Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Take That, Red States

The rest of the nation might have been ambivalent to the 2010 World Series, but in San Francisco they believe that order has been restored. Hope springs eternal.

While cops were running around the city to put out various unnecessary fires, the residents of San Francisco were raising their glasses to the biggest band of unheralded misfits and morons to ever win a Major League Baseball World Series. That's right folks, the 2010 San Francisco Giants have done the unthinkable. At least that's what you'll be told when you read the papers, but in truth, it's not so surprising that they won.

Sure, the Giants were kind of an unlikely bunch if you looked hard and close at their batting lineup. They were full of castoffs and retreads, waiver wire pickups and guys who'd spent more than half the year on the disabled list. But at their core, the Giants had a 'one for all' mentality that made their collective effectiveness astronomically better than their individual statistics could have ever predicted.

As Texas manager Ron Washington said in his post-game interview. It's not always the best team who wins, but it is always the team that plays the best that wins. The Giants were that team more than anybody else in baseball since September began, and because of that there will be a huge parade on Wednesday celebrating San Francisco's first World Series title since the Franchise's moved SF in 1958.

It's a magnificent story, one of perseverance and one that is also steeped in magic. For those in search of inspiration, look no further. It was the perfect example of how life can be perfect if you let it. It was intractable proof that there are destined to be times in life when you simply can't be denied. And it's our responsibility to be present - so we can capitalize on those opportunities when they arise.

If there is anything that a single individual can learn from watching the 2010 SF Giants, it's that you never know when you might catch lightning in a bottle, and reach a level that you never thought possible. If it's not happening now in your life, be patient -- it took the Giants more than half a decade to get it right.

In their march to the title, the Giants have proven that it's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog. They've shown that in life it's not what happens to you, but rather how you react to what happens to you.

This was a colossal victory for an organization and a city that badly needed - and sorely deserved - a reward for all the sacrifices it has made to the game. For a time - especially after the late collapse to the Angels in the '02 World Series - it seemed as if it simply wasn't in the cards for the Giants. And that was alright for the fans. Unlike fans in other type-A cities, this mellowed out blue state crowd would never blame it's players for not going all the way, or label them as chokers or bums for coming up short.

Perhaps the easygoing support of the fans played a small role in the clubs obvious looseness as well.

The Giants have been in this buoyant zone, this unpressurized vacuum of confidence for several months now, and when they finally stepped up beneath the spotlight a nation's watching eyes, they didn't freeze up. Instead, they got better. Watching them, one got the impression that no single player was operating under the belief that if he didn't perform on a given night that the team would lose because of it.

I believe this to be the single most important element of the Giants chemistry this season. The fact that they were free from fear of failure (because they knew that if they failed, inevitably one of their teammates would pick up the slack) left them open to be ready for success.

The World Series matched the all-time low rating of 2008, which is interesting simply because the two lowest all-time television ratings have come in the last two years.

Is there a problem with baseball? Are the wrong teams winning, and if so, why?

It sure doesn't feel that way in San Francisco, where an improbable run to the cities first World Series ever has catapulted baseball to the forefront of the public psyche. People don't know when it's a good time to hit-and-run in San Francisco - I can attest to that - but they do know a good time when they see it. If you provide the people with a legitimate excuse to let their hair down and party their asses off in San Francisco, especially when their fun will come at the expense of a bunch of oil-peddling Bushies, why not jump on board, color a fake beard charcoal black, and get stomping?

As Jerry Garcia once famously said, "Don't tell me this town ain't got no heart."

A baseball franchise known more for its stars, its steroid scandals, and its downright frigid weather, will now be known for the things that every baseball city wants to be known for: Getting done in the clutch and playing loose and free under pressure. Oh, and pitching. What incredible pitching!

This was a team that embraced pressure unlike any other team I've ever seen. While the whole "torture" theme became a playful joke that many quick-to-fetishize San Franciscans claimed to embrace without really truly understanding, the truth of the matter was that Giants baseball wasn't torture at all. It was "hope." But unlike the today's political players, the Giants didn't claim to be anybodies savoir.

