LOS ANGELES — We’re back! It’s OK, I know you missed me. It’s been a long time, trust me, I’m aware. So much has changed, too. Cleveland is a winner, Peyton Manning is gone (though not from my television commercials) and Bill Belichick is giving in-depth press conferences. Whoa, I just got carried away. But the ROFFL Podcast has returned and I couldn’t be happier and more excited as we embark on our 15th season in which we rest our entire Fall’s happiness on the real performance of our very fake roster of NFL players. Once again, Parker is our defending champion (insert disparaging remarks) and Josh is our Toilet Bowl “winner” (insert disparaging remarks about Baltimore) and everyone else is left in between wondering what went wrong (Antonio Gates and the entire San Diego offensive line got injured).
We’ll be in Denver in less than a week for another ROFFL Draft and tensions and expectations are high. Can it top last year in Boston? Will Marc try and draft J.J. Watt? Will Jarrett’s cell phone have service? Just how smelly will it be in there? All valid questions and all will have answers on August 27 around midnight when the last pick will be made, give or take.
My guest for the kickoff to the 2016 season podcast is a two-time champion and the man with the best facial hair in the game, Navid Sadri. We hit on everything in the hour-long episode from the Draft Book to having another kid to watching the Olympics. Hope you enjoy it and can’t wait to see you guys in a week!
LOS ANGELES — The Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 2013 behind beards and a band of unique brothers united by a love of the city. It was a championship season as unexpected as any considering the natural disaster that was the 2012 season, and the equally catastrophic September of 2011, in which the team went from first place to missing the playoffs faster than you can spell Yastrzemski. The collapse was terrible and predictable with the moves made in the 2010 and ’11 offseasons (Terry Francona out, Bobby Valentine in, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez for a combined $489 bajillion) but in a way necessary to make Sox fans appreciate those good ole’ days of ’04 and ’07.
Those title teams were fun to watch and root for, and always gave you everything they had. They were full of colorful characters and personalities, and found new and exciting ways to win games. The 2012 team sucked, wasn’t fun and probably hated each other as much as I hated them. Shortly after Boston dealt Crawford, Gonzalez and Josh Beckett to the Dodgers around the trade deadline in 2012, I ran into LA GM Ned Coletti at a bar in Culver City and thanked him for taking those guys off Boston’s hands. He laughed me off but the move turned things around (much like the Nomar trade in ’04) and laid the groundwork for a title run.
In a way, I enjoyed 2013 more than the other World Series years because of what was expected (nothing) and the ultimate end result (champagne baths and Duck Boats). And because of Mike Napoli. He’s taken Manny Ramirez’s place as the lovable goofball who hits mammoth home runs and keeps everyone loose. He’ll never be as enigmatic as Man-Ram or cut off throws from the centerfielder or high-five fans while making a catch at the wall or rub Julian Tavarez’s head in the dugout (or hit .330) but he does have a penchant for getting a clutch hit (and parting around Boston without a shirt). And I love him. Look, the ’04 team was supposed to contend given how close it came in ’03, and ’07 was still riding that success thanks to a bevy of home-grown talent (Pedrioa, Youkilis, Lester, Papelbon, etc.). That title was expected.
What’s going to happen this season? Who knows, but what’s for certain is that this Red Sox team should be there come the stretch run again. Unlike the NFL, where teams go from worst to first all the time and the playoff turnover year-to-year is great, only a handful of teams have a realistic shot at hoisting the trophy come October in Major League Baseball, and this Red Sox team is one of them.
With that said, here’s 8 Things To Look For: 2014 Boston Red Sox:
1.) What will we get from David Ortiz?— Big Papi is one of the most beloved Red Sox of all time. He’s going to be a Hall of Famer five years after he retires. He can do anything.He’s Superman. For baseball purposes, he went from 2-for-22 in the ALCS last year to a whopping 11-for-16 in the World Series. That swing was a microcosm of what No. 34 has been doing in recent years in the Hub. Slow starts have led to big finishes, but let’s be honest, Ortiz is 38 and while he’s signed on for two more seasons, what he has left is very much in doubt. Sure, he hit 30 homers last year (his 7th season with at least 30), but as we’ve seen historically from other sluggers, when it goes it goes in a hurry. I won’t overreact to a slow start this year but I’m not expecting the end to be pleasant, whenever it occurs.
