Monthly Archives: January 2017

THE MOST BORING GAMES OF THE YEAR

Today used to be called “in between Sunday.”  This is the Sunday in between Championship Sunday and Super Bowl Sunday.  It was the middle of two weeks of hype leading up to the NFL’s marquis day.

In 2010, the National Football League moved the Pro Bowl from the week after the Super Bowl to the week before it.  The biggest problem, among others, with this scheduling change is the fact that the players on the two championship teams wouldn’t participate in the game.  Let’s digest that for a minute.  The best players on the top two teams in the league would skip a game set aside for stars to showcase their talents.

One of the reasons for the change of schedule was the idea that the Pro Bowl would be played in the same venue as the Super Bowl.  This would limit traveling to Hawaii where the game was traditionally held.  That theory never did catch on.  This year’s game and festivities will be held in Orlando.

Image result for camping world stadium Camping World Stadium in Orlando, FL

In recent times the National Hockey League also claimed the weekend prior to the Super Bowl as their All-Star Weekend.  The main reason for the move from a mid-week night game was the fact that the NFL was off.  Of course that ended in 2010 when Roger Goodell in his infinite wisdom invaded Gary Bettman’s space.

This year the NHL goes Hollywood with the Los Angeles Kings hosting the festivities.

Image result for staples center Staples Center, home of the Los Angeles Kings

Let’s face it, football and hockey do not lend themselves to great all-star games.  The Pro Bowl limits many defenses and blitzing is a penalty.  The result is always a high scoring affair.  The NHL’s game is basically “flag hockey,” checking is not allowed.  The NHL All-Star Game is reminiscent of an adult league at a local ice skating rink in which the best goaltenders in the business are hung out to dry.  Both games are an excersise in keeping from getting hit.

I will give the NHL some credit for making an attempt to make their showcase palatable.  The skills competition on Saturday night has become more of a highlight of the event than the actual game.  You have an evening of the best players in the league showcasing what they do best.  This year the league will continue with a three period mini tournament among the four divisions.  Although it was exciting last year it still resulted in a hidden score-fest.  Total goals in last year’s game was 23, including a 9-6 mini game between the Western Conference divisions.  Keep in mind this was in one period.

After a choose-up format over the past few years the NFL finally and mercifully return to an AFC-NFC format this year.  This is how it was for generations, why Mr. Goodell turned a nationally televised all-star event into a glorified choose-up game is still beyond me.

So what are your plans for today?  Non contact football? Three on three mini non contact hockey?  How about skipping them both altogether and take a nap?

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WEDNESDAY NIGHT BASEBALL-PROS AND CONS OF THE WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC

The World Baseball Classic was born as a result of the International Olympic Committee removing baseball as an Olympic event in 2005.  Beginning in 2006, Major League Baseball, the MLB Players Association and International Baseball Federation developed the idea of a World Cup style tournament to determine an international World Champion.

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I’m all for international competition in any sport.  With the return of baseball to the Olympic Stage in 2020, I would love to see MLB send players to Tokyo the same way the NHL has since 1998.  Every time NHL commissioner Gary Bettman hints at pulling the plug on the league’s Olympic involvement, it makes me cringe.

Here’s where I have a problem, it’s the scheduling.  Why on earth would you have the best players in the world represent their country when they haven’t played meaningful baseball since September or October?

Pitchers and catchers will begin filtering into training camps in mid February.  Position players will follow roughly a week later.  The World Baseball Classic is scheduled to begin on March 6th.  Why would any owner, or the players association risk having their brightest stars play full tilt away from their team when they should be loosening up and performing infield drills and soft tossing?  The NHL did the same thing this past preseason when they staged the World Cup of Hockey.  That tournament resulted in injuries to players and put them behind in training camp!  I do realize that hockey is a more physical sport than baseball and the training camp is much shorter.

My point here is that players aren’t ready, and even if they are, they aren’t where they need to be this time of year.  What if the likes of Max Scherzer blows out his elbow?  What if there is a collision between Andrew McCuthchen and Giancarlo Stanton in the outfield? It’s too risky this early in my opinion for such high profile players to be playing full tilt.

