Monday, January 31, 2011

JMR's 2011 Basement Bar Hall of Fame Induction

If you know anything about the JMR Journal, you know that Halls of Fame are family friendly go-to destinations. Whether it be enjoying the confetti blast at the Hall at Patriot Place, or wishing Providence had a Sports Hall of Fame, nothing says sports history to our family like a Hall of Fame. But we're running out of destinations.  Not to be deterred, we (all right, me) have decided to create our own Hall of Fame in our basement bar.

Now here are the ground rules. Each of us, yours truly, MM, DLG, C and G will nominate one “person” to be enshrined in our JMR Basement Bar Hall of Fame. His or her picture will adorn our basement bar until 2012, or until we run out of room. We’re not Cooperstown for Christ's sake. There are no qualifications for enshrinement, and the lucky recipients of this honor don’t even have to be a real people (The Boxing Hall of Fame is getting jazzed up right now). Each of them will receive an official letter from JMR welcoming them to the JMR Basement Bar Hall of Fame and inviting them to the festivities on the First Saturday in May 2011.

It's a Man, Baby!
MMChelsea Handler.  MM says she was torn between picking a hot guy (AKA Desmond from LOST, to commemorate the finale of her favorite show, okay, favorite character of all time. I've mentioned she saw him running without his shirt while our family vacationed in DC in 2009, and she nearly veered off the organized tour in pursuit.)  Then she tried going with a successful female sports figure of 2010, and thought maybe Venus, Serena or Maria (though as she tells me this, she appear hard pressed to come up with Maria's first name, never mind SPELL her last one), but none of them really did it for her.

So anyway, she went with Chelsea Handler, a stand-up comedienne with her own late night show on E! that she has beaten me over the head with for so many months of 2010, that I finally have been converted and actually even DVR it for us to watch in case we miss it.  She's funny, successful and likes the rappers.  Just like a younger MM.  And don't worry, I will have no impure thoughts as she adorns the walls of my bar -- since whenever I see her, I feel compelled to remark in my best Austin Powers persona, "It's a MAN, baby!" Good choice.

It was an honor just being nominated!
DLG: Spongebob Squarepants.  It was a choice between the dreaded yellow sponge and her stuffed animal named Torty. When I asked her why she picked SpongeBob she answered me in her own words "Because I love him! And because my brothers love him.  And he is great!!" She didn't notice my attempt to have her pick someone else to have a picture in MY Basement Bar.

G: Shaquille O’Neill: "I like fizzy water." G! focus! "OK OK. I want him to be in the Hall of Fame because he’s a Celtic, he’s big and 7 feet tall; he’s good and he’s a good singer."  If he ever watches Kazaam, Big G might change his mind about the singer part. And somewhere Kobe Bryant is wondering how is backside tastes.

C. Shoeless Joe Jackson. Dad has converted another one into Field of Dreams. If you ever want to see some man tears shed, put this movie on. We watched it a couple of days ago and I had to fight back the obligatory tears when Kevin Costner is playing catch with his old man at the end of the movie because he refused to play catch when he was a teenager. This movie even has me using words like allegory and symbolism like I’m a two-bit English professor. Oh yeah, Joe Jackson was a pretty good hitter in his day. And his legacy produced the funniest part of the movie when describing Jackson, Costner’s character eloquently states that while Jackson DID take the cash from the gamblers, there was no proof that Jackson actually threw any games. That doesn’t make him a good guy, it just makes him really, really stupid.   In C's words though he's one of the best baseball players in the world.  He had never heard of him though last week. 

JMR. Kevin Dineen.  I thought long and hard about this one. I had considered Hickory High’s 1953 basketball team, Wade Boggs (Did I tell you that I had 9 of his 1983 Topps Rookie Cards at one point?) and even the legendary crooner, Jimmy Buffett. But in the end, my first inductee had to be a Hartford Whaler. Now I could have chosen Gordie Howe, but after he wanted to charge me $40 for an autograph (and his book!) at the Hartford Whalers Fanfest back in August, I said “No thank you, Mr. Hockey.” I could have inducted Brendan Shanahan, but I burned his #94 jersey back in 1995, so I couldn’t forgive him that easily.