2.) Who will be this year’s Jonny Gomes? — I’m not talking about the numbers, because I’m a realist in that Gomes isn’t The Babe, and he hit just .247 in 366 at bats last year. But the spark he gave this team when he was an every day player can’t be measured. He started the beard revolution, provided me with my favorite moment of the year – punting his helmet rounding third after a walk-off homer in June against Tampa Bay – and was an infectious spirit on the diamond. The Red Sox are gonna need it again because it’s a long season and repeating is hard.
3.) Is Felix Dubront ready for primetime? — I covered the big lefty when he was with the Portland Sea Dogs coming up and I’ve enjoyed watching his progress in the big leagues. Dubront is a power pitcher and has 306 strikeouts in 323.1 innings in his two full big league seasons but got shelled this Spring Training (7.77 ERA in 19 innings). He’s going to be an important element of this Boston pitching staff and if it’s going to make another deep postseason run he’ll need to win 15-or-more games. He’s only 26 but it’s time to show some consistency.
4.) Grady Sizemore, starting center fielder? — This is actually not a question, it’s happening, and I’m just as shocked as you are. Sizemore hasn’t played in two seasons, and hasn’t played a full season since 2008, but somehow beat out Jackie Bradley, Jr. for the center field spot. The same JBJ who most, including me, thought was in line for the starting job after Jacoby Ellsbury signed with the Yankees this offseason and was sent down to Pawtucket last week. I don’t know if Sizemore is gonna make it, but I hope so. He averaged 26 HR, 81 RBI and 28 stolen bases in his best four full seasons with Cleveland, and if he can be around those numbers again it’ll be a genius move and soften the blow of losing Ellsbury but giving the Sox some speed and pop at the top of the lineup. Fingers crossed.
5.) A.J. Pierzynski? Yes, really. — And you thought spelling Saltalamacchia was tough? I’m pretty shocked the man once voted the most hated in Major League Baseball is wearing Red Sox colors this season, but by all accounts, he’s a great teammate, and one of those guys you’re glad is on your team because of what makes him so hated. I just want him to do what everyone wants out of their catcher: handle the pitchers, be reliable, and provide a little pop at the plate now and then. Salty’s 40 doubles last year will be hard to top, let’s hope A.J.’s intangibles make up for it.
6.) Will the bullpen repeat its 2013 performance? — Let’s be honest, what the bullpen did last year, especially Koji Uehara, was unbelievable. He was downright unhittable in the stretch run and postseason, giving up just one run in 13.2 innings with seven saves. But he’s 38, so I wouldn’t expect a repeat performance. Uehara came out of nowhere and I’m guessing it’ll be someone else giving manager John Farrell a surprise performance to save the day this summer, whether it’s Andrew Miller or Burke Badenhop or Edward Mujica or someone from a deadline deal. Stay tuned.
7.) How will this team handle being expected to win? — It was different last season, there weren’t any expectations – last year every Red Sox fan would’ve been satisfied with a .500 season given the way 2012 was an unmitigated nightmare – but now this band of mistfits are champions. They are expected to win 90 games this year and compete for another World Series. A year ago, there was no pressure and what happened? They won. A lot. Now that there is pressure what’s going to happen if this team struggles in April and May? If Xander Bogaerts isn’t living up to the tremendous hype we all have for him early on? If Will Middlebrooks get sent down again because he’s lost his power? If Jon Lester has control issues or Clay Buchholz injures his back again? If Koji blows a couple saves? If Ortiz is hitting .091? What if? I’m hoping no one panics, remembering how patience paid off a year ago, but this is Boston and what happened last year is in the past. We’ll see.
