Category Archives: NFL

AMERICA’S ANNUAL SPORTS EVENT

The calendar has turned to the first Sunday in February.  In the United States of America this Sunday has become an event, a party day.  The National Football League will once again take center stage in America when its conference champions meet to decide an ultimate champion.

This spectacle holds so many memories for all of us.  So many critical moments that have decided a championship, so many memories made on what is perhaps America’s biggest one day stage.

Before unveiling my top five, let’s look back at some general moments.

The biggest moment here in South Florida had to be on January 14, 1973.  The Miami Dolphins defeated the Washington Redskins 14-7 in Super Bowl VII to cap the NFL’s only fully undefeated season to date.

Prior to Super Bowl III, which was two years before the AFL-NFL merger, Joe Namath, quarterback of the AFL Champion New York Jets ran his mouth to the press.  Namath guaranteed a Jets victory over the heavily favored NFL Champion Baltimore Colts.  Joe Willie put his money where his mouth was, the Jets won the game 16-7.  This win put the AFL on the map as an equal to the NFL.

Perhaps the best quarter of a Super Bowl belongs to the Washington Redskins. In Super Bowl XXII, down 10-0 after the first quarter, the Redskins offense, lead by MVP Doug Williams would put up 35 second quarter points.  The ironic thing about this game was it originally had the markings of a Denver blowout.  Williams took over the game at the start of the second frame with an 80 yard touchdown pass to Rickey Sanders.  Washington never looked back and won the game 42-10.

To me Super Bowl XIII may have been one of the greatest offensive shows by two teams.  Terry Bradshaw’s Steelers and Roger Staubach’s Cowboys went tit-for-tat.  Pittsburgh won the game 35-31, the Cowboys were knocking on the door when time ran out.

Those are my general memories.  Now I give you my top five moments.

Image result for lynn swann leaping catch Lynn Swann makes a leaping catch in Super Bowl X

#5 January 18, 1976  Super Bowl X:

In the second quarter of Super Bowl X between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys, Terry Bradshaw launched a 53 yard sideline bomb to Lynn Swann.  Swann would leap over the Cowboys defender who deflected the ball and reel it in.  Pittsburgh would win 21-17.

Image result for david tyree helmet catch

New York Giants WR David Tyree catches a pass from Eli Manning against his helmet in Super Bowl XLII

#4 February 3, 2008  Super Bowl XLII:

With less than two minutes remaining in Super Bowl XLII and the New England Patriots leading the New York Giants 14-10 the Giants were driving.  On their way to a game winning touchdown, Giants quarterback Eli Manning was being pursued and almost sacked by Patriots defenders.  Manning launched a 32 yard pass that was caught by receiver David Tyree.  Tyree also had a defender on him.  He managed to clutch the football against his helmet and come down with it.  The Giants would go on to win 17-14.  The Super Bowl win ended an undefeated season for the Patriots.

Image result for super bowl 49 interception                        Patriots  Malcom Butler intercepts Seahawks Russell Wilson to seal a Patriots victory

#3 February 1, 2015  Super Bowl XLIX:

With 26 seconds remaining in Super Bowl XLIX the Seattle Seahawks had the ball on the New England Patriots 1 yard line. The millions of fans watching were expecting star running back Marshawn Lynch to run up the middle to score a go ahead touchdown.  That was everyone other than the Seahawks brain trust.  Quarterback Russell Wilson attempted a short pass that was picked off by undrafted rookie Malcom Butler, sealing a New England 28-24 win.

Image result for titans come up one yard shortTitans Kevin Dyson is tackled by Rams Mike Jones in Super Bowl XXXIV

#2 January 30, 2000  Super Bo:wl XXXIV

The St. Louis Rams were leading the Tennessee Titans 23-16 with time running out in Super Bowl XXXIV.  With six seconds remaining in the game, the Titans had the ball on the St. Louis 10 yard line.  Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair hit Kevin Dyson up the middle for what seemed to be a game tying touchdown.  Rams linebacker Mike Jones tackled Dyson just short of the goal line to seal a Rams win.

