Tag Archives: Sports

A LOOK BACK AT 2017- PART I

“And so this is Christmas, and what have you done?  Another year over and a new one just begun!”-John Lennon

Yes, here we are in the heart of the holiday season once again.  Amid the gift shopping and partying that is December, it is also time to wrap up the year that was.  So it is now time for the Karpelblog annual year in review.  This will be a two-part edition of the blog, today we look back at the first half of 2017.  Next week we wrap up the year with the second half of 2017 and our year-end awards.

We begin our trip back in time on January 9th at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.  The College Football National Championship Game pitted number 1 ranked Alabama against number 2 ranked Clemson.  Alabama came into the game as the favorite to claim yet another title.

Clemson trailed 31-28 in the waning moments of the game, and the campus in Tuscaloosa was bracing to celebrate Alabama’s latest National Championship.  What followed was a 9 play 68 yard drive for the ages led by Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson.  On the game’s final play Watson hit Hunter Renfrow in the end zone from two yards out.  The Clemson Tigers finished a come-from-behind victory for the ages, claiming the National Championship and set off a celebration on their South Carolina campus!

 

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Clemson’s Hunter Renfrow reels in the National Championship winning touchdown.

 

While we are on the subject of epic comebacks, we now move on to Houston’s NRG Stadium, site of Super Bowl 51.  Much like the National Championship Game in January, it pitted a perennial champion looking to add-on to its resume.  This time it was the New England Patriots chance to add another feather in its championship cap.  Regular season MVP Matt Ryan led the upstart Atlanta Falcons into Houston, seeking the franchise’s first Super Bowl title.

After a scoreless first quarter, the Falcons began to dominate the game.  Three Atlanta touchdowns (one by a run, one by a pass, and an 82 yard pick six) had a party ready to happen on Peachtree Street.  The Falcons went into the locker room holding a 21-3 lead.  Atlanta came out of the locker room and added a third quarter touchdown, advancing the lead to 28-3.  This touchdown stunned all of New England, you can hear a pin drop from Maine to Connecticut.

 

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The New England Patriots cap the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history.  They won the title in the first overtime period in the event’s history.

 

Then it started to unfold. With just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter, Tom Brady hit James White in the end zone with a five yard pass.  New England failed on a two-point conversion, making the score 28-9.  With the Falcons driving, later in the stanza, the Patriots defense caused a fumble that changed the entire complexion of the contest. The turnover led to a New England field goal and proved to be the turning point of the contest.

New England took over the game in the fourth quarter.  While holding the Falcons scoreless, the Patriots would put up a 33 yard field goal, and a Danny Amendola touchdown reception (that was followed by a two-point conversion).  With 57 seconds left on the clock, James White’s 1 yard run, combined with Amendola’s reception for the two-point conversion completed the comeback.  Super Bowl 51 was tied at 28!  This set up the first ever overtime period in Super Bowl history.

With 11:02 remaining in overtime White would be the hero again.  That pin could now be heard along Peachtree Street after the Patriots running back punched the ball into the end zone from two yards out.  The celebration was on throughout New England!

Our next stop on the review caravan involves the end of old business from 2016.  After 108 long years, a very special championship flag was raised in a historic ballpark.  Following an epic World Series win in 2016, the Chicago Cubs opened their home season by raising the championship flag.  How do you raise a World Series pennant 108 years in the making?  The Cubs themselves took turns raising the flag that will forever fly over historic Wrigley Field.

Next, it’s off to that hockey capital known as… Nashville Tennessee?  Yes, Nashville’s Predators are the subject of our next segment.

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The Nashville Predators enter the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the bottom seed in the Western Conference.  They finish the playoffs two games short of a Stanley Cup title.

 

The Nashville Predators began the Stanley Cup playoffs at the bottom of the Western Conference bracket.  They won the second of two Wild Cards, which gave them the #1 seeded Chicago Blackhawks as a first round draw.  The first round matchup turned out to be one of the biggest upsets of the postseason, as Nashville swept the 2015 Stanley Cup champs in four games.

