Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Knock 'Em out the Box (Something to Think About)
2008-01-22 18:03
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to

I think that the Patriots will wipe the floor with the Giants in the Super Bowl in spite of the fact that New York has a shot to make it a real contest. But it would sure be something if the Giants ended the Patriots' epic season, wouldn't it? And I'm not a Giants fan, just a New Yorker. I mean, dag, even the Celtics are more than just a fluke.

Truth is, I never disliked the Pats or Celtics as a kid, even though I've always loathed the Red Sox. (Same fans pretty much, just different time of year. Makes a lot of sense, huh?) Morgan, Grogan,James, Tippett (the "other" 56)--all favorites. The 80s Celtics too. Liked 'em better than Showtime. Nate Archibald was my first favorite player (mostly because I was short and his name was Tiny). Bird, McHale, the Big Chief. And now, I find it difficult to hate Tom Brady or Kevin Garnett, who has always been terrific, one of the very best things about the NBA.

Speaking of the Celts, have you ever read Bill Russell's memoir "Second Wind: Memoirs of an Opinonated Man," written with the historian Taylor Branch? Russell grew up in West Oakland, and I came across this book when I was writing Stepping Up, a biography of Curt Flood--who, incidentally, would have turned 70 last week. Rusell was four years older than Flood but played high school basketball with Frank Robinson. Anyhow, it is a good read, emotionally direct and tender--worth snatching up if you ever find it in a used bookshop.

One of my favorite stories is about Russell's grandfather and his mule, Kate. Russell's family was from Monroe, Louisiana and he actually lived down there until he was about ten. He called his father's father, The Old Man. When Russell was four or five (1938-9), he followed his grandfather and Kate around one day:

I could tell that Kate and the Old Man understood each other. One day I was walking along with them when Kate decided to go off and stand in a ditch. Being an honest mule, she had a stubborn, mulish personality, and she stood there with this determined look on her face. It was as if Kate were saying, Okay, I got you now. We're going to do this my way." The Old Man did everything he could to get Kate back up on the road. I watched him talk to her, and push, pull, shove and kick—a tough job, because there must have been nine hundred pounds of mule there. The Old Man would get Kate's front up on the raod and be cooing into her ear, but when he walked around to pull up her taile end, the front would sidle back into the ditch again—so he'd take a deep breath and start over. I was taking all this in, and I couldn't believe that the Old Man didn't lose his temper.

After a long ordeal, Kate finally wound up back on the road. The Old Man looked exhausted, and the mule must have taken some satisfaction from all the effort she'd cost him. She looked fresh and relaxed, standing there as warm and lazy as the country air. The Old Man leaned on Kate and rested there for a minute or two; then out of nowhere he hauled off and punched her with his bare fist. Wack, just once, right on the side of the neck. The thud was so loud that I must have jumped a foot. The mule gently swayed back and forth groggily; then her front legs buckled and she collapsed to her knees. Then the hindquarters slowly buckled and settled down too. Kate looked all bent and contorted, like a squatting camel, as she sat there with a vacant stare in her eyes. I was dumbstruck. Right in front of my eyes the Old Man had knocked out a mule with one punch.

He never said a word to me or to the mule. He just let Kate sit there for a minute, and then he grabbed her by the head and picked her up. "Okay, let's go," he said quietly, and we started off again as if nothing had happened.

That sight stuck in my mind so vividly that I learned a practical lesson from it. I got into very few fights when I played for the Celtics, but every single one of them was in the last quarter, after the game was decided. You have to choose when to fight, and that is the time. The Old Man knew he'd have been in big trouble if he'd knocked that mule down in the ditch, so he waited until it didn't cost him anything. Then he relieved his frustration and gave Kate something to think about.

Eat your heart out, Mongo.

2008-01-22 18:53:41
1.   Josh Wilker
0 :
"And I'm not a Giants fan, just a New Yorker."

I lived in NYC, mostly Brooklyn, for 12 years and never personally knew a Giants fan. This is probably mostly a function of my reclusiveness, but since I came to know several Yankees and Mets and Knicks and Rangers fans, and since I remember walking out onto 8th street and Broadway minutes after the Giants won the Scott Norwood Super Bowl and saw no signs of celebration anywhere, I came to the conclusion that the Giants aren't as much of a New York team as the teams that actually play in New York. I wonder if that rings at all true with anyone else.