Image result for Scott Norwood wide rightBuffalo Bills kicker Scott Norwood misses a potential game winning field goal in Super Bowl XXV

#1 January 27, 1991  Super Bowl XXV:

There have been three game winning field goals in Super Bowl history, but the one that got away ranks as number one.

The Giants were leading the Bills 20-19 in Super Bowl XXV when  Buffalo lined up for a possible game winning 47 yard field goal.  Placekicker Scott Norwood was “money” through most of Buffalo’s season.  Norwood’s kick would sail wide right making the New York Giants Super Bowl champions!  Norwood would never recover his form after missing that field goal.

So what’s in the cards tonight?  Another missed field goal?, another game winning field goal?, another crazy catch?  History will record what happens in Houston this evening.  Enjoy America’s unique sporting event!

 

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:

Image result for music city miracle

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:

Image result for the catch dwight clark

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:

Image result for the immaculate reception

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!

MORE LEGENDS OF THE PRESS BOX

Amid the hype of Vin Scully’s retirement, not much was said or written about another broadcast booth story.  Further down the California coast (as well as the National League Western Division) another legend called it quits.

Dick Enberg who was the voice of the California Angels from 1969-1978 and again for the 1985 season was the Los Angeles area’s other legendary voice of summer.  In 2010 Enberg would resume as a local broadcaster, this time further south in San Diego.  Dick hung up his headset on October 2, a day that will be remembered in Southern California broadcasting history.

Just as Scully’s retirement got me to think of all the local voices I grew up with, Enberg’s career and retirement made me reflect on so many more voices that I grew up with on a national level.  Enberg’s voice was a staple on both NBC and CBS’s NFL broadcasts.

Before there was Chris Fowler and Brent Musberger there was Keith Jackson.  Anyone in my age group can remember Saturday afternoons, or evenings in the fall that would include Keith Jackson.  Mr. Jackson and ABC for that matter WAS college football in the 1970’s.  Who can forget the catch phrase “Whoa Nellie!” when games got exciting.

Way before the advent of ESPN, TBS and other cable outlets, it was ABC, NBC, and CBS that carried the load of nationally televised sports.

In 1970 the newly merged National Football League entered a brave new world in scheduling.  The league, along with ABC Sports launched a weekly finale to the mainly Sunday football stage.  Monday Night Football was born.  Jackson, along with former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith joined ABC Sports boxing broadcast legend Howard Cosell in the booth.The following year former New York Giants great Frank Gifford would replace Keith Jackson as the play by play man.  Monday Night Football was such a success that it remained a staple on ABC until 2005.  In 2006 the Monday Night telecast moved to ESPN, ABC’s sister network.  Not only does it continue to flourish, it also gave rise to games on Thursday and Sunday nights.

Who can forget Meredith bursting into song with “turn out the lights the party’s over” when the game was sealed and time was running out?  Who can ever forget Howard Cosell breaking the story on December 8, 1980 that John Lennon had been murdered?  Al Michaels would succeed Gifford as the play by play man in 1986.

Speaking of Al Michaels, who can ever forget his call of the Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Winter Olympics?  With time winding down in the USA semi-final victory over the heavily favored Soviet Union Michaels would utter these unforgettable words.  “Do you believe in miracles….YES!”  That phrase goes right along side “one small step for man…one giant leap for mankind!” in American television lore.

Along with Scully, Enberg, Jackson, and Michaels there is a lesser known play by play man who has been the voice of NFL football longer than anyone.  Don Criqui was behind the mic calling NFL and AFL football from 1967-2013 for both NBC and CBS.  Criqui was also the voice of fourteen Orange Bowl games.

Current FOX lead broadcaster Joe Buck is a second generation broadcaster.  His father, Jack Buck was a broadcast legend for the St. Louis Cardinals as well as a national broadcaster for CBS in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.  Who can forget his famous call of Kirk Gibson’s walk-off home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.  “I don’t believe what I just saw! I don’t believe what I just saw!” was the call on CBS, while Vin Scully described it as “she is gone!’ on the Dodgers Radio Network.

