Search This Blog

16 June, 2014

Remembering Tony Gwynn

  I had the great honor of working with Tony Gwynn on a few occasions and on the day of his passing, I wanted to share a few stories from those occurrences.

  In 2002, Tony came to ESPN to do some part-time work as a game analyst and an analyst on Baseball Tonight. I was the Coordinating Producer of BBTN at the time. On Tony's first day we began our show meeting with the usual banter about the days games, things we should be talking about on the show that night, etc. The Baseball Tonight meetings were always lively. Whether it was the former player or manager telling stories or the staff debating the hot topics, the meeting was never dull.
   On this day the topic switched to a hitter who was struggling and Tony said something like, "well, his hands are all messed up. He needs to fix that."
   "What do you mean?" someone asked.
   Tony then began describing how the player's wrists weren't cocked properly. He held up his hands to show proper alignment, what poor alignment looked like and how that impacts the contact a hitter makes. The room was silent. It was like everyone's mouths had been taped shut. Not a peep. After a few moments Tony realized how much the decibel level in the room had dropped. He paused, put his head down and then said, "Sorry. I didn't mean to bore everyone." A few of us chuckled and I spoke up, "Tony," I said, "We are not bored. No one ever silences this room but you did because you have us eating out of the palms of your hands. If you say those kinds of things on TV, you'll be fine."
   When the meeting was over everyone in the room looked at each other with a "I can't believe I get to come to work and learn about hitting from Tony Gwynn!" grin on their face.
    As we got closer to show time, Tony was terrified. We weren't sure if he was going to go on. We were stunned. This sure-fire Hall of Famer who had been the greatest pure hitter of recent vintage had stage fright. My boss, Jay Levy, convinced Tony that it would be fine  and it was. Tony went on and the show was smooth. I'm sure years later he had long forgotten that day,  but no one else in the show meeting that afternoon ever will.

   Flash-forward to July, 2007 and I am in Cooperstown to help produce the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. That year featured Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn. Kind of a big deal. I re-introduced myself to Tony at our production meeting the day before the ceremonies. I had done six inductions before that one and had made a habit of asking the inductees this question, "So, when you get on the bus tomorrow morning to ride over from the hotel to the ceremonies with the all those Hall of Famers, what will that ride be like?"
    Tony looked at me a little wide-eyed at the thought that had not occurred to him. He kind of giggled his famous giggle and simply said, "Awesome."
   The next morning Tim Kurkjian told me that he had run into Tony Gwynn Jr and asked him how his dad was feeling. Tony Jr said to Tim, "At 10 o'clock in the morning he asked me to go get him a beer... and he doesn't drink."

   Tony's speech was heartfelt. Contrary to Ripken who had scripted his speech and even included a stunt to present his wife with a rose, Gwynn spoke off the cuff. He remembered family and friends and everyone who helped him along the way. He told stories about teammates and expressed his admiration for Jackie Robinson and those who helped pave the way. He was humble and humbled by the moment.

    Tony Gwynn's career started when I was 15, right in my sports-loving wheelhouse.
Even back in the pre-internet dark days, everyone knew about Gwynn and his potential when he came up.  Back then the Braves played in the NL West with San Diego and their games were on TBS, so whenever Atlanta played San Diego, it was a chance to watch Tony play. What a treat.
In his first full season in the majors he hit .351. He stole 33 bases and struck out 23 times. That's right. 23. In 675 plate appearances. 23. His teammate that year, Bruce Bochy, struck out 21 times... in 97 plate appearances. The man never struck out more than 40 times in a season. In 20 seasons! Watching him hit was a joy. He was a master at his craft. On top of all that, he was also a really nice man with an infectious laugh and a love for the game as great as anyones.

  For more on just how amazing Gwynn was, check out Jayson Stark's column

08 April, 2014

Digger Phelps

  In 1982 I hopped on a plane as a 15-year old, hoops-loving basketball player bound for Digger Phelp's basketball camp at Notre Dame. The thought of setting foot on the legendary campus to be coached by one of the highest profile coaches in the country was thrilling. Digger and his team had ended UCLA's historic 88-game win streak in 1974 and his reputation had preceded him since that day.
   The week was full of great moments. I had my first in-game dunk in a pickup game on the outdoors courts. We got a tour of the football stadium. The days were filled with hours of basketball and I was on a team coached by John Shumate. Oh, and I even got to see Digger. Twice.
   One night during the week Digger came to dinner at the camp and did a Q+A session. He also came to camp one day to give us some instruction. At one point Digger wanted to use a couple of the kids from the camp to demonstrate what he was talking about, so he called up some campers. One young man in particular caught his attention (sadly, it wasn't me). Digger called the boy over, gave him a look over and asked, "Son, what's that on your lip?"
"It's a mustache, coach!" said the boy whose 'stache made Tim Lincecum's current effort look like Tom Selleck's.
"What's that on your teeth, son?" Digger wanted to know next.
"Those are braces, coach!"
 Digger gave the boy another long look over and then pronounced, "One of them has got to go!"

