Click here for Today's Sign of the Apocalypse, Game to Watch, Leading Off gallery and much more!
You know what really sucks? When it gets right down to it, I'm just not a sports fan anymore.
Which is not to say I don't like sports. I find watching a game -- particularly a playoff game -- a nice way to pass the time, and very much look forward to the "big" games in most every sport. This past Monday night, for instance, I made sure not to miss the Vikings-Eagles affair, if only to see just what the Eagles still had defensively.
(The verdict: Not as much as in recent years. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson is still in a class by himself, choosing to dictate to an offense with multiple blitzes from everywhere. The Iggles did blitz, and Vikings QB Daunte Culpepper never quite had the time he needed to work Randy Moss into his plans. And defensive end Jevon Kearse, too small to constantly bull-rush the Vikes' massive O-line, as a linebacker/Culpepper spy? Genius.
But I still wonder about those young DBs, and the linebackers did little to impress me. Much like the game I attended last week -- the Jaguars' 7-6 win at home against Denver, in which the Broncos gashed them for almost twice as many total yards -- the Vikes beat themselves, particularly in the red zone. Oh well.)
But personally, I'm pretty much tapped out, blind-idol-worship-wise. Growing up a Rams fan -- my love for Vince Ferragamo has already been made plain, but my true favorite was the greatest tailback I ever saw, Eric Dickerson -- I had several chances to taste mammoth victory (even if they were always followed by bitter defeats). Then, the sad-sack franchise moved to St. Louis in 1995, leaving me without a team. The Rams' Super Bowl win in 1999, which I expected to cringe at, did nothing for me. The ties had been severed.
I was a ginormous Lakers fan, which made the 1980s a fairly sweet decade to come of age. Magic Johnson was the all-time great, followed closely by Kareem and Big Game James. I could run a laundry list of Lakers loves -- big games and lesser-known studs that got me out of bed in the morning six months a year, that chained me to my little black-and-white in the living room to watch Showtime as narrated by Chick Hearn. (Say this about the Lakers: They never lost a game they weren't supposed to. Never.) I still cheered for them when the '90s arrived, and with it, the Sedale Threatt era. (He looked like a turtle, but he was all I had.) And then they got good again (Shaq), then really good again (Shaq and Kobe), then embarrassing and despicable (Shaq and Kobe). From Showtime to a freak show, worthy only of rubbernecking? In my mind, and heart, they're gone.
I'd tell you about the Kings, and how great the Triple Crown line was (Dionne and Taylor and Simmer), and how great the Great One in silver-and-black was, and how screwed I felt by McSorley's stick against the Canadiens, but I won't, because hockey as a whole is dead to me. Let's face it: I fear I'll one day tell my kid about the NHL the same way I'll discuss brontosaurs or Britney Spears: a relic that he/she won't believe existed. So that's out.
And I've got no college teams to root for, since I went to UC Santa Barbara, the most beautiful college campus in the country, so much so that it distracts the athletes and makes all the Gauchos teams suck. (Except the men's soccer team, which as we speak sits atop the national polls. A special thanks to former SI intern Marcus V. in Hempstead, N.Y., for that nugget.)
Submit a comment or question for Josh.
Which brings me to the Team Which Shall Not Be Named, since it's late September and thus my heart is preparing, once again, to break. Screw it: It's the Dodgers, the only team that still matters to me ... probably because I'm a sucker for brutal, scarring punishment, and they dole it out like it's air. To wit:
The Dodgers, after leading the NL West for the last 5,407 days, let the Giants -- the hated-and-despised-worse-than-the-Celtics Giants -- creep back into the race in August, and now seem poised to finally hand over the division crown that's rightfully min-, er, theirs. This has happened before, too many times to count. (Well, I could count them, but it's just too painful, and I've a plane to catch.) I have laughed throughout the month, as ESPN slavishly pumped life into the five-team NL wild card race ... only it included the Giants in the discussion. Hilarious, really. Because we (and by we, I mean cynical L.A. fans; yes, we do exist) knew exactly what would happen.
With last night's 4-0 loss to San Diego, the inevitable slide continues. L.A.'s lead over San Francisco had shrunk to ½ game. Let's face it: the Giants might as well be up by 20.
It's sad, because Dodgers third baseman Adrian Beltre won't get the MVP he deserves, and worse still, will lose it to the insufferable Barry Bonds; because I've seen this movie too many times to count, and still, I tune in every year, like the idiot who opens the refrigerator door once an hour in hopes that he'll find something new; because I don't think a playoff win every 20 years is too much to ask; because Dodger Stadium on a sun-kissed fall Sunday afternoon in the left-field bleachers is the closest I'll ever come to heaven; and because I'm sick of the freakish worship of Bonds.