Image result for giancarlo stanton Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins (Team USA)

That being said, I do believe that the WBC is a great idea .  Here’s my thought, even though some players are a little beat up by late September and into the post-season, they are still in full tilt playing form.  The venues that are selected are either indoors or in warm climates.  The weather and conditions in November and December are similar to the conditions in March.  Miami, San Diego, and Los Angeles are the three American venues this year.  Tokyo’s Tokyo Dome is hosting one Oriental pool, while South Korea is playing host indoors as well.  The other venues are in the Caribbean and Mexico.

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Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles.  Venue for the WBC Finals

 

Of course, there is still the risk of injuries and accidents, but the players won’t be coming out of the off-season.  Any minor injury will have the rest of the winter to heal and have the player ready for a full Spring Training.  Although there is always a risk of an injury to a player it’s less likely to happen when players are in condition.

Commissioner Manfred, I ask that you consider moving this tournament to the end of the season.

THE ONCE MIGHTY WHO HAVE FALLEN

As this year’s National Football League playoff picture came into view, I couldn’t help but notice that a few old friends, if you will, were in the lineup.  I’m talking about teams that were once dominant and routinely in the post-season that disappeared from the radar for a long time.

As a football fan it felt so good to see the Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs, and even the Dallas Cowboys back in the playoffs.  Along with the Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh Steelers, Los Angeles Rams, and Washington Redskins these  franchises were the constants in my childhood and teen years of the 1970’s.  The Steelers have been visible over the years, so the fact that they’re in the post-season is almost business as usual.

This got me to thinking.  Looking at the four major sports, what once dominant franchises of my youth have fallen into the abyss of irrelevancy?

Image result for Islanders win the Stanley Cup

The first one that comes to mind is the one that is closest to my heart.  Growing up on the southeastern reaches of Queens (on the Nassau County border) I was a fan of the New York Islanders from franchise’s inception up until recently.  The early stages of Islanders history was also the building blocks of a historic dynasty.  The Isles would make fourteen straight playoff appearances (from 1975-1988), win four straight Stanley Cups including 5 straight trips to the Finals from 1980-1984.  Their streak of 19 consecutive playoff series wins still remains a record in any sport.

After losing to the New Jersey Devils in the first round of the 1988 playoffs the downward spiral began.  With the exception of a surprise trip to the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals (after they knocked off the reigning champion Penguins) this franchise has become one of the least relevant teams in all of sports.  They have made somewhat of a comeback recently, making the post-season three of the past four years.  They won their first Stanley Cup series since 1993 last year by defeating my Florida Panthers in the first round.  They would lose to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the next round.   They currently are in last place in the NHL’s Metropolitan Division and fired their longtime coach, Jack Capuano this week.

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In the late 1960’s and into the mid 1970’s baseball’s best included  the Oakland Athletics, Baltimore Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds.  The Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves were also pretty relevant during that era as well.

Much has been documented about the Pirates’ twenty consecutive losing seasons from 1993-2012, however the Buccos have righted the ship since then.  They’ve been in the post-season three of the past four years.  The Athletics and Orioles have also managed to stay in the forefront over the years.

The  Cincinnati Reds were one of the most dominant teams in Major League Baseball in the first half of the seventies.  The “Big Red Machine”  included the likes of Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Dave Concepcion, Tony Perez and Pete Rose.  The Reds won four National League pennants in the span of seven years.  Cincinnati won the NL Western Division title in five of those seven years.  The Reds won two consecutive World Series’ in 1975 (over the Red Sox) and 1976 (over the Yankees).  The Reds  would once again be World Champions in 1990 by sweeping the heavily favored Oakland Athletics in four straight games.

Since 1990 the Reds have been a floundering franchise that has had more losing seasons than winning ones.  They have been in the post-season three times since 2010 but haven’t made it out of the Division Series.  Currently this franchise is once again in rebuilding mode with hopes of another winning season years away.  Who knows when the Big Red Machine will be operating again.

