Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Call them the Maryland Terribles

As the college football season unfolded this weekend, there was plenty to look forward to. The iconic Maize and Blue at Michigan, and those classic "wing" helmets. The gold Trojan emblazoned on the red helmets at USC. Texas' simple yet storied orange Longhorn. And the plain white numbers that identify every Crimson Tide helmet at Alabama. Rites of autumn, one and all.

And then there's what we were forced to look at Monday night, when Maryland took the field for its season-opener against Miami. The picture above gives you a pretty good idea of what they looked like if you were lucky enough not to see them live. Someone in my office at the New York Post came up with an apt description: "Flag vomit." And there was lots more consternation in cyberspace, with Maryland alumni and fans all over Facebook and Twitter screaming their disapproval.

Perhaps the best comment I saw was from someone on Twitter, who said, "Maryland's uniforms are so bad that a Miami player just said, "You couldn't pay me to wear those things ... well actually you could."

We already have been exposed to several degrees of ghastliness on the college football uniform front already with this season still in the infancy stage. On Saturday night, Boise State wore uniforms that could have been developed by the same folks who came up with MLB's ill-fated turn-ahead-the-clock unis from a few seasons back (Google "Mercury Mets" for a refresher). Georgia's silver-and-red ensemble in the same game looked like something Jonathan E. could have worn in "Rollerball." And the less said about the million and four horrid combinations worn by the Oregon Yucks, I mean, Ducks, the better.

All that said, we may have hit a new low last night. A split-down-the middle, Sybil-like concoction, with one side a takeoff on the red-and-white portion of the Maryland state flag, and the other mimicking the black-and-gold part. You may recall when the Baltimore Ravens debuted, they featured the Maryland state flag as part of their crest. At least they had the sense to draw the boundary there.

A few weeks back, the school held a press conference to show off their array of new uniform combinations for this season, developed by Under Armour, displaying 32 different looks. Some were better than others, but all were better than what they unveiled last night. And in case the horrid jersey and helmet designs weren't enough for you, the Terrapins' gloves and shoes featured the same sense-assaulting color palette.

Listen, as an artistic person, I'm all for creativity, trying something different and thinking outside the box. And the one cool aspect about all this was that the Terps actually wore different uniforms -- one of the aforementioned 32 -- during warmups Monday night, then did a complete wardrobe change right before gametime.

"I was proud that we kept this under the lid," Maryland coach Randy Edsall said during the ESPN telecast. "This is our 'Pride' uniform -- Maryland pride. This is part of the new branding we're doing here. We want to incorporate the state colors and let everyone know we are playing for everyone in the state."

It is, of course, all about branding, money and image. I get all that too. Someone once said there's no such thing as bad PR. You could then make the case Maryland stumbled into a gold mine.

Still, its hard to imagine anyone at the school giving the go-ahead to send the Terrapins on the field wearing these monstrosities thinking, "Boy, these look great. Our kids will be so proud to wear them."

Unless the powers that be in College Park, Md., are color-blind. That must be it.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Drama Queens' show closes

With all the emotion, excitement and attention the U.S. women's soccer team stirred up last Sunday with its improbable victory over Brazil in the World Cup, it didn't seem possible that could be topped. But we should have known better. That was, after all, only the quarterfinals.

The Americans ousted France in the semifinal on Wednesday (in regulation, yawn), setting the stage for what appeared to be their coronation this past Sunday, against a Japanese team they had never lost to in 25 games, and had beaten twice already this year. Certainly, Wheaties boxes and appearances on David Letterman and The View were already in the works for Hope, Abby, Alex, Megan and rest of these ladies our country was suddenly on a first-name basis with.

I have to admit I fell under the spell, too. As I sat in a packed Manhattan sports bar (and I had to wait for a seat, by the way) watching the second half before my shift at the New York Post Sunday, I was conjuring back-page headlines for the victory that seemed assured when Alex Morgan scored the game's first goal in the 69th minute.

"American Splendor," "American Beauty" and "U.S. Yea!" were the three that immediately came to mind. Even after the Japanese scored to send the game into extra time, it seemed destiny would have its say, and so it was when Abby Wambach's header gave the U.S. the lead with only 16 minutes to kill.

But as we found out, destiny all depends on your perspective, and which side of the Pacific Ocean you live on. Turns out the Japanese trumped the U.S. on this one; with every victory throughout the tournament, the overachieving Nadeshiko were healing hearts and minds in their tsunami- and earthquake-ravaged homeland.

After each win, they would raise a banner that read, "To our friends around the world -- thank you for your support." In return, their coach, Norio Sasaki, said, "We wanted to use this opportunity to thank the people back home for the support that has been given."

Even U.S. goalkeeper and erstwhile media darling in waiting Hope Solo was driven to say, "I truly believe that something bigger was pulling for that team. And as much as I've always wanted this, if there's a team I could give it to, it'd be Japan."

It can be argued instead of the Japanese taking it, the Americans gave it away. The U.S. took 27 shots to Japan's 14, and hit two goalposts and one crossbar in regulation before the final dagger: the Americans missed their first three penalty kicks (kudos to Japanese goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori for her kick save against Shannon Boxx), which gave Solo no chance to win it for them.

So perhaps fate did have a hand -- or foot -- in what happened here. I'm reminded of the words of the late John Bauer, a legendary high school football coach I used to cover in Randolph, N.J. It was a rarity when his team lost, but whenever it did, the first thing he'd say, nodding to the opposition, was, "They've got to eat, too."

And how about this: I wonder if anyone standing in the war-torn ruins of bombed-out Frankfurt in 1945 could have even fathomed that one day nearly 70 years later, an international sporting event would be played between the United States and Japan ... there, on German soil? Probably not.

Which might be fate's greatest act of all.

Monday, July 11, 2011

An instant classic, in every way

Every so often, we are treated to a sports event that transcends its usual sphere of influence, bursting outside the lines to take on a greater meaning. In the span of 24 hours this weekend, we were fortunate enough to see two of them.

The first came Saturday, when Derek Jeter recorded his 3,000th hit with, of all things, a home run at Yankee Stadium. And just when we thought The Captain was hoarding all the drama to himself, along came Sunday, with the U.S. women's soccer team's last-gasp comeback and eventual victory over Brazil on penalty kicks in a World Cup quarterfinal game.

We're not going to go down the potholed road of, "maybe THIS will put soccer on the map in the United States," or fly a Title IX flag -- or Brandi Chastain's sports bra -- from the mountaintop and proclaim yet another short-lived victory for women's sports. This isn't about any of that.

What this is about is a celebration of why we love sports, and for those of us lucky enough to do it for a living, it means that much more. Fact is, you didn't have to be a soccer fan -- hell, you didn't even have to be a sports fan at all -- to appreciate the careening emotions, tension and twists and turns, all packed into one game. It absolutely had everything.

This wasn't just about sports. This was about life. There was fleeting success, stolen away and replaced with failure. There was adversity, there was determination, there was redemption, there was an unexpected plot twist, a climax and a denouement. You couldn't have gotten Martin Scorsese or Ron Howard to write a better script.

