Tuesday, January 31, 2012

N.Y. Rangers ~ Devils; Battle of the Hudson



Game 1 - Dec. 20, 2011
NYR 4  -  NJD 1

New Jersey Devils


Henrik Lundqvist, Dan Girardi, and Marian Goborik represented the Rangers extremely well.  But now that Hockey's mid-season SideShow is over and done, it's time to get back to work.  I've never been one for All-Star Games but for the rest of Hockey's non-participants, rest does a body good.  As it pertains to the Rangers, I hope they got plenty of it.  The second half is going to be an exhaustive grind to say the least.

The Rangers will be seeing a lot more of the Devils between now and April.  And that may not be a good thing.  Because don't look now, but here comes New Jersey.  Their fifty-five points are tied with Toronto and Florida for seventh in the Conference.  Washington has fifty-five points as well, but lead the South Division over Florida.

The Devils are far from being the team they were this time last season.  They were just beginning their upwards swing after a catastrophic start to their 2010-2011 season.  They came on like gang-busters towards the end to save their season.  But alas, their eighty-one points weren't enough to make the playoffs.  Ninety-three points however, were.  That's where the Rangers came in.  Last season they secured the final Eastern Conference spot with a furious finish of their own.

This season, the Rangers will start the second half in first place of the Eastern Conference.  That makes them marked men.  The first half was nothing in comparison to the level of play the good teams will now elevate towards.  The natural question to ask is - Can these young Rangers sustain their game?  And a better question is - Can they elevate as well?

A few things need to happen over the next two plus months in order for the Blueshirts to not only continue playing well and competing against the elite teams of the League, but even elevate their game as well.

The Power Play MUST improve.  When will they learn to get opposing heads turning and getting bodies moving in different directions?  Take shots and create confusion.  The Rangers can not; have not; and will not; scatter bodies by merely passing around the perimeter.  The Rangers must do more because teams just go into Turtle-Shell mode on them.  For that, they should just decline the penalty and stay at even strength.   : /

It's hard to knock a guy like him, but Brandon Dubinsky must finally start finding the back of the net.  Goals are paramount from this moment on.  And to a lesser degree, some more goals are needed from the Captain too.  And then there's Artem Anisimov.  He's melting under the Coach's glare.  Get it together Kid.  And good luck with that.

Because the Devils aren't joking around this season.  They look like they want to stick around and play meaningful Hockey.  Patrick Elias continues to master New Jersey's very thin Centerman Corps.  And somehow, Coach DeBoer figured out how to negotiate being over-loaded at wing.  Their young defensemen have played representative hockey as well.  No, this isn't last season's first half team.  This is closer to last year's second half dynamo.  This year's edition is a very good team indeed.  And every time I see them win another game, I'm like - Damn!  How do they do it?  Oh yeah, Marty Brodeur is having fun again.


Enjoy the game.   Let's Go Rangers.


BKN Aviators ~ Pressing on into February

From the desk of:   THE SKATES OF FLATBUSH

BROOKLYN AVIATORS:  Taking Body Blows and Counter Punching; Coach Miller's Boys Will be Fighting to the Very End.

So where are we?  Who are we?  And what are we doing?  Sorry, since attending Ace's birthday party in The Hangar two weeks ago, I've had New York Giants of the brain.

The A's are currently skating with the second division in fifth place.  Although Brooklyn (55) has more total points than fourth place Akwesasne (51), the Warriors lead the Aviators by percentage points.  Cape Cod, Delaware, and Danville, round out the FHL trailers. 

New Jersey has been, and still is the clear cut power of the circuit with 93 points this season.  Second place 1000 Islands trails them by thirteen points.  And Danbury has recently made a climb in the standings (59 points) into third place. 

Fourteen games remain on the schedule.  The A's will have between their February 2nd game versus Danbury, and March 4th, to earn themselves a spot along with the top seeds for a hopeful spot in the playoffs.  The team's situation does not seem as dire as they faced last year with twenty-some games left in the season.  They just need a little consistency right now.

Who are we?  For starters, back-up goalie; Peter Dundovich; was waived on January 27, by the Boss-Man Coach Miller.  Goalie Richard Scarsella came and went.  Adam Avramenko was then signed to back-up Josselin St. Pierre but has since been loaned out to the CHL.  So that leaves rookie Jeff Rose as Flatbush's back-up goalie.  Back on January 24th, Jarrett Rush and Andrew Owsiak were packing up to play for ECHL clubs but have since returned.  And lastly, Brendan Baumgartner was traded to the 1000 Islands Privateers for defensemen Vinny Geonnetti.

No Brooklyn.  Although several players remain, this is not the same team that went on a torrid twenty-some game winning streak last season and steamrolled into the playoffs.  Coach Miller continues to tinker with this roster as he has all season.  Over that time, too many games were lost, specifically earlier on in the schedule, for a failure to secure wins during regulation time and thus finishing many nights shy one additional point. 

What are we doing?  For starters, we're suffering from a lack of identity.  Are we still a team led by veterans; Chris Ferazzoli; K.C. Timmons; Jesse Felten; Chris Scampoli; and Casey Mignone?  Or did our gumption exit along with Vladimir Nikiforov; Stephen Obelnicki; and some of last year's favorites like Puntureri, and Goffredo?  And of the newer class?  Rookie; Matt Atsoff; Trent Trentowski; Lucas Schott; Steve Koich; will they be making this their team?

Secondly, we're bobbing up and down like an ocean buoy.  The month of January is representative of just how up and down this season has gone for the Floyd Bennett Aviators.  They started the month losing their first five contests.  Then went on a five game winning streak which was snapped this past Saturday by the Whalers in an 8-2 drubbing up in Danbury.  And so the A's end the month with a 5-6 record.

When they resume play Thursday, the Whalers and Brooklyn will play a home and home starting in Danbury.  The series then comes to Hangar Five on Saturday night.  They'll finish the weekend in New Jersey as they take on the Outlaws again, whom they finally defeated this season for the first time.

We need to gain some altitude Boys.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

LIU Blackbirds ~ Bounce Back Win Keeps Flatbush in 1st

From the desk of:   THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH

LIU BLACKBIRDS:   Back on Track and Heading Home.

After suffering their first Conference defeat of the season to Robert Morris, the LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds bounced back with an overwhelming 97-76 win Saturday against the St. Francis (PA) Red Flash.  They needed the win to stay a game ahead of a thinning second place pack as Wagner and St. Francis (NY) won their games and improved to 8-2 to keep pace.  Robert Morris couldn't maintain the momentum they gained after defeating Brooklyn and in losing their last game, forged a new tie for third place with Central Connecticut State with 7-3 records

The HOOPS of FLATBUSH improved their NEC record to 9-1, and 15-7 overall.  They still remain one game shy of the .500 mark on the road with a 6-7 record.  But they're coming back home to the Wellness Center now where they still remain undefeated (7-0) this season.  The first of two Downtown games will be Thursday against the last place Bryant Bulldogs.  Then on February 4th, they have a big match-up against Central Connecticut State.

Five Blackbirds ended Saturday's game in double-digit scoring and Michael Culpo almost made it six players with nine points of his own.  LIU nearly doubled St. Francis' effort on the glass, out-rebounding the Red Flash by a 45-24 margin.  Thirty-two of LIU's forty-five rebounds came on the defensive end.  However they turned the ball over nineteen times.  Ultimately, Jamal Olasewere's efforts; nearly 60% team shooting from the field; and a game high twelve assists from Jason Brickman contributed to lead the Flatbush Five over St. Francis.

Jamal Olasewere posted a game high double-double; leading all players with twenty-six points and ten rebounds.  Jason Brickman's twelve assists were also a game high and his personal career best.  Julian Boyd (17); C.J. Garner (10) were the other two starters in double points.  Off the bench, Brandon Thompson cleaned up with eleven points in twenty-three minutes.  He shot 4-4 from the line and pulled down four rebounds.  Kenny Onyechi made the most of his fourteen minutes, contributing twelve points and five rebounds.  All together they combined to get the Blackbirds over the ninety point mark for third time this season.

Eight games remain in the regular season.  And the big Battle for Brooklyn versus St. Francis (NY) still looms just over the horizon.


N.Y. Knicks ~ Blame Dolan. I Do.

From the desk of:   DUTCH PANTS CAN'T JUMP

NEW YORK KNICKS:  What's Old is New Again.  The Knicks' Woes "Point" to the Top.