8.) What grimey thing will these guys do next? — Last year it was the beards and David Oritz and Boston Strong that carried this team and provided its spirit and driving force. In 2004, there was “Cowboy Up” and the Jack Daniels and the naked pullups, in ’07 it was The Idiots, so we’ll see what comes from this team. You don’t know when it’s gonna happen or who’s going to be the leader, but I’m expecting something and I can’t wait.
LOS ANGELES — Paul Pierce has been my favorite NBA player since he entered the league as the 10th pick of the 1998 Draft. Through thick and thin, some losing and a LOT of winning, he personified what Boston Celtics basketball was for the last 15 seasons. He was the Captain and The Truth.His draft-night trade, along with Kevin Garnett and others, to New Jersey was made official Friday, which ended his fantastic and Hall of Fame run at the Garden. Such, I felt compelled to reach out and express my love, gratitude and respect for what he meant to me as a gigantic fan.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you. Thank you for being a true Celtic. Thank you for not giving up on the city and fans when it would have been easy to, especially in the early years. Thank you for always caring. Thank you for always playing hard. Thank you for every pull-up 3 on the fast break, every step back elbow jumper, every spin move in the lane and every fist pump to get the Garden crowd going. Thank you for being the Captain and The Truth and living up to what both of those words actually meant. It was an honor and a privilege to watch you play night-in and night-out, through the grinds of the losing seasons and the supreme joys of the winning ones. Thank you for letting Antoine wiggle and Walter dive on the floor and Scal drop 3s and Rondo drop dimes and Kevin drop 12-letter bombs. Thank you for making it fun to be a Celtics fan again. For making the Garden the place to be in Boston. Thank you for Banner 17 and in your post-Game 6 presser in 2008 for thanking your teammates first. Thank you for making it look so easy and difficult at the same time. Quick anecdote: after the championship, I had to get your jersey (don’t ask why I didn’t have one before, I mean, I’m a grown ass man, we shouldn’t wear jerseys). I just had to. I wanted to wear it around in celebration.
That summer, I went to Atlantic City with my buddies, like we do every year, for our fantasy football draft and one night I wore it out. Wore it to dinner at our traditional Friday spot, Hooters in the Tropicana, and karaoke at Desert Rose, and high-fived every person who said something to me about it because I was proud. The glory had been restored and it meant a lot to rep you. That jersey is still proudly displayed today in my house. Now, I’m a Celtics fan out here in Los Angeles, your hometown, and it’s been difficult at times dealing with the lunacy of fans of that team from here. But we stay strong. And I’ll always stay strong. You’re my guy and it’s been a great ride these last 15 years. You’ll always be the Captain and The Truth and I know you’ll always bleed green. And I’ll be rooting for you next season in 78 games. I hope I’m in the house when you return to Boston for the first time. It’s bound to be a magical moment, and likewise I look forward to the day when “34” is raised to the rafters, where it belongs. Gone but never forgotten, you’re one of a kind.
LOS ANGELES — Late Spring is arguably the best time for sports. With the unpredictability of the NBA and NHL Playoffs, interleague baseball, the randomness of big boxing matches, tennis and golf Grand Slam tournaments, and even horse racing; if the sports planets all align there’s the chance for something special. So when the Devils beat the Kings last Wednesday to avoid a sweep in the Stanley Cup Finals, and then the Heat beat the Celtics to avoid elimination in the NBA Playoffs the next day, the intergalactic sports Gods set up a potentially epic day like Saturday, June 9.
As it turned out, there wasn’t just two or three of the previously mentioned events planned, but all six. I mean, why wouldn’t there be. It isn’t often you get a horse going for the Triple Crown, a tennis great trying to complete the career Grand Slam, your favorite baseball team playing against the best young player since Junior Griffey, a potential Stanley Cup deciding game, an NBA Playoffs Game 7 and a big-time prize fight featuring who many consider the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. All in one day!!?! A sports guy’s dream.
However, when I’ll Have Another’s trainer Doug O’Neill pulled the horse, who already had a pair of stunning come-from-behind wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, on Friday morning after noticing signs of arthritis/tendinitis in its leg, the Gods proved they had other plans. We now know those were nightmarish ones, especially for those with northeast rooting interests, like myself.
