Top 10: New York State of Mind


The SportsLifer couldn’t get through the year without one more top 10 list.

So here they are, the top 10 moments in New York sports, 2008.

1. Catch XLII: Sparked by the unbelievable Eli Manning to David Tyree pass play, the Giants rally to defeat the previously unbeaten Patriots in the Super Bowl.

2. Yankee Money: Failing to make the playoffs for the first time in 15 years, Yankees sign free agents C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Texiera.

3. House Cleaning: The Knicks finally manage to get rid of Isiah Thomas, and new coach Mike D’Antoni puts Stephon Marbury out to pasture.

4. Collapse: For the second year in a row, the Mets fall apart in a September swoon and allow the Phillies to steal the NL East championship.

5. Collapse Redux: Brett Favre and the Jets lose four of their final five games and miss the playoffs, forcing the removal of coach Eric Mangini.

6. Final Farewell: Many of the greats return as the Yankees play the final game in the House that Ruth Built and the Mets close Shea Stadium.

7. Giants Among Men: Despite the distraction of the Plaxico Burress shooting, the Giants earn top seed in the NFC heading into the playoffs.

8. He Said, He Said: Disgraced Roger Clemens tries to clear his name of steroid allegations by trainer Brian McNamee.

9. Domination on Ice: The Rangers continue their sudden mastery of the cross-river rival Devils, taking round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs 4 games to 1.

10. Smart Sign: The Mets pull a huge off-season deal, acquiring left-handed pitcher Johan Santana from the Minnesota Twins to fortify their pitching staff.

Read the Newspaper: Headlines Tell the Story

There are lots of reasons people should read the newspaper every day — news, editorials, the classifieds, movie listings,

Here’s another one: the creative headlines in the sports pages that reflect the athletic temperature of the American cities they represent.

On Sunday, for instance, we watched the NFL playoff races wind down. We saw the Dolphins complete an amazing turnaround, the Eagles and Chargers complete improbably playoff runs, the Jets, Bucs and  Broncos all fall apart, and the Patriots fall short despite a 11-5 record.

And on Monday, we read the headlines in newspapers coast to coast.

It’s a good news, bad news thing. First the bad news.

Bad News

The New York Daily News on the Jets’ demise:

Gag green

Or the New York Post on the status of Jets’ coach Eric Mangini;

It’s time to Can-gini

Followed later by Axed

The Dallas Morning News as the Cowboys collapsed in Philly:

Quittin’ time and

Rout to nowhere

The Rocky Mountain News on Denver’s last-season fade:

Zapp: Broncos electrocuted by Chargers

The Boston Globe, on the failure of the Jets and quarterback Brett Favre to help the Pats by beating the Dolphins:

Grin and Brett it.

Now some good news.

Good News

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel on the Dolphins rise to AFC East champions:

Worst to first

The Philadelphia Inquirer on the Eagles playoff surge:

Eagles rise from dead with 44-6 win

And the San Diego Union-Tribune on the improbable AFC West race:

Chargers complete historic comeback

But we’ve saved the worst for last.

The Worst News

The Detroit Free Press on the Lions, who finished 0-16, worst single season in NFL history:

Woeful: Worst-ever Lions perfectly awful

Smashmouth Style Has Giants Foes on the Run

When they are good, the New York Giants are the epitome of smashmouth football.

One of the key elements of smashmouth football is a strong offensive line and a physical running attack that’s reliable in all sorts of weather. The Giants have had some terrific rushing offenses through the years, but they’ve never had two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season.

That is, until this year. Brandon Jacobs, above, surpassed 1,000 yards several weeks ago, and Derrick Ward, below, coming off a 215-yard effort against the Panthers last week, is just 51 yards short. No doubt, the Giants will try and get Ward those yards in the season finale against the Vikings.

The Giants have a long history of outstanding runners, including Hall of Famer Frank Gifford and fullback Alex Webster, who led a successful run in the 50s and early 60s, featuring six NFL Eastern Conference titles and the NFL championship in 1956.

And in the past couple of decades, the Giants have played smashmouth football as well as anyone. In fact, counting their first Super Bowl win in 1987, the Giants have won three NFL championships in the last 22 years.

