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Category Archives: Why do I Root for These Guys Again? – Sports

Birth and Death of an NFL Loyalty

Birth and Death of an NFL Loyalty

When I moved to Chicago, the Buffalo Bills hadn’t yet reached irrelevance. In fact, despite their record for the previous year being 5-11, they still seemed like a fairly safe option to get behind. Drew Bledsoe had spent three years in Buffalo and led the Bills to the edge of contention in two of them. He was unceremoniously shoved out the door after the 2004 season to make room for 2004 Draft pick JP Losman, and the team had also dug up Lee Evans and Willis McGahee, respectively a receiver and running back. Both of them were oozing with talent. So if anything, 2005 could have been written off as a growing pain year. But it still panned out in what has since been acknowledged as typical Bills fashion: The Bills not looking bad early in the season, with a 3-3 start after the first six games, only to win just two of the remaining ten.

In Chicago, the Bears appeared to be undergoing the long-promised resurgence. Their record was the mirror opposite of the Bills’ record, and that 11-5 was enough for them to claim the division crown. Their offense wasn’t good, but as any follower of the Bears will tell you, proper Bears football was never about putting points on the board; its always been about keeping points off the board. In that respect, the Bears delivered, and their 202 total points against was enough to lead the NFL. The Bears had even gone the opposite of the Bills in delivering their record; with a 1-3 record after the first four games which looked like another one of the team’s endless post-1985 write-offs, the Bears tore off on an eight-game winning streak before a 2-2 split in their last four games. Rookie quarterback Kyle Orton (whom the Bills once yanked out of retirement to lead them to their second winning season this century) pulled just enough decent plays out of his ass to let the Bears fall back on their defense after slated starter Rex Grossman was injured. First round Draft pick Cedric Benson, a running back, suffered a similar fate and had a contract dispute which kept him away from training camp. He was replaced by journeyman Thomas Jones.

I expected to be spending much longer living in Chicago than I did, so I did what my mother did when she moved to Buffalo: I adopted the local teams but held on to my original loyalties. It seemed to be the natural thing to do, even though I didn’t feel a natural draw to most of the local teams. Most of them were pretty easy to talk myself into, though, because there’s little I respect more than a good history, and Chicago’s teams had those in spades. The Cubs and White Sox were both originals teams in the NL and AL for baseball; the Blackhawks were a member of the Original Six; and the Fire had been one of the most stable and consistent teams in MLS since the league was created. The Bulls were a relative baby – they were an expansion team from the late 60’s, some 20 years after the NBA’s formation and the failure of other professional basketball teams to take off in Chicago.

The Bears were one of the founding members of the NFL, and over the course of their history, they accumulated more wins than any other team any more titles than every team except the Green Bay Packers. Every amateur football historian knows that. Every football fan knows the Superfans and the Super Bowl Shuffle. I arrived in Chicago just weeks after the Steelers beat the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, which meant I got to spend the summer updating myself on Bears history, and there were some pretty cool things to learn: The 1940 NFL Championship, with the Bears winning a 73-0 squeaker over Washington. It set records for points and point differential. (Gee, ya think?) The Sneakers Game, the dynasty of the 1940’s. But my brain started telling me something was slightly amiss because all the Bears writings and paraphernalia emphasized one thing: 1985. I learned more about the 1985 Chicago Bears than I did about any other era in NFL history because it was the only thing Chicagoans seemed to care about.

I ignored that weird feeling, though, because in 2006, the Bears hit a high they hadn’t attained since 1985. They paced the league at 13-3 and finally made their return to the Super Bowl. Even though they were decisively waxed by the Colts, they won me over on account of the fact that they made football FUN again. The 2006 Bears were third in points against and – absolutely fucking incredibly – second in points scored. Rex Grossman was healthy the whole season. Thomas Jones set the tone on the ground. Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs made countless big plays on defense. Kick returner Devin Hester became the team’s secret weapon, running seemingly every other kick into the endzone. The Bears started the season by beating Green Bay 26-0; it was the first time Packers quarterback Brett Favre had been shut out since high school. In week six, they posted an incredible comeback win over the Cardinals, returning from a 20-0 deficit without scoring a single offensive touchdown. Eight of their players showed up in the Pro Bowl. After a 40-7 hammering of the Bills, the first thing I said to my mother was, “40-7?! Please explain that.”

Chicago fans have a national reputation for being rabid and knowledgeable, and during 2006, they were living up to it. In the buildup leading to the Super Bowl, it was impossible to not see anyone or anything decked out in their colors, but the excitement was still a bit restrained. The Bears were going to be facing the Colts, after all, and if there was one name away from 1985 that Chicago knew, it was that of Indianapolis star quarterback Peyton Manning. I developed a respect for the fans because even though they were hoping for the good outcome, they were still tempered with the realization that this was going to be Manning’s year. That should have done the trick.

The euphoria surrounding the Super Bowl didn’t even last through the offseason, and my perception of Bears “fans” was put to the test in the first regular season game of 2007. I asked a co-worker what he thought about the Bears’ odds of beating their first opponent, the San Diego Chargers, and his response was just, “Huh?! Oh, I dunno. DA BEARS.” The Bears lost the game 14-3. During the season, it became apparent that 2006 was an anomaly that came from hitting an early peak and playing two patsy divisions (the NFC West and AFC East) during a time when the NFC was going through a power void. The better AFC West and NFC East were both on the schedule in 2007, and while the Bears acquitted themselves well, they still lost too many key matchups against pushovers and finished 7-9.