We’ll start with the Red Sox, who are on the precipice of a disaster .500 season (seriously, Adrian Gonzalez, you suck). They got things going in the southern directional with a 4-2 loss to the hotshots from Washington (who would later sweep Boston after Sunday’s win). While I failed to watch a single inning of this contest, I didn’t have high hopes after Stephen Strasburg (6 innings, 2 runs, 13 Ks) and Bryce Harper (3-for-5, 3 RBIs and a HR) dominated the squad the day before. You know it’s a bad sign when I just expect a disastrous performance before a pitch is ever thrown; 2004 and 2007 seem soooo long ago.
Shortly there after Boston’s “L,” the rest of the field that would’ve been an asterisk to I’ll Have Another’s historic Triple Crown (he was going off at 4-5 odds as late as last Thursday) took to the track at Belmont Park before a less-than optimally hyped crowd of over 85,000 (who bet over $15M). There was a group of us watching at The Daily Pint in Santa Monica for our friend Joe’s birthday or perhaps I would’ve skipped the race entirely. Back in the day, I wouldn’t have missed a big race. There was a harness racing track near my house in Maine and my buddies and I would roll over and lay some action down; always made it more interesting. Alas, I had zero interest, but the historic mile-and-a-half jaunt ended up being a dramatic race despite the favorite’s absence. Union Rags came from behind to claim the victory but will be a distant memory to what might have been. Legendary trainer Bob Baffert once again had his horse Place, as Paynter came up just short.
Now, I’m not a hockey fan, but the hometown Kings being a game away from clinching the first Stanley Cup in the franchise’s history, and with the puck dropping on Game 5 a half hour before Heat/Celtics Game 7, was enough to garner at least 30 minutes of my viewing time. Our now 5-man crew shifted over to Busby’s where we’d be able to watch both events and then possibly the Bradley/Pacquiao fight later on. The move proved to be a smart one as we posted up right in front of a TV with the basketball game on, with the hockey on directly behind us for easy viewing. I turned my head every now and again to check the score; we were updated on what was happening by the groans/cheers from the other patrons. There were mostly groans as the Devils extended the series with a 2-1 win.
Of course, my focus was solely on the Celtics, who were seeking their 3rd NBA Finals appearance in the five years of the Big Three Era and a revenge victory over Miami, which took out Boston in 5 games in last year’s Eastern Conference semis. It was a torridly-close affair but the Celtics managed to have a not-so comfortable 7-point lead at halftime, however, with just 12 minutes left to play it was dead even. The way Miami came back didn’t leave a good feeling in my gut, and as the time on the game clock dwindled it became apparent that the new golden era in Boston was coming to an unceremonious end. The Heat finished off the 101-88 win to advance to the NBA Finals against the youthfully athletic Oklahoma City Thunder and their dynamic and questionably fashionable duo Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. What made the loss even more obnoxious, was that suddenly we were surrounded by Heat fans, fans who were noticeably silent for the previous 36 game minutes. All that was left for me to do was lick my wounds, and devour my turkey burger, and prepare for the pugilistic showdown.
I suppose we should have taken this has a sign of weird things to come, but the fight’s start was delayed by nearly an hour as 1) Manny Pacquaio, apparently a huge Celtics fan (finally, something to like about him) refused to get ready until the basketball game was over, and 2) Pacquiao, after getting ready, had to walk on the treadmill for a lengthy period of time to loosen up his calves, which he’s had problems with tightness in throughout his training camp. Meanwhile, the HBO announcing team was running out of things to talk about as everyone waited. It was beyond bizarre. Meanwhile, Bradley was gloved up and ready to go, pacing around backstage while Pacquaio went on with his shenanigans. The whole scene was bizarre, to say the least.