That’s the same number of Super Bowl won by the 49ers, Cowboys and Patriots during that stretch. And this year they have the inside track towards another Super Bowl as the No. 1 seed in the NFC. The road to the Super Bowl goes through the Meadowlands.

Super Bowl Era
The lead back on the Giants first Super Bowl champion was Joe Morris, the dynamic running back from Syracuse. Morris rushed for 1,516 yards and 14 touchdowns in 1986, including back-to-back 181-yard games against the Redskins and Cowboys in key mid-season battles.

Ottis Anderson, below, and rookie Rodney Hampton led the Giants 1990 championship squad that beat the Bills, 20-19, in Super Bowl XXV, a game in which Anderson was named MVP. Anderson ran for 784 yards and 11 touchdowns that year. Hampton rushed for 455 yards before breaking his leg near the end of the season.

Last year, when the Giants upset the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, Jacobs led the running attack with 1009 yards. Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw were the other key running backs, though neither approached the 1,000-yard mark.

Tiki Barber, the Giants all-time and single-season rushing leader, never won in a Super Bowl, though he did play in the 34-7 loss to the Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV. Barber gained 10,449 yards in a 10-year career, including a high of 1,860 yards in 2005.

Hampton stands second on New York’s all-time rushing leader list with 6,897 yards, followed by Morris (5,296) and Webster (4,638) and Ron Johnson (3,836).

Johnson was the first Giant to rush for 1,000 yards (1,027) in 1970. Here’s the all-time list:

Giants 1,000 Yard Rushers

Tiki Barber – 6
Rodney Hampton – 5
Joe Morris – 3
Ron Johnson – 2
Brandon Jacobs – 2*
Ottis Anderson – 1
Gary Brown – 1

* includes 2008 season

NFL’s Longest Game on Christmas Day

In 1971, Christmas dinners from Maine to California, from Miami to Seattle, from New York to Kansas City and everywhere in between were delayed. Children had to wait patiently to open their presents. Christmas music was put on mute.

The longest game in NFL history was played that day, December 25, 1971.

The Kansas City Chiefs and the Miami Dolphins engaged in a marathon double overtime playoff game that lasted 82 minutes and 40 seconds. Garo Yepremian’s 37-yard field goal won it for the Dolphins, 27-24.

Kansas City, less than two years removed from a Super Bowl championship, was favored in the contest, the final NFL game played in KC’s old Municipal Stadium. The Dolphins, an AFL expansion team, were an up and coming power, destined for a Super Bowl run of their own.  Both teams entered the game 10-3-1.

Hall of Fame quarterbacks Len Dawson of Kansas City and Bob Griese of Miami led their teams up and down the field in a seesaw battle.

Podolak’s Finest Hour
Chiefs’ running  back Ed Podolak (not a Hall of Famer), shown below, had the best day of anyone with 350 all-purpose yards, still an NFL playoff record. After Miami tied the game at 24 on a Griese pass to Marv Fleming with 1:25 remaining, Podolak ran back the ensuing kickoff 78 yards to the Miami 22.

However, Kansas City’s Jan Stenerud, the only kicker in the Hall of Fame, missed a game-winning field goal and the contest went into overtime.

In the first OT, Stenerud had a 42-yard field goal attempt blocked and Yepremian missed a 52-yarder.

Finally, midway through the second overtime, Miami moved the ball close enough for Yepremian to win it.

The Dolphins went on the beat the Baltimore Colts, 21-0, to win the AFC championship the following week before losing to Dallas, 24-3, in Super Bowl VI.

in 1972 the Dolphins completed a perfect season with a 14-7 win over the Washington Redskins. The Dolphins beat the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl VIII the following year for their second straight title. Although they’ve returned, they’ve never won another..

Kansas City, which lost the first Super Bowl to the Green Bay Packers and then beat the Vikings, 23-7,  in Super Bowl IV, hasn’t been back since.

See what happens when you ruin Christmas dinner.

Lords Of the Winless: Lions Seek to Buc Trend

It’s extremely difficult to go through an entire NFL season undefeated, as the New England Patriots demonstrated last year.

And it’s almost as difficult to go through an entire season without a win.

