Top 10: The Best of the SportsLifer

1. Woodstock: Better Late Than Never

“The thing the sixties did was show us the possibilities and the responsibility that we all had. It wasn’t the answer. It just gave us a glimpse of the possibility.”

– John Lennon

Well, I finally made it to Woodstock, 39 years too late.

2. Empty Seats at Yankee Stadium

As the Yankees get set to open their final season in the original (albeit renovated) Yankee Stadium, look ahead to what I predict will be the toughest ticket in New York sports history — Opening Day at the new Yankee Stadium in 2009.

Yankee tickets weren’t always tough tickets. Even during the great championship runs and dynasties, an SRO crowd in the Bronx was a novelty, not a daily occurrence.

3. NFC East Is NFL’s Beast
Historically, what’s the best division in the NFL?  If you use Super Bowl titles as the ultimate criteria, then it’s the NFC East, hands down.

4. Running Backs Once Ruled at Syracuse

Just like USC is known for producing tailbacks and Penn State linebackers, Syracuse University was once a football factory for running backs.

5. Celtics-Lakers Would Be Historic NBA Final

They’re the Lennon and McCartney of basketball, the Rogers and Astaire of hoops, the Batman and Robin of the hardwood.

6. All-Star Game: The Price Ain’t Right
The last time the All-Star game was held at Yankee Stadium in 1977, tickets were priced $10-15 for box and reserved seats. That’s a far cry from the $150-725 price range for the July 15 midsummer classic, and roughly two-three times the cost of tickets for last year’s game at San Francisco.

7. 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.


8. The Best of Yankee Stadium: Post-Season

As Yankee Stadium closes its doors, this is the final of a three-part retrospective on the moments that shaped Yankee Stadium, New York and the world of sports.

9. Top Ten All-Time Quarterback List

1. Johnny Unitas (Colts, Chargers, 1956-73)
A three-time champ with Baltimore, nine times an All-Pro, seventh all-time with 290 touchdown passes. Holds the NFL equivalent of Joe Dimaggio’s streak, 47 straight games with a TD pass.

10. Bidding Adieu to The House That Ruth Built

It’s been compared to the Colosseum, been called The House That Ruth Built.

Mel Allen, the late Yankee broadcaster, once said, “St. Patrick’s is the Yankee Stadium of cathedrals.”

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

Dawgs Give GM 5-Year, $75M Deal

This season has been another Brees for the Dawgs

The Dutchess Dawgs served notice once again this weekend that they are a universal  force to be reckoned with in their unending quest for world domination… least in the Somers Division of the Nightcap Fantasy  League.

And as a result, president, GM and coach Big Dawg Bowser has been offered a five-year, $75 million extension, plus free doggie bones for life.

“The extension is well deserved, and should offset Bowser’s losses in his 401k…make that 101k….plan and stock investments,” the Dawgs said in a statement. “Bowser has been looking for a bigger dawg house for a while, and this new deal should put him in the high-rent district.”

The Dawgs trailed Team Larkin by 51-17 earlier Sunday, twice bitten by the newly-acquired combo of Peyton “I’m no Eli”  Manning to Marvin Harrison. But they rebounded with an incredible 67-4 run to snatch the lead away from the Larkenites, led by the double figure exploits of Drew Brees, Clinton Portis, Ronnie “Touchdown” Brown, Calvin Johnson and Nate Kaeding.

They are now poised for their fifth victory in six starts. Going into Monday night action, the Dawgs hold a 103-70 lead over Team Larkin. So unless Jamal Lewis of the Browns rushes for 340 yards against the Dawgs’ Giants defense, the Hounds will get their paws on another victory.

Lewis did set the all-time single season rushing record five years ago when he was a Raven with a 295-yard effort against the Browns. If he breaks that record tonight, I’ll eat my Giants hat, with pepper.

So, those same Dawgs whose draft was poo-pooed by the so-called experts, the same Dawgs who have been picked to lose 5 out of 6 by pigskin pundits,followed by a public apology, those same old Dawgs will soon be 5-1.

