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Santa’s Wide World of Sports Christmas List

As we engage in a season of cold weather tailgating, roasting one Mr. Chesterfield J. Nutz over the open fire, along with brats, dogs, and wurst — and is there anything wurst than the New York Jets offensive ineptitude? — we barrel toward the beloved festival known as capitalism’s greatest trium– er, Christmas!

It’s that time when temperatures are low and Dwight Howard’s free throw percentage is even lower, when Santa does a check down on his list, perhaps calling an audible for those last-minute developments mussing up his BCS (Big Claus Shopfest).  (Santa has the sports package on his dish so he’s in the know at the North Pole.)

From the usual historic moments to record-setting performances to unnaturally enhanced performances to memorable blunders and self-inflicted goofs that have left us entertained, offended, perturbed, and beholden to our idiosyncratic whims, it’s certainly been a year for the fan.

Thus, it is an unenviable task he has this year as the world of sports was once again flush with compelling storylines, dynamic heroes, and reviled villains.  Though even the vilified might receive a gift as Santa believes it is better to give than to lead the league in receiving yards.

And decked out in crimson, this Saint Nick, not to be confused with Nick Saban, will soon take to the skies to deliver to all that which was earned in the year that was.  On board his sleigh this year, he has stocked these items for the following people:

“Clipper Darrell” – Your rightful place back in the Staples Center to see LA’s best professional hoops team.

Jeremy Lin – A TexMex-flavored reboot of Linsanity.

Jon Vilma – A better excuse.

Saints Bountygate – Helmet-to-helmet contact.

Jeremy Shockey – A tight end relocation program in case he was the one that ratted out the Bountygaters.

Curt Schilling – A redo in the gaming world.

Austin Collie – A desk job.  It’s safer.

Albert Pujols – A better start.

Junior Seau – A solid legacy and some inner peace.

Magic Johnson – All the batting practice he wants.

The Los Angeles Dodgers – A thank you note from the Boston Red Sox.

Andy Reid – a fresh start.

Alex Smith – a starting job somewhere as he’d probably make a pretty decent starting quarterback.

Scott Pioli and Romeo Crennel – a better year, in every conceivable way.

San Diego Chargers fans – Whoever the opposite of Norv Turner is as their next head coach.

Cole Hamels – A five-game suspension where he actually misses five starts.

Andy Pettitte – Ginkgo biloba so his memory comes back to him.

Ozzie Guillen – A job coaching Fidel’s national team.

Derek Jeter – A Groupon for Jenny Craig.

Tiger Woods – A meeting with the old Tiger Woods.  Maybe he can learn something about winning.

Timothy Bradley – A win in a match he clearly gets outboxed.  (He got that gift early.)

The Replacement Referees – The knowledge that their horrendous pass interference calls live on.

The NBA – A new slogan: “NBA Action – It’s broken and we fix it.”

The NFL – A change to the rules stating that if you throw a challenge flag on a play that was going to be reviewed anyway, you will be not be penalized and it will still be reviewed.

Penn State University – A lot of mouthwash to wash that taste out of your mouth.

Olympic Spoiler Alerts – You’ll get your gift in five hours.

Augusta’s Women – Women’s restrooms.

Lance Armstrong –  A lifetime supply of “Livestrong” bracelets with the “v” etched out which feels more accurate.

The 8th place finisher in the last dozen Tour de France races– A medal.  Gotta figure he was the top clean finisher.

Lebron James – A new monkey for his back.

Stephen Strausbourg – Another 40 innings.

Detroit Tigers Third Base Coach Gene Lamont – A stop sign.

Tim Tebow – Anything he wants… er, well, except a starting job, of course.

The New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, and Detroit Lions – The extra win they deserve.

The San Diego Chargers – Oh, what the heck, you can get another win as well since you probably only gave up 28 yards on 4th and 29.  Of course, you realize how inept you were for letting it even be that close.

Shortstop Yunel Escobar – Eye black with the Spanish slur for Yunel Escobar written on it.

A-Rod – A cushion football fans use when sitting on the bench.

Shaun White – A lifetime ban from hotels.

Chipper Jones – A peaceful retirement where he can go back to his given name — Andruw.

Adam Greenberg – At least one more big league at-bat, this one against someone other than the knuckleballing Cy Young Award winner.

Melky Cabrera – A better excuse.

Derek Fisher – A new line of work now that flopping has been outlawed.

Mike Brown – The “death stare penalty” sentenced to Kobe Bryant in response to Kobe’s “death stare” at his former head coach.

Kobe Bryant – A huge party where the other guests are NBA players and coaches he’s publicly called out and ridiculed over the years.  There will be clowns and a caricature artist and a piñata.  (Three guesses who the piñata will be.)

Pablo Sandoval – Kung Fu MVPanda.

Felix Baumgartner –  A souvenir photo of his death-defying jump, like one of those snapped on a roller coaster.

Miguel Cabrera – Three crowns.

Mike Trout – An MVP to go with his ROY.

The New York Marathon – Another chance to run the 2012 marathon in 2013.

Johnny “Football” Manziel – Three more years to play like a freshman.

The New Orleans Pelicans – Nothing.  This was just an attempt to get used to their name…  Nope.  Can’t get used to it.

Dwayne Wade and Ndomukong Suh – Soap.

Dale Sveum – A bright orange jumpsuit so Robin Yount recognizes him from the birds.

Justin Verlander – A win in an important game.

Andrew Luck – Well, he certainly doesn’t need any luck so he gets just a little more seasoning.

Peyton Manning – Another Super Bowl win to put a little space between the number of titles he has and the number his brother Cooper has.

Tom Brady – Another Super Bowl win to solidify his place in history.

Jon Gruden – A coaching job so that he may bring his energy and enthusiasm out of the broadcast booth and into the locker room.

The San Antonio Spurs – $250,000 to cover their ridiculous fine for strategically resting players.

David Stern – A time machine to bring him to 2014 so that he can retire already allowing the NBA the chance to regain the legitimacy and dignity it lost spectacularly under his tenure.  Heck, he can go as far into the future as he wants.

NHL – A year off.  You’ve earned it after going so hard these last seven years.

Bud Selig – A title that has eluded him his whole career:  “Best Commissioner.”