Ultimately, it came down to my two favorite players. Rick Ley and Kevin Dineen.  Ley was a star for the team when I was growing up in 1970’s and 80’s.  Growing up in central Connecticut - a stone’s throw away from where the Whalers practiced - I was lucky enough to have a Dad who did business with the team and the local rink.  I had the opportunity meet Mr. Ley, and receive an autographed stick, puck, hat, everything. By the way, I’m still pissed that I lost that stick. But there’s only one person who scored the last goal in franchise history and there’s only one guy who stood out on the ice at that last game cheering the fans and throwing things to us. And there’s only one guy who, while he was trying to leave the aforesaid Whalers Fanfest, stopped what he was doing, signed my daughter’s poster and asked if she was a Whalers fan. (She shook her head no, but only because she didn’t know what the Hell he was talking about). For that, Kevin Dineen is my choice for the 2011 Class of the JMR Basement Bar Hall of Fame.

Now I know we aren’t talking about Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner and Walter Johnson here, but we’re not the BBWAA either. Come back to see the letters that were sent to each of inductees. And yes, I have no idea how I am going to get letters to Joe Jackson and Spongebob, but I’ll find a way.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Herschel Walker Can't Be Serious!

Maybe the Celebrity Apprentice got to him as Donald Trump and Walker reminisced about those days with the New Jersey Generals. After all, Trump says that his show remakes careers. But at 49 (at least in March), Herschel Walker wants to play NFL football again? 

Damn I wish this were Bret Michaels!
I can see the MMA.  Anyone in decent shape who can fight has a fighting chance in that sport because we're talking about one fight. But the rigors of pro football? Given how the game has changed since Walker last tied up his laces in 1997 (And he was washed up by then) why is Walker doing this? Are his failed businesses causing some financial heartburn?  Is it what I call Favre-itis - the inability of famous sports stars to retire away from the spotlight with dignity?  I don’t know. Walker, assuming there is professional football next year (and if Antonio Cromartie had his way there definitely will be), would be the oldest athlete ever to play in the National Football League at the age of 49. It's amazing considering the lifespan of most NFL players is about 5 years.  Yeah, when you look at Walker's career, he only carried THE load for 4 or five years, so maybe his body is still "football young."  But this got me to thinking.  Who are the oldest athletes ever to play in the major professional sports?

Baseball.  Everyone knows this one. A star in the Negro Leagues for years prior to integration in Major League Baseball, Satchel Paige didn’t actually play in the major leagues until he was 42 years old. By then, his best days were well in the rear view mirror when he was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1948. After knocking around professional baseball in various forms through the 1950’s and early 1960’s, Paige’s last game was a three inning effort for the Kansas City A’s against the Boston Red Sox.

Paige ended up with a 28-31 record for the Indians, Browns and A’s after retiring from baseball in 1966. Unfortunately, statistics in the Negro Leagues were scant and thus Paige’s statistical legacy was more anecdotal.   Still one of the best pitchers ever, however.

Basketball.  From one of the best pitchers in MLB history to one of the worst teams in BAA history (the predecessor to the NBA), the Providence Steamrollers featured a coach by the name of Nat Hickey who did not actually know how to coach his own players, leading the team during his tenure to a 4-25 record. As a result of his lousy coaching, Hickey determined one game to coach himself in January of 1948. The coach/player dynamic took a hit this game as Turner's skills resulted in 2 points and 5 personal fouls on 0-6 shooting. Needless to say the player didn’t like the coach’s coaching style as the Steamroller lost again to the New York Knicks. Shortly thereafter, both player and coach were fired.  The franchise disbanded the following year.  Ugh.