Finally, just after 9pm pacific time — only an hour or so after it was supposed to get underway — the boxers made their way to the ring, Michael Buffer did this overpriced thing (did you know he gets close to $5 million to be a boxing announcer for big fights?) and the dance began. It was clear from the get-go that Pacquiao was there to fight and quell the thoughts his 12-round triumph over Juan Manuel Marquez some months back wasn’t earned. The WBO champ was aggressive and closed rounds strongly, while Bradley tried to fight off Pacquiao’s his flurries. The challenger didn’t do a good job of it. Midway through the fight I tweeted out that a knockout was looming in the coming rounds. It never came.
Bradley, who we later found out broke his foot in the fourth round, fought admirably to close the bout, but by then most assumed it was a forgone conclusion he was the big loser. When it was finally over and Bradley’s cornermen lifted him up, Jim Lampley commented on the irony, since it appeared he was soundly defeated. It was even reported Bradley told promoter Bob Arum that he gave all he could but even then couldn’t defeat Pacquiao. It wasn’t until Buffer read the first score of 115-113 that I knew something was up. And even though the round went to Pacquiao, that someone could even think the fight was that close was ludicrous was not a good sign if he hoped to continue his 7-year unbeaten streak.
Then Buffer said the second judges scores; “115-113 for Bradley” and you knew right then Bradley was going to win. The final judge’s score of 115-113 for Bradley didn’t even need to be read but when it was there was a good 15-20 seconds of silence inside Busby’s while we all soaked in what we just heard and what that meant for Pacquiao, a sitting-in-jail Floyd Mayweather and the sport of boxing. What it meant for Bradley was a rematch (one that was already predetermined, ironically) and a bigger payday and a still unblemished record. Twitter was aghast with notions of a fix and it was tough to argue. Inside Busby’s, some clown in a LeBron James jersey was running around yelling his outrage to any one would listen. Many did not. On my drive home, I wondered what Mayweather’s reaction must have been when learning of the outcome. Surely a smirk was involved.
In the end, only Maria Sharapova was able to come through to win the French Open and complete her career Grand Slam. Still, she’s getting married to former Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic so a complete victory is not awarded in my book. On top of all the sports brokenheartedness, it was the first weekend in nearly three months without “Game of Thrones,” and it was the last for probably a year with a Mad Men episode.
So much hope, so much promise when the sun rose that day all for not. Sometimes stars shine bright but their alignment is a little off. Maybe next time.
SACO, Maine — Playoff games, by definition, mean more than regular season contests. First, in the sense that there are less of them (duh), which adds to the anxiety in the building; two, there’s a sense of urgency, at least among the fans, because the end could come at any moment; and finally, if those involved fail to win, they lose their jobs.
The playoffs are a BFD*.
It’s also important to remember all sporting events mean more to “us” than it does to “them.” “Them,” of course, being the athletes (see Beckett, Josh). Coaches probably care as much as we do, at least it appears so, but since I am neither a professional athlete or coach, it was just straight up pretty cool to attend NBA playoff games in both Los Angeles and Boston in the span of a week, recently.
The Celtics and Clippers. The complete opposite of the basketball spectrum. Seventeen championship banners hang in the Boston Garden; Los Angeles’s second basketball team has eight playoff appearances in 42-year history in three different cities. On the drive back to Maine after the 76ers’ 82-81 win I thought about the differences between the two venues, the crowds, the styles of the games themselves and, of course, the teams involved.
I had a parter in crime for each game and how we came to attend both started the same way: a simple IM/text which more or less read “game tonight?” For the Clippers, my buddy Eric and I decided to go at 10 a.m. the day of. It didn’t take much convincing on my part to get him on board. Once we got to downtown Los Angeles, we were full-fledged members of Clippers Nation.
I’ll let @TheGhostMo take it from here:
Walking into the men’s bathroom at Staples Center, minutes before tip-off, I almost collided with three Orthodox Jewish men. These weren’t your Larry David-esque Jewish men. I’m talking real orthodox, complete with long curly side burns, yarmulkes, and formal suits. I would have thought I was on the corner of Beverly and Hauser, except for one thing: all three wore bright red “LAC RISEN” t-shirts over their suits. 4,000 years of religion couldn’t beat out Clipper fever on this night.