Miami Marlins – A new stadium so you can start drawing fans.

and lastly, Bobby Valentine – Another job with a major league team, preferably one that requires him to repeat the words, “Peanuts here!” over and over again, something he may be able to handle without embarrassing himself. The operative word is may.

And after his task has been completed, Santa will then disappear along the horizon, these words echoing soundly behind him, “Merry Christmas to all and to all a fair fight,” preferably one finally between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather.

 

Happy Holidays, everyone!

 

 

Featured Image by: Feelart

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Why Baseball is STILL America’s Pastime

By now, you’ve all heard the classic George Carlin routine about baseball and football.  If you haven’t, you haven’t yet found the Internet and are not reading this now.  Here’s a snippet, just to get you in the mood:

“Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game.  Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle.”

“Baseball begins in the spring, the season of life.  Football begins in the fall, when everything’s dying.”

He describes how one is a fun, childlike game, and one is comparable to a war.  There is one other difference that has manifested itself more since the great comedian’s passing — more people tune in for football.

Yes, even with its hiccups, football wins the ratings war (defeating handily such cinematic brilliance as “Honey Boo Boo”). It is huge in the fantasy divisions, a juggernaut in merchandising, and is generally referred to as the most popular sport in America.

BUT, and make no mistake about this, baseball is still America’s pastime.

This may be due to the literal definition of the word. A pastime is something you do more passively. And there’s little more passive than sitting for three hours watching a baseball game. (Well, there’s fishing, but that’s significantly less attended than all but a Miami Marlins game. There’s irony in that statement.)

Football is active and engaging. So the term pastime seems out of place.

We still have a joy in our hearts for the sport of baseball. It’s an enduring classic. Attending a charity event recently for the Harold Pump Foundation, baseball legend Steve Garvey channeled his inner James Earl Jones (“Terence Mann” from “Field of Dreams”) when, describing the allure of his sport, he told me, “The one thing that’s been constant over the years with wars and famines, inflations and recessions, baseball’s always been there and that’s why we love it.”

Former Cardinals centerfielder and base-stealing giant Vince Coleman told me, “Baseball’s always exciting to me and the funnest part is that keeps it exciting is you see guys going out stealing bases obviously to excite the crowd.”

And he tells me, with lightening-quick* Billy Hamilton coming through the Reds’ farm system, we’re gonna be seeing even more flash soon.

(*It should be noted that Hamilton has not been run against any act of nature so it remains to be seen if he is genuinely lightening-quick.)

There may indeed be a renaissance of the game. In order to look into the future, we inevitably look toward the past. Home runs are down, base-stealing is up, and, as the great Reggie Jackson told me, “The glasses are back in style now, the aviator glasses” which he made fashionable as he patrolled the outfield several decades ago.

But what of the changes to the league, in the form of an extra wild card. Will they diminish the fondness people have for the game? All-time great and lifelong member of the All-Classy Team Joe Torre assures me, “It’s gonna be great. I think the one-game playoff is gonna be a Russian roulette. I just felt in the past that the winner of the division didn’t get enough of an advantage and now I think that this levels the playing field, because if you get in the wild card, you’re going to have to win that extra game in order to get into the playoffs.”

And the fans are not going away. This is part of who they are, their upbringing. Actor Billy Bob Thornton embodies that statement. The die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fan was watching the game (as he does 162 times a year) before having to leave it early to attend the charity function. He grew up playing baseball.

An Arkansas native, he gravitated naturally to the red birds because, “Their Double A club, the Arkansas Travelers, were in Little Rock, so we saw all those guys come through Little Rock, and it was the closest team because we had no pro team.”

A lot of the fun comes from the rivalries deeply engrained in a team’s culture. Thornton explains, “We’re natural-born enemies with the Cubs, but… Chicago is one of my favorite cities in the world and I love the people there and our rivalry with the Cubs. There’s actually more respect within that rivalry than you might think. I love the Cubs much more than I do the Brewers or the Reds. The Reds have done a couple of things to my Cardinals that I’m not too fond of.”

Love or hate, both are emotions based in passion and the game, though slow-paced and superficially mellow, maintains a white-hot heat just beneath the surface. It’s different than other sports, but that’s another of baseball’s unique attributes.

Garvey, who lest we forget set the National League record for consecutive games (1207) played over seven-and-a-half seasons, sums it up by saying, “Each sport is inherently important and appealing to certain fans. Our games, it’s a long season, 162 games and playoffs; around 80 games in hockey and basketball; sixteen to get to the playoffs in football. So they all have their nuances. Baseball is timeless. the clock’s not gonna run out.”

George Carlin couldn’t have said it better. It’s timeless. It’s our pastime. And it will always be.

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NFL Greats Talk Fantasy Football

There was a time when the typical fantasy of a red-blooded American male was Phoebe Cates dripping wet handling a carrot. “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” being over a quarter century ago, those same men would now be quite content to have a durable top-flight running back, a swarming defense intent on stripping the ball, and a quarterback with a great interception-to-turnover ratio. These are the stuff of dreams.

Yes, those same testosterone-laden men (and some laden with extra testosterone, like Melky Cabrera) are all about the fantasy football now. You wait all year for this, study your charts, listen to the experts, alienate family, ignore friends, only to have your efforts derailed early on from a bad draft position or a freak injury. (My first pick last year was Jamaal Charles. Nuff said.)

So what’s your strategy? It depends on what type of league you’re in. Is it a keeper league? Do you make bids? Are you totally on board… unless you can’t pick Tom Brady? Does your league allow you to pay after you pick? Are you planning to not pay if you don’t get your first choice?

Regardless, the draft is just the beginning. You’re the general manager. You need to be up on the news. Rosters need to be in ten minutes from now! But your best player is “questionable” to start. What the heck does that mean?! You need to know!!! Will he start?! Dammit, that’s the question!

This has become our national pastime. The fanatics are now even more fanatic. As players, it’s not enough you have to help your team win, but now you have to do well individually. A win on the field could still be a loss for some random guy in Omaha (as opposed to the specific guy in Omaha). Talk about increased pressure!

At the recent Pump Foundation dinner, raising money for the Northridge (CA) Hospital to support the fight against cancer, I caught up with a few former gridiron greats and asked what they thought of the fantasy phenomenon.