No, these Giants let the scoreboard do the talking. They just played. For themselves, for each other, and for their manager. And when their city started to catch on, they played for the liberal left leaning panda-wearing beard-coloring masses as well.

In the end this was more than a monkey being lifted off a shoulder.

It was baseball the way it should be. Old-School to the core. You pitch, you play defense, and however many runs you need, you get them.

And now we can all rejoice. Score this one for the new-age liberals, the hippies and the weirdos, the beards and the freaks. Without the pervading ethos in and around San Francisco contributing to the experience, the Giants magic might not have been as potent.

It may have viewed ambivalently by the rest of the nation -- Fox reeled in its worst world-series ratings in history -- but to the collective psyche of San Francisco, and to the people who've been patiently their time to come, it meant so much more.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Where's your head at?

Pittsburgh's James Harrison is a one-man wrecking machine -- or at least he was until the NFL decided that they had to draw the line. Debate still lingers, but the NFL's stance is clear: NO HITS TO THE HEAD.

After being fined 75k for one of two vicious hits to the head last Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison has gone from one of the league's most heralded victimizers to its poster boy for how not to hit.

I don't blame Harrison for reacting the way he did, but truthfully, if there is a side to take in this argument, anybody with a shred of common sense and humanity would be wise to commend the NFL for taking action swiftly in order to stem the tide of catastrophic injuries that have become an ugly reminder of the viciousness of NFL football.

What's funny about this whole episode is that the players don't want the changes that the NFL is talking about. Josh Cribbs, who was absolutely tattooed by Harrison on Sunday, and is probably still a bit woozy today, had nothing but nice things to say about Harrison. "He plays to knock people out," says Cribbs. "That's what good linebackers do."

As is evidenced by Cribb's quotes, the NFL has a lot of work to do in sending a message to players that hits to the head are not what good linebackers do. In the NFL culture, where the inmates have been running the asylum since the leagues inception, save for the token slaps on the wrist that have became commonplace every time a player makes an attempt of dislodging his opponents head from his spine, most players and ex-players feel that competition on the gridiron should be no-holds-barred all-out warfare.

It's a gladiator sport, and the typical NFL employee (particularly the defensive players, who find themselves running full speed at players who are concentrating on a flying pigskin) want it to remain so.

"If he was on our team we'd be applauding his efforts," say Cribbs.

Not to Josh: How about applauding the league for trying to protect your defenseless freakin' head?

I'm not quite getting the disconnect here between the players, who often complain that they aren't fairly compensated for a game that is hazardous to their collective health and can leave them with maladies long after they've cashed their last paycheck, and NFL management.

"We glorify these hits," says NFL commentator Mark Schlereth, who boasts of 29 surgeries since his playing career began. "We make money on these hits. That's what we do, and the NFL profits on that."

"You take all that contact away and guess who you are? You're soccer," he said.

If at first it's not obvious why players are trying to avoid being cracked down on for "devastating" hits, it should be. NFL defenses benefit from the intimidation that comes from the kind of hits that James Harrison and Dunta Robinson and Brandon Merriweather put on players. If an offensive player has to live in fear of being separated from his brain every time he goes to catch a pass, then he's going to catch fewer passes.

Defenses rely on this intimidation, and players like Harrison, who was the NFL's defensive player of the year in 2008, are of immeasurable value to their teams well being because of that fact.

But in recent years -- and there is no denying this, the numbers are clear -- there has been a surge of blows to the head, and with advancements in equipment, fitness, strength, and speed, players are launching themselves at each other like never before. In the days before face masks, when players wore leather helmets, it wasn't a problem. Today, when players wear light, unencumbering armour, football is downright deadly.

Why not, in the name of the players, try to make it safer?

The NFL is at a serious crossroads. Defensive players are, in Cribb's words, "heat-seeking" missiles, and the game's physical toxicity is at an unprecedented level.