The Detroit Lions are just about there after being pummeled, 42-7, by New Orleans on Sunday. Only a date with the rival Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field stands between Detroit, destiny and the first 0-16 season in NFL history. The Packers started the Lions misery in the final game of the 2007 season with a 9-7 win in Green Bay, and the bleeding hasn’t stopped since.

Tampa Bay holds the all-time record with an 0-14 finish in its first season, 1976. The Buccaneers. under coach John McKay, lost their first 12 games in 1977 to establish another record with 26 straight losses before beating New Orleans, 33-14, in December of 1977. Two years later, Tampa Bay was in the NFC Championship game.

Early NFL Losers
During the early years of the National Football League, many teams had winless seasons, oftentimes playing several games before disbanding. Teams like the Muncie Flyers, Louisville Bricks, Columbus Panhandlers, Milwaukee Badgers and Buffalo Bisons endured winless seasons in the league’s first decade, beginning in 1920.

Two of the worst teams of that era were the Rochester Jeffersons and the Dayton Triangles. The Jeffs went 0-21-2 between 1922 and 1925, four years without a single win, before passing into oblivion with an overall record of 8-27-04. The Jeffs went winless in both 1923 and 1924.

The Triangles were 0-7 in 1928 and 0-6 in 1929 under coach Faye Abbott before disbanding in the midst of a 17-game losing streak. A charter NFL franchise, the Tris had an overall record of 18-51-8.

Other winless teams before the Bucs were the Cincinnati Reds (0-8) in 1934, the Lions…surprise…(0-11) in 1942, Chicago Cardinals (0-10) in 1943, and Brooklyn Tigers and Chicago-Pittsburgh Cards-Steelers (both 0-10) in 1944.

The Dallas Cowboys began their inaugural 1960 season with 10 straight losses before they tied the Giants, 31-31, at Yankee Stadium. The Boys finished 0-11-1.

The 1981 Baltimore Colts went 0-8-1 in a strike-shortened campaign.

Many Have Gone 1-15
Many teams have gone 1-15 in a season, most notably the Saints in 1980 (the only team other than Tampa Bay and Detroit to open a season with 14 straight losses), the Cowboys with Troy Aikman in 1989, the Patriots in 1990, the Indianapolis Colts in 1991, the New York Jets in 1996, the 2000 San Diego Chargers, the Carolina Panthers in 2001 and the Miami Dolphins last year.

Other than the 1976 Tampa Bay team, the only other team to lose 14 straight games to open the season was the 1980 New Orleans Saints, or more appropriately Aint’s. After starting 1-0, the 2001 Panthers lost their last 15 games.

Of note in the AFC, the Houston Oilers endured back-to-back 1-13 records in 1972 and 1973.

The 1988-1989 Cowboys hold the record for consecutive home losses with 14. Everyone knows the Lions have been one of the worst road teams in recent memory, but their futility is still surprising. Between 2001 and 2003, they lost 24 straight games on the road – that’s three straight years going 0-8 away from the Silverdome.

Not to pile on the Lions, but they also own the longest championship drought in the NFL. The Lions beat the Cleveland Browns, 59-14, behind four touchdown passes from Tobin Rote to win the 1957 NFL championship…and they haven’t been back since. The Lions did make the NFC championship game in 1991, where they were throttled, 41-10, by the Washington Redskins.

Slingin’ Sammy Baugh a True Legend

Sammy Baugh, one of the greatest quarterbacks in history, passed away this week at the age of 94.

In a list of top 10 all-time quarterbacks presented by The Sportslifer earlier this year, Baugh was ranked eighth overall, sandwiched between Roger Staubach and Bart Starr. Johnny Unitas leads the list.

Sammy Baugh (Redskins, 1937-52)
Slingin’ Sammy dominated the late 1930s and 1940s, winning six passing titles, two NFL championships, and nine All-Pro berths. And if that wasn’t enough, he could punt too….very well.
From the SportsLifer archives

Baugh spent his entire 16-year career with the Washington Redskins. He won NFL championships in his rookie year and again in 1942.

His greatest year was 1943, when he led the league in passing, interceptions (with 11) and punting. In one game that year, Baugh threw four touchdown passes and intercepted four passes.