  Flash forward to 2000. I am the coordinating producer on College Hoops Tonight and am working with non-other than Digger Phelps. Duke and Maryland are scheduled to play a big game so we decide to take Digger down to the studio and he's going to tape a chalkboard segment where he explains why Maryland's defense could cause problems for Duke. We spend about 30 minutes taping the segment, getting it just right. Digger's working hard, drawing all over the board and making a great case for Maryland's defense. When it's over I sidle up to Digger and say, "You know Digger, I just learned more from you in those 30 minutes than I did in a week at your camp." Digger busted out with his patented and infectious laugh.
   When we got back to the newsroom I called my dad on the phone and asked him, "How much did it cost to send me to Notre Dame basketball camp?"
   "Probably around two hundred dollars," he said.
   "Hang on a second," I say as I hand the phone to coach Phelps.
   "Mr. Ramsey? This is Digger Phelps. I owe you a refund."

   Digger announced yesterday that he is retiring from ESPN after 20 years. I'm really going to miss him and I'm not sure I'll ever see him again, which makes me very sad, because he still owes my dad that 200 bucks.

   All kidding aside, Digger was great to have around. He always referred to me and John Buccigross as his campers (we were actually there at the same time. How weird is that?!).
    Working with Digger was always fun because he understood the value of informing and entertaining and that there was a way to do both at the same time.

30 March, 2014

2014 Mets: An Oral History

   In February of 2014 New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson told his staff that the ball club could, and maybe should, win 90 games that season. That proclamation was made knowing the team would not have Matt Harvey (he of the 2016 and 2018 Cy Young awards) in their rotation, knowing the team had huge holes at first base and shortstop and knowing he had added two bats to the lineup in Chris Young and Curtis Granderson who had holes in their swings as big as the holes at first and short. He also had an unproven commodity at catcher. It was a brazen suggestion that was chum in the water for the tabloid sharks on the Mets beat. This is the story of how the 2014 Mets chased 90 wins from the men who did the chasing.

   David Wright (.306, 26 HR, 102 rbi in '14): Opening day is always exciting. Our club has great history on opening day. The best record in baseball... so Family Guy can bite me. We knew facing Strasburg and the Nats would be a challenge, but we were pumped.

Dillon Gee (13-9, 3.62 era in '14): It was a thrill to get the ball on opening day. So many great Mets have had that honor. Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Dwight Gooden, Pete Harnisch. It's quite a list.

 Daniel Murphy (.288, 39 doubles in '14): Beating Strasburg and the Nats was a great way to start the season. We were down early but rallied for a 4-2 win and hoped that would be a tone setter.

Terry Collins (lead Mets to playoffs in 2015-2018): I remember thinking that if we got out of the gate well that year we could really build some momentum and be in the hunt. Losing the 3 out of 5 in that first home stand hurt. Then we went on that road trip to Atlanta, Anaheim and Arizona. After we lost 2 of 3 in Atlanta I was nervous about flying to Anaheim. That hasn't gone well for Mets managers in the past.

Sandy Anlderson (Mets G.M. 2010-2020) I sat next to Terry on that flight. As we were getting off the plane I told him, "Leave the lineup card, take the cannoli..." just to mess with him.

Wright: Trout's walk-off homer was a crusher. Bartolo pitched so well that game but Parnell wasn't himself yet.

Bobby Parnell (2nd on Mets All-Time saves list): Hanging breaking ball. He hit it over the rocks. I was so embarrassed I shaved my beard after that game so people wouldn't recognize me.

Ike Davis (.203, 8 HR, 22 rbi in '14, traded to Oakland that summer. Hit 261 HRs in his A's career):  You know, the year before our first road trip was to Philly, Minnesota and Colorado. We frolicked in more snow those 11 days than Frosty ever did. The first trip in '14 was a nice, warm change of pace. I was sweating every day like I had Valley Fever.

Curtis Granderson (.248, 27 HR, 85 rbi, 172 Ks in '14): We came back to NYC and it was colder than the reception Rocky got in Russia. It was a tough home stand against Atlanta, St. Louis and Miami, but 3 of those games got postponed. It really affected Bartolo.

Collins: Yeah... all those postponements and delays gave Bart a lot of time to wonder around the stadium and get to know the place.

Dan Warthen (Mets pitching coach until 2019): He wandered over to Shake Shack a lot.

Bartolo Colon (8-2, 3.10 era in '14. traded that summer to Kansas City): They had a Shake Shack at Citi Field!! I love Shake Shack!!

  The Mets finished the month 10-14. The highlight came the last day in April when Lucas Duda hit 3 homers in a game at Citizen's Bank Park in Philly.

10 wins down. 80 to go. 


Eric Young (.267, 33 SBs in '14): We went on that trip to Colorado and I was so excited. I love playing against my old team, but the Mets had an investment in Chris Young.

Chris Young (.218, 11 HR, 183 Ks in '14): When I look back at my career, I try not to think of those first three games in Colorado. It's hard to go 0-11 with 11 strikeouts, but I did it. To this day I can't even join LinkedIn because I can't make contacts.

