Wednesday, December 29, 2004

How the Jets will make the playoffs

I have but two words to type that assures the Jets a playoff berth in this glorious 2004-05 season.

Care to guess? Be my guest, but you'll be wrong each time. Yet, I rather enjoy being entertained by inside-the-box thinkers, so I'll play along.

Nope, not Chad Pennington. Not Curtis Martin, either. Certainly not Anthony Becht. Maybe Wayne Chrebet? Nice, sentimental guess, but blatantly incorrect. In fact, no Jet plays into this equation.

The two words that guarantees the Jets a berth in the first round of the NFL playoffs require some progressive thinking. Brace yourselves. Here they come:

JAKE PLUMMER.


That's right, folks. Jake the Snake will bring the Jets to the promised land and prevent yet another collapse by a New York sports franchise this year.

Oh sure, when looked at individually, the words "Jake" and "Plummer" are relatively harmless. But when combined, it forms a lethally bad quarterback with an ever-growing ability to make the wrong play at the wrong time.

If you're wondering what I was drinking when I concocted this notion of a Denver quarterback carrying the Jets to the playoffs when they're not even playing in the same game, the answer is Brisk Iced Tea. Though I never could discern the origin of the ingredient that makes it taste so brisk (if it were iocane powder, I'd certainly know the origin), I'm fairly certain there are no hallucinogens in there.

Here is how it all plays out:

Jets at Rams, 1 p.m. EST: After beating the Eagles on Monday night, the Rams have something to play for in Week 17 at home -- a playoff berth. Marc Bulger is back at quarterback and Torry Holt will likely embarrass the Jets' secondary because they are young and well, they are the Jets. Pennington's arm is still sore and he's questioning his ability the way Cap Rooney did in "Any Given Sunday." Plus, Pennington appears to be growing a stubble mustache giving him that 1991 Levittown look. Not very becoming. And then there's the Paul Hackett Factor, which states that any game the Jets need to play well on offense and score points to win, Hackett will take a dump in his pants. He'll smell up the booth something awful in St. Louis, and Nelly will use his country grammar to mock the Jets at an impromptu halftime show.

Steelers at Bills, 1 p.m. EST: For Buffalo to make the playoffs, a win here is a must as is a Jets or Broncos loss. Pittsburgh has no business even showing up for the game having already clinched the No. 1 seed for the playoffs. Ben "Do you think your Wu-Tang sword can defeat me?" Roethlisberger hurt his ribs last week and would be foolish to play anything more than a series or two. The Bus will get some rest, as will most of the starters. This is Apollo Creed getting into the ring to fight Drago. Not pretty.

It's not looking too good for the Jets right about now. Beningo is on suicide watch at the WFAN studios, and it has nothing to do with his whack-ass partner Sid.

At about 4:01 p.m. EST Sunday, Jets fans will be scouring the Internet for playoff scenarios and live scoreboards in Denver. (Start at here to keep me employed, please.)

Colts at Broncos, 4 p.m EST: Lord . . . lord, lord, lord, lord, this one's a doozy. After the Jets lose and Bills win, every football eye in America will focus on Denver for the biggest game of the year. If the Broncos win, they make the playoffs as a wild card. The Colts already have the No. 3 seed and a home playoff game locked up. Peyton Manning already has the single-season touchdown record. Marvin Harrison already has his phattie contract. Indianapolis' defense stinks. Is there any legitimate reason for the Colts to try in this game, especially since it's in Denver where there figures to be cold weather followed by even colder weather. But here comes New York's hero. Jake Plummer, the king of the dumb play, is still quarterbacking our beloved Broncos, which means two interceptions in the fourth quarter that costs his team the game, the playoffs and any chance of scoring with the hottie at the post-game party.

If you don't believe, take a look at some the Plummer's numbers this season:
TD/Int ratio, first half: 18/10
TD/Int ratio, second half: 7/10
QB rating, first half: 94.0
QB rating, second half: 71.3
* 19 of his 25 touchdowns have come in his first 20 attempts during a game.
* 15 of his 20 interceptions have come against AFC teams
* He's enjoying his greatest December interception rate in the last four years (9 picks in 4 games)

What does all this mean? It's simple. My hunch is Manning will play the first quarter with the rest of the No. 1 starters. He'll throw two touchdowns, and Edgerrin James will run for another. A big 21-point first quarter will force Plummer to throw the ball,which works well for the Colts and even better for the Jets.

So remember Jets fans, when praying to that plastic Fireman Ed statue you keep in the living room, give thanks to Jake Plummer, the man who patented big-moment collapses. He may not have invented the famed "cover pick," but he sure did perfect it.

E-MAIL ME

Monday, December 27, 2004

Weekend Update honors Dan Marino

After 20 years of unreachable comfort, Dan Marino succumbed to the magic of Peyton Manning. Marino’s 48-touchdown season of 1984 has now gone the way of VHS tapes: a fun discussion of the greatness of the 1980s, but still in second place when compared with today’s technology.

Manning threw his 49th touchdown pass on Sunday to help the Colts tie the Chargers and eventually win in overtime. Manning is the new gold standard for touchdown immortality . . . and he has one more game left this season.

In honor of the record holder that was, we here at Weekend Update deliver the top events from Christmas weekend using movie and show titles from Dan Marino’s acting career.


Bad Boys II
The Pacers played the Pistons on Christmas Day. Not even Santa Claus could have delivered such a juicy gift under our virtual sports tree. A bunch of coal-filled players, including the newly reinstated, played a clean, dull basketball game. Sad, but true. Oh, how that grinch David Stern stole Christmas.

Holy Man
Brett Favre did it again. In a dome, no less. He led the Packers on two scoring drives in the final minutes to beat the Vikings and win the NFC North Division. Surely, he’ll meet St. Peter at the gates of Heaven one day and there’ll be no discussion. Favre will just flash his E-ZPass and stroll into another sacred atmosphere.

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
Maybe Ventura can help the Jets find their quarterback again. Last week, Chad Pennington turned into a chameleon and shunned the media, then lectured then the following day. This week, he turned into a dog against the wolves of New England. These Jets now must beat the Rams to make the playoffs. And Pennington has to lead them. Alllllllllll righty then! Perhaps the Jets can hire Ray Finkel or Lois Einhorn as a backup.

