Monday, March 19, 2012

Flyers Quick Take - 3/19/12

Just watched yesterday's epic battle against extended highlights, cause I missed it entirely. But why should that stop me from some quick thoughts?

1) Bryzgalov is looking GOOD.

2) How much are you loving Hartnell, now that he's become disciplined enough to let his potential shine through? 33 goals and 62 points? Whoa.

2b) The man drilled his shot. Once to tie, once to win with a second left in overtime. But the game-winner was all about the vision and the pass of Danny Briere. I think his health is one of the greatest general barometers of how this team plays. 

3) These guys (this Flyers team) are actually playing really well right now, and probably, at their best, at least about even talent-wise as both the Rangers and long as 1) continues to hold true...

3) And all three of those teams, I'd argue, are at least on par for the moment with Boston, the defending champs.

4) And, though I confess it is perhaps slightly hyperbolic, I would say with some measure of confidence, and all due respect to Ken Hitchcock, who i respect greatly, Peter Laviolette is the greatest Flyers coach of my lifetime. Coming back from down 3-0 in a series and 3-0 in Game 7 will lead a man to say such a things, and not undeservedly. So... 

5) ...why not us?

Many worse teams have made much deeper runs. ('06 Oilers, anyone?) And Lavy won the Cup with a team far less talented than his current one (the Hurricanes that needed 7 to best those same Oilers.)

5b) Yes, they are one of about 10 teams that are legitimate Cup contenders. And the future is bright, even if it's not this year. So I really don't expect it to happen, but...

...if everything comes together just right, this team is definitely good enough to win the whole thing.

I'm just sayin'.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Still Rather Be Us

I'm sure that many of us are familiar with the smash-hit, puppet-driven Broadway musical, Avenue Q, and one of the more hilarious and famous songs from it, a little diddy known as "It Sucks To Be Me." After a sports season dubbed "The Year That Wasn't" by the Inquirer's Phil Sheridan, as well as my recent triumphant (I hope) return to the blogosphere, you could say that "It Sucks To Be Me" was as good a theme song for Philadelphia sports fans as any. And maybe--again, with the obvious exception of 2008--that's historically true as well.

But I'd like to present to the jury a recent episode of Sesame Street (I'll take "Things Stashed Away in My DVR To Appease My Almost-Two-Year-Old" for $400, Alex), which revolved around inclusion and bully prevention. After Big Bird makes multiple changes to himself in his efforts to be welcomed into "The Good Birds Club," he learns that he doesn't and shouldn't ever have to change in order to be accepted. And so the gang comes up with its own group, and sings the new club's theme song, "I'm Happy To Be Me."  

So I'd like to take this opportunity to share a very important silver lining that I've discovered as a Philadelphian living in the Big (Rotten) Apple of New York, the ultimate of enemy territory. Certainly it's no substitute for a championship; after all, what is? But I think that my observations of what has happened here since the Giants won the Super Bowl may just be of philosophical significance to all of us, helping us to feel at least a little bit better about the ever-trying existence we live everyday.

And what I have observed here essentially amounts to this:


Oh sure, there was a big old ticker-tape parade down the obnoxiously-named "Canyon of Heroes." Sure, all the people who raced to the store to buy their first jersey only after winning the NFC Championship were the first ones to get the Super Bowl hats and shirts. But by the time the weekend came, the Giants had come and gone from the foreground 

By who? That's right. Jeremy Lin.

Guy comes off his friend's couch, leads the near-miserable Knicks on a string of dramatic victories over bottom-dweller teams, and, just like that, the afterglow of what was a pretty fantastic and equally unexpected championship run had already completely faded from the picture.

It may just be the worst part of this whole sporting disaster now known as 2011. The entitlement felt by an overwhelming majority of New York sports fans inhibits them almost entirely from appreciating and enjoying what they actually have. And that is, of course, a championship. They expect what is unreasonable to expect--a winner in every sport at all times, so that when a team does come through, they're only doing what their supposed to do. It's like during the '09 Series against the Yankees, when one of the daily rags was giving away signs that said "26 to 2," as if asking, "Which would you rather be? Us or you?"

And the answer is: I'd rather be the "2." I'd rather be a member of a fanbase that never takes a winner for granted, that appreciates tremendously how many individual things have to go right, even with incredible talent, for any professional sports team to win it all. I'd rather be in a continual state of usually-hopeful realism than be twisting in the bipolar sports fan's world of, as Ricky Bobby would say, "if you're not first, you're last." I'd rather be from a place that has just one team in each of those sports, to feel some kind of sense of pride and solidarity and unity both in the ups and downs, and not to have ask people from my own city which team they root for.  

So I'm officially joining Big Bird's "Happy To Be Me" club. Membership is, as always, open to the public.

Do you remember what it was like in and around Philly in the months following the '08 Series? It was like the weight of the world, the dark cloud of 25 years of suffering, had been lifted, and its legacy was months (at least) of ecstasy. Wearing the shirts, the hats, seeing the shirts and hats on others, people in good moods, smiling, making eye contact on the street. It was sensational.

