Tag Archives: NFL

THANKFUL FOR A CRAZY FOOTBALL WEEKEND (THAT ISN’T FINISHED YET!)

I would like to begin this morning’s blog by saying how thankful I am.  I have been married for 31 wonderful years to Robin, who is my best friend, partner in life and right (and sometimes left) hand.  Despite the tragedy of losing my son, Justin this past February (which is so painful at times), I seem to muddle through each day.  I am thankful that my daughter, Megan and son-in-law Matt are becoming better and better parents to my new granddaughter, Madeline with each passing day.  I am also thankful to have both of my parents still living on this earth, and the strong relationship that I have with my two brothers and their families.

OK, now that I’ve gotten through the Thanksgiving accolades, let’s talk about the weekend on the gridiron.

The National Football League held its annual football feasts in Detroit and Dallas on Thursday.  This week’s Thursday Night game was held outside our Nation’s Capital.

 

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Minnesota Vikings Case Keenum has a career day in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day.

Let’s begin in Detroit, where the Vikings were the opposition in the Lions annual Thanksgiving bash.  Aside from the turkey tailgate, Ford Field was the stage for a pivotal NFC North matchup.  The Lions began the day in second place, two games behind the visitors from Minnesota. Case Keenum, an undrafted journeyman and Vikings backup quarterback had a career day as Minnesota spoiled the turkey tailgate by the score of 30-23.  I could see the turkey legs flying at Megan’s in-law’s living room in Grand Rapids!  The win may have sewn up the NFC North for Minnesota.

AT&T Stadium in suburban Dallas was the scene of the biggest upset of Turkey Day.  Los Angeles Chargers’ future Hall of Fame quarterback Philip Rivers lit up the Cowboys defense for 434 yards and three touchdowns.  It was Rivers’ first Thanksgiving Day appearance in his storied 14 year career.  Second year Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was intercepted twice in the Chargers 28-6 victory.  The turkey legs had to be flying at my friend, and youth flag football coaching partner’s dining room outside Tampa!

 

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Dallas Cowboys’ Dak Prescott throws two interceptions in a 28-6 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers on Thanksgiving Day.

 

Thanksgiving Day wrapped up outside our Nation’s Capital with the New York Giants’ nightmare season getting worse.  In a matchup that seemed like a great idea when the NFL released its schedule back in April, the Washington Redskins defeated the G-Men 20-10.  The Philadelphia Eagles can clinch a tie in the NFC Eastern Division with a win today, they host the Bears at 1:00.

The colleges took over on Black Friday, and the drama continued.  The University of Miami entered Friday’s early game at Pittsburgh ranked number 2 in the country and a berth in the ACC Championship game in their back pocket.  They left Heinz Field on the losing end of a 24-14 score.

 

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Auburn University defeats previously undefeated Alabama in the annual Iron Bowl.

 

A less than stellar football weekend continued at the Michigan Wing of my family yesterday afternoon.  Michigan lost its sixth straight meeting with Ohio State by the score of 31-20.  Michigan and Ohio State is still my favorite Rivalry Weekend matchup.

The biggest story of this year’s Thanksgiving/College Rivalry weekend happened late yesterday afternoon in Auburn, Alabama.  Number 1 ranked and undefeated Alabama lost to sixth ranked Auburn 26-14 in the annual Iron Bowl.  The Miami loss on Friday and the Alabama loss yesterday will make for an interesting shakeup in the NCAA playoff race.  Auburn’s win should vault the Tigers into the playoff race.

What a football weekend it has been, and we’re not done yet!  Can the Browns break their winless season when they visit their cross-state rivals in Cincinnati today?  Is there any possibility of my Dolphins winning in New England?  Will the Eagles and Steelers continue to take care of business?  Will anyone outside of Houston and Baltimore stay up for the Monday night tilt between the Ravens and Texans?

Enjoy the rest of the holiday weekend, and today’s games.