These three gentlemen weren’t the only ones wearing the complimentary garb. The entire men’s room bled red to the point that it wouldn’t look out of place on The Game’s album cover. There was only one person who wasn’t wearing the shirt, who instead had it slung over his shoulder, trying to look cool. That person was me.
I’m from Milwaukee. I grew up thinking it was commonplace to tailgate before every baseball game. I remember seeing a woman wear a Green Bay Packers Mark Chmura jersey…to the courtroom for his sexual assault trial. Every stadium in Wisconsin reeks of barley and hops and that’s the way we like it.
Since moving to LA, I’ve seen the Lakers play at home for every round of the playoffs, save the Finals. For the most part I’ve been disappointed. Everyone at Lakers games wishes (or incorrectly thinks) they’re part of the spotlight, that they’re on par with Jack Nicholson. People dress like they’re going to a club and stay hunkered on their cellphones like Obama is sexting them.
That’s why I hadn’t put on my shirt on yet. Because I figured the Clippers’ playoff scene would be more of the same. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
As I exited the bathroom, an almost certainly intoxicated man grabbed my shoulder. “You’re putting the shirt on, right???” At that exact moment, I felt something hit my shoe. I looked down and saw an empty plastic bottle of tequila rolling past. Smiling, I threw the shirt on with glee and gave the stranger a massive high five. I’ve never felt more at home in this city. #LobCityBaby
That the Clippers won in overtime only added to the hysteria. It almost felt like we were back in the 315, head-to-toe in blue and orange; it was that type of crowd, which hasn’t been said for a Clippers game in, I’m guessing, ever. Sadly, there were no more LA games for us. Baby Brother edged the Grizzlies in 7 games only to be swept at the Spurs’ hand in the next round. Oh to what next year will bring, and if Chris Paul and Blake Griffin stay with the team beyond then, there could be many more years of postseason chances for the Lobbers.
A week later, in Boston, on the other hand, I expected 19,000 Sullys, Tommys and extras from “The Town” to be drunk, loud and drunk. I also didn’t expect to get a free T-shirt upon arrival. Matt, whom I called upon to attend the day before (along with my bro-in-law, who I convinced to call out sick from work) and is as just a big of a Celtics fan as me, said we’d get towels. He was correct. We also got placards with a gigantic “3” on it, presumably to hold up after someone on our team hit a 3-pointer. Fans are such sheep. I grabbed two of each.
It didn’t matter that we were sitting in the upper deck behind the basket, just being part of a legendary Celtics playoff crowd was something to behold. From the “Dee-Fence” chants on big possessions, to “Let’s Go Celtics!” on others, it was beyond loud at times and abrasive at others. A hot start by the home team became a faded memory by the third quarter when the 76ers took the lead. By the time the 4th quarter rolled around there wasn’t a butt in a seat and the roar when Avery Bradley hit a 3 with just over two minutes left to put the Celtics up 1 could be heard all the way in Worcester.
But, in the end, the sea of green couldn’t will the home chaps to victory, as the 76ers eeked out the one-point win — Kevin Garnett drained a meaningless 3 with no time left that surely only the gamblers cared about. I always enjoy the scene after games in Boston; everyone bitching about this and that, and the T-shirt vendors selling rubes at LeBron James, the Heat and my favorite, an homage to Greg Steimsma, the Celtics enthusiastic backup center. They’re cheap, and I’ve bought some in the past after Red Sox games. Matt got a couple and we made our way home.
The 90-minute or so drive back home after game in Boston, especially after a loss, is a lot like driving home from Las Vegas. You and your buddies usually just sit in silence, maybe make a Dunkin stop and it isn’t until you hit the Maine border before someone speaks up. Usually it’s an expletive about the game; kinda like how you curse the tables in Vegas by the time you hit Barstow.
Back in Los Angeles, the games start three hours earlier and those wearing Green are few and far between. With Game 7 vs. Philadelphia set for Saturday, and the Lakers car flags replaced by finger pointing for their early exit, I’ll take solace that we have at least one more game.
I’ll be there in spirit.
* – Big. Fu^king. Deal.