The Dawgs loaded up in the early rounds of this year’s Nightcap draft with Portis and Brees. The former is leading the NFL in rushing, and Summer Brees, NFL passing leader, is the fantasy football MVP through six games. Too bad they don’t give extra points for passing efficiency.

The puppy boys are looking to improve their receiving corps, but are otherwise mad and healthy as they enter the stretch run.

Dawgie Bones: The Dawgs have endorsed NFL trade rumors circulating around Tony Gonzalez and Roy Williams. The Dawgs tight end Gonalez could become the G-Man for the G-Men, and the Lions could open up passing lanes for the Dawgs’ model citizen Calvin Johnson by sending Roy Williams packing.

The Best of Yankee Stadium, Baseball Excluded

Posted on August 19, 2008 by sportslifer | Edit

Soon we’ll be seeing all sorts of retrospective pieces on Yankee Stadium. Here we take an early look at the moments that shaped Yankee Stadium, New York and the world of sports.

Overall, there will be three categories — anything but baseball, baseball regular season, and baseball post-season.

This is the top 10 for anything but baseball….we’ll follow up soon with top 10s devoted to regular season and post-season play at the Stadium.

Remember you read it first in the SportsLifer.

Top 10 Yankee Stadium events (other than baseball), chronological order:

1. At halftime, Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne urges his squad to “Win one for the Gipper” as Irish, left. rally to defeat Army, 12-6, in honor of former All-America George Gipp, 1928

2. Undefeated Fordham and the Seven Blocks of Granite need one more win to reach the Rose Bowl, but NYU beats Vince Lombardi and company, 7-6,on a muddy field, 1936

3. Joe Louis not only knocks out Max Schmeling, below, in the first round for the heavyweight title, he gave the United States a shot of pride against Hitler’s Nazi Germany, 1938

4. In a game that featured four past or future Heisman Trophy winners, number one ranked Army and second-ranked Notre Dame play to a scoreless tie, 1946

5. Joey Maxim outlasts Sugar Ray Robinson, who lost 16 pounds in the heat, in 13 rounds in a light-heavyweight title bout, 1952

6. The New York Giants again don sneakers on an icy field and overwhelm the Chicago Bears, 47-7, to win their third NFL championship, 1956

7. Pope Paul VI hosts the first of three Papal Masses at Yankee Stadium, followed by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, 1965, 1979 and 2008

8. Pat Summerall kicks a long field goal in a swirling snowstorm to give the Giants a 13-10 win over the Cleveland Browns, forcing a playoff for the NFL East crown, 1958

9. In what is called “The Greatest Game Ever Played” the Baltimore Colts defeat the New York Giants, 23-17, in overtime in the game that raised the profile of the NFL. At left, Alan Amache scores the winning touchdown in the December dusk, 1958

10. Muhammad Ali defeats Ken Norton by unanimous decision in their rubber match and retains his heavyweight championship, 1976

Other Highlights

Tony Zale over Rocky Graziano for middleweight championship, 1946

More than 123,00 crowd first annual Jehovah’s Witness convention, 1950

Unbeaten heavyweight champ Rocky Marciano defeats Ezzard Charles.1954

Carmen Basilio outpoints Sugar Ray Robinson to capture middleweight crown, 1957

Sweden’s Ingemar Johansson knocks out the champ, Floyd Patterson, 1959

Giants Y.A.Tittle ties NFL record with seven touchdown passes against Washington Redskins, 1962

An inter-faith prayer service is held 13 days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, 2001

Billy Joel, U2 and Pink Floyd are among the few rock groups to play the Stadium

Brett the Jet Faces Weight of History

Are the Jets a better team with Brett Favre at quarterback? Of course. But let’s not start printing Super Bowl tickets just yet.

In Green Bay, Favre had history on his side. Winning history. Not so with the Jets.

The Jets have gone this route before, with mixed results. They’ve had a history of picking up veteran QBs, admittedly none as good as Broadway Brett.