This game so intrigued me, had I witnessed it in person, it would probably have overtaken some stiff competition to become the best live sporting event I've ever seen. My top two on that list are the Robin Ventura "grand-slam-single" game between the Mets and the Braves in Game 5 of the 1999 NLCS at Shea Stadium, and Michael Jordan's 55-point game against the Knicks in his first game back at Madison Square Garden in 1995 following his brief retirement.

Even if Hope Solo, Abby Wambach and the rest of the U.S. team don't win another game in this tournament -- or their lives, even -- what they accomplished on Sunday secured them a place on the short list of instant sports classics of our time. This is one that will last a lifetime -- an achievement that will never be taken away from them, will never be forgotten.

"It's like a storybook," Wambach said.

Except it really happened.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Derek Jeter from a Mets fan's view

By now, you've probably read all the accolades, all the praise and all the celebration that came pouring down yesterday, not only from the highest seats at Yankee Stadium but from all corners of the sports world after Derek Jeter became the 28th player in big-league history to enter the 3,000-hit club.

You know he became the first Yankee to make the list, the first to do it as a full-time shortstop, only the second to do it with a home run and the fifth-fastest to reach the coveted milestone. That his historic hit was part of a 5-for-5 day that, by the way, included the winning hit that lifted the Yankees to victory over the division-rival Rays, was a sidebar on this day.

Always a model of class and playing the game "the right way," Jeter is one of those rare people who "you never hear anything bad about." (You can discount the hissy fit from the Yankees before the season, when negotiating Jeter's contract extension; that was just negotiation posturing).

Even from this corner, from someone who's a Mets fan, I've always marveled at his consistency and professionalism, perhaps never as much as Saturday.

There have been many Subway Series games watched from my desk at the New York Post, and for the contingent of us who are Queens-leaning, it always seemed whenever the Mets needed a crucial out to escape a jam, more often than not, No. 2 would be walking to the plate.

"Not THIS guy again," one of us would exclaim. And more often than not, it seemed, Jeter would come through. So it was only mildly surprising, when reading down the list of Jeter's 3,000 hits by Stadium, 49 of them came with the Mets as the home team -- 44 at Shea Stadium, and five at Citi Field -- places where Jeter only played three games a season.

In fact, before Jeter's recent visit to the disabled list, it had been a foregone conclusion to many of us that Jeter's 3,000th hit would come at Citi Field. How could it not?

It's in my DNA not to love the Yankees. Granted, not with the vitriol of Red Sox Nation, and there have been a few pinstripes who I've ardently rooted against. Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez are two that come quickly to mind. But when watching Jeter, there comes the perspective that you know you're watching one of the greatest and classiest players to put on a uniform, and especially as time goes on, you relish and appreciate every play, every act, every second. I've had similar feelings watching Lawrence Taylor and Brett Favre; Jeter, of course, comes without the off-field baggage Taylor and Favre lug around.

And when you're witnessing such a dramatic moment that tames the hearts and minds of the most cynical among us, then that's saying something.

Jeter can do it perhaps better than anyone else. And did it again Saturday.

Monday, June 13, 2011

LeBron James keeps making friends

It was a time for contrition, a time for reflection, a time to be humble. Instead, it became just another reason for us to grind our teeth, grimace and shake our heads upon hearing the words, "LeBron James."

The spotlight should have been on the Dallas Mavericks, who had just won their first NBA championship Sunday night following their six-game ousting of the Miami Heat. It should have been on Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and the rest of the classy Mavs, who were now in the club James so desperately wants to join.

That is, until James took his obligatory seat in the interview room after the Heat's 105-95 loss on their home floor. He was asked, "Does it bother you that so many people are happy to see you fail?" And James responded with this beauty:

"Absolutely not. Because at the end of the day, all the people that was rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today. I'm going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want to do with me and my family and be happy with that.

"They can get a few days or a few months or whatever the case may be on being happy about not only myself, but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal, but they have to get back to the real world at some point."

In other words, "I don't care what anyone thinks of me, because tomorrow, I'll still have my millionaire lifestyle, and all you little people will still be working on the widget assembly line."

Not only did James fail to deliver on the promise of "We're going to win seven titles," not only did he fail to show up in the fourth quarter of any game in this series, but he has displayed an alarming lack of self-awareness, going back to "The Decision" and everything moving forward.

Whoever is managing him -- if indeed, anyone is -- needs to do major damage control here. It's one thing to think such things -- he is only 26, after all, though he has been in the NBA for seven years -- it's quite another to speak them at a time and place when the whole world is watching.

There is much to apologize for here. As the series went on, James looked less and less like a self-assured "King" and more and more like a scared, unsure, tentative neophyte, seeming to want no part of taking big shots or handling the ball in crucial moments. Then again, that seemed to be a malady that infected the other two-thirds of the "Big Three," as people like Mario Chalmers -- Mario Chalmers! -- were the ones hoisting shots when it mattered most when James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh looked like invisible men.

I think there's something going on we don't know about -- either something personal (and I'm not talking about those ridiculous internet rumors involving Rashard Lewis and James' girlfriend) or a hidden injury -- that made James a shell of himself. But until we hear any hint of him revealing anything approaching a sense of self, he's going to continue to be the most reviled player in the NBA -- and maybe in sports. Quite a burden to bear, but since he brought most of it on himself, it's hard to feel sorry for him. And easy to break into a devilish grin.

Particularly if you're punching the clock at Widget World.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

But I wanted to be a Millionaire ...

It only took 10 minutes to go from Who Wants to be a Millionaire to The Biggest Loser.

That was not the way I had planned it, not from the time a couple weeks ago when I answered the call to audition in New York City for the popular game show. I watch it all the time -- often coming up with answers the frazzled contestants can't -- and even play the facebook version, in which I almost always finish in the top three and go to the "second round." And even though I've never pocketed the virtual million dollars, I know given the chance in the real world, I'd make a real nice run for the real green, not to mention getting a real hug -- or at least a real hearty handshake -- from Meredith Vieira.

My spirits soared when I got an e-mail telling me my "audition time" was Friday at 3:30. I was to take a written test, and if I passed I would meet with a producer, and if that went well, I would then go into the contestant pool. I also had to fill out "eligibility forms" and another form asking questions like, "What makes you unique?" and "You'd never believe it, but I once ..."

... saw Yogi Berra naked. When I was covering baseball back in the '90s, and he was a Yankees coach at the time. It was after a game, I was standing in the middle of the clubhouse, and ... it just happened. I wanted to look away ... but just couldn't. Kind of like watching a train wreck, or "The Real Housewives of New York." I wondered how I would mention this to Meredith, and whether she or anyone else would laugh, and whether it would be bleeped out. But I digress ...

Friday, 3:15 p.m. Buoyant despite the heat, thanks to my iced Pike Place Roast from Starbucks, I arrived at ABC Studios on New York's Upper West Side, and was immediately jolted back to reality. I was standing on line, along with what turned into a group of about 75 people with the same deluded dream I had. The woman behind me said she had tried out for the show a couple of years ago, got past the interview stage, but never made it on the air. There was a fellow behind her who said his wife actually got on the show three years ago and made $23,000, which they used to re-do their kitchen. Guess it was time to replace the tiles.

Reality further poked me when I saw a door open up in front of our line, where a crowd of people poured out, rejects from the previous "audition." There had to be several of these every day, over however many days and weeks they were running this exercise. I was suddenly feeling like an ant emerging from my ant hill, and looking over the horizon and seeing nothing but ... other ant hills.

