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

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

Drew’s Song:The Most Misunderstood Buffalo Bill

Drew’s Song:The Most Misunderstood Buffalo Bill

Rob Johnson must have been laughing his ass off somewhere. I assume it was after he bench-rode his way to his Super Bowl ring with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he was laughing somewhere along the line.

I don’t think I have to bring up the mess that preceded the 2002 Buffalo Bills season. The Bills, a hapless and luckless team for the first 25 years of their existence, made a serious bid during the late 80’s and 90’s to change their fortunes for good. Even though the team pulled the trigger on Rob Johnson after the ugly quarterback controversy between Johnson and Doug Flutie, and Johnson proved to be a disaster, the Bills were still so closely removed from respectability that the horrific 2001 season could have come off as an aberration. In fact, that’s what most onlookers dismissed it as. It was a little hiccup from a rebuilding team which would be back in the playoffs quick. It seems funny nowadays that Bills fans were that optimistic, but it seemed perfectly feasible back then. But the Rob Johnson fiasco did lead to one of the quirkiest eras in Bills history when general manager Tom Donahoe tried to make up for Johnson by trading for New England Patriots All-Star quarterback Drew Bledsoe.

Drew Bledsoe was a Bill for three years, and I never quite thought he got a fair shake from Buffalo. Fans continue to pile blame onto him for the circus act the team turned into. That happens for a couple of reasons: He was the quarterback, and as the quarterback, he was credited for setting the tempo during games; and he DID have one disgusting year in Buffalo – his second one – which set the tone for every Keystone Cop and Monty Python incident the Bills have endured since. I can even theorize that Bledsoe’s reputation even played a part in his lasting image in Buffalo. It wasn’t that Bledsoe had some obvious character issue which spending-crazed owners like Jerry Jones or Dan Snyder would have ignored. Bledsoe was always a stand-up good guy and a class act who took his licks after every game, but that habit sort of started and ended at the post-game press conference. He seemed willing to take all the undeserved media punishment that came his way, which may have turned him into the typical non-leader in fans’ minds. When he finally got fed up and lashed out during his final season in Buffalo, it was a little late, but it did manage to light a fire under the team’s ass.

Bledsoe was a victim of circumstance more than anything else. His years in Buffalo were a little on the odd side because in the three he was there, he ran the full gamut of possible types of records in the NFL: An even record, a losing record, and a winning record respectively. The even and the winning records are two of only four non-losing records the Bills managed to pull in the millennium. Despite not making the playoffs – even the winning record was a 9-7 effort in which the Bills were denied a tournament appearance because they couldn’t beat the Pittsburgh Steelers’ third-string players – he is the owner of ten team passing records, including most yards in a single season and most yards in a single game. His own famously dominant show against the Patriots which opened 2003 is one of only three victories against them since Tom Brady usurped Bledsoe and enabled Pats fans to become the worst people on Earth.

Let’s look at Bledsoe starting in 2002, his best statistical season in Buffalo. The 2002 season put an 8-8 tally on the board, but that year was an 11-5 year in disguise. Jim Kelly himself couldn’t have run the offense any better. Bledsoe, Ruben Brown, Eric Moulds, and Travis Henry all went to the Pro Bowl. The Bills’s offense was second in the NFL only to the AFC Champion Oakland Raiders, and they seemed to do it all: There were comebacks, blowouts, narrow escapes, game-changing plays, no-huddles, and he-can’t-possibly-be-able-to-do-that heroics and plays. There were about two plays which prevented the Bills from ten wins and the damned AFC East crown. (I know what you’re thinking, and here’s the answer: The Patriots went 9-7 that year.) In 2002, Bledsoe was also assisted by an army of excellent receivers which included Eric Moulds, Peerless Price, Larry Centers, Josh Reed, and Jay Riemersma. And when Price, Centers, and Riemersma split after the season, Moulds was suddenly the constant target after Reed fell into the league’s traditional second-year slump.

One of the better methods of building a team is to figure out your strengths, then fill out the roster by getting players who are good where the team is weak. In one way, the Bills prepared for 2003 by doing just that. Despite signing London Fletcher in 2002, the defense was garbage. So after the season, the Bills quickly signed linebackers Jeff Posey and Takeo Spikes. Unfortunately, Buffalo’s coach happened to be Gregg Williams, the former defensive coordinator with the Tennessee Titans. And the problem with defensive coordinators being head coaches is that they think they can get by with a smash mouth offense no matter what they have in position. No one is blaming Price, Centers, and Riemersma for taking their talents – and their collective total of around 100 receptions in 2002 – elsewhere. But one can point at Williams and Donahoe for replacing Centers and Riemersma – respectively a receiving fullback and tight end – with blocking fullback Sam Gash and blocking tight end Mark Campbell. Their sudden issues at wide receiver were ignored, and Donahoe’s first round draft pick was a damaged goods running back. Despite Bledsoe’s talent, this was clearly an offense built for punching holes in the forward lines.

