I’ve got an awful lot of mail to get to and precious little time to get to it in. But before I jump into the Nerds On Sports mailbag, I have to get something off my chest.
I’ve followed the New York Giants since I was a wee lad. I saw one of the most stifling defenses of the past thirty years win two Super Bowls before I was ten years old. Since my tenth birthday, though, they haven’t given me much to cheer about. When I was 12, they released Phil Simms (who everyone in Jersey loved like a dear cousin) to make way for Dave Brown and Lawrence Taylor snorted his way out of football. Dave Brown then left so Danny “The Blind Gunslinger” Kannell could wreck my teenage years. Then Kent Graham came in and began firing 80 yard missiles that would often hurt the hands of the defenders that intercepted them. Kerry Collins, still fighting off that perpetual hangover he was in for most of the 90s, dragged the Giants into the 21st Century. There was a bright spot, though. They did make it to Super Bowl XXXV, during which the Baltimore Ravens reminded me what a stifling defense can do in the postseason. And then came Kurt Warner and Eli Manning a couple of unmemorable years later.
All the while I watched them intently. I would change the channel in disgust after every red zone interception that Graham threw, or every time Coach Jim Fassel would yell “Are you trying to get me fired?” at his players, but I’d always change it back. Every hope I ever had regarding the (perhaps “my”) Giants were dashed as soon after they formed. I hoped that the star tight end they drafted in 2002 wouldn’t end up being a racist moron. I hoped that one of the finest running backs in franchise history would keep his mouth shut. I hoped that Giants Stadium would eventually stop smelling like urine. My hope was always rewarded with crushing disappointment. My afternoons watching them play fair defense and awful offense for a decade felt like dreadful wastes of my time. Emotionally, I drifted from the team I always followed.
And then I moved to Boston in 2000, home of the Patriots (well, Foxboro, but who’s counting). There was an articulate and well-mannered quarterback at the helm, a coach that studied under The Grand Tuna, and a fanbase just as rabid and proud as the Giants’. It felt good to watch their games. I was never upset, even in the losses. It was a joy to see them play, which is a feeling I hadn’t felt watching football since the night my dad tossed me up in the air as Longwell’s kick went wide. I felt like a fan again…
And then the Giants had to beat the Buccaneers, Cowboys and Packers on the road, as the underdogs, in three straight weeks. They played inspired defense, the twangy and infuriating Eli Manning didn’t make mistakes, and they are now in the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots. Last night, as I went to bed, I actually asked myself why the Gods of Sport found it necessary to punish me in such a way. What the heck am I supposed to do now?
I don’t have an answer. But I do have answers to other questions, which is why I’m very blessed to have a stuffed mailbag in front of me. Let’s jump in, eh?
Dan (Somerville, MA) – Why can you never get decent beer at any professional sports arena?
-Simply put, because they don’t need to sell good beer to get you to pay eight bucks for it.
There’s no incentive for most stadiums to buy more expensive beer if they can sell the cheap stuff to you for the same price they would’ve charged for the extra class. Whether they’re selling Harpoon or Busch, if you want three beers, you’re going to have three beers. And since you can’t bring in your own, they’ve got the market cornered. Cheap beer yields the greatest profit for the arena or stadium. Granted, some stadiums do have the ultra-classy stuff (like Sam Adams in every mom and pop 60,000 seater in the Northeast), but they’re pulling the big bucks in from serving swill to the commoners.
Dave L (Somerville, MA) – The head office for major league lacrosse are on the same floor as my office. Should I break into them, force a hostile takeover, and declare myself commissioner?
-If you can figure out any way to market Major League Lacrosse and make it financially viable longterm, I say go for it. The current guy sure as heck doesn’t have any ideas. One thing, though. Keep Boston’s team as the Cannons. That’s a cool name.
Mark (Cambridge, MA) – Why can’t I get into watching sports regularly? I do enjoy watching football, but I find myself unable to really enjoy the sport when watching alone. Recommend a 5-step plan for my be-footballification.
Mark, you have been blessed with an extremely rare opportunity. On the first Sunday in February, your nominal home team (the Patriots) are in the Super Bowl. If you want to jump in, watch a sporting event, and see if it can be a sustainable interest going forward, this is the time to do it. Here are five steps:
1. Find a party. If you don’t like watching sports alone, watch it in a group! Super Bowl Sunday is a party with a purpose. Everyone there is rooting for a team, a person, a particular score, or one of a dozen other things. It is an atmosphere of excitement and camaraderie, particularly if the home team is playing. So find a house that’s having a party and, darn it, join in.