E. Young: At least I got in that last game and hit for the cycle. That was cool.

Wright: That was a good stretch for us that year. We won 7 of 10 heading into the Yankees series. We were ready. Niese was really pitching well.

Jon Niese: (15-9, 4.07 era in '14): I was pitching really well.

Collins: The year before we had swept them for the first time ever, so we were confident. When we got them in '14 Jeter was on the DL, Teixeira was really struggling and Sabathia's fastball was like Madonna, peaking in the 80s.

Travis d'Arnaud: (.239, 23 doubles in '14): Wheels was amazing that first game. His fastball was popping, his breaking stuff was fantastic. I really thought he was going to get that no-no but Gardner dropped down that BS drag bunt in the 7th.

Lucas Duda: (.261, 21 HR, 69 rbi in '14): I had settled into first base by then, but cell phones in 1990 still had better range than I did.  He beat it out easily.

Wright: It was nice to take 3 out of 4 from them, even though Jeets didn't play. His last game at Citi Field we gave him a construction hat with the New York skyline on it because no one had done more screwing, nailing and banging around the city than that guy. Although Harvey was a close second.

Matt Harvey: (203-102, 3.14 era as a Met): I loved Jeter growing up, so I wanted to do everything he did. That included Jessica Alba, Minka Kelly and the rest. Except Mariah Carey. She was too old.

Collins: We were rolling but probably got a little too big for our britches after that Yankees series. The Dodgers came in and shut us out three straight. I hadn't seen that many zeros since I watched Fred Wilpon sign a few checks made out to Bobby Bonilla.

Granderson: I hit 8 balls that home stand that would have been out at Yankee Stadium. Granted, none of them went 300 feet, but it was still pretty frustrating.

Muprhy: We lost a game to the Diamondbacks when Tejada and I called each other off on a pop-up and the ball fell between us allowing the go-ahead run to score. Ironically, it was Luis Castillo Bobblehead Day. The timing couldn't have been worse.

Ruben Tejada (.230, 18 errors in '14): That was a cool bobble head. Instead of his head bobbling, the glove did.

C. Young: Winning 2 of 3 in Philly to close the month helped, but we really had something going there and let it get away. We were 10-4 at one point that month and finished it 16-14. That was more disappointing than my season. (Really?) Okay, not really, but it sucked.

26 wins down. 64 to go.


Zack Wheeler: (16-7, 3.78 era in '14. 168 wins ranks 4th all-time for Mets behind Seaver, Harvey and Syndergaard) I was rolling at that point. I had won 5 in a row, averaging around 10 Ks per nine innings. We went into San Fran and I beat Bumgarner 1-0. People were building that game up like it was a showdown between the two guys who would start the All-Star game for the N.L. I pitched 8 really good innings and turned it over to B.P.

Parnell: My beard was back at that point, and so was my fastball. I was blowing guys away like Rambo invading a Vietnam prison camp.

Granderson: I hit 5 balls that series that would have been out at Yankee Stadium...

d'Arnaud: The year before we were the only team in our division that had a winning record on the road. In '14 we were doing a pretty good job continuing that. There was just something about playing at home.

Collins: The pitching and defense mantra that had always been the Mets way, and the reason Citi Field was built the way it was, still wasn't translating just yet. It probably didn't help that Duda, Murphy and Tejada were still regular players in our infield. Once we upgraded there and Harvey and Syndergaard were with us, that's when Citi Field become a great home field for us.

Harvey:  I spent a lot more time in Port St. Lucie that year than I thought I would. There were three Hooters within five miles of the complex and no paparazzi.

Colon: Those 2 games against the A's that month were huge. Playing against my old team. The team that didn't want to keep me after I won 18 games for them the year before. It was awesome because I didn't have to pitch either day and got to spend a lot of time at the Shake Shack. Did I mention I LOVE SHAKE SHACK??!!

Ruben Tejada: That first game against Oakland was great. Ike hit 3 homers, including a walk-off in the 11th.

Davis: Billy Beane had come to NY with the A's so the Mets could commemorate his call up 30 years ago.

Jay Horwitz: (Mets VP of PR 1969-2039): Billy was a former first round pick of ours and was called up in September of '84. He went 1 for 10 that year, 3 for 18 in his Mets career. When a first round pick gives you that kind of production, you have to honor him, so we did.

Davis: After the game Billy tracked me down and said he loved my upside. That I reminded him of him and that he was going to try and deal for me.

Alderson: Billy approached me on the field the next day and asked what I wanted for Ike. I was Billy's mentor in Oakland so I didn't want to try and fleece the guy. I knew he had stars in his eyes for Ike after that three homer game. I wanted to be fair. I told him 4 seats from Oakland Alameda Coliseum when they tore it down would do it. We made the deal official before the game that day.

Davis: I was excited about the trade. It was a fresh start. A chance to get out of New York and turn the page.

Collins: Not exactly. He still had to play a game against us before he could leave New York.

Davis: Hit three more homers in that game. It was quite a 48 hours.