Hockey.  The oldest player ever to play in an NHL game also may be one of the most famous. Gordie Howe started play for the Detroit Red Wings in the 1946 season after an uneventful year for the Omaha Knights in the USHL. After 25 years playing for the Red Wings, Howe finally hung up the laces (or so we thought) after a chronic wrist injury forced him out of the game into retirement after the 1970-71 season.

After a couple of lackluster years as a hockey management stiff, and disgruntled by his treatment by the Red Wings, Howe became the face of the upstart WHA, first for the Houston Aeros and later for the New England Whalers. Surprisingly, two of Howe’s three 100 point seasons came in the WHA after he turned 45. A call back to the NHL arrived when the Hartford Whalers were one of the four teams to be invited to the NHL after the WHA merger after the 1978-79 season. At the age of 52, Howe scored 41 points for the Hartford Whalers in 82 games.

Football.  George Blanda was an extraordinary football player. After joining the league in 1949 with the Chicago Bears, Blanda originally retired at the age 31 because his original coach (the legendary George Halas) felt Blanda wasn’t cut out to be a full time quarterback anymore. But the AFL came calling two years later and Blanda again found the opportunity to be the signal caller.  First for the Hoston Oilers and then for the Oakland Raiders. In fact, Blanda was named to the AFL All Time Team leading his team to three AFL Championships. Eventually, used as a back up quarterback and field goal kicker through the early 1970’s, Blanda last played in 1975.

By the way, I don’t count field goal kickers.

Interestingly, all four players retired from playing before ultimately coming back to finish up their careers. And two of them restarted their careers for new competitive leagues.  Not surprisingly, the end of the careers of these players was not impressive.  Maybe Walker will fare better in the NFL, but probably not.  I know how I feel just playing designated Quarterback for my boys in the back yard.

photograph courtesy of

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Boston Blazers' Halftime Show Was Not the Attraction

The Boston Blazers is the best value in sports entertainment.  There I said it.  Parking and tickets just to get into Fenway Park or Gillette are prohibitively expensive.  Celtics and Bruins parking and seats are also too expensive for a family looking for some affordability.  Soccer?  Come on!  I'm an American, so I couldn't care less about soccer.  The Blazers combine many appealing features of all of these sports.  Sanctioned fighting, up and down play making, shot clocks, gratuitous displays of skin from cheerleaders and obnoxious WWE-type music are all important facets of the game experience.  Some might say stripper poles and halftime lap dancing should not be a part of the game experience, however.

Champagne room is in the back!
 We went to the Boston Blazers last year and thoroughly enjoyed all of the hitting, checking and fighting.  I answered all of the "When can we go back?" questions like an expert. 

"Sorry guys, that was the last game of the season."  I deadpanned, knowing full well that the season was only half over.  "We'll have to wait until next year."  Well guess what?  Now is next year and when the boys saw a commercial for the Boston Blazers opening night clash with the Edmonton Rush, I was reminded of my promise 11 months ago.  And as promised, we dispatched ourselves to Boston on Saturday Night to see Dangerous Dan and Oh! Cosmo. 

Boston, MA 7:30pm.  After dodging some of Boston's famous drunkards (the Bruins had just finished losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier that afternoon) we made our way into the Garden.  Not a lot had changed since our game last year.  Dan Dawson and Oh Cosmo were still prominent players, joined this year by National Lacrosse Team member, Casey Powell.  It seemed that the Blazers were poised to win it all this year, but really, what do I know?  Music that only a WWE wrestler could enjoy - and don't think for a second that Triple H wasn't there signing autographs all game - dominated the pregame.  Members of the Blazers dance crew, the Sparks, were everywhere.  And cheesy signs and advertisements for kung fu studios and Lacrosse leagues gave the game a down-home feel.  This time, after hearing about the fun we had last year, we were joined by the girls and hoped for the best.  To add to the excitement, one of the Blazers' hawkers promised us that there was a great halftime show ready for us.  I found it strange that he told us, rather than telling the kids, though.