Next up for the hockey team from the Music City, the St. Louis Blues.  The Blues franchise has always been a playoff contender, unfortunately they have built a reputation as the greatest team to never win a Stanley Cup.  The magical story continued in Nashville, the drought in St. Louis also continued as the Predators advanced to the Western Conference Finals in six games.

The Anaheim Ducks were heavily favored to end the Country Music Onslaught in the Western Conference Finals.  The Preds would continue their unlikely assault on the Stanley Cup, dispatching Anaheim in six games.

The boys from Tennessee, however, would run out of gas in the Stanley Cup Finals.  This leads to our next story, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The defending champions began their trip to the Stanley Cup Finals with a relatively easy five game victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets.  What followed in the second round was an epic seven game win over the President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals. Like the Blues, the Capitals continue to thrive in the regular season, and fail to win the prize.

The surprising Ottawa Senators would take the Pens to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals.  In another epic seven game thriller, Pittsburgh earned their second consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.

 

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Pittsburgh Penguins’ captain Sidney Crosby hoists the Stanley Cup for the second straight year.

 

Nashville would play another six game series in the Stanley Cup Finals, however a goaltending performance for the ages by Pittsburgh netminder Matt Murray may have been the difference.  The Penguins became the first team to win back-to-back Stanley Cup championships since the 1997 and 1998 Detroit Red Wings.

Next stop, the tale of two basketball teams, one from the Bay Area of California, one from Cleveland, Ohio.  Two epic squads led by future Hall of Famers spent the spring of 2017 on a crash course to a Championship Series meeting.

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The Golden State Warriors celebrate after winning the 2017 NBA Championship.

 

The Cleveland Cavaliers, led by Lebron James would lose a total of one game on their way to the NBA Finals.  Cleveland would dispatch the Indiana Pacers and Toronto Raptors in four game sweeps to get to the Eastern Conference Finals.  Their opponents in the Conference Finals were the Boston Celtics.  Boston’s 111-108 win in Game 3 would be the Cavs only setback in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

While Lebron and Company were prancing through the East, their was an ever so slightly bigger story happening out west.  Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors one-upped the Cavaliers by completely sweeping their way to the Finals.

The Warriors dispatched the Portland Trailblazers, Utah Jazz, and San Antonio Spurs on their way to taking on Lebron and the Cavs.

In what was supposed to be an NBA Finals for the ages, frankly fell flat.  The Warriors headed to Cleveland after defeating the Cavaliers by the scores of 113-91 in game one and 132-113 in game two.  The return home for the Cavaliers didn’t change things, Golden State put Cleveland in a 3-0 hole with a 118-113 win.

Cleveland would extend the series by winning Game 5, handing the Warriors their only loss of the postseason.  Back home for Game 6 the Warriors claimed their title with a 129-120 victory.

What a loaded first half of this year!  Next week we look at the second half of the sports year of 2017, as well as the Karpelblog Sports Story of the Year and Athlete of the Year!  See you next week.

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WEDNESDAY NIGHT BASEBALL-BREAKING CAMP

Unlike any other professional sport, baseball always seems to have times during the season that triggers hope in the eyes of a fan.  One of those times are upon us.

In the middle of February the excitement began when the 30 Major League franchises headed for Arizona and Florida.  If you are like me the turning point of Spring Training occurs somewhere around St. Patrick’s Day.  At that point you are either tired of games that don’t count and are played mostly by minor league prospects, or you want to see where teams make their final cuts.

This leads me to my point.  Here we are on March 29th.  Teams are starting to wrap up competition in both the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues.  The exodus from Arizona and Florida has begun in advance of Sunday’s national openers.