Mark Simon (Mets historian): He became the first player ever to hit 3 homers in consecutive games in the same stadium for different teams. Couldn't happen to anyone but the Mets.... (shaking his head repeatedly)

Wright: Going 13-16 that month was difficult. It was nice that the temperature in New York finally hit 70 and it felt like baseball season, but our bullpen kept finding ways to lose games.

38 wins down. 52 to go. 


Wheeler: What I remember most about that July was how great David was. You couldn't get him out.

Gee:  He was hotter than the women Harvey kept bringing into the clubhouse.

Harvey: Let's not get carried away. He wasn't that hot.

Wright: We had a ten-game stretch at Citi and I was seeing the ball great. I had a 5-hit game against the Rangers on the 4th of July. They set off the fireworks after the game and one round made a formation of my face. It was awesome.

Collins: He single-handedly beat the Braves that week. We had 4 hits one game. He got all of 'em and Niese beat Santana 2-1. Instead of Cereal Bowl giveaway day that week, they should have had David Wright BackPack Day because he was carrying us.

Murphy: I remember toward the end of that home stand they had a post game concert with Huey Lewis and the News. When they sang "I Want a New Drug," Bartolo dropped his Black and White shake, his fries and his double SmokeShack burger, ran to the stage and yelled at Huey "I want one! I want one!"

Noah Syndergaard (5 wins in '14): I had been up around a month and just remember what a great leader Bartolo was. Every time we were on the road he lead us to the best donut places, the best fast food restaurants, the best ice cream parlors. What a leader. It was a blow when they traded him... especially to the Shake Shack bottom line.

Wright: When we got to Seattle it was fun to see Robbie Cano. He was struggling and I said, "It's ok, at least you have all those All-Stars in the lineup to cover for your failures."  The sarcasm was not lost on him. He was so mad that he hit one grounder to short and ran hard almost the whole way to first.

Collins: 15-10 was a really good month. Getting Syndergaard on the big club was great. It did seem odd that every batter he faced got to a 2-2 count. When I asked him about it he said it was a "Noah thing." Still though, he looked legit, pitched legit and proved to be legit in the years to come. Every time we played the Blue Jays I made sure to thank them.

53 wins down. 37 to go. 


C Young: One of the great things about the Mets is the way they embrace their history. So when I was closing in on the single season strikeout record, they brought in Dave Kingman, Mo Vaughn and Todd Hundley for the first home stand that month.  In the first two games I whiffed my way past all of them. When I finally passed David for the record, they gave me glass case full of air to commemorate the only thing I had hit all season.

Wright: It was a special moment.

Juan Legares (.262, 9 assists in '14): I was glad when he finally got the record so the team could sit him and I could get some playing time.

Collins: It was on that road trip to Washington and Philly that Juan put on a show. He made several diving catches.

Duda: Dude had more grass on him than Nate Newton on a weekend trip to Louisiana.

Collins: The Gold Gloves he won in '15 and '16, he started building that reputation in '13 and '14. 

Scott Rice (103 appearances, 87 ip in '14): He made a great catch against Harper in D.C. Bryce was so mad he picked up his bat and broke it over his ego.

Murphy: I remember the trip we made to Oakland. It was good to see Ike. He was raking, leading the A.L. In RBI since the time he switched leagues.

Alderson: I got my chairs on that trip. They were nice.

Parnell: I can't forget the trip to L.A. Puig hit a ball so hard off Gee the LAPD responded to a "shots fired" call.

Gee: To be fair, there actually were shots fired outside the stadium.

Parnell: Still, he smoked that ball.

Niese: We ended that month going to Philly and taking 3 of 4. I think we beat them 14 times that year.

Wright: Every time I got to first against the Phillies Ryan Howard would smile at me and say, "can you believe I'm making 25 million this year? Crazy, right?"

Collins: Exchanging lineup cards with Ryne Sandberg was real tough by that time of the year. They were scuffling in last place. Rollins and Utley had been on the DL 3 or 4 times apiece. The Philadelphia papers were calling for ownership to trade Ryne for Ivan DeJesus who was managing in the minors in Lexington.

65 wins down. 25 to go. 


Wright: When we got to September it was pretty clear 90 wins was out of the question. But there were attainable records to be had.

Granderson: We were going to blow by the 1,384 strikeouts as an offense that was the team record set the season before. I mean we were striking out like Screech in his sophomore year at Bayside High.

C Young: Don't look at me. I was on the pine by then. The only contact I was making was butt to pine. 

Warthen: Scott Rice was making a run at the games pitched record. That was something we really wanted for him. Even if it meant he'd need elephant ligaments put in his elbow some day. 

Rice: Oh man, by that point in the season I had made more appearances than Marv Albert on Letterman in the 80's. 

Parnell: He came out of the bullpen so often we started using a doorman out there. 

Niese: We had managed to let the dog days drag into September. It seemed like everyone we were playing was battling for a playoff spot. 

Wheeler: Those 7 games against the Nats were intense. Syndergaard dropped Harper with some chin music and it was on. Benches emptied, fists were flying. 

