8 Things To Look For: NFL Preseason Week 1
LOS ANGELES — Unless you’re still in the theater watching Transformers 4 because that movie is 1800 hours long, or worse yet got traded by the Red Sox, you’re aware that NFL Training Camps started last weekend across the league in Cortland, New York, Oxnard, California and everywhere in between. Rookies are learning playbooks and carrying pads, while veterans are sharpening skills and honing in on what they hope is an upcoming season filled with good health and victorious Sundays. New coaches are finally realizing their dreams of sleeping less than four hours a night and never seeing their families, and us the fans are beginning the early stages of scouting for our upcoming eight fantasy football leagues. Ah, yes, football is back and not a moment too soon. This Sunday marks the officially opening of the 2014 NFL season with the festivities at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. This year’s class is another star-studded affair with Michael Strahan and Andre Reed highlighting the honorees, and of course, the game between the Giants and Bills Sunday night kicks off football every Sunday from now until February.
So with all that in mind, here’s the latest 8 Things To Look For: NFL Preseason Week 1:
1.) Get Ready For JFFTV — If you’ve noticed a theme in your football programing in the last week, you’re not alone. The Browns haven’t got this much coverage since Jim Brown’s days and why not, between Josh Gordon and Brian Hoyer, they’re actually interesting. Though I’ll be the first to admit, a quarterback battle on a team coming off a 4-12 season isn’t exactly the most appetizing meal, but when one of those quarterbacks is Johnny Manziel all bets are off. Johnny makes headlines whenever he speaks or leaves his house. First it was saying he’s not going to change, then it was his biggest challenge is the playbook, then he threw a couple interceptions in practice, then he got spotted on his off day at a bar. He can’t win. His coach and owner have gone out of their way to praise Brian Hoyer which leads you to believe JFF will start the year holding the clipboard. But why then did the Browns draft him? There was the story about the team being shocked his partying was as ramped up as it was between draft day and camp kickoff. Do none of them have Twitter or Instagram accounts? Look, my position on the kid is well known, but I’ll be excited when actual football is actually being played and we all can judge the kid on what really counts: what goes on between the lines on game day. Until then, hope you got your popcorn ready because we’re going to have a front row seat to EVERYTHING he does for the foreseeable future.
2.) Don’t Listen To Anything Anyone Says — If you’ve heard all the player and coach interviews recently a theme has probably been observed: everyone is awesome, we are going to the Super Bowl. Brandon Marshall told Michael Irvin at Bears camp this week that Jay Cutler could win the 2014 NFL MVP. Now Irvin probably believed this because he was the one who said last year Dez Bryant would be MVP, but that aside, Marshall has seen Jay Cutler play football, right? Cutler is the man who’s thrown at least 14 interceptions in a year five times, including a league-leading 26 in 2009. I know he’s Marshall’s boy but take step back, 15. Do you trust Cutler to win a big game for you? Fourth quarter, two minutes to go, down by six? Didn’t think so. The Bears have seriously high expectations this season predicated on their explosive offense. They are a chic Super Bowl pick. I’ve heard that Las Vegas types are putting serious cashola on them as well. But it all hinges on Cutler. All of it. That should make Bears fans very nervous.
3.) Vampire Injury Biting Back — Sure, “True Blood” is going off the air soon, but vampires are still cool, right? OK, forget it … Regardless, in consecutive days the league lost running backs Vick Ballard (Colts) and Kendall Hunter (49ers) to season-ending Achilles’ and ACL tears, and Giants back David Wilson got concussed again. Texans receiver Andre Johnson strained his hamstring this week and on and on. No quarterbacks have gone down yet, thanks goodness, and while injuries are part of the game, every year a handful of stars go down and the domino effect is palpable. You hate to see anyone go down this time of year, especially, but it makes you appreciate how hard everyone works and just how precious our time in this game is.
4.) Hard Knocks with the Atlanta Falcons — Yearly, it’s the best show on television, and “Hard Knocks” returns next week down in Flowery Branch as the Falcons will be this summer’s featured team. What’s funny is that owner Arthur Blank and head coach Mike Smith volunteered for the gig. Atlanta didn’t fall under the new league-mandated guidelines with having made the playoffs in the last two seasons, but I’m guessing Blank wanted to ramp up the team’s profile and put a little pressure on his talented group of veterans in wake of a disastrous 4-12 2013 campaign. I think this will be a fun season of “Hard Knocks.” There are players we all know and are familiar with in Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Steven Jackson, and inevitably a few with personalities we never knew existed will emerge. That’s the beauty of the show; you go in not caring and come out invested in a whole new group of guys.