We finally got out of the heat and into a big air-conditioned room, which looked to be a cafeteria. We were sat down at a series of tables, armed only with No. 2 pencils to attack our 30-question, 10-minute standardized trivia test, inside the numbered envelope given to us at the door. The number on the envelope, we were to find out, would be used to call us forward for the next phase, which seemed to be all but certain to everyone at my table. We all seemed to be fairly intelligent and outgoing sorts, and were all sure we'd do well on the show.

"Open your envelopes. Your 10 minutes start now!" Show time! I pulled out the test questions, and flew through the first few queries. Speeding is not a foul in the NBA. The Extra-Terrestrial Highway runs through Roswell, N.M. An al fresco of Washington's ascension to heaven is in the U.S. Capitol ... or is it the Washington National Cathedral? Or, according to the consensus at my table afterward, the Library of Congress? (I just Googled it ... they were right. Damn.)

But were some I had to pause and stab at, like the one that asked how many days it would take to walk from New York to Los Angeles at 3 miles an hour (I always hated those kinds of questions; the correct answer is, "I wouldn't know, I always fly. Go ask Forrest Gump.")

And on others, I was totally clueless. What delivery truck always appears in Disney Pixar films? ("No idea" was not among the four choices, unfortunately.) And another question asked to name the artist whose medium is roadkill soaked in formaldehyde. I'm serious. (I'm not sure which is more disturbing -- that there's an artist who works in that area or that anyone would actually be familiar with him. Wouldn't that mangled opossum look great on the dining room table?)

I finished the test well before the 10-minute mark. When I looked around and saw most people were still working, my confidence rose. I even had time to go over my answers: Of the 30 questions, there were 18 I know were right. There were another six or so that I thought were good educated hypotheses, and another six outright guesses. I figured if I were half-right on those last 12, that would put me around 24 correct answers, a likely neighborhood for telling a producer my Yogi Berra story.

"Pencils down!" Our sheets were quickly collected, and would be graded on the spot. Immediately, I flashed back to grammar school. Our table convened: "What did you get for that one? Did anyone know this one?" We concurred on most questions we discussed. The guy who needed new kitchen tiles said, "Either we're all getting on the show or we're all going down in flames."

"Will the following numbers please move to this side of the room," our tour guide said. My number was 227, and I was fully expecting to hear it. My heart jumped when she went down her list and said, 'Two-twenty ..." and dropped when she said, "... five."

Nine numbers were called out before this stunner: "The rest of you, thank you for coming, and please exit through the door you entered." No. 227 would not advance. Neither would anyone else at my table. I joined the rest of the flameouts as we shuffled out, glancing at the group of nine, happily high-fiving each other.

As we exited the door of dreams and re-entered the reality of the city heat, I looked to the left and saw the next ant hill already formed. A new dance was about to begin, and more fantasies would be flattened.

I turned the corner onto Columbus Avenue and smiled to myself. I had tried, and have a nifty "Millionaire" pencil and refrigerator magnet to show for it. It was time to go to work.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Time for NHL to stop pointing fingers

So when did the Stanley Cup Final become "Slap Shot 3: Give 'em the finger"?

Is this what the NHL wants its marquee event to turn into? What's next, the Bruins dressing Ogie Oglethorpe and the Canucks countering with Clarence "Screaming Buffalo" Swamptown for Game 4 Wednesday night?

It all started back in Game 1, when the Canucks' Alexandre Burrows bit the gloved finger of the Bruins' Patrice Bergeron during a scrum. Burrows should have been suspended at least a game for that, but wasn't.

The NHL's decision not to discipline Burrows bit the Bruins again in Game 2, when Burrows scored the winning goal 11 seconds into overtime to give Vancouver a 2-0 series lead.

Then, early in Game 3, the Canucks' Aaron Rome flattened the Bruins' Nathan Horton with an open ice check the Bruins say was dirty and the Canucks maintain was clean. Horton, after lying on the ice motionless for a frightful few moments, was taken off the ice on a stretcher. Rome was ejected -- probably more for his own safety than anything else -- and subsequently was issued a suspension for the rest of the Final.

I side with the Canucks on this one. I maintain the hit was clean; Rome did not leave his feet to check Horton, and because Rome caught Horton just right and the back of Horton's head hit the ice -- causing a concussion that will sideline him for the rest of the series -- it looked a lot worse than Rome intended to make it. I'll go so far as to say had Horton bounced back up and play continued, there might not have even been a penalty called.

For his part, Rome -- who plans to appeal the suspension -- was contrite, and stated his case during his hearing with NHL Senior VP of Hockey Operations Mike Murphy.

"(Rome) felt it was a hockey play, a hockey play that went bad," Murphy said. "They're my words, not his, but that's basically what he said. The puck was released, and he followed through with the hit.

"The hit was clearly beyond what is acceptable in terms of how late it was delivered after Horton had released the puck, and it caused a significant injury."

All of this gets back to what is clearly not acceptable: During just about every post-whistle get-together in the Bruins' 8-1 Game 3 victory, a Boston player would stick a bare finger in the face of a Vancouver player -- clearly unsportsmanlike, clearly taunting.

Yes, Burrows should have been suspended. But to keep this type of behavior going just sullies the game even more on its grandest stage.

How about this: Any player taunting in a similar manner during a scrum gets a two-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and a 10-minute misconduct. That would stop the nonsense. At least it sounds as if Murphy is heading in that direction. He said he planned to speak with the general managers and coaches of both teams "about the crap that we're seeing, the garbage that is going on."

And hopefully keeping Tim "Dr. Hook" McCracken far, far away.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Does anyone remember D-Day?

There's a significant anniversary to commemorate today, though you might have to search a while to find any mention of it in cyberspace.

It was 67 years ago, on June 6, 1944, that the D-Day landings took place on the beaches of Normandy in Northern France in World War II. The first step in Eisenhower's "great crusade" was, and remains, the greatest amphibious assault in history. More than 160,000 troops landed via 5,000 naval vessels of all kinds. The U.S. suffered 6,000 casualties, with nearly 2,500 killed.

It's hard to believe, but it has been 10 years since Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and HBO teamed up to produce the Emmy Award-winning series Band of Brothers, which came three years after Spielberg and Hanks brought us the seminal film Saving Private Ryan.

At the time, Speilberg and Hanks both noted the importance of such undertakings as a tribute to the dwindling numbers of "The Greatest Generation," and the urgency of the projects because 1,000 World War II veterans were dying every day.

In the past couple of years alone, several of the most notable figures in Band of Brothers passed away, including its humble leader, Maj. Dick Winters. Many others have passed since the show was originally aired.

Today, a group of 40 D-Day veterans gathered on Normandy Beach to rededicate the monument to the U.S. Rangers who scaled the Pointe-du-hoc cliffs to take out the German guns there. I found that item on cbsnews.com, which also featured a link to a story about two Normandy veterans recounting their harrowing experiences of that iconic day in history.

CBS News stands virtually alone in that regard, for among major internet news outlets, the remembrances are few.