2007 was the season that set the tone for my years failing to support the Bears. The team turned from a contender into an indifferent nonentity. Nothing symbolized that more than a running back controversy between Jones and Cedric Benson. While Benson was a first round pick, he wasn’t as good as Jones in any of the ways that matter in his position. The Bears dumped Jones anyway, and that lopping – which turned out to be as bad as every football fan said it would be – gave fans the excuse they needed to spend the year at lunch. The team was facing an uphill battle in the hearts of Chicagoans anyway; the Cubs had hired Lou Piniella as their manager that year and come out on the top of an exciting division race with the Milwaukee Brewers. For all intents and purposes, they looked ready to contend.

The 2007 season ran by inconspicuously. The Bears reversed their record to end the following year at 9-7, but good luck finding anyone who remembers anything that happened. Okay, well, fans knew two things: Rex Grossman sucked and needed to be replaced, and Matt Forte needed to be the new featured back. If we throw in the constant comparisons to the 1985 Bears, that makes three things. Basically, a Super Bowl euphoria was followed with two seasons of blah before the coming of Jay Cutler. The Bears had needed a good quarterback since Sid Luckman back in the 1940’s so badly that fans managed to talk themselves into thinking Jim McMahon was good. Cutler’s first season was maddening. After watching Rex Grossman’s power bombs from 2006 (he’ll always have that one year), Cutler played remedial football. It was routine for the Bears to hang 48 on the Lions in one game, then lose 10-6 to the 49ers in another. They lost 45-10 against Cincinnati but hammered Cleveland 30-6. As often as there were dazzling performances from Cutler, there were weeks when I could have outplayed him, and I can barely throw a football.

The Bears, in short, were not an endearing team to watch. Their style was as boring as it was outmoded. A bad team can still be fun, but a boring team commits the ultimate crime of sports. What really got to me, though, was the constant harkening back to 1985. Buffalo lost the closest Super Bowl in history because of a missed last-second field goal, but the fans managed to let it go. In Chicago, the Bears WON the fucking game 30 years before, and the fans were convinced that crew of brainless headhunters played the most modern version of football possible. They lionized Mike Ditka, a bad coach lucky enough to ride a good defensive coordinator with a load of talent, and one of the loudest stupid people in sports. 

It was in 2010 that I decided something was badly amiss. The 2010 Bears went 11-5 and won their division, but that didn’t necessarily mean they were, well, good. Racking up wins is one thing, but for a team to be legitimate, it has to be beating opponents in some very specific ways. The first game of 2010 was the famous Calvin Johnson Rule game, where Calvin Johnson was robbed of a touchdown because of an obscure and inexplicable rule about “completing the process.” (That was the official term used in the rules.) The touchdown happened right as time ran out, and it would have won the game for Detroit. That was the setting for a season in which the Bears somehow caught all the lucky bounces. A contender doesn’t win with luck; they beat bad teams decisively and take what they need from the good teams. That wasn’t the Bears of 2010. The Bears took very few chances while nature fell in their favor.

When the fans started endorsing the way the Bears were playing, I stopped trying to wrap my mind around them. The way the fans thought was that hey, the Bears were in first, they must be good! Never mind the fact that the Bears barely beat a 4-12 Bills team in Toronto by only three points, or that they got whomped by two teams with losing records, or that they couldn’t take a game from the eventual Super Bowl winner despite holding them to just ten points. When Green Bay exposed the Bears for what they were in the NFC Championship, fans were flabbergasted. Jay Cutler was removed during the game because his knee was visibly out of place, and every fan in Chicago told him to toughen up. Then they bitched about how much better the current backup was.

2010 was my last football season living in Chicago. Since m time in Chicago had been such a huge game-changer, I tried to remain loyal to my adopted teams, but ultimately the Blackhawks and White Sox were the only ones that made it out with me. I never took to the Cubs, and I dumped the Fire almost immediately. The Bulls held out a bit longer, but after some time being a Buffalo sports fan again, I realized that I was frequently finding solace in watching the New York Knicks rather than the Bulls, and the Knicks finally became my official team. As for the Bears, they proved to be my ultimate holdout, and my slip on them was gradual. As I got adjusted to watching the Bills every week again, I just got more into the games than I ever did following the Bears. In Chicago, I was always eager to learn the Bills scores. I never felt any pull to the Bears, and in one Monday Night Football game where they were dominating the other team, I realized that I just didn’t care. I should have been euphoric, but I didn’t feel much of anything aside from my brain telling me to jump up and down screaming my lungs out.

And that was pretty much it. The final nail in the coffin was coming out to Seattle and finding a huge pocket of raging football fans who knew their team and loved their sport. I chatted up a playoff game one night at work that the Seahawks lost, despite making a stirring near-comeback. When I told my co-worker that it would have been the second-greatest comeback in league history, he knew what the biggest one was. The fans were so good that they were the first thing I latched on to in order to find some semblance of familiarity. The Seahawks also offer a lot more than the Bears – a fleet young quarterback in Russell Wilson, a dynamic running back in Marshawn Lynch, and a dominant group of defensive backs known collectively as the Legion of Boom. Within a few months, I had embraced the Seahawks. The Bears were dead to me.

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Sports Fandom Lessons from My Mother

Sports Fandom Lessons from My Mother

Football season is now here, and you know what that means: It’s time for those of us in real civilization to unleash our inner beasts! We’ll get drunk at the oddest hours of the day, get in drunken fights for no reason, and refer to specific teams in the first person as if we have anything to do with their success on the gridiron. At least it certainly seems that way. The truth is, there are good and bad ways to be a decent fan, and the people who get highlighted in news reports just happen to be on the animalistic side of things.