When he retired following the 1952 season, Baugh had thrown for 187 touchdowns and held virtually all major NFL passing records. During the 1945 season, Baugh completed 128 of 182 passes for a 70.33 completion percentage, which was an NFL record then and remains the second best today (to Ken Anderson, 70.55 in 1982).

And In 1940, he averaged 51.4 yards per punt, still the NFL single-season record.

First Hall of Fame Class
Baugh was in the inaugural class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, one of 17 inductees and the list survivor from a list of legendary players that includes Red Grange, Bronko Nagurski and Jim Thorpe. In 1994, the NFL named Baugh as one of four quarterbacks on its 75th-anniversary team; the others were Otto Graham, Johnny Unitas and Joe Montana.

A graduate of TCU, Baugh led the Horned Frogs to wins in the 1936 Sugar Bowl and first-ever Cotton Bowl in 1937. In 2003, College Football News named Baugh the third best college football player in history.

He was also the first coach of the New York Titans (later the Jets), posting successive 7-7 records in 1960 and 1961 when the team played at the Polo Grounds. Baugh’s 14-14 record was a Jets best until Bill Parcells went 29-19 between 1997 and 1999.

A tale from Baugh’s rookie season in his New York Times obituary typifies his uncanny passing capability and self-confidence.

Baugh was taking the field for his first practice session with the Redskins when his coach, Ray Flaherty, handed him the football.

“They tell me you’re quite a passer,” Flaherty said.

“I reckon I can throw a little,” Baugh replied.

“Show me,” Flaherty said. “Hit that receiver in the eye.”

To which Baugh supposedly responded, “Which eye?”

The Greatest Game Never Seen in New York

It may have been “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” But in New York, it was “The Greatest Game Never Seen.”

The famous 1958 NFL championship game between the Giants and Colts was televised nationally on NBC, but blacked out in New York.

Fifty years later, New York football fans finally got a chance to see the game — or at least a colorized, condensed version of it —  on ESPN the other night. The contest, won by the Colts, 23-17, at Yankee Stadium, is still the only pro football championship game ever to go into overtime.

Why was the game blacked out in New York?  NFL policy at the time mandated a black-out all home games regardless of whether they were sold out. That policy was in effect virtually from the beginning of  the television era, until 1973, and still holds for games that are not sold out. In fact, all Super Bowl games prior to VII were blacked out in the host market.

The TV broadcasters that day were Chris Schenkel, the voice of the Giants, and Chuck Thompson, the voice of the Colts. Many Giants fans listened to Bob Wolff call the game on radio.

Connecticut Migration
Those days, Giants fans would migrate to Connecticut to see games, or build large antennas to pick up TV signals from Hartford and New Haven.

The Giants had a much tougher road to the 1958 championship than the Colts. Going into the final game of the regular season, they needed to beat the Cleveland Browns at Yankee Stadium to earn a tie at the top of the Eastern Conference.

A seven-year-old kid, I vaguely recall that game — the oldest sibling listening to the game in the car on the way back from a family trip to Brooklyn in a driving snowstorm. Pat Summerall kicked a 49-yard field goal to give the Giants a 13-10 win.

The following week, in a playoff game at Yankee Stadium, the Giants limited Jim Brown to a career-low eight yards in seven carries and shut out Cleveland, 10-0, their third win over the Browns that season.

The Colts were the more rested team in the championship game and it showed, as they wore down the Giants in the fourth quarter and overtime to earn the win. The game that  is credited with increasing the popularity of professional football in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

A total of 17 players, coaches and owners involved with the 1958 championship game are members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Here’s the list:

New York Giants
OL Rosey Brown
HB Frank Gifford
LB Sam Huff
WR Don Maynard
DE Andy Robustelli
DB Emlen Tunnell
Offensive Coordinator Vince Lombardi
Defensive Coordinator Tom Landry
Owner Tim Mara
Vice President / Secretary Wellington Mara

Baltimore Colts
WR Raymond Berry
DL Art Donovan
DL Gino Marchetti
HB/WR Lenny Moore
OL Jim Parker
QB Johnny Unitas
Head Coach Weeb Ewbank

Dawgs Paws to Reflect on Another Near Title

Sad to say, the Dutchess Dawgs are becoming the Buffalo Bills of fantasy football.