Little Nicky
Check out those gritty little Knicks. Another three calendar days went by and the Knicks still remain in first place. And they have no big men inside. That’s about as predictable as the box office success of Adam Sandler.

Inside the NFL
Nick Saban left the wonderful world of college football at Louisiana State to coach the Miami Dolphins, the former team of Mr. Marino. Even on the weekend when Marino became No. 2, he still found a way to make news. Oh wait, he quit as Miami’s top executive way back in the beginning of the year . . . after three weeks on the job.

The NFL Today
Ben “Do you think your Wu-Tang Sword can defeat me?” Roethlisberger got hurt, but still won . . . Eli Manning still stinks . . . The Raiders’ defense continues to decompose when on the field with the lead in the final minute of a game . . . Without Michael Vick, the Falcons are unbelievably not that good . . . Minnesota will never win the big game so long as Central Islip’s favorite son Mike Tice is the coach . . . Are the 49ers on the clock yet?

Honorable mentions
* Since Marino’s acting career is not nearly as prolific as his NFL career, we’re limited in our title selection. However, making no mention of Reggie White would be as tragic as his death at the age of 43. White was a ferocious defensive end who amassed 198 sacks in his NFL career, a record that stood until Bruce Smith got 200 and retired two years ago. I wish I grew up an Eagles or Packers fan because then I’d definitely still own that “Ministry of Defense” poster.

* Shaq vs. Kobe was an exciting game, one worthy of the hype surrounding it. Amazing how the NBA can get us to care about its league on a day when such delicacies as cream puffs, Christmas cookies, bragiole and Italian bread from Brooklyn are available at the ready.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Stuffing Athletes' Stockings

Christmas came right on time this year. (Sorry, couldn't resist the spoof of the worst cliche in journalism history -- "Christmas came early this year for insert-team-or-player-here.")

As such, it's time for one of my favorite traditions that started way back a few hours ago. It's time to peek into the stockings of sports figures and see if Santa dropped some sweet candy or dumped a heap of coal in there.

So, gather 'round the Yule log and let's take a look:

Kobe Bryant: The entire coal mine.
No matter how much coal is in his stocking, he still won't be able to produce another $4 million ring for his wife. This guy has turned into a real fonzanoon. He cheated on his wife, then called out Karl Malone for allegedly hitting on said wife. He got all defensive about the sanctity of his marriage, then likely went on the road and pulled a Fredo.

Chad Pennington: Half coal, half candy.
His lecturing of reporters having the "privilege" to cover the Jets still perplexes me as much as the debate over who was the most valuable member of New Edition. As if an advanced degree is needed to cover a team without a championship in 35 years and has a history of stupidity. His little tirade made no sense, but he did have a great game against Seattle, so we must acknowledge such positivity what with it being the season of giving and all. Still, a dumper of a game on Sunday against the Patriots and Santa is swinging by Giants Stadium with a fresh heaping of coal.

Paul Depodesta and Javier Vazquez: His and his coal, enscripted with the Dodgers' logo.
Los Angeles GM Depodesta backed out of the three-team deal with the Yankees and Arizona for Randy Johnson. Vazquez torpedoed the deal, too, claiming he wouldn't report to L.A. for a physical. I haven't seen a sabotage like that since Mr. Fuji threw salt in Hulk Hogan's eyes in 1986.

Omar Minaya: Candy, candy, candy.
The man brought in Pedro Martinez and gave the Mets instant credibility. Though it's not enough, it's a good start and deserves some sugary sweets.

Tom Coughlin: The darkest coal imaginable.
The season-killer started with a whole box of Russell Stover's, but it quickly rotted when he pooped on the Giants' playoff hopes by switching to Eli Manning with a 5-4 record. Five straight losses for the rookie, 5-9 overall. Even in the NFC, which contrary to some reports is not above Division I-AA, the Giants can't make the playoffs. Nice job, Tommy Boy.

Jermaine O'Neal; Candy.
If only for the greatest sucker punch caught on camera and played on national television for six straight days. This Pacer will need dental work from all the candy he'll get stuffed into his stocking.

Barry Bonds: Coal.
Actually, give him some cream and clear, but just call it coal. He likely won't ask for clarification.

Jason Giambi: Candy.
Kudos to the disgraced Giambino for having the stones to admit what he did. Wow, I guess doctors were lying about roids reducing the size of your stones.

Herman Edwards: Chocolate-covered fortune cookies.
The little pieces of paper inside could have motivational sayings on them. "Hello? You play to run the draw?" Sorry, couldn't resist. Herm has his Jets on the edge of the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. How many Jets coaches can claim that? Plus, he brought in Donnie Henderson as defensive coordinator, the best thing to happen to the Jets since Mark Gastineau left the team.

Boston Red Sox: A box of NERDS.
What else can you give a bunch of idiots?

Ian Smart: Football-shaped candies.
The Touchdown Kid finally made it to the NFL. His first carry went for 25 yards for the Buccaneers. His first kickoff return went for 17 yards and he's now the No. 1 kickoff returner for Tampa Bay. Gotta love the kid from little ol' C.W. Post scrounging for two years in pursuit of his dream. Thanks for giving us another reason to realize sports are still a beautiful thing.

Phil Mickelson: Candy.
On the Sunday night of his victory in Augusta, this man slept in his bed with his hot wife and his brand new green jacket as Masters champion. His wife is fly, but the jacket earned more props.

Mark La Monica: Maria Sharapova.
Santa, can you hear me?

E-MAIL ME

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The view from Vegas

A five-day romp through Las Vegas typically provides enough insanity, surrealism and psychotic episodes.

But, upon my return to New York civilization Monday morning, I learned that Las Vegas may have just been the most down-to-earth, expect-the-expected place in America last week.

Scanning the newspapers from the past week, I saw that Vince Carter became a New Jersey Net, Randy Johnson is on the precipice of pinstripes, Eli Manning played very well against the Steelers, St. John's men's basketball won a game and Chad Pennington now hates the media.

What the f-bomb is going on? Maybe the more than 1,000 hands of blackjack among more accents than 1908 Ellis Island fried my brain more than I thought. Or maybe the spate of Long Island Iced Teas ("Hey, I drink regionally," I told the cocktail waitress at The Mirage) at the Baccarat Bar inside the Bellagio with Artist in Italy but not tonight friend Jenny warped more brain cells than the surgeon general's warning cared to let on.