Is that entertaining? Sure, like watching a car crash. But is it necessary? The NFL doesn't think so. They aren't trying to emasculate defensive players, they are simply trying to protect players that they deem to be defenseless from deathly harm. We are talking about human life here. Concussions are as common as colds in NFL dressing rooms, and if you're against the game becoming just a little safer, than you might want to change the channel to alligator wrestling or MMA.

Violence, in the mind of the typical NFL player and fan, is great, and the toughness of NFL football is a big part of the allure that has made it our new national pastime. But let's be sensible about change. Cracking down on career and life threatening hits to the head will not change the nature of the sport. Football will always be football. And whether the NFL cracks down on headhunters or not, the red-blooded enthusiast will always have his safe haven on Sunday afternoon.

Still, resistance is strong -- even in the face of an NFL hierarchy that is resolutely stepping up to protect its players.

"If I get a chance to knock somebody out, I'm going to knock them out and take what they give me," says Channing Crowder, linebacker for the the Miami Dolphins. "They can complain, they can suspend, they can fine and they can do whatever they want, but you can't stop a man from playing football the way he's playing since high school."

No offense Channing, but I'm pretty sure Roger Goodell has other ideas about that.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Dog Days of Summer Are Getting Pretty Wild

The dog days of summer: Maybe not "must-win," but definitely "must-see."

It's been a point of contention since inception in 1995, and while it may have been viewed skeptically by baseball purists then (myself included—I'm the guy that cries for justice every time a National landmark like Yankee Stadium is torn down), the baseball Wildcard is most definitely a boon to the game. Drizzle a few dollops of Wildcard contenders onto an already compelling portion of divisional races, and you have a recipe for a delectable five-course baseball meal.

They call it the dog days, but we all know that baseball fans get so much more than kibble this time of year.

Five of six Major League Baseball divisions are in the midst of very tense pennant races—add to that the wild card chaos, which features seven N.L. teams and four A.L. teams, and you are looking at a plethora of drool inspiring "must-win" games on the docket, each and every night across the league.

As the Twins and Whitesox are battling it out for supremacy in the A.L. Central, and the Cardinals and the Reds are duking it out in the N.L. Central. The Giants are entertaining the Padres this weekend, and although they are currently three and a half games back of the pace, they can still be consoled by the fact that they have a perilous half game lead over the Cardinals in the Wildcard (a game over the surging Phillies).

"This is a showdown," said Padres manager Bud Black, "when you get into September, that's really the line for me."

And there will be plenty of opportunities for both teams to toe the line later in the season, which is great news for those of us with voracious appetites for high-stakes baseball. The Giants and Padres have nine games remaining, including a season ending series in San Francisco.

Games like last night's 3-2 nailbiter at AT&T park in San Francisco (another great outing by that invincible S.D. bullpen), keep fans coming out in droves, and when the fans come out, the atmosphere sizzles with importance.

At this time of year, there is only one surefire way to bring people in the park (dreams of a post season bid), and MLB must feel pleased as punch about the fact that the season is three-quarters done, yet still fourteen of its thirty-two teams have managed to keep the dream alive.

Jonathan Sanchez' prediction of a sweep and the Giants acquisition of power-hitting outfielder Jose Guillen only added to the boisterousness of the sellout crowd of 42,722 in San Francisco last night. When Aubrey Huff launched a drive to right center field that had a chance to leave the yard in the bottom of the eighth, the roar of the crowd was enough to rattle the ear drums.

Huff's drive died at the warning, track, but the hopes and dreams of Giants fans will live on as they take the field this afternoon in another "must win" game. And hopes and dreams are what grease the wheels of the dog day express.

Of course there really is no such thing as a "must win" game when you are three and a half games back with forty-five games left to play. But perception can be very different from reality in cases such as these, and the beautiful thing about "must win" games in August is that if you lose one, you are rewarded instantaneously with another one.

