Is there anything better than a Saturday afternoon with no responsibilities and a full sporting event slate on the tube? It got me to thinking of a few of my favorite things in the world of sports.
Last second shots. As I write this Marco Belinelli has just hit an off-balance, corner jumper to tie up the Celtics-76ers Game 3 at the buzzer and send it into OT. Ironic, as Belinelli was already on my board to get a mention in this post for two entirely different reasons.
One, the commentators mentioned what, to me, was a staggering stat about Belinelli — that this was the 55th playoff game of his career. It was amazing to me because it is actually the first playoff game I ever remember seeing him appear in (way to make an impact, Marco). And two, I couldn’t help but notice how the guy looks totally stoned every time he is captured on camera. Of course this has nothing to do with last second shots, but just sayin’…
Unexpected stars. Where did Terry Rozier come from anyway? It’s just cool when a player comes out of nowhere to suddenly become a major story line in a series (or even in general). And when I get past my jealousy that the Knicks never unearth a guy like Rozier (actually we did, once, when Linsanity took center stage, but Carmelo took it upon himself to suck the fun out of that run, too), it really is pretty amazing to see how the Celts haven’t missed a beat following Kyrie’s injury because this no-name has come off the bench and totally taken charge of the club. Even if I do continue to accidentally refer to him as Mike (Mike Rozier, the 1983 Heisman winner out of Nebraska), I hope his run continues into what is now appearing to be an inevitable matchup with LeBron and the Cavs in the Eastern Conference finals.
As for Mike Rozier, does anyone happen to remember that his first professional team was none other than the Pittsburgh Maulers of the old USFL? I actually got to see him in person against my hometown New Jersey Generals back in May of 1984 at the Meadowlands. The Generals (with Doug Flutie at QB) won the game 16-14, but what I remember most is the biggest and ugliest fan brawl in the stands I’ve ever witnessed. The entire second deck became the setting for a battle royal. Like most of these fan fights it started with a few drunk guys throwing beer and then punches. But oh did it escalate. Literally thousands of people ended up joining in the scrum, throwing haymakers as dozens upon dozens of security officials poured out of the tunnels and into the fray wearing those yellow SECURITY windbreakers. I never realized just how many security personnel are employed during a football game, and also couldn’t help wondering where the heck they are all hanging out when there isn’t a riot taking place. The fight lasted almost the entire second half of the game. Never seen anything like it before or since. Mike Rozier and the Pittsburgh Maulers everybody.
Surprise playoff runs. I’ve previously stated that hockey is the Achilles heel of my sports fandom, and as a result I will rarely opine on the sport, however if I were a bigger fan I think I might have to jump on the Las Vegas Golden Knights playoff bandwagon. I actually am a marginal San Jose Sharks sympathizer, given their proximity to my home, and should they advance to the Cup I may even attempt to get to a game (after all, there really is nothing quite like the intensity of playoff hockey witnessed in person). But for now, I simply marvel at the run Vegas is on, leading the series 3-2 and possibly on the verge of a Stanley Cup appearance in their first year as a franchise? Only in the NHL, I suppose, but still cool.
The last time I got this excited about an unexpected NHL playoff run was back in 1988, when the previously downtrodden New Jersey Devils were throwing a major scare into the Boston Bruins. Following a loss in Game 3, irate Devils coach Jim Schoenfeld confronted referee Don Koharski (who may, or may not, have had a bit of a weight problem), leading to an awkward Koharski spill.
When Koharski pointed the finger at Schoenfeld, accusing him of bumping the big ref, Schoenfeld responded with “good ’cause you fell you fat pig. Have another doughnut.” And from that day on the Devils became my team. Ahh, fond New Jersey reminiscences on a Saturday afternoon. Good stuff.
The optimism that accompanies the hiring of a new coach. Yes I’m a Knicks fan, and yes I grasp at straws looking for the slightest sign of optimism about the future amidst a dark and foreboding present, but I really like the hiring of David Fizdale as our latest head coach. We’ve done this new hire drill so frequently over the past 15 years that I need to harken all the way back to the Pat Riley hiring in the early-’90’s that brought us the Patrick Ewing/Charles Oakley/Anthony Mason era to remember feeling this good about our new head man.
I’m not just a hopeless homer either, as I’ve had visceral reactions to big Knicks moves in the past (and I won’t even mention the Carmelo trade, or the resigning here, oops…). Most notably, I remember with vivid clarity the day the announcement came across WFAN Radio in New York that the Knicks had traded for Stephon Marbury. I was driving on the Long Island Expressway and had to get off at the first exit I came to and pull over to compose myself. Wish I had been wrong on that one, but sometimes the internal instincts are screaming truth. They sure were right about Starbury being a disaster as a Knick, and hopefully they are equally on target with the good vibes I’m feeling about Fizdale today. Oh, and about that Eddy Curry trade…
Good announcers. Maybe the most important and under appreciated aspect of the fan experience. Good announcers can turn an exciting game into a lifetime memory. This afternoon offers a couple of perfect examples. I’m watching the Mets getting shut out in the 7th by the Rockies as I sit here typing, and despite the continuing futility of our New York Mets, it is a pleasure hearing the voices of Keith Hernandez, Ron Darling and Gary Cohen in the background calling the game. To me they are the gold standard of current baseball announcers, both in terms of group chemistry, as well as for outstanding game coverage, knowledge, humor and candor. They make my investment in the MLB Package worthwhile despite the fact that it has completely sabotaged the Mets 12-2 start.