With the offense rebuilt from the ground, Bledsoe had all of one threat to throw to. Travis Henry regressed, and newfound kicker Rian Lindell was missing so many kicks, you’d think he had a mob boss to pay off. Although the defense boasted All-Star talent like Spikes, Nate Clements, and Antoine Winfield and put on a hell of a show, the suddenly frail offense went through a stretch of several games without scoring a touchdown. The Bills went 6-10 and Williams was fired after the season. The new coach of the Bills became Mike Mularkey, who won the job in the traditional NFL fashion of convincing the team that he was some sort of guru. They also addressed their recently-bad passing game by drafting receiver Lee Evans. Aside from that, though, they didn’t do a whole lot to upgrade their roster, which showed when they started 0-4. It was around that time they pulled Travis Henry and plugged in running back Willis McGahee, their 2003 draft pick. Although McGahee was still slowed by a severe injury that he was hit with during his last year of college football, his installment sprang the offense to life. The Bills won their first game in week five, against the Miami Dolphins, then lost to the Baltimore Ravens – Deion Sanders scored the final touchdown of his career in that game – and then won two more before getting killed by the Patriots again just because some things don’t change. It was around this time that the media and locals started to harass Bledsoe again, and this time the mild-mannered Bledsoe responded by flying into an angry rant. The Bills finally woke up, swept the NFC West, and rattled off a six-game winning streak which placed them in playoff position. Their advance was finally stopped by the Steelers in a win-and-in game, and the Bills hit the golf course with a 9-7 record.

Although Bledsoe seemed to enjoy playing in Buffalo and liked the idea of ending his career there, the Bills suddenly deemed him expendable after drafting quarterback JP Losman in 2004. Bledsoe naturally didn’t want to sit on the bench when his team was on the verge of contending again, and you can’t really blame him. Management thought different, and that was the end of the Drew Bledsoe era. Bledsoe reunited with coach Bill Parcels on the Dallas Cowboys for a couple more years before calling it a career.

As for the Bills, a five-win 2005 in which upper management meddled every which way with what Mike Mularkey tried so hard to establish the previous year forced Mularkey to walk off after the season in frustration. If there was a single point where the Bills were clear that they would never again be the dynamo my generation in Buffalo grew up knowing, that was it. That point on was a welcome return to a sort of football irrelevance the Bills hadn’t known since the early 80’s, just before Marv Levy turned them around. There weren’t a whole lot more stars and keepable keystones – just a revolving door of players and coaches picked out by general managers trying to outsmart themselves. There are 122 professional sports teams in the big four leagues, and of those 122, 121 have made their playoffs during the millennium. Even perennial trash teams like the Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Clippers, and Florida Panthers have been to the playoffs. The Bills haven’t, and they’re now setting themselves up to create a new brand name as the NFL’s lovable losers. And sure, with Donahoe in charge of player movement, this may have been coming no matter what. But we can’t lay the blame for it at Drew Bledsoe’s feet. If anything, he prolonged the team’s respectability while Donahoe was hard at work destroying everything it built up in the previous decade and a half.

Proper NBA Loyalties for Fans in Buffalo

Proper NBA Loyalties for Fans in Buffalo

 

Okay Buffalo, it’s time we had that famous chat. You know the one: The talk about the Hawks and the Hornets. I know many of you follow the NBA, and an uncharacteristically good piece by Bucky Gleason in The Buffalo News recently might be causing new feelings to well up in a few of those who don’t. You’re going to begin noticing new teams, and it’s important that if you start to follow basketball, the team or teams you choose to support are the right ones, not simply the most convenient ones. And sadly, Buffalo, I see a lot of you shacking up with the convenient team – the Celtics. Sure, they look good and have a come-hither history and appeal. But you already KNOW they’re not the right team. I know they’re sexy: The spectacular fundamentals of Larry Bird; Bill Russell leading his team to 11 titles, including eight straight; 17 titles; the arguable greatest basketball coach ever, Red Auerbach. We need to get one thing straight, though: They’re from Boston, and you’re Buffalo. You’re the one city on Earth that, instead of trying to attract new residents by trying to convince them you’re as good as New York City, tries to attract new residents by presenting yourself as the polar opposite of New York City. And yet, you don’t have enough sports pride to stay away from those sports whores in Boston? The home of the team that you hate more than any other, the New England Patriots? And the Boston Bruins, who you also hate? And the Boston Red Sox, hated by Buffalonians with Yankees allegiances, which is probably around 65 percent of you?