Don't tell the Reds and Cardinals that the dog days of summer aren't life and death. The teams were literally at each others throats earlier in the week in Cincinnati. Their impromptu brawl (and resultant suspensions) may not have been pretty, but it was so captivating that fans are already circling the three game series between the two antagonists beginning September third in St. Louis with red ink.

Baseball can be a sleepy event at times, and it can be downright boring at others. Attend an Orioles-Royals game in May, and you'll get what I'm saying. But when the dog days of summer produce the the thunder and lightning that we're currently seeing all over the league, it's time for even the casual fan to tune in.

The games might not really be "must win" yet, but they are most certainly "must see."

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Bob Sheppard, the Eternal Yankee

Sheppard: Simple, succinct, and divine

To be idolized as a ball player comes with the territory, but to be idolized as a public address announcer, well, that is proof that you've really gone above and beyond the standards of your profession.

Legendary New York Yankee public address announcer Bob Sheppard did just that, and with his passing at the age of ninety-nine today, baseball fans everywhere are now reminiscing about the rare and precious qualities of the man that many affectionately referred to as "The Voice of God."

Ah, that voice. So unmistakable, I can hear it in my mind and follow it as if it were a trail of bread crumbs leading me back to my youth.

Back in the days when you'd sleep with your baseball glove and count the weeks or months until your dad took you down to the Bronx for a Yankee game, Bob Sheppard's was the voice that greeted you when you finally got to the promised land.

"Now batting, the second basemen, number thirty, Willie Randolph... number thirty." That was it. Perfection and simplicity and redundancy intertwined to bring you to the height of anticipation. This voice, you thought to yourself, is something special. You didn't need to be told. You didn't need to hear it from somebody else.

As it turns out, the imitation that many of us kids enjoyed doing more than any other back in the day was that of the illimitable Bob Sheppard. We'd grab our Wiffle-ball bats and walk up to our makeshift home plates, set to face our buddy or our big brother or our dad, and break into the routine: "Now batting, the first baseman, number twenty-three, Don Mattingly, number twenty-three."

There it was, the sound of summer in a nutshell. As sweet as crickets on a hot summer night, better than the bells of an ice cream truck at noon during a record-breaking heatwave.

Bob Sheppard. He may be gone from the planet, but he'll never be gone from our collective consciousness. Like Pete Rose spiking a baseball on the astro-turf of the Vet, or George Brett running and screaming out of the dugout after being called out for too much pine tar on his bat, the memory of Bob Sheppard's soothing voice has a distinct place in our treasure chest of baseball memories.

Derek Jeter—Mr. Yankee himself—had Mr. Sheppard do a recording of his famous introduction after he became so ill that he was no longer able to work at the Stadium. For many fans, hearing the recording is the highlight of their trip to the Stadium.

"That first at-bat in Yankee Stadium, you don't forget," said Yankee catcher Jorge Posada, "and he is part of that." Posada was one of many Yankees, both present and former, who lamented Sheppard's passing today. "Nobody is better," he added. "People look forward to coming to Yankee Stadium to hear that voice."

Bob Sheppard was a man who understood his calling in life. He came from an unselfish era when people were happy to perform their function for a team, and stayed on even as old-fashioned values started to fall by the wayside. The times may have changed since his tenure began in 1950, the players, the teams, the character, the ownership—but always, there was Bob Sheppard at the microphone, remarkably steady, and indescribably pure.

In an age of in-your-face commercialism, sycophantic cheerleading, and electronic pleas for "noise," the sheer dignity of Sheppard's delivery is what will remain in our memory banks. He was a man who had an implicit understanding of how we wanted to be treated at the ballpark, even when we ourselves had no idea.

Unlike the trashy and needlessly overbearing announcers now making the rounds in Major League parks these days, Sheppard was calm, smooth, and considerate. At times it almost seemed that he was aware that there were people at the park that might have actually preferred to talk amongst themselves than to listen to an announcer feign unnecessary enthusiasm.