Football was one of those personal hand-me-downs from my mother to me. She was the true football fan in the family, and the one who taught me how to be a good fan. Here are some of the things I learned about being a good sports fan that came from her.

1 – Your love for a team should spring from a love for the sport itself. Sports are ultimately entertainment, so your civic pride doesn’t mean a whole lot if you’re forcing yourself through a sport you think is a screaming bore.

2 – Yes, it’s perfectly okay to be loyal to more than one team. In fact, it’s the far more sane option if one of your teams is going through a rough patch. It doesn’t matter which team it is, either; mom was loyal to the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets for her whole life, as a Long Island native who settled in Buffalo. Just make sure you abide by that key word: Loyalty. No stopping your fandom for one just because they’re bad, and no adding the team of the moment just because they’re good.

3 – It’s okay to skip a game if you don’t think it’s going to be much of a contest. In fact, this is another great way to keep ahold of your head during a rough patch. At the very least, you can find another game to watch which will hopefully be better.

4 – Along those same lines, it’s okay to flip off your own team’s game and do something else altogether if the contest gets out of control. If the game is boring, or over after ten minutes, or both, what’s the point in trying to sweat it out and endure? My mother admitted to having a soft spot for the Baltimore Ravens a few years ago because, “They’re the one team I’ve never seen give up in a game.”

5 – Even if you hate a team with every fiber of your being, if they’re truly good, show them a little respect. This goes back to the previous rule about loving the sport more than the team. Really, it’s what fans will sometimes say about hating players, but loving them if they’re on their team.

6 – Watch the game with a sense of objectivity. Really, there’s little in sports fandom than having the mindset that the league is against your team. A lot of blown calls by the “refs against your team” are in reality the result of your team blowing a play. Much we all hate to admit it, football fans all know The Forward Lateral was simply a lateral and that it was the result of piss-poor kickoff coverage. I’m MUCH harder on the No Goal fiasco of the 1999 Stanley Cup Final, but even I’ll admit that Brett Hull makes a few points in its defense.

7 – Tempting as it may sometimes be, don’t hold grudges for bad things other teams did to yours ten years ago. That’s just immature. (Mom never quite got over the Wide Right game, but she never held it against the Giants, either.)

8 – Perplexing as it may be, other people might not necessarily be fans of the same team that you are. Although I myself am of the idea that opposing fans should not be allowed to get too settled in at your team’s stadium, that doesn’t mean they should ever be personally assaulted. As a corollary, they should be treated like guests again once the game is over.

Predicting Autobiographies by Peyton Manning and Tom Brady

Predicting Autobiographies by Peyton Manning and Tom Brady

Let’s have some fun today. Two things we know about football are that the greatest quarterbacks of all time are Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. That means after they’re both retired, they’ll inevitably release their autobiographies.

I’ve taken the liberty to predict those autobiographies. Here are a few excerpts from them on various subjects, written in the very style I believe they will both respectively employ.

Brady:“I was always smaller than the other kids, but naturally gifted. I would knock on the doors of the other kids and ask if they would please play football.”

Manning:“Whenever my Dad and brothers finished throwing around our durable Wilson footballs, we’d eat delicious Papa John’s for dinner.”

Brady:“I was awed to play in the biggest football stadium in the country for Michigan, the greatest college football team ever!”

Manning:“Tennessee, of course, was a popular team with a lot of merchandising.”

Brady:“I couldn’t believe it when I finally heard my name called. I was finally going to play in the NFL for one of its greatest teams!”

Manning:“I switched on my Sony radio just in time to hear my name get called on Sony’s crystal-clear airwaves.”

Brady:“In my first NFL season, I owned the bench. No one could own a bench like me. And I had the privilege of learning from Bill Belichick and Drew Bledsoe, who were great.”

Manning:“Although I led the Colts to only three wins, I had started something great, but it was the hard, uncomfortable Astroturf holding us back. The softer and firmer footing offered by the Gardenista brand allowed the Colts to play without fear of injury.”

Brady:“When I had to start for the rest of the 2001 season, I didn’t have any jitters. I had total confidence in my team.”

Manning:“In my second year, I was feeling much better about the Nike cleats I had to fill.”

Brady:“Accepting that first Vince Lombardi Trophy was the proudest moment of my life.”

Manning:“Accepting that smooth-riding Cadillac Escalade for being the MVP of my first Super Bowl was the proudest moment of my life.”

Brady:“I was nervous about my first commercial shoot, and I knew I couldn’t do it without the people who made me a success: My teammates.”

Manning:“I was never nervous about commercial shoots, but I knew I had to come up with something for the commercial for my reliable and rewarding Mastercard that people would remember at their banks. I was at the butcher shop waiting impatiently because I was late for the filming, and I suddenly yelled to the butcher, ‘Hey, you! Cut that meat!’”

Brady:“That perfect season was hollow without the ring. I let so many people down.”

Manning:“My neck injury wasn’t so bad, because my Covidien neckbrace gave my axis and atlas the support and alignment they needed.”

Brady:“I took the pay cut. Leave the greatest fans of the greatest team in the greatest city in America? That would be unthinkable.”

Manning:“After it became clear that I would no longer fill the comfortable Reebok hi-tops Johnny Unitas once wore, I hopped a Learjet and flew to Denver in first-class style.”

Brady:“After that second Super Bowl against the Giants, everyone said we were done. But I knew we had a great team, and we would return!”

Manning:“After heaving that interception to Tracy Porter, all I could do was stand on the sidelines in my perfectly stretched, one-size-fits-all New Era cap and watch my team fail on me.”