I realize we've got bigger fish to fry -- a contentious election, the specter of a prolonged occupation in Iraq, a possible return of a draft, Internet-broadcasted beheadings, and countless other things of actual importance -- so I won't lose too much sleep. Whether distraction or indifference or my chosen field -- which is very much like working in the kitchen of your favorite restaurant, a place you really don't want to see -- I no longer ache for what happens on the field or rink or court.
Except for these two weeks a year, when the leaves turn and the sun's gone at 6 and the NFL has me in a different city every other day. Then, I'm the one bleeding Dodger blue, a poor, pathetic masochist in search of a late score and another blow to the gut. Idiotically, nonsensically, I save a tiny sliver of my heart, to be broken again.
I should know better, of course. After all, what does it say about me, that the only team to which I still cling is the one that will, over the next two weeks, hurt me in ways I knew were coming but chose not to avoid? It makes me a sad, pathetic person, I suppose.
Which is to say, a fan.
THE NFL'S TOP FIVE (or six) TEAMS, BECAUSE I SAY SO
1. New England: It's almost not fair that the defending Super Bowl champions fixed their biggest problem -- an anemic running game -- so brilliantly. Former Bengal malcontent Corey Dillon, he of the 158 yards in the Patriots' 23-12 win over Arizona last week, will be a horse this team rides deep into January.
2. Seattle: Two road trips, two wins. After the Seahawks dispatch the 49ers this week in Seattle, they'll take one step closer to the NFC home-field advantage I think they'll have come January. QB Matt Hasselbeck is officially near-elite, but the big story is the much-improved D. After Monday night, Philly will get the pub, but don't sleep on the Seahawks.
3. Philadelphia: They looked very good on Monday. Very, very good ... but not great. The Iggles and Seahawks right now would be a toss-up, and I'd probably give Philly a nod if the game was played in Owens-ville. But that's a long way off, and I've many more blogs to figure this out.
4. Indianapolis/Tennessee (tie): You say Manning, I say McNair. When these two teams play, it's a do-not-miss, last week's 31-17 win by Indy in Nashville included. I'm still not sure who's better, and won't be for some time.
6. The other 27 teams (tie): It's Week 3, people. It's an 8-8 league. Everyone's still in it, the Chiefs and Chargers included. No need to mourn the death of a playoff dream. Not yet, anyway.
THREE SPORTING THOUGHTS
1. Another NFL-related piece of advice, to be heeded by almost no one: Don't bet pro football. It's a sucker's bet. Too many betting lines can be affected by one crazy play or blown call. Too many teams are just as good as too many others, which means wins and losses (and wagers) are increasingly decided by bad officiating or lousy coaching or both. Most important: The players don't care that the rent's riding on their performance. They're professionals playing a brutally violent sport, and they just want to survive to the next non-guaranteed paycheck (and maybe hit an incentive or two along the way). Don't do it. Or don't say I didn't warn you.
2. The U.S. Ryder Cup walloping had nothing to do with the captain or the chemistry, the new clubs or the odd pairings. No, the Cup was lost (again) because the Europeans played (much, much, much) better golf. And while I think it's creepy that in a televised interview with ESPN's Dan Patrick, Tiger Woods said the loss was a letdown because the American players were playing for, among others, their wives (but never mentioned playing for the country), the loss just wasn't that surprising. So no more "gutty-little-underdog-Euros" talk, especially when they kick some more American ass in 2006.
3. It wasn't a catch, TO. So stop with the celebration. And memo to the NFL: Give the coaches in the booths a separate replay feed so they can make a decision to challenge egregious calls such as Terrell Owens' Monday Night thievery in a timely fashion. By staying with Owens (lest we miss another in his long line of brilliant celebratory shimmy-shakes) for waaaay too long following his TD catch, the Vikes lost precious seconds and looks at various replay angles. I'm not saying that's why Minnesota lost -- you just can't fumble on the goal line, Daunte -- but it sure didn't help.
THREE SPORTING THOUGHTS, NON-SPORTS EDITION
1. I read in The New York Times this weekend that George W. Bush and John Kerry are ninth cousins, twice removed -- hardly a genealogical surprise, it turns out, given that both are from families that've resided in New England for over 100 years. Indicative of nothing, but interesting nevertheless.
2. I'm sad that it's officially autumn. Yes, it will be temperate and lovely in ways I never got to see as a Western child. But right now, it's a decent hour of the morning and still pitch-dark outside my window. And I am, ultimately, a sun man.
3. How was Lost, the new plane-crash-survivors-on-a-deserted-island-inhabited-by-something-scary ABC vehicle that premiered last night? I missed it. What did you people think?
AND FINALLY ...
As I now race to make a flight to Jacksonville for the second time in as many weeks, I know one thing to be true (and I mean this is the nicest possible way): J-ville deserves this year's Super Bowl like the Olsen twins deserve media coverage.