 

 

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NFL PREVIEW PART 2-THE NFC

Before I begin, I would like to take this opportunity to tell my fellow Floridians and everyone else in the path of Hurricane Irma to please follow any directions given by local authorities.  Please make sure you have plenty of water and supplies on hand. Good luck to everyone who is  riding out this storm. Please take this storm seriously!  I pray we all stay safe!

When last I left you, we had previewed the American Football Conference, tonight we look at the National Football Conference.

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Will Dak Prescott continue his success after an amazing rookie campaign?

Let’s begin in the east.  Last year there was a changing of the guard in Dallas.  Rookie Dak Prescott took over the reins from future hall of famer Tony Romo.  Prescott, along with rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott shocked the NFL with a 13-3 record.  Will these wonder rookies carry their success into their sophomore year?  Elliott will play in the Cowboys opener on Sunday and then begin a six game suspension stemming from a domestic violence incident.

Meanwhile, the New York Giants have added Brandon Marshall to Odell Beckham, Jr. in Eli Manning’s arsenal of targets.  The Cowboys and Giants should be a touch and go battle beginning with their tilt on Sunday night.

The Northern Division could turnout to be a crap-shoot.  With the exception of the 3-13 Chicago Bears the “Black and Blue Division” was separated by a total of  2 games last year. Will Matthew Stafford’s record contract extension motivate him to lead the Detroit Lions to a division title?  Will Aaron Rogers and the Green Bay Packers repeat as champs?  Can the Minnesota Vikings become the first team to play a Super Bowl at home?  Lots of questions in an interesting division.

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Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.

 

In the Southern Division, the big question to this writer surrounds the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons.  Will the second half implosion in last year’s Super Bowl result in a hangover?  Can Matt Ryan and Julio Jones reprise the magical seasons that they both had in 2016?

 

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Can Adrian Peterson revive the New Orleans Saints?

The New Orleans Saints signed future hall of famer Adrian Peterson during the off-season.  Can Peterson and Drew Brees revive the Saints and make them a playoff team again?  Speaking of Super Bowl hangovers, will the Carolina Panthers return to their dominant form from 2015?  Finally, due to Hurricane Irma, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers opener in Miami has been moved to their bye week in November.  Will the Bucs run out of gas playing 16 games without a break?

The Western Division has a top tier and a bottom tier.  Will Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson lead the Seattle Seahawks to another division title?  Will Carson Palmer and the Arizona Cardinals unseed them?  Who will hit a harder bottom, the Los Angeles Rams or the San Francisco 49ers?

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Can Richard Sherman lead the Seattle Seahawks defense to another division title?

 

So now it’s prediction time.

Eastern Division:

  1. NY Giants       12-4
  2. Dallas              12-4
  3. Philadelphia    7-9
  4. Washington    4–12

Northern Division:

  1. Green Bay    10-6
  2. Minnesota     9-7
  3. Detroit           9-7
  4. Chicago        4-12

Southern Division:

  1. Atlanta           11-5
  2. Carolina          9-7
  3. Tampa Bay     8-8
  4. New Orleans  5-11

Western Division:

  1. Seattle              11-5
  2. Arizona            10-6
  3. LA Rams          5-11
  4. San Francisco 2-14

Wild Card winners Dallas and Arizona

NFC Championship  Green Bay over Seattle

Super Bowl  Green Bay over New England

Yes, Aaron Rogers will defeat Brady & Company in Minnesota this February!

 

Program note.  I will be on hiatus this weekend.  Originally it was for a little R&R, but a lady named Irma had other ideas.  I will be surrounded by friends and family as we ride out this hurricane over the weekend.  I am hoping all will be well for me to resume Wednesday Night Baseball after the storm.  I will try to keep you, my readers, posted.