Brady:“With my team frantic, I knew I had to stay calm. I trusted Mr. Belichick to make all the right calls to get us out of this hole against that vicious Seahawks defense.”

Manning:“All the clear, high-definition footage from the Broncos’ Canon XA35 HD camera didn’t prepare me for Seattle’s defense. It wasn’t the camera’s fault because it has top shutter speed.”

Brady:“Even against Buffalo, we had to play our best. The Bills were one of the worst teams in the league, but they had still won a few games against us.”

Manning:“Visits to Buffalo always involved the moist, tender, crunchy chicken wings made by Duff’s.”

Every Team Ever

Every Team Ever

So a few years ago, on a review website called Lunch.com, I started a little reviewing project. The goal was to write about every professional major league sports team in the United States and Canada. It took awhile, but I pulled it off, and it was read and liked by thousands of people.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t very long before the moderators on Lunch stopped doing their jobs. Going to Lunch now reveals a message that says they’ll have thing up and running again before you can say “Who doesn’t love Lunch?” Well, apparently saying those four words is a process which is now pushing two years.

All that hard work I did is now gone, but earlier this year, I came up with another good idea: I would do the same project all over again, but this time, I would do it as a wordpress blog so it wouldn’t be exposed to the shortcomings of lazy moderators.

So far, I’ve got about 15 teams down. This is going to take a little bit of time, so you’ll just have to check back in regularly and know that I’m going to get to your own favorite team eventually.

Here’s the link:

https://everyteamever.wordpress.com

A Black Goat: The Ultimate Battle of Chicago Baseball Curses!

A Black Goat: The Ultimate Battle of Chicago Baseball Curses!

Once upon a time there was a baseball team. They hadn’t won the World Series in a really long time. But thanks to some smart managing, talented players, and a little bit of pluck and grit, they were able to make a completely unexpected run to the World Series at a time when no one expected them to. They paced their league and stormed through everyone they faced. Facing a pitching-heavy opponent in the Fall Classic, they fought down to the last, and were pushed to the brink in one of the greatest, most memorable baseball games ever played. And after decades of misery, it was in October of 2005 that the Chicago White Sox stood above all as the champions of the baseball world!…

Wait a minute, what’s that? That’s not how it went? That’s EXACTLY how it went! Oh, I think I see where you went wrong here – you were thinking I was writing about the Chicago Cubs’ 2016 World Series victory! Well, not there I wasn’t. The Cubs victory was totally different. They were building up to it for years and it finally happened right at a time they created a team that will be a nightmare to every other team in MLB for the next seven years. Chicago is one of two (three if we’re counting Los Angeles) two-team markets in baseball. Unlike New York City – where the Yankees and Metropolitans both get a huge share of the popular headlines – there’s a severe dividing line which splits the White Sox from the Cubs. And that’s strange, because you could build an easy argument that the White Sox were just as star-crossed as the Cubs; maybe even more so. The White Sox also got less attention than the Boston Red Sox, who famously busted up an 86-year-old curse in 2004, even though the White Sox had a curse that ran slightly longer (88 years). But even Ozzie Guillen, the manager of the 2005 White Sox, kept things in perspective when he said that his team could win the next three World Series and still be less popular than the Cubs. The White Sox curse – the Curse of the Black Sox – went without publicity to such a point that no one remembered it existed at all until it was dug up in 2005.

It got me thinking about which curse was worse. So let’s do this! The Billy Goat Curse vs. the Curse of the Black Sox. One day, I’ll learn.

Coverage
I think just about everyone already knows about the Billy Goat and its effects. Some backwoods cave-dweller from East Outer Jahunga who never heard the word “baseball” in their life will bring up the Billy Goat Curse anytime someone finds them and mentions being from Chicago. They already know that the idea of a curse getting power through a bar owner’s pet goat is something that happened in 1945, even though the Cubs drought was a “mere” 37 years old when it happened. The Cubs are a nationally known and beloved team, so every time they come racing out and start well, that goat gets brought into it. Throughout the course of the baseball season, coverage of it has a habit of picking up strength. “The Cubs! Could this be the year they exorcise the Billy Goat Curse?” Since the time I started watching baseball, talk of the Billy Goat Curse has been run through the ringer in every postseason baseball game I’ve seen the Cubs play. It probably stands to be mentioned in a ton of broadcasts for the next several seasons as well, just so we all know it’s dead. The Curse of the Black Sox, though… Well, I hardly heard any mention of that, and that’s not just because the White Sox have played in so few postseason games. The Sox just don’t get a lot of attention. Their whole drought went unnoticed until they suddenly killed their curse in 2005, then it went unnoticed again even though everyone now knew better! The Billy Goat Curse getting more attention is somewhat understandable because it ran 20 years longer, but the Red Sox’ Curse of the Bambino was SHORTER than the Curse of the Black Sox and that also gets more attention!
Winner
The Billy Goat Curse. I’ll grant that everyone in the media paid more attention to that, but coverage blew so out of control that White Sox fans forgot their own team was even cursed at all. Cubs fans never shut up about theirs. So the Cubs are winning this one based on the power of shameless self-promotion and, you know, everything else.