Sports will continue on, and broadcasters will come and go.  This year, we saw two of the best in the business leave the booth for good.  So this is for you guys in Southern California, from a blogger born and raised in New York and living in South Florida.  Thank you Vin for telling me to pull up a chair.  Thank you Dick for years of trivia on Sports Challenge and so many utterings of “Oh My!”

THE BROADCAST BOOTH-THE MOUTHPIECE OF SPORTS

When we lost Joe Garagiola back in March I had planned on writing about the subject of sports broadcasters.  As life went on it kind of slipped away from me so I decided to revisit the subject when Vin Scully called his final out for the Dodgers.

So pull up a chair, members of my blog audience and grab a beverage.

Vin Scully joined Red Barber in the Ebbets Field broadcast booth in 1950.  He would eventually take over the “Cat Bird Seat” in Brooklyn and will be vacating the booth at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on October 2. His 67 years as the voice of the Dodgers, which spanned two locations on opposite coasts, is the longest tenure of a broadcaster with one organization.  This record wont be touched for a very long time, if ever.

Mr. Scully, I have to thank you for influencing me.  My writing style is much like your broadcasting style.  Yes you have a legendary way of describing facts that happen on a baseball field (and in years past on a gridiron as well), but your story telling talent is unparalleled.  I can hear your voice as I tell stories here on WordPress just as if I was watching a Dodger broadcast.  Thank you again Vin!

On the night that we lost Joe Garagiola I began to think and reflect on all the sports voices I’ve heard over the years.  I can honestly say there have been many literary influences that have shaped me. Those of us who grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s will remember when NBC had a stronghold on Major League Baseball.  I have such fond memories of the “Game of the Week” on Saturday afternoons.  I will say that as a young boy growing up in Queens my first broadcast idol, if you will, was Curt Gowdy.  Like Scully, Gowdy was a story-teller in addition to being almost flawless in describing the action on the diamond as well as the football field.  His longtime baseball partner, Tony Kubek still strikes me as one of the best analysts of my time.

My Queens upbringing formed a bond with the New York Mets who played in my home boro.  The trio of Bob Murphy, Ralph Kiner, and Lindsey Nelson remains full of fond childhood memories.  They were the voices of the Mets from their inaugural season of 1962 until Nelson left the Mets for San Francisco following the 1978 season.  I was pretty disappointed when he left.  Mets baseball would never be the same.  Met fans who followed the franchise will always remember Bob Murphy’s “Happy Recap” when the Mets won, and Ralph Kiner’s post-game show “Kiner’s Korner.”

In addition to his baseball career, Lindsey Nelson spent years behind the CBS College Football mic.  He was the annual voice of the Cotton Bowl.  It’s not the same without him.

The “hated” crosstown Yankees also had their share of broadcast legends.  From Mel Allen’s “How about that” to Phil Rizutto’s “Holy Cow!”  But for most of this blogger’s life nobody manned the public address microphone like Bob Sheppard.  Growing up as a Met fan I didn’t go to many Yankee games. I was at the Big Ballpark in the Bronx twice and saw a handful of Yankee games at Shea Stadium in 1974 and 1975. For those who may not know the Yankees played those two years in Flushing while the Stadium was undergoing a massive renovation.  Sheppard had a presence unlike any other public address announcer.  Players referred to him as “the voice of God.”

Growing up, baseball wasn’t the only sport that I took to.  To this day I am a hockey fanatic.  Just as a coming attraction I will be following the Florida Panthers this year here on my WordPress page.  That being said, I became a fan of the New York Islanders when the NHL awarded a franchise to Long Island.   Tim Ryan was an established NHL announcer when he joined the Islanders TV crew in their inaugural season.  I grew up listening to him as well as Marv Albert calling Rangers games on radio.  As much as I hated the rival Rangers, I have got to admit Marv’s call of the Rangers and Knicks games was a big influence.  I miss Marv as a hockey announcer and still enjoy his NBA broadcasts on TNT.

