Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
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IS IT SPRING TRAINING YET?
2004-01-12 12:29
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

No, I guess it sure isn't. We are in the heart of football season, so for what it's worth, I figured I'd watch as much of the playoffs as I could stand. I used to be a football fan, a big one. Now, my football diet is anemic. Truthfully, I didn't watch more than one quarter of football until the playoffs all season long. My football intake has dropped steadily for years and it's at an all-time low. Part of it is that Emily doesn't like football at all; the other part is that I can't be bothered with anything but baseball—heck, especially in the off-season.

I don't miss football either. It's nice to know that it's there, and that I can drop in on it every once in a while. After a couple of years in college, I became a generally less angry person and something started to go out of football for me. But I used to be a football junkie. At times during my adolescence I loved it more than baseball. And I mean playing it with local kids as well as following the pros in the NFL. The idea of football Sunday was a lot more meaningful to me as a kid than it is for me today. Now, I want something everyday like baseball. Screw having to wait for the weekend.

My peak football years were from age 8 in 1979 through 17 in '88. Or something close to that. The Jets were my local team but I primarily rooted for the Cowboys. Figures, right? Who else is a Yankee fan going to pull for? Well it just so happened that when I first became aware that football mattered to my peers in school, the Steelers and the Cowboys were the two hottest teams to pick from. I went with the star on the Dallas helmet caused it looked cool, and that was about all there was to the decision.

Growing up in New York though, I ran into a lot of static from Giants fans. Hell, who cared that I liked the Jets—that was my problem—but that I liked Dallas? That was a cardinal sin. What ever for? What are you an a-hole? For the corporate tidiness of Tom Landry? Well, it was either that or the outlaw image of the Raiders or the cool efficiency of Don Shula's Dolphins. I went with Dallas. Those were the teams most people chose from. I went with Big D and subsequently experienced some of the most heart-wrenching defeats I would ever encounter as a fan.

It was my misfortune to start rooting for Dallas in their declining years of the eighties. That it coincided with the Yankees demise made it seem worse to me. I was too young to remember their two Super Bowl losses to Pittsburgh in the late seventies; I also was too young for Dallas' Super Bowl victory over Denver in 1977. But I was old enough for that loss to San Francisco in '81. It was the year that got away for the Cowboys. Danny White had his best season. But ah yes, Dwight Clark, and the catch. I can still bearly look at the replays.

It stands out for me also because that was the year my parents split. So all of the losses seemed harder to take that year and for a couple of years after that too. (Naturally, the Yankees would blow a 2-0 lead and drop the World Serious to L.A. later in 1981.)

It got worse for Dallas, but I prevailed. Through the tears and torment. Playoff beatings at the hands of the dreaded Redskins and insufferable Philly Eagles. Eventually, they started to bottom out. When the Bears tore through the league in 1985, they put a 44-0 whoopin' on a staggering Dallas franchise in the middle of the season, it cemented the end of the Dallas Cowboys as they had been known. The Era was over.

I was mortified, but determined to do the right thing by my team. I was a freshman in high school, and still more consumed by sports than I was by girls. Monday morning, I go to school with my Tony Dorsett jersey and my navy blue Dallas Cowboy sweat pants, that had the helmet logo on the hip. Yo, I had the wrist bans going and everything. The whole schmeer. So yeah, I got tooled on. I got all sorts of abuse for it. Monique Sampirie—the first girl I ever dated—walked right up to me and laughed right in my grill even though she didn't know the first thing about football. Not only that, but she also knew that I knew that she didn't know anyting about football. But everbody hears about a 44-0 beatdown. Dag.

But that was all cool. I could take the abuse. It's all part of the game. The important part for me was that nobody was ever going to be able to say that I wasn't a loyal fan. And that's what counts in war (beer). And football is a battlefield (puke). And I am a warrior (Geek).

When I did start to invest more time with girls than sports in high school, it was hard to sustain my interest in football. By that time the Cowboys were in despair. When they unceremoniously dismissed old man Landry, I had my out. In honor of the great man, I officially retired as a Cowboy fan. I was in college when Dallas became great again, first under Jimmy Johnson, and then briefly with Barry Switzer. I pulled for them, but strictly in a superficial sense. The uniforms were still appealing and that made me feel nostalgic, but I wasn't going to die with them. It didn't matter as much by that time.

Having said that, I was happy that the Cowboys lost in first round of the playoffs to Carolina this year under Pacells. He had a great year with them, but if they are going to be worth anything, then they've got to earn it. And I think Parcells did a good enough job just getting them a playoff game this year. Winning it would have seemed liked too much too soon.

II

I saw most of the Carolina-St. Louis game, a sloppy, poorly-executed affair which turned dramatic and entertaining late when the Rams came back to force overtime. It annoyed me for the first three quarters and I played with remote control quite a bit. Carolina had a chance to win it in overtime, but were called for a delay of game while setting up for a 39-yard field goal attempt —incidently, before the flag was thrown, Carolina ran the play, and kicked the field goal. Bounced out of good position, John Kasay ultimately hooked a 45-yard attempt wide right. Wasn't an awful kick. But there it was: Carolina had a chance to seal the win, and they blew it. So I didn't want them to lose and was happy enough when they won. The most compelling thing about the Rams is Marshall Faulk, who is an all-time great competitor and athlete. He played a riveting a great game as well.

Then of course, came the Titans v. the Pats. I was pulling hard for the Titans, not so much because I especially hate the Patriots—I don't—but because I think that year-in and year-out Jeff Fisher, Steve McNair and the Titans are one of the most likeable teams in the league. It was fuh-fuh-fuh-freezin in New York over the weekend, so Saturday night in New England was no treat. New England won a tight match, 17-14. The Eagles would beat Green Bay by the same score in a similiarly played game on Sunday.

I got to thinking about clutch players watching the end of the Pats-Titans game. Trailing by three points, the Titans had their last shot. Drew Bennett, a wide receiver, made two brilliant receptions falling out of bounds to keep Tennesse alive. The first one was contested, but it held up, and was an eye-popping grab. But on what would be the last offensive play of the year for the Titans, Bennett dropped a Grab-em ball by McNair, that was he had right in his hands. The definition of what would be considered a "choke" play.

Now, what is he? A choker? That's impossible. The Titans might have been done earlier had he not made the two marvelous side line catches. So what is clutch and what is a choke? And can you have both of them in one series or one at-bat? Either way, I'll bet Bennett was feeling pretty sick after he dropped the last one. I'm sure he feels worse today. But I hope he reminds himself of the great grabs too while he's beating himself up during the off-season. Those were bonafide.

I missed the Colts game, but am pleased with the outcome. Manning is pedigree and I like that he's got the monkey off his back as far as winning in the playoffs. What is it with Kansas City? Why do they have these years where they go 14-2 and lose in the first round of the playoffs?
The Philly-Carolina match up is a dud for a causual football fan like me. I would rather see Philly in the Super Bowl I guess. The Colts at New England could be a great game. I don't know if Manning gets it done up there, but if he does, he'll have earned it. That would be appealing. Still, if Tom Brady has a great game and the Pats win it, I can get with that too. Either way, I think I'm going going to root for the AFC in the Super Bowl this year.

Speaking of meat, it looks like former Yankee defensive tackle Roger Clemens will come out of "retirement" to pitch for the Houston Astros in 2004. Clemens will earn $5 million and pitch alongside his pal Andy Pettitte. Book Rocket's name making the Boss' enemy list, oh about five minutes ago.

Hey...Is it spring training yet?

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