Friday, May 28, 2010
Athletics, Part 1
Many of my friends do not believe that there was a time in this humble blogger's life when, in fact, he was really into sports.
I would estimate that between the ages of 8 and 13 (that's right, a whole 5 years, almost 20% of my young life), I played sports pretty regularly. I didn't just play, I followed sports, almost religiously.
I grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and so by way of childhood rearing, I was a fan of New York sports teams. Basketball was the Knicks. Baseball was the Yankees (sorry and fuck you.) Football was the Giants. Hockey, I guess, was the Rangers.
I didn't follow hockey at all, but I remember that the Rangers had a pretty sweet team in 1994 which featured, among others, Mark Messier, Brian Leech, Wayne Gretsky (wayyy past his prime), and goalie Mike Richter, whose dominant performances earned him the nickname "The Richter Scale."
The Giants were and are my football team. Of the New York Sports teams, I am probably most attached to the New York Football Giants, because it is easy to watch every game of a football season, and the team was always filled with likeable players. They are still affectionately known in the area as the Football Giants because they were to be distinguished in the 50's from the New York Baseball Giants of Willie Mays lore. In the late 1990's/early 2000's, some of my favorite players included running back Rodney Hampton, wide receiver Amani Toomer, linebacker Jesse Armstead, offensive lineman Mike Rosenthal (a Jew!), running back Tiki Barber, tight end-turned total douche Jeremy Shockey and, most recently, quarterback Eli Manning.
Before the recent successes of the last few years, a Giants fan was quite accustomed to heartbreak, since (as I've found is the case with many teams), they would come so close to winning that you could take out the proverbial champagne, uncork it, smell the bubbly refreshment...and then they would blow it and literally smash your heart into a thousand bits. I can recall one game in particular, perhaps the 2003 semi-final playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers, in which the Giants entered the 4th quarter up by 25 points (that's 3 touchdowns and a field goal, folks), and ended up losing due to a comeback led by dickhead Jeff Garcia, as well as a botched field goal which turned into a total clusterfuck led by, I believe, Brad Maynard.
The Giants started getting awesome after drafting Eli Manning in 2004, culminating in victory in the 2007 Super Bowl. This was one of the most memorable moments in my life. I capped off an entire day of drinking by watching the Giants win in 4th quarter comeback fashion, defeating the then-undefeated New England Patriots, led by cockwads Tom Brady and Randy Moss. The game featured what's come to be known as "The Play", generally considered the greatest play in Super Bowl history, in which Manning escaped certain sack and death and hurled a bomb to WR David Tyree, who preceded to catch the ball on his fucking helmet. Just watch it. Manning then threw the game winning catch to Plaxico Burress, who celebrated by pretending to shoot himself in the leg, in a bitterly ironic foreshadowing moment. J/K. At that moment I creamed the pants of my Giants fandom.
The New York Knicks are and always have been an exercise in failure. They had a pretty good team in the early 90's, featuring center Patrick Ewing, forwards Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason, guards John Starks and Derek Harper, and coach Pat Riley, whose coaching prowess was often drowned in a waterfall of hair gel. Patrick Ewing was my favorite player- a dominating 7-footer with a deathly accurate fadeaway jumper and shotblocking abilities.
The problem with the Knicks, however, was Ewing himself. Although honored as one of the 50 Greatest NBA Players of all-time, he never won a championship despite being hailed as savior when drafted in 1985, the year of my birth. He took the Knicks all the way to the Finals in '94, losing to Hakeem Olajuwon's Houston Rockets in 6 games. The Knicks also had the misfortune of sharing the Eastern Conference with the Chicago Bulls of the 1990's, whose best player also happened to be the greatest basketball player of all-time. But Ewing always choked in crunch time, missing the game-winning shot. The Knicks' offense during the Ewing years was also stalled by his presence, as they seemed to do nothing else besides dump the ball in to Patrick and have him do whatever he wanted. Now, the Knicks blow so much ass that Madison Square Garden has replaced its former moniker of "World's Greatest Arena" with "Surprisingly Effective Bidet." Isiah Thomas pretty much ruined the team by signing highly overpaid underachieving players, most notably MVDouche Stephon Marbury. They're painful to watch, and I do not believe they'll sign LeBron James this summer.
Finally, the New York Yankees. The team everybody loves to hate. The Evil Empire, so say the jealous ones. I have a few thoughts about being a Yankee fan. First and foremost, I am proud to be a Yankee fan. I could give two shits that people cringe and first dates are often ruined by my admission to loving the Bronx Bombers. This is because, and I can't stress this enough to people, THEY'RE MY FUCKING HOMETOWN TEAM. No matter how evil, how steroid-induced, how wealthy or unfairly successful a team is, it is fully acceptable and legitimate to root for a team that plays in the city you grew up in.
"But you could be a Mets fan!" retorts the asshole. Yes, I could. But I'm not. The simple fact is, you often don't choose the team you support. You just don't. It's an odd element of your upbringing that you end up just liking the team you like. For me, I liked the teams my Dad liked, and he was a Yankees fan despite growing up in Brooklyn and rooting for the Dodgers, who always lost to the Yanks in the World Series. The Dodgers moved to LA, my Dad moved to Manhattan, and we now root for the bad guys. Lick my balls, rest of the country.
The Yankees have won 27 World Series titles, the most successful franchise of any sport. This is awesome. This is not a reason for me to stop liking them, just because they're successful.
I'll admit that I don't like the fact that starting in the late 2000's, the Yanks started spending more money than all the other teams and were able to sign all the top free agents, thus "buying" their success. But this problem is a function of the MLB, not the Yankees. Unlike the other three major professional sports leagues, baseball does not have a salary cap. That means that teams are not limited in how much they spend on paying their players.
Thus, the teams in the bigger markets, which generate the most revenue, have an inherent advantage over teams in smaller markets. Note that the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, White Sox, Cardinals, and Giants all have perennial good teams. Unfortunately, the Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Seattle Mariners, and Cincinatti Reds, perennially suck. There are exceptions, however, like the Twins. They have among others, Joe Mauer, who was cool enough to stay in his home state in the face of a 20 million dollar offer from the Yankees, settling for a meager, paycheck-to-paycheck rate of $18 million a year. What a hero.
So yes, I am and will probably always be a sports fan.
Sports are great. They are naturally dramatic and, what I love, totally improvised. Basketball, I think provides the best metaphor for improvisation. The point guard brings up the ball and declares by passing to another player. The offense starts, the scene begins. Players move and pass, yes and-ing eachother, trying to score two points of laughs. Some players are power-forwards, posting up and slamming home a dunk to thunderous applause. Others are point guards, specializing in passing to others, assisting them, setting them up for points. Still more are sharp-shooting three point shooters, who can score from anywhere on the court, somewhat unexpectedly. A great basketball team is in sync, group-minded. The metaphor is perfect.
I realize this has become a lengthy post. I will thus save my experiences as an athlete myself for a future entry.
Thanks for reading today!