Grange (who is in his last season) and Bronko Nagurski. Richards owns a small radio network, and he thinks that, in this 1st season of Lions football in Detroit, this game can sell his team and his network.

It works, at least at the bank: The University of Detroit Stadium is sold out, 26,000 seats, and the listening audience is the biggest Richards has ever had. But the Bears win the game, 19-16. They do not, however, go undefeated, losing the NFL Championship Game to the Giants.

November 23, 1939: President Franklin D. Roosevelt moves Thanksgiving Day up. In this year that November had 5 Thursdays, he established the day as always the 4th Thursday in November. He thought an earlier Thanksgiving would produce more shopping time, thus helping both businesses and customers.

November 24, 1943: San Jose High School begins playing crosstown rival Abraham Lincoln High School on Thanksgiving. This is believed to be the only Thanksgiving high school football rivalry played west of Kirkwood and Webster Groves, Missouri. They play for the Big Bone, a cow femur donated by a butcher shop. Lincoln leads the series 38-24.

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November 26, 1953: The Lions beat the Green Bay Packers 31-15 at Briggs Stadium in Detroit -- renamed Tiger Stadium in 1961. This was the 1st Thanksgiving Day NFL game broadcast live on television, on the DuMont Network.

November 24, 1960: The American Football League plays a Thanksgiving game in its 1st season. The New York Titans beat the Dallas Texans 41-35 at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. By 1963, these teams would be known as the New York Jets and the Kansas City Chiefs, respectively.

November 23, 1961: The Titans host the Buffalo Bills on Thanksgiving, and win 21-14 at the Polo Grounds.

November 22, 1962: Sacking Bart Starr 11 times, the Lions hand the Green Bay Packers what turns out to be their only loss of the season, 26-14 at Tiger Stadium in Detroit. The Packers go 13-1 and then beat the Giants in the NFL Championship Game at Yankee Stadium.

November 28, 1963: For the 1st time, my alma mater, East Brunswick High School, in only its 3rd season of varsity football, plays on Thanksgiving. Jay Doyle, their 1st athletic director, wrestling coach and football coach (he remained AD and wrestling coach until his death in 1972, but gave up coaching football after the 1st 2 seasons) was from Long Island, where there isn't any tradition of playing on T-Day, and didn't want to play on the day.

But the assassination of President John F. Kennedy the preceding Friday led to the postponement of the season finale against Sayreville, intended for the Saturday. So the game was moved to Thanksgiving, and EB won, 13-12.

We would not play on T-Day again until 1978, as pretty much every other school in Middlesex County was already locked into a Turkey Day rivalry. In 1978, we would begin playing Colonia High School of Woodbridge. More on that later.

November 24, 1966: The NFL wanted to add a 2nd game to Thanksgiving, to increase TV ratings. The only team, aside from the established Lions, who were willing to host it was the Dallas Cowboys. They beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 at the Cotton Bowl, and a new tradition is born.

From this point onward, Detroit hosts the early game, 12:30 PM, because it would be before noon Dallas time. So Dallas hosts the 3:30 game. And, starting in 1970, after the NFL-AFL merger, since both Detroit and Dallas are in the NFC, CBS has the NFC games plus games where an AFC team hosts an NFC team, and NBC has the AFC games plus games where an NFC team hosts an AFC team, an AFC team, gets sent to either Detroit or Dallas every year. This held through the 2013 season, despite various network shifts and the addition of the 3rd game in 2006: Both last year (2014) and this year (2015), all 3 games have been an NFC team vs. another NFC team.

November 25, 1971: Nebraska vs. Oklahoma used to be a huge rivalry, before conference shifts split them up, and it was never bigger than on this Thanksgiving Day. Nebraska was ranked Number 1, Oklahoma was Number 2, and they met at Owen Field in Norman. In  seesaw battle, Nebraska won, 35-31. It was one of several college football games nicknamed "The Game of the Century."