Did I really read the headlines properly? Pennington, after his best game of the season, in a must-win situation, shunned the media. Then Monday afternoon, he went off again. (Note: I planned to watch the news conference on ESPN's Monday Quarterback but passed out on my couch shortly before 2 p.m. after a sleepless red-eye flight.)

What is going on in New York? Such madness should be reserved for sitting in the sports book and watching Detroit shank the extra point, shank the tie and shank your chance at a hefty payout on your four-team parlay. Such madness should be reserved for watching dealers routinely pull nine-card 21s against a pair of kings. Of course, these are just hypothetical samples.

Pennington has always been painted as the nice guy in town, the guy that represents what sports used to be. A family man who speaks of the team more than himself and answers every question in a respectful manner and never gets arrested for drugs, public urination or solicitation of whores.

That's why this all seemed so strange to read Monday morning. I put the papers away and went to bed. I was afraid to pick up the entertainment section for fear I'd read something that said rap music is becoming a talented genre like we haven't seen since 1992. The main news section could have said Iraqi elections will go smoothly and the Bernard Kerik scandal was all an elaborate ruse. I simply couldn't handle such a Bizarro World in my weakened condition.

Guess it's time to check flights, job openings and real estate deals in Vegas. Seems that's the calmest, sanest place.

E-MAIL ME

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Be careful on this one, Mets

If you read and hear the rumblings around talk radio and baseball message boards nowadays, the Mets are walking a very thin line with their fans after their recent signing of Pedro Martinez.

Martinez, known as much for his idiosyncrasies as his devastating curveball, has drawn plenty of negative press in New York over the last few years, and knowledgeable fans seem justified in wondering what impact Pedro's signing will have on team chemsitry and the clubhouse.

But most seem willing to give Pedro a pass, based on his Hall-of-Fame numbers, his relatively young age (33) -- compared to Tom Glavine (38) and Mike Piazza (36) -- and the celebrity status he'll almost certainly bring to the club.

Will they be willing to do the same for Carlos Delgado, the power-hitting first baseman to whom the Mets are about to make a four-year offer?

Hard to say.

More so than the oft-abrasive Martinez, Delgado has drawn criticism from New Yorkers for his refusal to stand for the singing of "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch of Major League games. The visibility of this protest would be exacerbated playing for a New York team, where the patriotic anthem is linked directly to the hearts of thousands affected by the September 11 tragedies.

As the Mets' pursuit of Delgado has intensified, fan reaction has been mixed. Some have said they respect and support Delgado's right to peaceful protest. Others say they would never support Delgado -- nor even the Mets franchise -- should he join the club and continue his demonstrations. Still others have said they would be willing to live with Delgado's political positions as long as he is a good citizen -- and equally important, a successful ballplayer.

It's a tricky topic. The laws of common sense and history, though, tell us that more likely than not, success on the field will be the biggest determining factor for Delgado's fan support. Fans have always supported winners, no matter how flawed or questionable their character. If Delgado can help the Mets win games, it's hard to believe the fans wouldn't support him.

But do the Mets really want to commit to someone who will come to New York with so much added pressure? How many home runs will Delgado have to hit to mollify his fans and detractors -- 30? 40? 50? 80??? How many games will the Mets have to win? How much extra charity work will he have to do to prove he's commited to the benevolence of his new city?

It's a lot to ask. For a team that is treading water in terms of fan support and has already this winter added one of the game's most egocentric personalities, it's a move that would only ramp up the tensions and expectations of its supporters. Expectations go higher, pressures grow larger. Pressures grow larger, tensions rise. When tension rises, some teams can buckle under.

Is Omar Minaya willing to put that kind of pressure on his impressionable youngsters and pacific veterans? Does he believe the Delgado experiment is a worthwhile risk if it puts the Mets back in the limelight?

We're going to find out a lot about the Mets and Mr. Minaya in the next few days. We'll find out just how committed -- or perhaps, obsessed -- they are with winning. Signing Delgado would be an indication, far beyond a reasonable doubt, that Minaya & Co. are willing to stop at nothing to make the Mets winners again. But is this group of players -- in particular Martinez and Delgado -- the right mix to lead the team back to the playoffs? If not, there could be some serious hell to pay at Shea Stadium this year.

Would you support Carlos Delgado if he signed with the Mets?
  • Vote in an e-poll

  • E-mail Mike Casey
  • Tuesday, December 14, 2004

    Martinez the Met is a good idea

    Pedro's in pinstripes. OK, so those are going to be royal blue Mets pinstripes rather than navy blue Yankees pinstripes. But why quibble with such minutiae?

    The Mets' signing of Pedro Martinez is an extremely good move by general manager Omar Minaya. Of course, Martinez is more flighty than one of his hanging curveballs to Hideki Matsui, so he could feasibly wake up Tuesday morning, scream "Aye, Papi, what have I done?", shave his head and go back to the Boston Red Sox.

    Until that happens, I will proceed with my thoughts based on the reported notion that Pedro Martinez is about to become a New York Met.

    Met fans are tortured souls, at least ever since 2000. They read of the Pedro signing and feel the groin kicks delivered by the signing and subsequent flopping of Roberto Alomar and Mo Vaughn.

    Pedro, good enough to be referred to by his first name and have everyone know precisely who we speak of, is still a dominant pitcher. He may have stolen Darryl's hair from "Coming to America," but he automatically becomes the ace of the Mets' staff. It is patently ignorant to think otherwise.

    You'll claim Pedro is just a six-inning pitcher nowadays. He averaged 6 2/3 innings per start in 2004. He averaged 9.41 strikeouts per nine innings and 1.17 base runners per inning. Simply stated, that is very good.

    Again you'll claim Pedro is a six-inning pitcher nowadays. Guess what: the National League doesn't use a DH and is generally considered to be a weaker-hitting league aside from just the DH.

    Then you'll say he gets hurt all the time and has a feeble shoulder. He made 33 starts in 2004, the same amount as Mets leaders Tom Glavine and Steve Trachsel.

    Then you'll claim he's not what he was. This point is true but Pedro is still extremely effective. He won't hit 97 on the radar gun anymore but his changeup is very effective. Just ask the St. Louis Cardinals, that amazing offense which collected all of three -- THREE! -- hits and no runs in seven innings against Pedro in the World Series. You're right. He's not what he once was. In 1998, he would have only given up two hits.