2008-01-22 19:38:59
2.   Chyll Will
1 I run into a lot of Giants fans (my Uncle Woodrow is one of em), but I think you're onto something; NFL football isn't played within the city limits anymore, so though we'll go crazy and celebrate, it'll be indoors where it's warm. Another way to look at it is that the NY Giants/Jets play right across the street from the New Jersey Nets (even though geographically/technically, the Nets are closer to New York City, and will be in the city soon), which to me is kinda hypocritical. Other teams play in the suburbs of the city they rep, but there's something about New York that doesn't really accept that reckoning, I dunno...

Oddly enough, throughout the season while I was PAing on location, I also ran into a lot of Jets fans/supporters; one guy in Brooklyn was livid about our blocking a side street to shoot a scene, but said to me, "I was angry at you until I saw your Jets jacket." So, passions run somewhere at least >;)

2008-01-22 20:49:42
3.   Shaun P
1 2 Maybe one of my fellow upstaters could back me up on this, but with the exception of Western NY, upstate is loaded with Giants fans. From my perspective, Jets fans were almost always people from the City or very near it. I have no idea why this is so.

There is also a large segment of the older NE population that were Giants fans way back in the day, when the Pats were beyond horrible and the Giants were on TV up here all the time. This may explain why I've never met a Pats fan who disliked the Giants.

2008-01-23 05:27:25
4.   RIYank
Absolutely -- I spent the first 18 years of my life in NY, but I was not a Giants fan after they moved across the river. (In my house we were Jets fans... briefly.)

Shaun is right, too -- the Superbowl is particularly interesting here in southern New England because fans older than I am were Giants fans before the Pats existed, and then a lot of them stayed on board rather than shift allegiance to the upstart league.

2008-01-23 05:38:59
5.   Murray
Mongo but pawn in game of life.
2008-01-23 06:36:23
6.   joe in boston
3 I'm from upstate (around Schenectady) originally. Complete die-hard Jints fans up there. I remember a few Bills fans, and even fewer Jets fans. Just like the Yanks in the early 70s, we suffered with the Fumble, (etc) and some bad Giants teams. Those Super Bowl wins were precious. I hope we can pull it off again.

As for the Pats - well I kinda like them. Their fans are now starting to get really annoying and (of course) sports talk radio up here is REALLY getting annoying.... (stating the obvious I know)

2008-01-23 06:43:29
7.   rbj
3 Former upstater (Hudson Valley), and from when I was there (1980s) there were a lot of Giants fans. The only Superbowl I saw in a bar was 1987.

I don't have the passion for the Giants that I do for the Yankees; I could have lived with a Packers' win last Sunday and I could appreciate a perfect Patriots' season, unlike a certain Boston team ending a curse (*#$%^$ grumble, grumble &^%@#$!)

The Patriots used to be such a joke growing up that no one really took notice of them except to tease the one Pats fan in school (what kind of nickname is "Pats" for a football team?)

Still, here's hoping it only takes Eli fours years to do what it took his big brother nine to do.

2008-01-23 07:01:34
8.   Knuckles
I think there is a huge difference between the Sox fans I knew growing up and the Pats fans. Namely- there weren't any Pats fans, until about 5 years ago. My crew of college buddies includes a handful from Mass/Rhodie, all die hard Sawx rooters. All of them, while in school, were fans of other teams or disinterested in the NFL. One was the biggest Vikes fan ever, even up to the point in time that the Giants punched them in the mouth in the NFC championship game- I remember this because we had some bets and trash-talking going on. Then, magically they all became bigtime Pats supporters in the past few eyars. Go figger.
2008-01-23 07:02:31
9.   joe in boston
"Pats" - I agree, funny.

I had a "Who's on First ..." moment with my 5 year old son over the weekend. He couldn't understand that the nickname for the Patriots is the Pats. He wanted to know why the Pats couldn't play the Patriots- strange how his mind works ?!

2008-01-23 07:33:03
10.   Josh Wilker
The Giants being big upstate makes sense in light of Frederick Exley's masterpiece A Fan's Notes, which brilliantly contrasts the upstate-born author's personal trials and tribulations with his rabid Giants fandom.
2008-01-23 15:50:33
11.   LukeS
As a native Upstater, I actually rooted for the Giants before I ever devoted my emotions to the Yanks. My ardor for the Giants cooled a long time ago (though I hope they win next month!), but my devotion to the Yankees remains bright and burnished and eternal.

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