Quick Hitters II — Observations of a Sportslifer

Eddy Curry sure went from franchise player to benchwarmer pretty darn quick.

Nice to know the Knicks gave away two lottery picks for a guy who’s not even getting playing time. And paying him $56 million to boot.

So let me get this straight. Isiah has Curry, yet deals for Zach Randolph, then 20 games into the season, determines they can’t play together. Do you think maybe he could have figured that out before the trade?

Just another day at the Garden.

Just a hunch, but it appears the Shaq act may have run its course. Trading away speed and athletic ability for size and muscle is not always a good thing.

Elsewhere in the West, Jason Kidd may finally give the Mavs enough to get over the hump and win the title they should have won two years ago.

Jack Nicklaus not only won 18 majors, he finished second 19 times. If he had won a few of those, his record might be out of reach, even for Tiger. Thirteen of those seconds were by two strokes or fewer. Seven of them occurred at the British Open.

Tiger has 13 wins in the majors — but only four second place finishes.

The Mets acquisition of Johan Santana has turned the talk of the town from el foldo to el ace.

Mark it down, if he stays healthy Santana is a lock to win 20 games throwing against watered-down National League lineups in a pitchers park..


Joe and Eli: Brothers in Arms

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Joe Namath

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Eli Manning

He’s Joe Namath without the llama skin rug, the white shoes and the bravado. Broadway Joe and Easy Eli. Eli Manning plays Richie Cunningham (an older Opie) to Namath’s Fonzie; or Bill Gates to Namath’s Donald Trump. Where Joe squired stewardesses and models around Manhattan every night, Eli stays home and watches Seinfeld reruns with his college sweetheart. From “Hello beautiful” to “Aw shucks.”

But these two guys have more in common than you’d think. Both are New York quarterbacks, first-round draft picks out of the SEC, Namath out of Alabama and Eli from Ole Miss. Both overcame huge Las Vegas odds to become MVPs and lead their teams to stunning upsets in the Super Bowl

Check out these numbers after four years in the league. Namath threw 23 more interceptions and had a lower passing percentage than Manning…but those stats are also products of the times when the two QBs played. Defensive backs had more liberties in the late ’60s than they do today. The games played and touchdown totals are nearly identical, Namath has an edge in passing yards.

Namath 55 G 50.0 Pct. 12,753 YD 78 TD 87 INT
Manning 57 G 54.7 Pct. 11,385 YD 77 TD 64 INT

Makes you wonder, how will Eli’s career play out. Namath played eight more years with Jets and wound up his career in Los Angeles in 1977 with the Rams. He completed just over 50 percent of his passes, throwing for 173 TDs and more than 27,000 yards with 220 interceptions. He was voted to the Hall of Fame in 1985.

Joe Willie never won another Super Bowl — never even came close — but today nearly 40 years after that famous upset of the Colts in Super Bowl III, he’s still revered in sports circles and especially in New York, where he’s got the golden lifetime pass.

The future’s uncertain for Eli, but after four years he’s in mighty good company.


The 1962 Mets — Simply Amazin’

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The 1962 New York Mets

Really now, just how bad were the 1962 New York Mets? Pretty darn bad.

The Mets, an expansion team in the National League along with the Houston Colt 45s, had a rather inauspicious debut. After half the team got stuck in an elevator at the Chase Hotel in St. Louis, the Mets lost their inaugural game to the Cardinals 11-4. They proceeded to lose their first nine before beating the Pirates. The Mets later had losing streaks of 11, 13 and 17 games….and they were 40-70 in their other games en route to a 40-120 record, setting the record for most losses by a single team in a single season in the 20th Century. Only the Cleveland Spiders, who went 20-134 in 1899, ever lost more games in a season.

The Mets were managed by the lovable Casey Stengel, who led to Yankees to 10 pennants and seven World Series in 12 years before being fired after the 1960 World Series. “I just know I’ll never make the mistake of being 70 again,” he is reputed to have said after the Yanks dismissed him.

Two years later, he was asked to take over the Mets, The Amazins’ first draft pick in expansion draft was Hobie Landrith, and as Stengel said “You have to have a catcher or you’ll have a lot of passed balls.”

Early on, it was apparent the Mets were going to have trouble competing in the National League. “Been in this game one-hundred years, but I see new ways to lose ’em I never knew existed before,” said Casey after one particularly disheartening loss.” “Can’t anybody here play this game?” he asked after another setback, a phrase that Jimmy Breslin later used as the title for perhaps the best book about the 1962 Mets.