The game started with the Blazers and the Rush trading goals a couple of minutes in.  I was personally dodging some cocked teenagers vomiting next to me.  Hey you in the San Jose Sharks hat - yeah you - do your Parents know where you are??  Sorry, back to the game.  Those goals proved to be the only goals in the First Quarter as the teams were tied 1-1 going into the Second Quarter.  The excitement began in earnest however a couple minutes into the Second Quarter as Jon Durno, one of the team's enforcers, took exception to a jab to the ribs from Rush Forward Dane Stevens.  Durno took a couple of shots at Stevens who clearly was a lover and not a fighter adn wanted nothing to do with the Durnimal.  The Assistant Referee had to come break up the fight as Durno was about to pummel Stevens so badly that it left my sons wondering why the other guy didn't want to fight.  Going into halftime, the Blazers and the Rush were tied at 3-3.

It's almost go time!
Then the infamous halftime show that will only live on is grainy You Tube videos.  All I can add is that a Blazers' employee told us that we shouldn't miss the halftime show.  Blazers' officials can deny it all they want, but that employee was not talking about the lame dice throwing game, or the youth kung fu drills.  Oh wait, as I am writing this, I have to turn off the Cialis commercial while the boys and I are watching the basketball game.

As the Third Quarter started, and as we were desperately looking for ice cream on this 25 degree night, I can hear the horn sounding over and over again.  Come on guys let's go, I say to myself as G changes his mind from a drink to ice cream back to drink - no wait, back to ice cream.  Christ!  When we finally get back to our seats, the 3-3 game is now 8-5 Blazers.  What's even better is that I spot the offending teenagers hop into the section next to us, presumably to wreak havoc on other unsuspecting spectators.

Everyone is starting to get tired as the teams trade goals in the Fourth Quarter to make it 10-7 Blazers and that's how the game ended.  Almost immediately after walking out of the Garden, I start fielding the same familiar questions.  "Can we go next week, Dad?"  "That was the last game of the season, guys.  We'll have to wait until next year."  Don't tell anyone the promise that I made.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Cam Newton Under the Gun (by Children)

Questions from children?  Cam Newton wishes these were the biggest problems he was facing.  He's playing the biggest game of his life against the Oregon Ducks in the 2011 National Championship Game.  He's dodging questions about the pay for play allegations he faced in his University Florida days and he's trying to become the next Randall Cunningham or Peyton Manning (and not the next JaMarcus Russell - Robitussin DM anyone?).  Incidentally, I can't help but think that Newton knew exactly what his Father was doing.  I mean, what if one of the teams accepted Cecil Newton's overtures?  Wouldn't Cam Newton want to know why his Father was making him go to a certain team without consultation?

My six year old is clearly excited for the game.  "This is the most exciting game, Dad.  It's Cam against Uncle Mark!"  Of course, his brother is named Cam and his Uncle lives in Duck Country.  Actually, this is the most excited I've been about a game on TV since I compared watching a game live vs watching a game on TV.  I love high scoring affairs and this game could see 90 points between the two teams.  I love trick plays and odd formations and we could see fake field goals, fake punts and drop kicks.  I don't know what to expect.

But the focus is on Cam Newton.  The 8 year old name sake to the Heisman Trophy winner was asking a bunch of questions that led me to believe that he was also excited (although he was rolling his eyes and making fun of the whole affair - almost to the point that I thought he was going to ask me for the car keys).  When I came downstairs to the boys watching the pregame, I was finally curious enough to ask what they thought about the most notorious college football player since Lawrence Phillips.  Here are a couple of their responses...

I will play for cash
 1.  8 year old.  He has my name.  That was a no brainer.