Duda: That one was nasty. Adam LaRoche and I ran right at each other... but we're both so slow by the time we got to each other the fight was over.

C Young: I threw 7 punches in that fight. Didn't hit a thing. 

Granderson: 0fer 5 for me in that one... (shaking his head)

Wright: Couldn't count on them for protection at all that year. 

Parnell: My beard got caught up in Jayson Werth's beard. They had to get the Jaws of Life to separate us.

Collins: We finished up with three against the Astros. They played all their September call ups.

Wright: There were a lot of 17 and 18 year olds on the field. It was like a One Direction concert.

Collins: We took two out of three.

Alderson: Didn't quite get to 90. But 78 was still progress from the prior two seasons.

    The 2014 Mets went 78-84, 12 games short of the whimsical 90 win proclamation. Years later Sandy Alderson sat in his back yard on one of his seats from the Oakland Coliseum and sipped a beer while listening to Guns N' Roses on his iPhone 21. "Only off by one year. That's not too shabby," he said.  He looked down at his 2017 World Series ring, smiled and sang along with the music in his earphones "...all it takes is patience....ooooh-yeaheahea....just a little patience..."

18 February, 2014

1985 Mets highlight

fun clip with highlights from the '85 Mets, starting with Marv Albert's fantastic recap of the July 4th marathon with the Braves. That game featured my favorite banner ever, which Marv has in his highlight package.

31 January, 2014

28 January, 2014

Super Bowl XLVIII


   It's good to be back. It's been fifteen years since the Broncos last played in a Super Bowl. Fifteen years is a long time. I know there are plenty of teams who have never been or haven't been in a much longer period of time, but those teams aren't my team. The last time the Broncos were in a Super Bowl I didn't have any kids. I have three now. Fifteen years ago I lived in a condo and watched the game on a Sony "flat screen" that looked like an ATM machine and weighed almost as much as Terrance Knighton. Sly Stallone has made 19 films since the last Broncos title!
   When the Broncos won their first Super Bowl I created the 5 Year Rule, which stated after your team won a title you weren't allowed to bitch about them for five years. Given the joy winning that title gave me, it seemed reasonable. When Denver won back-to-back titles I added the addendum that when that happens, it's seven years. Well, it's now been 7 years since my No Bitching Window expired. I'm ready for another ring.


   I've navigated the superstitious waters of the playoffs pretty well so far. I've worn an article of Broncos clothing every day since the playoffs started. I haven't shaved my goatee either. I'm no Daniel Bryan but there are small cookies in my beard.
   After working early the day of the divisional game against the Chargers I broke out my new Broncos hoodie, nestled on the couch in my basement under my Broncos throw blanket and found the appropriate poses in which to watch the game. I decided to eat dinner during the second half. When the Chargers rallied I stopped eating halfway through my meal to put an end to the comeback.
   I had to work during the AFC title game. I opted to wear the clothes I wore to work the previous Sunday. Khaki pants, black long sleeve shirt, black socks, gray boxer briefs. Not a stitch of Broncos colors on me (except the jacket I wore to and from work). During the game I worked my office magnificently, finding the right spots to be when the Broncos had the ball and changing to a different locale when they were on defense. Every commercial break I left the office to fill up my cup with water and then took sips when Denver was on D.
   About six weeks ago I requested Super Bowl Sunday off, just in case (Karma Gods be damned, it was worth the risk).
   So I'll be back in the basement on Sunday, under the blanket wearing my hoodie.
   Oh, and when the Chinese New Year rings in on Friday it'll be the Year of the Horse. So we've got that going for us... which is nice.


   Let's get these out of the way. Yes, the two teams from the states where marijuana is legal are playing in the "Super Bowl." And yes, on Friday the two head coaches are having a "joint" news conference.
Moving on...


   I have always said the best part of your team being the in Super Bowl is the two week wait for the game. Everyone is talking about your team. You get extra time to enjoy the fact that they even got there. You walk around for an extra week with people congratulating you on your team being there. It's all good.
   For some reason this time around the wait seems much longer. It may be because you can't get away from the game at all. Every radio and TV commercial break there is a mention of the "Big Game."
All the sports channels are devoting 50% or more of their programming to it. And thanks to Peyton Manning, Richard Sherman and the weather, mainstream shows are talking a lot about it too.
   The good part is the extra time has allowed me to digest all the columns on-line, check out all the videos and really appreciate the great season the Broncos have had.


   If Peyton Manning had gone to the 49ers or Titans, I don't know where I would stand on the "Peyton needs to win another Super Bowl for his legacy" discussion. I probably would say it doesn't matter, he's been great, he's done amazing things, will own all the records and he has won a Super Bowl already.  Working at ESPN, you can imagine how often the conversation comes up in the news room. But Peyton is a Denver Bronco. He chose us. So it's been a weird dynamic defending a guy who has only been on my team for two years. But if Peyton and the Broncos pull this one out, I will be glad for him and I will be glad a large number of people will have to shut up. And consider this, a Super Bowl win and maybe two more seasons of huge numbers from Peyton and he will earn himself a place in the Broncos Ring of Fame. How weird does that seem?