Origins
Again, since the Billy Goat Curse is so well-covered, everyone already knows where it came from. Although the Cubs hadn’t won the World Series since 1908, it was in 1945 that Chicago tavern owner William Sianis hexed the team. Sianis bought a pair of tickets to the 1945 World Series between the Cubs and the Detroit Tigers. One, of course, was for him. The other turned out to be for his pet goat, Murphy. Not that there’s anything wrong with bringing pets to a baseball stadium – my sister and brother-in-law made a tradition of taking their dog to Citi Field to watch the Mets on Pet Day. But the fact that Murphy was a goat didn’t go unnoticed by the other patrons of Wrigley Field; they couldn’t escape the poor animal’s smell. So Sianis was thrown out of Wrigley Field. Understandably pissed off, Sianis stayed in his seat just long enough to utter the phrase “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.” Everyone laughed it off back then, but the Cubs didn’t return to the World Series for 71 years. The Curse of the Black Sox has a much darker origin story. The White Sox won the World Series in 1917 and were fielding Joe Jackson, possibly the best player in baseball; Eddie Cicotte, possibly the best pitcher in baseball; and Buck Weaver, possibly baseball’s best third baseman. In 1919 they won the Pennant in such dominant fashion that the ensuing World Series was expected to be nothing but a formality, and that people weren’t watching to see if the Sox would win, but HOW they would win. Well, the opposing Cincinnati Reds beat the White Sox in a monumental upset. But as the Sox rolled through the 1920 season, word got out that professional gamblers had placed Wall Street-asshole amounts of cash on the Reds. It began an investigation that revealed eight members of the White Sox had agreed to take payments from gamblers – notably Arnold Rothstein and Joseph “Sport” Sullivan – in exchange for losing the Series on purpose. While they were found innocent in the following trial, all eight were also banned from baseball for life. The scandal resulted in the Commissioner position being created and baseball’s zero-tolerance policy on gambling.
Winner
The Curse of the Black Sox. The start of the Billy Goat Curse sounds like a children’s fairy tale. An evil bar owner places an elaborate hex on the Cubs! Ooh! The way the Curse of the Black Sox started had tangible consequences in the real world, and it involved dangerous people and the possibility of someone who didn’t know anything about what was going on getting hurt. The Black Sox Scandal also had a positive effect: The ensuing rule against gambling has been a successful deterrent. Since its implementation, there have been a handful of players who were called in for questioning based on gambling habits they had for events other than baseball, and others warned because they had connections to known gamblers. But only one of those people ignored all those warnings and got banned for life.

Star-crossed-ness
Pinpointing where the Cubs really started to go bad can be a little tricky. Yes, they’re known for being the Lovable Losers, but that’s a smaller part of a larger narrative that people forget. The Cubs didn’t win the World Series between 1908 and 2016. They never won the Pennant between 1945 and 2016. Now if your observations are astute, you may be wondering just, exactly, accounts for the 37 years between 1908 and 1945. Well, uh, Pennants. Lots of them. Pennants in 1910, 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, and 1938 to be exact. That whole loser image didn’t come into vogue until the 60’s or 70’s; until then the Cubs were one of the most hated teams in the National League. They were the Yankees without the titles the Yankees have to show for it. And even after 1945, the Cubs could make a habit of ripping hearts out and being stupid. There was 1969, where Sianis rescinded the Curse and the Cubs charged out, led the league from April until August, and then went 8-17 in September and got plowed by the Mets. There was Ernie Banks winning MVP in 1958 and 1959 but his team hauling losing records in both years. There was 1984, where they went to the NLCS only to lose a 2-0 lead in the series to, of all teams, the San Diego Padres. They lost the NLCS again to the San Francisco Giants in 1989, and the NLDS in 1998 to the Atlanta Braves. There was the epic NLCS meltdown of 2003 and those playoff popgun shots in 2007 and 2008 and hell, the Cubs got swept in the NLCS by the Mets just last season too. Between false hope like that, the Cubs kept sort of fading in and out, being mediocre enough to let their fans think they had a chance and just outright bad. As for the White Sox, well… Between 1917 and 2005, they won two Pennants. One was the 1919 Pennant which got thrown away. The other was a stellar effort in 1959 where the White Sox had the services of many of their best players – including Early Wynn, Billy Pierce, Nelly Fox, and Luis Aparicio – at their peaks. Fox was the MVP, with Aparicio second in voting. Wynn won the Cy Young, while Fox, Aparicio, and Sherm Lollar won Gold Gloves. Manager Al Lopez was Manager of the Year. But the thing with the White Sox is that during the 50’s and 60’s, they were good… Just never quite good enough. Looking at the standings for the 1959 baseball season, it’s pretty clear that while the Cleveland Indians gave everyone pause for thought, the main reason the White Sox won the Pennant was because the Yankees of Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, and Yogi Berra had an off year. Besides that, it’s hard to say they were failing in the stretch. During their best years in the 50’s and 60’s, they had a lot of close calls, but were usually bowing out to a Yankees team that was just better. Not that it would have mattered, because they would only have gotten clobbered in the Series by the Dodgers anyway. After about 1967, they alternated between overachieving and having talent that failed. In 1983, the talentless White Sox won 99 games and their division; they’re the team the popular phrase “winning ugly” was created to describe. The year of the strike, the Sox were one of the best teams in baseball and could have gotten a Pennant, but the strike happened. The good years of the White Sox can mostly be summed up this way: No one remembers the bridesmaid.
Winner
The Billy Goat Curse. It’s hard to blame bad luck when the team goes between falling short and overachieving. The World Series title the White Sox finally won in 2005 wasn’t the same as the Cubs. The Cubs’ title was the culmination of a well-built team with a grand design. The White Sox title was the ultimate of their overachieving years…