    Then you'll complain about 2008, when Pedro is earning a guaranteed $14 million or so and would be 37. Presumably, he would be much less effective then. I cannot dispute that. However, Mets fans should look at this through the other side of the glass. If Pedro has the Mets in contention in September -- or even August -- for the next two years, are you really going to be upset in that fourth year if he doesn't live up to his reputation? If you are, then you are not very intelligent and should probably stop reading immediately, sell your computer and hope the local car wash has an opening for a windshield washer.

    If Pedro can win 16-18 games, a highly feasibly if, the Mets will be contending for a wild card, maybe even the division crown in the weak NL East. The rotation of Pedro, Glavine, Trachsel, Benson and Zambrano is very good. It puts the Mets in the top 5 of NL rotations, with Houston and the Cubs running 1-2, depending on Roger Clemens.

    However, it is clear the Mets need more help than just Pedro. Another bat or two in the lineup and some bullpen assistance (enjoy Felix Heredia, he's fun) are needed to make the Mets an attractive preseason playoff pick.

    Dennis Miller-esque rant alert! Dennis Miller-esque rant alert! Anyone who just makes blanket statements such as "Dump Piazza and Floyd" and other inane remarks doesn't understand baseball. They can only dream of Windexing other people's windshields for $1 per car. Teams just don't take on $15 million salaries for average players -- not even the Yankees. It's just not that easy to ship off Floyd and Piazza like that. They have little market value. It's like trying to sell your 1988 IBM computer with Windows 3.1, a 5 1/4-inch floppy drive and 1.2 megabyte hard drive for $500. We now return you to our scheduled writing.

    Pedro is the first step to making the Mets a contender. He brings a face to the organization aside from Minaya. Besides, if a team is winning, who cares about the GM? Pedro will also put fans in the seats in July and August, maybe even October. He's a proven winner and has shown the capability to handle pressure.

    Of course, Pedro could break his arm right after crossing the t in his last name when signing his Mets contract.

    E-MAIL ME

    Monday, December 13, 2004

    Weekend Update: Heismans All Around

    Back in 1936, the first Heisman Trophy was handed out to Yale's Larry Kelley.

    In recent years, the word Heisman has developed a new definition and we have, well, the actual trophy to thank for it. The Heisman Trophy depicts a player with a football cradled in his left arm while his right arm is extended outward as if trying to stiff arm an opponent.

    Nowadays, when someone gets "The Heisman," it typically means life just stuck its big hand in your face and said "Get outta my way, little man." Think Jack Palance in City Slickers telling Billy Crystal, "I crap bigger than you," but much more painful.

    A Heismaning usually occurs with males age 16-24 thinking they're all that while the females tell them otherwise. It's kind of like a NASCAR crash: really funny to watch, but deep down, you feel their pain.

    But the Weekend Update is an equal-opportunity offender, so let's take a look at who got Heisman'd this weekend in Sports Land:

    * Jeff Kent got Heisman'd as much for just being Jeff Kent as for his crying at a news conference announcing his newfound Dodgerdom. More importantly, when will Kent stop giving his razor blade the Heisman and shave that nasty mustache off his upper lip.

    * Notre Dame delivered itself a Heismanic facial. Not so much with the hiring of Charlie Weis as its coach, but really because freshly fired coach Tyrone Willingham was freshly hired by Washington, who conveniently hosts Notre Dame on Sept. 24, 2005.

    * Kobe Bryant should be hit in the head with O.J. Simpson's actual Heisman Trophy for complaining that Karl Malone hit on his wife. While I firmly believe in the sanctity of marriage, something like that doesn't need to be played out in the media. Come to think of it, Vanessa Bryant deserves a Heisman of her own for sticking with that admitted adulterer. Yes, Kobe is a great shooter, but there's no way he went 1-for-1 in cheating on his wife and getting caught. Heismans all around for these two.

    * In a rare corporate Heismaning, Tom Coughlin threw away the season when he decided to make Eli Manning the Giants' starting QB in Week 11. The Giants were 5-4 and in the playoff hunt. They are now 5-8, and Chiropractor friend Eli, aka "Dr. Yer it is," would look better in the pocket than Eli Manning. Coughlin punted away this season and co-owner Wellington Mara should borrow Ron Dayne's Heisman Trophy and smack Coughlin in the grill with it.

    * Baseball fans were Heisman'd this weekend as baseball people who promised big things from this weekend's winter meetings gave us nothing but a whole host of more nothing. Yuck, bronze doesn't taste good.
    * Mike Jarvis won the Heisman-in-absentia award for convincing himself that a kid who was nicknamed "Showtime" in eighth grade -- EIGHTH F-BOMBING GRADE!!!!!!! -- would only blossom into Hollywood status at St. John's. Instead, he's an average point guard on an subpar team and he can't seem to play defense. He got burned by Hofstra's Loren Stokes, at last count, every time Stokes touched the ball. Another city kid getting by on playground hype. Sad, really. Thanks, Jarvis.

    * Mike Tice, the pride of Central Islip, got Heisman'd by his offensive coordinator, Scott Linehan, who so elegantly called for Randy Moss to throw a pass rather than catch it. He threw an interception with around two minutes left and the Vikings lost to Seattle, 27-23. Linehan made Jets offensive coordinator Paul Hackett look intelligent. OK, maybe not intelligent, but certainly smarter than Linehan.

    * In winning the actual Heisman Trophy on Saturday night, Matt Leinart doled out an unintential Heisman to USC teammate Reggie Bush and Oklahoma's Jason White and Adrian Peterson. How this plays out in practice between Bush and Leinart will be interesting. How this plays out when USC plays Oklahoma in the national championship on Jan. 4, 2005, will be even more interesting.

    * The self-inflicted Heisman is always fun to watch, especially when it happens to Bostonians. Red Sox GM Theo Epstein smacked himself in the face with his own hand when he signed David Wells to pitch for his team. He will stink. If I were Yankees GM Brian Cashman, I'd mail Epstein a postcard of the Heisman Trophy and write, "Thanks."

    E-MAIL ME

    Friday, December 10, 2004

    Crawling out of The Black Hole

    I called myself a Jets fan on Thursday, just minutes before noon. Declared is more accurate.

    This was monumental. This was thought-provoking.