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Early in the season, when a reporter asked Stengel where he thought the Mets would finish, he said “We’ll finish in Chicago.”

Mercifully, the Mets were eliminated from the pennant race in early August. Casey called a team meeting. “You guys can relax now,” he told his ballclub, “We’re mathematically eliminated from the pennant. You can loosen up now.”

The relaxed Mets won a total of 11 games in the last two months, and finished in 10th place, a mere 60 1/2 games behind the pennant-winning San Francisco Giants.

(I’ll blog more about the Amazin’ Mets….lots of great stories there.)


Top Ten Best NFL Championship Upsets Ever


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Joe Namath and the Jets
There was a lot of banter and cocktail talk around Super Bowl XLII and its ranking among the list of all-time upsets.
The “Miracle on Ice,” Team USA’s stunning 4-3 victory over the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid is generally considered the greatest upset in sports history, at least in American sports.
In college football, some pundits look to tiny Centre College’s 6-0 victory over Harvard in 1921 as the tops. The New York Times called the win by the Praying Colonels “arguably the upset of the century in college football.” Another huge surprise was Appalachian State’s 34-32 win over Michigan in Ann Arbor in the opening game of the 2007 season. Later that same season, Stanford, a 41-point dog, shocked USC 24-23.
The Miracle Mets of 1969 rank high on the upset meter, mainly because a team that had finished last five times in its first seven years rose up, won the pennant and then smacked down the powerful Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. Bill Mazeroski’s ninth-inning home run helped the Pirates knock off the Yankees in 1960, despite losing three games by scores of 10-0, 12-0, and 16-3. Some might consider the Red Sox win over the Yankees in 2004 after being down 3-0, but that’s probably more of a great comeback than a great upset.
Chaminade’s stunner over Ralph Sampson and Virginia in Hawaii, Villanova’s win over Patrick Ewing and Georgetown and North Carolina State’s win over Houston’s Phil Slamma Jam unit are among the major wowsers in college basketball.
Buster Douglas was a 42-1 underdog when he pummeled Mike Tyson and eventually knocked him out in the 10th round of their heavyweight championship bout in Tokyo in 1990.
In a race that introduced the word “upset” to the sports vernacular, Upset, a 100-1 longshot by some accounts, handed the legendary Man o’ War his only defeat in 21 races in the Sanford Memorial at Saratoga in 1919.
As far as professional football upsets and the most important game of the year are concerned, here are the top 10 upsets in championship football history

1. Jets 16, Colts 7, Super Bowl III, 1969
The Jets are 17-point underdogs coming in but Joe Namath guarantees victory. The AFL gains instant credibility with a convincing win over the once-beaten Colts.

2. Giants 17, Patriots 14, Super Bowl XLII, 2008
The 10-6 Giants, a number five seed and 12-point underdog, rally in the final minute to upend previously unbeaten (18-0) New England and alter the course of NFL history.

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Michael Strahan and the Giants

3. Giants 30, Bears 13, NFL Championship, 1934
Chicago marches into Manhattan 13-0 with a record-setting offense, but the 8-5 Giants rally in the second half for an improbable victory in the “Sneakers Game.”.

4. Patriots 20, Rams 17, Super Bowl XXXVI, 2001
St. Louis, the proclaimed “Greatest Show on Turf,” comes in a 14-point favorite, but New England prevails on Adam Vinatieri’s 48-yard field goal as time expires.

5. Redskins 14, Bears 6, NFL Championship, 1942
The Bears came in undefeated, winners of the previous two NFL titles, including a stunning 73-0 win over Washington in 1940. None of that pedigree mattered in this shocker.

6. Broncos 31, Packers 24, Super Bowl XXXII, 1998
Denver enters the game a 12-point underdog to Brett Favre and defending champion Green Bay, yet pulls off the victory to give John Elway his first Super Bowl ring.

7. Browns 27, Colts 0, NFL Championship, 1964
Sports Illustrated is so sure the Colts will win that the cover featuring Don Shula and Johnny Unitas is already in the can. But Gary Collins catches three TD passes as Cleveland wins.

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Gary Collins and the Browns

8. Chiefs 23, Vikings 7, Super Bowl IV, 1970
Despite the Jets win the year before, the AFL comes into the game a 10-point underdog. But Hank Stram’s Kansas City team handles Minnesota with relative ease.

