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New York Giants

Feeling Big Blue

This season Sports Illustrated revamped it’s NFL predictions from September with the foresight and knowledge of eight weeks of football already past and came up with new picks for the Super Bowl that were different, rational and not far off from what I would have pegged it at myself. The choice by SI’s Jim Trotter, with the argument of “Whom do you trust late with the game on the line? Two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning or Matt Schaub, who has never started in the postseason?” was the New York Giants to win a second consecutive championship with a 24-20 victory over the Houston Texans in Super Bowl XLVII. At the time that I saw this after I got my issue in the mail I had one thought run through my head.

“Oh, I don’t like this one bit.”

I hesitate to say that I’m superstitious. After all, the idea that a few words printed on a page in a soon to be forgotten article in a weekly periodical don’t actually have the power to unseat or upset anyone or anything. They’re just words, meaningless as every game in college football’s postseason with the notable exception of one. And yet fear still ran down my spine as I saw it, hypothetically jinxing everything I had known to be a true, reasonable interpretation of the season’s first half. After all, the Giants had overcome an early season hiccup against Dallas and were 6-2 with a comfortable division lead at the season’s mid-way point, their lone other loss being a frustrating, but forgiveable road defeat at Philadelphia which had not yet revealed itself to be utterly horrendous.

Otherwise, the Giants were off and running with an offense looking every bit as potent as one would have expected, a solid defense, championship experience in their back pockets and an absolute thrashing of a San Francisco team many expected to (and still expect to) compete for a Super Bowl title this February. All of this makes the fact that New York is already home for the summer more than a little baffling, and if you happen to call yourself a Giants fan (spoiler alert: I do), it’s more than a little frustrating. I sat in my father’s living room in New Jersey Sunday watching my team display in just about every facet why it has the potential to make a Super Bowl run any time it gets into the postseason and the entire time I kept watching Chicago stave off Detroit on my laptop and realized what the Giants did wouldn’t mean a thing. This is maddening to some extent considering had the Giants done what was required of them in just one of any number of previous games this all would have been moot, but in the end, a rational man takes his gifts and hesitates to get greedy.

This offseason, I am going to pretend that that is me.

After all, with two championships in five years, how upset can I be? There are teams that wait lifetimes for that kind of success, some longer than lifetimes and in one or two cases, hopefully forever. It would be unbecoming to believe you were somehow slighted by a team that in such a small span has gifted you with two titles and arguably the greatest upset in the history of the sport. Given that, it’s hard to let the disappointments beat you down and even without a track record like that, perspective should keep your head on straight. As I explained to a teenage fan in front of me when I traveled to Cincinnati in November to see a game that, uh, didn’t go as planned, in all likelihood, he would watch the Giants play roughly 700 more times before he died. For your heart’s sake, you can’t let yourself get frazzled over on… Read more...

Love and the New York Giants: It happens when you least expect it

I am single. I’m fine with this, but I know I won’t be forever. As a result, I date a lot. Probably too much if you ask my friends or my wallet, but in the now multi-year, multi-part journey I’ve endured in hopes of finding someone to share a few months if not my life I have been met by one frustration after another and remain single. This is partially because I’m picky and partially because I’m an obnoxious sarcastic loudmouth who occasionally misses the nuances of charmed conversation, but in all irksome experiences that compose the catastrophic cluster that is dating in New York city in your 20s, my friends have continually harped on one maxim to ease my anxieties.

“It always happens when you least expect it.”

Now that is a load of horseshit if I ever heard it. I’ve spent all but three years of my post-pubescent life not particularly trying in the dating world and the vast majority of that was all spent single. So clearly, not expecting it hasn’t really been the elixir. In all of my life the only area in which not expecting anything has truly paid off has been with the first, most dearest thing I ever truly fell in love with: The New York Football Giants.

I was a wide-eyed optimist when I first was cast under the spell of Big Blue in the early 1990s. After all, the Giants were just a few seasons removed from their last Super Bowl title, an upset of the high-powered Buffalo Bills in 1990 that is unfortunately far more widely remembered for Scott Norwood’s miss of a far more difficult than remembered game-winning field goal as time expired than it is for Bill Parcells’ brilliant ball-control game plan — the Giants had more than 40 minutes of possession — or Mark Ingram’s insane, twisting extension that earned a crucial New York first down. The first season I truly got invested in the NFL, the Giants battled with Dallas for the top seed in the NFC before the Cowboys, and Emmitt Smith, literally ran away with it in overtime in the final game of the season in 1994 — on a separated shoulder no less.