  I'm thrilled for Champ Bailey. He has represented the Broncos for ten years with class and performed at an elite level. He took Darrent Williams under his wing when Darrent came into the league, and he took the team under his wing when Darrent was slain. There are a great number of "good guys" in a league that often gets attention for all the bad guys, but for Broncos fans it doesn't get better than Champ.
   Bailey hasn't had a pick since their 8th game of last season in Cincinnati. It would be awesome if he could get one in this game.
   Let's hope after Sunday when people see him and say "Hey Champ!" it'll have a whole new meaning.


   I truly have no clue what to expect from this game. Every time I hear an argument on why Seattle will win it seems to make sense. Then when I hear arguments for the Broncos I think, "yeah, that's true."
   I know this, Denver hasn't played a defense like Seattle's this year and Seattle hasn't played an offense like Denver's.
   The weather looks pretty good right now, but I would much rather the game was being played somewhere warm or indoors. Cold conditions benefit the Seahawks and their slugging defense. I do think the tandem of Moreno and Ball could have success running the ball, but clearly Denver's first choice is to put the ball in Peyton's hands.
   The weather is also going to bring special teams back into play, which isn't necessarily a good thing. Denver's kick coverage was the worst in the league, but with their first two playoff games in Denver they haven't had to tackle anyone since week 17. On the plus side, Trindon Holliday will get a chance to make a difference for Denver.
   On offense I expect Denver will do what they've done all year, using bunch routes and man beaters to create space. I would expect a lot of the formations we've seen lately, with Decker, Welker and D.T. all on the same side. I do think the preseason game means something in so much as Peyton will have a sense of the speed of the Seahawks and how they will disrupt the timing.
   Denver has had great success in the playoffs with extended drives, something that will be a great challenge against Seattle. While their points per game are down in the playoffs, their time of possession is up 5 minutes. Their average yards per drive is up almost 20 yards. Their two longest drives of the season were in the playoffs. But it'll be really hard to put together 10-12 play drives against the Seahawks.
   Seattle has totally eliminated good tight ends this year, so I would expect they'll do the same to Julius Thomas. If I had to bet right now on the guys to lead the team in receptions on Sunday, I would say Decker, Welker and Moreno.
   On defense the Broncos need to stay away from the big play. I'm sure the focus will be on Lynch and Seattle pounding the ball and chewing up the clock, but Seattle beat San Francisco on the strength of two huge pass plays. The Broncos linebackers are fast and can run sideline to sideline, which should help limit long scrambles by Wilson, but when he is on the move Wilson is still looking to throw. It's those extended plays where the secondary has to cover for a long time that lead to the back-breaking completions.
   The Broncos two Super Bowl victories removed the pain from their four prior losses, but those losses molded my expectations for a Broncos Super Bowl.
   Super Bowl 12- Denver loses 27-10 as I watch in my kitchen as an 11-year old boy thrilled that his team is in their first Super Bowl and crushed when the Dallas D crushed Craig Morton all day long.
   Super Bowl 21- Denver loses 39-20 as I watch at my college roommate's family condo in Orlando. A close first half turns into a blowout.
   Super Bowl 22- Denver loses 42-10 as I watch with my friend Dominique and her two friends while visiting her at college in Boston. What started out as joke turns into a disaster as Denver took the early lead and then allowed 35 points in the second quarter. The girls couldn't understand why it bothered me so much that Denver was losing. I couldn't understand why they couldn't understand.

   Super Bowl 24- Denver loses 55-10 as I watch from my condo in Orlando. As Joe Montana was completing pass after pass and scoring TD after TD I screamed at my television, "STOP THROWING THE BALL. YOU ARE WINNING BY 30 F#*@ING POINTS!!!"
   Those experiences, each one worse than the prior, created deep, deep, Grand Canyon deep wounds. That's why the victory in Super Bowl 32 meant so much. That's why I jumped out of my chair 15 feet in the air when Elway helicoptered. That's why I cried Knowshon tears when Mobley knocked down the 4th down pass from Favre. All the pain from the first four Super Bowls washed away... but not forgotten. That's the underlying fear for a Broncos fan old enough to remember. The pain of those losses still lingers somewhere down inside and you fear it could come back.
   The journey of this season has been exciting and painful. What a joy it's been to watch them light up the scoreboard to the tune of an NFL record 606 points. Watching this machine of an offense move the ball up and down the field has been a treat. This season felt a lot like the '97 season, with an aging quarterback leading an unstoppable offense but knowing that the window was closing. There is a sense of urgency to get it done now.
   The pain of losing so many key players, guys who you thought Denver could never do without, took away some of the joy for me and added to the worry. But here they are now, in the Super Bowl. Seattle is healthier, but Denver has more than enough to win the game.
   How I'll feel if they should lose will probably depend on how it happens. I do think a #1 defense is more likely to beat a #1 offense. I do think the elements favor Seattle. So I'm kind of braced for a loss (it's that lingering feeling, ya; know?).  I'm also 15 years older and I understand that there is value in getting here, in having a great season that gave you four months of joy. The 2006 Mets season ended in a brutal game 7 loss in the NLCS, but it's one of my favorite seasons they ever had. The journey of that season was everything a fan could want. So I appreciate the 2013 Broncos and the week-after-week excitement they gave their fans.
   Is there something about "Peyton is on a mission" and "This is a team of destiny"? Maybe, but maybe their destiny is to lose in the Super Bowl. Who knows? All I know is if you told me five years ago that the Broncos were going to be in Super Bowl 48 and Peyton Manning was going to be their quarterback, I'd have been pretty damn excited.
   What I am truly most excited about is watching the game with my 11-year old son, who has been all-in on the Broncos for 3 years now. If Denver should win it'll be a lifetime memory for the two of us, sharing that moment like we shared the Mets first no-hitter two years ago. And yes, I have passed on my superstitious ways to him. He knows his spot to be in the basement. He has his jersey to wear. He knows to only go to the bathroom during commercials. It's a curse I have passed down. #FatherOfTheYear
   I recently heard a Broncos fan say "If you don't expect your team to win, what kind of fan are you?" As Mike Francesa would say, "that's uh a fair point." So I'm going into Sunday confident Denver will play well, confident that my basement will have the proper mojo and confident that in the middle of the 4th quarter it's going to be a one-possession game.