9. Rams 24, Browns 17, NFL Championship, 1951
Once-beaten Cleveland comes in having won five consecutive championships (four in the old AAFC), but (8-4) Los Angeles brakes the run in the first televised title tilt.

10. Texans 20, Oilers 17, 2OT, AFL Championship, 1962.
Houston had already won the first two titles in the fledgling AFL. Despite a mix-up in the coin toss for overtime, Dallas prevails in one of the longest games in NFL history.

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Dallas Texans

Honorable Mention

Bears 73, Redskins 0, NFL Championship, 1940
Washington defeated Chicago 7-3 three weeks earlier, and after the game Redskins owner George Preston Marshall called the Bears “crybabies.” Payback has never been sweeter.

Dolphins 14, Redskins 7, Super Bowl VII, 1973
Miami comes in with a perfect 16-0 record yet wearing the tag of a two-point underdog, The Dolphins finish off Washington, finish undefeated, and record the only perfect mark in NFL history.


Presidents-Kings Day

Studies have shown that the Monday after the Super Bowl is the least productive work day of the year in America. That should come as no surprise — the typical SB Monday worker is a partied-out, hung-over, bloated sports freak more concerned with touchdowns, turnovers and Super Bowl pools than deadlines, dollars and decisions. He should be home sleeping if off or watching Sports Center replays, not in the office, at the shop or behind the wheel. On this day, conference calls are for suckers.

So, hear now, the Pigskin Party proposes a solution. A national holiday, Call it Presidents-Kings day, since it falls between the two holidays. Combine them, and then balance it out by adding an extra holiday in the summer when the weather is warmer, the grass greener, and the pool open. Make it the first Monday in August, and call it Dog Day.

Don’t pass up this opportunity. Cast your ballots for the Pigskin Party. Come the first Monday in February 2009, you’ll be glad you did.


Three-Point Stance for NHL

There’s a problem with the NHL’s current system of awarding a team two points for a win and one point for an overtime or shootout loss. The way it stands now, a team that dominates a game and wins in regulation earns the same number of points as a team that wins in a gimmicky shootout.

As a result, there are many instances where it benefits both teams on ice to settle for a regulation tie — each earning a point — then play for the extra point in overtime or the shootout.

The solution — make each game worth three points. A team that wins in regulation gets the three points. If the contest goes into overtime, the winner receives two points and the loser one, same as now.

Net, net, teams would get rewarded for solid performances, and the league could still generate the excitement of overtime and shootouts, which are fan favorites.

Are you reading this Gary Bettman?

Cinderella Comeback or Colossal Collapse
In the storied 99-year history of the Montreal Canadiens, Les Habs had never before overcome a five-goal deficit to win. And in the eight somewhat less than legendary decades the New York Rangers have been playing hockey, the Blueshirts had never blown a five-goal lead and lost.

Until the other night that is, when Montreal stormed back from 5-0 down to beat the Rangers 6-5 in a shootout. It remains to be seen what affect this game will have on the two teams.


Quick Hitters….Observations of a Sportslifer

You know that motion Roger Clemens used when he threw the piece of shattered bat at Mike Piazza in the 2000 World Series. Is that the same motion he uses to throw people under the bus?

And it’s getting pretty crowded under that bus by the way — Debbie Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Brian McNamee, the Hendricks brothers.

We’re taking a readers survey — who’s telling the truth, Andy or Roger? Be honest now.

Speaking of the truth, we can accuse Andy Pettitte of late honesty. If he had been a bit more forthcoming, a bit earlier, the Yanks may have had Johan Santana in their rotation.

If you’re counting, 2008 marks the 100th anniversary of the Cubs last World Series title.

One of the enduring moments of the NFL playoffs was Eli Manning running around the frozen field at Lambeau, looking for someone to hug. Shades of Jim Valvano, 1983.

Was Tiki Barber that much of a distraction with the Giants? Maybe it’s more than mere coincidence that there are two “i’s” in Tiki and no “i’s” in team.

Been to any good Knicks games lately? Oops, that’s an oxymoron — good Knicks.

If the Knicks ever manage to win two in a row, Jimmy Dolan will be looking to re-up Isiah. Three straight and they’re talking playoffs at the Garden.

I like the excitement of the NHL shootout, but it’s kinda like staging a home run derby if the game is tied after 10 innings.