Simplicity, efficiency, and consistency. With a tone to die for.

Baseball will always be great, but it will never be the same without him.

Bob Sheppard, rest in peace.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Blackhawks Reconnect With Lord Stanley

Duncan Keith's Blackhawks are Soldiers of Fortune

Last night there were tears rolling down the cheeks of many Chicagoland citizens, as the second longest Stanley Cup drought in NHL history came to a dramatic end in Philadelphia. The Chicago Blackhawks, who last won the NHL's coveted Cup in 1961 (six years before the Flyers entered the league, when names like Mikita and Hull were household names), were later seen in the bowels of the arena, smoking well-deserved cigars and drinking Bud Light from the Cup, while the amazingly resilient Philadelphia Flyers were left to ponder the what-ifs.

As in: what if Michael Leighton stopped that harmless sharp-angle shot by Patrick Kane in overtime?

For the Flyers, unfortunately, the bitterness of losing this tumultuous and hotly contested six-game series will likely overshadow all their remarkable achievements of the past two months. In losing an NHL record sixth consecutive Stanley Cup Final, there will no doubt be some grimness seeping into the collective psyche of a city and a franchise that should be swelling with pride.

On paper ten or twenty years from now, this loss to the Blackhawks might look like another postseason hiccup for the Flyers, but between those unforgiving lines these battle-worthy Flyers weaved a story of courage, desire, and grit that even the famed Broad Street bullies of 1975 would have to tip their caps to.

Philadelphia hasn't won the Cup since Bobby Clarke's heyday in 1975, but there should be a giant caveat in the ledger next to the results for the 2010 final, because this team - win or lose - proved itself to be truly special.

It wasn't exactly clear what would become of them when they stumbled into the playoffs on the last day of the regular season on the strength of a shootout win over the Rangers, but all doubts about their potential were methodically erased when they orchestrated the league's first comeback from a 3-0 deficit since 1975 (and only the third in the league's history) against the Bruins in the Conference semifinals.

The rest was supposed to be history for this obviously charmed bunch of bearded warriors, but the Blackhawks (another bunch of bearded warriors that happened to be just a wee bit better than the Flyers) put the kabosh on the Flyer's Cinderella aspirations before a packed house of orange clad maniacs last night at the Wachovia Center in Philly.

When the Cup-clinching tally was finally allowed after a look at a video review, the Blackhawks breathed a sigh of relief that could be felt all the way into the heartland of America. Their stone-faced coach, Joel Quenneville, even flashed a smile.

For Chicago, it must have been reminiscent of one of those horror movies where you stab someone a hundred times but they keep coming back to life. The Flyers were the team that nobody could kill. Sure, they could be outplayed, and their goaltending left a little bit to be desired, but just when they were pushed to the brink and it appeared they could be left for dead, the Flyers let their white teeth show through their yellow beards and it was clear that they were far from dead.

But Chicago, to their credit, did not stumble in the face of their indefatigable opponents. They put the pedal to the metal last night in a very hostile environment, and when it was all said and done, their effort was just enough to get them to hockey's holy grail.

When the Conne Smythe award-winning Manitoba native, Jonathan Toews took the cup and handed it to Marian Hossa, the magnitude of what had just occurred transcended both time and place for a moment, providing spectators with a feel of what type of long-term sacrifice and commitment it takes to get your name etched on Lord Stanley's Mug, which was first awarded to hockey's best team in 1893.

Hossa, who had failed in his two previous tries - one with Detroit and another with Pittsburgh - held the cup high over his head and you could feel not only the joy, but also the relief that the work - and the pressure - was finally over.

"It was definitely one of the memories I won't forget," said Hossa's teammate, Slovakian Tomas Kopecky. "He was so determined. He was so driven to win the cup...once I saw him... it's one of the moments you play hockey for."

Hossa, who many unfairly labeled as a 'jinx', was a major contributor to the final runs of Pittsburgh in 2008 and Detroit in 2009. But ironically, it was Pittsburgh who won the Cup last year over the Redwings, after Hossa had signed with Detroit.