Surely, I thought, it wouldn’t be long before the Giants climbed to the top again though. And that’s when the years of frustration set in, starting right with the nationally televised Monday Night Opener in 1995 in which the Giants got drubbed by the ‘Boys on their home turf 35-0. For most of my life that had been the way for the Giants, a constant disappointment as I desperately searched for success in my football team. A few exciting seasons came and went, division titles in 1997, 2000 and 2005 and a Super Bowl berth in 2000 among them. But the frustrating, head-shaking losses came, too.

A stunning loss to Minnesota in the 1997 playoffs, an embarrassing Super Bowl defeat to the Baltimore Ravens, an almost incomprehensibly absurd blown 24-point lead in the 2002 playoffs to the 49ers in a game that featured botched field goals and botched officiating aplenty, an embarrassing playoff loss to Carolina in 2005, Vince Young’s coming out party in 2006 in which the Giants blew a 21-0 lead with 10 minutes to play and the entirety of the 2006 season in which the Giants were poised to enter the second half of their showdown for first place in the NFC with the Bears up 10-0 before a converted draw on 3rd and 22 for Chicago upended the game and Devin Hester slow-played a short field-goal return for a touchdown. All of this would send New York into a disastrous 2-6 spiral to end the season before it was mercifully put to an end on a last-second field goal by Philadelphia in the … Read more...

Fear and Loathing on the Seven Train

If you’ve read my sporadic updates on this here fair blog you’ve probably gotten a clue that I am a New York Giants fan. As a result, well, this month’s been pretty good, and my mindset has followed accordingly. But if anything can drag me down from these Monrovian few weeks it’s the unsettling news that baseball season is just over a month away.

Don’t get me wrong.

I like baseball. Love it even. I try to see at least part of all 162 games live on TV each season (provided I’m in the country), and I’ve actually seen my favorite team play in person in 14 different stadiums around the U.S. If making multiple trips to Milwaukee and driving from Chicago to Detroit and back in a day to see your team isn’t evidence of love, I’m not sure what is. There’s one problem with all of this, though.

My team is the New York Mets.

Don’t blame me for this. I sure don’t. I’m pretty sure the responsibility for this lies with my father, who took me to my first baseball game ever at Shea Stadium in 1991, got my name on the scoreboard because it was near my birthday and then hung a framed picture of the message above my bed for my entire childhood. Waking up every morning and seeing this left me no choice. All I could think every day was, “Wow, maybe this Bud is for me.

The ultimate irony in all of this, of course, is that my parents are actually Yankees fans. The fact that my first game was a Mets game was for me random chance, but not them. They had a choice, they chose poorly, and now I pay the price for six months every year.

On the plus side for me, this season the price I pay probably won’t be that high. With what’s looking like a potentially disastrous and certainly unpleasant season in Flushing, I can expect prices for tickets to torpedo pretty significantly on the secondary market — beyond the five-game package I so foolishly bought already. I should note though that even the Mets acknowledge their tickets won’t exactly be the most desirable on the market. My package breaks down to about $12 per ticket, which is pretty much what it costs to see a team in a small market like Pittsburgh, where I’m going to be in April for roughly the same price — and standing room tickets at that.

It makes sense that the Mets would be priced out similarly to a small market club because this season it appears that, well, they are one. Far be it from me to assume that a team in the media capital of the planet is a “small market” club — I wouldn’t want to insult the Royals and Brewers of the world, though both have more promising seasons ahead than the Mets do. Still, it’s hard for people not to bandy the “small market” phrase about. After all, this is a team that has slashed its payroll this season by a record $52 million. This of course was brought on both by the club losing approximately $70 million in the 2011 season, and a Greece-like austerity-driven payroll philosophy as a result of what are, uh, considerable financial restraints on the owning Wilpon family.

While the team’s likely disaster of a season has made them the butt of endless jokes by no less an authority than the team’s general manager, it’s enough to leave a lifelong fan like myself wondering why he or she should even bother investing time, energy or emotion into their team. After all, gone from last season are Francisco Rodriguez, Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran — whom Mets fans will miss far more than they ever thought they would. Granted, K-RodR… Read more...