Buffalo, you have a deeper and more complex history with hoops than most people realize. Two different NBA teams – the Atlanta Hawks and Los Angeles Clippers – kicked off their lives right in your backyard. And when you pick teams, your go-to-the-best approach makes every victory hollow and meaningless. You need to pick a team that exemplifies your ethos, or that you have a real connection to. I cheer for a grab bag of different teams, all for different reasons: The Philadelphia 76ers drafted a player, Damone Brown, who went to my high school; I lived in Chicago and have a remaining loyalty to the Chicago Bulls; New York Knicks games were an escape for me when I moved back to Buffalo, so I’m connected to them too; I admire the ethos and adaptability the San Antonio Spurs have constantly shown in becoming maybe the best team in the NBA; I started watching the Golden State Warriors after their upset of the Dallas Mavericks in 2007; and I just have a soft spot for the Portland Trail Blazers. None of those teams are the Boston Celtics, and do you know why? It’s because I have a respectful loyalty to my sports heritage. So without further ado, here are some alternative teams that people from Buffalo should consider adopting:

Brooklyn Nets
Let’s be honest: The Nets were a much more appealing choice back in 2012, in the buildup hype to the grand switch the New Jersey Nets made to the Brooklyn Nets. The Brooklyn name was seen as trade leverage and a strong free agent lure, the Nets had just made big trades for Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, and Carmelo Anthony was firing up the rumor mill. That doesn’t change a few things, though: One is that my Damone Brown ended up playing for the Nets at one point, so there’s a connection with a Buffalo native. More importantly, though, is the fact that the Nets can easily be imagined playing and representing anywhere in New York. Their look and style could play as well in Rochester or Binghamton as it does in Brooklyn, and their arena has that same kind of look: You could see it slapped in the middle of downtown Buffalo if the Sabres didn’t exist for them to share an arena with. As Buffalo tries to make itself stand out from the shadow of New York City, so do the Nets still fight with chips on their shoulders for attention from the older, more established, and more regal New York Knickerbockers. Buffalo, you ARE the Brooklyn Nets.

Cleveland Cavaliers
Okay, maybe the idea of adopting a team from New York City is a little off-putting. I don’t blame you. So if it’s a Buffalo-like place you’re looking for, I don’t think any two cities in this country hold a closer resemblance to each other than Buffalo and Cleveland. Hell, the two of you share a lot of the same vein of sports pain. Plus Cleveland is just a three-hour drive down the road, so who not do the sensible thing and call the Cavaliers your team? They have LeBron James, who is currently the best player in the NBA, so there’s that. After years of hard luck, they also appeared in the Finals twice in the last ten years, both times losing series which were effectively unwinnable. And their hard luck is another part of who they are – since bad luck affects Buffalo’s sports teams to the extent that Buffalo and Cleveland compete with each other over which one has worse sports luck, you can’t sit in Buffalo and pretend you’re going to just adopt a team because it’s the best if the teams you have skip town. No, if the Bills pick up and go, I know a great many of you will find solace in the Cleveland Browns, just because to god there is no zero. Also, the Cavaliers were created in 1970, the same year as both the Sabres and the old Braves.

Portland Trail Blazers
Not looking for a place with such strong Rust Belt connections? Well, the NBA has another good team for you! The Portland Trail Blazers entered the NBA in 1970, the same year as the Cavaliers and Braves – and, as mentioned, the same year the Sabres came into the NHL. If you want underdogs, the Blazers are a great team to support, with Portland sitting in the shadows of Seattle and Vancouver and people frequently forgetting the Trail Blazers exist. However, that doesn’t stop the locals from vociferously supporting the team and following the NBA in the hope of a second title. Okay, there are better sales pitches, but if a Buffalo connection would be one of them, there’s always Dr. Jack. Jack Ramsay coached the Braves through their best years before taking the reins of the Blazers and leading them to their first – and to date, still their only – title, a massive upset over the Philadelphia 76ers in 1977.

Philadelphia 76ers
In relative terms, the last three teams are a little on the young side, and maybe you’re interested in a team with a bit more of a pedigree. Pedigrees don’t come much stronger than with the Sixers. This is the team that invented modern basketball by thinking up the shot clock. It’s the team of Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Charles Barkley, and Allen Iverson. Aside from being the team that drafted Brown, the Sixers have another serious upstate New York connection: When they entered the world, they did so as the Syracuse Nationals, and were moved to Philadelphia after it became clear that Syracuse wouldn’t be able to sustain a professional major league franchise.

