Thursday, April 28, 2011

There's nothing better than overtime playoff hockey

            Overtime may very well be the pinnacle of a sporting event.  Overtime can get any fan excited and it epitomizes the phrase, “On the edge of your seat.”  At any moment a play can be made and the game can be over.  One perfectly executed play or one costly mental error can make the difference between winning and losing.
            Obviously, every sport has an overtime session if it needs one.  If the two teams are tied at the end of regulation, they will play some extra time in order to decide the victor (save regular-season hockey).
            Through my many years of watching different sports, one sport’s overtime has me glued to the television every time I see it on.  In this case it’s a certain type of overtime.  It’s an overtime where anything can happen at any moment and a team can be sent on vacation for the rest of the off-season.
            That overtime belongs to playoff hockey.
            Hockey is probably the sport that I watch the least during its regular season, whether it’s because I am watching something else or it simply isn’t on television as much as it used to be.  Fortunately I won’t have to worry about that any longer since the NHL and NBC just signed a ten-year contract and will show a ‘Game of the Week.’  Versus will still broadcast games as well, but I hardly find myself venturing past channel 59 (Adult Swim) in my area.
            The reason I love overtime playoff hockey so much stems from what I said earlier.  Anything can happen at any moment.  With one flick of the puck a team can bounce back to tie a series at two games apiece, have their backs put against the wall in the dreaded three games to one scenario, or be eliminated completely from Stanley Cup contention.  In about five seconds a team can be taking a shot at one end, have it blocked or sail wide of the net, and have the other team breaking toward the other end on an odd-man advantage.  That quickly a team can go from having a great game-winning opportunity to walking into the locker room with their heads down.
            Hockey separates itself from other overtimes in the sense that the action is continuous.  Of the four major sports - as well as golf, NASCAR (in teeth gritted together voice) and college athletics – hockey is the only sport that continues its play as long as the puck remains in the rink and no one breaks a rule.  I guess the NFL can end at any moment too, but its play isn’t continuous.  There is a lull in the action between each play.  Any play can win the game, but it’s not a steady back-and-forth like hockey.  Plus, if the NFL changes its overtime system to the way the NCAA does theirs (each team gets a possession), its close relation to ‘sudden death’ will go completely out the window.  The same can probably be said for the bottom of an inning in baseball, but once again it is on a pitch-to-pitch basis.  Yes, the game can end on any pitch, but its not fast-paced action.
            Although my favorite team is the Flyers, I could probably watch any two teams compete in overtime playoff hockey.  Philadelphia has already played in two intense overtime games in its first round series with Buffalo.  The Sabers won Game 5 in OT to take a 3-2 series and put the Flyers squarely behind the eight-ball.  However, with their season on the line, the ‘Broad Street Bullies’ responded in Game 6’s OT to push the series to a Game 7.  The Flyers went on to win Game 7 in dominating fashion.  I’m sure the previous thrilling victory gave them a lot of confidence as headed back to play on their home ice.
            Did I mention that hockey players can try to crush each other while all of this is all going on?  People are constantly getting hit, tripped, choked, cross-checked and shoved away from goalies.  Hockey players will literally do anything to help their teams during the playoffs.  They will dive on the ice to block a shot, not caring whether they get nailed in the face with a frozen piece of rubber or not.  Defenders will give their goalies their stick if they happen to lose their big paddle.  They will do anything and everything in order to win the game, especially in overtime.
But just as quickly as a person can read this sentence it can be all over.  To me, there is nothing better in sports than overtime playoff hockey.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Words aren't always weapons