   Denver 24 Seattle 20

24 January, 2014

2014 Royal Rumble Pool Entrants

Here you go, the luck 30 for this years pool. You get the wrestler who enters at the number next to your name. Good luck!


13 January, 2014

Royal Rumble 2014 Contest

Here we go again. It's back for the 3rd year in a row, the Royal Rumble Pool!

Here's how it works. Leave your name and twitter handle in the comments section of this post. SENDING ME A TWEET DOES NOT ENTER YOU.
(Your name will not appear in the comments box until I approve the comment, so don't panic. It may take a while.)


  I will randomly select 30 people on 1/25 from the comments section.
  I will use a random number generator to match up entrance spots with the 30 contestants to determine who gets each entrance number.
  If your number matches the entrance number of the superstar who wins the Rumble, you win.
Two years ago I used the hypothetical example "if Sheamus comes in at #22, wins and you have that number, you win." And I was exactly right. Last year I used Cena at #18 for my example and he came in at 19 and won. So I'll try and stay hot and say it'll be Batista this year at #14. 

   I will post the names of the entrants and the number they've been assigned here on the blog on 1/25.
   Prizes will include a Jim Ross barbecue sauce prize pack and a signed item from him as well as a choice of WWE DVD.  

  Please only submit your name once. Good luck to all.

AFC Title Game Podcast

went on the B.S. report with my pal Bill Simmons to talk about the Broncos/Pats game this Sunday and it's historic place in our relationship.