“It was amazing to me,” says Hall of Fame wide receiver Tim Brown, “cuz I had some of my good golf buddies back in Dallas who were fantasy players and when I would come home in the offseason, they would be mad at me. I mean, literally, they’d say, ‘Dude, all you had to do was run out of bounds at the one-yard line, and Tyrone Wheatley would’ve scored and I would’ve won the game.’ And I didn’t know what was going on til I found out they were playing fantasy football.”

He doesn’t play himself because he’s a busy man in his “retirement.” “I would love to,” says the former Heisman Trophy winner. “Y’know, I started out about five or six years ago trying to do it and I just haven’t had the time to do it.”

The theme comes up again when talking to “Broadway Joe” himself who also complained of the time commitment. “I was involved a couple of seasons ago,” says Namath. “I really wanted to make it work, studying, getting help and all that. And what I’ve learned is I have to admire the people who are involved because it takes passion to take that much time in to study the athletes and their games, and keeping up with the week to week, and making the deals and all.”

But he had no problem memorizing the playbook week in and week out? “Well, yeah,” the former Super Bowl III guarantor explains, “but that was when you were living it. So the fantasy game has just added a wonderful time for fans and participants of fantasy football.”

Would he have picked himself in the first round? “I don’t know. With a bad knee, it depends.” Another questionable!

Then there’s the flip side. Former three-sport star and Baseball Hall of Famer Dave Winfield doesn’t even concern himself with it. “I don’t follow it at all. I know it’s a big thing, but don’t follow it at all. AT ALL,” he says again for emphasis, utilizing his broad smile.

Meanwhile, one of the players who was consistently a lock to be an early-round pick pondered not even being an option for the fantasy players. With the Olympics just ended, Marshall Faulk had his own fantasy.

“If I could’ve gone back and done it all over again,” the recent inductee to Canton began, “I would’ve come back and probably played table tennis and badminton, or — I don’t know what the gymnast is called with the little string, but that looks fun too. It has a name. i don’t know what that’s called. We’ll call it that.”

I imagine he would’ve been a Hall of Famer at that, but he’s not so confident. “I would’ve be graceful. If my knees would’ve been a little better, I would’ve been good.”

So my fantasy is now this… I get a top 3 player at all the skill positions, they don’t get hurt, have career years, and I’m able to withstand all challenges to win my league. But I know that at the end of the day, it’ll be just that, a fantasy, and I’ll be left with Darren Sproles as my top tailback and Mark Sanchez, who will most likely be benched for Tim Tebow in Week Two, with my arch nemesis having the foresight to pick him up before I can.

It’s going to be a long season. Why isn’t it called Nightmare Football instead?

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Fanism: Re-examining Stereotypes of Sports Fans

With the recent passing of Rodney King, it’s prompted us, as a nation, to revisit race relations in this country.  Without getting too much into that, I’d like to stride along a parallel path to point out that as civil rights have navigated peaks and valleys throughout history, there is an issue that has run consistently over time, under the radar, an unspoken ill, eschewing logic for gut feelings and emotion.

Fanism in this country (the generalized labeling of an entire group of fans with a single, specific characteristic) is still rampant.  So I say, as the late Rodney King said on that fateful day in 1991, “Ow.”  (He also said “Can’t we all just get along?”  And upon further consideration, I’d say that second quote probably resonates more with my article, so I’ll go with that one instead.)

Think of those fans you hate, or those fans that drive you nuts.  It’s not only them as individuals per se, but everyone like them.  What traits do they all have in common that bug you, that you’ve seen as a recurring theme among them?

We stereotype.  It’s human nature.  When you get down to it, aren’t we all a little bit fanist?

Stereotypes are a funny thing. They begin when there is a recurrent theme pertaining to a certain group, whether focusing on region, gender, Veganism, whatever.  Sometimes they are exaggerated, like, for instance, not all Jews have Chinese food on Sundays and not all Amish like to polka.  Sports fans are no different.

Are the stereotypes true?  There are things you think of rival fans that have become engrained in your mind as fact.  It may be an accurate description, or you may be manifesting something unfounded, but convenient.  What do we base them on?  Sociological studies?  A coin flip?  Some prankster with a popular blog?  There isn’t a think tank out there that holds a meeting and decides, “We’ll start saying that Milwaukee Bucks fans are bad tippers.”  (Although if there was some office to manipulate these kinds of made-up labels, outcomes, and so forth, I would imagine it would be overseen by David Stern.)

Fair or not, these characterizations are stuck with fans of these teams.  And sometimes, the actual portion of the fan base that resembles this may only be a very small percentage, if you will — the one-percenters.  (Except these outlier fans have a lot less money and a lot more free time to do stupid, mean things than the one-percent of guys who are too busy ruining the American financial system.)  Yet it sticks to them.

Let’s go around the country.  What do you think when you think of certain fan bases?

Let’s start in the Northeast and my ol’ stomping ground (Ironically, that’s where the term stomping ground began as well as there’s actually a stomping ground dating all the way back to revolutionary times when patriotic Colonials would come home, tired from a long day of rabble rousing just to stomp around for a while to let off steam.  It was a forebear to Zumba classes.)

When you think of Boston fans, you may immediately classify them as the racist city in the sports landscape.  This image has formed over decades, beginning with the fact the Red Sox were the last team to assimilate black ballplayers onto their major league squad, continuing through the 60s, even as Bill Russell won championship after championship on a predominantly white ballclub, to when former Celtics player Dee Brown was pulled over and charged with DWB (“driving while black,” to those not hip to the slang), up to the present.

Last month, Bostonian’s seemingly sunk to new lows with racist tweets after the Bruins loss to the Capitals.  A few weeks later, they were caught dumping beer on Lebron (technically on top of the screen that covers the tunnel back to the locker rooms) as Lebron passed underneath.  Now fans are calling Boston fans racist and classless.

But classless doesn’t stick as a label for Boston.  Every fan base has classless fans.  That’s an unfortunate fact.  (Sports are there to give the lives of such fans some worth by providing them a team of their chosen to put their energies in the hopes of that team succeeding where their lives have failed.)  But in terms of classless, I think fans would call out Detroit or Philadelphia before Boston.  Racist?  Well, yeah, Boston fans still can’t get out from the grinder on that one.