In 1980 the voice of the Islanders changed.  The legendary Ryan would leave Long Island for a national football job with CBS.  Jiggs McDonald would join Ed Westfall as voice of the Islanders.  The tandem would last seventeen wonderful years that included four Stanley Cup championships and a streak of nineteen consecutive playoff series wins.  Any Islander fan from that era can still here Jiggs referring to Westfall as “18” in reference to his uniform number in his playing days with the club.

Hearing Marv open Ranger broadcasts still rings through my head.  “This is Marv Albert with Sal “Red Light” Messina at Madison Square Garden” was how each home broadcast began.  Marv would then describe how the game would begin by identifying the 7th Avenue end and 8th Avenue end of Madison Square Garden as to which net the teams were to defend.

In today’s time there are so many voices to be heard, so many new pictures to be painted.  To me the story-teller that would be the heir apparent to Vin Scully has to come from the hockey world.  Mike “Doc” Emrick who broadcasts the NHL for NBC and its networks has a unique way of calling games while getting descriptive.  Locally Steve”Goldy” Goldstein’s  New York accent throws me back to my childhood roots as the voice of the Florida Panthers.

Local sports legend Jim Mandich was the voice of the Miami Dolphins.  It was such a sad South Florida day when we lost him to cancer in 2011.  We also have a Scully disciple on the Marlins radio network in Dave Van Horne.  Dave is another great combination of facts and story telling.

There are just so many more that are going through my head, probably enough to fill another blog.

In closing, thank you so much Vin Scully.  I hope someday you can pull up a chair and read my work.

AMERICA’S DARKEST DAY AND HOW THE SPORTS WORLD HELPED HEAL A NATION

It has been fifteen years and it doesn’t get any easier.

This morning, as I have every year following the attacks on our nation on September 11, 2001 I paused and prayed at 8:46 and once again at 9:03.  I also watched as MSNBC reran that morning’s Today Show that also turned into news coverage of the heart wrenching events that unfolded.  Seeing not only my country, but my hometown being attacked brought it all back as if it was yesterday.

Our lives changed so much on that cloudless morning in the northeast.  So many families that lost loved ones who simply went to work and boarded airplanes.  Ordinary things that met with anything but ordinary.  On a personal level that morning was as scary and stressful as it can ever get.  I am the middle of three brothers, and the only one who relocated when I left the New York area for South Florida.

Both of my brothers spend time in Manhattan as part of their daily routines.  I spent that morning frantically trying to find out about their whereabouts and safety.  I knew my parents were safe in their home in New Jersey.  I thank God that all I got that morning was a scare.  Many people weren’t so lucky.  I can never forget the anguished looks on the faces of those walking around the neighborhood that was beginning to be called Ground Zero.  The fear of the worst, the finality that came.  Sad beyond words.

I know that everyone who was old enough to understand what happened in New York, Washington, and Shanksville has a story to tell. But how does this all connect to a sports blog?

Let’s set the clock back to Sunday September 16, 2001.  Baseball was still on hold, the NFL had postponed week 2 till the end of the season.  Too soon for fun and games to continue, but one of American sports’ famous cathedrals was actually was used as one.  The city of New York picked Yankee Stadium as the venue to begin healing.  A massive memorial service was held at the House That Ruth Built.  Six weeks later President Bush would bring the nation to its feet when he threw out the first ball at game 3 of the 2001 World Series from the pitcher’s mound of the Bronx landmark.

Across the East River in Queens, Shea Stadium would be the center of healing.  On September 21, 2001 Major League Baseball was back in business in New York.  The Braves would face the Mets (clad in NYPD and FDNY baseball caps) as New York attempted to return to some semblance of normalcy and fun.  If Bobby Thompson’s epic walk off home run at the Polo Grounds in 1951 was the “shot heard round the world” then Mike Piazza’s walk off on that September night was the “shot heard round America”.  The crowd at Shea exploded to a fever pitch not seen since Jesse Orosco finished off the Red Sox in 1986.

On September 20th the Rangers, one night removed from opening their preseason at Madison Square Garden headed to Philadelphia to face one of their fiercest rivals.  What happened that night still gives me goosebumps.  You see, President Bush addressed Congress that night with a status report on the events of September 11th.  The Flyers decided to post the speech on the scoreboard at what is now known as the Wells Fargo Center.  The Rangers and Flyers stopped the game.  The NHL officiating crew stopped officiating.  No brawling, no rivalry, everyone stopped and listened to the president.  The game never resumed.