As of this morning, I Googled "D-Day" under "news" and found 277 links, most of them to newspaper sites that published similar stories to the ones above. But a quick look around the Wed shows that D-Day has been all but forgotten:

* On Yahoo!, D-Day was not among the 20 "pictured" stories on the home page, and was not mentioned among the top 10 trending stories. Mark Wahlberg and Reese Witherspoon were.

* On CNN, which prides itself on its news coverage, D-Day had no presence, but John Edwards and Casey Anthony did (as of this afternoon, CNN had posted a link to "Remembering D-Day.")

* ABC News had nothing, but did have items on Justin Timberlake and Pippa Middleton.

* NBC News had no mention either. FOX News, which does air a weekly documentary that features World War II, missed D-Day too, but did post a video on "Tim Tebow on temptation."

I understand times have changed, and there are events in the world unfolding that affect us greatly. The visions of World War II have largely faded to sepia, with fewer and fewer people alive each day that lived through it. But I would at least expect that in today's 24-hour news cycle, there would be time and space to devote to such a profound event.

Enjoy "Dancing with the Stars" and keep up with the Kardashians. But take a moment to read about and remember D-Day. If you can find anything on the internet about it, that is.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Canucks' time to shine

They're celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, and there's only one item on their wish list -- a big, engraved silver cup, filled with champagne to duly mark the occasion.

Chilling won't be a problem, since there will be an ample supply of ice available over the next couple of weeks. Their only problem? Someone else also wants that chalice, eager to rekindle the feelings they had the last time they got their hands on it, some 39 years ago.

It says here the Vancouver Canucks, who so far have enjoyed a great party in their 40th anniversary season, will cap it by winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in their existence -- despite the fact their opponents, the Boston Bruins, will be bringing noisemakers in hopes of lifting their first Cup since 1972.

The Canucks have a pair of superstar brothers, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who finished first and fourth, respectively, in the NHL in scoring this season. (That's Daniel, above, against Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas). They have a budding superstar in Ryan Kesler, who glided onto the national stage playing for Team USA during the Olympics and scored a career-high 41 goals this year, fourth in the league. And they have strong goaltending with Roberto Luongo.

They will also be carrying the torch for a nation; a Canadian team has not won the Cup since 1993, when it was captured by Montreal. The Canucks have been to the Finals twice in their history, and oddly enough beaten by New York teams both times; they lost to the dynastic Islanders in 1982, and in 1994 fell to the Rangers, who ended their 54-year Cup drought.

A Canadian team that has never won the Cup is a compelling story, as is an Original Six squad that has not skated a victory lap in 39 years. The Bruins haven't even been to the Finals since 1990, when they lost to the Oilers in that dynasty's last victory.

An interesting sidelight is both the Canucks and Bruins see Mark Messier in their nightmares; Messier played for both teams that denied Vancouver and Boston in their last trips to the Finals: the 1994 Rangers and the 1990 Oilers.

Here's something else to chew on: EA Sports' NHL 11 simulation engine, which correctly predicted the winners in 13 of 14 series in this year's postseason, is picking the Canucks to top the Bruins in seven games -- it had actually selected that scenario before the season even began -- with the home team winning every game and the Canucks repelling the Bruins 3-1 in Game 7 at Rogers Arena. The Conn Smythe Trophy winner was Luongo.

Canucks in seven? Sounds about right to me. Enjoy the series.

Monday, May 23, 2011

What, another NBA conspiracy theory?

Take your pick -- warm, fuzzy feel-good story, or the latest fodder for conspiracy theorists?

Last week's NBA draft lottery, the event where a bad bounce of a ping-pong ball can teeter the balance of an entire sport, was notable for a couple of reasons:

On the surface, it was redemption for the once powerful, then woebegone, now strutting-again Cleveland Cavaliers, who went from the NBA Finals into the garbage pile once a certain someone decided to take his talents to South Beach. And now, after winning the lottery, the Cavs are suddenly in position to become relevant again, given they have the first and fourth overall selections in next month's draft.

It was also a compelling human interest story. The Cavs were represented at the lottery by Nick Gilbert (above, center), the 14-year-old son of team owner Dan Gilbert (above, right). Nick is afflicted by neurofibromatosis, a rare nerve disorder that causes tumors to grow in the body at any time. The scene of Nick doing a victory dance at the lottery's conclusion, while Timberwolves GM David Kahn and Jazz GM Kevin O'Connor (Minnesota and Utah were the other two teams with a shot at the No. 1 slot) could only stand by scowling, was priceless.

But as soon as the event ended, the tin hats came out. First to pull one on was Kahn, whose Timberwolves have never been awarded the No. 1 pick in 14 trips to the Lottery.

"This league has a habit, and I'm just going to say habit, of producing some pretty incredible storylines," Kahn said. "Last year is was Abe Pollin's widow (referring to the longtime owner of the Washington Wizards) and this year it was a 14-year-old boy and the only thing we have in common is we have both been bar mitzvahed. We were done. I told Kevin (O'Connor), 'We're toast.' This is not happening for us and I was right."

Kahn is far from the first person to raise his eyebrows at unusual events where the NBA is concerned. Officials Hue Hollins and Nick Bavetta (who was dubbed "Knick" Bavetta) have been called out in the past for their perceived propensity for making calls in favor of a certain New York team. And what about Tim Donaghy, the disgraced official who really DID fix games, and spent time in prison for it?

And then there's the main event when it comes to the NBA's image of supposed impropriety: the 1985 Draft Lottery, and the right to select Patrick Ewing No. 1 overall, famously won by the Knicks. At that time, the lottery was determined by team logos on huge envelopes pulled out of a bin by NBA commissioner David Stern. The story, which some people I know and trust swear to be true, is that the envelope with the Knicks logo was kept in a freezer before the lottery -- so when Stern was fishing through the envelopes, he knew which one to avoid, until it was the only one left.

Kahn wasn't the only one drawing conclusions last week, either. The New York Times reported that seconds before the lottery winner was announced, John Wall -- last year's No. 1 pick -- was standing next to Duke guard Kyrie Irving -- who could be this year's No. 1 pick -- and "whispered 'Cleveland' in Irving's ear before the cameras turned on."

In the days since, Kahn has backtracked -- OK, turned and fled -- from his initial view, claiming he was "joking" when spoken to moments after his team lost out yet again.

"I don't believe in jinxes, curses or hocus pocus, and I certainly don't think we were wronged," Kahn told the Associated Press. "But I do believe in the power of story, and I joked that it's a heck of a better story for a 14-year-old kid to beat out a couple of middle-aged executives standing together on a stage on national TV, and that our league seems to always have its own share of luck in being a part of these stories.

"That was the entire meaning of what I said in a joking fashion, and what I believe was received in such fashion."

The reality is he and the Timberwolves are just on a run of really, really bad luck. The perception? Another story entirely.


UPDATE: Back on May 12, I wrote about the backlash that slashed, crosschecked and boarded the Rangers' Sean Avery after he taped a PSA in support of gay marriage for New Yorkers for Marriage Equality.

With every day that goes by, the movement is getting more support from the sports world. Longtime Suns CEO and president Rick Welts recently came out, announcing he is gay. TNT analyst Charles Barkley, a former Sun, spoke out in support, saying he had no problems playing with gay teammates. "I'd rather have a gay guy who can play," Barkley said, "than a straight guy who can't play.

Now, a prominent NBA star, the Suns' Steve Nash, has joined Avery in taping a PSA for the organization.