Aftermath
Well, you mean aside from two of the wildest parties Chicago has ever seen? The Cubs victory parade was attended by over five million people. I can’t speak for the White Sox, because I don’t know. But for a comparison, two enormous gatherings which I was in Chicago for – and personally attended – were the 2008 election of Barack Obama to the Presidency, which was attended by over 500,000 people, and the Chicago Blackhawks 2010 victory parade, which drew three million. (The Blackhawks snapped a 49-year curse which was then the longest in the NHL.) But you’re probably wondering more about the long-term aftereffects, and in the case of the Cubs, they can’t be judged just yet. We can make a few speculations which will be good based on things we know, and here they are: One, their current general manager is Jed Hoyer. Hoyer’s past includes a stint as the Assistant to the General Manager for the Boston Red Sox which ran through the 2004 team. He was made Assistant General Manager – don’t ask me what the difference is – after Boston’s GM, Theo Epstein, stepped down briefly in 2005. Hoyer was one of four executives who kept the team going, completing trades for Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, Mark Loretta, and Andy Marte. He then worked as the GM for the Padres from 2009 to 2011, when he was taken by the Cubs. And you know who’s running the Cubs? Theo Epstein! Yes, the architect of the Cursebreaker Red Sox! He’s the President, not the GM, but he still developed a plan and oversaw it right through to the end. And it’s safe to expect that he’s using the same methods in Chicago as he did in Boston, which means this is a Cubs team built to win two or three more Fall Classics. But given the finicky nature of baseball bodies – today’s MVP is tomorrow’s obscure minor-leaguer – we can never be sure. The White Sox, on the other hand, we already saw. Its been 11 years since the Curse of the Black Sox went down in flames. And since the core of the 2005 team was kept intact, they were expected to spend the next few years slugging it out with Boston for the title of Supreme Sox Team… And, oh yeah, also World Series Champions. And that didn’t pan out. The White Sox made a run of it through the first half of 2006 but got blasted after the All-Star break, getting leapfrogged by both the Tigers and the Minnesota Twins. And it was the Tigers that won the Pennant and spend the next decade being the class of the division while, save a division title in 2008, the White Sox fell right back into their spot as the second team in the Second City. That was the truth: The White Sox were the ultimate one-year wonder. Like most of the other White Sox teams, they overachieved and just happened to win the World Series while doing so.
Winner
I’m holding off on this one. Yeah, we can make educated guesses about the Cubs all we want, but we’re still not going to know anything until we see some real results.

Impact
Although its only been a few days since the Cubs won the World Series, this is something that can actually be seen. The Cubs did have a great impact on the country. Let’s face it: The country has had a uniquely shitty year. The Republican Presidential candidate was picked strictly because the insane right political wing was desperate for a victory and thought the guy who fired up the worst of their fan base could be reined in. They’ve been proven wrong and only started to see the consequences of their stupidity after it was too late. David Bowie, Prince, Gordie Howe, and Muhammad Ali all left the Earthly plane. We’re being exposed to the bad side of the NFL and are torn over it, and even if we can ignore the bad side of it enough to use it as an escape, we can’t even do that anymore because one player is using it as a way to protest the way his people are treated. The Cubs managed to do the impossible by uniting the country, at least to the extent that it could have been united in a year like this. In the meantime, the White Sox winning the World Series didn’t have any impact at all. The Curse of the Black Sox itself is what had the impact. It was the Black Sox, after all, that resulted in baseball creating a Commissioner and a zero-tolerance policy on gambling. The Black Sox are also blamed for nearly ruining the sport, but that’s the reputation of it – I’m not sure about the truth of it. It’s something they teach you in elementary school history class, and they teach you that people stayed away from baseball until Babe Ruth was moved to the outfield and started hitting home runs. Honestly, did any other bad sports scandal have an impact like that? No one boycotted baseball for the steroid thing. No one avoided it after the strike, even though the fans made their displeasure over that known. People aren’t really staying away from football now. We didn’t quit on basketball even after a ref admitted to fixing a playoff series.
Winner
I’m going to give this to The Curse of the Black Sox. Yes, it’s awesome how the Cubs brought the country together, but that’s only going to be temporary, and if the Cubs manage to turn the corner, people are going to turn against them soon enough. Remember what happened to the Boston Red Sox? Same thing, although Red Sox fans becoming the worst people on the planet didn’t help their cause any.

