Brett Koremenos: The Arsenal-Everton showdown today has massive implications for the Champions League. Bottom line, if my Toffees can't even manage a draw, you can kindly wave good-bye as they fade into your rearview mirror. Should they win, however, both our clubs are going to be part of a crazy, four-team chase for the final two spots in the top four. How are you feeling about your club's chances heading into this match? Or have you not been able to think about it because you're still mourning the fact that the Andrei Arshavin era is ending this summer?
netw3rk: Rooting for Arsenal has amply prepared me for crazy late-season jockeying for Champions League spots. Or, as I like to call it, “The Arsenal Cup.” So I’m feeling pretty good; Arsenal sits third, one point above Chelsea and Spurs, and four points clear of Everton, entering Tuesday. Still, it is Arsenal, and I’m just as ready for a collapse as I am for a Champions League place.
So on Sunday night I get a text from Phil about fascists.
Phil is my designated friend for casual abuse around the sporting arena. We share text messages full of sarcasm and invective that may well act as a social service for those around us, by being a valve for expressions of frustration and negative emotional energy that would otherwise find its way into incidents on the subway. He supports a Premier League team that's not as successful as they used to be, but one that gets by on faded grandeur and the occasional cup win. I support a team whose name appears on the Wikipedia page for the phrase “Yo-Yo club” (since I started supporting Sunderland, they’ve been promoted eight times, relegated seven, and have been eliminated in the playoffs three times — suffice it to say, the season run-ins are usually lively one way or another).
Seen from the outside, my exchanges with Phil about the respective “fortunes” of our teams could be likened to the cast of Downton Abbey riding a small model train that’s going in sedate circles, with occasional breaks for ice cream, during which the oversize passengers exchange hurled rocks with waifs on an adjacent ceaseless roller coaster (waifs who’ve ceased throwing up and are now mostly in a troubled, fitful sleep except for the jolt of the tracks every time they pass “Go”).
Sometimes the only way to deal with Philadelphia sports fandom is by imposing a Philadelphia Sports Boycott. Surely, others have come up with a similar idea and put it into practice; I just happened to name it and capitalize it for posterity. The definition and causes of a PSB remain necessarily vague, but in short, they stem from events that occurred intermittently throughout 2003 and 2009, usually in October or May. In these scenarios, a confluence of failures among Philly’s major sports teams triggered an unshakeable sense of doom that made it far easier to simply check out emotionally.
Inherent in all of this was the idea that you had to Boycott these teams for a couple of days because you simply couldn’t avoid them; they were successful and in a major media market. Truth be told, I miss those days as I type. As far as 2012-13 goes, you can either unintentionally participate in a Philadelphia Sports Boycott by missing SportsCenter three days in a row or just decide to take the entire year off for your own health, in which case “Philadelphia Sports Boycott” can be renamed “Bynum.”
To those looking for the signs, Brian Urlacher’s time in Chicago ended about two months ago. Lovie Smith’s departure certainly didn’t help, but it was Rod Marinelli’s decision to turn down an offer to stay on as the team’s defensive coordinator that likely sealed Urlacher’s fate. I’m not saying that to raise any new hypotheses — the regime change in Chicago has been cited by nearly everyone who’s looked back at Urlacher’s Bears career. I’m saying that for some of us, there was time to prepare. And it still wasn’t enough.
The timing of Urlacher’s arrival in Chicago perfectly positioned him to become the city’s central sports figure. Two years removed from Michael Jordan, in a town without a World Series in 83 years, for a franchise defined by its middle linebackers, when the Bears drafted Urlacher ninth overall in 2000, it was a match made in jersey-sales heaven. That bald head and that inability to smile made Urlacher the clear heir apparent to Butkus and Singletary, and from the beginning, he was.
The past 10 months of Chicago Bulls basketball have been an exercise in expectations. When the 2012 regular season ended, those expectations were that the no. 1-seeded Bulls — one year older, one year wiser — would give Miami all it could stand come the Eastern Conference Finals. When Derrick Rose crumbled to the court in the first game of the first round of the playoffs, those expectations changed.