The Knicks look like they're playing in tar.  And your owner put them there.  Blame Strummin' Jimmy for the current state of Knickerbocker disarray. 

The after-shocks of Isiah Thomas' reign still send tremors through this organization because of the ongoing cycle of having no draft picks.  To make matters worse, Dolan ran a man whom he never wanted on board out of town, as Donnie Walsh was thankfully imposed upon the Knicks by Commish Stern.  Donnie Walsh was not tasked with rebuilding an organization.  He was merely charged with saving the NBA's largest market team from themselves.  Walsh performed near miracles with regard to the salary cap.  But with the advent of direct competition from the Nets coming to Brooklyn, and construction of Barclays Center, James Dolan acted rashly and in haste, trampling over Donnie Walsh's efforts to make Dolan's product better.

One can argue the signing of Amare Stoudemire was necessary.  And he turned out to be a terrific person, player and leader.  But I'm guessing Dolan perhaps insisted on the deal with total disregard to the fact his knees were un-insurable; something I'm sure Donnie Walsh was leery of.  Of course that's just my speculative opinion.

But the real harm came in James Dolan's "keystone cop" haste to acquire Carmelo Anthony.  If left alone to negotiate the trade, Donnie Walsh would have ensured the Knicks would still have a capable point guard, and a reasonably better bench.  But because the spectre of Mikhail Prokhorov loomed over James Dolan like a storm cloud, the Knick owner stepped into the negotiations like Godzilla romping through Tokyo.  If Denver had asked for more in the deal, Dolan would have gladly emptied the closets for them.

Does it even need discussing that the Knicks still are operating without a qualified General Manager?

I have stated long ago putting this organization in Carmelo Anthony's hands was and still is a mistake.  Then again, I am biased.  I don't like him.  Never have; not since he sucker punched Jared Jefferies.

Blame James Dolan for pushing Donnie Walsh out the door, and thus resulting in a woeful lack of skill at point guard and absolutely no bench or depth to speak of.  With regards to the point, I wasn't interested in Chauncey Billups either.  I'm much happier having Tyson Chandler on board.  But short term, I still contend we do not need the caliber of a Steve Nash; Deron Williams; Derrick Rose; etc.; to help play traffic cop for Carmelo and Stoudemire.

Somewhere in a pre-season posting, I even thought the Knicks would have to become more of a half-court team rather than run D'Antoni's traditional style offense.  And they did.  But Coach so far has not shown to be a capable X-and-O guy when placed outside his element.  He either hasn't adapted to his roster or has failed to get his team to respond.  But if you look at the play on the court, what we see are five individuals; a failure to communicate; and a lot of standing around.  And well, yes, blame that on having two forwards who need someone feeding them the ball.  They were meant to finish plays; not manage or create plays.  They've clearly proven an inability to assist each other and in the mean time, Coach doesn't have any answers on the court or to the Media. 

However, can't it be said that D'Antoni has been a victim of circumstance his whole time here?  He was charged with disappearing Stephan Marbury, and coaching a team about to be imploded by Donnie Walsh.  Now he's charged with trying to untangle Dolan's mess.

The ultimate and unfortunate still developing reality in all this is how Amare Stoudemire is the one getting his name tossed around like a grenade.  It's established he's not going anywhere with those knees and that contract.  And if he can stay healthy and put up with the grind this season, I'm happier for it.  I still feel like this is Amare's team because of the way he came to town and embraced everything.  And yeah, my bias says Carmelo Anthony came here to take that away and worsen the team's situation.  My cousin and I argue about this all the time.

Want to improve this team's situation?  Hire a qualified General Manager; rethink Coach D'Antoni; and trade Melo.

That is all.  Go back to your farms now.  There's nothing more to see here.  Not winning basketball anyway.  Both teams remain ice cold on the court while the weather remains balmy outside.  Go figure.  For both the Nets and the Knicks, the days spent before the inner-city battles commence have proven so far to be planning, and logistical nightmares.


Battle for the City

New York Knicks   7-13   t-3rd
NJ/Brooklyn Nets   7-13   t-3rd


N.Y. Mets ~ Johnny Franco "Did Us Proud"

From the desk of:   HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET

NEW YORK METS:   Neighborhood Guy Elected to Mets' Hall of Fame.

He did the neighborhood proud.  It's no secret John Franco is from Brooklyn; more specifically Bensonhurst; which happens to be my neighborhood.  Lee Mazzilli's too.  He graduated from nearby Lafayette High School, as did the Mets' embattled owner Fred Wilpon and Dodger great Sandy Koufax - among others.  This week, John Franco was the fifteenth player elected into the Mets Hall of Fame.  We're always so proud when another local kid did us good.

I was fortunate to come across Johnny three times in the normal course of my life.  The first time came in the Staten Island Mall while simply doing some toy shopping.  Then two more times I just happened to run into him here on 86th Street in Brooklyn.  That's one thing about John Franco - he always stayed home in the city and was always very cool to the public.  Stories about his affability abound, whether through encounters like mine when ever he pops back into the 'hood, or catching him at a Cyclones' game, or from his fellow Staten Islanders.  He always remained a NYC guy.

Is he a legit candidate for Baseball's Hall of Fame?  I doubt it.  Although, there are arguments to be made on his behalf.  Being fourth All-Time in Saves and second All-Time when he retired should count for something I guess.  He's additionally the All-Time Saves Leader for Lefties.  My one knock on him would be that he doesn't have over 1,000 strikeouts (975) for over 1,200 innings pitched.

Were the Mets wrong to trade Randy Myers for John Franco?  After all, Randy Myers went on to lead the League in Saves three times after the trade.  In his career, John Franco led the League three times as well, but only twice for the Mets.  Franco wasn't as dominant as Myers turned out to be.  Then again he was never a power pitcher.  He was a lot cooler though with a slick slider.  Both pitchers' relative effectiveness came to an end at basically the same time; somewhere around the 1998 season or so.  But were the Mets wrong in hindsight?  Nah.  Johnny Franco was a great Met and an equally good leader on the team.  Captains have never played much of a role in Flushing.  That's something I can easily do without and so I don't get caught up with it.  However, that doesn't take away from the fact John Franco was a fine one none the less.

But is John Franco a New York Met Hall of Famer?  Yeah!  Absolutely.  It was great watching him celebrate the Mets 2000 National League Championship.  And back in 1990, he and Darryl Strawberry almost willed us to another division title under Buddy Harrelson.  Yes, Franco is deserving.  He was emblematic of a decade of Met Baseball.

*     *     *     *

This always starts the "Who Belongs To Be In" debate.  If John Franco is in, then shouldn't Jesse Orosco get elected as well?  His work between 1983 and 1985 goes largely under spoken.  What most remember is 1986 and his glove being flung up in the air in triumph.  Back in 1983, he started receiving League wide recognition winning Pitcher of the Week honors as the Mets began turning things around.

Are there any more candidates for the Mets' Hall of Fame?  Certainly.  But no one stands out as an absolute no-doubter.  There are however, very very strong arguments for several players.  Ron Darling, Edgardo Alfonzo, and Lee Mazzilli, strike me as three strong candidates for future consideration.

Mike Piazza is a given and just a matter of time.  His number will probably be the next to be retired by the Mets as well.  But no talk of retiring numbers however should take place without mentioning Jerry Koosman.  What the Mets are waiting for is beyond most fans.  Retiring any player's number before retiring #36 is an insult to this Franchise's history.

In light of the sad and latest turn in Gary Carter's health, there will be growing sentiment to retire his number too.  And personally, in a similar sentiment since his passing away, I'd like to see Tug McGraw's #45 retired.  I know I'm on an island with that one.

*     *     *     *

While we're at it, this is a great time for a light Honorable Mention List:

CATCHER:    "The Dude" John Stearns!  -  Todd Hundley  -  I thought Mike Fitzgerald was a fine receiver.

FIRST BASE:   John "The Hammer" Milner!  -  John Olerud  -  Donn Clendenon  -  Eddie Murray, a personal favorite player of mine  -  insert Dave Kingman here.

SECOND BASE:   Ron Hunt, of course  -  Wally Backman  -  Felix Millan!  -  Gold Glover Doug Flynn  -  Fonzie  -  Do we have to put Jeff Kent on this list?

SHORTSTOP:   Yes, Jose can be on the list.  -  Rafael Santana was slick and had 65 RBI from the 8th spot!  -  Frank Tavares.

THIRD BASE:   Hubie Brooks!  -  Wayne Garrett  -  Lenny Randall anyone? -  Hojo  -  Robin Ventura  -  Ray Knight.