If you’ve been to Philadelphia, you know their fans to be among the least civil of all.  They have that reputation.  They’ve thrown ice balls at players, and Santa Claus.  They boo visiting players who get injured.  Philadelphia’s a tough town.  It comes from circumstance.  They’re not as big as New York and not as historic as Boston.  It’s cold there and everyone’s internal chemistry is messed up from eating scrapple and cheesesteaks.    They have an inferiority complex bigger than any other city.  In fact, they are superior to other cities when it comes to feeling inferior.

But we mustn’t forget New Yorkers.  They are brash and confident.  It comes from living in New York.  If they weren’t, they’d be eaten alive.  But to others, it comes off as being obnoxious.  Couple that with a sense of entitlement from decades of championship-winning, even before they were born, and it comes out to the world.

Oh, and before I leave this region of the country, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that New Yorkers also like to point out that Boston fans are whiney.  Not all of them, but an inordinate number of them.  It comes from having to deal with Yankees fans for decades.  Strange how the successful of the Celtics has not tempered this character flaw.

Proximity contributes to these depictions, but not always.  For instance, Dodgers fans are all the way on the other side of the country.  And they are very knowledgeable.

They enjoy the game and seem to have an East-Coast acumen toward it, seemingly from their Brooklyn lineage.  (Save for  a segment of the fans with anger management issues, but there are many fan bases who have that.  It could have been as a response to Frank McCourt’s horrible management of the team.)

Down the road, the (whatever city they are claiming to be a part of this week) Angels fans are nowhere near as knowledge as Dodgers fans.  They wait for the Rally Monkey to tell them what to do.  Truth be told, even he doesn’t know what’s going on.

Then there are Lakers fans who are, by and large, not knowledgeable at all.  They’re not really fans of the NBA, which is an odd thing to say.  They love the Lakers and have a knowledge of that team (except when trying to make the case that Kobe is a better player than either Magic or Jerry West, and even Kareem), but are woefully misinformed when it comes to reality.  Many continue to call their giant Spaniard Paul Gasol.

Conversations with their fans might find you listening to their claim that their team is a top-notch defensive unit in spite of statistics that would betray their argument quite uncompromisingly.  They might be 11th in the league, but what do numbers matter?

Interesting that Los Angeles is known, as a city, for its non-reality.  The weather is always nice, breasts are always perky, and time does not progress.  So it would stand to reason that they could attempt to make a case that a mediocre defensive team is, in fact, among the best in the league.

But they are certainly passionate toward their team.  Seattle is a different beast.  In football, the Seahawks possess one of the loudest fan bases and home field advantages, but once the game is over, they are surprisingly calm.  It’s a relaxed, laid-back region. It also rains a lot, which may do some to cool emotions.

Remember the Super Bowl that Seattle won, but the officiating team presented to Pittsburgh instead?  Egregious call after call went against the Seahawks until they could no longer regain momentum.  In 2010, four-and-a-half years later, referee Bill Leavy admitted to blowing the game.  But Seattle fans took it all in stride, with disappointment, but civility.  Could Philadelphia fans have done that?  Oakland fans?

How many times have you cringed when someone mentions the term “Raiders fan?”  They have the reputation of being criminals which isn’t fair… since they can’t defend that rap because they’re all in jail.

I kid! I kid!  Or do I?  Are you saying you place Raiders fans in high regard?  Chargers fans certainly do not.  When the two teams play each other in San Diego, Raiders fans draw very well because Chargers season ticket holders frequently give away that game because they don’t want to deal with Raiders fans.  Is that unfounded?  An urban myth?  No.  It’s what they’ve found out over the years.

St. Louis fans are nice, Chicago Cubs fans are resigned to failure, Cleveland fans make Cubs fans look like Yankees fans, Miami fans are Cuban, Texas Longhorn fans hook things, Duke fans are spoiled, Alabama fans are morons (if you’re an Auburn fan), Auburn fans are morons (if you’re an Alabama fan), the list goes on and on.

Remember, these are stereotypes.  You’ll be able to point to fans in each of these cities that don’t fit, but this is how a city is perceived.

I’m sure there are people reading this (or having it read to them due to the big words) who slam their fist down and scream, “Who the hell does this guy think he is?!  We’re not like that at all.”  Or the ones who equate my article as the lunatic rantings of a typical bitter, jealous, and whiny Boston fan who just enjoys watching his gums flap in the wind.

But that’s just blatant fanism and you should be ashamed of yourself.  Rodney King was right, we should just get along.  But then, in sports, where’s the fun in that?

 

[Featured Image by: David Castillo Dominici]

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Yankees/Red Sox Fans: A Rivalry Renewed

As Fenway Park celebrates its 100th birthday, a day when the Boston Americans beat the Highlanders of New York by a score of 7-6 in eleven innings while scores of other people were being unceremoniously tossed off a cruise ship in frigid waters, we see that there is still a cold war between the two rivals.

Though the past few years have been rather innocuous, New York City (a city with a fanbase that routinely goes on Red Sox fan sites to criticize Boston backers about caring so much about what New York is doing, while at the same time, explaining how they don’t give Boston a second thought) has sunk to a new low.  (Ironic because Boston is the city that’s built on landfill.)

A controversial New York subway ad tells Big Apple commuters not to give up their seats to a Red Sox fan, even if she is pregnant.

This seems a waste of some good money, the need to recommend this behavior.  You’re talking about a fan base with members who, twice in the past decade, have literally killed Boston fans.  Believe me, pregnant Boston fans are grateful when your greatest crime is simply not getting up on a crowded train.

In fact, we’re taught to be wary any time a Yankees fan makes a sudden movement, such as standing on a crowded subway.  So don’t worry, the edict itself isn’t what’s so disturbing.  It’s the fact that this ad is an act of blatant fanism!

That’s right, fanism!  Who would’ve thought that in an age where we have a White Sox fan in the White House that we could still be subjected to this type of treatment.  All fans should be created equal.  Yes, I’m a Boston fan, but if you prick me, do I not bleed?  If you feed me, do I not burp and undo my belt?  If you tickle me, do I not laugh and then very quickly summon a policeman because, seriously, we’re grown men, why are you tickling me?!