But none of that matters anymore. All that matters is that the Flyers are finally dead and the Blackhawks are finally the champs.

We tend to forget what's between the lines when we look back at history. Little details, like a goaltender making good in his first-ever Stanley Cup appearance, or a group of unsung defensemen putting the plus in plus/ minus. Which is all the more reason to appreciate it now.

"What a feeling," said Hossa. "This is unbelievable."

His words may have been generic, but the smile on his face and on those of his teammates, were not.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Blackhawks on Inside Track for Cup Finals

The Hawks in game 2: A picture tells a thousand stories

In real-estate jargon, the slogan "location, location, location" is often put to use when a buyer isn't clear on what would give him or her the best return on their investment. In playoff hockey, where attempts to obtain precious property are often met with vicious blows to the body, nasty slashes, and thuggish high sticks, the same paradigm holds true.

You want to score goals? You want to win series and reach the holy grail? Then get bodies to that crease-sized patch of ice directly in front of the opposing goaltender and get to work. And if at first you don't succeed (or if you get a punch in the nose or a stick in the ribs), try try again.

In this year's NHL Western Conference Finals, it has quickly (and painfully in the Sharks case) become apparent that pretty passes and fancy power-play puck movement wont do the trick. Neither will determined cycling around the walls when it doesn't lead to the promised land - that precious and pricey 4x4 sheet of ice where the bulk of NHL playoff goal scoring is done.

The deeper you go in the playoffs, the harder it becomes to find ways to score against teams whose defenseman are prepared to kill you for a rebound.

But the Blackhawks, all playoffs long, have found ways to score. They know it's a dirty job, but unlike San Jose at the moment, they also know that someone - or better yet all of them - has to do it.

When it comes to crease-crashing, the Blackhawks are led by Dustin Byfuglien, a bruising 257-lb. power forward who doesn't just get in front of the net, he does it with strategical insight. But he's not the only one willing to skate the hard yards for Chicago. The team which is now tied for the longest string of NHL playoff road victories at seven, has a full cast of characters who are dead set on screening, nagging, bumping, and basically undermining the concentration of Nabokov. Patrick Kane, Jonanthan Toews, Troy Brower, Andrew Ladd - pretty much anybody that dresses for Joel Quenneville's squad knows what mission No. 1 is.

Meanwhile, the Sharks know that they need to match the Hawks intensity - but knowing it and doing it are two entirely different things.

Sharks messiah Joe Thornton by many accounts has played solid hockey in the series first two games. But he's a minus 4 for the series, and his superstar line that also features Patrick Marleau and Danny Heatley are a combined minus 8. To the casual observer the Sharks top line looks dangerous, but are they really? They are throwing a lot of pucks at the net, but rarely do they find a way to corral the rebound and turn it into a score - a surefire recipe for frustration.

The Sharks goal a game pace has done more than leave them shaking their heads. Joe Thornton's ill-timed and penalized slash of Hawks center Dave Bolland midway through game two's final period was at best a show of unproductive frustration - he'd be much better served skipping the histrionics and taking his massive frame to the front of the cage where the real meat and potatoes are being served in this series.

Anything else is just scraps.

Scrappy teams win Stanley cups, not teams that survive on scraps - the sooner the Sharks realize this, the better off they'll be in this series.

But it already may be too late.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Habs: Hooked on a Feeling

Les Habitants are winning hearts and minds with their one-for-all brand of Playoff hockey.

When Jacques Martin was hired to the helm of the most scrutinized coaching position in hockey last June, a trip to they playoffs for the Montreal Candiens wasn't out of the question. Nor was it a guarantee. Martin, a former teammate of Iron Mike Keenan in college, and a long time coach of the Ottawa Senators during the late 90's and early 00's has taken teams to the brink of the Stanley Cup finals, but he'd also struggled at the helm of the Florida Panthers over the last few years.

But none of that matters anymore.