LEFT FIELD:   Cliff Floydd  -  Bernard Gilkey  -  Joel Youngblood, Man I liked him!

CENTER FIELD:   Lance Johnson now moves ahead of Lenny Dykstra because Lenny is proving to be such a mess.  Yes, Carlos Beltran makes the cut too.

RIGHT FIELD:   Doesn't anyone stand out?  Or is it just too early in the morning for me to think of someone.  Xavier Nady; we hardly knew ya.

STARTING PITCHERS:   I know there's a great divide to include Nolan Ryan into these lists.  -    Gary Gentry  -  Sid Fernandez  -  Craig Swan  -  David Cone  -  How can we not include Ed Lynch?

RELIEF PITCHERS:   Skip Lockwood was my guy!  -  Niel Allen  -  Roger McDowell.

MANAGER:   Frank Howard deserves a good mention  -  Bobby Valentine too  -  Yogi Berra.

COACHES:   Rube Walker  -  Joe Pignatano  -  Bob Gibson  -  Frank Robinson.

COACH/EXECUTIVES WHO GOT AWAY:   Jerry Hunsicker  -  Whitey Herzog.

OWNERS:   Nelson Doubleday - Buy us back...!  Please?

Let's Go Mets


Saturday, January 28, 2012

N.Y. Giants ~ Only Gilbride Can "RIGHT" the Running Game

From the desk of:   DO IT FOR THE DUKE  ~  Super Bowl XLVI Edition





NEW YORK GIANTS FOOTBALL:   The Time is Now For Kevin Gilbride to Help The Running Game Get This "RIGHT" Once and for All.

Submitted for Your Analysis:
Offensive Coordinator; Kevin Gilbride's Implementation of the Running Game.

I long ago established the Giants have done their best rushing behind the right side of the Offensive Line.  Chris Snee, and more so, Kareem McKenzie have done the Giants best run blocking this season. David Diehl, playing out of position again this season is run blocking admirably at Left Tackle.  Diehl and Booth have created consistent but shorter yardage together.  Yet with even greater consistency however, the middle; running off Center, has proved fruitless for virtually the entire season.

There is no forward surge being created by the front five; and in particular by the interior Line.  Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw are both continually getting met at the line of scrimmage because there is no forward push.  And in my opinion, the problem resides with Center David Baas.

I shared my latest concerns regarding Center David Baas, and his upcoming mis-match against New England's Vince Wilfork in my last posting:  Super Sizing the Offensive Line.  David Baas is still feeling the effects of a stinger suffered in last week's game.  And it remains my hope Kevin Boothe gets the start at Center and Mitch Petrus plays Left Guard.  Both men together increase the Giants' size up the middle and have been successful opening up some space when they played together for a few games this season in Baas' absence.

As for the running game itself, I can not fault Kevin Gilbride electing to heave the ball up fifty-eight times.  It's what won us the game.  And further more, this post can not continue without giving the 49ers their deserved credit.  But even with all Eli's heroics, Gilbride still called for twenty running plays.  Once again I commend him for staying dedicated to the run even when it seemed to go nowhere.  But I don't know if I should call last week's run selections an epiphany or just random acts of Gilbride coincidence.  The Giants only ran for fifty-nine yards during regulation time on twenty rushing attempts.  And there-in lies the Giants' silver lining.  In overtime, the Giants ran five more running plays for an additional twenty eight crucial yards.  And once again you'll see, that the RIGHT side of the Line is the correct side to follow towards Daylight.

Against Green Bay-I, Dallas, the Jets, Dallas-II, and against the Falcons, Big Blue pounded the right side of the Line on their way to 100+ yard games.  Keep in mind the Atlanta Falcons game's stats:

Versus Atlanta....
* The Giants rushed LEFT nine times for thirty-one yards. 3.4 average gain.
* The Giants rushed UP THE MIDDLE eight times for thirty-one yards. 3.4 average gain.
* The Giants rushed RIGHT thirteen times for one hundred-one yards. 7.8 average gain.

 Of the Giants' running plays that went for fives yards or more, here is your break down:
* LEFT - Three Plays ~ eight yards; eight yards; fourteen yards.
* MIDDLE - Two Plays ~ ten yards; fifteen yards.
* RIGHT - Four Plays ~ thirty four yards; thirty yards; seven yards; nine yards.

In the Divisional Round against the Green Bay Packers, Kevin Gilbride went against everything the Giants do well with regards to running the ball.  He dialed-up a complete 180 degree reversal of field and went left side intensive with the running game.  Just a few days prior to the game, an article in the tabloids reported Kevin Gilbride - in summary as saying, - Click HERE for full Daily News article.

......Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride believes the “conventional wisdom” that the Giants must run the ball effectively to keep Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ high-powered offense off the field as much as possible in Sunday’s divisional playoff game “honestly doesn't hold much water.”

 Then against Green Bay he devised this;
*LEFT - Thirteen Plays ~ for net fifty-four yards.  Three plays combined for -9 yards.  In the first half, Ahmad Bradshaw started left, then changed course and went *right for +23 yards; setting up Eli's Hail Mary pass.  Ahmad Bradshaw broke another +24 yard gain running off Left Tackle.  And on the last N.Y. touchdown of the game, Brandon Jacobs once again started a play running left, then turned back *right for a fourteen yard touchdown run.
*MIDDLE - Six Plays ~ for fifteen yards, and one No-Gain.  Two plays went for five yards each.
*RIGHT - THREE PLAYS!  One play negated by a Holding penalty.  Two plays for negative yardage. Only one gain for +4 yards.

 I was torn between wanting to punch him in the face or crediting him for having some deceptive plan up his sleeve, as if he had clairvoyance into knowing the Giants would still be playing; and in knowing such, trying to throw everyone off the Giants' trail?       Really?  Is that plausible?

There was the matter of the 49ers game and an overtime session that reconfirmed every assertion the Giants' run the ball best behind Snee and McKenzie.  However during regulation time, the Niners put the breaks on Big Blue's rush with haste.

This is the regulation time break down of running plays called by Kevin Gilbride that amassed all of fifty-nine yards:
LEFT:  Seven Plays ~ Twenty-Four Yards.  One No-Gain.  One Six Yard Gain Negated by a Penalty to David Baas.
MIDDLE:  Seven Plays ~ Nineteen Yards.  One No-Gain.
RIGHT:  Six Plays ~ Sixteen Yards.  One No-Gain on 4th and 1; (B. Jacobs).
Then, it hit him.  Kevin Gilbride turned to the tried and true method this team has for gaining yardage on the ground.  In overtime, the right side of the Offensive Line found daylight for the Giants yet again.  And with no disrespect to Eli, they kinda saved the big finish.

LEFT:  No Plays.
MIDDLE:  One Play ~ Four Yards.

Against the San Francisco 49ers, in total they ran Left 7x for twenty-four yards;  Middle 8x for twenty-three yards; and RIGHT 10x for FORTY Yards.

The question remains why Kevin Gilbride designed such a radical departure from the Giants' strength in the Green Bay game?  Yet, the Giants ability to spring two plays back to the right side sealed the game against the Packers.  And the Giants' ability to pound out SIX; EIGHT; SIX; and FOUR, yards all behind the right side sealed the game in San Francisco as well.

Heading into this showdown with the Patriots, that's two issues now I believe the Giants need to investigate, with, a) - being the starting status of center David Baas, and b) - will the Giants stick with their strength and run behind their right side and outside their Left Tackle; David Diehl?

My over-riding concern is the potential inability of David Baas to keep Vince Wilfork from disrupting the line of scrimmage.  Most specifically, I fear he can dominate David Baas and cause overwhelming chaos in the Giants' backfield; not to mention the pressure he can bring on Eli up the middle.

This is the Big One Coach.  Get this one RIGHT and you can shut me up forever.  So don't blow it with some goofy game plan.   Friggin' egomaniac!


Friday, January 27, 2012

LIU Blackbirds ~ Brooklyn Denied a Tenth Straight Win

From the desk of:   THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH

LIU BLACKBIRDS:   The Flatbush Five Have Their Nine Game Win Streak Stopped in Pennsylvania.

Last night's game against Robert Morris was on TV, and well, wouldn't you know.....?