This also marks the Cowboys' 1st Thanksgiving game at their new Texas Stadium. They win 28-21 over the Los Angeles Rams. They move into AT&T Stadium in 2009.

November 28, 1974: The last NFL game is played at Tiger Stadium. The Lions lose 31-27 to the Denver Broncos. Their remaining games this season will all be on the road. The next season, the Lions began playing out in the suburbs, at the Silverdome in Pontiac. They move back into the city in 2002.

At Texas Stadium, Roger Staubach gets hurt, but backup Clint Longley steps into the quarterback role. With 35 seconds left, he throws a touchdown pass to Drew Pearson, and the Cowboys beat their arch-rivals, the Washington Redskins, 24-23.

Pearson had played at South River High School in New Jersey. Ironically, as a sophomore there, his quarterback was future Redskin Joe Theismann. South River played New Brunswick at Rutgers on Thanksgiving every year from 1919 to 1976, first at Neilson Field, and then at Rutgers Stadium. The schools still play each other, just not on T-Day, and alternate between their home fields.

But 1974 was also the first year that the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association played State Playoffs, and this would end up breaking up several longstanding rivalries.

November 27, 1975: The football version of the St. Louis Cardinals takes the place of the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, losing to the Buffalo Bills 32-14 at Busch Memorial Stadium.

In 1976, the Cards would visit the Cowboys, and the Cards would host again in 1977. But that was it: The Kirkwood-Webster Groves rivalry is king on Thanksgiving in eastern Missouri, and only twice more, both times in Dallas, would the Cards play on T-Day before moving to Arizona. Nor have the St. Louis Rams played on T-Day, either home or away, since moving from Los Angeles.

November 26, 1976: Rutgers University's football team completes an undefeated season, defeating Colgate University 17-9 at Giants Stadium at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey. They do not, however, go to a bowl game: They turn down an invitation to the Independence Bowl, thinking it too small for an undefeated team, even one with as weak a schedule as Rutgers had -- and don't receive any other invitations.

Suffice it to say, if there had been a Big East Conference at the time, the Scarlet Knights would not have gone 11-0, because this was the year that the University of Pittsburgh, led by Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett, ran over everybody on the way to an undefeated National Championship season.

Also on this day, the Lions beat the Bills 27-14, but the Bills' O.J. Simpson rushes for 273 yards, a single-game NFL record (since broken).

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November 22, 1984: East Brunswick needs to beat Colonia away to clinch its 1st-ever undefeated regular season, and its 1st Middlesex County Athletic Conference Championship in 12 years. But they trail 27-13 at the half, and between injuries and ejections after a fight, 3 key players are out.

The Bears come back, and score a touchdown in the last 30 seconds to win it, 33-27. It is often called the greatest game in EBHS' 55-season football history.

The next season's game gets postponed by rain, and EB will not play on T-Day again until 1994.

November 23, 1989: The Philadelphia Eagles crush the Cowboys 27-0 at Texas Stadium. The game is remembered as the Bounty Bowl, since it was alleged that head coach Buddy Ryan offered his defenders bonuses for knocking Cowboy players out of the game with injuries.

November 26, 1992: Alabama vs. Auburn, the Iron Bowl, is played at Legion Field in Birmingham. It is the last game as head coach for Auburn's Pat Dye, whom the NCAA had recently caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Alabama won 17-0.

November 25, 1993: Georgia plays Georgia Tech at Grant Field in Atlanta. Introducing the game on ABC, Keith Jackson says, "This is the day when the waistline takes a whuppin', and ancient rivalries are replayed." The Bulldogs-Yellow Jackets rivalry is known as "Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate." Or, as Jackson said, as he so often did in games like this, "These two teams just... don't... like each other."

Indeed, as the 4th quarter began, Georgia led 16-10, but began to run up the score. They scored 4 touchdowns in the quarter. The 4th made it 43-10, and Bulldog coach Ray Goff ordered a 2-point conversion. The Jackets didn't like that, and a fight started. When order was restored, Tech stopped the 2-pointer, and the score held at 43-10.