Image result for New York Nets ABA

Prior to the 1976-77 season, the National Basketball Association and American Basketball Association merged.  The surviving NBA absorbed four ABA franchises (Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs, and New York Nets).  While the Spurs have by far enjoyed the most NBA success, the other three franchises have never won an NBA title.  That being said, the Pacers have enjoyed moderate success in the NBA over the years.

The Nuggets were never really a dominant force in the old ABA and haven’t been a complete success story in the NBA either.  Denver however did play in the final ABA Championship Series (losing to the Nets in six games) and have had some winning seasons in the NBA.

The Nets made the ABA playoffs seven of the eight years the league was in existence.  They lost the 1972 Championship Series to the Pacers in six games.   New York won two of the three final American Basketball Association championships.

The NBA has not been kind to this franchise.  After spending only one year on Long Island, where they found so much success, owner Roy Bowe, citing poor attendance at the Nassau Coliseum, moved the team to New Jersey.  The state of New Jersey welcomed them with a brand new building built adjacent to Giants Stadium.  They had a very so-so existence in the years that followed.

They have spent most of their NBA existence in the shadow of the New York Knicks.  The Knicks have been one of the most popular franchises in the New York metropolitan area virtually since the beginning of the NBA. There really hasn’t been room for a second franchise.

The Nets won two consecutive Eastern Conference championships in 2002 and 2003.  They lost both NBA Finals (to the Spurs and Lakers).

After 35 years in New Jersey, the Nets moved back to New York in 2012, this time to Brooklyn .  With a new identity and a sparkling new arena the Nets franchise was poised to take on the Knicks and be relevent again.  That never really materialized, as of this writing the Nets hold the NBA’s worst record at 9-34.

In welcoming back the Raiders and Dolphins to the NFL playoff stage, I can’t help but think of any football team that compares to the plight of the  Islanders, Reds, and Nets.  The Minnesota Vikings were dominant in the 1970’s, making four Super Bowl appearances between 1969 and 1976, they lost all four.  However the Vikings haven’t disappeared from the post-season stage since then.  The Browns, Lions, Eagles, and Cardinals haven’t seen a championship in years, (the Cardinals now own the longest drought in American sports) but none of these franchises have really ever been dominant.

Currently the most dominant franchise in the four major sports has to be the New England Patriots.  When Tom Brady and Bill Belichick part ways with the Patriots will the franchise go the way of the Islanders?  Will this dominant franchise also fall off the table for years to come?  Only time will tell, sports really does run in cycles, nobody stays on top forever.

 

WEDNESDAY NIGHT BASEBALL-THE HALL OF FAME CLASS OF 2017

Welcome to my new Wednesday night blog.  Nothing but baseball on Wednesday nights!

Although its only mid January,there is so much is going on in the world of baseball!  Free agency is coming to a close, the hot stove is still burning and Spring Training is only a month away.  Join me each Wednesday for news, weekly wrap ups, and of course opinions and discussions!

That being said, earlier tonight the National Baseball Hall of Fame released its class of 2017!  I give you this year’s class:

JEFF BAGWELL:

Image result for jeff bagwell

After years of waiting for this moment, Bagwell earned an overwhelming 86.2% of the vote.  Bagwell has been on the ballot since 2011. He retired in 2005 as a member of the National League champion Houston Astros.

Bagwell was a rarity in today’s times, spending his entire career with the same club.  He hit 449 career home runs, drove in 1,529 runs and had a lifetime average of .297.  He made one trip to the World Series.  Bagwell broke the 40 home run barrier three times in his career, and hit over 30 homer runs eight years in a row. He hit a career high of 47 round-trippers in 2000. Bagwell was the National League MVP in the strike shortened season of 1994.  Bagwell was also known for his defense at both catcher and second base.

TIM RAINES:

Image result for Tim Raines

After 10 long years on the ballot, The Rock gets his plaque in Cooperstown!

For a team that no longer exists, the Montreal Expos will most likely have its logo on three plaques this summer (Andre Dawson and Gary Carter being the other two).  Although Raines played for the White Sox, Yankees, Athletics, Orioles  and finished his career with the Marlins, he is mainly remembered as the Road Runner from Montreal.