This season — without Rose and without much of a bench to allow them to survive for stretches in his absence — came with its own expectations. When the Bulls were threatening to overtake the Knicks for the no. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, and with Rose’s return supposedly on the horizon, those expectations changed again.
The reaction to Rose’s comments yesterday is a consequence of those changing expectations. The thought became that if this team can win without Rose, imagine what it could be with him. After a year spent reconciling being jettisoned from the contender ranks, Bulls fans immediately wanted back in. This is the disconnect between expectations and reality. In October, there was willingness for patience. That’s now gone, and it’s without reason.
The Celtics have one game left before the All-Star break, and you gotta imagine it can’t come soon enough. After playing the Bulls tonight, Kevin Garnett will head to Houston for the All-Star Game, Rajon Rondo will continue prepping for surgery, and Paul Pierce will drive home, where he’ll be enjoying a relaxing All-Star snubbee weekend by (presumably) playing a whole bunch of Just Dance 2 for Wii. Meanwhile, Danny Ainge will try and make sense of what was about as odd, heartbreaking, and bonkers a first half a team can have.
When Rondo went down, I wrote there wasn’t much of a silver lining: Any relief provided by an uptick in play and a corresponding rash of wins would be tempered by sad chatter that “maybe this team doesn’t need Rondo all that much anyway.” Well, this team, as it has an inclination toward, outdid itself. It wasn’t just an uptick; it was a blood-pumping, shots-fired, kill-’em-all, “is this your pen?”-esque annihilation spree. When the Celtics toppled Denver on Sunday night in triple OT, they muffed out the Nuggets' nine-game winning streak, stretched out their own seven-gamer, and coronated themselves as THE HOTTEST TEAM IN THE LEAGUE [air horn] [air horn] [air horn].
Every year, Forbes puts out a list of the 10 most disliked athletes in sports. Usually, that list is pretty much what you’d guess. A year ago, Michael Vick, Tiger Woods, and Plaxico Burress stood (or sulked) at the top. In this year’s version, released yesterday, the top three again didn’t provide much of a surprise: Lance Armstrong (cheater, Oprah interviewee, all-around dickhead), Manti Te’o (fake dead girlfriend embellisher), and Woods.
The surprise, at least to me, comes at no. 4. With an approval rating of just 21 percent, Jay Cutler is the most disliked athlete in America who’s never given a nationally televised mea culpa. Listen, I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t see anything regarding Cutler with clear eyes, and that the guy kind of seems like an asshole. But is he really more of an asshole now than he used to be?
The Dunkin' Donuts Turkey Sausage Wake-Up Wraps are tasting a little bitter in Boston this week. Rajon Rondo’s out for the season, and out with him, in no particular order: all gorgeous, mind-boggling passes whose lanes could have only been spotted by no. 9, having briefly entered the fourth dimension; all team outings to the Roller World in Saugus; and, of course, all rational hopes for another Celtics title run.
Now usually, in this kind of general “elite player out” situation, there’s a silver lining. With the hobbled fellow a totem, the team rallies — all grit and heart and Michael Jordan’s secret stuff — and becomes a scruffy lovable underdog. (You know, like Varsity Blues). And on paper, there’s no reason why that can’t happen. Imagine: Pierce, pumped to still be in Boston despite trade talks, and KG, pumped to be anywhere at any time always ever, lock into a newly spirited level of basketball. Leandro Barbosa, enjoying newfound playing time, does it big for São Paulo. Jason Terry sells his soul to Satan and regains the ability to play basketball. The Celts squeeze into the playoffs, give someone a scare, maybe even win a series.
But this being Rajon Rondo we’re talking about, things can’t be quite that simple.
I’ll admit that I, too, went right to the South Park jokes, but alas, it looks like Marc Trestman is now my buddy, guy. The Chicago Bears hired their 14th head coach in team history early this morning, and they didn’t just get him from a different country. They got him from a city that doesn’t speak English. OK, that’s all of them. I promise.