Detroit Pistons
Here’s your Buffalo connection: Bob Lanier. He’s a local legend with Bennett High School. Afterward, he became a legend at St. Bonaventure, where he led the Bonnies to the Final Four. While the Pistons have had an up-and-down life in the NBA, their up years tend to resemble the best years of the Bills – people stand up, look, and listen to the noise because they’re crazy good. When they’re not winning, they only get backhanded mentions on ESPN, are lucky to be featured in a national broadcast every three years, and are generally only spotted after a galactic screwup. If there’s another Bills allusion you want, the Pistons wear the same colors as the Bills – red and blue. But perhaps their biggest selling point is that they represent another downtrodden Rust Belt city; Detroit holds many of the same values as Buffalo and has the same sense of civic pride, both in what it once was and what it’s rebuilding itself to be again. The Pistons also have a history – they began in Fort Wayne, Indiana as the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons and predate the NBA. Their first two titles were won in 1944 and 1945 in the NBL, before the creation of the NBA; or the creation of the BAA, the league the NBL eventually merged with to create the NBA. There are also three NBA titles, all won with the same ethos of good fundamentals, smothering defense, and placing the good of the team ahead of the individual. On the downside, you may have reservations about cheering for the team of the infamous Bad Boys…

San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs are the odd man out on this list; hell, I spent years hating (but admiring) them before being forced into an about-face during their duels against the Wade/James/Bosh Miami Heat. Their appeal to Buffalo is that they have long exemplified the teamwork ethos of the Pistons to much greater effect (they beat the Pistons for the 2005 NBA Championship) and, since Buffalo is not a place where people enjoy showboating braggadicio, their quiet, respectful, and professional manner is something to be emulated. Think of them as the Bad Boy Pistons with more stars and less bullying. When was the last time you saw a Spurs player make the news for blowing his top or committing a crime? That’s right. So good, and still low-key enough to be one of the most likable teams in the NBA. Even their fans don’t run around flinging shit. The downside is that that’s a pretty weak connection. The Spurs have no Buffalo connections. None. San Antonio is nothing close to Buffalo, and it shares its state with Dallas. Furthermore, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is the NBA’s equivalent to Bill Belichick – he’s a tactical mad genius who adjusts, adapts, and uncovers strengths and weaknesses with almost supernatural savvy. (Albeit, he’s Bill Belichick without the arrogance, or the drive against the league which frequently causes him to run up scores, or the cheating, or the lack of sportsmanship, but still.) The have one of the greatest players as their lynchpin with Tim Duncan. They routinely destroy every other team in the NBA, and are forever the league’s preeminent threat because all the guys who are supposed to get old just won’t fucking get old! Could they be… The New England Patriots? (A much nicer version of them, at any rate?)

Golden State Warriors
Cliff Robinson, who played in the NBA for 18 years, played for the Golden State Warriors from 2003 to 2005. He was born and raised in Buffalo and played his high school hoops at Riverside. Also, just before Steve Kerr started coaching the team, the Warriors were known as a lightning-fast, run-and-gun offensive team, much like the old Braves. It’s a pretty common thing nowadays to see sportswriters who saw both to compare the two of them. If you want a shout-out to a hockey team, the Warriors wear blue and gold as their colors and are the only team in the NBA to wear their jerseys like hockey jerseys, with the team logo prominently featured on the front.

New York Knickerbockers
Proximity is the name of the game here. Media proximity, at the very least; the Pistons, Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors, and maybe the Sixers are all closer by distance than the Knicks. But it’s the Knicks that get their games aired on MSG, the same network that shows Sabres games, and that makes them the easiest team to follow in Buffalo. In fairness, YES broadcasts Nets games, but that’s primarily a Yankees network, so you can figure out which team is getting the emphasis should there be a scheduling conflict. And MSG wants watchers to be familiar with the history of the Knicks – they always show old tapes of the classic dynasty of the 70’s (you DO old, Buffalo, your commitment to old keeps setting you back 20 years) as well as the best highlights of the Ewing era. And the way the team is being run these days will remind you of the way the Bills were run in the Tom Donahoe years and their aftermath.

Los Angeles Lakers
Are all those titles really THAT important to you? Fine. Here’s the Los fucking Angeles goddamned Lakers. Now go take a front-run on the Skyway.