He was part of two World Series championship teams in New York (1996 and 1999).  A lifetime .294 hitter, he stole 808 bases in his career. He  joins fellow speedsters Ricky Henderson and Lou Brock in the Hallowed Hall.  Raines was the National League batting champion in 1986 with a .334 average and four-time stolen base champion.

IVAN RODRIGUEZ:

Image result for ivan rodriguez stats

Arguably the best catcher in the Majors during the 1990’s and early 2000’s Pudge was elected to the Hall on his first ballot.

A .296 career hitter, Rodriguez played most of his career with the Texas Rangers.  He won his only World Series ring in his lone year with the Florida Marlins (2003).  He was also one of the best defensive catchers ever to wear the gear.

Pudge was the 1999 American League MVP as a member of the Rangers.  He belted out 199 hits including 35 homers and 113 RBI and hit .332 in that MVP season.

Congratulations Bags, Rock, and Pudge!  See you in Cooperstown this July.

There were also two other inductees.  John Scheurholz, the architect of the Braves teams that finished first in their division 12 straight years was elected.  Also elected was former commissioner Bud Selig.  This writer totally disagrees that Selig deserves this honor.  He doesn’t hold a candle to the likes of Bowie Kuhn.

See you next week as we continue through the off-season.  The warmth of baseball will get us through the cold of winter.

 

 

BIG GAMES IN EXTREME CONDITIONS

Now that the holidays are completely behind us and snow has lost its magic, we are left with cold hard winter.  As we are fully engulfed in the month of January that also means we are in the heart of the NFL postseason.  This brings me to an annual oddity in the world of sports.  Yes, baseball’s big games are sometimes played in cool conditions as summer gives way to autumn, but nothing is more extreme weatherwise than football in the middle of the winter!

Last week I gave you my take on the top plays in the NFL playoffs.  Today I focus on old man winter and its influence on professional football’s big stage.  I give you my top five games played in less than ideal conditions.

Number 5, January 23, 1983:

Image result for mud bowl afc championship

When we think of playoff games played in extreme weather conditions, the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field, the swirling lake winds in Buffalo and Cleveland, and the frigid outdoors of Minnesota all come to mind.  This game had none of that.  This game was played in that frozen playing field known as…the Miami Orange Bowl.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with my home state of Florida. rainstorms aren’t limited to our wet summers.  When cool fronts sweep across the state of Florida lowering our temperature to the frigid 50’s and 60’s they are usually ushered in by rain.

A cool front was on its way to South Florida on this January Sunday when the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins met for the AFC championship.  The Jets would complain that the Dolphins didn’t cover the Orange Bowl field prior to the game when the rain was at its worst.  Rain continued throughout the game and the contest was marred by many turnovers.Dolphins linebacker A.J. Duhe would intercept Jets quarterback Richard Todd three times.  The third one was run back 35 yards to seal a Dolphins 14-0 victory and a trip to the Super Bowl.  The controversy of the tarp (or lack of it) is still a sticking point in the rivalry between the Jets and Dolphins to this day.

Number 4. January 10, 2016:

Image result for blair walsh wide left gif

We have to look way back to last year for this one.  While the Minnesota Vikings new stadium was under construction on the footprints of their old digs, the Hubert H. Humphry Metrodome, the team played on the campus of the University of Minnesota.  This would mean for the first time since the mid 1980’s they would be playing in an outdoor venue in frigid Minneapolis.

Minnesota’s cold winter would be the theme of the NFC Wild Card Game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Vikings.  Game time temperature at TCF Bank Stadium was -6 degrees Farenheit, with wind chills making it feel like -25.  This ranked as the coldest game in Minnesota Vikings history  which includes many frigid Sundays at the old Metropolitan Stadium in the franchises early days.  It also ranks as the third coldest game in NFL history.

It was a low scoring affair with very limited pass plays.  Vikings kicker Blair Walsh would kick field goals from 22, 43, and 47 yards to give them a 9-0 lead at the end of the third quarter. The Seahawks would finally score early in the fourth with a three yard touchdown pass from Russel Wilson to Doug Baldwin.  Seattle would take the lead on a 46 yard field goal three minutes later. Walsh would have a chance to be a hero on this frozen Minneapolis Sunday with 26 ticks left on the clock.  His 52 yard field goal attempt would sail wide left, sending the Seahawks to the divisional round and the Vikings home.