What is always intriguing to me about this weekend is the scheduling.  This is the weekend when the Blue Jays test the market in Montreal to see if there will eventually be a return of baseball to French Canada.  This year’s opponent, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The US Army and Naval academies will be playing host to pre-season action this weekend.  The Mets visit West Point on Friday afternoon to play a game against Army.  The Red Sox and Nationals will break camp together after tomorrow’s game in Ft. Myers.  Next stop is the Nation’s Capital for a game at Nationals Park, and then it’s off to Annapolis and the Naval Academy on Saturday.

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The United States Naval Academy will host the Red Sox and Nationals this Saturday.  West Point will host the Mets on Friday.

The American League Champion Indians will visit Chase Field in Phoenix for a two game series with the Diamondbacks.  It only took 108 years for me to say this, but the defending World Series Champion Chicago Cubs broke camp today!  Next stop on the way back to the Friendly Confines will be Houston. The Astros wrapped up their inaugural stint in West Palm Beach this afternoon with a 5-5 tie with the Marlins.  The Astros host the defending champs for a two game series at Minute Maid Park tomorrow and Friday.  Starting Sunday, the Marlins and Rays have Florida all to themselves again (same goes for the Diamondbacks in Arizona).

And finally, this is traditionally the weekend to “soft open” a new ballpark.  The Yankees will head to suburban Atlanta to test out Sun Trust Park, the new home of the Braves.

Hope springs eternal after these final exhibition matchups.  The Yankees and Rays open things for real on Sunday afternoon, followed by the Giants and D-Backs.  Sunday night the Cubs, yes the Cubs open the defense of their crown in, of all places, St. Louis against their arch rivals!

Just a program note, my next blog will be a two-part preview of the Major League 2017 season. Part 1 will be my Sunday blog and it will conclude on Wednesday.

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?

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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.

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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.

 

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.

A Vote For Putting Your Best Bat & Glove Forward

Ah the Olympics, that sportsfest that occurs every four summers and every four winters but dominates our airwaves every two years.  The 2016 summer variety is now underway in Rio de Janeiro and, like most, I have had my eyes glued to the proceedings since Wednesday when the women took to the soccer pitch.

Two days after the soccer competition opened and  the world witnessed yet another stirring opening ceremony, the International Olympic Committee announced its event lineup for the Tokyo games in 2020.  The glaring American story was the return of baseball and softball to the Olympic stage.

This once again brings about the great Olympic debate, amateurs vs. professionals.  Should this just be for the fun of sport, or should this be an opportunity for the best athletes in the world to put their best foot, glove, hockey stick, etc. forward?

Beginning in 1992 the Olympics took on a professional dimension.  Since then we have seen the likes of the NBA “Dream Team”, the NHL shut down every fourth year to allow a level playing field to compete in the Olympics, and FIFA having the best of the best compete on the Olympic soccer pitch.

I believe its time for Major League Baseball to join the party.

The All-Star Break, for generations occupied the time frame of the second midweek of July and included travel days on Monday and Wednesday with the main event occurring on Tuesday night. Play would generally resume on Thursday with four game weekend series. That has changed over recent years.  The All-Star Break today is made up a week-long event that includes a Sunday prospect game, a Monday Home Run Derby, the main event on Tuesday and days off on Wednesday and Thursday.

Imagine this scenario. The All-Star Break is now a week-long event.  The postseason now stretches into the final days of October and is routinely stretches into November.  Why not do this?  Begin Spring Training around February 15th, break camp the week that March ends, (or March ends and April begins) forego the All-Star Break and take these two weeks and have the best baseball has to offer play for their country in the Olympics?

Most would have this reaction, wouldn’t this just be another American grandstand much like basketball?  I offer you this, Ichiro leads a Japanese team that is steadily sending players to America to play in the Major Leagues.  The Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Cuba will show how popular our grand old game has become across the Caribbean.  Mexico and even Canada are better in baseball than most people think.

Professionalism is now a part of the Olympic Games let’s make the sport of baseball the best in can be on the Olympic stage.