Since Jimmy Johnson’s tweet a few days ago, it seemed like the Trestman hire was drifting toward inevitability. The Montreal Alouettes head coach was one of three finalists announced yesterday, and after another full day at Halas Hall, the Bears have their guy. When Lovie Smith was fired after a 10-6 season, part of the reasoning was supposedly that new Bears GM Phil Emery wanted a coach who fit his image for the franchise. Well, now he has a coach who actually fitshisimage.
It was Sunday, January 17, 1999. I was in Augusta, Georgia, for the first big junior tennis tournament of the season, the Mayor's Cup. Two days earlier, I walked onto the court, unseeded, for my first-round match with the 9-seed. The end result: a three-set loss. Ever the type to get down on myself, I was bummed, a feeling that continued through my first-round consolation match the following day. I lost that too. I had traveled all the way to Augusta, during my long MLK weekend, to go 0-2. I was devastated.
Then, to make matters worse, I couldn't leave. I had made the trek with a couple other players, and they were still in the tournament. So on Sunday, the penultimate day of the tournament, I showed up to the tennis center in street clothes, my racket back at the hotel. Coming empty-handed meant both spectators and participants alike were reminded that you're a loser. I was 11, and at that point in my life it got no worse than this.
The end of the hockey lockout couldn't have come soon enough for our friend Norm Macdonald. Here's his take, along with a retooling of his thoughts on the 1972 Summit Series, which ran in a slightly different form as a collection of tweets on his Twitter feed back in September of 2012.
“Our long national nightmare is over, Norm.”
They were a bunch of yahoos from Calgary in Vegas for the weekend. They must have spotted a Montreal Canadiens cap that I had forgotten was on my head. I was sipping coffee and waiting for football to start, just sitting at the back of the book. I got slapped on the back by a few of them. They were reading from their phones and telling me how Bettman had backed down, the sonofabitch, how they’d been up all night mediating, how they’d be playing 50 games starting in a couple of weeks, but how it didn’t matter much for my Habs, though. We all had a good laugh about that one.
“C’mon, Norm, let’s get you a Labatt's and do a little celebrating.”
“Never touch it, thanks.”
“C’mon, a Canadian without a beer?" said the biggest of the bunch. "That’s like an American without a handgun." He downed his Brador like it was a shot. We all had a good laugh about that one too.
David Wright turns 30 in less than three weeks. Wright, for all intents and purposes, is the first superstar athlete I’ve rooted for who is also a peer. People talk about that disconcerting moment when they realize that, say, the NBA’s best player is five years younger than they are. Man, you are old, that realization seems to bellow. But contemporaries are a different sort of phenomenon. To follow a player that shares a birth year is to have your own successes and failures amplified.
On November 4, in New York, the Sixers lost to the Knicks, 100-84. Nick Young played 32 minutes, scored five points on 2-10 shooting, and had a plus/minus of -29. Minus. Twenty-nine. That’s when it hit me: This is happening. Nick Young isn’t on Twitter or in photos or video lowlights. He’s on the Sixers. He’s a Sixer. He is part of my life now, and like a ghost that haunts your apartment, you need to make peace with these things. So, I decided to live-blog the Sixers game against New Orleans last night. I fully anticipate this to read like a Sullivan Ballou letter from Ken Burns’s The Civil War. Spoiler: That guy dies. Cue up “Ashokan Farewell.” Let’s go.
I spent Game 5 of the 2010 World Series lying on the floor of my apartment, staring at the ceiling and listening to the San Francisco Giants’ local radio feed over the Internet. I was 3,000 miles away from the Bay Area and I wanted some connection to the feelings and rituals of childhood. I had first become a fan via the radio and all that it leaves to the imagination. If this was going to happen, I wanted to hear some familiar voices narrate the scene. As the Giants poured onto the field after the final out, longtime play-by-play man Duane Kuiper reflected on what the moment meant: “You can’t help but think that this group is celebrating for the Say Hey Kid ... for Will the Thrill ... celebrating for number 25 and celebrating for all you Giants fans, wherever you are.”