 

NFL PREVIEW-PART 1, THE AFC

Labor Day weekend is upon us!  Baseball teams have raised their rosters to 40 men, the fashion world tells us not to wear white anymore, and the summer is about to unofficially end.  That can mean only one thing….IT’S FOOTBALL SEASON!

Football began for real this weekend with a full slate of college games.  This coming Thursday night the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots will open the NFL season by hosting the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots will open the NFL season on Thursday night.
This morning’s article will be the first of two parts.  I will give you my take on the American Football Conference today, on Wednesday night it’ll be the National Football Conference’s turn.

Let’s begin in the East.  Will the New England Patriots win this division for a ninth straight time?  The last team other than the Patriots to finish first in the AFC East was the Miami Dolphins in 2008.  That broke a five-year New England winning streak.

If anyone is going to interrupt the Patriots current domination of this division it could be a revamped Miami Dolphins.  Ryan Tannehill’s season ending injury might actually open the door for new blood running Miami’s offense.  The last time Jay Cutler teamed up with Dolphins head coach Adam Gase, the Dolphin’s fill-in starter had a career year.  Jay Ajayi proved last year that he could be the best runner on South Beach since Ricky Williams.  Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, and a healthy Devante Parker will provide explosive targets for Cutler.

New England’s loss of Julian Edelman for the season might not slow Tom Brady and company down.  The Patriots seem to reinvent themselves when the injury bug strikes.  Last year the Pats shook off Rob Gronkowski’s injury riddled season to win the Super Bowl.  Yesterday New England acquired Phillip Dorsett from the Indianapolis Colts to fill in for Edelman.

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Le’Veon Bell and the Pittsburgh Steelers are the class of the AFC North.

 

In the Northern Division, the Pittsburgh Steelers are the odds-on favorites.  Will Ben Roethlisberger remain healthy this year?  Will featured back Le’Veon Bell continue to be one of the best runners in football?  If the Steelers can stay healthy it looks like this division is theirs to win.  The Ravens and Bengals seem to be a step behind Pittsburgh.  The Cleveland Browns could be flirting with a winless season.

The Southern Division could be the most interesting in the conference.  Can the Tennessee Titans pull off a division championship in a rather weak division?  Could the combination of Marcus Mariotta and Demarco Murray be enough to lead the charge in the South?

 

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Can J.J. Watt and the Houston Texans finish a Cinderella story in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey?

 

A storybook finish would favor the defending division champion Texans.  J.J. Watt has been in the news lately, because of the $13 million that he has raised for his neighbors in Houston as they deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.  A Texans division championship would be an unbelievable ending to a season that is beginning amid a natural disaster.

Last time we saw the teams in the AFC West, the Oakland Raiders fan base watched their dream season go up in smoke when quarterback Derek Carr suffered an ankle injury. Carr showed up at camp completely healthy and ready to lead the Raiders to a division title  The Raiders were in the news during the off-season with two major stories.

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Marshawn Lynch came out of retirement to join the Oakland Raiders.

 

Marshawn Lynch has come out of retirement to join the Raiders.  The Raiders also announced during the off-season they will move to Las Vegas in 2020.  Will the Raiders leave the Bay Area as Super Bowl Champions down the road?  This team is by far the class of the AFC West.  The Kansas City Chiefs have a shot at making the post-season as a wild card winner.

So here are my AFC predictions for 2017:

Eastern Division:

  1. New England    13-3
  2. Miami                10-6
  3. Buffalo               6-10
  4. NY Jets               2-14

Northern Division:

  1. Pittsburgh     11-5
  2. Baltimore        9-7
  3. Cincinnati       7-9
  4. Cleveland       1-15

Southern Division:

  1. Tennessee       10-6
  2. Houston            9-7
  3. Indianapolis   6-10
  4. Jacksonville    4-12

Western Division:

  1. Oakland         12-4
  2. Kansas City   10-6
  3. Denver           5-11
  4. LA Chargers  3-13

 

Wild Card winners:  Miami, Kansas City

Conference Championship: Oakland vs. New England

Conference Champion: New England

 

So, there you have it, do you agree??? Any thoughts???? On Wednesday night I tackle the NFC.