But this time around, Turkey Day football was just getting warmed up. The Bears beat the Lions 10-6 at the Silverdome. And then, as snow fell on the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and got through the hole in the Texas Stadium roof and covered the field, the Miami Dolphins lined up for a late field goal, but it was blocked. Leon Lett, who tarnished an overwhelming Cowboy victory in the previous season's Super Bowl, actually costs the Cowboys the game this time, by trying to recover the blocked kick in the end zone. Except he can't handle it, the Dolphins pounce on it, and it's the winning touchdown: Miami 16, Dallas 14. CBS announcer Verne Lundquist says, "Not Leon Lett!" Yes, Leon Lett.

November 24, 1994: With the former high schools in Old Bridge, original school Madison Central and newer Cedar Ridge, reconsolidating after 25 years, a new Thanksgiving Day rivalry is formed with neighboring East Brunswick. EB wins the 1st-ever "Battle of Route 18," 33-18 at Old Bridge's Vince Lombardi Field. (Although he lived much of his life in New Jersey, the old Packer coach had no connection to the town. They just wanted to honor him.)

EB has played OB, under its previous names Madison Township (the town's name was changed in 1975) and Madison Central (the school's name change didn't follow that of the town) every season since 1963, OB's 1st season. From 1963 to 1974, EB led 9-1-2. From 1975 onward, OB leads 32-11, including 19-3 on Thanksgiving. Overall, OB leads 33-20-2. Old Bridge won today, 20-7.

Also on this day, 20 Thanksgivings after the Clint Longley Game, the Cowboys again needs a backup quarterback to fill in for an injured future Hall-of-Famer. Troy Aikman went down, and Jason Garrett stepped in. The Cowboys beat Brett Favre and the Packers 42-31.

November 26, 1998: The Lions and the Pittsburgh Steelers go to overtime. Referee Phil Luckett tells visiting Steeler captain Jerome Betts to call the coin as he tosses it in the air. Bettis starts to call heads, but stops himself and calls tails. Luckett goes with Bettis' aborted original call, and says the call was heads. The coin lands tails, the Lions get the ball, and kick a game-winning field goal without the Steelers even getting the ball back: Lions 19, Steelers 16.

The next season, the rule was changed: The captain is now required to call the coin before the toss. Another rule change means that a team can still win without giving the ball back if they score a touchdown, but not a field goal: If they kick a field goal, the team behind gets another chance.

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November 23, 2006: The NFL goes to a 3-game schedule: Detroit in the 12:30 game, Dallas in the 3:30 game, and a 3rd game at 8:30, chosen for high ratings. The Lions lose to the Dolphins 27-10, the Cowboys beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 38-10, and the Chiefs beat the Broncos 19-10 at Arrowhead Stadium.

November 22, 2012: Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez runs headfirst into the rear end of one of his own linemen, and drops the ball. Against his team's arch-rivals, the New England Patriots. It's picked up and returned for a touchdown. Not that it mattered: The Pats won 49-19. But "The Butt Fumble" marked the end of Sanchez' tenure as Jets starting quarterback.

November 26, 2015: Lions 45, Eagles 14. Previously, the Eagles were 6-0 on Thanksgiving Day.

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Most Thanksgiving games: Detroit 76, Dallas 48, Green Bay 36, Chicago 34, Chicago/St. Louis/Arizona 23, N.Y. Giants 14, Denver 11 (most of any AFC team), Kansas City 10.

The Jacksonville Jaguars are in their 21st season, and have never played on Thanksgiving. The Carolina Panthers also came into the NFL in 1995, and are playing on Thanksgiving for the 1st time today, against the Cowboys. Houston, Tampa Bay, Cincinnati and New Orleans have also played on T-Day only once. The San Diego Chargers have not played on Turkey Day since 1969. The Rams, Browns and Bills have also not yet played on T-Day in the 21st Century.