But Boomer Esiason, Vinny Testaverde, and Neil O’Donnell weren’t exactly slouches.

Esiason, who finished he career with 247 touchdown passes, arrived in New York in 1993, five years after he was NFL MVP in leading the Broncos to the Super Bowl. Boomer played three years with the Jets, and the team was 15-27 in games he started. They failed to make the playoffs in any of those three seasons.

Fresh off a Super Bowl loss to the Cowboys, O’Donnell left the Steelers to sign as a free agent with the Jets in 1996. He played two seasons in New York, and the Jets failed to make the playoffs either time

Testaverde, the number one overall pick by Tampa Bay in 1987, arrived in New York in 1998. The free agent pickup was an instant success.

Testaverde, who threw 275 touchdowns during the course of his 21-year career and ranks sixth all time in pass attempts, completions and yardage, led the Jets to the AFC championship game in 1998, where they lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos. Vinny and the Jets. That’s the furthest the Jets have advanced in the playoffs since the 1968 team, led by Joe Namath, won Super Bowl III.

Testaverde guided the Jets to another playoff berth in 2001 only to get knocked out in the first round by the Oakland Raiders.

Even the franchise’s quarterbacking standard-bearer, the Hall of Famer Namath, made the playoffs just twice in 12 seasons in New York (1965-76).

It’s been 40 years since the Jets first, last and only visit to the Super Bowl. That’s a long time.

Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” — William Shakespeare

Was planning to drive up to Albany real early this morning to see the New York Giants in training camp. All packed, camera in the car, ready to go. But I overslept.

I was dreaming that the Giants beat the undefeated Patriots on a miracle play in the Super Bowl. Then I woke up and realized it was true.

So I started thinking about the strange occurrences we’ve seen in sports in the past year. One year ago, you would have been dreaming if you said:

  • The Giants would be defending World Champions.
  • That Manny Ramirez would be wearing Dodger blue.
  • And Joe Torre would be his manager.
  • That the Boston Celtics would win the NBA title.
  • That the Tampa Bay Rays would be in first place.
  • That Greg Norman, 53 years young, would be leading the British Open with nine holes to play.
  • And that he would be cheered on by his new bride, Chris Evert.
  • That Brett Favre would retire. Or unretire. Or retire….wait a minute, Brett, wake up and make up your mind.
  • That Roger Clemens would make a fool of himself in front of the entire nation.
  • While his former teammate, Mike Mussina, would be pitching like Cy Young.
  • That Appalachian State would beat Michigan. In the Big House. Yeah right.
  • That Marion Jones, the queen of the 2000 Olympics, would be in jail.

Did I just dream all that? Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

Giants Bid Adieu to Shockey

Hey Jeremy Shockey, here’s a news flash. The Giants can win without you.

Jeremy Shockey is at it again. You’d think this loudmouth would have taken a slice of humble pie after breaking his leg and watching the Giants march to the Super Bowl without him. But nooooo….

Shockey is a talented football player. The former number one draft pick (14th overall) out of the University of Miami in 2002, is a four-time Pro Bowler. But he’s no team player, never has been, never will be.

He actually came to Giants mini-camp this year (a shock in itself) but did not come on to the practice field on the first day of the mandatory, three-day camp. The Giants had eight other injured players unable to practice in the morning and five others in the afternoon, but all of them were out on the side of field working. All except Shockey.

Throughout his six-year career, Shockey has caught 27 touchdown passes, but he is better known for his hands of stone. He’s had plenty of big drops, perhaps none more critical than the sure TD he dropped in San Francisco in the 2002 playoffs, the turning point in a dramatic 49ers comeback win.

Contrast that with rookie Kevin Boss, who made a key catch and run to help spark the Giants fourth-quarter comeback against the Patriots in Super Bowl XXII.

Don’t get me wrong, the Giants need the enthusiasm Shockey brings to the game. But they could do without the baggage, the arm-waving at Eli Manning, the stupid penalties, the big drops.