LIU's first NEC loss came at the hands of the Robert Morris University Colonials Thursday night.  So what did a nine game winning streak and being undefeated in their conference get the Blackbirds?  After last night, all that hard work only gets them a one game lead in the NEC over what is now a three team pack consisting of last night's opponent; Robert Morris; Wagner; and St. Francis (NY); who all won to stay on LIU's tails with 7-2 records.  Central Connecticut State lost their last game and dropped to third with a 6-3 record.  Brooklyn now sports an 8-1 Conference record.  The loss also drops them to 14-7 overall this season.  And they failed to get their road record (5-7) back to the .500 mark.

The Blackbirds were just plain off to start the first ten minutes of the game or so.  Robert Morris was up by nine with around thirteen minutes left in the first half and never looked back.  At one point the Colonials were up by fifteen points in the second half.  And as much as Julian Boyd and the Blackbirds tried, they could get no closer than five points before Robert Morris pulled away.  Even Coach Ferry got T'd up along the way.

LIU never enjoyed a lead Thursday night, and only managed to tie the score once all game; back when both teams were knotted at three apiece.  Robert Morris won with defense and rained three's all night long.  Their bench scoring torched LIU's bench, outscoring them 22-7.  Ultimately however, a bad start to this game and a 34-26 deficit at half-time was more than LIU could over come for they ended the second half 41-40 in the Colonials' favor.  Final score; 75-66.

Juilan Boyd finished with twenty-five points and Jamal Olaswere dropped another eighteen points as the only two Blackbirds to score in double digits.  Additionally, Julian Boyd was the only player last night to register a double in rebounding with twelve.

Before coming back to the Ashland Place Gym, the Blackbirds have one more stop in Loretto, Pennsylvania this Saturday evening for a game against St. Francis (PA) who are tied with Quinnipiac and Sacred Heart with 4-5 records for fifth place in the conference.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

N.Y. Giants ~ Super Sizing The Offensive Line

From the desk of:   DO IT FOR THE DUKE  ~  Super Bowl XLVI Edition

NEW YORK GIANTS FOOTBALL:     Should Big Blue Consider an Offensive Line Shake-Up for the Super Bowl?  It Wouldn't Be a Risky Move and Might Make a BIG Difference.

Lets call out the Offensive Line last week for what it was; Bad - if not downright woeful.  From the four quarter-plus disappearance of the Running Game, to the woeful pass protection last week, the O-Line's performance was a total fail in almost every sense other than the final score.  I'm willing to give the San Francisco Niners a large portion of credit for their own performance last Sunday.  They backed up their well earned reputations as a stout, smart, stingy, and hard hitting Defense.  They relentlessly beat and battered Eli Manning all game long and at times overwhelmingly manhandled the Giants up front.  But aside from the 49ers due credit, the fact remains, The O-line was near disastrously out-played.  Only Eli's durability and resiliency and ability to throw in the rain while under duress saved their hides in San Francisco.

The entire starting five were all equally ineffective Sunday.  Collectively, the Offensive Line couldn't push a refrigerator, much less part the Niners Front Line for the running game.  Pass Rushers were getting lost on stunts and hitting Eli unabated at times.  The middle, consisting of Center David Baas; Kevin Boothe to the Left; and Richard Snee to the Right; got pushed open like swinging kitchen doors at a popular lunch time diner.  And the edges with David Diehl on the Left and Kareem McKenzie on the Right, allowed pocket protection to bend in on itself like a pretzel.

After each and every QB hit and through six sacks allowed, they could have done more as a group to shove red jerseys away from Eli after whistles had long blown.  This game is all about attitude and about being tougher up front.  Sometimes you take a yellow flag to send a needed message.  Even a guy like Coughlin can appreciate that.  As O-Linemen, you can't let opposing players hover over your QB like teams have this season.  David Diehl did some pushing back Sunday.  But I hardly saw it from the others.

Left Tackle David Diehl was having an increasingly tougher time as the last three games wore on.  Against the Falcons, Coach Gilbride gave the lion's share of responsibility for the running game to the right side of the Line leaving Diehl to merely worry about Eli's blind side.  Against the Packers, Gilbride changed up and went left side intensive with the run game.  Diehl delivered consistent however short positive yardage.  And his pass blocking slipped a bit.  Then this last Sunday, Eli thankfully didn't suffer any blind-side hits.  But Diehl will still have to take his share of blame for pass protection that fell apart in San Francisco.

Ditto goes for Right Tackle Kareem McKenzie.  He's had a tremendous season but played as bad a game as he's had all year.  Kareem's man too often came free on Eli's front side but the QB hung in there anyway knowing the hit was coming.  Moving forward against New England, I'm sure last Sunday was just an aberration coupled with the heat San Francisco was generating.  I trust David Diehl, Chris Snee, and Kareem McKenzie in particular, will all have a much better game in two weeks against an old foe.  The Giants best running has come off the Tackles this season.  And in two weeks, they'll be needing to go with what works best.

With that said, we must once again revisit the Giants situation at Center.  This is the Super Bowl we're talking about here.  Which means I could care less how much David Baas costs Jerry Reese.  Shaun O'Hara is not here anymore and so the fact remains, his replacement is the smallest and weakest link in the Offensive Line.  The loss of Will Beatty earlier in the season is not the biggest factor affecting the Offensive Line.  Instead that gave Mitch Petrus an opportunity to show he can be effective.  The biggest factor affecting the Line actually turns out to be a lack of size at Center.  The former 49er did not come to New York and perform as advertised.

I'm sorry.  I've been picking on him for a while.  But it is what it is.  Not surprisingly to me, Center Davis Baas had the worst game of the bunch Sunday.  Go back to your DVR's and see for yourself.  Additionally, I do not believe his printed bio-stats.  They don't match the player.  Just look at him.  When you watch him break the huddle, he's the smallest player of any Giant Offensive Lineman, not to mention of any opposing defensive lineman.

Regardless, heading into this last game against New England, I have but this one question:  How well can David Baas play against New England's Defensive Tackle Vince Wilfork?  My answer is he doesn't match up well at all.  As a matter of fact, the match up down right scares me considering the disruption Wilfork can create up the middle.  More importantly, solutions should no longer go ignored.  The Giants must run the ball behind the Right again and at least open up the middle as best they can; especially since they have the personnel in hand to do it.  And therefore, this is my last big push for Kevin Boothe to start at Center, and for Petrus to start at Left Guard.  It's warranted because of the results they've produced before, and because it wouldn't at all be a risky move.  They've played well together in Baas' absence this season.

If this sounds harsh, it still rings true; David Baas has been an utterly useless run blocker and has exhibited only descent (...to good) pass blocking skills.  What he has excelled at however, is bringing the running game to a grinding halt!  He does a better job keeping a guy in place on pass blocking than he does pushing his man forward on the run.  And that's why any Daylight that once existed up the middle has now been blocked-up by a human wall.  Chris Snee and Kevin Boothe have been left to pick up his slack and as a result the running gaps between the Guards have disappeared; not just recently, but all season.  This has for long been the condition with Baas starting at Center.

There was a moment in Sunday's game when Baas was taken out of action due to a temporary injury.  Mitch Petrus was slotted into Left Guard, while Kevin Boothe slid over to Center.  For starters, Boothe gave Eli better snaps.  David Baas' snaps were consistently low all game long.  How many times did we watch Eli in the shot-gun crouching down to receive snaps?  Then with big Mitch Petrus in at Guard, for a few plays at least, the running game found yardage up the middle; just as it did in mid-season when David Baas missed several games.

I'm not wishing harm on the guy by no means.  But I am guilty of believing David Baas leaving the game was a good thing for the Giants' run game as Petrus and Boothe have been played far more effectively together on the left side than when Baas plays to Kevin Boothe's right.  Both Boothe and Petrus are additionally quite larger than the smaller Baas.  And I find it ponderous much of this has gone largely unspoken about.

Just so as to leave off on a more positive note, Gilbride finally remembered most of the Giants' success running the ball this season has been to the right side behind Snee and McKenzie.  In overtime, they created some room for Ahmad Bradshaw just in the nick of time.  And on that note, my next posting will concern the Running Game and Kevin Gilbride's odd; bizarre; and gross mishandling of the running game....AGAIN!  The Giants' running backs themselves are at the bottom of the list of things wrong with the rushing game.  If you follow my blog, you know what I'm talking about.  I've already provided all the numbers supporting Gilbride's confounding mis-management.

Lucky for them, Eli made everyone look great last Sunday.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

N.Y. Rangers ~ Blueshirts Glide Into the Break


NEW YORK RANGERS:  Zoom Past The Winnipeg Jets.