What is happening this spring in Montreal is that the fabled red, white, and blue sweater appears to be working it's magic again, and no matter how glorious the Habs past might be, there is no time like the present - especially this year.

After a stunning come from behind upset of the NHL's no. 1 ranked juggernaut Washington Capitals, the Canadiens buckled up and relentlessly pursued their style of collapsible defense, intrepid puck support, Patrick Roy-style clutch goaltending, and timely scoring against the defending Stanley Cup champs and their nationally deified poster boy for hockey sainthood, Sidney Crosby.

After last nights lopsided 5-2 victory, the last NHL game ever to be played in Mellon Arena a.k.a the Igloo, the Habs are half way to the most improbable Stanley Cup run that the NHL will have ever seen.

How have they done it? How has a team of forwards that are "too small" and defenceman that are "too minus" turned a city that has too many expectations into a frenzied and passionate band of chest thumping hockey craving lunatics?

They've done it the way all Jacques Martin coached teams have always done it. Except this time they seem to be doing it just a little bit better, and without the help of big-time stars like Daniel Alfredsson. They've done it with a refreshing blend of selfless team hockey that has gone unmatched thus far in the NHL's post season.

The Habs have become masters of doing the little things during these playoffs. On paper it shouldn't be happening, but on the ice, remarkably, it is.

If talent alone was responsible for playoff success, the Canadiens would have bowed out long ago to the Capitals. But we all know that talent starts to diminish in efficacy when the NHL's second season begins. There are intangibles that start to supersede, and Montreal has taken these intangibles to a whole new level.

Puck support on the walls has allowed this band of diminutive forwards to gain control of the game against two of the NHL's most powerful opponents. A disciplined style of defense that collapses together and is committed to keeping the puck in front of it has frustrated the likes of Ovechkin, Semin, Crosby, and Malkin. Uncanny positional play has allowed them to break out of the zone under pressure, and to eliminate odd man rushes.

And I haven't even gotten to the shot blocking.

Or the goaltending.

For a team like Montreal to find itself in the Conference Finals, everything has to be clicking. It's been 17 years since Patrick Roy and Vincent Damphousse brought Montreal it's 24th Stanley Cup. Last year's 100th anniversary team was a complete flop, and the Mystique of the The Habs appeared to finally be dying, just as the Old Montreal Forum (the original home for all 24 Cup banners) had died.

But Martin's band of warriors are proving once again that hockey is a team sport with roots in discipline, support, and valor. The prettiest pucksters in the Eastern Conference have all learned first hand.

Meanwhile, while we were all waiting for Sid and the Gang of Penguins to finally close the door on Montreal, a 5'9" hard nosed counter puncher named Cammalleri was tying the team record for goals in a single playoff series. He's now inscribed in Canadiens lore along with others to achieve the feat (Richard, Believeau, Lafleur, Geoffrion, and Bonin).

Maybe it's magic. Or it could be that Jacque Martin is finally getting what he deserves for all those heartbreaking playoff failures and near misses in Ottawa. Maybe it's the sweater, the city, and the energy.

Or it could simply be some good old fashioned hockey.

Whatever it is, it ain't done yet.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tasering Steve Consalvi Was an Excellent Idea

Special thanks to 17-year-old Steve Consalvi for playing his part in a debate that lingers in the mind of many rebellious teenagers the world over.

The debate being, should I act like a complete idiot to make my friends laugh at any expense, or should I behave like a decent and perhaps even mature young adult and enjoy the fact that my friends already like me for who I am?

By charging onto Citizens Bank Field last night during a Phillies–Cardinals game, and subsequently getting his juvenile butt tasered, Penn State-bound High School Senior Steve Consalvi has effectively taken the bat out of the hands of many a confused class clown.

The message to them is: that crap my fly in your homeroom or at your best friend's sleepover, but not on a Major League proving ground, and not in the new millennium, where images of bomb-toting terrorists and knife-wielding subterranean's are firmly implanted on our fragile post-modern psyches.