It’s tough enough winning a Super Bowl, let alone trying to repeat. The Giants don’t need these kind of distractions. They’ve already proven they can win without Jeremy Shockey.

They should have trade him to New Orleans when they had the opportunity a few months ago.

It’s not too late. Get rid of the bum.

Let’s Go To The Videotape

According to a recent report on, major league baseball is planning to experiment with instant replay in the Arizona Fall League

In the immortal words of broadcaster Warner Wolf, let’s go to the videotape.

This past week at Yankee Stadium, both the Mets’ Carlos Delgado and the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez were denied home runs by erroneous umpire rulings. Delgado hit a ball off the lower portion of the left-field foul pole. The third-base umpire originally signalled home run, but was over-ruled. Replays clearly showed the ball striking the foul pole.

Two nights later, A-Rod hit a shot off a stairway in right-center field and bounced back on the field. The umpires ruled it was a double, although replay showed the ball had cleared the wall.

And in Houston, a ball hit by the Cubs’ Geovany Soto was ruled in play although replays showed it had cleared the wall. Soto managed to turn his hit into an inside-the-park home run.

A quick look at videotape would have helped umpires to determine all three hits were actually home runs.

Jeffrey Maier Game
A blown call in the 1996 playoffs helped the Yankees win the World Series that year. In game one of the ALCS against the Orioles, rookie Derek Jeter hit a shot to right-field, where a 12-year-old named Jeffrey Maier reached over the fence and deflected the ball into the stands, left. Baltimore right-fielder Tony Tarasco insisted he would have caught the ball if not for fan interference, but umpire Richie Garcia ruled it a home run, and the Yankees went on to win the game,5-4, in 11 innings.

Baseball should adopt the instant replay — for home run calls only. Leave the rest of the calls in the hands of the umpires.

Other sports use replay with varying degrees of effectiveness. The NFL has been using some form of instant replay since 1986, with mixed results.

The problem with the NFL is that too many plays can be reviewed, oftentimes resulting in long stoppages and disrupting the flow of the game. The NFL should keep it to touchdowns and turnovers.

The NBA reviews are limited to shots at the end of a quarter, and are quickly resolved by officials on the floor.

The NHL may have the best system. The league only reviews goals, with a video replay judge on board in Toronto to rule on questionable goal-scoring plays.

Canadian football, college football and tennis also use some form of replay system.

Even at #1, NFL Draft No Sure Thing

In many ways, the NFL draft is a crapshoot. Sure, you roll the dice with a sixth or seventh round pick, or take a chance on a third-round wide receiver from some small college. But even the #1 overall pick can be a risk.

Since the draft was initiated in 1936, that top pick has carried a lot of weight…a ton of expectations…and yet things haven’t always worked out as expected.

Take the 1936 draft for example. Jay Berwanger,  the first Heisman Trophy winner, was the first player drafted by the NFL. The Philadelphia Eagles had the selection, then traded Berwanger’s rights to the Chicago Bears after he claimed he had no interest in playing for the Eagles.

Berwanger had no interest in playing for the Bears either. After graduating from the University of Chicago, Berwanger became a sportswriter and later a manufacturer of plastic car parts.

Berwanger wasn’t the only #1 bust. For every Peyton Manning or John Elway there’s a Jeff George or Tim Coach. For every OJ Simpson….whoops, bad example, let’s use Earl Campbell… there’s a Kii-Jana Carter. You remember him, running back out of Penn State who the Bengals drafted first in the 1995 draft. He hurt his knee in the third carry of his first preseason game and was never the same.

There have been 11 NFL Hall of Famers drafted #1 overall — from Bill Dudley in 1942 to Troy Aikman in 1989. And then there are the likes of Gary Glick, Randy Duncan or Terry Baker, and more recently Steve Emtman, Russell Maryland, and Courtney Brown. Oh, and don’t forget Michael Vick.

Jake Long, here’s wishing you the best.