Not so fast.  For me personally, this game lacked speed; not to be confused with effort though.  From Section 417, it just seemed like both teams were skating rather slowly.  The dude next to me concurred.

The Jets have been on the road for most of the month and were playing their third game in four days.  I can see them slowing down.  But the Rangers have been off the last two days.  Their compressed portion of this month's schedule started to lighten up after the 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh.

Call it post-Boston slowdown; or playing down to the competition; or just dying to get the mid-season break started, but who am I to complain because the effort still seemed to be more than enough for points number sixty-five and sixty-six on the season.  I know teams have night's like this.  And I do kind of believe in the Boston decompression factor.

Even though the Rangers won this game rather handily, if I were Coach, I'd still have something to say.  I coached little league for ten years, and I always like to rag my team most when they were playing well.  With most of the Blueshirts; minus Henrik, Girardi, and Gaborik; getting the next six days off so to speak as the NHL takes an All-Star break, I'd like to leave my players with something else to think about other than feeling good about themselves for the better part of a week.  After winning their last two games to rebound from that 4-1 Penguins loss, it's also probably the last thing the players want to hear after spending the first half of the season putting their bodies in front of so many pucks and playing to a 6-5 record in January.  Gotta rub some snow on those bruises Boys, because tough love sucks.  As Coach will tell ya, Only the Strong Survive.

I know this sounds a little petty considering Henrik Lundqvist only faced twenty-two shots, and looked brilliant again stopping every attempt for his fifth shut-out of the season.  Although to Winnipeg's credit, they did pour it on somewhat in the third period.  But to no avail.  It was The King's 40th shut-out of his reign and an overall good defensive effort from all the King's Men.

After creating some nifty goal scoring opportunities in the first period, John Mitchell finally cashed in on one of those chances with a second period goal; his fifth; to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead.  Ryan Callahan got things started in the right direction for the Blueshirts scoring a clean-up goal in the first.  Brad 'the hat' Richards capped things off in the third period with his sixteenth goal of the season; assisted by Captain Callahan.

In one of the oddities of the night, Mike Rupp seemed to be begging for a beating from a reluctant Chris Thorburn.  And he got one; twice.  The first of two fights, at least from Sec.417 looked strange as Rupp hesitated? - and appeared to have ended with Rupp headed head first into the ice.  The scoreboard cleared things up for me.  But not liking the way that round ended, The Rupper wanted more and got it during the second period.  Rupp did land a haymaker or two, but otherwise his plans were a total fail.

None the less, here we are.  Even thought we are beyond the midway point of the season, we enter the official break first in the Eastern Conference with sixty-six points and trail only Detroit by a point for the overall NHL lead.

Looking ahead to the second half, the Rangers' schedule will get a lot more New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins intensive.  Along with the more division games remaining against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the Rangers can also look forward to meeting up with the NHL's leading team; the Detroit Red Wings; and the Chicago Blackhawks.

There's much to discuss over the break.  Tune in.


LIU Blackbirds ~ The Leaders of the Pack

From the desk of:   THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH

LIU BLACKBIRDS:  The Hoops of Flatbush Turn Back Second Place Wagner for Ninth Consecutive Win.  Team Remains Undefeated in Northeast Conference.

Make that nine wins in a row for the Flatbush Five.  LIU-Brooklyn won the Battle of the Boroughs this past Saturday with a 73-66 win over Wagner in Staten Island.  They improved their overall record to 14-6, and remain undefeated (8-0) and in first place within the Northeast Conference.  This latest win widens LIU's lead in the standings by two games, and drops Wagner into a four way tie for second place.  Next up for the Blackbirds is Robert Morris.  The Colonials are among those four teams currently tied in second with 6-2 records along with St. Francis (NY), and Central Connecticut State.

LIU-Brooklyn will now zero in on improving their road record (5-6) to .500 when they visit the Colonials in Pennsylvania.  Thursday's hosts come into this contest fresh off a big 81-73 overtime win over Monmouth and can close to within a game of Brooklyn with a win over the Conference leaders.

In the latest final, Julian Boyd powered the out-rebounded Blackbirds on the glass with a game leading fifteen boards to go along with his game high nineteen points.  Jamal Olasewere (18) and Jason Brickman (17) joined Boyd as Brooklyn's double-digit scorers.  Wagner posted four players in double-digits.

Brooklyn continued punishing opposing teams at the free throw line.  Hey - if teams keep insisting on sending them to the line twice as often, why not?  The Blackbirds shot 27/35 while Wagner was limited to 14/16 free throw shooting.  Their frequency at the line was the margin of difference yet again.

While Brooklyn's shooting from the field remained consistent, Wagner's shooting ran hot and cold.  They rode a hot first half touch to stay within 36-33 at halftime.  But along with Brooklyn's second half punishment at the line, Wagner lost their touch and plummeted to twenty-eight percent shooting in the second half.  Both factors working together were too much for the Seahawks to overcome.


n.y. Yankees ~ Jorge Forged His Pinstripes With Fire

From the desk of:   BLAME CARLOS MAY

new york YANKEES:  ADIOS JORGE; The Feistiest of the Core.

And then there were two.

Faced and charged with the most unenviable task of putting an Era to pasture, Brian Cashman effectively did to Jorge Posada what he did in similarly cold fashion to Bernie Williams and began instigating with Derek Jeter during last year's off-season.  It's official now; Jorge Posada will play Major League Baseball no more.

Only Andy Pettitte remained ahead of Simon Bar Sinister's plots ever since the Yanks unceremoniously let the lefty mosey-on back home to play for Houston.  Andy came back as shrewed towards Cashman, as the GM himself, and exited the game on his own terms.  Mariano Rivera appears destined to do the same.

Ultimately however, The Core is No More.  The modern day River Avenue Legends are increasingly being raided and signed by the Retirement Club.  Like Andy and Bernie before him, Jorge Posada has turned in his Pinstripes for civilian life again.

I have long stated my high regard for Jorge Posada.  I went through the BTB archives and pulled these two posts:

ONE: - was just a post of appreciation for the Yankee catcher and about his Hall of Fame potential.  January 30, 2010 - Jorge Posada; the Jack Morris of Catchers

TWO: - came on the heels of the infamous day Jorge "called-in sick".  Looking back on that incident now gets me to thinking Jorge left this game in perfect Posada fashion; ever resistive and defiantly. - May 15, 2011 - Posada Deserves a Free Pass

Brought to you by the magic of copy-and-paste, and with some minor editing, here's a summary:

ONE:  Jorge Posada will never get the true credit for being, in a most literal sense, the Yankees Back Bone.   Jorge has always been willing to stick his neck out for his team mates, when so many of them over the last 8 years have not.   He was always willing to do what needed to be done when so many wouldn't.  Even if it meant going against the Yankee way.   Who else I ask you, Who? - took it upon himself to send an occasional message to the American League, - Don't Mistake Yankee Kindness For Our Weakness!  I defy you to compile that list for me.   Jorge always had his team mates backs!   So many would never step their game up and bring to the game what, at times, the situation dictated.

Because he's in the shadow of Jete and ARod, and other players and contracts of yore..(Giambi et-al), Jorge is made to simmer inside.   Sometimes the criticisms leveled against him are warranted where it concerns defense, but I'm not here to speak of that today.

Casey Stengel used to say of Yogi Berra, "I never play without my Guy".   Whether Yogi was behind the dish, left field or first base, Casey always played with his Guy.  Torre treated Jorge much the same way with little outward conveyance.  But you knew it.  For long the Yanks remained reliant on their Guy's bat in spite of so many "other" significant players on the field.

He gets knocked, disrespected, barreled over, nicked and under appreciated for all of it.   Pitchers and their own issues with Jorge were no less guilty contributing to this phenomena.   But I will tell you those same pitchers loved him when he connected in clutch moments.   WHO'S Knocking Jorge Then?  And I'm Not Even A Yankee Friendly.

No catcher has more RBI over the last 10 years in baseball.   Championships?   He's moving on to the next hand.  As it stands today, no he is not a Hall of Famer.  He's kind of like the Jack Morris of Catchers for his work over a decade.   He's close...Real close.   He should be able to solidify opinions over the next 2 years if hopefully Father Time is good to him.   Let's see.

TWO:   The distasteful wrangling and public debate involved in determining when a career should end sort of becomes a pseudo-arbitration hearing that takes place in the last three to four years of a player's career. A player's waining years similarly engages player and club into a contentious confrontation.   A player sets out to justify his continued value to the team, while the club sometimes is looking for his career, or just their time together, to end.