    OK, background time: I am 29 years old and have been a Raiders fan for the last 21 of those years. My entrance into Raider fandom began when I saw Marcus Allen play in his rookie season. He had a great game on television and as an impressionable 8-year-old, I was, well, impressed.

    So I pronounced myself a Raiders fan in 1983 and they wound up winning the Super Bowl. If I had such prognosticating skills, the interest I earn on my bank account would be more than double what I get paid to write this weekly column. My Raiders fandom continued through Howie Long, Bo Jackson, Coach Art Shell, Jay Schroeder, Todd Marinovich, Vince Evans, Marc Wilson, Dokie Williams, Coach Mike White, Ron Brown, Lester Hayes, Jeff George, Van McElroy, Jack Squirek and a host of other classics.

    But I grew up in New York, which means I've been subjected to the run-run-pass Giants and the yeah-yeah-oh-no Jets on television since forever. I watched their games every Sunday for 20-plus years. Most of those Sunday afternoons were painful.

    But three seasons ago, Chad Pennington cast his magic spell over the city of New York. He became the Winter Jeter. I, in turn, paid more interest to the results of those Jets games. I even bet $100 that the Jets would win more than 8.5 games in 2002.

    So, in 2002, Restaurant friend Rob and I flew to Oakland for the Monday night game with the Jets. (Note: If you've never been to a Raiders home game, it's much scarier than prison, especially when 4-year-old girls walk past you with skull & bones necklaces and painted faces.) I cheered my Raiders' 26-20 victory, but on the plane to Vegas shortly thereafter, I lamented -- internally -- how the Jets needed to beat the Colts and Packers to finish 9-7 and win me $200. An unexamined bet is not worth betting.

    The Jets miraculously won both games -- and the AFC East -- then went to Oakland to lose in the first round of the playoffs. The Raiders reached the Super Bowl that season, but in hindsight, I left my heart in Oakland that night in Network Associates Coliseum.

    I've since watched every Jets game intently and purchased a Jets T-shirt, sweatshirt and wool hat. I even have an authentic Keyshawn Johnson No. 19 Jets jersey, though that was more through procurement than purchase.

    Flash forward to Thursday morning: I'm sitting at my computer, having just placed an order on nflshop.com. I filled in all the shipping and billing fields, and the always exciting "No I don't want emails from your advertisers" check boxes. Here comes the "Johnny Moxon gut-check moment."

    I was asked to select my favorite NFL team, presumably so nflshop.com could send me customized catalogs every three-and-a-half hours.

    I paused. If I picked the Raiders, I'd be lying and doing such would cause more internal strife. Better to finally wash away my sins and cleanse my soul. Out damn spot!

    But, if I picked the Jets, would I be turning my back on the team I grew up rooting for? This opened up an amazing amount of questions: Am I no better than a free agent? Can I really admit to switching teams at this late stage of life? What did the last 21 years mean to me, if I'm willing to throw it all away for Gang Green? Am I just a fan whore?

    Do I call the Raiders and tell them what I'm about to do, or should I just keep it to myself like a woman who cheats on her boyfriend and then lets him find out on his own when he throws out her garbage and finds condom wrappers in the trash?

    I picked the Jets. I waited about five minutes before clicking submit. I started to sweat, especially when I realized I was wearing a sleeveless Raiders T-shirt. Oh, this can't be good. Herm Edwards is calling to motivate me to click submit. Al Davis is knocking on my door. Michael Corleone is renouncing Satan's works as his orders for murder are carried out by his henchman. Am I about to do this?

    YES I DID!

    I'm a Jets fan nowadays. And this is not a bandwagon thing. You could reverse the records (Raiders are 4-8, Jets are 9-3) and I would still be writing this now. The Raiders will always have a piece of my heart, just like that ex-girlfriend you loved so well for so long, but I have to move on to greener pastures. That's Gang Greener. If the Jets somehow go into the dumper and miss the playoffs this season, I'll suffer with Jets fans, rather than laugh at Jets fans. It's a brave new world.

    J-E-T-S, JETS! JETS! JETS!

    Fan forum: Switching allegiance, is it allowed?

    Tuesday, December 07, 2004

    Mark's Mailbag

    It appears I touched more nerves on the Paul Hackett mock interview than Michael Jackson did at his Neverland Ranch.

    As we begin the latest mailbag, I'm reminded of what Dirk Diggler once said: "I promise to keep rocking and rolling and to keep making better films. It seems we make these movies . . . and sometimes . . . they're considered filthy or something by some people . . . but I don't think that's true. These films we make can be better . . . they can help . . . they really can, I mean it. We can always do better -- and I'll keep trying if you keep trying so let's keep rocking and rolling."

    On to the e-mails:

    Thank you for actually writing an article (although made up) on Hackett. It amazes me that the media chooses to focus the blame on everyone else other than Paul Hackett. Why is that? It has always been my firm opinion that when the Jets win, it is in spite of Paul Hackett and his obvious play calling. It is against all logic that when Curtis averages less than 1 yard per carry on first downs in the second half that you would continue to call that play. As a Jet fan this is the most painful, gut wrenching, hair pulling, and flat out saddest thing to watch. If I was an opposing defense I would just set my sites on Curtis, and guess what, be right 78% of the time.
    -- David M., Parts unknown.


    Dave, Paul Hackett is the Teflon Don. His team scores 23 points in a two-week stretch and no one complains because Chad Pennington is hurt. Pennington comes back and the Jets erupt for 29 points. How this man escapes public flogging on a weekly basis astounds me. John Gotti had nothing on Hackett.


    Mark,
    Any word of where clock management coach Dick Curl was during the Jets' final drive against the Ravens?
    -- Joe D., Delaware.


    Joe, my sources tell me he was listening to Paul Hackett describe the intricacies of the draw play.

    Great article--here's my hackett poem:

    His defensive offense
    Is offensive to me.
    Put Hackett on a leaky boat
    And send him to sea.
    -- Richard S., Parts Unknown.


    Well, Rich, at least it rhymes. But I wouldn't keep the voicemail for Russell Simmons to call and offer you a spot on the next season of Def Poets.

    Thank God someone finally had the guts to say something!! OK, halfback option, one stupid play. But everyone seems to forget how terrible our offense was in the second half, and how terrible our offense has been every second half of every game. Finally someone recognized! Let's see what happens when Herm pulls a Fassel and starts calling the plays next week......Jets 49 Browns 7.
    -- An Internet marauder, Parts unknown.