2. Do the research. You don’t need to know much, but it helps to know something. For instance, reading the Wikipedia article on the Patriots season will give you more than enough background information. After you spent five minutes reading it, you’ll know everything you need to know to enjoy the game.
3. Bring a side dish. Tastes and smells are memorable. That’s why good first dates often involve tasty food. You, and everyone else, are more inclined to have a good time when you’re sharing french fries and cheering when the pizza arrives.
4. Ask questions. If you don’t know why an official threw a yellow flag, ask someone. Odds are, they’re questioning why the heck that official threw a flag too (“THAT WASN’T INTERFERENCE!”)
5. Be truthful with yourself. If you had a blast cheering with friends and were honestly enthralled by the game, try to watch some more games next season. They’re always exciting, and the more you watch, the more compelling the games are. If you didn’t enjoy it, then don’t worry about it. There’s plenty to do in the world.
Marty (Jersey City, New Jersey) – Congressional hearings about sports, is this appropriate?
-My good friend and fellow blogger Bob Holt had a pretty good answer to this the other day: “When the MLB and NFL have anti-trust exemptions granted by Congress that are based on them following certain rules and regulations? Yes.” Concise, to the point, and exactly my thoughts. A second question arises, though – Is this the best way for Congress to be spending it’s time, what with a war going on and all? The answer, oddly, is also yes. The answer is yes for the same reason that the answer to “Officer, you still want to pull me over for speeding when there are murderers on the loose?” is also yes. Laws and policies only work in society when there’s an expectation that they’re going to be enforced. When Congress granted professional sports all of the exemptions they needed to exist, they put forth a series of demands regarding fair competition and public trust and whatnot. If Congress feels like these demands aren’t being met, then it is within their rights to have hearings and put out inquiries.
Christine (Cambridge, MA) – I’d like to know more of the, “things you didn’t know you didn’t know.” Like this summer, when I found out that fouling on an attempted bunt on the third strike counts as an out. Who the hell knew that? Professional players never try it, because it’s too dangerous. So my question is, what other weird rules are there like that in major sports?
-Sports are filled with particularly interesting, lesser known rules. One of my favorites is on “tagging up” in baseball. The original rule, from way back when, stated that the moment a fly ball was caught, a baserunner can tag up and advance to the next base or home if he was on third. Outfielders used to get around this by taking the back of their mitt and slapping the fly ball back up into the air over and over again (as if he was playing volleyball with himself) while he jogged towards the infield. When he got close enough to the infield that he could easily make the throw home, he’d officially catch the ball and just look at the runner on third to make sure he wasn’t going to try to run. Eventually, the rules were changed so that tagging was allowable the moment a fly ball touched a fielder. In football, the Tuck Rule is another interesting (and sort of controversial) one.
Whitacker (Cambridge, MA) – How do people from NY/NJ form baseball, football and hockey allegiances?
-As evidenced from my tale above, sports allegience in the Tri-state area is a very tricky thing. It usually comes from your family, though not always. My dad was a Yankee fan and so I became a Yankee fan. My grandpa loved the NY Giants, but told me it was alright to root for other teams too, so that was my policy there. I like the New Jersey Devils because I just so happened to go to a number of their games during my formative years. In that part of the country, the choices are abundant and nothing is clear cut. The difference between being a Jets fan or a Philadelphia Eagles fan may be a few miles on the New Jersey Turnpike or one preseason game. By high school, every group of sports loving friends is a weird amalgam of Knicks, Giants, Islanders, Flyers, Mets, Jets, Nets, Yankees, Phillies and Eagles fans. Arguments often ensue.
Lynn W (Boston, MA) – What do you consider to be the greatest sports invention? Instant replay? Night lighting? The computer-generated first down line? Spandex cheerleading uniforms? Or something else entirely?
-This may have been the toughest question in the mailbag. There was no clear cut answer, though I kept expecting one to pop into my head and give me that feeling of satisfaction that one gets when they solve a riddle. Obvious answers like “television” and “the internet” are too broad, though the impossibly in depth coverage you can get from 24 hour sports stations and websites have entirely changed the landscape of fandom. Newer inventions like sweat-wicking undershirts or computer generated first down lines certainly make differences for players and the TV audience, they haven’t had enough of an impact. I think, above all else, the biggest invention that we have seen in sports is minimally invasive surgery. In football, we see several players suffer a particularly gruesome injury and know immediately that he’s out for the season. But rarely, nowadays, do we ever say that his career is over. Offseasons always seem to be enough time for a player to rehab a “scoped knee” and be up to speed by training camp. It is a very different world than it was decades ago when a solid hit could put someone out of the game for an entire year.
I still have a lot more questions to get to, but I think this is a good stopping point for today’s episode. Happy cheering, everyone, and Go Patriots/Giants!