Jorge Posada was wrong ("calling in sick") Saturday.   There's no getting around that.   But I'm not about to start bashing Jorge's actions prior to game time nor for his post-game follow-up.   If you have an understanding that most careers do not end on the greatest of terms, Saturday's incident would preclude you from criticizing Jorge.  Additionally, you're a Yankee Fan, a New Yorker, an astute baseball fan, or a Mets Fan like myself, we all know Jorge is a really, really proud guy.

There is a constant in sports and with players; - athletes almost never go out on top.   They're usually forced into retirement because a replacement arrived on the scene, or they don't heal/recover from injuries as well as they once did, or, their skills have eroded to the point where the club is forced to take action against said player.   Those are just a few of many reasons why careers end on less than positive notes and we see it more and more all the time.

Players rarely take the initiative and alleviate clubs from having to make unpopular decisions against them.   Millions of modern day dollars make players even more reluctant to exercise pragmatism when their skills, stature, and role on the team all come into question.   But when a team is ultimately compelled to take action, it's almost always a contentious situation.   Many times the player takes it as a slight and views it as a form of disrespect.   How much they decide to wear their emotions on their sleeves and share their displeasure with the Media is another matter.   But this is not a posting regarding Jorge Posada's issues of comportment.

In Baseball, retirement is now more often than not, an ugly, unsympathetic, adversarial process. Modern Baseball has made the decision to, retire or release, much more cut-throat because of the money involved.   It used to be, the waining days of a career were times fans as well as owners and their GM's knowingly looked the other way out of respect for their years of hometown play.   But with that accorded respect, a return of favor was somewhat expected.   A silent acknowledgement by the player often set in motion a plan to set a Date of Announcement.  Then on-field and on-going celebrations of appreciation could be properly planned.  An opportunity for the player to leave the game with dignity while in front of adoring fans and in a setting that also gave Clubs an honest and genuine opportunity to share their own warm sentiments and regard, used to be standard; once.

Bad Karma is brewing in the Bronx.  Brian Cashman, Joe Girardi, and Jorge Posada are three converging forces and it's not good.   Only Posada runs the risk of getting subducted.   Cashman is intent on being a schmuck the rest of his time in the Bronx.  Girardi still has a job to do and this will not be the last time Girardi and Posada bump heads this season.   There is no love between the two. Girardi has slighted Jorge once too many times as manager for his catching.   More of this is definitely on the way should Posada continue to struggle and chose not to retire.

Jorge Posada: His Pinstripes Didn't Bend.

Allow me to introduce you to whom I thought was your real/unofficial/un-named Yankee Captain; all along - Jorge Posada. 

Derek Jeter was named Captain of the Yankees because The Boss thought he exuded Yankee Class, Winning, the confident Yankee Stoicism in a hot bed like NYC, and a belief Jeter would never embarrass the organization.  That's cool with me.  I'm not going there.

But sorry, Jorge Posada was the Yankees' back-bone in a most literal sense.   For all his fire, passion, and grit, he never received his full share of respect.   He wasn't the best or flashiest player in Pinstripes.   He had flaws.., like fans; like regular people; like us!   But he provided the Yankees with something very few of his team mates over the years couldn't or wouldn't provide; - like I said - A Back-Bone, and a Response.

Over his years, Jorge Posada above all Yankee regulars was the one player who consistently relished facing the more dastardly aspects of Baseball head-on.   I simply remind you of the playoffs versus Boston and the verbal/visual exchange Jorge and Pedro Martinez engaged in.   That would probably be the most famous instance, but Jorge's edgy spirit was a nightly attribute.   During those Torre Years, the book was out on the Yankees.   They were capable of being PUNKED-Out.   If no one else, Jorge Posada was always the first to step up and make known that Wouldn't Fly.

Back in the days of the heated Mariners/Yankees Rivalries, tempers often flared-up causing both teams to empty dugouts and bullpens numerous times.   When A-Rod still played in Seattle, Derek Jeter was infamously criticized many times for conveniently finding Alex Rodriguez in the crowd and therefore, cancelling each other out, while also smiling and laughing along the way.

Once upon a time, a left fielder named Chad Curtis dared criticize the Captain for such cowardly acts. He was disappeared to the Island of Misfit and Outspoken Yankees.   Jorge Posada wouldn't have thrown Jeter under the bus like Curtis did to the Media.   But Jorge's actions on the field speak loud and clear.   Then after a game with the Media, he'd be the one to say what everyone was thinking, but speaking loudly so as to be heard.   That was Jorge.  And Hip Hip to that.

But here's something I'm not so Hip on.

I never did subscribe to the Big Brother-Little Brother cow-chip the Media always tried to throw at us in the late 1990's when discussing the relationship between Jorge Posada and Joe Girardi.   That's over-rated.   I remember Jorge chomping at the bit, dying to get Girardi out of the way so as to become the everyday starter.   And I'm just guessing and stabbing here - but why wouldn't Jorge be somewhat puzzled as to why Girardi received so much credit for Jorge's early successes?   Hmmm?   How ponderous is it Girardi gets too much credit for training his understudy and now finds himself as the guy trying to take him out?

It would seem to me Joe Girardi has been more of a hindrance to Jorge's early and late career like a recurring bout of herpes.   I remember Joe Girardi being signed to be their catcher to great ridicule.  And today, all Posada knows is that he just can't make him totally go away.  During the years Girardi spent out of Pinstripes, Jorge Posada went on to total more RBI than any other catcher in Baseball during the 2000's.   Ever since Joe flared back into Jorge's life a few years ago as manager, things have been going down hill for the embattled "ex-present-catcher" ever since.

*     *     *     *

Today, I just wish him well.  I'll leave the retiring his number thing up to Yankee Fans.


Monday, January 23, 2012

N.Y. Rangers ~ Fend Off Bruins to Remain King of the Hill



Battle for the Eastern Conference

New York vs. Boston
Game One of Four

BOSTON BRUINS           2

In the First Battle for Conference Supremacy, the Blueshirts Turned Out to be One Mistake and 3.6 Seconds Better Than Boston.

I had a Giants' Championship Game to deal with.  So let's pick up where we last left off shall we?  Back in Boston....

Over the weekend in Boston, the Blueshirts and the defending Stanley Cup Champion Bruins exchanged the first volleys in the long awaited Eastern Conference Battle for Supremacy.  Both teams entered this first of four engagements leading their respective divisions after a half season of play and separated in the Conference standings by a mere point.

Once they dropped the puck, things went as well as you'd expect.  Boston opened the game with a furious attack.  But the Rangers stood their ground and settled things down considerably there-after.  The teams finished the first period scoreless as if feeling each other out like prize fighters.  Then in the second period came the body blows.  The Captain; Ryan Callahan; struck first.  But the Bruins countered.  The Rangers struck a second time on Marian Gaborik's goal.  And the Bruins countered again for a 2-2 tie.  They'd finish regulation time after a scoreless third period still tied at two apiece.

It went like that.  And why wouldn't it?  The teams are number one and two in the Conference.  And quite frankly that's the way the game should have went.  Only difference being Ranger Fans are the ones used to their team playing catch-up.  But that wasn't the case on this afternoon.  Not this team; or not this edition Blueshirts I should say.  As a matter of fact, these guys demonstrated several breaks with the past last Saturday.

A certain Boston player has been becoming quite the popular skater lately, who's not so popular hip-checks have been causing a stir around the League.  But on this afternoon, it was the Rangers who laid the big hip check.  It was the Rangers who still lead the NHL in fighting-majors and took a little time out to give Boston (#2 in fighting majors) a taste.  It was the Rangers who also kept upping the score in that second period.  And it was the Rangers who popped off Boston goalie, Tuukka Rask's mask as he attempted a save of a slap shot with his face.  Yeah!  It was like that; like Rockem' Sockem' Robots in Ice and we were the Blue guy.

As in black and blue - Before they went into overtime, the image I was taking away from this game was of Brandon Prust heading into the hallway and collapsing in pain after blocking a shot.  Then a short time later, he could be seen right there next to Ryan Callahan celebrating his Captain's, and the Rangers' first goal of the night.  To me that symbolized what this team is all about; camaraderie; resiliency, and a willingness to ignore pain and compete.

As far as the game though, no one was budging.  Teams number one and two in the Conference were playing up to their billings.  And the way both teams were going, overtime seemed unlikely to change anything.  Shoot-out seemed like a sure bet.  Until...,  -  like in any evenly matched and expertly fought bout where mistakes are kept to a minimum, in this case, the team which makes the first or biggest mistake, loses.