5.) How Will Holdout Affect Beast Mode — Marshawn Lynch proved last week he’s not only ’bout that action, boss, but he’s also ’bout that paper, boss. The Seahawks running back phoned into NFL Network to announce his hold out and returned Thursday with little bustle. Michael Silver reported Seattle tacked on a few more Skittles onto his existing contract for this season, $1.5 million to be exact, which is always nice. And while Money Lynch was the biggest name who held out this Training Camp others such as Lions all-world DT Ndamukong Suh and Chiefs QB Alex Smith want a new deals before the season kicks of in early September. Many thought Andre Johnson was going to skip Texans training camp but he showed and promptly injured his hammy. How will surrounding contract issues affect these guys? That’s always the question when it appears their main offseason focus has been their wallet and not their body. I’m guessing it’ll be minimal but you never know.
6.) Who’s Awesome/Who’s Trash — Did you hear the one on Monday where Nick Foles is garbage because he came from a rich family and neighborhood and doesn’t scream at his teammates like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning? Look, I like Buzz Bissinger as much as the next “Friday Night Lights” fan but seriously, Buzz, I think your leather pants are too tight on this one. It’s amazing to me a guy coming off one of the greatest statistical seasons in some time (8-2, 2,981 yards, 27 TD, 2 INT) could be criticized for not being a leader or having what it takes to be an elite quarterback in this league, but all it takes is a keyboard to take someone down, and that’s what Buzz did this week. This also plays into a larger preseason theme of declaring a player a superstar or on the cut list when no games have been played.
7.) Revis Island Taking Reservations for Weekend Getaways — The first English settlement of Martha’s Vineyard came in 1642 by Thomas Mayhew and since then the island off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts has become a playground for the affluent. This fall, however, a new inhabitant will take over the 87.5 square mile paradise island and plant his flag: Darrelle Revis. By all accounts, the Patriots new defensive back has been terrorizing New England practices this July. He even had the gall to intercept Tom Brady not once but twice! In one day! How dare he?! Revis has proven thus far to be the real deal, which is good news for a Patriots secondary that couldn’t stop me and three friends in recent years. If he is locking down half the field this fall, coupled with a healthy Vince Wilfork and Jarod Mayo, New England will be back to being a force defensively.
8.) I Still Have No Idea Who I’m Keeping In Fantasy — I know my fantasy team is always on your mind, but it’s a serious problem I’m having right now and I know I’m not alone. Surely I can’t be the only one who is pacing like Scrooge McDuck trying to decide on two keepers among six legit possibilities, and then after having done a fantasy mock draft factoring in who I think everyone else in my league is going to keep, pacing even more because I can’t decide if I should take Dez Bryant or Brandon Marshall or Jimmy Graham or Julio Jones with the third overall pick?! Right? Bueller? OK, fine. Screw you guys. Never mind. I got this. (no, I don’t. help.)
8 Things To Look For: 2014 Boston Red Sox
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.
Sports Lose Two Legends in Jeter, Lewis
LOS ANGELES — There aren’t two more iconic figures in their respective sports than Derek Jeter and Ray Lewis. Consistent staples in a business overrun by constant changes, where players trade hats and jerseys like children exchange … what do kids trade these days? It’s not baseball cards anymore, is it? Emoji messages? STDs?
Jeter and Lewis are legends, and that’s an understatement. First-ballot Hall of Famers, who five years after their retirement will be rightfully celebrated in Cooperstown and Canton. And the best part about the festivities is there won’t be a debate as to what cap or jersey the two will be recognized in. For this generation of sports fans, you can’t think of the Yankees without the dignitary of the dugout, or the Ravens without the gargantuan of the gridiron, coming to mind. Literal faces of their respective franchises.
Both were taken from their teams and sports fans over the weekend in the form of potential career-ending injuries; Jeter with a broken ankle and Lewis in the form of torn triceps muscles. Jeter, already hobbled in the post season, suffered his injury in extra innings of Game 1 of the ALCS diving for a Jhonny Peralta groundball which proved to be the game-winner for the Tigers. Lewis, who was declared lost for the year on Monday, meanwhile, went to the infirmary doing what he’s always done: chasing down a would-be touchdown maker.
The duo are the last of their breed. Superstar athletes who’ve played their entire career with one franchise and did so at the highest possible level; the championship stratosphere. Jeter was the backbone of five Yankees World Series titles; Lewis was the MVP of Super Bowl XXXV, the Ravens 35-7 victory over the Giants.
While some have said Lewis’ play has slipped in recent years, he’s still been the unquestioned leader of a perennially top-ranked defense, and showed no signs of slowing down this season. He was on a 152-tackle pace at the time of his injury, which would’ve been his highest since 2003.
Jeter had a spectacular 2012 season in leading the Yankees to another AL East division crown. He played in all but 3 games while going to bat the most times in his most career; his 216 hits were his most since 1999. Jeter was 9-for-27 in the postseason at the time of his injury.