It all begins with Rosa from Hyde Park, in her third trimester, being forced to stand on the subway until she can’t take it anymore and edges into a seat just ahead of a Yankees fan, thus earning her a citation for refusing to relinquish her seat to a non-pregnant Yankee fan.

Where does it end?  First, you don’t stand for a pregnant Red Sox fan, then you don’t allow Red Sox fans to use cabs, celebrate the Macy’s Day parade, buy M&Ms at the giant M&M store in Times Square.  (That place is like a playground for me!  Please, God, no!)

I know there are some New Yorkers out there who will risk alienation to do the right thing and let the pregnant Red Sox fans have a seat, societal customs be damned!  But this is about the authority behind the ad.

Yes, we’ve all heard the anecdotes about how Yankees fans refuse service to someone wearing a Red Sox hat in a coffee shop.  Or the deli worker who skips the number of the guy wearing the Jeter jersey.  These are individual acts and isolated.  But for an edict to be decreed by the MTA, this is too much.

You might be saying to yourself, Boston fans are just as bad as New York fans.  In many ways, they are.  They can get in your face, wreaking of peppers and onions, and fail to cover up all their bodily creases.  But listen to what they say. . . when they’re not slurring:

Boston fans hate the Yankees, as in “Yankees Suck!.”  Yankees fans hate Boston.  They mean the entire city!  “Boston Sucks” is what they scream.

Boston fans are arrested for climbing a pole or lighting a fire.  New York fans are as well, plus, uh, y’know. . . there’s also the murder charges.

Boston fans take credit for the number of championships they’ve won in their lifetime.  New Yorkers take credit for championships that were won before their grandparents were born.

(Have you ever had a six-year-old brag about the 27 World Championships his team has won and then blow cigarette smoke in your face?  It’s not fun.)

C’mon, New York!  It’s bad enough some people consider Boston to be a suburb of you.

Look at all Boston has done for you!  First off, the Red Sox and former owner Harry Frazee gave you half of their team, including Babe Ruth in exchange for a bucket of chicken and some donuts, which in turn brought you your first few championships.

Lest we not forget what city’s residents selflessly traveled the 180 miles down route I-95 during the tragic times of 2011.  You said you’d never forget.  Well, that lasted just over 10 years.  You certainly won’t be confused with elephants.  (Although from a distance… maybe just try a light beer every so often.)

Let’s go back even further and remind you that if it wasn’t for the good people of Boston, we, as a nation, might be drinking tea and watching cricket at the merry ol’ ballgrounds.  Some of those pregnant women to whom you want to give blisters gave birth to the revolutionaries that spawned this great nation; the same revolutionaries that fought for your freedom; the same freedom that allows you to decide whether or not to stand for pregnant women or not without consequence.

Show Boston that you’re leaning in the direction of right over wrong and don’t give them any more ammunition that proves their already deeply-stilted opinions of you.  You’re the bigger city.  Act like it!

I’ve met Yankees fans who don’t appreciate Boston fans and never will.  And vice versa.    That’s why they’re around, so that we, the more reasonable fans, can mock them openly on shows like “The Real Housewives of South Boston” or “So You Call that a Lougie?!” on cable access in the Bronx.

The rivalry ebbs and flows dating back before Fisk and Pinella got into it or, more recently, Varitek showed A-Rod the stitching in his glove.  Steinbrenner 2.0 tried to pick up the slack when he took over, but the fans weren’t as interested.  Nineteen games against each other every year put a simmer on things.  But someday, the fire on the field will reignite, and those players will feel the same resentment as their forebears did.  But then, they get paid a lot of money to participate in the fighting.

Let’s leave the pregnant ladies and other Boston fans out of it.  Isn’t riding on the subway torture enough?  Let them ride the No. 4 Train to the new Yankee Stadium, so that you may bilk them out of their hard-earned money with your ridiculous prices for beer and bag check.

It wasn’t long ago that we were all Yankees.  And we battled the Confederates.  I have a dream!  That one day all Red Sox and Yankees fans can come together in peace and harmony. . . to gang up on Philly fans.  Seriously, those folks don’t deserve a seat anywhere, pregnant or not!

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NCAA Tournament Fun Facts

So, are you feeling good?  Have you studied your spread sheets, win charts, RPI graphs; consulted with your insiders, your psychics, your “rain men”; input your numbers into the supercomputer specifically designed to come within the smallest of percentages of you ever having a girlfriend?

In other words, have you filled out your NCAA bracket yet?  The Madness doesn’t wait, you know.  Part of the fun is processing the myriad information of match ups and potential meetings in only a few days before making what could become your greatest achievement or your most ignominious failure.

Originally meant for a fun diversion, these pools are now hugely popular and there’s billions of dollars at stake here (legally, of course).  So each piece of information, regardless of how trivial, may mean something in your prognostication.  Though most obscure facts have found their way into papers and onto the Internet, I have found a few that you may have missed.  Feel free to incorporate this knowledge into your last-second entries.  For instance, did you know:

Rick Pitino actually receives royalties every time John Calipari copies his shtick.

Missouri is the “Show Me State,” but be warned, they actually have a law that makes it illegal to show them.

No Jewish school has ever won the tournament.  Sorry Davidson, Temple, and Murray State.

Lamar coach Pat Knight is a distant relative of legendary coach Bobby Knight… That is to say, he’s his son, but their relationship just isn’t very close.

St. Bonaventure’s nickname comes from its name (the Bonnies).  St. Louis, on the other hand, did not go with the “Louies,” instead choosing the more obscure Billikens.

Norfolk, Long Beach, and Murray are not, in fact, states.

Famous Harvard Crimson basketball alumni include Jeremy Lin, and– uh… okay, come back to this one… (there’s gotta be someone else, right?  The school’s like 500 years old.)

Duke University is the most hated college, athletically-speaking, in the Nation… and that’s before you even mention their lacrosse team.

It is written in Duke’s by-laws that they must not be ranked lower than a #3 seed and must play their opening round games in a state that borders North Carolina.

Duke and the University of North Carolina are located on Tobacco Road and therefore are not allowed inside any restaurant in New York City.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo is the first coach with two z’s in his name to take his team to the tournament since Adolph “Red” Zazoo did his Fighting Lemurs in the 1940s.

Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun is a close, personal friend of mine.  He just doesn’t know it.

Brigham Young is at-large.  If seen, approach with caution.

The Florida Gators won back-to-back titles in 2006-2007.  Their success prompted a brief national craze known as Noah-ing, where one would grow his hair into a big, poofy mess and act like a spaz.

Though the term “Cinderella team” refers to one who exceeds expectations, Cinderella herself never made it past the second round.

The Virginia Commonwealth Shockers were not named for their basketball abilities, but rather for their penchant of streaking on campus.

Crosby Stills Nash and Young actually has a national championship! (1950)… I’m sorry, that’s CCNY (City College of New York), not CSNY.

The term “bubble team” comes from the fact that “not-a-chance-in-hell-of-winning-the-title team” was too long.

No one actually knows where Iona University is.  In that sense, it’s sort of like Area 51.

No #1 seed has ever lost to a #16 seed in the first round of the tournament.

Syracuse was the first #2 seed to lose to a #15 seed in the first round (ironically, a mere 24 hours after I accepted their offer to attend).  This year, as a #1 seed playing a #16 seed, they look to make history again.

And with those little tidbits sprinkled into your brain matter, let the games begin!  And may your pools be filled with the chlorine of good fortune and not urinated in by the bratty child that is elimination.

[Attached image by: Arvind Balaraman]

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Super Bowl XLVI – Return of the Hoodie

After several heart stoppages and two different televisions –do you think Best Buy will exchange a flat screen with a lamp through it?  I still have the warranty. — the chance for redemption is ON.  We all remember what happened the first time the New England Patriots and the New York Giants danced in “the Big Cotillion.”  In fact, there are still many who wake up at night screaming, “HE’S IN THE GRASP!!!” as nightmares of Eli Manning’s desperation heave to David Tyree after defensive lineman Jarvis Green held onto the quarterback’s jersey for a full three-count continue to crop up.

It is now four years later and the Northeast monopolizes media coverage yet again.  Welcome to Rex Ryan’s personal hell.  His town’s successful team and his arch rival doing what he cannot do, at least not with Mark Sanchez under center.

There is a weird familiarity to this game, almost like we’ve seen it before.  Flash back to 2007 — no, really. . . do it.  Flash back! — The Giants squeak into the playoffs by the thinnest of Joe Flacco fu manchus and proceed to win three games on the road, including the championship game in overtime, in inclement weather, after an ill-fated turnover.

Meanwhile, the Patriots, though they made history by achieving the first-ever sixteen game perfect season, made the Super Bowl, but only after a controversial win (in Week 13) by three points against a Baltimore Ravens team.  Sound familiar?

In that season, the Patriots beat the Giants during the regular season.  This year, however, they didn’t, which bodes well if you’re looking for comparisons to the 2001 team which similarly lost to the Rams, then proceeded to run the table, including a Super Bowl win against those same Rams.

And in a season when Brady’s chief rival Peyton Manning was inactive, his brother Eli has risen like some sort of Phoenix.  (A brilliant reference if ever I saw one as his first Super Bowl win was, in fact, in Arizona.)  It’s like some weird sort of action movie sequel where the hero, having dispatched of the bad guy, finds that the bad guy had a brother who’s much more evil then his dead brother ever was.  (Remember, you can’t spell “elite” without ELI.)

I understand that this redundant matchup has removed all interest for many of you — “When is Cleveland ever going to be in the championship?” — but for those of you who haven’t moved on to other sports like Texas Hold ‘em and the Scripps National Spelling Bee, you have myriad reasons to pick a team and get behind them, if only for one day.

Why Root for New England?

It’s not often you see greatness.  No, greatness doesn’t come around as often as the attempt to make greatness a storyline does.  From ownership down to the parking attendants at Gillette Stadium, the New England Patriots do things the right way.  This includes Belichick and Brady who, when all is said and done, will be among the most accomplished of all time, if not the most accomplished.  In short, they are the Egg Mcmuffin of football teams.

They’re playing for the owner’s late wife.  Myra Kraft was kind, charitable, and admired throughout the organization.  The Patriots are playing this season with her memory in mind.  Nothing trumps a dedicated season, save for perhaps one in which the somehow handicapped guy, diminutive or otherwise, gets on the field/court and provides the game-winning score/basket.

They’re playing for history.  Four Super Bowl wins for Brady would mean tying him for the most rings by a quarterback with Joe Monana and Terry Bradshaw.  And Belichick would be tied with Chuck Noll.  If Eli wins, that’s only two.  Big whoop!

They’re playing for redemption.  It’s a classic story where the defeated hero rises up again to vanquish his reviled antagonist, like “Rocky 2,” “Return of the Jedi,” or any of the “Police Academy” movies.

They also have a bunch of undrafted players, a rookie who is a non-Hodgkins lymphoma survivor, a wide receiver moonlights in the secondary, and Gronk!  In short, they’re a good bunch of players to root for.

Why Root for New York?

John Mara is the owner of the Giants.  His niece is Rooney Mara, the actress who was darned good in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”  (I’ve never seen it, but I’ve heard good things.)  By association, you gotta pull for the Maras.

You have a hatred of Peyton Manning.  A victory for the Giants and subsequently for Eli will show the middle child that he is, in fact, the slow one and not his little sibling as we had previously thought.  A win for Eli will provide retribution for all those wet willies, purple nurples, and wedgies Peyton, no doubt, gave him as a child.  This winter, vote “Eli, for Best Manning Ever!”

According to Vegas, they are the underdog.  Not sure what Vegas is up to on that one, but if your thing is pulling for the underdog (except in that movie “Underdog”), this is the team for you.

Now, on the flip side, for those of you disgusted by the false promise of league parity and the redundancy this matchup provides — well, you probably already have your reasons, but — here are a list of reasons to root against each team.

Why Hate New England?

There are lots of reasons.  For one, they win a lot.  Give somebody else a chance!

“The hoodie” himself.  Not that you liked his brusque and secretive nature before, but the infamous Spygate scandal pushed your disgust of the man to a new level.  He was the only coach to oversee videotaping of other teams, except of course, for any other teams that did it too but just didn’t get caught.  As such, the New England Patriots and Bill Belicheat are the scourge of the league.