"Hi, I'm Steve Nash," he says in the PSA. "I spend my summers in New York and I love playing at the Garden. A growing number of professional athletes are speaking out in support of gay and lesbian couples getting marries, and I'm proud to be one of them. Join me and the supermajority of New Yorkers who support marriage equality."

On Friday, ESPN.com reported the results of a Gallup poll, which said 53 percent of respondents said same-sex marriage should be recognized as lawful and valid, while 45 percent said no.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Scott Raab, Holocaust comedian

Up until now, Scott Raab was mostly known as a journalist who writes in-depth celebrity profiles for Esquire Magazine. On his Wikipedia page, Raab calls himself "a fat Jew from Cleveland" who has a tattoo of Chief Wahoo on his forearm -- done during an interview with Dennis Rodman.

Raab was in the center of a mini-controversy last fall, when the Miami Heat refused to give him press credentials, a by-product of Raab's negative approach while writing about LeBron James' exit from Cleveland.

But this week, Raab became known for something much worse. He placed himself into a pot of boiling water that, outside of Deadspin.com and a few sports blogs, has largely gone unreported.

In a tweet -- presumably in response to a contest being run by the Dallas Mavericks, asking fans to choose an "official" nickname for Dirk Nowitzki (above), who had just dropped 48 points on the Oklahoma City Thunder -- Raab wrote the following:

"All the fuss about a Nowitzki nickname is absurd. Gotta be "Zyklon D," nein?"

Zyklon was a pellet-based pesticide that became lethal when exposed to oxygen, and was what the Nazis used in the gas chambers at Auschwitz, Treblinka and Dachau. The full name of the poison was Zyklon B, which Raab twisted to Zyklon D, as in, D for Dirk Nowitzki.

Let all of that sink in for a moment.

I can immediately think of 6 million reasons to be upset about this, and I'm sure you can too. The fact that Raab is Jewish doesn't matter. I'm Jewish, and when I saw it, I was offended and sickened by the reference. And imagine how would you feel if you were Nowitzki, who, of course, is German and was born in 1978, 33 years after World War II ended?

I haven't found or heard any reactions from Nowitzki on the matter, probably because it has not hit the mainstream. Perhaps the main reason for that is Raab is now a "regular contributor" to Esquire as opposed to a member of the magazine's staff, which he was until 1997, according to his Wikipedia page. The point is that because Raab does not have to answer to anyone for his tweets, he can pretty much say whatever he wants, unfiltered and without anyone questioning, in this case, his judgment and taste -- which is why self-editing is a necessary skill in today's tweet-happy world.

Let's put it this way: If Raab worked for, say, ESPN or were a full-time columnist for a newspaper or website, he probably would have been fired. Rogers SportsNet in Toronto fired a TV host last week because he supported the anti-gay sentiments of a hockey agent who criticized the Rangers' Sean Avery for supporting gay marriage.

What I am sure of is this: Nowitzki would be as horrified as anyone. In Germany, it's illegal to display the swastika or other Nazi symbols, and the Holocaust is a legacy of shame and disgust for nearly every decent person in today's Germany.

For his part, Raab did apologize on Twitter 13 hours after his initial tweet, linking to an article he penned for Esquire on a convicted Nazi death camp guard who relocated to the United States. But it's important for us to object to and call out anyone who slurs or makes light of any form of intolerance, or in this case, genocide.

There are at least 6 million reasons why.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Kevin Durant has your back ... pack

NBA players have never been shy about their wardrobe and fashion choices, from the loud, obnoxious-colored suits that were in style (?) in the mid-90s, to the Allen Iverson-inspired street look that drove the image-obsessed league to institute a dress code. And AI was only talking about practice.

And we won't even get into the color palette in Craig Sager's closet.

Now we have new stars and a new movement that some have dubbed nerd-chic, now spotlighted by the Oklahoma City Thunder's young star, Kevin Durant. Never mind that he scored 40 points and pulled down eight rebounds Tuesday night in OKC's 121-112 loss in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals (in a game that the Mavs' Dirk Nowitzki scored 48 points). The focus on what he was wearing, specifically a checkered button-down shirt -- buttoned all the way to the top -- and a backpack, circa fifth grade.

Apparently, Durant has made his backpack his accessory of choice this season, and now that the Thunder have stormed their way into the national consciousness, it has become a topic of conversation. After a victory over the Grizzlies in the previous round, TNT's Charles Barkley even made an unflattering comment on it, and Durant was asked about the contents during an appearance on "Inside the NBA."

"I've got a Mac computer, my game shoes and clothes for the road trip," Durant said before embellishing. "Three pairs of jeans, three shirts, some dress shoes, phone chargers, a basketball, my phones ... I've got three phones.

"Oh, and I've got Dunkin' Donuts and Krispy Kremes for Chuck."

Which prompted Barkley to retort, "I didn 't hear anything about underwear. That means Kevin Durant is going commando."

Perish that thought. After a recent game, Durant was more low-key when asked about it again during the postgame interview session.

"I've got my iPad, I've got my Bible, my headphones, and my phone chargers."

Not too exciting, but you've got to respect Durant for having the confidence and poise to take the nerd-retro approach to fashion.

And then there was Thunder teammate Russell Westbrook, who sat next to Durant in the interview room wearing a pair of glasses that looked like they came from the Steve Urkel estate. That's another story for another time.

Monday, May 16, 2011

For Posada, this can only end badly

The events of Saturday night at Yankee Stadium have been dissected, analyzed, torn apart and rebuilt again, and that was before the final out of the Yankees' 6-0 loss to the Red Sox, the middle of a three-game sweep that led to a fair amount of preening in Kenmore Square and pouting on the 4 train in the Bronx.

We've heard different versions and details, from tweaked backs and lineup cards to tweets from Posada's wife, who felt the need to defend her man after Posada and his .165 batting average were only deemed worthy of the No. 9 spot in the batting order by Yankees manager Joe Girardi. That led to what Jack Curry, a respected New York sports reporter on the YES Network, called a "hissy fit" and Posada asking out of the lineup, much to the consternation of GM Brian Cashman and the bewilderment of Girardi, who when pressed afterward said Posada asked him for "a mental day" to "clear his head."

The journey in time back to the Bronx Zoo era seemingly ended Sunday evening, when Posada apologized for his actions, admitting it was his ego, and not his back, that was bruised.

"It's just one of those days that you wish you could have back," Posada said.

Why someone making $13.1 million for playing a game needs a mental day is another issue entirely, but all seemed forgiven. The "Bleacher Creatures" honored Posada in their nightly "roll call," and Girardi was satisfied. "This has been a great player for a long time," he said.

Fair enough. Posada's eventual plaque in Monument Park will include nothing of this incident, and it will do nothing to tarnish his legacy as a "great Yankee."

But it is reason to take pause, as a more nefarious opponent is lurking to stick voodoo pins between the pinstripes -- time.

Posada is the first member of the Yankees' esteemed "Core Four" to careen down the slide that eventually claims every athlete of a certain age. Some handle it more gracefully and adroitly than others. For every Sandy Koufax and Jim Brown, legends who retired at the top of his game, there is a Willie Mays and Brett Favre, who stubbornly live in denial of their declining skills and play on.