            All this media attention directed at Kobe Bryant and his use of a specific homosexual word on the bench the other night is getting a little ridiculous.
            Am I the only one who is being somewhat level-headed over this?  It sure seems that way.
Outside the Lines today had Stephen A. Smith, Herman Edwards, LZ Granderson and John Ireland on the show discussing Kobe’s actions.  For the most part, Smith, Edwards and Ireland were being reasonable about the topic.  However, Granderson – an openly gay sports writer – obviously had issues with it.
The point Granderson was trying to make was that Kobe had this “F” word deep inside of his heart and his mind and specifically chose to use that word at that exact time of his blowup.  He was basically saying that Kobe was gay-bashing on purpose and knew what point he was trying to get across.
Smith, who I found myself siding with, argued that while he agreed the word should never be used, said that Kobe wasn’t necessarily calling the referee a homosexual and that he didn’t have some deep-rooted agenda against the gay community.  Furthermore, Smith said there was no way Granderson could tell what Kobe was thinking and therefore shouldn’t be judging him so quickly.
Ireland, who is a co-host of a radio show and is a Lakers sideline reporter, said that he had probably heard the word being used four or five times this season – none of which came from Kobe Bryant.  He also pointed out that people like Kenyon Martin have used it before and was never even suspended for it.
I really don’t get what the big deal is.  I understand that Kobe’s choice of words weren’t exactly the best, especially when it is a live broadcast and so many cameras are focused on your every move.  But seriously, I couldn’t count the number of times I have heard someone use the word throughout my lifetime for whatever reason.
I agree.  It’s not a nice word and there is really no place for it.  But sometimes stuff happens and people say things.  In my generation, we tend to use a whole variety of words.  It is almost like mad-libs.  Just because Kobe called the ref a homosexual doesn’t mean he is a homophobe.  He very well could have called him a ‘Richard Cranium’ or a loser or a nerd or a fill-in-the-blank with any noun of your choosing.
The notion that Kobe had this predetermined word in his mind and used it at that very moment to describe his true feelings about the referee is downright absurd.  He slipped up and said a word that he shouldn’t have said.  That doesn’t make him a gay-basher.  It doesn’t make him a homophobe.
People need to stop being so thin-skinned, regardless of your beliefs.  What if Kobe called the referee a donkey molester?  Would the people at PETA have flipped out too?
            What’s that old phrase?  ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.’  Well, then man-up already.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

SM's Top 5 Attended Games of All Time

            I have been to many a live sporting event in my 28 years on this Earth, whether it was for work or recreation.  I was fortunate enough to have grown up with a father who took me to a lot of Penn State football and Philadelphia Phillies baseball games when I was young.  Now that I think about it, that may be why I am so infatuated with sports and have made it the focus of my career.
            Some games I don’t remember well.  It may because I was very young at the time.  Others I may have been there physically but not mentally if you catch my drift.  I recall most of the Penn State games that I saw growing up, but not all of them.  The same can be said for some Phillies games.  One Phillies game that I should recall – I don’t.  Apparently I saw them play the Pirates my senior year of college.  I probably would have never known had I not been reminded of it a few weeks later.
            Regardless, I have retained a lot of other memories from events that I have attended.  I like to save all of my ticket stubs in a little pouch to keep track of all of the games that I have been to.  Recently I rummaged through them and got to thinking.  What is the greatest game I have ever been to?  What games can’t I help but remember forever?
            So, I came up with the idea of sorting through all of my experiences and placing them in order of the most memorable.  Some of my readers were with me and should remember the games I speak of.  Hopefully my reminiscing will bring them some joy as well.  Without further a due, here is the list of the most memorable games that I have ever attended.

No. 5 – Dallas Cowboys vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sept. 13, 2009
            I have to thank my mother for this one.  She lives about an hour south of the Tampa area and was nice enough to get two tickets to the 2009 season opener at Raymond James Stadium.
            Tampa is a pretty nice area.  Then again, almost everywhere in Florida is nice.  Except for maybe the backstreets in Little Haiti, Miami.  That place didn’t look too friendly in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.
            Either way, I got to walk on the Pirate Ship.  I got to see some jets fly overhead.  I got to eat a hot dog.  It’s a thing with me.  I like to get hot dogs in every stadium that I go to.  I also got to hang out with my buddy Kris Moerschel afterward.  Shout-out!
            The game went well, as the Cowboys beat up on the Bucs 34-21.  Tony Romo had a great day by throwing for 353 yards and three touchdowns of 42, 66, and 80 yards.  I know those three passes accounted for more than 50 percent of his yardage, but they were big plays in the game.
            The game may not seem that important in the grand scheme of things, but it was important to me.  I have been to three Cowboys games in my life.  The first was the season finale against the Giants.  Dallas had sewn up a playoff spot and benched all of its starters.  I got to see Rodney Peete and Blair Thomas instead of Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith.  Lucky me.  We lost 15-10.
            I then traveled all the way down to Texas Stadium in 2007.  It was the stadium’s last year of commission and the hated Eagles were in town.  The ‘Boys were 12-1 at the time and a win seemed like a lock.  Wrong again.  I didn’t even get to see a touchdown, as the Eagles won 10-6.  It was probably the Cowboys worst game of the season (next to their playoff loss to the Giants).  The greatest trip ever quickly became the worst trip ever.
            Thankfully, my third time was the charm.