I also must admit to my growing appreciation and respect for Doris Burke. This is a tough one for me, for as a traditionalist I was slow to warm up to the idea of female game announcers. And no, that wasn’t a sexist comment (at least I hope it wasn’t). The idea of having the token female sideline reporter on every football and basketball telecast seems pandering and obvious, and that annoys me as well, but for different reasons. Put the best person in these roles, please! Which is why I am totally hooking onto Ms. Burke’s growing bandwagon of supporters.
As a dad with two daughters (who both happen to be above-average athletes and solidly knowledgeable sports fans I’m proud to say), I am in favor of seeing these glass ceilings broken through, wherever they may exist. Just please let the “breakers” do it on merit. Doris Burke has done that. She’s just damn good — smart, informed down to minute details on back stories as well as strategies, and with a cool sense of humor as well. She is terrific and it’s great to see her getting the accolades her work has earned her.
When I think about my all-time favorite announcers (a post for another day, for sure), I can’t help but realize I am fortunate to live in an area with terrific local baseball announcers (to fall back on in the event I’m forced to cancel my MLB Package should the Mets drop under .500), as both the Giants (Kruk and Kuip — although I hated Mike Krukow as a player because he owned the Mets) and the A’s (Ray Fosse is in the elite category in my opinion, and he I liked as part of those great A’s squads of the early-’70’s) put out an awesome announcing team for both TV and radio every night.
Others names to smile and ponder on a lazy afternoon (hopefully without stealing too much material from that upcoming all-time announcer post) would certainly include Bob Murphy on radio doing Mets games, Vin Scully (of course — he could read from the phone book and make it entertaining) and the Madden/Somerall tandem on the CBS lead NFC game back in the ’80’s. And reserve a special section in my history for Marv Albert. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only five-year-old kid sneaking a radio to bed at night and falling asleep to him calling Knicks games during their first championship season back in ’69-’70. “Yes!”
A business man’s special on a sunny afternoon. Gotta love when the first pitch is prior to 1:00 in the afternoon. Usually a half-full crowd allowing for easier entrance to and exit from the stadium, and the ability to get on with your day while it’s still light out. I went to see Giants-Padres the other day at AT&T Park (if you haven’t been yet, please figure out a trip to SF and go, it’s absolutely a Top 5 ballpark). First pitch: 12:45 p.m. Perfect. The afternoon was sunny and 75 degrees and the ball was traveling toward the right field power alley and McCovey Cove. Multiple dingers, clam chowder out of a bread bowl and through the tunnel on the way back home to the East Bay by 3:30. The Giants won easily (sorry Padres fans, but I still don’t see where all this hope for the future is coming from, you guys are awful), the orange-clad, pennant waving fans were thrilled, and all was right with the world for those three hours.
Futility streaks. I rooted against the Cubs in the 2016 World Series for the simple reason that I wanted the losing streak to continue. Nothing against the Cubs or the city of Chicago (sort of indifferent to both actually), but I think those kinds of streaks are good for the fabric of the game. I rooted against the Red Sox for the same reason during the 2004 World Series (despite being overjoyed when they came back from down 3-0 against the Yanks in the ALCS) and I had hoped the Astros would fall short last year and keep their 0-for-existence World Series run intact. I strangely like the Indians for reasons I can’t even explain to myself, so should they make it to the Fall Classic this year I’m not sure where my rooting interests will lie. But one thing is for sure, and that’s if the Expos/Nationals somehow get there (and I am supremely confident they won’t for reasons about to be revealed), I will root hard against them (unless they play the Yankees, in which case I will root for a 3-3 tie).
I plain don’t like the D.C. teams. Some of it is life history and rivalries with the NY sports franchises. Some of it is frankly, just because. To that point, as little attention as I pay to the NHL these days, I am totally rooting for the Penguins to beat the Caps (seems like an annual thing, doesn’t it?) in their series that is taking place right now (Penguins look poised to take a 3 games to 2 lead as I type this). I will delight in seeing the Penguins extend the run of futility for the Caps franchise and their tortured fans for yet another year (yes, there is a long backstory behind this dislike that will be discussed at a later date). And I don’t even like Pittsburgh. Go Pens!
Sam Darnold. I know, Sam is not a thing, he’s a Jet, but I had to figure out a way to include him in this post. I am that excited. My new favorite player, number 14 on your scorecard and number 1 in our hearts! Only 20 years old and with a cannon for an arm, this is the guy we will ride to our first Super Bowl victory since Joe Willie trotted off the field in Miami forefinger held aloft. I liked Darnold in his two seasons starting at USC and can’t believe he will be in Jets green come the fall. Hope springs eternal, and at least for now I feel hope that one of my personal futility streaks (I should have noted that I don’t like them when one of my teams is involved — 49 years and counting for the airplanes) may actually come to an end during my lifetime (c’mon Fizdale, 45 years and counting for the Knickerbockers — exercise those demons!).