    I love Herm, but he should never call the plays. I can just picture the huddle now: "OK, Chad. You're David. You got this sling and you're pretty good with it. Now go slay Goliath." Chad's response: "OK, coach, I just need the play you want me to run." Herm's response: "Oh, yeah, right. How about a draw play?"

    This article on Paul Hackett and the imaginary interview was absolutely priceless. Glad someone else agrees that the man is an idiot savant hold the savant.
    -- Steve S., Parts unknown.


    Steve, I went to school with an idiot savant. They really are funny people. They're stupid and intelligent. I saved lots of money on underage drinking just by watching this guy talk. Priceless.

    Your column on Paul Hackett was brilliant. I haven't laughed this hard since the Red Sox beat the Yankees in Game 7. Thanks for cheering me up.
    -- Joel E., Parts unknown.


    Wow, what a cheap shot. Funny as hell, but a cheap shot nonetheless.

    I was peeing in my pants reading that!!! I live here in Miami and I bleed Jet green. But it's getting old already with the soap opera team we have. Herm & Hackett = No killer instict. If the Jets blow this season, both have to go. Donnie Henderson is awesome, I just wish we had some strong CB's.
    -- An Internet marauder, Miami, Fla.


    Let's see, if you live in Florida and you were peeing in your pants, I'm wondering how much of that was because of my mock interview and how much of it was straight-up bladder control issues. Isn't the median age in Florida around 79?

    Mark,
    I enjoyed your article about the Mets' hiring of Willie Randolph. One correction though, the NY logo on their caps was from the Giants, not the Yankees. I, being a very passionate and long suffering Mets fan, know their history fairly well.
    -- Bruce E., Gilbert, Ariz.


    That's a good point, Bruce. Thanks for outing me as an ignoramus. I'm comforted by the fact that you're a Mets fan and I'm not.

    Mark,
    That post on Owens was brilliant. It's amazing he gets flak for enjoying the game. Having said that, my blog follows a football (soccer) team and the crackdown on their celebrations have begun in earnest. Celebrations for a goal in football are legendary, making TO's football signing look like a handshake.

    I don't know if my European readers would have much interest in American football and baseball, but if you'd like to exchange links I'd be honoured.
    -- Nicholas A., Europe


    Wow, Nicholas, the Web really is World Wide! It's likely that those European people have little interest in American football and baseball. Then again, you Europeans think Benny Hill is funny and Jerry Lewis is the inventor of comedy. And the shameless plug, well, I can't really fault you for that. You probably listened to Hot 97 one night and heard Funkmaster Flex screaming "Buy my CD! Buy my CD!" after 30 seconds.

    Mark,
    When the TY(tanic) era began at Notre Dame in 2002, it was obvious that Coach Willingham wasn't ready for all the public scrutiny and media barrage that goes with being the head football coach at Our Lady's school. His work during the week must have been admirable but on Saturdays, it was quite a different story ... the proverbial deer in the headlights on gameday. I wish Coach Willingham success in his world of college or professional football coaching.

    But it was time to admit that 'consistent competitiveness' wasn't happening at ND (and, relinquishing the Division I-A Parochial Powerhouse label to a spirited Boston College Eagles program over the past three years hasn't been taken lightly in South Bend. Give it to BC, they have surpassed ND in recruiting while maintaining high academic standards).

    Whatever happens at Notre Dame and whomever the coach may be, no one will possess the ability to recognize the talents of prospective student-athletes and re-create his game plan at halftime in order to allow his players to succeed on the field more than Lou Holtz.

    All I want to see as a ND Subway Alumnus is this storied football program return to a competitive edge that will make its national and international followers proud.

    By the way, I'm a native Long Island native who has followed the Fighting Irish since the early 1950's when they dug-in and made every game exciting-win or lose.
    -- Bob D., Parts unknown.


    Bob, I still think Ty can get the job done as a school that allows dumb kids into the program. Notre Dame's academics restrict its recruiting base even before the high school kids go to those all-star summer camps. The more I think about it, the more I realize Notre Dame is no longer Notre Dame. If the Irish want to be perennial title contenders, bring in the Prop 48 kids like they did for Lou Holtz (Tony Rice and Chris Zorich).


    At this point, I hope the players learn a lesson. I'm tired of all these guys in sports making all this money and whining. Maybe if they start a new league, we would forget the NHL crybabies. Bottom line: the owners own the teams, not the players.
    -- Fred B., Parts unknown.


    Fred, the only way the owners and players get the hint is when fans completely boycott all sporting events for one day. That will never happen because the corporate people who buy the expensive seats don't give a crap about the sport. They just like the prestige of having good seats.

    Let the e-mails flow

    Monday, December 06, 2004

    Weekend Update gets mushed

    The key script lines for the fifth installment of the critically acclaimed Weekend Update go like this:

    "Eddie Mush was a degenerate gambler. He was also the biggest loser in the whole world. They called him Mush because everything he touched turned to mush. He would go to the racetrack and the teller would give him his tickets already ripped up."

    It comes from the movie "A Bronx Tale," a fine coming-of-age film with Robert DeNiro, Chazz Palminteri and assorted other Italian actors perpetuating stereotypes of Italians and gangsters.

    Eddie Mush (seated on the right next to Frankie Coffeecakes) was all about bad luck, and his presence was felt pretty much every day this week as life basically took a dump on my head from Tuesday right up to, and for laughs, through Sunday night.

    So, with no animosity (except for Brock Berlin), I bring to you the "Who got mushed?" look at the weekend:

    Auburn
    Let's see. The Auburn Tigers beat Tennessee to complete a perfect 12-0 season. This occurred in the SEC, widely considered the best conference in college football. Auburn cannot play for the national championship by virtue of its No. 3 ranking in the BCS rankings. Auburn got mushed.

    Notre Dame
    Perhaps the biggest mushing of the week, the year, the decade. Athletic Director Kevin White canned head coach Tyrone Willingham after three years. It is widely assumed by everyone other than Urban Meyer that Urban Meyer will take the job. He went to Florida. Notre Dame got mushed.

    Jack Del Rio
    He called a straight-up-the-gut run on third-and-3 from the Steelers' 16-yard line with 2:16 left. Rather than play to win, he delayed the mushing. Oh, Jacksonville kicked the field goal for the 16-14 lead, but left 1:50 on the clock. Predictably, Ben "Do you think your Wu-Tang sword can defeat me?" Roethlisberger marched his Steelers down the field for the decisive field goal. Predictably, this was done against a soft defense. The Jaguars got mushed. They should put Del Rio in the bathroom.