Records:

1. Baltimore Ravens: 2-0, 1.000
2. New Orleans Saints: 1-0, 1.000
3. Houston Texans: 1-0, 1.000
4. Carolina Panthers: 1-0, 1.000
5. Philadelphia Eagles: 6-1, .857
6. Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts: 2-0-1, .833
7. Minnesota Vikings: 5-1, .833
8. Cleveland/Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams: 3-1, .750
9. Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans: 5-2, .714
10. Miami Dolphins: 5-2, .714
11. San Diego Chargers: 2-1-1, .625
12. Dallas Cowboys: 29-18-1, .615
13. New York Giants: 7-4-3, .607
14. New England Patriots: 3-2, .600
15. San Francisco 49ers: 3-2-1, .583
16. Chicago Bears: 17-15-2, .529
17. Kansas City Chiefs: 5-5, .500
18. New York Jets: 4-4, .500
19. Cleveland Browns: 3-3, .000
20. Seattle Seahawks: 2-2, .500
21. Atlanta Falcons: 1-1, .500
22. Jacksonville Jaguars: 0-0 (no winning percentage, as you can't divide by zero)
23. Detroit Lions: 36-38-2, .487
24. Buffalo Bills: 3-4-1, .438
25. Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders: 3-4, .429
26. Green Bay Packers: 14-20-2, .417
27. Denver Broncos: 4-7, .364
28. Chicago/St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals: 6-15-2, .304
29. Washington Redskins: 2-6, .250
30. Pittsburgh Steelers: 1-6, .143
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 0-1, .000
32. Cincinnati Bengals: 0-1, .000

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Teams playing on Thanksgiving and winning an NFL Championship in the same season:

1920 Akron Pros beat Canton Bulldogs 7-0
1921 Chicago Bears lose to Buffalo All-Americans 7-6
1922 Canton Bulldogs beat Akron Pros 14-0
1923 Canton Bulldogs beat Toledo Maroons 28-0
1924 Canton Bulldogs beat Milwaukee Badgers 53-10
1925 Chicago Cardinals tie Chicago Bears 0-0
1926 Frankford Yellow Jackets (Philadelphia) beat Green Bay Packers 20-14
1928 Providence Steam Roller beat Pottsville Maroons 7-0
1929 Green Bay Packers tie Frankford Yellow Jackets 0-0
1930 Green Bay Packers beat Frankford Yellow Jackets 25-7
1931 Green Bay Packers beat Providence Steam Roller 38-7
1932 Chicago Bears beat Chicago Cardinals 24-0
1933 Chicago Bears beat Chicago Cardinals 22-6
1934 New York Giants beat Brooklyn Dodgers 27-0
1935 Detroit Lions beat Chicago Bears 14-2
1938 New York Giants tie Brooklyn Dodgers 7-7
1948 Cleveland Browns beat Los Angeles Dons 31-14 (All-America Football Conference)
1949 Cleveland Browns beat Chicago Hornets 14-6 (AAFC)
1952 Detroit Lions beat Green Bay Packers 48-24
1953 Detroit Lions beat Green Bay Packers 34-15
1957 Detroit Lions beat Green Bay Packers 18-6
1961 Green Bay Packers beat Detroit Lions 17-9
1962 Green Bay Packers lost to Detroit Lions 26-14
1964 Buffalo Bills beat San Diego Chargers 27-24 (American Football League)
1965 Buffalo Bills tie San Diego Chargers 20-20 (AFL)
1967 Oakland Raiders beat Kansas City Chiefs 44-22 (AFL)
1969 Minnesota Vikings beat Detroit Lions 27-0
1969 Kansas City Chiefs beat Denver Broncos 31-17
1971 Dallas Cowboys beat Los Angeles Rams 28-21
1973 Miami Dolphins beat Dallas Cowboys 14-7
1992 Dallas Cowboys over New York Giants 30-3
1993 Dallas Cowboys lose to Miami Dolphins 16-14
1995 Dallas Cowboys over Kansas City Chiefs 24-12