My Favorite Baseball Card

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My Favorite Baseball Card

This is my all-time favorite baseball card. Oscar Gamble had one of the great afros — his hair added about four inches to his height and often popped his batting helmet off his head.

Gamble was traded to the Yankees from the Indians for pitcher Pat Dobson following the 1975 season. When he joined New York, owner George Steinbrenner made him get his hair trimmed before he was issued a Yankee uniform.

“I went into (manager) Billy Martin’s office and asked him where my uniform was,” Gamble said. “He told me, ’George said when you get a haircut, we’d issue you a uniform.’ Elston Howard took me to get a haircut. It was time for it to go. I didn’t have a problem with that.”

According to some reports, when Gamble went home to his first wife Juanita (who sang the national anthem on occasion at Yankee Stadium), she cried when she saw him for the first time sans afro.

Gamble hit 17 home runs to help lead the Yankees to the 1976 American League pennant, and was then traded to the White Sox as part of a package that brought Bucky Dent to the Bronx. He returned to the Yankees for a five-year stint, beginning in 1980, and finished his career with the White Sox.

Hair today, gone tomorrow.


The Lifeline That Is Football

On a November afternoon in 1963, five days before President John F. Kennedy is assassinated, a 12-year old with this mother, father and cousin sees Y.A. Tittle and the Giants pound the 49ers in Yankee Stadium.

A son arrives in May of 1986, and that fall Big Blue, fueled by the great Lawrence Taylor, dominates the NFL and cruises through the Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos, ending a 30-year title drought.

Early in February of 2008, a middle-aged man kneels in front of a television, emotionally spent, as the Giants rally and upset the previously unbeaten Patriots to snap a budding dynasty and win Super Bowl XLII.

It’s a tie that binds generations…

Football is the tie that binds generations. From father to son, brother to brother, family to family, friend to friend. There is a fabric that weaves through all of us who follow this tough sport. Professional football in America is a special game, a unique game, a game that threads a story through our lives.

So the 7-year-old kid remembers sitting in the backseat as his father drove the family Blue Dodge through the snow to Brooklyn to visit relatives, and on the car radio a football game between the Giants and the Browns. The famous game, where Pat Summerall kicked the winning field goal in a swirling Bronx snowstorm to propel the G-Men into a playoff game … again with Cleveland….and then ultimately to face the Baltimore Colts in the fabled sudden death overtime game of 1958, the greatest game ever played according to some.

That was his first football memory. Fast forward three years and a 3,000 miles later, New Year’s Eve in Daly City, California, where the houses look alike, palm trees in front, and the hills are steep. Vince Lombardi’s Packers are crushing the Giants 37-0 for the NFL title. And a future Hall of Fame offensive tackle Bob St. Clair of the 49ers and his family are living right next door.

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Vince Lombardi

It’s 1962 and the matchup is the same. Only it’s blacked out in New York, and there’s a newspaper strike as well. There was a time, before ESPN and cell phones and the Internet, when sports events were not always online…or even on television. So classic games like Giants-Colts in 1958, Giants-Packers in 1962, and the 1967 Ice Bowl in Green Bay, went un-televised to large partisan home audiences. There was a time when games were seen on the radio. That was 1962, listening to Marty Glickman call the play at grandmother’s house. The Giants lost a hard-fought 16-7 battle on a brutally cold, windy Sunday afternoon.

The 1963 Giants should have won, but an injury to Tittle’s knee early in the championship game doomed the G-men, who lost 14-10 to the Bears in a bitter battle at Wrigley Field in the days when baseball diamonds often doubled as gridirons. That day an altar boy rushed home from the one o’clock Mass at St. Bernard’s in White Plains to catch the game, and though disappointed, figured there was always next year.

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Y.A. Tittle

Painful lessons
Next year was a long time coming, and a painful lesson was learned. Oh, they came close to the post-season a couple of times, like 1970, when all they had to do was beat the Rams at home in the final game of the season. That game too was blacked out in New York, so the college student, a sophomore at Holy Cross, home for the holidays, went to cousin Frankie’s in Valhalla with the 60-foot tall antenna to catch the scratchy TV signal from Hartford on a black and white Philco. The Rams won 31-3.

Don’t take for granted the good years, you never know when another playoff run is coming. “15 years of lousy football is long enough” read the banner trailing the biplane circling Giants Stadium in 1978, barely a week after the Miracle at the Meadowlands — when an improbable Giant fumble led to a shocking, last-second loss to the Eagles.