And there's none of that here. Worse, there's nothing even remotely close to anything like that here. It may as well have been the latest outburst from Charlie Sheen, cause the world here in New York has moved on like a passing breeze to the next flavor of the month. As if to say, "It's March now. The Super Bowl was so last month."

You can call me jealous. You can call me Lin-sulted. But all it's made me is happier to be a member of this club.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Always the Groomsman - Super Bowl XLVI Post-Mortem

One of my best friends in the world lives in LA and works in the movie biz. Jared and I have known each other just shy of 20 years now, and over that time, I have seen enough to know that he is the single luckiest guy I've ever met. Case in point: we went to a Philadelphia Phantoms minor-league hockey game when we were in high school. Walking around the concourse, Jared saw that they were firing t-shirts into the crowd. He stopped, turned to us and said, "I'm gonna go get a shirt." Never mind that maybe a dozen or so of these things get fired into a crowd of at least 12,000 people. Never mind that he didn't really know where the shirt-catapult guy was basing his operation. Jared walked in from the concourse, caught a t-shirt without changing direction, turned back around and came back to us, victory in hand.

You can't make this stuff up. And you couldn't script it any better.

Jared is a lifelong fan of the St. Louis Cardinals in baseball, and the New York Giants in football.

See where I'm going with this?

Since Jared got married this past July, he has watched both of his favorite teams go on miracle runs to the championships of their respective sports.

The Cardinals staged an other-wordly comeback in the wild-card standings to make the playoffs, knocked out two teams far superior to them in the regular season, and, one out away from being sent packing in Game 6 of the World Series, came back twice in the 9th and 10th innings to tie, before David Freese forever became a household name in the state of Missouri, and the annals of baseball history.

The Giants went 9-7, making the playoffs because the NFC East was a four-team punchline. Before the regular-season finale, my man Tim Cowlishaw tweeted, "The NFC East: Where a team that got swept by the Redskins will play a team that got swept by the Eagles for the division title." Beating the Falcons at home? So what? But then they rolled over Green Bay at Lambeau, with a Hail Mary at the end of a half. Then they stole a game they should have lost off of the knees and hands of Kyle Williams. And then Tom Brady's first play from scrimmage in Super Bowl XLVI was a safety, a guy who was a substitute teacher when the season began intercepts a pass intended for a Pro Bowl tight end, one of the game's most reliable and consistent receivers suddenly let "clutch" slip through his fingers, and the &%$!#@ Giants are Super Bowl champions. Again.

They're the first 9-7 team ever to win a Super Bowl since the league expanded the schedule to 16 games. Statistically, in yards allowed per game, they're the worst defense ever to win a Super Bowl (which would have been true no matter who won, cause the Patriots were even worse.) They're the first team ever to win it all despite being outscored by their opponents during the regular season (400-394).

But none of that matters. Unless you're in the movie business and are looking for the amazing storyline. Cause they just won the Super Bowl. Period.

So all that's been rattling around in my head since Brady's Hail Mary fell short is: Why? Forget my question, as a Philadelphian living in New York, of why do these New York fans deserve this? Of the ones who cared and didn't just come out of the woodwork in the last three weeks with their brand-new hats and jerseys, most of them were calling for Coughlin's job two months ago, already waving the white flag on the season. No. The question is one of absolutely unbridled self-pity:

Why does this never happen to us? Always the groomsman. Never the groom.

Remember the 2008 Eagles? They went 9-6-1, cause the Bengals were so good that year, we couldn't beat OR lose to them. That was Week 11. But on the last day of the season, both the Bears and Bucs lost, so that the winner of our game with the Cowboys would make the playoffs. And we won 44-6. Road playoff wins over the Vikings and Giants set up the unlikely NFC Championship game with the Cardinals. Down 24-6 at halftime, the Eagles roared back to take a 25-24 lead on that 62-yard pass play to DeSean Jackson.

And if it had ended like that, leading to a Super Bowl appearance against the Steelers, the script would have written itself.

But we know how it ended. With another Philadelphia thud, the kind that hurts the most because you'd nearly given up, then had your hopes fully restored to foolish levels, so that coming back to reality was a more precipitous drop.

Remember the 2010 Flyers? Made the playoffs on the last day of the season with an unlikely shootout win over Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers. As a seven-seed, kicked the crap out of the Devils in 5, which set the stage for the greatest comeback in sports history, from 3-0 in the series, and 3-0 in Game 7 to Boston. Exploited home-ice advantage against the also-overachieving Canadiens to make the Stanley Cup Finals. Tied up Game 6 late to force overtime.

Again, the script writes itself. Patrick Kane's weak short-side goal that only he and Michael Leighton knew went in ended everything, and we were left in our all-too-familiar state of crushed depression.

Even with the '08 World Series, Philadelphia is still a championship-starved city. So much so that we couldn't care less if the story is poetic or epic or dramatic. Nary a Phillie fan's soul gave a hoot that the Series was won in a game that took three days to complete.

So while the story behind a championship doesn't matter, why does it seem the greatest stories in sports history are always scripted--and completed--everywhere else? 

All I've got today is that the last time the Giants won the Super Bowl, the Phillies went on to win the World Series.

And hey, there's always next year, right? Right???