For the second year in a row, the Dawgs dominated the Nightcap League, leading the  circuit in wins, points and dawg-bites-man attitude. And for the second year in a row, the Dawgs lost the championship game.

Dawgs president, general manager and head coach Big Dawg Bowser vows he’s not standing pat.

“It’s time to shake up this roster,” said the Big Dawg. “Nobody’s job is safe — quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, defenders, even the ball boys and our cheerleaders, the Dawgettes. We’ll do whatever it takes to win a championship, and  if it means cutting every last player and starting all over, well that’s what we’re gonna do.”

When reminded that Nightcap is not a keeper league, and that teams start from scratch with a September draft, the Dawg just barked, “I knew that.”

The Endangered Art of Sportswriting

From the time I was a little kid, I dreamed of being a sportswriter. I remember reading the New York papers my father brought home, especially the sports section, catching up on the exploits of my favorite ballplayers.

I recall the evening papers, like the New York Journal American and the World-Telegram & Sun,  with the partial linescores for afternoon baseball games.

I wrote sports for the school paper in high school and college, majored in English, worked the composing room of the Worcester Telegram my senior year. Worked with hot type, learned to run a linotype machine and the proof press.

I’ve always had the notion that people go to spectator sports to have fun and then they grab the paper to read about it and have fun again.
— Red Smith

After graduating, I wrote a sports column, Scene and Heard, five days a week for five years for the Fitchburg-Leominster Sentinel & Enterprise. Then I worked the slot and wrote sports for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel for three years, where sports was known as the top department.

Eventually I left the newspaper business, after I got an offer I couldn’t refuse from IBM. I’ve spent the past quarter century doing PR and other communications for Big Blue. Great company, great career move. No regrets.

But the ink still flows through my veins. I love sports, I love to write. I’m a natural sportswriter. A SportsLifer.

A sportswriter is entombed in a prolonged boyhood.
— Jimmy Cannon

Unfortunately, those newspapers I used to work for, like so many others, are in trouble.  People don’t read newspapers anymore. There are so many alternative sources of instant information…ESPN, sports talk radio, and of course the omnipresent Internet.

The print guys are suffering. Circulation is down. Nobody’s reading the good writing. Sportswriters are losing their jobs.

No fan of bloggers, Bill Conlin of the Philadelphia Daily News recently wrote a brilliant yet bittersweet  piece on an industry that is struggling to find its way in the world today, and the impact on the sportswriting fraternity. .

As Conlin writes: “There are still newspaper readers who venerate the well-turned phrase, the bold analogy, the absurd premise that becomes believable because it is so well put. They are being intellectually punished by men in newspaper board rooms, bottom-liners who lacked the guts required to sack a hedge fund, bankrupt an auto company or approve a $1 million mortgage to a couple with $100,000 in credit-card debt. They lead to one thing: The dumbing down of America.”

Baseball is a game where a curve is an optical illusion, a screwball can be a pitch or a person, stealing is legal and you can spit anywhere you like except in the umpire’s eye or on the ball.
— Jim Murray

Conlin’s column in interspersed with famous sportswriting lines, from immortals Red Smith, Jimmy Cannon and Jim Murray.

Conlin weaves these lines — and some wonderful anecdotes involving sportswriters  — throughout is column, headlined: “Two-minute warning for our beloved sportswriters.”

Times are changing. Times are tough.

Then And Now, CC Means Cash And Carry

Carsten Charles Sabathia is not the original CC. That distinction belongs to Charles C. (C.C.) Pyle, a Champaign, Illinois, theater owner and one of the world’s first sports agents.

C.C. Pyle was often known as Cash and Carry — a fitting description for for CC Sabathia  and his $161 million contract.

Pyle represented running back Red Grange and French tennis star Suzanne Lenglen. He founded the first New York Yankee football team and the first American Football League in 1926. That same year he started the first professional tennis tour.

Two years later, Cash and Carry Pyle organized the Bunion Derby, a 3455-mile foot race from Los Angeles to Chicago to New York.

Pyle died of a heart attack at 57 in 1939.