Anyone who knows the makeup of South Florida knows the distinct connection to the New York area.  Like most of the country, time stood still on that awful day as residents had one eye on their loved ones up north.  The typical South Floridian question among transplanted New Yorkers was “everyone OK?, Have you heard from everyone?”

On September 23rd the NFL resumed their schedule with what was supposed to be week 3. South Florida went into a collective cheer when Jay Fiedler crossed the goal line to finish a Miami Dolphins comeback victory over the Oakland Raiders.  The eruption at the stadium now known as Hard Rock Stadium was deafening.  Our community reacted with such a release with that win you would have thought the Dolphins just won the Super Bowl.

So as the NFL opens up in earnest this afternoon, the fifteenth anniversary of the worst attack on American soil still overshadows fun and games.  Amid the pregame and halftime ceremonies that will go on around the league today, hearts will still be heavy.  Despite it all games will go on in the NFL and Major League Baseball.  Sports will once again be there for America.  The sporting world will again be part of the healing process.

God Bless America!

IT’S THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE (SPORTS) YEAR

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

 Pennant races are going

And pigskin a throwin’

Hockey season is near!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Yes, it’s Labor Day weekend, and the start of college football season made me think of how much goes on in September and October in the world of sports.

Going into the final month of the baseball season story lines abound.  As of this writing the Blue Jays and Red Sox are tied atop the AL East with the Orioles looming 2 games behind.  Throughout the season the Dodgers and Giants have traded places atop the National League West with the second place team leading the way in the Wild Card race.

About those Wild Card races,  the Jays/Sox lead the Orioles by 2 with the Tigers and Astros in their shadow.  The Giants are 2 1/2 up on the Cardinals who have the Mets, Pirates, and Marlins looking over their shoulders.  Should be an exciting end to the 2016 regular season.

The aforementioned college football season held center stage yesterday.  Ohio State, Alabama, and Michigan all won handily.  Clemson won a close one over Auburn.  With the college ranks off and running the NFL opens for business on Thursday with the first ever Super Bowl rematch as a national opener.

This got me to thinking, what a crossroads of sports this time of year is.  Baseball is in their postseason stretch, football is off and running and hockey is poised to open training camp.  Oh, by the way there is a little hockey tournament on tap this September called the World Cup.  The dribble and squeak of basketball is waiting in the wings.

I started to reflect on my memorable moments in the month of September.

In the strike torn, two half baseball season of 1981 I was at Shea Stadium in New York when the hometown Mets lost to the Montreal Expos.  This would kick off a celebration in front of me on the field as well as north of the border.  You see, the Expos celebrated clinching the Second Half NL East championship. Their only championship in Montreal. They would go on to lose the National League Championship Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers.  The Dodgers would go on to win the World Series over the Yankees.

Fast forward five years and back at Shea.  This time it was the Mets turn.I’ll never forget the final out in the Mets division clinching win over the Chicago Cubs.  It was a routine grounder to Wally Backman at second.  What followed was anything but ordinary.  Fans stormed the field as Backman was throwing to Keith Hernandez at first to finish the groundout.  How the ball got there I still don’t know.  The fans swarmed in a flash and were all over the field.  The celebration was on!  The Mets would go on to win the 1986 World Series.

The last time I was ever in Big Shea was in September 22, 1988.  The Mets again were in position to claim the division title.  This time New York’s finest was ready for any field storming.  As my wife and I walked from the parking lot to the stadium the first thing we noticed was police on horseback lined up behind the bullpen and picnic areas.  When Ron Darling stuck out Phillies catcher Lance Parrish looking in the 9th inning the Mets were champions once more.  They would go on to lose the NLCS to the Dodgers.  The Dodgers again would win it all.