But help was on the way in the form of Lawrence Taylor, the #2 overall pack in the 1981 draft out of North Carolina, Lawrence of the Meadowlands, destined to be the greatest defensive player in the history of the National Football League. LT burst onto the scene in 1981 and almost immediately changed the mindset of a team that hadn’t made the playoffs in 18 years. That December, a 30-year-old sportswriter watched transfixed on a Saturday afternoon in Florida as the Giants beat the Dallas Cowboys in overtime, and with some help from their crosstown rivals the Jets, made the post-season the next day.

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Lawrence Taylor

The first Super Bowl came five years later in a dominant display of power — a 14-2 regular season, then 49-3 over the 49ers, a 17-0 shutout of the Redskins, and the Phil Simms game, a 39-20 win against Denver. Giants among men.

Four years later, another title. Matt Bahr’s field goal at the gun ends the 49ers three-peat effort at muddy Candlestick Park, followed by the 20-19 upset win over the Bills in Super Bowl XXV, aka as Wide Right..

They came close in 2000, only to face the crunch of the Ravens defense in the only Super Bowl this fan has ever attended. Meeting Joe Namath, Dan Rather, Adam Sandler and other celebs in Tampa was a thrill, but the 34-7 result was not. It was a long plane ride home.

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Eli Manning, Super Bowl XLII MVP

And then along came 2007. Every once in a while a team comes out of nowhere to make an unexpected run, surprising even its most ardent fans. A team that gave up 80 points in the first two games. A team that couldn’t win at home and couldn’t lose on the road. A team that gathers momentum at the end like a snowball running down a hill, that keeps getting better and better. A team that embodies the essence of the word. A team that makes a city proud.

This year, the Giants buried ghosts and slew dragons in the playoffs after first beating Tampa Bay. Then they tripped the archrival Cowboys to leave TO in tears and Jerry Jones in stunned disbelief on the sidelines (for all we know, he’s still standing there, glaring out on the field).

Next, with the NFC title on the line, making amends for those losses to the great Green Bay Lombardi teams in the 60s as Eli Manning outplayed the great Brett Favre in one of the coldest games ever played. Few gave them a chance against the Cowboys in Dallas or the Packers in Lambeau, but the Giants prevailed. It took more than 45 years and an overtime for the Giants to avenge those playoff losses to Green Bay, but third-times-the-charm Lawrence Tynes kicked Big Blue to the Super Bowl.

And finally, in one of the biggest upsets in NFL history, the Giants shocked the world, beating the heretofore unbeaten New England Patriots 17-14 with a last-minute touchdown to win the Super Bowl. A fearsome pass rush that battered New England’s Tom Brady, a miracle catch by David Tyree and the poise of MVP Eli Manning helped write the final script.

If you’re a football fan, you have to love it. You have to love football. And you have to love life.


Sam The Butcher and Moose The Yankee

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Allan Melvin

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Bill Skowron

Sam The Butcher and Moose The Yankee

My uncle, Allan Melvin, recently passed away from cancer at the age of 84. To generations of TV viewers, he was known as Sam the Butcher, Barney on Archie Bunker’s Place, Corporal Henshaw on the Phil Silvers Show, and the voice of Magilla Gorilla. He also appeared in some of the Andy Griffith episodes, in Gomer Pyle, USMC, and starred in Liquid Plumber commercials. He appeared in one movie, “With Six You Get Eggroll” starring Doris Day.

To me he was Uncle Allan, a good man and a funny guy. I have fond memories of vacations on the Jersey Shore with Uncle Allan and his wife of 64 years, Aunt Amalia. It was fun growing up having a celebrity uncle. Later the Melvins moved to southern California, but every summer my parents and aunt would visit them in Michigan.

Cleaning out my desk earlier this week, I came across an old postcard with a black and white photo of Allan Melvin as Cpl, Henshaw from the 1950s. It is signed simply: “To Rickey, Moose Skowron of White Plains. Best Wishes, Uncle Allan.”

Bill “Moose Skowron” was my favorite Yankee growing up. I saw the Moose hit a home run for the only Yankee run in the first major league baseball game I ever attended, a 7-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox in 1958 at the original Yankee Stadium. A first baseman, Moose won four World Series rings with the Yankees. He was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1963, where he won another ring, this one against the Yankees. Showing his true colors, Moose got rid of the Dodger ring. He still holds the record — with Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle — for most home runs by three teammates, 143, in a single season, 1961.