2.  6 year old.  Cam Newton made it to the Super Bowl!  This would be astounding that he thought the championship game in College Football was named the Super Bowl, but every time the Patriots are playing, he asks if it's the Super Bowl.  I guess we've been spoiled these past 10 years if every game he hears he thinks is the Super Bowl.  Let's just say that young Jets fans don't ask if every game is the Super Bowl.

3.  8 year old.  He's the best quarterback in football and he's on the Auburn Tigers.  I personally think Andrew Luck is the best quarterback in football.  Rex Ryan would probably think that Jim Harbaugh coached Luck up and Gene Chizik is just some stiff.  I still think that Luck is a better quarterback. 

4.  6 year old.  He throws it straight!  I'm not really sure what to make of that so I just shake my head in agreement.  I also think that he distracted by Oregon's ugly yellow cleats.

They start throwing out a bunch of different things that they've learned about Newton.  They've obviously done their homework so I ask them who they are rooting.  "I'm rooting for Cam's team."

Cam then answers "Well, I'm not rooting for them."

"You're not rooting for your own team?"  I ask him, trying to confuse him in a Laurel and Hardy way.

"Wait which team is Cam Newton on again?" They both ask me.  Whichever team pays him the most.  Just don't call me Cecil.   

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Gambler's Guide to the NFL's Playoff Overtime Rule

We we were listening to Sports Talk Radio earlier this morning when the two co-hosts were arguing over the NFL's new Overtime Rules in the 2011 Playoffs.  Brought on by the unfortunate circumstances of last year's NFC Championship Game, which saw the New Orleans Saints win in Sudden Death Overtime on a 40 yard field goal a couple of minutes into overtime, the NFL instituted overtime changes that promised a losing coin toss did not necessarily spell doom.  Now granted I was rooting for the Saints to beat Brett Favre, just like everyone else, but I saw the point.  Football was not meant to be decided by coin tosses and field goal kickers (Adam Vinatieri and Scott Norwood be damned!).

As we listened to the various scenarios that were now in play, I asked C and G if they understood the new overtime rules.  It certainly seems like the over is a more favorable bet in the playoffs, considering that the chances are that if a game reaches overtime, the score will increase by perhaps 6 points, instead of the usual 3 points - with the possibility of 9 points being scored.  I like the over bet even more with these new rules.

I already knew the boys knew the overtime rules better than Donovan McNabb, but could they understand these new rules?  Despite the ridiculous argument one Boston guy made that these new rules bring into play onside kicks (do you really think that Rex Ryan, after winning the coin toss, would choose instead of driving for a touchdown do an onside kick so he can win instead with a field goal?  We'll get to that).  Here are the five most likely scenarios that I tried to explain to the boys.

Scenario 1.  Team 1 scores a touchdown.  If a team receives the ball first and drives for a touchdown.  They win the game and the Team 2 does not receive the ball.  Easy enough.

Scenario 2.  Team 1 scores a field goal and Team 2 scores a field goal.  Here is when the slightly different scenarios may once in a while take a turn to the bizarre.  The key thing to remember is that other than an opening drive for a touchdown, each team needs an opportunity to possess the football.  If a team receives the ball first and drives for a field goal, the other team gets the ball back.  If the other team kicks a field goal, the teams revert back to sudden death.

Scenario 3. Team 1 scores a field goal and Team 2 scores a touchdown. If the first team scores a field goal and the second team scores a touchdown, the second team wins the game.  Period.

Scenario 4.  If the first team does not score, the game reverts back to sudden death, and if the second team scores at all, then that second team wins.

Scenario 5.  If for some reason there is a safety in the first series of plays or an interception or fumble, the team that scores the safety, or scores after the fumble or interception, wins the game regardless of when that safety is scored or if the second team scores after that interception or fumble.

There are numerous other scenarios that can be debated, but like I said, why would Rex Ryan do an onside kick when he can just have his stellar defense stop all defenses?  The situations above are the situations that are most likely to happen.

So boys, do you understand the new overtime rules?

"Dad, can we play basketball outside?" my six year old asks.  I think that says it all right there.