Andy Pettitte went out on his own terms and Mariano Rivera is still Mariano Rivera. It can be argued that Derek Jeter has already arrived at the playground, climbed the ladder and is staring stoically down the slide in the only direction he can go -- down -- but he remains an icon in the Bronx and will soon become only the 11th player in major league history to amass 3,000 hits with the same team.

Jeter has not been dropped to the No. 9 position in the batting order, a spot traditionally reserved for pitchers, as Posada was. His off-season contract negotiations were contentious, but he was not "disrespected" while in uniform, which Posada claimed he was Saturday. Jeter has not been moved to full-time DH duties, as Posada was this season. And Jeter was not forced to face a sea of microphones and tape recorders to apologize, as Posada was Sunday.

Posada enjoyed one of his finest seasons in 2007 (20 homers, 90 RBIs, .338 BA), the last of an eight-year run in which he played no less than 137 games in each season. But since suffering an injury to his right (throwing) shoulder in 2008, Posada's decline has accelerated:

2009: 111 games, 22 HR, 81 RBI, .285 BA.
2010: 120 games, 18 HR, 57 RBI, .248 BA.
2011: 33 games, 6 HR, 15 RBI, .165 BA.

Even more telling are the games Posada spent at catcher, DH and first base:

2009: catcher 100, DH 9, first base 2.
2010: catcher 83, DH 30, first base 1.
2011: DH 32.

The bottom line is that this will only get uglier for Jorge Posada. The proud Yankee may have said, "I'm sorry," but there can be no apologies that will soothe what lies ahead, for the specter of time forgives no one.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Sean Avery and the jackass

Stop us if you've heard this one before. Something insensitive, stupid and self-
serving was said, and in the same sentence are the words "Sean Avery." Old news, right?

Avery, the New York Rangers forward, has created a cottage industry, if not a career, on doing or saying the wrong thing throughout his NHL career -- whether it's distracting opposing goaltenders, sucker-punching a foe looking the other way or making crude and inappropriate remarks about opponents dating ex-girlfriends -- Avery has rightfully earned a place in the conversation of the most despised players in the NHL (A recent such poll by The Hockey News ranked Avery No. 3 in that category, behind the Penguins' Matt Cooke and the Sabres' Patrick Kaleta).

The Rangers have been eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs, but Avery still managed to get a reaction this week. But unlike perhaps any other time in his career, he wasn't the one firing the first shot.

Avery, along with several other prominent New Yorkers, including former president Bill Clinton, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, actor Sam Waterston and actress Julianne Moore, taped a public service announcement for the New Yorkers for Marriage Equality campaign in support of same-sex marriage.

Avery is not the first athlete to support such an initiative. Ravens Pro Bowl linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo taped a similar announcement for a like-minded organization.

In the PSA, Avery says, "I'm Sean Avery and I'm a New Yorker for Marriage Equality. I treat everyone the way I expect to be treated and that applies to marriage. Committed couples should be able to marry the person they love. Join me in supporting marriage equality."

An unheralded hockey agent in Toronto named Todd Reynolds took issue with Avery's stance and chose to use Twitter in his call from the mountaintop.

"Very sad to read Sean Avery's misguided support of same-gender 'marriage,' " Reynolds tweeted. "Legal or not, it will always be wrong."

Reynolds didn't stop there. In subsequent tweets, Reynolds felt the need to "clarify" and stated, "This is not hatred or bigotry toward gays," and "This is my personal viewpoint. I do not hate anyone."

In an interview on TSN Radio in Toronto, Reynolds went on, "I believe in voicing your opinion and not being part of the silent majority. If Sean Avery or any other player can comment on one side of the discussion then -- I work in hockey, I'm in hockey 24-7 -- why can I not comment on it as well?"

You want an answer, Todd? Here you go: Avery was lending his support toward a cause he believes in. And you? Well, we'll get back to you in a minute.

Avery is used to scrutiny in this type of arena. Even though he has been romantically linked to celebrities such as Elisha Cuthbert and Rachel Hunter, he writes a fashion blog and was an intern at Vogue Magazine, which caused people in some circles to out him. He even spoke openly on the topic during an interview with ESPN in 2008:

"It's just like a cardinal rule among athletes, that if you're not married by the time you're 30, all of a sudden you're 'definitely gay,' '' Avery told ESPN. "I just laugh it off. It's crazy ... it's just the narrow-mindedness of sports, which is probably the one thing that turns me off about it."

Is Avery gay? Who cares? The point is this: Intolerance in any form -- whether it be sexual, cultural or religious -- is frowned upon in any thoughtful, insightful or intelligent discussion. While Avery was voicing his opposition to ignorance and intolerance, all Reynolds did was take the opposite view -- in theory, supporting ignorance and intolerance -- in hopes of giving himself some pub and running the clock on his 15 minutes of fame.

If that was your goal, Todd, then mea culpa; I'm writing about you, so you got my attention. But I'm happy if I personally took your clock down to 14 minutes.

And to have a discussion including the words "Sean Avery" and "jackass," with someone else but Avery being the jackass? Now that is news.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Lakers' classless exit

We expected so much more, didn't we? Everything good comes to an end sometime, and when it became quite clear the expiration date had come and gone on the Los Angeles Lakers' latest dynasty, we surely thought a team and force led by the Zen Master, Phil Jackson, and his prized pupil, Kobe Bryant, would be dignified and humble when the buzzer finally sounded, in this case, on Jackson's Hall of Fame coaching career.

It was bad enough the Lakers were stomped on and swept away by the Dallas Mavericks, who finally have their chance to squint in the sunshine in a rare moment away from L.A.'s shadow. Consider that in Jackson's 20 seasons as an NBA coach, strewn with 11 championship rings through 63 postseason series, his teams had never been swept ... until now.

And as for the proud franchise itself, the Lakers had only been on the short end of a four-game sweep six times since moving to Los Angeles in 1961, and hadn't experienced this sort of defeat in 12 years, when they were zipped by the Spurs in the 1999 Western Conference semifinals.

The juxtaposition of a tight-smiling Jackson walking laboriously off the court for the final time, followed by the cameras and shaking hands with seemingly everyone within his huge wingspan seemed somewhat strange in the wake of ejections very much earned by Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum within 45 seconds of each other in the closing moments of the Lakers' 122-86 embarrassment; Odom with a hard foul to an unsuspecting Dirk Nowitzki, and Bynum with a senseless, deliberate, dangerous elbow to the ribs of an airborne J.J. Barea, who was driving down the lane at the time.

Bynum's foul, in particular, should translate to a heavy fine and a sizable suspension when next season begins. There is now a question what uniform Bynum will be wearing when that time comes.

"I don't know where we lost it, that certain drive, that bond that we've had in the past," said Bynum, who said he "was feeling salty" when he committed his unforgivable foul on Barea. "There was something missing for us."

How about class? The Lakers acted more like petulant children being told to go to bed than an accomplished group of athletes used to being at the top of their profession. And maybe that was the problem -- we often hear about also-ran teams needing to "learn how to win." These Lakers never learned how to lose.

At least Jackson and Bryant took the opportunity to stand up for sensibility.

"I wasn't happy with the way our players exited the game on Lamar and Andrew's part," Jackson said. "It was unnecessary, but I know they were frustrated and Barea was one of the guys that really frustrated us today."