The New England fans are out of touch with the 99%.  They are the Mitt Romney of fans.  They don’t understand the hardship that other fans go through on a regular basis just trying to make it to the playoffs, let alone winning a game.

Why Hate New York?

Are you kidding?  They’re New York!  Do you really want those fans around you when they’re winning?  (Or losing, actually.  A lot of it is the smell.)  If you thought New England fans were bad, you ain’t seen nothin’.

New York is going for their fourth Super Bowl win.  It’s boring for a team to be so consistently good as they would have won in the 80s, the 90s, the oughts, and potentially again this decade.

Another Manning?!  Really?!  We thought we were rid of the Manning talk.  Plus, poor Cooper will feel even worse if Eli ends up with two more rings than he has.

The Mara family.  Sheesh, how much success do they need?

whether you root for them, against them, or don’t watch the game at all, it will be decided by the talent on the field.

Why New England will win

They don’t lose to teams twice in the same season, er. . . usually.  (Forget about last year’s playoff loss to the Jets.)

The supernatural.  After the victory in the AFC Championship game, Bob Kraft alluded to “forces at work beyond anything we can understand.”  Did Sterling Moore really knock the ball out of Lee Evans’ hands?  Did Billy Cundiff really shank the kick?  Those of you non-believers can stick to that earthy mumbo-jumbo, but BK knows better.  The Pats are “playing for the patch,” in memory of Myra Kraft.  And Myra Kraft, in turn, is playing for the Pats.

Revenge is a great motivator.  Tom Brady, though he’s cut his hair, may be compared to Uma Thurman in “Kill Bill.” And if New England does win, they will finally be given their 19-0 perfect season!  (hm. . . wait, that can’t be right. . . can it?)

Why will New York will win

First of all, the fact is, the Giants are 3-0 in Super Bowls when Bill Belichick is on the sideline.  Think about it.  That bodes well for them.

But mainly, it’s science.  A tough pass rush coupled with an aerial assault from three quick and strong receivers against a less-than-stellar secondary and there will be nothing the Patriots can do.

So what we have is Myra versus Mara, science versus the paranormal.  As we all know, sports follows no sort of karmic law or spiritual puppetry . . . or does it?  Save for Super Bowl XL featuring the Steelers and the Seahawks, the referees are not “in the bag” or blatantly incompetent, frequently making the correct call with the naked eye on plays we, the viewers, need freeze frame technology to barely venture a guess at the correct call.  The Golden Rule applies to the Super Bowl and that is: “The better team on the field always wins. . . unless it is coached by Norv Turner.”

New York won the last Super meeting on a miracle pass and a helmet catch after a missed interception.  Heck, they’ve already marched the field in the fourth quarter against the Patriots in homage to Super Bowl XLII earlier this year.  Plus, all of Brady’s Super Bowls have been decided by three points.  What about this tells you that the Giants won’t again win by three in the waning minutes?  One thing’s for sure and that is the certainty that this game will not be any less exciting.

Mental note:  Replenish my supply of EpiPens and smelling salt, charge my defibulator, and buy an extra tv.

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Checking Santa’s List for Sports

Ho! Ho! Ho!  No, it’s not Herman Cain addressing yet another accusation from a mistress, but the commercialized call representative of the birthday of that most famous religious figure, that leader of men, that otherworldly phenomenon, Tim Te—er, I mean, Jesus Christ.  (Sometimes I forget that Tim Tebow’s birthday is actually August 14th.  My new year’s resolution is to get a petition to Congress to make that day a national holiday, I don’t care how many doors I need to knock on and how many hours I need to stand outside of malls.)

It’s Christmas time, and it’s the time for giving, a time for all of <i>fankind</i> to come together as one and treat each other with hospitality and friendship.  For all the animosity you show to each other, this is a time to put bygones aside.  In fact, let bygones be bygones; help them to grow up and live fruitful bygone lives, raising little bygones of their own, and then let those bygones be bygones, perhaps settling an organic bygone commune out in the woods somewhere. 

Now is the time to allow for all our fellow fans, be he decked in silver and black, teal, or green and yellow with a hunk of cheese on his head; be his field green or blue; whether his horns be hooked or his tide rolled, he deserves something this holiday season and Santa (shhhh! It’s actually just a fat guy in a red suit and hat with a white beard) is here to give it to him. 

Now, without further ado, let us reach inside the satchel and distribute the presents to these most deserving sports entities:

To Tony LaRussa – a phone that works and a peaceful retirement.

To the NBA – a new commissioner, six fewer teams, and plenty of Barkley and Shaq commentary. 

To Dirk Nowitzki – singing lessons.

To Frank McCourt – a one-way ticket out of Los Angeles (it’s really for his own good as Dodgers fans can be quite aggressive.)

To Dodgers fans – a new owner, preferably one who is a step up.

To Jerry Sandusky – a trip from Penn State to the state pen.

To the Texas Rangers – a hearty “A” for effort.

To Nelson Cruz – a better jump on the ball.

To the 1986 Boston Red Sox – the long overdue opportunity to throw away the Buckner footage. 

To @d_rovell (Darren Rovell) – a singing career.

To Dan Patrick – more movie appearances.

To Tim Tebow – a watch with the correct time to start “Tebowtime” 45 minutes earlier.

To opponents of the Broncos – a fourth quarter to go along with the three they currently play.  

To Cleveland – something. . . ANYTHING.

To Lebron James – a book on magic to help with his disappearing act during the NBA Finals.

To Chicago Cubs fans – hope, if but for just an offseason.

To the “unnamed source” in sports reports – the courage to come forward with your name.

To the “player to be named later” – a name, preferably something cool, like Nnamdi Asomugha, or I hear “Ron Artest” is available.

To Chad Ochocinco – permission to tweet as much as you’d like.

To Ndamakoung Suh – an offseason job as the glass breaker at Jewish weddings.

Jim Schwartz – dinner with Jim Harbaugh.

Jim Harbaugh – the chance to stand Jim Schwartz up at dinner.

To Brett Favre – another chance. . . to throw an ill-advised game-losing interception.

To Vince Young – a different dream.

To the late, great Al Davis – a team in heaven.

To Peyton Manning – a new neck.