    College basketball fans
    I watched my No. 11 North Carolina Tar Heels wreck those No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday afternoon. Oh wait, that's a giant lie because network executives opted not to show a great December matchup between the two winningest programs in Division I history. Instead, we were treated to Notre Dame vs. Michigan and that instant classic Maryland vs. George Mason. We got mushed.

    Tom Coughlin
    A fifth straight loss for the Giants has me wondering if Coughlin tried to park in Jim Fassel's spot on the street, who would GM Ernie Accorsi defend? The Giants allowed the Redskins to score more than 20 points for the first time all season. Eli Manning put up another dumper of a game, and the Giants got mushed.

    Marion Jones
    Eventual convicted felon Victor Conte went on national television and dropped bombs on how he helped Marion Jones take steroids and cheat for the 2000 Olympics. Whether or not you believe Conte, it didn't look good for Jones, who yes, you guessed it, got mushed. (It is worth noting that Conte has a mustache, and we all know you can't trust a guy with a mustache, especially one that doesn't even stretch entirely across the upper lip.)

    Victor Conte
    Eventual convicted felon Victor Conte went on national television and dropped bombs on how he helped Marion Jones take steroids and cheat for the 2000 Olympics. Whether or not you believe Conte, it didn't look good for Conte, who gave the prosecution plenty of material to stick in their legal needle and inject into Conte on cross-examination.

    Jason Giambi
    This mamaluke took a needle and stabbed himself in the stomach. Repeatedly. No amount of clear, cream, red beans, clomid or "flaxseed oil" can undo this self-injected mushing.

    Mark La Monica
    I defended Barry Bonds for the last four years. I got mushed.

    Brock Berlin
    This Miami Hurricane quarterback finally stopped living someone else's life. He showed why he was recruited by the Florida Gators -- he choked in the big game and can't deal with the lore of Miami. On the final possession, trailing Virginia Tech 16-10 with the ACC championship and a berth in the Sugar Bowl on the line, he had three of his four passes deflected at the line or by a defensive back. The other pass, well Berlin was kind enough to completely miss everyone in sight. Miami got mushed. But as us Hurricane fans in the North say, "Brock is God, but I'm an atheist."

    The Knicks
    It appears the New York Knickerbockers were in control of a game down in Charlotte, against the lowly expansion Bobcats (perhaps the best college team ever assembled, next to those Clippers teams of the early 1990s). Upon next glance at the television screen, the Knicks lost to the Bobcats, 107-101. A mushing on the road is still a mushing.

    E-MAIL ME

    Friday, December 03, 2004

    Bonds could be clean . . . ?

    My most upsetting sports day since Nov. 7, 1991 -- the day Magic Johnson announced his retirement because of HIV -- began with a phone call.

    "Still think Bonds didn't do steroids?" Lawyer friend Steve said.

    I really wanted to say yes, but after Juicin Giambi and his brother Jerecream Giambi admitted to taking steroids to a San Francisco grand jury, it's kind of hard to think Bonds is innocent.

    But I really want to. Believing Bonds is clean is my last grasp for youth. Believing Bonds is clean keeps me thinking about being 12 years old, playing Whiffle Ball and hitting the storm door with a baseball when Dad taught me how to pitch. (For those not familiar with my childhood home geography, that pitch would have been about 12 feet outside for a lefty, and about 8 feet behind a righty. NOTE: It wasn't a curveball.)

    Believing Bonds is clean allows some room for innocent idealism, which is completely gone anyway. But a kid, 29 years old or not, can always dream of the beauty of being a kid.

    Instead, I get to deal with legal cheating.

    I was prepared to burn my Jason Giambi T-shirt (for the record, it was purchased for me, not by me -- prepositions are very important in this situation), take pictures of it and post them here. However, when I got home from work, I remembered I threw that trashbucket's shirt out a few months ago after two long workouts in which I took a few sips of detectable water from a very non-designer water fountain.

    So there will be no burning of Giambi shirts, unless one of my loyal readers wants to mail me one. I'll gladly burn it, take pictures and properly document your donation. (E-mail me and we can discuss this.)

    And if anyone can help me take back the night of May 17, 2002 when I cheered in the Gaslight Lounge as Giambi earned his pinstripes with a grand slam in the 14th inning to beat the Twins 13-12 at the Stadium, I'd appreciate it. I'll send you some "red beans" and rice.

    In the meantime, I will remain awake as long as possible until I can legitimately rationalize Bonds being clean. This could take a while. Thankfully, I'm off Friday and Saturday, so I have some time.

    In Friday's edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, it was reported that Bonds told the grand jury he took the cream and the clear but did so unknowingly. Interesting. Could be believable. That seems to fall in line with the federal charges against BALCO president Victor Conte, indicted for distributing undetectable steroids to elite athletes. Hmmm? Undetectable is in the same Pac Bell ballpark as unknowingly.

    Hey, maybe I'll get some sleep tonight.

    Next up on the docket: Greg Anderson, Bonds' trainer, has documents showing payments and calendars and they have Bonds' name on them. Bonds claims to never have seen them until that day in court last December. Again, could be entirely possible that Anderson knew exactly what he was giving Bonds and was documenting things for CYA purposes (that's Cover Your Patoot, but the patoot starts with an 'a' and ends in 's' and has another consonant that rhymes with 's' in between). Could be? Could be!

    I'll be asleep before the Leno reruns end.

    Bonds and Anderson have been friends for a very long time. Bonds makes millions, Anderson does not. Bonds hires Anderson as his trainer a few years ago. Anderson wants to be accepted by Bonds and other ballplayers. ( I mean, really, what do weight trainers have going for themselves in life aside from Zubaz pants and cutoff B.U.M. equipment sweatshirts? It's not like they all can be Rick Derris.) Anderson gets these designer steroids and won't tell Bonds what they are because he's afraid of losing his meal ticket. It's possible.