Bryant took his feeling a step further.

"You don't want to see that happen," he said solemnly in the postgame interview room. "You don't want any of their players getting hurt. They played better than we did, so to make the game ugly like that ... it's not something that you want to see happen in the game of basketball, ever."

Perhaps the strangest scene was Ron Artest, of all people, playing peacemaker and helping pull Bynum off the court and toward the general vicinity of the Lakers' lockerroom. Maybe it was simply that Artest is so familiar with such exits, he could easily show his teammate the way.

Now there's some playoff experience for you.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Celtics can make history

High on all four walls around the court at the Boston Celtics' practice facility in Waltham, Mass., hang the testaments to the storied franchise's postseason pedigree, like sacred scrolls. Some are a bit discolored, some are a bit frayed, and one -- from the early '60s -- has what appears to be a huge coffee stain on it ... how something hanging indoors from the roof of a building could get splattered so messily is probably a great story in itself, but I digress.

The point is, as they practice under the watchful presence of those NBA record 17 championship banners, the the Celtics are literally surrounded by history. And sometimes, history visits in the flesh.

So it was yesterday. Down 2-0 to the Heat in their Eastern Conference semifinal series, one Celtics legend felt the time was right for an inspirational visit. Before heading to the airport to catch a flight to Scotland and a tee time at St. Andrew's, John Havlicek paid a surprise visit to the team's practice.

The catch here is that Havlicek was a member of the Celtics' 1969 championship team, the only one in franchise history to come back from a 2-0 deficit and win a series. Those Celtics trailed the Lakers 2-0 and wound up winning in seven games.

And for some of the younger Celtics, Havlicek's appearance added context to what might have been their only awareness to the Hall-of-Fame great -- his name being screamed repeatedly in one of the most famous sports calls of all time.

"I was talking to Havlicek -- you know, 'Havlicek stole the ball!' '' an inspired Glen Davis said. "I asked him, 'Which one of these banners ... He said the one that stood out to him was 1969, when they were down 0-2 and came back to win it in Game 7 against the Lakers. He was just saying, 'It's going to take everything in you to fight and claw back to get back to 2-2, and then it's going to take something special to finish them off."

The Celtics, with a host of players nursing nagging bumps and bruises, should get a boost from the return of Shaquille O'Neal, who is expected to play for the first time since April 3 due to a calf injury, and Paul Pierce should also be good to go, despite his strained left Achilles.

All told, though the Celtics are down 2-0, they look to be much more upbeat and in a much better place than that other storied franchise, the Lakers, who are similarly down 2-0 in their Western Conference series against the Mavericks. The biggest reason is Boston is going home with a chance to get back in the series while the Lakers lost their first two games at Staples Center.

And even better thanks to some inspiration from a real-life legend.

"I love all of them coming around," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "They've got more stories and the history above them."

Coffee-stained and all.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Fuhgeddaboudit, Flyers

On one glove, you could say the Philadelphia Flyers have the Boston Bruins right where they want them one game into their Eastern Conference semifinal series. The Flyers gave up seven goals. They had their starting goaltender yanked for the fourth time in eight postseason games. And they had home-ice advantage jerked away from them in a 7-3 loss to the Bruins Saturday.

For it was these same Flyers, one year ago against these same Bruins, who fell behind 3-0 in their playoff series but came back to win four straight and the series -- despite trailing 3-0 in Game 7.

But history will not be made this year. You can count on it. I'll repeat one particular sentence above for emphasis:

They had their starting goaltender yanked for the fourth time in eight postseason games.

The Stanley Cup playoffs are the domain of the hot goaltender, the singular sensation that carries a team on his back, instills confidence and gets the home crowd to chant his name. But forgive Flyers fans for having no idea whose name to shout out at the Wells Fargo Center.


The first round began with Sergei Bobrovsky between the pipes for the Flyers against the Sabres. He lost Game 1 1-0 in overtime, then was pulled in favor of Brian Boucher (above) in Game 2, eventually won by the Flyers 5-4 in overtime.

Boucher started Game 3 (a 4-2 win), Game 4 (a 1-0 loss) and Game 5 -- a 4-3 overtime loss in which he was yanked for not Bobrovsky, but rather Michael Leighton.

Leighton started Game 6 but was apparently on a very short leash and was replaced by Boucher in an eventual 5-4 overtime win.

Boucher started and won Game 7 5-2 as Philly advanced to face the Bruins, but was pulled for Bobrovsky in the second period after giving up all five goals.

The starter in Game 2 Monday is anyone's guess. How about Ron Hextall? Or Bernie Parent? Or Denis Lemieux? Because it won't matter. Not with whoever's in goal for the Flyers looking to the bench and coach Peter Laviolette's thumb. During the postseason, you want to ride your hot hand, not worrying about whose hand that's going to be.

"Certainly, you don't want to do that," Laviolette said regarding the game of musical chairs in front of the Flyers' net. "Based on the way we played, the team deserves most of the responsibility."

For their part, the Flyers are trying to keep their game faces on.

"It's always a wakeup call for the team," Boucher told NHL.com. "You always see to get a bit of a boost after there's a goalie change. I think that's why coaches are so apt to do that. That seems to be one of the last things they can do, as opposed to yelling at the guys or calling a timeout.

"At the same time, I don't see the need for a change, but we'll see what happens."

Laviolette was asked about momentum, and his response was telling.

"I believe in desperation," he said.

That sounds about right. Which is why the Flyers are done.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

You kinda almost gotta believe

The heretofore laughingstocks of the big leagues, the guys whose owner was pictured in the New York Post wearing nothing but a barrel and holding a begging cup, are now the architects of a six-game winning streak, their latest triumph coming after a four-run rally in the ninth inning. Holy Tug McGraw! After an endless list of last-place predictions, are we in for an unexpected Amazin' season from our lovable Mets?

Probably not. While I would love to push forward such an agenda and pull my Keith Hernandez T-shirt out from the bottom of my closet, we need to check in with our good friend, reality.

After a 5-13 start that had the Mets speeding reckelessly toward oblivion and irrelevancy by May Day, they're suddenly 11-13, and even out of last place in the National League East. But we must point out the Amazin's have put some meat back on their bones at the expense of the Diamondbacks and Nationals, with combined records of 20-26. That, after losing two of three to the mighty Astros, they of the 9-15 mark.

It gets significantly more difficult, very quickly. After they finish up with the Nats, the Mets will play three games each against the pitching-rich Phillies (16-8), then the Giants (11-12) and McCourt-distracted Dodgers (13-13), both better clubs than their records reflect, before a three-game set with the Rockieds (16-7), who throttled the Mets in a recent four-game sweep at Citi Field. those four clubs have a combined mark of 56-40.

There are a few glimmers of hope. Ike Davis is batting .345 and Jose Reyes is batting .311 (though few expect him to remain a Met past the trade deadline). Carlos Beltran appears to be healthy, and Jason Bay is showing the kind of pop since coming off the DL to make you think maybe signing him wasn't such a bad idea.

But let's see where things stand after the next two weeks before we can legitimately get excited.