Drama
You’ve seen The Exorcist, right? Would that movie have left the same impression on you without the girl’s neck doing a complete 180-degree turn, all the vomit, and the Priest killing himself at the end? Nope, didn’t think so. The drama is what people remember. And the Cubs of 2016 had that in spades during the postseason. Every pitch and every swing of the bat was watched with rapt attention. Everyone was already conditioned to know the Cubs were capable of blowing it at any time, and they had a past which backed the mindset up. One loss to the Giants was a tragedy. Two to the Dodgers and everyone in Chicago was suddenly picking out their favorite bridge over the Chicago River to jump off. Three to the Indians – who had a 3-1 lead in the World Series by then – and all the wind in Chicago was the deranged and heartbroken howling of Cubs faithful knowing their team was going to blow it again. (In all honesty, you couldn’t blame them for that one.) But the Cubs, like the Red Sox 12 years before, pulled themselves out of the insurmountable hole in order to get back into the Series and win it. And that seventh game was one of the greatest and most dramatic ever played: The Cubs lit up the scoreboard early and looked like they were going to cruise to the end, but the Indians came back, tying the game on a two-run homer in the eighth. The game went to extra innings, pausing for a brief rain delay during which one of my friends expressed her sentiments by saying, “I guess Mother Nature has to cry about this game too.” The Cubs scored two runs in the tenth, only to let the Indians score one more before they were finally able to close it out. On the other hand, when the White Sox ran down the entire league for their title in 2005, no one seemed in a big hurry to resist them. They made one of the most dominant postseason showings ever. In the ALDS, they plowed through the Red Sox, who – lest we forget – won the World Series the year before. In the ALCS, they lost the first game to the Los Angeles Angels before rebounding and winning the next four on the strength of four straight complete games from their starting rotation. In the World Series, every game they played against the opposing Houston Astros provided us with suspense. Two games were decided by two runs, and the other two were decided by one. Game three was of particular interest – it was a 15-inning marathon which saw the Astros take a 4-0 lead which they blew when the White Sox scored five in the fifth inning. The Astros tied it in the eighth, sent the game to extra innings, and the ChiSox and ‘Stros dueled for four more innings before the ChiSox scored two in the 14th to end the marathon. The game set a few marks: The teams combine to use a total of 17 pitchers; they threw a total of 482 pitches; 21 total batters were walked; 43 total players were used; and 30 total players were left on base. In the following game, the White Sox clinched the title with pitcher Freddy Garcia being nearly perfect through seven, and Jermaine Dye scored the only run of the game. Dramatic? Yes. Suspenseful? Definitely. Necessary? Not exactly. The theatrics didn’t change the fact that the 2005 World Series was only four games long.
Winner
The Billy Goat Curse. I take nothing from the White Sox here, but there was a difference between them and the Cubs: Clout. The White Sox of 2005 had it. The Cubs of 2016 didn’t. If the Sox didn’t close out in that fourth game, they would have had three more chances to do it, and history says they almost certainly would have pulled it off – only one team in baseball (the 2004 Red Sox) has ever managed to win a playoff series in which they were down 3-0. In total of sports, the number of teams that has climbed out of the 3-0 hole can still be counted on one hand, and all except the Red Sox are hockey teams. And that’s because being in that hole can mentally break you down. It says that even if you managed to get that far, the other team is clearly superior, you the players want to mentally cut their losses before they get hurt. Even if they win a game or two, it’s an effort to save face. The Cubs weren’t in that hole, but being behind 3-1 in a series is pretty close. It makes things a lot harder. There’s no room at all for error. And the Cubs, with all that history weighing on them and looking like they Cubbed it all up yet again, persevered. They shook off the mentality that situation can put on an athlete’s mind, came back into it, and never let it get into their heads again.

Looks like the Billy Goat Curse was the superior curse after all. Yes, the implications and impact of the Curse of the Black Sox were a lot nastier, but the goat is associated with Satan, so there’s that.

Goatbusters: Random Thoughts on the World Champion Chicago Cubs

Goatbusters: Random Thoughts on the World Champion Chicago Cubs

There could have been a lot of “oh, shit” moments that happened to the Cubs after 2003. You could almost consider their run from 2003 to 2006 a long, lingering drawn-out “oh, shit.” But you can’t argue that the Chicago Cubs seemed to take their merry time finally snapping. In 2003, it was oh, shit! The team almost got to the World Series, and now the fans might start to expect stuff from us! In 2004, it was oh, shit! The Red Sox just won the World Series, and showed the fans that a so-called baseball curse could be broken! In 2005, it was oh, shit! The White Sox just won the World Series, and our fans will start to think we don’t care enough about winning!

When I moved to Chicago, that was the prejudice, at least from my perspective: The Cubs were the cutesy, fun little group that always drew well so the ownership didn’t have to care about winning. Consequently, I took the baseline less traveled among transplanted baseball fans to Chicago and sided with the Southsiders. The White Sox were tough, scrappy, exciting underdogs who flew out of nowhere and stole the 2005 championship, snapping an 88-year drought of their own and creating a weird bookending with Boston’s baseball titles. (The Red Sox won the World Series in 1918 and endured an 86-year drought that ran until 2004; prior to 2005, the White Sox won their most recent title in 1917.) It probably didn’t make any sense to other baseball fans who knew me that I would adopt a second American League team in lieu of taking the National League option in Chicago that would have evened out my karma for being a Yankees fan, but I detest teams that try to get away with being cutesy rather than good to attract attention. And if any team was guilty of that, the Cubs were it. Hell, they had a statue dedicated to their drunk-sounding announcer Harry Caray outside their stadium before they ever thought to create one of Ernie Banks, their greatest player.

There was also that wild, insane meltdown in 2003. You remember that one: The Bartman catch, the Alex Gonzales error, Mark Prior’s arm falling off and Dusty Baker not pulling him until the Marlins already had the lead. The Cubs squandering the game five outs from the Pennant and then the series, in which they themselves pulled ahead 3-1only to blow the whole thing. I had only been a baseball fan for a couple of years at the time, and I never turned into a Cubs fan, but I think I experienced a true Cubs Fan Moment when that happened. It was one of those flashbulb memories – you never forget where you were when it happened. Neither will my parents, who heard me screaming and cursing at Dusty Baker all throughout a disastrous eighth inning. An otherwise awesome, well-played ballgame turned into a Keystone Cubs show where the Cubs couldn’t do anything right and the Marlins capitalized on all of their countless mistakes. They blew the game, then the series, and the Florida Marlins went on to win the World Series and bring the second baseball title to the least-deserving fans on the planet.

Cubs fans knew it was coming, of course. They conditioned themselves to see the guillotine blade precariously bouncing up and down whenever something good happened to the Cubs. I grew up cheering for the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, and you would figure that would give me some kind of insight into this kind of thing, but it was more different than I realized. The Sabres are a team that just fails. They fail in the regular season. If they make it to the playoffs, they fail there too. Even the one year they didn’t fail at some point, they got screwed by a group of officials who did. But the Cubs just did it differently. Despite a lot of jokes about their futility, they were capable of playing well enough and keeping up with their division to a point where you could believe they might just have a chance. Then at the end of that 162-game marathon called the baseball season, they would show everyone that it was all an illusion. The mask was ripped off, and you would have things like the Cubs blowing a 2-0 series lead in 1984, when the NLCS was just five games. Or pacing the league in 2008, only to get killed by the Dodgers in the first round of the playoffs.

