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Super Bowl XLVI

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...

XLVI, the Microcosm of Being a Sports Fan

“I would turn back time and let bin Laden go, if it meant the Giants won the Super Bowl tonight.”

So many times we declare that if we were ever blessed with the talents of a professional athlete, that things would be different. We’d shoot free throws better than Shaq, have more 4th quarter courage than LeBron, and that we’d do it for a salary that would give Scott Boras a heart attack. But have we ever stopped to appreciate how incredible it is to just be a sports fan? Take the quote uttered last night, for example. The comedy of it is debatable, depending on your ability to have fun. But it is that feeling behind the quote that makes being a sports fan so damn awesome.
It’d be ridiculous for me to recount what led to 21-17, how many passing yards Eli Manning accumulated, or the pros and cons of Ahmad Bradshaw plunging into the end zone as if he were taking a deuce. You can find that stuff on more established websites, with established, in-the-biz opinions. I’m here to tell you today that Super Bowl 46 made me realize that it’s an amazing era to be a sports fan.
Let’s start with the event itself. The Super Bowl is an outlier of an example to use, but for every sporting event, fans willingly spend a good chunk of their salary and time just to be there in person. Witnessing sports live is a phenomenon that last night’s game put to the forefront. It’s not like a show, where you’re almost certain to have a good time. In this case, you are gambling your self-esteem, putting it on the line and on the shoulders of men whom you probably may never meet. And even though the fan assumes none of the pressure that is inherent in that risk, all but one fan base in every sport comes away empty-handed. What do they do next year? Barring a Donald Sterling or Jim Dolan-type move by the team in the offseason, but sometimes even IN SPITE of such a move, the fan renews tickets. Patriots fans can’t possibly be happy today, and maybe for a while. But come next year, they will be just as rowdy and obnoxious, if not more so. If you caught the post-game shenanigans, you might have seen all-world wide receiver Wes Welker barely being able to speak at his presser, as he took the blame for New England’s loss. Late in the game, Welker dropped a Tom Brady pass that could have wrapped up another Lombardi trophy for the organization. It would have been Welker’s first taste of championship glory, only that it wasn’t. The man was reduced to an emotional wreck afterwards. But don’t think, for a nanosecond, that every New England fan rallied himself or herself behind the salty tears that undoubtedly rolled down Welker’s face as he turned away from the dais. Those fans may have suffered heartbreak. But they will cheer louder and harder for Wes Welker next season, and they’ll enjoy doing so.
(What’s that? Pitchers and catchers are reporting soon? Crap, it looks like the vitriol will be back for Red Sox Nation before you know it.)
Then there’s the theatrics of the game itself, exemplified by Mario Manningham’s circus catch on the sideline. Once the ball was close to reaching its target, every experienced NFL fan knew that there was a high likelihood of a challenge flag being thrown, regardless of the call on the field. But while players could only speculate about the instant replay decision, or hear from their upstairs booth that they’re right or wrong, we fans have the distinct advantage of being the first people to know the outcome (well, we know what the outcome SHOULD be)

The Essentials of a Super Bowl Party

From KOBEsh:

I met Que-Ese on the baseball field, with me as an obnoxious 17 year old and him as a precocious 15 year-old who thought the word “precocious” meant you could tell the future. We bonded on several levels, none of which having to do with our skills (or lack thereof) on the diamond. Over the years, we’ve stayed friends mostly on the strength of our irrational love for Matt Kemp, unnecessary criticism of the Lakers and my continual puzzlement on why he listens to so much Phish. Que-Ese will be covering a sundry of topics for MAMBINO, including college sports, MLB, NBA, NHL and whatever else his hungry mind touches on. Just don’t mention the words “Frank” or “McCourt” to him. It sends him into a blind rage. I once saw a hot dog vendor ask if he wanted mustard on his frank and Que-Ese straight up kicked a baby. I thought that was a bit extreme.

This weekend there is a small American holiday known commonly as Super Bowl XLVI. As I am not good at math and really never paid much attention to Roman numerals I can make a best guess that this annual Sunday event has been taking place for something like 50 years. The pomp and circumstance involved with the most Super of Sundays now begins a full two weeks before the actual game takes place (thanks NFL, I always thought I wanted to wait until AFTER the Pro Bowl to watch funny Volkswagen commercials).

This year Indy was kind enough to include new features such as a zip line outside the stadium (because if you visit downtown Indy you really want to see it from a higher angle), a media day that you can pay money to attend, and the shambles of Peyton Manning’s career as a backdrop for why the weeks and days prior to the Megabowl mean absolutely nothing besides a reason to justify 24 hours of coverage from the sports media.

In the entirety of this whole dance I remember what matters the most. As a native of a land without an NFL sports franchise (though currently home to Matty Franchise), I learned at a young age that the Super Bowl is rarely a good game, always over-hyped, and really only a good time if you are enjoying a good party (or rooting for one of the teams playing). NOTE: if you are rooting for a team competing in the main event, these tips do not apply. Since I have a deep hatred for all things New England AND New York sports, I thought it would be helpful to explain the 5 most important essentials for a good Super Bowl party and ultimately, a pleasant Super Bowl experience.

1. The TV

For the Super Bowl (and football viewing in particular), size does matter. I don’t care how badly your family/friends/coworkers want you to come over and watch the game with them, you cannot attend unless they can assure you their TV is larger than 50 inches. Normally, I can overlook this factor but with a game that often times is decided by intense instant replay challenges, a bigger television is necessary. Truthfully I believe all referees have a very tough job in making decisions while trying to keep up with the fastest and biggest athletes in the world. However, with the larger screen, I judge them loudly and relentlessly along with the company of the SBP.

TVs should also be LED. Now unlike KOBEshigawa, I have no idea what this means. All I know is that after my new roommate moved in a year ago and brought his 55-inch LED screen TV, my life has changed. I can now see Joshua Smith’s (UCLA) manboobs in clear focus or Sal Alosi’s tripping skills in brilliant HD.

2. The Ratio

I cannot stress this enough. When a game involves your team, or you are really interested in tuning out any/all conversation, … 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...