The fact that Consalvi spoke to his father about running on the field is strike two against this family. Mr. Consalvi, who said "I don't recommend him running on the field, but I don't think they should have tasered him at all," is guilty of that all-too-familiar flaw of modern American parents these days: wanting to be buddies with his child instead of wanting to properly prepare his child for the real world.

Why Consalvi's dad couldn't find the necessary words to talk his son out of his clown act is befuddling. He had the chance to save the kid from humiliation and he couldn't get it done. Allowing your son to soldier on in his delusion is not helping anybody. It's like letting your slowest runner try to steal home with no outs and the bases loaded. It simply shouldn't have happened.

But it did happen. It's happened before and when it happens it isn't always harmless. Need I mention Monica Seles' stabbing incident in Germany, or the strange and violent assault on Royals first base coach Ron Gamboa in 2002?

There is so much debate about whether or not tasering Consalvi was going over the top. Couldn't they just have cuddled him to the ground? Maybe they should have just let him run around until he fell down from exhaustion - isn't that they way most parents deal with their kids these days?

C'mon people. There is no debate here. I'm sure Consalvi is a nice kid, and apparently he didn't mean any harm out there on the outfield. But now way in hell can the security forces at the ballpark assume this. He's got to be tasered - AT THE VERY LEAST!

And now that this incident is making front page news all over the country, we can be thankful to Steve Consalvi for doing a valuable service for the rest of those class clowns out there. This is a lesson that everybody can learn.

Sports are religion in this country kids.

Stay off the damn field!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Confessions of a So-Called Bracketologist

So, just what exactly defines a bracketologist?

The crap-shooters that Sports Illustrated and CBS are calling experts have all taken a stab at proving that their knowledge of the sport is second to none. But if you take a brief look, you'll quickly see that many of these guys aren't worth the weight of the hot air they spew over the course of the season.

Case in point: Of the eight Sports Illustrated experts who posted their predictions on the web, seven of the dummies picked Kansas to go all the way. The other picked Ohio State - at least they made the sweet 16.

I wondered if perhaps Sports Illustrated was the exception rather than the norm, so I logged on to CBS Sports to see what their experts said. Gary Parrish, the networks senior writer, went out on a limb and picked Kentucky to beat Kansas in the final. He was dead wrong, as were most of his colleagues, all of who are generously labeled as "experts."

I think I'm beginning to understand what it takes to be a bracketologist - and I think that none of these so-called experts deserve to mention the word when speaking of themselves.

I could fill up the page with a lot of sad stories about a lot of sad bracketologists who thought they knew what the heck they were talking about three short weeks ago. But I'll spare you the details because who really wants to talk about losers anyway? Wouldn't you rather hear about someone who made some noise this March?

Good luck finding anybody.

Oh, wait, I forgot to mention myself. I entered my annual pool with a bit of trepidation mixed with a big bucket of foolish pride and a dash of "why not me"-style hope. Things started slow, but as I check the standings prior to this weekends Final Four, I find myself perched in third place, with a chance to go higher if the West Virginia Mountaineers can do the deed.

How, you might wonder, did I know that the Mountaineers were going to make the Final Four for the first time since 1959, even when a juggernaut like the Kentucky Wildcats was the top seed in their region?

Do I have super powers? The ability to see the future? A deeper understanding of the psychological and emotional toll that high stakes basketball can have on a group of fresh-out-of-High-School dynamos?

I guess you could say that, sure. At this point my head has become so filled with delusions of grandeur that I'm considering sending my resume off to Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports.

But you could also say that I've been lucky. Really lucky. So lucky that I should probably be expecting a flat tire or a busted car window due to the fact that for every force in nature their is an equal and opposite reaction.

Or even worse, the Dukies could spoil my weekend, just like Kansas did in 2008.

But either way you slice it, I'll be in the mix come Saturday, when Duke and West Virginia tip-off, while most of the so called experts will be wondering what went wrong.