    Bonds was an amazing baseball player well before he hit those 73 home runs in 2001. He always had talent. Isn't it feasible that he finally figured out a strike zone? These steroids that people speak of in the same sentence as Bonds, do they make him not swing at pitches that are out of the strike zone? Do they make him single through a right side of the infield that looks like Normandy Beach when he bats? Do they really make him hit home runs? It's not like he never had a 40-homer season before that year? OK, maybe steroids can take a guy from 40 to something higher, but it's not as if Bonds was averaging seven home runs a season.

    I'm just saying it's entirely possible.

    Bring on Jack McCoy. Let's go Ben Stone. I'll take you both out. I'm raising reasonable doubt. I feel like Jerry Gallo, oh wait, Jerry Callo, hold up, Vincent LaGuardia Gambini.

    But wait a second, Barry Bonds does have a really big f-bombing head nowadays.

    Damn!

    I could be up until next Thursday.

    E-mail me

    Thursday, December 02, 2004

    Giambi's domino effect

    Gasp! You mean.... YOU LIED TO US??? Say it ain't so, Giambino, say it ain't so!

    ...Well, it's so. And anyone who thinks it isn't needs to have his head examined. Jason Giambi took steroids. So did his talent-deprived brother. It says so in black and white in a transcript of a grand jury hearing obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle and reported today.

    The findings directly contradict several separate public denials by Giambi that he took performance-enhancing drugs. They also serve as an affirmation of those who have long suspected (and accused) baseball's top sluggers of cheating in an attempt to gain a competitive edge.

    If the house of cards was quivering before, it's collapsing now. Giambi will find that out soon enough, as the crush of these revelations bears down on him with devastating force. An MVP career will be exposed and assassinated in the court of public opinion -- and after Giambi's lies to fans and reporters, who could blame them?

    More upheaval will follow. Speculation against Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield, and others implicated in the BALCO case will intensify. Against all logic, more denials will be issued... Then another grand jury transcript will surface, and another career will be destroyed.

    As betrayed as fans are likely to feel over Giambi's admissions, the anger is tempered by the warning signs that hinted he was crooked long before today's news. We laughed knowingly when the Giambino showed up to spring training last year about a refrigerator lighter, then claimed to have lost only "four pounds" due to a "new workout regimen." We saw it coming as the BALCO probe grew deeper and when Sheffield blabbed to Sports Illustrated a day before the ALDS that he had used something called "the cream," a supposedly undetectable performance-enchancer. We're angry today, but in reality, we've been preparing for it for months.

    So perhaps what's most striking about this whole case is how sad this all is. It's sad and dispicable that Giambi lied to the fans, the fans who buy the tickets and the jerseys and the t-shirts that pay the $17-million salary per year he has earned by striking out and sitting on the bench the last two years. It's sad the damage this will do to Baseball, which cannot be completely absolved due to its laughable drug-testing policy. It's sad that Giambi and his cohorts actually believed they could get away with the charade. And it's sad the damage Giambi and his brother did to themselves. That Giambino and mini-G were were willing to entrust their lives and their multi-million-dollar careers to a group of men who cared for little else than the $10,000 they were paid for grab bags of drugs is the saddest and most discomforting aspect of this whole case.

    Among the drugs the Giambis admitted to taking is Clomid, a female fertility drug which can exacerbate tumors on the pituitary gland. They also tested positive for Deca Durabolin, a steroid which causes shrinking of testes and has been linked to prostate cancer. They may also have taken Depo-Testosterone, which causes an enlarging of the breasts and baldness in men.

    As your stomach turns, think about this: The Giambis also admitted to following a calendar by which they took three different pills (idenitfied by color: "white," "yellow" and "orange") about which they knew ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ELSE. Jeremy's explanation for it all? "I didn't think the guy would send me something that was, you know, Drano or something, you know, I mean, I hope he wouldn't."

    Horrifying.

    It's times like these I'm glad I'm not a professional baseball columnist, charged with actually trying to make sense of all this witlessness. All I can say is that it ain't pretty, and it's only going to get worse. Who will be the next to fall? It's only a matter of time before we find out.

    E-mail Mike Casey at michael.casey@newsday.com.

    Wednesday, December 01, 2004

    Is Notre Dame still Notre Dame?

    Notre Dame.

    An imposing phrase when constructed as such. Our Lady, the translated version, does little to invoke football prestige, unless your CYO team used Our Lady in its title somehow.

    But, Notre Dame. Wow, it packs a whallop.

    Or does it? Does Notre Dame still carry the same weight as in the 1980s and decades prior? I don't know the answer, but I'm leaning toward the no side of the pendulum.

    People pontificate about the Notre Dame head football coach being the greatest, most glamorous, most prestigious and toughest job in the country. I'm not so sure that's true anymore. The toughest part I believe, though. High academic standards, the alumni pressure, the eyes of the world on you every week.

    I can't deny the prestige and worldwide appeal of the Fighting Irish, either. And there's a prevailing concept that the Heisman Trophy goes through Notre Dame. USC grad Carson Palmer is a student in that school of thought, and current USC quarterback Matt Leinart has applied for admission with his five-touchdown performance that ultimately put the kabosh on Ty Willingham's coaching tenure at Notre Dame.

    But how much of it is people not altering their thoughts under the new sports landscape. Notre Dame has its own television contract with NBC, but with ESPN, ESPN2, ABC, FSN, CBS, ABC, NCAA and any other alphabetic combination you care to generate, I've seen Miami and Boise State play just as much as Notre Dame this season. And I live on Long Island, not exactly the hotbed of college football.

    Notre Dame can't attract the same caliber of athlete as the Miamis, the Florida States, the USCs or the Michigans. That's not a bad thing, that's not a good thing. It's just a true thing. And it ultimately contributed to Willingham's firing, the first in a very long time at Notre Dame.

    Is Notre Dame clutching at straws trying to return to the glory of its past in a new sports world? I hope not, because seeing the Fighting Irish in the national championship game would be amazing. It would be a solid "Stick it up your patoot, BCS people!" and I'm all in favor of underdogs sticking it to the big dogs whenever possible.

    Those golden helmets shining on national television in late November, 100,000 people cheering in South Bend, cold weather outside, warmth inside, Musberger (somehow) announcing (on NBC even though his contract is with ABC), a berth in the national championship on the line against USC. It could be a magical moment.

    Or, it could be Auburn or Oklahoma or Miami or Florida State or Ohio State or Michigan or Texas against Auburn or Oklahoma or Miami or Florida State or Ohio State or Michigan or Texas. Would it be that much different?

    Help me sort it out