No. 4 – Michigan State vs. Penn State football, Nov. 26, 1994
            Unlike some, this is one Penn State game that I could never forget.
            The Nittany Lions were the cream of the crop in 1994.  They straight up killed teams.  They opened the season by beating Minnesota 56-3.  They posted other lop-sided victories throughout the year like 61-21 over Iowa, 55-27 over Rutgers and 63-14 over Ohio State.  Only three of their 12 wins were by less than ten points.
            A trip to the Rose Bowl rode on Penn State’s final regular season game against Michigan State.  As expected, the Lions literally ran all over the Spartans thanks in large part to Ki-Jana Carter’s 227 yards and five touchdowns.  He was the Lions’ equivalent to Barry Sanders at the time.  Nobody could touch him.  Quarterback Kerry Collins added 289 yards passing, while receiver Bobby Engram caught eight balls for 169 yards and a score.  It looked as if they were playing a bunch of high schoolers.  Complete dominance.
            I’ll never forget the game because afterward all of the players were carrying around roses in their mouths.  I didn’t understand why they were doing it at the time, but I do now.
            Penn State went on to beat Oregon, 38-20 in the “Grand Daddy of them all.”  I remember watching that game on television and seeing Carter take the rock 83 yards to the house on the Lions’ first offensive play.
            Looking back, I probably saw the best Penn State football team ever assembled.  Had it not been for the stupid poll system they had back then (probably even more stupid than the one the NCAA uses today), the Lions would have been National Champs.  There is no doubt in my mind that they would have destroyed Nebraska had the two teams played each other.
According to Penn State, they were the champs.  They have it posted inside the stadium.  Call me a homer.  Call me what you will.  But I agree with them.

No. 3 – UCONN vs. PITT basketball, Feb. 15, 2004
            This was probably the most hyped basketball game to come through Oakland while I was at the University of Pittsburgh.  No. 5 UCONN vs. No. 4 PITT.
            UCONN was the pre-season No. 1 and pretty much everybody’s pick to win the national championship.  PITT had already arrived on the national scene thanks to consecutive Sweet 16 appearances, but it hadn’t really done much other than win a Big East title.  This was supposed the game that proved that PITT was for real and that it belonged with the big boys.
            In front of a sold out Peterson Events Center, the Panthers came out and took it to the Huskies.  PITT led by eight at the half and went on an 11-0 run in the second half to win, 75-68.  Tthe key to the game turned out to be free throws.  Something that PITT is notorious for being bad at, the Panthers went 24-of-33 (73 percent) from the charity stripe.  UCONN was a measly 9-for-19.  Jaron Brown led the Panthers in the three major stats with 17 points, five rebounds and six assists.  Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafor led the Huskies with 23 and 16 points respectively.
            The win kept our undefeated streak at the Pete alive at 34-0.  Unfortunately, UCONN had the last laugh.  The Huskies later beat the Panthers in the Big East Championship and went on to knock off Georgia Tech in the national title game.  Whatever.  For that one day we at PITT felt like we had just won the biggest game of them all.

No. 2 – LA Dodgers vs. Philadelphia Phillies, 2009 NLCS Game 5, Oct. 21, 2009
            I never thought my paper, the Lehighton TIMES NEWS, would be able to get credentials to the Phillies’ playoff games.  When I found out we could and that I would have the opportunity to cover one of the games, I went bonkers.
            With the way things unfolded in the 2009 NLCS, the Phils had a chance to close out the series at home in Game 5.  That was the game I was fortunate enough to cover.
            Citizen’s Bank Ballpark was electric as game-time approached.  Everyone was going crazy.  It didn’t last long though, as Andre Either took Cole Hamels deep on a 1-2 count in the first inning.  With one swing the air had been sucked out of the stadium.
            Jayson Werth, who turned out to be the hero of the night, pumped the air right back into the park when he connected for a three-run homer in the bottom of the inning.  Just like that, Werth had flipped the switch and the electricity was flowing once again.  The Dodgers’ James Loney and the Phillies’ Raul Ibanez traded homers in the second inning before the Phils pulled away.
            Philadelphia outscored Los Angels 6-2 in the last six innings and went on to win 10-4.  Werth finished the night 3-for-4 with two homers and four RBIs.  It was the second straight year the Phils had beaten the Dodgers four games to one in the NLCS.  In turn, Philly became the first National League team to go to consecutive World Series since the Braves did so in 1995-96.
The Phils also accomplished two other impressive feats that night.  They became the first NL team to win 16 post-season games in a 20 game stretch.  They also became the first NL team to win five consecutive post-season series without ever trailing game-wise.
Getting to interview Werth, Ryan Howard and Charlie Manuel afterward was icing on the cake.  It was easily the best experience I have ever had thus far in my career.