Super Bowl Preview: The Anxiety of History

Many of you know — or at least assume from the name — that I’m mostly here to talk to you about hockey. I do love hockey, this is true. As a fan of the New Jersey Devils, I’ve been a dedicated and largely satisfied fan for most of my life. Their recent struggles aside, before last season the Devils hadn’t missed the playoffs since before I hit puberty, and in my lifetime I had seen three Stanley Cups, which isn’t too shabby. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when the Devils missed the playoffs for the first time last spring, but as I later discussed with a coworker who was equally as dedicated to his Detroit Red Wings, watching the postseason was, well, fun. And without stress. And kind of enjoyable.

Don’t get me wrong, I would much rather see my Devils in the playoffs than not, but there is a dirty little secret about professional sports that the Leagues and teams would probably prefer you don’t know: It’s not fun to watch your team in the playoffs. Not one bit.

I bring this up because in 48 hours, the first sports team I ever fell in love with — and the one I probably like more than any other — is going to roll for all the marbles in Super Bowl XVLI when my Giants take on the New England Patriots. As I found four years ago, there is no greater high in sports than when your team wins an unexpected championship against a truly great foe in the waning seconds, but the anxiety leading up to those moments can be excruciating, and this time around the stakes are the same, but the expectations are wildly different.

The Giants are a hot team riding not just a strong defensive front but a quarterback who has finally manifested and fulfilled his promise as one of the top signal callers in the League — one with a wide receiving corps that has shredded foes on its playoff run. The Patriots are still a good team, but they are not a great one and they no longer have a perfect 18-0 record blinding the masses from the fact that they are flawed and mentally exhausted by the pressures of perfection.

That changes the perception — and the inherent anxiety — because now the Giants are not just scrappy underdogs, they have expectations from a significant segment of their fan base, the media, and evidently themselves as the last week’s bluster has shown. That adds up to me writhing with knots in my stomach for two weeks after the momentary joy of getting through the NFC Championship Game, which was almost certainly the most angst-inducing, emotionally exhausting football game I’ve ever watched.

Of course, even if it’s angst-inducing for us fans, none of this really matters, for the exact same reason that I told a friend of mine last week when he was worried about being over-confident that it didn’t matter.

We’re not playing.

There are only 106 people who can have an impact on the physical action on the field as players and only a handful more that can do it as coaches or front office personnel. We won’t be performing. We will only be watching. And really, in the end, that may be the worst part about it, having an emotional investment without having any control. But in the meantime we can pretend to have an impact, which we do with an endless series of overanalysis, video dissection, storyline invention and predictions that all add up to ceaseless noise.

Far be it from me to refuse to add to that cacophony, however. So here we go, in as simple a way as possible.

When the Giants have the ball
See, this Eli Manning feller. He’s really pretty good. And after last wee… Read more...

An Ode to Kyle Williams

It was around 12:30 a.m. that I finally got home to my apartment last night and for the first time on what had been an exhausting Sunday of football, I got a pit in my stomach. It was an odd time for it considering that I, a Giants fan, had just finished watching my team win the most mentally exhausting game I’ve seen in nearly 20 years of following the team — and yes that includes Super Bowl XLII — and I was bouncing off walls knowing that my team was going to its second Super Bowl in five years.

But of the things I’ve learned over the years, one of the big ones is that athletes are not super human, nor are they emotionless icons to be pilloried or praised at our convenience. They’re people. Just regular people like you or I. Some people don’t quite realize this, and one of whom, apparently, is a random San Francisco 49ers fan named Javier Pasquel. I don’t know him. I don’t particularly care to meet him. I do not care to ever be involved with him in any way and that is because while trolling through my twitter feed, I came across this gem that @javpasquel put out there after having his heart broken by his Niners:

@KyleWilliams_10. I hope you, youre wife, kids and family die, you deserve it”

His awful grammar aside, Pasquel’s point is that he, as a fan, is upset. I once made these mistakes, notably rooting for Emmitt Smith to get injured as a child, something that, considering his track record against the Giants with injuries probably would have been poor strategy. Despite Pasquel’s anger however, his outlet was completely unacceptable because not only is it cruel and inhumane, but Williams is a person, too, and as the obvious goat of the Niners’ 20-17 loss in overtime in the NFC Championship Game last night he is probably feeling about as awful as any person could.