Andrew Luck – a good real estate agent in Indianapolis.

Eli Manning – finally a seat at the head of the table at family gatherings

To Brigham Young University – consensual relations during basketball season.

Mark Cuban – an MLB franchise.

CC Sabathia – opt out clauses every year.

Los Angeles – a football team. . . for a few years before it leaves for somewhere else.

Manny Pacquiao – a fight with Floyd Mayweather.

Rex Ryan – a Bill Belichick dart board for his game room.

Donovan McNabb – a cushy studio job.

Tony Romo – a big game win.

Big East – a new name.

To the Bowl Championship Series – a little love. . . similar to the love Lennie shows a puppy in “Of Mice and Men.”

To Chris Paul – a string of championships with the Clippers.

To the Los Angeles Clippers – a larger share of the market (something tells me if they start to win, Lakers fans will jump on board). 

To Albert Pujols – 254 million reasons why it’s not about the money.

And to Tito Francona – a more respectful, celebrated exit.

Finally, to all of you from all of me, I give to you another year of buzzer beaters, fantastic finishes, shocking upsets, gutsy performances, inspired efforts, and the thrill of victory without the agony of defeat. . . unless, of course, you’re playing Tim Tebow.  

Happy Holidays!

[Featured image by: digitalart]

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A Moment of Sporting Thanks

A Moment of Thanks

Prior to the autumnal feast that shall soon be placed before us, we’ve already been given a lot to digest from this year in sports, including not one, but two labor strikes, improbable winners, ungracious losers, horrific tragedies, and a trip from Penn State to the state pen.  Let us now take a moment to focus, not on the negatives that are overthrown passes and blown coverages (as we all know there was pass interference somewhere that should have been called), but rather on all the positives we can take away from the field; to take pause and give thanks for this culture in which we have invested our time and sanity. 

Interestingly enough, the first Thanksgiving occurred when the Pilgrims went to the Wompanoag Tribe in 1621 for lessons in surviving the brutal winters of Massachusetts and how to deal with the annual collapse of the local wood-chipping team. 

That autumn formed the basis of what we now know as Thanksgiving and for many years, the colonists lived peacefully and synergistically with the neighboring Indian tribes.  That is, before shooing them off their land, claiming it for themselves, and then giving them casinos.  It was kind of like running up the score.  Nothing said they couldn’t, but it was generally frowned upon, especially by the Indians. 

But I digress. These days, the holiday stands for overeating, creating weird hybrid meals like turducken, watching football, and spending time with the family you seek to avoid all year long; a chance to call a timeout to the hustle and/or bustle of our lives. 

So with that tradition in mind, let me take a moment to present to you that which I am thankful from the past twelve months in sports.   I am most thankful for:

Norv Turner, for defying logic and remaining gainfully employed as a head coach in the NFL.  Seriously, does he have photos of A.J. Smith in a compromising position or something? 

The 2011 Boston Red Sox, for making us all forget that “All My Children” had ended.

Theo Epstein, for giving Cubs fans hope, as blind as it might be, for that’s where it begins.

Jim Harbaugh, for showing that going from the college to the pros is easier than everyone prior to him has shown it to be.

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison, for keeping the economy growing with fines levied from hits.  C’mon, James, it’s been a while.  Your country needs you!

The NFL, for making it a safe game to play again, except to the myriad players foolish enough to get injured on a weekly basis. 

Tim Tebow, for being a great quarterback even though the numbers show he sucks at it.

Ndomakung Suh, for being a dirty player while remaining so damned likeable. 

Andrew Luck, for saving the Indianapolis Colts while still at Stanford.

Boise State, for losing a game this year so as not to confuse things in the BCS as they did in 2009.

The Big East, for keeping the words “big” and “east” in their title even though both are misnomers. 

Dirk Nowitzski, for winning that ring he deserved five years earlier.

The NBA players, for standing their ground and taking a charging foul.

The NBA owners, for arguing the call, saying it was a blocking foul.

David Stern, for continuing to ruin a league he once built to prominence.  The guy’s like a gambler at Vegas who doesn’t know when to leave once he’s accumulated a stack of chips.  It’s become quite comical to watch.

Novak Djokovic, for showing he should be on “Dancing with the Stars.”

Roger Federer, for finally allowing others the chance to win trophies.

Tim Tebow, for forcing us all to love him.

Bob Costas, for getting the interview with former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky so we could see the worst denial in the history of speaking, a 16-second denial on whether or not he is sexually attracted to young boys where the alleged child rapist repeated the question, qualified it, danced a little, then finally denied it once we had all switched over to “Dancing with the Stars” that we had TiVoed.   

NCAA football conferences, for making geography class irrelevant. 

Michael Vick, for regaining the respect of his fans, only to lose it again with his performance on the field.

St. Louis fans, for being so even-tempered. 

Albert Pujols, for doing something legendary just days before his contract expired.

The Texas Rangers, for allowing networks to replace footage of the 1986 Boston Red Sox with them.

Playoff beards, for making a world of difference in how you play. 

Cal Ripken Jr., as a reminder not to take his feat for granted.  He played in 2,632 consecutive games.  I, for one, took a week off between writing the beginning and end of this piece. 

Tim Tebow, for making us all believe in ourselves.

Sports karma.  That’ll teach you to take anything to South Beach.

Floyd Mayweather, for finally realizing he gets paid a ton of money to fight Manny Pacquiao. . . whether he wins or loses. 

Mike Tyson, for being viable again. . . in some funny acting bits.

Coach K, even though we all hate your team, we gotta admit, you’re pretty good

Shaq Fu, the Shaq Daddy, The Big 401K, and so on, for his fun-loving personality we hope continues into retirement. 

Chad Ochocinco, for his tweets before he got to “heaven.”

Major League Baseball, for stepping up to the plate and showing America it’s still a force to be reckoned with.

And finally, Tim Tebow, for making every day just a little brighter.

What a year it’s been.  Sports are as they always are – intriguing captivating, nauseating, emboldening, and demoralizing.  And that’s only on a Sunday.  Here’s to the other six days of the week.  Now, pass the turducken.  I’ve still got some eatin’ to do before I watch “Dancin’ with the Stars.”

[Featured image by: David Castillo Dominici]