For future reference, the name of Andrew Ference will be remembered, and no doubt made to answer for a vicious hit-from-behind boarding offense he committed against Ryan McDonagh, which kept the Rangers' defenseman down for several minutes before being able to regroup himself and leave the ice.  Perhaps that was a mistake in judgement, but for Boston, it proved to be the biggest mistake of the game.  The penalty; a five minute major; put the Rangers on the power play for nearly the entire five minute overtime.  And Boston nearly killed it off.

But just when this game looked like it was headed for a shoot-out, Marian Gaborik said, No!  The Rangers' leading goal scorer netted his second of the game for the win.  Avoiding shoot-outs is also another aspect of the past seemingly being phased out of the Rangers' plans these days.  One of the biggest differences in the Rangers this year from last is their increasing ability to put teams away.

This game took 3.6 second shy of a full overtime period to win.  But this was Boston.  So give them their due, and their point.  They earned it.  The Rangers didn't quite put them away in regulation, but a) - this was more exciting, wasn't it? -  and b) - we still earned  our two more points.

I'll be in MSG Tuesday night to thank Gaborik and the Rangers for going to Boston and passing yet another big in-season test with my cheering and loud support.  We have sixty-four points now and counting.  The next competitor to enter Madison Square Garden will be the Winnipeg Jets.  We welcome all comers.  May the better team win.  Before then however...,

Three cheers for the Blueshirts' upon their triumphant return home from Boston!

Let's Go Rangers!


N.Y. Giants ~ Back To The Land of Giants

From the desk of:   DO IT FOR THE DUKE

John Mara Leads Team Back To

NEW YORK GIANTS FOOTBALL:  "Did Ya See Us Last Night Pop?  I Told You I Got This.  And You Would Have Been Proud of Mom Too."

It wasn't freezing this time like on that night in Green Bay four years ago; just extremely wet.  The game wasn't played in the legendary frozen tundra of Lambeau Field either.  Although the Media chill Tom Coughlin suffered this season would have broken a lesser man.  But he, and we, have been there and done that.  Instead, Sunday night's setting was a blast from Big Blue's past.  The New York Giants went back to a place where they made history once before by willing their way through one of the most tightly contested upsets in NFC Championship Game history.

This Sunday's game was another classic played in one of today's grandfathers of football stadiums against the 49ers.  The contest evolved similarly to the game played twenty-one years ago replete with stout defense, fumbles, and field goals.  In 1991, Lawrence Taylor recovered a Roger Craig fumble.  Matt Bahr then nailed a 42 yard field goal sending the Giants to Super Bowl XXV.  Twenty-one years later, the Giants returned to a rain-soaked Candlestick Park this time; recovered a fumble; and kicked an NFC Championship winning field goal....again.  Only this time it was a new generation of Giants that broke the hearts of San Francisco and propelled them into another Super Bowl.  Unlike that team of twenty-one years ago, this edition needed overtime to finalize victory, which just made it sweeter; and colorfully more historic.  But for more than a dozen or so Giant players and the Head Coach, STILL HERE since the 2007 season, they are now trying to get Lombardi Trophy number two; just like that NFC Championship team of 1990-91 was.

In the unlikeliest of manners, the Giants beat the 49ers with Special Teams.  San Francisco was supposed to be a superior team than us in that respect.  One the one hand, they were that good.  On the other, Giants' Special Teams have always had their problems.  And for portions of the game, it seemed as if the Niners held a huge advantage in that respect.  But in classic confrontations such as this one where mistakes were held to a minimum, the team who made the last mistake lost.

*Thank You - Steve Weatherford whom I've jokingly but routinely dubbed our pseudo-MVP this season, for continuing to have a great season punting the ball.  When it comes to matters of field position, he's been more than just a punter.  He's been a force.  Once upon a playoff era, Bill Parcells would have been proud of his kicker on a night like this.  This Sunday, Ol' Tom Coughlin was the beneficiary of his fine performance.  And glory be to Weatherford for getting that last snap down!

*Thank You - Devin Thomas for his effort to get down field after getting pushed out of bounds by two 49ers blockers, and for having the presence of mind to recover a live ball touched by the Niners.

*Thank You - Jacquian Williams, the rookie, similarly for his down field punt coverage, and for sticking his hand exactly where it needed to be when the Giants needed a big break most.

*Thank You - Lawrence Tynes for planting one sure foot into the soggy Candlestick turf and using the other foot to keep kicking Big Blue forward.

That 49ers' defense was as tough as advertised.  They completely dominated the Giants' Offensive Line all night long - (more about that later today!)  They totally took away the run right up until the very last few rushes by Ahmad Bradshaw which set up Tynes' field goal.  How good was the Niner Defense?  The Giants held the ball more than ten minutes longer than the 49ers and ran thirty-three more plays than San Francisco.  Yet we only out-gained them in total offense by twenty-four yards.

They beat, battered, pummelled, and pounded Eli Manning.  Sometimes Eli saw the rush coming.  Sometimes he didn't.  It didn't matter because he knew the rush was coming regardless, and that it was going to hit him; and that it was going to happen throughout the game.  Eli took hits; many hits; hard hits; and looked downright dishevelled at times.  He got sacked six times.  But he never fumbled.  Eli never even blinked with the Niners and the rain continually in his face.  He just kept staying tough and launching footballs into the heart of San Francisco.  Fifty-eight times Eli tried defying mother nature and the Niners.  Thirty-two passes found safety in the wet hands of his receivers.  By the end of the night, Eli Manning had thrown for 316 rain-drenched yards.  The Niners could have had interceptions, but missed their chances.  Instead, what they got were two more touchdown passes from The Aw-Shucks Kid.  In yet another great Championship Game, Eli stood out as the game's greatest player.

But none of this happens without another Herculean effort by the Defense.  The stats say San Francisco did so much more with their possessions than the Giants did with theirs.  With less time of possession and less plays from scrimmage, the Niners wracked-up almost as many yards as Big Blue.  The Giants may have given up over one-hundred yards rushing between Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter, and still more through catches out of the back field.  But they were controlled yards.  Instead, the Giants stymied San Francisco by dominating third down.  The Niners were held to one first down in thirteen tries.  And other than two TD passes to Vernon Davis, Alex Smith, the 49er offense, and Vernon Davis himself, could muster little else.

Chase Blackburn played huge.  JPP was a Wall of One.  And pass coverage was outstanding; save two plays.  Over the last few weeks, the Secondary has become a blanket.  In turn, the Secondary's success is coming from the Giants ability to maintain quarterback pressure with four guys.  Led by Justin Tuck, they flushed Alex Smith from the pocket, batted some passes, hit him often, and sacked him three times.  Together with overall good tackling, the Defensive effort was just enough to get the Giants through regulation, overtime, and off to Indianapolis to play in another Super Bowl.

The night ended perfectly as Terry Bradshaw was forced to look at winning coach Tom Coughlin in the eye yet again.  That was always Bill Parcell's favorite part; proving the naysayers- "The Commies" - "the subversives from within" ..., wrong.  But even before that, the re-education of Terry Bradshaw had begun.  The Family would have their say first.  Watching John Mara; the man who believed in Tom Coughlin; and his Mom; - Mrs. Duke - Mrs. Ann Mara - THE MATRIARCH - just destroy Terry Bradshaw and telling him Where to Stick It was the most satisfying part of the whole night.  Don't Worry Pop.  I Got This!




Sunday, January 22, 2012

N.Y. Giants ~ A Transcendental Championship Game

From the desk of:   DO IT FOR THE DUKE  ~  Championship Game Edition

National Football League

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National Football Conference

San Francisco 49ers

Rainy and Soggy Candlestick Park

The Giants-49ers Rivalry Transcends a Big Blue Generation.


In a very literal sense, I spent the 1986 season alone in Texas, far away from the friends I grew up rooting-on the Giants with since the days of Ray Perkins and back to 1977 when I was eleven years old and new to the neighborhood.  In 1986, I was a very young man in the Army and not yet a father.  Serving in Texas at the time was a double whammy for a Giants fan from Brooklyn for quite obvious reasons.  Needless to say, I celebrated victory over the 49ers, the Redskins, and winning Super Bowl XXI, alone.  Which was quite fine with me.  Besides, that team, that year, didn't make me worry about much, for they dominated.  That season was the culmination of childhood to adolescence for me.  It was a smooth and glorious ride through the playoffs.  As the lone Brooklynite/New Yorker in my unit, I felt it my responsibility to talk mega-smack on our behalf to all the middle-American and Left Coasters in my presence; especially the 49er fans.  There wasn't a Broncos fan in the house.  There's a preponderance of Californians in the Army though.  I wonder why?