My wife and I moved to South Florida in the spring of 1989.  This meant embracing new teams in our new home.  On September 26, 2003  my son and I were in attendance at the ballpark now known as Hard Rock Stadium.  The Mets were the opponent this time and the  hometown Marlins would lock up the National League Wild Card.  I’ll never forget the celebration that took place in the concourses and ramps.  The chant of “Lets Go Marlins” reverberated so loud that the building was shaking!  The Marlins would go on to defeat the Yankees in the World Series.

With all the baseball stories in September I have a football one as well.  I recall a Dolphins season opener against the Detroit Lions in which Ricky Williams ran for over 200 yards.  The stadium would be rocking as Williams scampered for big chunks of yardage and a touchdown in a Dolphins win.

There is one memorable hockey moment too.  It was the opening of the New York Islanders 2001-02 training camp.  It wasn’t what happened on the ice that was memorable, it was the fact that camp was to begin in Wheeling, WV on Tuesday September 11. Like all sports on that day, the start of camp was put on hold.  More on that horrific day next  week.

As the sports world comes to its annual crossroads I look forward to the opening weekend of the NFL.  I will be rooting on my hometown Marlins to win an NL Wild Card, and will be at the Florida Panthers training camp in nearby Coral Springs, Florida cheering on a promising hockey team.

Enjoy the crossroads!

 

 

TIMES HAVE SURELY CHANGED

As every football fan is now aware, last Sunday night’s Hall of Fame tilt between the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts was canceled due to poor field conditions.  The problem with the field?  The quality of the paint used for the logo at midfield and the lettering in the end zones.  To me this brings about questions of what seemed to be a string of gaffes by the people responsible for getting sports venues ready for play.

My first question is the obvious.  The NFL Hall of Fame Game originated in tn 1962. How is it that the grounds crew at Fawcett Stadium has prepared the field for play in each of the past 54 years and couldn’t get the right paint?  How does that happen?  Or is it a question of the NFL and other professional sports fine tuning events like this to the point of it being ridiculous.

The paint problem in Canton is another in a series of interesting gaffes in professional sports in recent years.

October 15, 2013, Comerica Park in Detroit:  During Game 3 of the American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers  a power outage occurred causing a delay.  There was just one problem, the game was played at 4:00 PM with the outage occurring in sun drenched conditions.

June 6, 2014, AT&T Center in San Antonio:  Prior to Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs, the air conditioning system malfunctioned.  The game went on as planned with complaints from players, coaches and fans about such awful conditions.

Super Bowl XVLII, New Orleans Superdome:  Shortly after play resumed following halftime between the Baltimore Ravens and San Fransisco 49ers the game was halted due to a power outage.  About half of the lights overlooking the playing field went out, however the field was still lit by the other half.

On the surface, all of these events have an argument for being halted due to sub-par conditions, however I disagree.

First off, what happened in Canton on Sunday should have been inspected by the league, the Hall of Fame and the teams on Saturday  This would have allowed time for at the very least, the paint to be scrapped.

Having grown up in the 1960’s and ’70’s I look at the series of events that I discussed earlier through a different set of eyes.  Those of you in my age group might remember when sports was more game than TV production.

Consider the days when baseball and football were played in the same place.  Shea Stadium in New York was home to both the New York Jets and the New York Mets.  The Jets played on a field that ran from home plate to center field, leaving half of the gridiron in the infield dirt.  The same was true at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium which housed the Baltimore Orioles and the old Baltimore Colts.  It was accepted, that’s the way it was done.  In 1993 when the Florida Marlins joined the Major Leagues and called Joe Robbie Stadium home, it drew the ire of Miami Dolphins fans since the Fins had to play September and in 1997 and 2003, October on a field that had a dirt infield at one end.

Who remembers the old Boston Garden and Buffalo Memorial Auditorium?  Both buildings had no air conditioning.  The Boston Celtics played many NBA Finals games in sweltering heat and used it to their advantage.  The Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres played many playoff games in which fog rose from the ice.

Many might remember games at Wrigley Field that were suspended because the players could no longer see the baseball.  It was accepted, Wrigley was the last hold out for not having lights.

Sports has become such a network production that it may have lost some of its edge.  Imperfection is not necessarily a bad thing.