Although they seemed to at least be respectable by the standards of the star-crossed, there was something a little weird about the Cubs’ fortunes. Everyone already knows the Billy Goat Curse story, the black cat story, the 1969 mowdown, and every other major event of the team’s history. During my time in Chicago, though, I was subjected to some pretty weird things that made them look inept. They had a catcher, Michael Barrett, who got into a few on-field fights. They also had a player get conked on his head by a routine fly ball. They had two players once collide with each other on the infield. Mark Prior, a pitcher who was once positioned to become their greatest ever, kept breaking down. Another pitcher, Kerry Wood, had to reinvent himself as a reliever to stay in the league.

Somehow, the Cubs always had a talented core which kept losing. Every year was the same rhetoric: The Cubs are gonna do it this year! And every year, the Cubs developed a knack for rolling over in the moment. Even the years the team got itself up, lived up to its hype, and really did look like the first escorts into a new era, something always went wrong. The Bartman game and those playoff disasters with Lou Piniella are prime suspects here.

That’s why what happened the other night is such an oddity. Chicago Cubs, World Series Champions. Somehow, it managed to happen. And these fans waited long enough – it took 108 years, and yet it couldn’t have been more timely. Cubs fans were suffering so much that everyone decided to be on their side. White Sox fans, Cardinals fans, Yankees fans, and virtually everyone who knew baseball is a thing donned the iconic red letter C and cheered their hearts out for a team that once called itself the Lovable Losers. That old nickname is now in dire need of an update. It’s hard to think of a team this good and call them Lovable Losers anymore, or that other, more wretched nickname: Cubbies. That one won’t do, either. This isn’t a team of lovable, playful, cute little cubs. This is now a team of raging grizzly bears that dines on goats for breakfast.

Think about that: THE CUBS. The team cursed by that goat is the one that knocked down all comers. During the regular season, no one was able to touch them. The San Francisco Giants pushed them in the NLDS, and the Los Angeles Dodgers pushed them a bit further. Then came the ultimate test: They played against the Cleveland Indians in the World Series, thus giving every baseball fan a World Series we could have had back in 2003 when the Yankees and Marlins robbed us of a mouth-watering World Series matchup between the Cubs and Red Sox. Now, unlike the Cubs – who had spent the last few years building up to being a team that could dominate for a decade – the Indians came out of nowhere to win the Pennant. This was a Fall Classic full of juicy stories: Cubs President Theo Epstein and Indians Manager Terry Francona worked together for the 2004 Cursebreaker Red Sox. The Indians hadn’t won the World Series themselves since 1948. But on paper, everything looked like a done deal favoring Chicago. Instead, Francona took The Tribe racing out to a 3-1 Series lead before the Cubs’ bats woke up. The Cubs charged back into the Series and took it in a game seven for the ages.

This is a Cubs team I’ll always remember. Not just because they just made history, but because of the way they unified people. Let’s face it, this past year has been among the most officious and saddest years in recent memory. The country has a fraudulent rapist in the Presidential election who has done everything he can to appeal to the worst in people. His opponent only got to be his opponent because her party screwed over a more qualified candidate. David Bowie, Prince, and Muhammad Ali all died. States tried to cover up real problems by making laws about who can and can’t use their bathrooms. In that atmosphere, it was the Cubs that brought everyone together and inspired the best of us. As one excited player said after game seven ended, they’re going to make movies about this.

The Billy Goat Curse is dead. Long live the Cubs.

A Quick Letter to the Chicago Cubs

A Quick Letter to the Chicago Cubs

Dear Chicago Cubs,

I’ve hated you for a long time and a World Series victory isn’t going to change that. Most of the teams I personally really like, including the White Sox, Cardinals, and Yankees, are your archenemies. That being said, I’m pulling for you to win the Series – or at least the damned Pennant – for a few reasons.

Number one, I like baseball and Chicago more than I hate any team, and a Cubs championship would be an awesome story for both.

Two, I have too many friends who are Cubs fans still patiently waiting and hoping. I tend to care about my friends and want them to be happy, and a title would really make their day. Hell, it would make their year, because many of them also have relatives and other friends who lived and died through this horrible drought never wavering in loyalty and belief.

Three, you just OWE it to everyone. Okay? You’re closing in on 108 years, a length of time during which teams and even whole leagues have blinked in and out of existence.

Fourth, when I do my inevitable Cubs post for my blog Every Team Ever, I REALLY want to give your saga the happy ending it deserves.

Fifth, the Buffalo Sports Curse tends to spill into other sports.

And sixth, I don’t want to hear any more about the Billy Goat, the Lovable Losers, the Cubbies, and the Curse and The Greatest Fans in the Entire Universe being let down yet again. I’ve had enough of it, and just one title would lay it all to rest.

So quit acting like a team nicknamed the Lovable Losers or the Cubbies that play in The Friendly Confines. You need to be more like the Blackhawks, or the 2005 White Sox, or hell, the Yankees or Cardinals. In others words, you need to get over your history and shed the cutesy imagery. I don’t want to hear any more about adorable and playful little Cubs. I want you to finish a metamorphosis into a pack of hungry, pissed off Grizzly Bears, charge onto that diamond, and take what’s yours!

Sincerely,
Nicholas