A program note, as a result of this double blog to kickoff the NFL season, Wednesday Night Baseball will not publish this week.  Additionally, I will be on hiatus next weekend to spend time with friends and family.  See you Wednesday!

 

 

CANTON OPENS ITS DOORS TO THE CLASS OF 2017

It’s the biggest week and weekend in the mid-western town that bleeds football.  The Pro Football Hall of Fame once again celebrates the legends of America’s favorite professional sport.

Without further ado, I offer my heartiest congratulations to Jason Taylor, Kurt Warner, Morten Andersen, LaDainian Tomlinson, Terrell Davis, Kenny Easley, and Jerry Jones.  A job well done guys!  In Jones’ case a job that is still in progress.

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Jason Taylor.

As a resident of South Florida, and a native New Yorker, this class has very special meaning to me.  Jason Taylor is just as much a folk hero in these parts as Dan Marino and Don Shula.  In the early 2000’s Taylor, along with Zach Thomas, Sam Madison, and Patrick Surtain anchored the most successful defense in Miami since the Killer B’s in the 1980’s.

Kurt Warner will be remembered primarily for being the quarterback of the Greatest Show On Turf in St. Louis in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.  He will also be forever etched in Arizona Cardinals lore for leading them to their only Super Bowl appearance.  As a native New Yorker, I remember his short time with the Giants.

Warner was signed by the St. Louis Rams in 1997 out of the Arena League as a third string quarterback behind Tony Banks and Steve Bono.  In 1999 he got his chance to start due to an injury in the preseason to starter Trent Green.  The rest, as they say is history. Warner threw three touchdown passes in his first three starts in St. Louis, and capped off the 1999 campaign with a Super Bowl victory and the Super Bowl MVP.

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Kurt Warner

 

Kurt Warner would appear in two more Super Bowls.

The Rams would lose a heart-breaker to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI. Adam Vinatieri kicked the game winning field goal for New England on the game’s final play.  Warner threw for 365 yards that day.

In 2008, Warner would lead the Arizona Cardinals to their only Super Bowl appearance to date.  The Cardinals would lose to Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-23.  Warner’s tenure brought the Cardinals franchise to relevance for the first time since they moved to the desert from St. Louis.

Morten Andersen joins George Blanda, Lou Groza, and Jan Stenarud as the only place kickers enshrined in Canton.

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LaDainian Tomlinson

 

Running backs La Dainian Tomlinson and Terrell Davis will be enshrined in Canton this year. Will Tomlinson be the last of the San Diego Chargers to make it to the Hall?  Drew Brees will join him someday, but that would be mostly for what he accomplished in New Orleans.

Terrell Davis was the featured back in the Denver Broncos’ offense that was led by John Elway in the late 1990’s.  The Broncos won consecutive Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998 (Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII).   Davis was the Super Bowl XXXII MVP.

Seattle Seahawks fans have waited quite a while for Kenny Easley to join the Canton Brotherhood.  The safety was a member of the All Decade Team of the 1980’s and appeared in five Pro Bowls.

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Jerry Jones.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones joins the party in Canton this year.  Since Jones purchased the Cowboys in 1989, America’s Team has kicked it up a notch.  Dallas has won three Super Bowls under Jones’ ownership.  The list of players that have played for Jones’ reads like a “Who’s Who” of professional football.  Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, and Tony Romo head the list, and there are many more.

Congratulations to all!!

GREAT TIME OF YEAR TO BE A SPORTS FAN

This past Thursday night my wife and I joined a bunch of friends at a local sports bar to watch the first round of the NFL draft.  Amid the anticipation of what the Cleveland Browns would do with the first overall pick, there were other sports to concentrate on.