Number 3, January 19, 2002:

Image result for the tuck rule game

This AFC Divisional Playoff Game between the Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots turned out to be the finale at Foxboro Stadium.  The Patriots would open the 2002 regular season in their current home, Gillette Stadium.

The game was played in a heavy snowstorm that didn’t let up from start to finish.

With the Raiders leading 13-10 late in the fourth quarter, the Patriots were driving.  Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson sacked Patriots quarterback Tom Brady causing what appeared to be a fumble, which was recovered by Oakland.  This appeared to seal the game and send the Raiders to the AFC Championship Game.  The officials reviewed the play and ruled that Brady appeared to halt his passing motion before his arm went forward and attempted to tuck it into his body.  The play was ruled an incomplete pass.

New England would advance into field goal range, and Adam Vinatieri would tie the game with a 45 yard field goal.  The Patriots won the game in overtime and would eventually win the Super Bowl.

Like last week, we have a tie, two classics at the Frozen Tundra:

Number 2, January 20, 2008:

Image result for 2007 nfc championship game

The Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field lived up to its nickname on this January Sunday.  The New York Giants and Green Bay Packers kicked off in frigid conditions.  Gametime temperature was -1 degree Farenheit (-23 with the windchill).  The temperature dropped during the game as they played from late afternoon into the evening.

In a back and forth game, the Giants would win the game in overtime to reach the Super Bowl.  Lawrence Tynes kicked the game winning field goal in a 23-20 victory.  This game featured two certain future Hall of Fame quarterbacks in Brett Favre (who threw a 90 yard touchdown pass to Donald Driver) and Eli Manning (who went through this frozen game without an interception).

Number 2, December 31, 1967:

Image result for the ice bowl 1967

The 1967 NFL Championship game between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers was one for the ages.  The gametime temperature in the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field was -15 degrees Farenheit.  Wind chills made it feel like -48.

With wind chills around -70, and the Cowboys leading 17-14, Packers quarterback Bart Starr lead them down the field.  The Packers would end up on the Dallas 2 foot line with 16 seconds remaining.  Everyone was expecting Starr to roll out on the 3rd and goal play.  What happened next is etched in NFL lore.  With blocking in front of him, Starr would take the ball himself and get into the end zone.  The Packers would advance to Super Bowl II, Dallas was sent home.  This game has gone down in history as the Ice Bowl due to the frigid conditions in which it was played.

Number 1, January 10, 1982:

Image result for freezer bowl

The game that ranks number one was purely because of the weather conditions. The 1981 AFC Championship Game between the Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers was an otherwise uneventful 27-7 Bengals victory.

Gametime temperature at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium was -9 degrees with wind chills of -59.  In addition to the brutally cold air, the game was played in sustained winds of 27 mph.In NFL lore this game has been referred to as the Freezer Bowl.

This year’s NFC Championship Game is already destined to be an indoor affair.  With the Falcons victory over the Seahawks yesterday, they will either be home against the Packers (at the Georgia Dome), or at AT&T Stadium outside Dallas (which sports a retractable roof).

Conditions in AFC could lead to another memorable weather game.  Today’s AFC Divisional Game between the Steelers and Chiefs has been moved back from a 1:00 start to 8:20 due to an ice storm forecasted in Kansas City.  The forecast for tonight in Kansas City is for rain.  The winner heads for New England next week.

Will we have another ice bowl, snow bowl, freezer bowl or even a mud bowl?  Enjoy the games today and tonight!

THE NFL PLAYOFFS-THE ULTIMATE IN WIN OR GO HOME!

The holidays are behind us, the college boys are done with their bowl party, and Alabama and Clemson will battle tomorrow night to claim the National Championship.  That being said, it’s time to turn the focus from the kiddie table to the professionals.