On the field, with a combined 35 years of professional experience in two cities, Jeter and Lewis share adjectives that define their playing style: warrior, leader, charismatic, gamer, clutch. They’re quintessential plays are also quick to come to mind: Jeter’s postseason flip against Oakland, diving into the stands against Boston, a home run for his 3,000th hit, the jump throw and his arms raised in victory; Lewis’ pregame dance, the rousing sideline speeches, punishing hits, his Super Bowl interception and playoff sacks of Tom Brady.
Off the field, their lives couldn’t be more different. Jeter’s bachelorhood is the stuff of legends, the idolization of wannabe teens and playboys everywhere (even A-Rod). The New York penthouse apartment, wooing of Hollywood’s biggest stars and of course, the gift basket. Lewis has several children, is big in his South Florida community and preaches in his spare time. His transformation from potential inmate to pillar of faith and inner strength is what personal redemption is all about.
Phenomenal players and better men. The debate will rage in the coming weeks and into their sports offseasons as to what their futures hold. “Should they retire?” is the question you’ll see on NFL and MLB Networks, on ESPN and in magazines and online articles. I told anyone who would listen I thought Peyton Manning should’ve retired this past summer rather than risk further injury to his neck by playing another football season, but the case for Jeter and Lewis are different. Surely, a broken foot will heal and doesn’t affect the shortstop’s ability to hit a baseball, such torn triceps can be repaired and won’t slow the linebacker’s path to the running back.
Do I think they should come back? Both are playing at a high level, so sure, give it one last go. Major League Baseball and the National Football League are better with those two men in them, competing, representing all they have to offer. But don’t drag it out. Announce at the beginning this is it, a la Chipper Jones and let the fans pay their respects throughout the season. Then walk away gracefully. Like icons.
Disappointment, Controversy Mire Epic Sports Day
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.
Two Cities, Two Playoff Games, One Week: A Recap
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.
10 Years Of Talkin’ ‘Bout Practice
LOS ANGELES — It has the two things you want in a season-ending press conference: a memorable line and one of the toughest athletes of all-time. On top of it all, Allen Iverson is wearing a Red Sox cap while repeatedly “talkin’ bout’ practice.” Not the game. Not the game. Not the game that he went out there and died for. But practice.
Has it been 10 years already? What’s funny is that just the other day I was thinking to myself about this very memorable moment in sports history. I was wondering if we’d passed the 10th anniversary, and since I couldn’t remember it being discussed in the last year or so, that I must have missed it. But lo and behold, it’s today; May 7.
Ten years ago, the 76ers were just bounced from the Eastern Conference playoffs by the Boston Celtics. Iverson averaged 30 ppg for the series but much of the talk was how he hadn’t been practicing between games or much of the latter part of the year. He had a meeting with Larry Brown, and then, it happened.
The end of Iverson’s career has been a sad exhibition of an athlete hanging on too long. We’ve seen it before and No. 3 won’t be the last. Stops in Denver, Memphis, back to Philadelphia and even the Dominican Republic; rumors of alcoholism and gambling dwindling his amassed roundball fortune, a terrible way for it all to end for him.
Personally, I’ll always remember A.I. as the skinny kid at Georgetown with a flat top and one tattoo, who would cross over and then dunk on everyone. This after thinking he shouldn’t even be on the same court as these “real players.” His 1995 Big East title game vs. UConn and Ray Allen is beyond epic and I still have on VHS tape the 1996 Georgetown/UMass East Regional Final which featured Marcus Camby.
With the 76ers, who could forget Iverson single-handedly willing a Game 1 win over the Lakers in the 2001 Finals, capped by him hitting a 3 in the corner and then stepping over Tyrone Lue. The NBA All-Star Game MVPs, the fearless drives the basket and, of course, the cornrows, Iverson was the face of the hip-hop generation of NBA players (for better or worse) and along with a few others, ushered in a new era in the NBA.
So, please, pay your proper respects to not only one of the transcendent basketball players of our time, but to the soundbite that will live in our hearts forever.
The Crossover — Episode XIV
LOS ANGELES — In news first broke here, it’s NFL Draft week, Major League Baseball has begun, the NBA Playoffs are starting and there are movies out people want to see. With those facts floating in the stratosphere, I had to dial up Evan Bretzman and get his thoughts for another fantastic episode of The Crossover (click here to listen).
Throughout the course of the show, we break down what we think could happen in this weekend’s NFL Draft (hint: he likes Robert Griffin III over Andrew Luck); we wonder what is going on with the Red Sox a mere three weeks into the MLB season (hint: I do a flip-flop on my preseason prediction); we question if this is the year LeBron James finally wins an NBA title (hint: one of us thinks so, the other does not); and breakdown the similarities between “Taken” and the new film “Lockout” (no hint, just listen).
Among the other topics broached: Twitter handling big scandal moments, a Minneapolis “celebrity” sighting, birthday boat parties, Flo Rida and much, much more. You seriously don’t wanna miss this episode.
As always, check me out on Twitter (@chris_brockman), explore the site and thanks for listening and spread the word!