As I sat down and looked at the many television screens I felt like I was at a sports buffet.  The bigger screens were tuned to ESPN and their pre-draft coverage,while other screens were tuned into so much more. There were the two Stanley Cup Eastern Conference Semi-Final match-ups (Game 1 between the Rangers and Senators, Game 1 between the Capitals and Penguins).  There was Game 6 of the NBA first round series between the Raptors and Bucks on another one. Finally the latest meeting between the Yankees and Red Sox aired around the bar.

I thought to myself, what a great time of year!  It’s one of two times a year when all four major professional sports come together.  As Roger Goodell approached the podium in Philadelphia to the usual draft night chorus of boos, there was a tight hockey game going on in Canada’s nation’s capital.  At Fenway Park in Boston, Masahiro Tanaka and Chris Sale were locked up in a pitcher’s duel.  The Milwaukee Bucks were playing for survival on their home court against the Toronto Raptors.

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announces Cleveland’s selection of DE Myles Garrett in Philadelphia on Thursday night.

 

My two favorite NFL teams, the Dolphins and Giants wouldn’t pick until 22 and 23 respectively.  The Fins would pick DE Charles Harris, and Big Blue would shake things up with the questionable selection of TE Evan Engram.

In between the beginning of the draft and where my teams picked, so much else was going on.  Tanaka would pitch a complete game in front of the dreaded Fenway faithful, as the Yankees defeated the Sox 3-0.    Erik Karlsson would score from a fluke goal from an odd angle with 4:11 left in regulation to give Ottawa a 1-0 lead over the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.  The two teams followed that game up with a double overtime thriller yesterday afternoon in which the Senators took a 2-0 series lead.

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Penguins Marc-Andre Fleury closes the door on the Washington Capitals.

In our nation’s capital, there was a back and forth tilt between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals.  Sidney Crosby scored twice in 52 seconds for the Pens, and the game ended with the Capitals buzzing around the Pittsburgh net.  Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury was amazing in preserving the victory.

The Toronto Raptors eliminated the Milwaukee Bucks from the NBA playoffs on Thursday.  The San Antonio Spurs also advanced by dispatching the Memphis Grizzlies.

What a night it was!  It happens in late October and late April.  In the fall, baseball has the World Series coming to a climax, the NFL and NHL are in full swing and the NBA opens its season.  In April the NHL and NBA are in playoff mode, baseball is in full swing, and the NFL has its annual choose-up fest.  So great when all four major sports are grabbing headlines at the same time!

Time for a program note.  Both my Sunday blog and Wednesday Night Baseball blog will be on hiatus until Wednesday May 17.  The Sunday blog will resume on May 21.  This will allow me some family time.  I can’t wait to see my daughter, son-in-law, and meet my brand new granddaughter!

WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO PROFESSIONAL SPORTS?

On Friday night, during Game 5 of the opening round Stanley Cup Playoff series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Washington Capitals there was a scary moment.  Late in the first period a hard submarine check by Toronto’s Nazem Kadri left Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin motionless on the ice for a brief moment.  Ovechkin would be helped off the ice and would return to the game at the start of the second period.

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Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin being helped off the ice following a hit by Toronto’s Nazem Kadri.

 

Kadri was given a two-minute minor penalty for what was deemed “tripping” as a result of the play.  As the call was made, I thought to myself, what was illegal about it? Ovechkin had recent possession  of the puck, and Kadri hit him low and hard.  It was textbook, hard nosed hockey in my old school mind.  It was unfortunate, and scary, that one of hockey’s brightest stars laid motionless on the Verizon Center ice as a result, but it is part of a very physical sport.  The panel of experts on NBCSN tended to agree with me during their intermission show following the first period.  Everyone in the hockey world was relieved and happy to see Ovechkin return to the ice and continue to play.  He’s fine and ready to go in tonight’s Game 6.