No. 1 – Houston Astros vs. Philadelphia Phillies, Sept. 4, 2006
            My greatest sporting experience can be attributed to Rossaford A. Williams and Louis Fernando Jorge Rodrigo Peon since.  They got the idea to get a group of us good friends together and go down to see a Phillies game.  What a day it was.
            We spent the early part of the afternoon tailgating and playing cornhole and beer pong.  Some shenanigans went down, but the details aren’t necessary.  The point is is that fun was had by all.
            The pitching match-up was Roger Clemens vs. Cole Hamels.  We couldn’t have asked for a better duel at the time.  Clemens was considered one of the greatest pitchers of all time (before the steroids) and Hamels was an up-and-coming phenom.  Clemens ended up getting pulled after the fifth inning due to a bum hammy.
            Throughout the game we saw Ryan Howard hit his 53rd homerun of the year.  Howard went on to hit a franchise-record 58 HRs that year and we got to see one of them.  Then, with the game tied in the bottom of the tenth, Chase Utley hit a two-out walk-off homerun to right field that landed a few rows in front of us.  We all went wild.
            To top it all off, it was dollar hotdog day.  That, combined with all of the events of the day, pushed this game over the top and made it my No. 1 attended sporting event of all time.


Philadelphia Phillies vs. Chicago Cubs, July 17, 2010
            Thanks to Joey Rauch, a bunch of us flew out to Chicago to spend a weekend in the “Windy City.”  We got to see the city, try out a few (if by a few I mean a lot) of the local pubs and even got to try the infamous sandwich, “The Three Little Pigs.”  It was ridiculously amazing.  Look it up.
            As for the game, the Phillies entered the ninth inning trailing 1-0.  All the Cubs fans were getting loud and began talking trash.  I wasn’t worried.  Carlos Marmol was coming in.  Marmol went on to walk five guys in the inning and helped the Phillies score four runs to come from behind and win the game.  Honestly, the Cubs fans should have known better.

Milwaukee Brewers vs. Philadelphia Phillies, 2008 NLDS Game 1, Oct. 1, 2008
             2008 was Cole Hamels’ break out post-season and it all started with this game.  Hamels went eight strong innings, striking out nine and allowing just two hits in a 3-1 victory.  Brad Lidge allowed a run in the ninth, but kept his perfect season as closer in tact.  The Phils went on to win the World Series.

Orlando Magic vs. Cleveland Cavaliers, Feb. 5, 2005
            This game was memorable for a few reasons.
            First, I am a huge Magic fan.  I am also a Maryland fan and at the time Steve Francis was the Magic’s go-to-guy.  I yelled his name before the start of the game and he actually looked over at me.  It was sweet.  Dwight Howard was also a rookie that year.  The Franchise had a nice 15-9-5 stat line, while Howard went for 14 points and six rebounds.
            However, the main reason we were there was to see LeBron James.  The “Chosen One” did not disappoint, as he messed around and nearly got a triple-double.  He ended up with 30 points, nine assists and six rebounds.  The Cavs won 101-92 – the only blemish for me on the night.
            To top it all off, we stopped at a White Castle on the way back.  It was a good night indeed.

Michigan vs. Penn State football, Nov. 18, 1995
            Most people know this game as the infamous ‘snowball’ game.  It had snowed an absurd amount the day before and people weren’t sure if the game was even going to be played.  I’m sure the school officials wish it hadn’t
            During the game, the Penn State student section started chucking snowballs at both the Michigan players and the referees.  Mercury Hayes, a Michigan WR, got nailed directly in the facemask with an iceball.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  I wanted to shake that man’s hand, because his throw was money.  I don’t know what else people expected from several drunken college kids and a bunch of packable snow.


St. Louis Cardinals vs. Philadelphia Phillies, May 5, 2010
            I got to see the best pitcher in the league (Roy Halladay) take on two of the best hitters in the league (Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday).  Halladay: W, 7 inn., 9 K, 1 ER.  Pujols/Holliday: 1-7, RBI.  Good pitching always beats good hitting.

Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, Aug. 23, 2001
            I got to see Randy Johnson strike out 16 in a 5-1 loss to the Pirates.  Not sure if I was more surprised to see the 16 K’s or the Buccos actually win.

Ottawa Senators/Philadelphia Flyers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, Oct. 16, 2001/Jan. 21, 2002
            I got to see Mario Lemieux in his first full season back from retirement post three assists against the Senators and four assists against the Flyers.