The National Football League opened its Wild Card weekend yesterday with the Texans and Seahawks advancing by dispatching the Raiders and Lions.  The Dolphins, Steelers, Giants and Packers step up to the table today with the Patriots, Chiefs, Cowboys and Falcons waiting in the wings.

You gotta love the NFL playoffs.  You hear so much about how game 7 is the ultimate in struggle in baseball, basketball, and hockey.  In football it’s ALL a game 7, win or go home, one shot to move on.  This time of year makes me reflect on what has gone on in the playoffs over the years.

I give you my top five!  Now keep in mind that these are playoff moments only.  None of these occurred in the Super Bowl, that’s for another time.

Number 5, January 8, 2000:

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The Buffalo Bills had taken a 16-15 lead with sixteen seconds remaining in their AFC Wild Card game against the Tennessee Titans.  Having seemingly sewn up a trip to the divisional round they kicked off, what happened after that was a return for the ages.  The Titans put all of their “good hands people” on the field for the return.  Tight end Frank Wycheck threw a lateral pass to wide receiver Kevin Dyson.  Dyson would run 75 yards for a winning touchdown sending the Titans to the next round and sending the Bills home.

Number 4, January 3, 1993:

This was also an AFC Wild Card matchup between the same two franchises in moment #5.  The Buffalo Bills vs. the then Houston Oilers.  The Oilers would eventually move to Nashville and become the current day Tennessee Titans.

Future Hall of Famer Jim Kelly was out with an injury, and the powerful Bills offense was led by backup Frank Reich.  The Bills were two-time AFC Champions at the time.

Oilers quarterback Warren Moon, a future Hall of Famer himself led a dominant Oilers offense that took a 28-3 lead into the locker room at halftime.  Things didn’t get any better after the break for Buffalo.  Only 1:41 into the third quarter Reich would throw a pick six to give Houston a 35-3 lead.

Star running back Thurman Thomas was injured during the game, putting another hole in Buffalo’s woes. Then the wind shifted, literally.  The swirling winds at Buffalo’s Rich Stadium turned during the third quarter and so did the hometown team’s fortunes.  Reich would lead a comeback with 28 third quarter points to pull within a touchdown.  They would tie the game at 38 sending it into overtime where they won it with a field goal.  To date it’s the biggest comeback in NFL history.

Number 3, January 11, 1987

The Cleveland Browns were leading the AFC championship game 20-13 over the Denver Broncos with a little over five minutes left in the game.  John Elway and the Broncos offense began a drive on their own 2 yard line.  Elway would engineer a drive that would culminate with a five yard touchdown pass to Mark Jackson.  With the extra point the game was tied at 20 with 37 seconds remaining.  Denver would go on to win in overtime sending them to the Super Bowl.

Number 2 is a tie!

December 28, 1975:

Roger Staubach throws a hail mary pass as time ran out and hits Drew Pearson in the end zone.  The touchdown defeats the Minnesota Vikings and sends the Cowboys to the Super Bowl.

January 10, 1982:

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This one also involves the Cowboys.  The Cowboys lead the San Francisco 49ers 27-20 in the NFC Championship Game.  Joe Montana would lead the Niners on one final drive.  The drive culminated with a touchdown pass to Dwight Clark that would become known as simply “The Catch.”  With the extra point, the 49ers go to the Super Bowl, the Cowboys go home.

Number 1:

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December 23, 1972:

With the Oakland Raiders leading the Pittsburgh Steelers 7-6 in an AFC Divisional Playoff game, the Steelers had the ball with 22 seconds remaining.  With 4th and 10 on their own 40 yard line quarterback Terry Bradshaw would throw a pass toward running back Frenchie Fuqua. Fuqua caught the ball, but a jolting hit by Raiders safety Jack Tatum vaulted it high into the air.  Franco Harris was Johnny on the spot and scooped the ball up before it hit the ground! Harris ran the ball all the way to the end zone giving the Steelers a 13-7 victory.

What will happen this year?  Is there going to be another “drive?”  Perhaps we’ll have another miracle finish or comeback.  Will this year’s playoffs yield another hail mary or catch?.  With a team’s entire season on the line anything historic can happen.

Enjoy the games!