This incident made me think of where sports has gone in general.  I grew up in an era where hockey and football were hard-hitting, bone jarring sports.  I grew up in an era where starting pitchers in baseball finished what they started, the bullpen only got involved if the starter was having trouble, or was lifted for a pinch-hitter.  The one on one play at home plate between runner and catcher was also part of the game.  I also come from an era where professional basketball players weren’t rested because of the “grueling” 82 game schedule.

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The new baseball in between innings clock.

 

Baseball was always the game that surpassed time.  When did a day at the ballpark where you can have a hot dog, sip on a beverage, and pass the time with your friends and family turn into a race against time?  Last year MLB in its infinite wisdom, rolled out the “in between innings timer.”  I cringe every time I see this ridiculous clock pop out of the scoreboard.

To continue to speed up the pace of a ballgame they added a new rule this year, the automatic walk!  Automatic walk??? For over a hundred years, four balls equaled a walk, intentional or not.  Anything from a wild pitch or the batter actually making contact with the purposely thrown ball can still happen.  Many of us who were around in the early 1970’s can even remember the Oakland A’s faking an intentional walk during the 1972 World Series.  The fakeout resulted in a strikeout of Reds star Johnny Bench.

If you want to speed things up in baseball, tone down the pitching changes!  Starting pitchers are on such strict pitch counts these days that they are being pulled regardless of how they are performing.  Meanwhile Tommy John surgeries have skyrocketed.  For generations baseball was played without counting pitches.  For generations from Walter Johnson to Nolan Ryan starting pitchers were on the mound until either they were in trouble or were removed because the team was behind and pinch hit for him in order to generate some offense.

Most of us hard-core football fans have seen the sport decline too.  Over the years the quarterback has been a little over protected.  Last I checked, wasn’t it the offensive line’s job to protect the quarterback?  The modification of the intentional grounding rule has also softened things in this writer’s opinion.  Why does it matter if a quarterback is in the pocket or not if he throws the ball to nobody to avoid a sack?

Finally let’s look at basketball.  Multiple times this year the Cleveland Cavaliers rested Lebron James and fellow stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.  Excuse my ignorance, but when did an 82 game NBA season become so grueling that players needed to be rested?  In baseball I can understand resting players, whether or not they are stars.  You are playing day in and day out, sometimes twice a day.  Your team plays at 1:00 after ending a game at 11:00 the night before.  In basketball you play an occasional back to back in successive nights.  I have never seen this before.  I seriously don’t get it.

Maybe I’m too old school.

 

GONE TOO SOON

It’s with a heavy heart that I return to the blogging scene this morning.  For those of you who don’t follow me primarily on Facebook, let me fill you in on my recent hiatus.  My son Justin passed away Valentine’s Day morning at the age of 23.  Myself and my family are still reeling from the events of that horrific morning.  Justin, I dedicate this article to you and the wonderful, yet short time you spent walking this earth.

I have spent well over a week trying to figure out how to dive back in to the business of discussing sports and this is what I came up with.  Throughout my many years around the sports world, there were, and still are times of untimely tragedies. Today I look back on the news of athletes who left us in the prime of their careers.

Image result for thurman munsonFront page of the New York Daily News reporting the death of Yankees catcher Thurman Munson.

Perhaps my first recollection of a sudden death of a sports figure was on August 2, 1979.  I’ll never forget the bulletin that came over the radio as my family was eating dinner.  Yankees all-star Thurman Munson was killed in a plane crash.  At seventeen years old the news was hard to comprehend.  Thurman Munson?? dead??? how???

I’ll never forget the following night when the Yankees returned home to face the Baltimore Orioles.  The scene at the stadium was memorable.  I still can remember all of the flags flying at half-staff over the legendary Yankee Stadium facade.  The Yankees flew back to Munson’s home town of Canton, Ohio on August 6th for his funeral.  Bobby Murcer and Lou Piniella would deliver emotional eulogies that day.