Those implications of goatdom come as a result of not one, but two stunning fumbles while returning punts at pivotal times for the Niners yesterday. The first, a fluke-ish bounce that grazed his knee, was more unforgivable than the second, a clean strip by Giants linebacker and special teamer Jacquian Williams in overtime, but it is cruel, excessive and somewhat misleading to blame Williams for these two moments — the second of which clearly led to New York’s winning field goal that sent the Giants to Super Bowl XLVI. There were multiple factors leading to New York’s win last night, among them the Giants consistently improving defense, the unflappable willingness to stand in the pocket by Eli Manning and perhaps most importantly, the stellar all-around job by punter Steve Weatherford. But factor into that the almost complete nonexistence of San Francisco’s wide receivers throughout the game — Michael Crabtree, whose name might not have been mentioned once during the broadcast chief among them — as well as Alex Smith’s wilting performance in the fourth quarter and overtime and you have numerous places on which to cast blame.

But beyond that, there are dozens of reasons to ache for Williams. The biggest might be that he wasn’t even supposed to start this game as a punt returner, but was unexpectedly thrust into action when Ted Ginn Jr. suffered a knee injury a week earlier against New Orleans. Williams’ inexperience showed throughout the game, not just in his fumbles but in several curious decisions, including a diving grab of a punt that he probably should have let go and a fair catch at the 12-yardline when he had room to run. Williams was not ready for t… Read more...

Herzlich (hurs’-lik): n. "Warrior"

It’s hard to impress people these days. When Anne Hathaway first hit it big, I used to tell people that she came from my hometown (and not New York, as she would have you believe). Some people responded as such: “What was she like?” Aside from knowing that a buddy’s older brother hit it, I knew nothing. She was a senior when I was a freshman, she barely came to school, and I still trusted my mother to buy me clothes that I wore in public. Yet people displayed at least a modicum of being impressed.
Nowadays, I don’t bring up that “story” unless a conversation happens to drift towards Ms. Hathaway on its own, a rare occurrence. Who cares? She’s a superduperstar, but that just doesn’t pass for “wow” anymore.
In 2008, Mark Herzlich was on the verge of becoming the next great NFL linebacker. As a sophomore, he recorded 6 interceptions (2 of which were brought back to the house) and 110 tackles. He was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year and was a finalist for the Butkus Award, given to the nation’s best LB. And oh yeah, he looked like a monster. In 2009, the powers-that-be pegged Herzlich with a first-round grade for the upcoming NFL Draft. 2008 Mark Herzlich was like Luke Kuechly on crack.
Unfortunately, Herzlich was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer; he missed the entire 2009 season. My doctor-mother informed me that the guy would likely die from this condition eventually, and my research confirms that long-term survival for metastatic diseases ranges anywhere from 10-30%.
ESPN College Gameday came to Chestnut Hill towards the tail end of the 2009 season. They of course ran a story on Herzlich’s road to recovery. After the brief piece, the Warrior himself took a seat next to Lee Corso.
Chris Fowler: So, Mark, we hear you have some news to share with us?
Herzlich: Yes. I spoke with my doctors. They have told me that I’m 99% recovered.
There have been many times when I wished to trade lives with BockerKnocker, Boston College version, but I had never wished to be on campus for any moment more than this one. The crowd. Went. Bonkers. The moment was so important that I DVR-ed it, and it wasn’t even my own home. It was so uplifting that I knew the owner would want to see it later.
Herzlich returned to the field the following season. He started every single game and totaled 4 interceptions on the year, but he posted mostly pedestrian numbers across the board. The 2011 NFL Draft came and went, leaving Boston College’s most popular player without a team. He later signed as a free agent with the New York Giants, and last night was his first NFL start at linebacker. 2 tackles, and another great quote at his post-game presser:
(What was it like to be on defense at crunch time?)
Herzlich: This is what you live for.

He likely meant the proverbial “you.” But Mark, this is what YOU have lived for. Most men would have quit, but Herzlich’s perpetual smile permeated from Keyes to Cheverus and all along Commonwealth Avenue. In a time where almost everything fails to impress us, Mark Herzlich provided a story that will live on forever. His journey reminds us of what really matters. It is the backstory, rather than the stat line, that makes us feel good inside. It makes us remember that 02467 is a community that pushes important initiatives, like this and this. Sure, he was part of the New York Giants defense that gave up an excruciating final drive to lose an important divisional game. But we’re not going to rem… Read more...