Following up on a recent blog post, I saw that Peter King of Sports Illustrated paid a recent visit to NFL Films president Steve Sabol, who is back to work while undergoing treatment for a brain tumor. Sabol, 68, doesn't know his prognosis ("I never asked, I don't want to know," he told King), but is driven to "make it" until August, when his father, Ed Sabol, the founder of NFL Films, will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

It's an inspiring read about one of the really good guys in sports. Here's the link:


Monday, April 25, 2011

Silent spring in the city

There's a lot to be said for the energy that surges through New York City come April ... an energy we haven't seen in these parts in a long, long time.

This spring marked the first time since 1997 that both the Knicks and Rangers qualified for their respective postseasons ... the first time in 14 years you saw folks in midtown Manhattan wearing their Knicks and Rangers jerseys, full of anticipation, either heading to the Garden or to a bar or restaurant, jazzed on the excitement of what used to be a birthright in New York.

The Knicks and Rangers have both been so bad for so long, we forget what it's like when both teams are challenging for championships into the cusp of summer. We forget the feeling we had in 1994, when both teams played a magical parlay that lasted well into June; the Rangers exorcising a 54-year-old curse by winning the Stanley Cup in a thrilling seven-game triumph over Vancouver, and the Knicks coming six points -- or two John Starks 3-pointers -- from bringing the Larry O'Brien Trophy home from Houston.

Destiny would not be nearly as kind this time around, with both teams stumbling and falling on very similar pothole-filled paths:

The Rangers faced a superior opponent, the Washington Capitals, who had too much talent and depth.

The Knicks faced a superior opponent, the Boston Celtics, who had too much talent and depth.


The Rangers had no margin for error after losing their best player, Ryan Callahan, to injury.

The Knicks had little margin for error after losing one of their top three players, Chauncey Billups, to injury.


The Rangers, with a chance to tie the series 2-2, led 3-0 in Game 4 entering the third period. The Capitals scored three goals to tie the game, and won in double-overtime, dealing the Rangers a crushing blow they never recovered from.

The Knicks, with a chance to tied the series 1-1, led the Celtics 93-92 in Game 3 with 19 seconds left. Kevin Garnett hit a hook shot with 12 seconds left, then came up with a steal with 4.4 seconds to play, dealing the Knicks a crushing blow they never recovered from.

Realistically, neither team had a chance to make a legitimate playoff run, and just as we were getting used to seeing those Knicks and Rangers jerseys around town, in mothballs for so long, the spring fashion season is over, setting the stage for a summer of Yankees pinstripes being the fashion trend.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

WTF is Bruce Boudreau's problem?

So, let me understand this. Bruce Boudreau (above, right ... or is it left), the coach of the Washington Capitals, goes on a DC radio station after losing Game 3 of the Caps' first-round playoff series with the Rangers, and instead of talking about what his team has to do to right the ship and avoid losing yet another series after taking a 2-0 lead, proceeds to ... rip Madison Square Garden and Rangers fans?

By now, the quotes have been all over the place in New York, but as a public service, I'll relay them along in case you haven't seen them.

"Well, the one thing, its reputation is far better than the actual building," Boudreau told 105.9 The Edge in Washington Monday. "I mean, it's nothing. The locker rooms are horrible. The benches are horrible. There's no room for anything. But the reputation of being in Madison Square Garden is what makes it famous. Also, our building's a lot louder, too. So I mean, they can say what they want, but it's not that loud in there."

As someone who has covered many playoff games at the Garden -- watching both the Rangers and Knicks -- I can tell you Boudreau's elevator clearly is not reaching the top floor on this one. I can remember many times, seated in the lower press box, right above where the visiting team leaves the ice, I could actually feel the building vibrating from the noise.

I can understand a coach trying to deflect attention to take pressure off his team -- Rex Ryan holds the patent on that -- but it seems all Boudreau has accomplished here is to ensure the Garden will be completely off its rocker Wednesday night, when the teams meet for Game 4, the Caps holding a 2-1 lead. There's a reason the Garden is known as The World's Most Famous Arena. Give me my choice of any arena to play a home playoff game, and I'll take the Garden -- with the old Market Square Arena in Indianapolis (former home of the Pacers) a close second.

For their part, the Rangers refused to be baited into responding to Boudreau's puzzling rant.

"I don't know what their coach is saying and I'm not worried about that," Rangers center Brian Boyle told ESPN.com. "Our building was rocking (Sunday) and I had a great time. It was a blast."

ESPN Radio's Michael Kay did his best to get Rangers coach John Tortorella to go off in kind, but Tortorella took the high road.

"We haven't really thought too much about locker rooms, how loud it is," Tortorella told Kay. "I'm not even sure what he (Boudreau) is trying to say there. We're just concerned with trying to be the best we can be and play the right way."

Boudreau's reputation has flagged a bit anyway, as he was exposed to a large degree on HBO's "24/7." While Penguins coach Dan Bylsma looked to be a composed, confident leader of men, Boudreau appeared most effective at dropping the F-bomb.

Better he should find a way to keep the Caps from repeating their troubling trend of losing playoff series after taking 2-0 leads. Should the Rangers prevail in this opening-round meeting, it would mark the fifth time in their history the Caps would fail to advance after winning Games 1 and 2. Here's the first four:

First round, 1992, lost to Penguins in seven
First round, 1996, lost to Penguins in six
First round, 2003, lost to Lightning in six
Second round, 2009, lost to Penguins in seven

Should history repeat itself, Boudreau may well find the Caps dropping the F-bomb on him.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Not a slam dunk for Celtics

I haven't seen anyone proclaim in print, online or on-screen that the defending Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics have anything to worry about in their opening-round playoff series against the New York Knicks, which tips off Sunday night.

Far be it for me to offer a dissenting point of view; last June, the Celtics were one victory away from claiming their second NBA championship in three years, and probably would have if not for the injury suffered by Kendrick Perkins (more about that in a minute). Their future Hall-of-Fame Big Three of Kevin Garnett (above), Paul Pierce and Ray Allen looks to be primed for another long postseason run, and the Boston Garden faithful are expecting nothing less.

And Celtics Nation could be given a pass for looking past the Knicks, given that the oftimes-dysfunctional New Yorkers haven't even been to the postseason in the past six years, lost all four regular-season meetings with the C's this season and are defensively- and rebound-challenged ... two areas where the Celtics would appear to have a decided advantage.

Or do they?

Much has been made of the Knicks' offense-first philosophy and their delinquent defensive play. Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony are not exactly recognized as defensive deterrents, certainly not in the same way Garnett is.

Funny, then, when you take a closer look at statistics this season, and notice the Knicks, over the course of the regular campaign, averaged 106.5 points to the Celtics' 96.5 - and here's the grabber - averaged 40.5 boards to Boston's 38.8.

And the rebounding gap between Garnett and Stoudemire? Surprising slim -- Garnett averaged 8.9 rebounds this season to Stoudemire's 8.2.

Folks in Boston have been wringing their hands and beating themselves with chains after the puzzling midseason trade that sent Perkins to Oklahoma City. Perkins not only supplied a defensive presence but an intangible factor that has clearly been missed on the parquet floor.

Now none of this is to suggest I'm picking the Knicks to win -- let's say Celtics in six -- just that there's a good chance success-starved Knicks fans will have roughly one more week to smile and hope before turning their springtime attention fully to the Yankees.

What about the Mets, you say? The less said about them, the better.