Thurman Munson’s stall in the Yankees locker room remained untouched until the old stadium closed at the end of the 2008 season.  His uniform number 15 is immortalized in the current Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park.

Image result for Darryl Kile   Future Cardinals manager Mike Matheny pays homage to Darryl Kile who passed away suddenly on June 22, 2002.

Possibly my favorite time of the week as a baseball fan is Saturday afternoon.  It was always a time to kick back and watch a nationally televised regular season game.  Most times it was between two clubs that I don’t get to see on a day-to-day basis.

On Saturday afternoon June 22, 2002 FOX was going to air a tilt between two long time rivals.  The St. Louis Cardinals were in Chicago for a weekend series against the  Cubs.  I turned on the TV to watch the game and I knew immediately something was wrong.  The players weren’t playing catch, the broadcasters weren’t discussing the upcoming game.  What was being discussed was a player missing from the Cardinals.  Darryl Kile had not shown up at Wrigley Field.  He was supposed to start the following day, and  was supposed to be charting pitches. Darryl Kile was found dead in his hotel room, he died of a heart attack.  Kile was 33 years old.

The Cardinals kept Kile’s jersey hanging in their dugout the remainder of the 2002 season.  Although his number isn’t officially retired, the Cardinals, and Kile’s previous teams (Colorado Rockies and Houston Astros) have never reissued his number 57.

Image result for Marlins remember Jose FernandezMiami Marlins remember Jose Fernandez, September 26, 2016.

On Sunday morning September 25, 2016, while my wife Robin and I were getting ready to attend the Miami Dolphins home opener, we received the tragic news.  Marlins ace Jose Fernandez and two of his friends were found dead off of Government Cut in Miami Beach overnight.  Their boat had hit a jetty and overturned.  This brought back the horrible news of that late afternoon in 1979 all over again.  Jose Fernandez??? really??? can’t be!

I’ll never forget driving along the Florida Turnpike on the way to Hard Rock Stadium that day.  We should have been listening to Dolphins pregame, but that morning that home opener took a very distant back burner.  The Dolphins held a chilling moment of silence prior to their game with the Cleveland Browns.  The Miami Heat would don warmup jerseys bearing Fernandez’ number 16 prior to a preseason tilt with the Brooklyn Nets a few days later.  Robin and I were in the building at the BB&T Center for the Florida Panthers season opener a couple of weeks later, the Cats also warmed up wearing number 16.

The Marlins would return to action the following day to play the New York Mets at Marlins Park.  The team would wear number 16 in Jose’s honor.  I’ll never forget Dee Gordon’s leadoff home run in the bottom of the first inning.  Gordon was bawling as he ran the bases and had to be consoled by his teammates as he crossed home plate.  Following the game the team surrounded the pitcher’s mound where Fernandez brought the South Florida community so much joy.

I can go on about a few others, but we would need a volume of articles to do that.  I still remember Philadelphia Flyers’ goaltender Pelle Lindbergh passing away in a horrific car crash.  What hockey fan can ever forget the horrible news out of Russia when KHL team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl’s plane crashed killing the entire team (which included former NHL stars Brad McCrimmon and Pavel Demitra)?  There was also a stormy afternoon growing up in the shadow of New York’s Kennedy Airport when I heard what I thought was a clap of thunder.  The clap turned out to be a plane crash that took the life of New York Nets player Wendell Ladner.  Ladner’s ABA championship ring was found in the wreckage.

They say that death is part of the circle of life, but life is meant to be full and long. Twenty-three years is way too short.  Losing a child is just not natural. Rest in peace my son, I love you and miss you.

A gofundme account has been set up in Justin’s honor, the proceeds of which will be donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  To contribute, please go to http://www.gofundme.com and search “Justin Tyler Karpel.”  If we can save even one life, it would prevent at least one other family from going though the same thing we are.  Thank you.

 

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?

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.

Image result for the big red machine

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.