Miami vs. Pittsburgh football, Sept, 27, 2001
            Thursday Night College Football on ESPN, live from Heinz Field.  I, along with a national audience, got to see Clinton Portis rack up 131 yards and three TDs in a 43-21 blowout.  I’m pretty sure there was a David Priestly quarterback draw and a quick punt on third down mixed in there as well.  We hate you Walt Harris.

Northwestern vs. Penn State football, Nov. 2, 1996
            I was there, but I didn’t see much of the game.  It was an absolute blizzard on this night.  Jared Holmes and I sat up in the northeast addition of Beaver Stadium and we literally couldn’t even see the field through all of the snow.  I had a knack for bringing bad weather to State College.

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, Sept, 20, 2001
            I got to see a juiced up Mark McGwire hit a home run to center field.  I guess it is a (unwanted) part of baseball history.

Orlando Magic vs. Philadelphia 76ers, April 19, 1996
            My dad and I made a bet before the game.  I said the Magic would win by more than 20.  He said they wouldn’t.  The final score: 112-92.  Push.  Shaq posted 23 and 10, while Penny had 15 and nine.

New York Giants vs. New Orleans Saints, Oct. 18, 2009
            I traveled to Nawlins to see the eventual Super Bowl champs beat up on the Giants, 48-27.  It was a great experience just to be in New Orleans at the time.  What made it even better was the fact that my buddies, Lou Peon and Dennis Egan, traveled all that way to watch their favorite team lose.  FIVE FOR TWELVE-ISH!

Boston Red Sox vs. Philadelphia Phillies, June 17, 2008
            Just a normal game, but I got to see Manny Ramirez, Jon Lester and Jonathan Papelbon live from the Hall of Fame Section.  Thanks Joey.

As one could probably tell, I have been to a lot of sporting events.  I know what you are thinking, but believe it or not this is not every game I have been to.  Thanks for reading (if you made it through the whole thing) and feel free to post any comments of your memories from these games.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Bowling > NASCAR

The other night Erica Hynes, Mike Iannotto and myself were out enjoying a few adult beverages when we saw an advertisement for the PBA - the Professional Bowlers Association.  The commercial showed one of the pros throwing the ball with a wicked curve down the lane that ended with all the pins falling down.
"It must be nice to be able to do that almost every time you step up to the lane," I said.  "Heck, that's probably more of a sport than NASCAR."
Mike tried to argue with me by asking if I thought it was harder to drive a car doing 180 miles-per-hour or throwing a ball down a lane.  That's not that point I was trying to make, but if you know Mike then you know he isn't the best at drawing analogies.
Either way, I told him that I thought it would take me less time to perfect driving a car at 180 mph than it would for me to average 275 in bowling.  Any monkey with a two hands and a right foot can drive a car.  Case in point. And he seems to do a good job at bobbing and weaving through traffic - a key to racing.  I have yet to see a monkey pick up eight strikes in a game of bowling.
To me, something is a sport only when the human (or monkey) is the one doing the work.  In car racing, the car is doing all of the work.  Yeah, the driver is steering and shifting, but what athletic skill is that?  You don't need to learn different ways to steer a car.  You either turn it left or turn it right.  You either hit the gas pedal or hit the brake.  I see 5-year-olds do it all the time in the arcade.
One could probably say that the ball is doing the work in bowling, or that the club is doing the work in golf.  No, the person is doing the work.  He is throwing the ball.  He is swinging the club.  If he doesn't throw or swing it right, he won't get good results.  I guess you could say that about driving a car too, but it's really not the same thing.  The person will get tired of throwing a ball after a while.  A person won't get fatigued from hitting the brake.  All I am trying to say is that it will take a person less time to become good at racing a car then they would for them to become good at golf.  And that NASCAR isn't a sport.
You have to be in good shape to survive on tour - especially in golf.  Bowlers too.  They have to have the proper conditioning to continuously throw a 16-pound ball at 20+ mph.  What conditioning is there to driving?  You are sitting down the entire time!
If John Candy (R.I.P) were still around, I bet he could drive a race car as soon as he fit in the window.  That might take a while, but you know what I mean.  I bet he wouldn't be able to break 200 or make a par in his first game/round of play.
I guess it comes down to how someone defines 'sport.'  If you think a sport is anything you compete in, then yes NASCAR would be a sport.  But so would pinochle then.  To me, a sport in something that takes skill and talent and hard work to become good at.  You have to exert energy.  You have to use your muscles and your body directly.
So many things have become 'sports' today.  Snowmobile riding.  Poker.  I even saw dominoes on ESPN a couple of times a few years ago.  They aren't sports to me.  They are hobbies.  Activities.
Everyone should just play basketball.  It would make everything a lot easier.