Then, twenty-one years and two days ago, on January 20, 1991 - My bio-physiology barely survived watching one of the most gut-wrenching, mentally torturing, heart stopping, not to mention hardest hitting contests I ever saw.  The Giants won one of the greatest games in their history that day when they defeated the perennial Super Bowl Champions; the San Francisco 49ers; with five field goals to win the NFC Championship on their home field.  I was out of the service by then and my newborn son, no larger than a football himself, was less than a month old the day Matt Bahr nailed that game winning field goal propelling the Giants to Super Bowl XXV.  I counted every rotation as that football closed in on the uprights 42 yards away until finally making it's way through for the win.  The Giants were alive and well.  Me?  I survived.  My son...?  When Bill Parcells left the Giants a couple of weeks later, I thought to myself, woe is us.

I did not watch Scott Norwood miss wide-right in Super Bowl XXV.  I couldn't.  I was on my knees praying to the TV with my head buried face down in the floor.  I was resigned to letting the crowd's reaction tell me the outcome of that kick.  It turned out to be the most isolated three seconds of my life.  For three seconds, there was no breath, no thoughts, no feeling, and even less of a sense for where I was.  There was only the darkness of my closed eyes and the silence of Space.  That part I was used to.  I was less than one year out of the military by then and they train you in stuff like that.  But that kick; that game; those two games; were far worse for me personally, mentally, and physically, than anything Uncle Sam ever put me through.  My son spent both games sleeping in his crib like...well, a cute little baby without a care in the world.

A decade after the 49ers game of 1991, the improbable 2000 NFC Champions made a lasting impression on my ten year old son.  The Giants cemented a moment in time for my young impressionable boy with that game and wound up marking his most obvious destiny.  At ten years old, my son was a Giants Fan for life.  His team card was stamped right around the same time in his life that it happened to me.  But unbeknown to him, I festered inside watching our former two time Super Bowl coach bounce around the League.  I also felt bad for my son when the Ravens blew us out.  That Super Bowl, and life in the post-Bill Parcells Era plus ten years - came at a fortunate time in my life.  By then, I learned how to compartmentalize.  But 2000 and the Jim Fassel era, finally allowed me to move on from my post-Bill Parcells anger.

There is something that will always be all-together different about the 2000 NFC Championship.  I was the Pop of a ten year old.  And as a Pop watching a jubilant Wellington Mara hold up the George Halas Trophy and chiding the Media about it, I knew John Mara's time was coming soon as The Duke was getting on in years.  I also remember thinking in regards to my own situation that Sunday - Welcome to the Big Blue Family son.

For me, unlike ten years prior, there was nothing really to worry about in that game against Minnesota. The Giants had the Vikings wanting to go home after the first five minutes. Only League rules prohibited them from exiting Giants Stadium before their destruction went final.  Then the Ravens happened which left me thinking, - Oh My!  What Have I Done to my Son?  But then again, what do ten year olds really know about suffering through their team's worst times like Super Bowl XXXV when there are Power Rangers and Toy Story action figures to be played with?

By 2007, my son was a fine adolescent specimen in full Giants Fan bloom.  After seventeen years on this planet, my son was finally exposed to the real pain that comes along with a Super Bowl run.  His right of passage was upon him.  By then as a fan hitting my forties, I was familiar with the long night ahead versus the Packers.  If you're my age, we've learned a thing or two about our games when they start to take on certain characteristics.  But for my son, only then did he learn and come to understand how these games can take years off our lives.

He and I watched the 2007 Championship Game together; alone; in the dark; and in relative silence.  Age allowed me to examine the game and watch it develop.  Speaking as a long time fan, we knew that game.  We've seen it before.  However, age and inexperience reduced my son to schizophrenia.  On that night, he learned what the 1991 Championship Game did to me.  And he achieved a great understanding into mood management to say the least.  And as is the case with many Giants Fans, he may have also lost a year or two off the back of his life as Lawrence Tynes kept missing field goals.

The 2003 playoff loss to the 49ers was merely a blip I once had to advise my then thirteen year old.  What he understands today about the rivalry the Giants have with the 49ers he came to understand through me, and through DVD's of those times that I lived through before and right up to the day he was born.  What I tried imparting to him over the years is to be thankful to the 49ers for our glorious Giants history.  The Giants won two Super Bowls during the heights of the San Francisco Dynasty of Joe Montana and Jerry Rice and Co.  -  Two Super Bowls for Bill Parcells and the Giants in five years, and each time we beat the 49ers and demolished Joe Montana on the way.  Of course, they bludgeoned us back then as well.  That's precisely what made those days glorious.  We destroyed each other un-mercilessly.  And because we beat one of the greatest teams of All-Time, our own Giants' greatness was and is undeniable.

Today is not just the NFC Championship Game against an old rival. Today, on January 22, 2012, at 6:30 p.m., my Circle of Life will have made it's way completely around a Generation of Giants Football.  My son is a raging twenty-one year old full blown mass of testosterone-fueled man now, with an insane voracity for Giants Football.  As a Giants Fan, he's come a long way.  He has over a decade's worth of experience and strong convictions under his belt.  And he has one Super Bowl; just like I did when I was twenty-one.

Today, Pop and Son are both going back in time; back to a time when the Giants were gunning for their second Super Bowl in 1991.  That boy of mine will come to bear witness and live what I lived through during that 49ers game back in 1991 when he was still the size of a Football.  Twenty-one years later, he will finally and truly understand why both our lives are destined to be snipped off at the edges.  Blame the 49ers and Big Blue's penchant for the most dramatic Giants Football moments imaginable.  Everything comes with a price.

I told him in 2007 as I have told him since, if you think that game against the Packers was a near death experience (in a totally metaphorically and Football sense and manner...of course), well then you better prepare yourself to die against the Niners.  They, the 49ers, are us.  We are them.  I don't know whether to feel sorry for my boy; wish him luck; or laugh at him.  But I warned him.  Today's game will rank among the greatest games these teams have ever played against each other, and will without a doubt, leave an indelible impression upon the rest of his (our) Big Blue Life, just like that game twenty-one years ago did to me when I, like my son today, was gunning for my chance at a second Super Bowl.

He's come a long way alright.  He's learning that with age comes experience.  Calling upon what he felt during that Packers game in 2007 and even last week, I hope helps his frame of mind today.  Because me?  I was a freakin' wreck in 1991.  If he could only have seen his father then.  But then again, he did.  In 2007 against the Packers, when Ahmad Bradshaw seemingly broke away for a touchdown, he and I jumped into full blown celebration mode.  We jumped, and screamed, and hugged like newly married brides.  THEN, the flag!  Holding - NYG!  We collapsed in place and died of utter disbelief.  So yeah, he knows a thing or two about pain.  And yeah, we've been there together before.  I've always told him - Giants Football is never fun until the game is over, and then only if you win.

He's going for his second Super Bowl in five years just like I was in 1991, and I wish him well.  I remember what that was like and the wars we had to fight to get it.  But unlike him, I had a greater understanding into the magic of Giants Football in 2007.  And I'm sure many Giant Families have similar stories, for this organization transcends generations.  For the third time in my son's life, but for only the second time together like Giant Blue Brothers in Arms, we'll be watching again today, alone, in the dark, and in relative silence again.

The Giants are playing for the NFC Championship again.  A little later today, he'll come to understand everything there is to know about the Giants/49ers rivalry.  This rivalry is something wholly different than the ones we have against the Cowboys, Eagles, or Redskins.  This rivalry in part made the Giants one of the greatest franchises in all Football History.  Today my son will come to realize the true sacrifices needed to be made on a football field.  This contest redefines what it means, and takes, to become great.  He's going back in time to the moment his Pop was twenty-one years old and learning all this for the first time.  Just ask Mom.  She watched me suffer every Sunday for the past twenty-three years.  Like I said, 1986 was the first Super Bowl.  It was magical, but it came on like a stream roller.  No one had a chance against us that season.  And I hadn't had the pleasure of meeting her, nor the notion to raise a little Giants Fan of my own yet.

This is the 49ers.  This is the last part of your Big Blue indoctrination son.  We'll do it together this time, both as men.  And by the way,  Welcome to my World.