01 January, 2014

Peyton and the playoffs

   In 1985, at the age of 18, I had the pleasure of Dwight Gooden delivering me the greatest sports fan viewing experience of my young life. It was a powerful and explosive 6-month journey that mesmerized me and the entire baseball world. A 24-4 record, 268 Ks and an absurd 1.53 ERA. While in a pennant race he pitched 31 consecutive scoreless innings. 16 of his 35 starts were complete games, 8 were shutouts and he struck out at least 10 batters in 11 of them. His curveball bit hard and sharp like a crocodile and his fastball exploded and rose like a jet taking off from an aircraft carrier. It was breathtaking, it was jaw-dropping and it was the most incredible season I had ever cheered for.
   The list of other great FVEs (fan viewing experience) of my life is pretty short. Terrell Davis 2,000 yard rushing season makes the list. Jose Reyes 2006 season (a slight notch below) when he electrified the Mets into the playoffs. And Peyton Manning in 2013.
   Davis and Reyes were similar to Gooden in that watching them was captivating. When they were running you couldn't take your eyes off them. Half the fun of the FVE with those two was the anticipation. The moment waiting for T.D. to be handed the ball, take his few steps left or right and then BOOM! explode past Nalen or Schlereth or whoever created the slightest crease for him to blast through. The threat of a TD for T.D. every time he touched the ball was legit.
   With Reyes, you waited for him to hit a pitch in the gap or down the line and BOOM! around the bases he went. 30 doubles, 17 triples 19 homers, 122 runs, 64 stolen bases. Every time he walked to the box you expected him to eventually score. When he made contact, once my eye recognized the ball would fall, it would dart to Jose to watch him sprint around the bases with that awkward but blazing stride.
   What Peyton Manning did this year was a completely different kind of FVE. He doesn't throw or run like Elway, or even Cutler or Plummer for that matter. His passes rarely light up the radar gun. There are no tales of broken fingers or "Elway Crosses" embedded into receivers chests during practice. His one rushing TD this season was such a surprise there wasn't a Cowboy defender within 15 yards of him as he loped into the endzone. Watching Peyton Manning this season was like watching surgery. With preparation, patience and precision Manning picked defenses apart. It felt like before each game he scooped up the defense like a frog in science class and pithed them before beginning the dissection. The  only explosive thing about Peyton is the way he blows up the record books.
   I saw the NFL Network's plays of the year recently. You know what there wasn't a lot of? Great plays by the Broncos offense. They didn't have the "down by 10 or more in the 4th quarter" signature win. They didn't have the "running back breaks 7 tackles and go 60 yards for a score" play. The signature plays from the Broncos season were Prater's NFL record 64-yard field goal, Trevathan's pick of Romo, Adam's pick against the Texans and a slew of record breaking offensive moments. That's what happens when all but 2 of your victories are by more than 7 points.
   What was really different about Manning's FVE from the others was it wasn't breathtaking it was breath-holding. I spent the entire season holding my breath in hopes Manning wouldn't get hurt because the Broncos championship hopes start and end with #18. When the first half of the week 17 game against the Raiders ended, and Big Brock took over, I finally exhaled. The Broncos were going to the playoffs this year. Everyone knew it. The only way it wasn't happening was if Manning went down. When Ryan Clady was lost for the season in week 2, I took a deeper breath and my face grew a deeper shade of purple. A blind side hit to our aged QB, he of the "more metal in his neck than the Tin Man" status, and you could Osweiler away the hours watching the Super Bowl dreams crumble. There were some scary moments against Indy and San Diego but Manning is smart and when he feels pressure he drops to the ground faster than a zombie hit by one of Daryl's arrows. The Broncos lost Clady, they lost Miller (the 2 most important players on the team after Peyton) they lost their coach for a month, they lost Moore and Bailey and Welker and Vickerson and others, but they never lost hope because #18 made it through the season. So now it's time for the actual season to start. The one Bronco fans have been waiting for since Justin Tucker split the uprights and our hearts.
   That's the tricky part of watching a season like Manning had. History will only shine on it brightly if there is a Super Bowl ring dangling from the gold chain of records he crafted this year. 55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards? Those end up just being cubic zirconia if the Lombardi isn't raised in Denver. So while it was fun to watch him orchestrate the highest scoring offense in history, to put up Madden video game numbers and to make it look like flag football, it was all just something to do until we got to January. And now we're here.
   The AFC playoff field features 3 teams that beat the Broncos this year. The Colts and Chargers had the most success. After the Indy fans showered Peyton with love, the Colts showered him with hits. He was sacked 4 times, threw a pick and fumbled. The 33-14 halftime deficit was too much to overcome. The Chargers split with Denver but held them under 30 points both games and beat them in time of possession 38:00-22:00 each time. The common denominator with Indy and SD is the Pagano brothers. They seem to have a good idea how to handle the Broncos and likely share thoughts with each other on how to do it. Throw in Mike McCoy's knowledge of Peyton from last year and the Chargers are a scary team to me. As for Indy, they beat Denver, Seattle, S.F. and K.C., and with not much of a running game, Luck will put it up 50 times against a shaky Denver pass defense.
   Beating a team three times in a season is never easy, but K.C. is the team I would like Denver to play first. They finished the season 2-5 with their wins coming against Oakland and Washington and their 5 losses coming against playoff teams Denver, SD and Indy. Also, Denver protected Manning perfectly in each game against KC. Yes, Jamal Charles terrifies me, but I think Peyton would have the most success against that defense.
   If they move on to the AFC title game, it'll be the Pats. Andy Dalton isn't winning in New England.
What would a rematch with New England bring? Probably something along the lines of a 41-38 game. Both defenses are banged up. Both QBs are too good. Much like the first game, it'll come down to the very end. With the game in Denver, I'll take my chances.
   At the start of the year I noted that all things being equal, Denver's o-line health and ability to hang onto the football would be paramount to their success. After losing two centers and Clady, the line has been pretty healthy for the last 6 to 8 weeks. The Broncos turned the ball over 25 times in their first 12 games but only once in their last 4. So those are good signs. Getting back Welker and Rahim Moore will help too.
    I've said to a few of my friends that this season is the first I can remember where injuries really took a lot of the fun out of it for me. The thought of what this Broncos team could have been with Clady and Bailey and Moore and Miller and so on... it's a shame we didn't get to see it. The '98 Broncos starters combined to miss 11 games, 5 by Mark Schlereth. This years team has missed well into 60 games for the starters. And it's not just Denver. So many teams lost so many key players, 2013 has been a game of survivor.
   After last years loss to Baltimore all Broncos fans compared the loss to the '97 loss to Jacksonville. That loss actually served as a ray of hope this year. The '98 team had a pushing 40, has something to prove QB running a high-powered offense, home field advantage and a stomach-punch playoff loss for motivation. Sound familiar? That Broncos team won the next two Super Bowls. It makes for a nice story. But look at the Cowboys. How many week 17 losses can they have? Flipping the script makes for a nice script, but not always a realistic one.
   At this moment, my The Broncos Are Going To The Super Bowl Confidence Meter is at a 7.5 on a 1-10 scale. We'll worry about if they can win it if they actually get there. It's time for Manning to set post season records and ring in the new year with the only ring that matters. It would be a great ending to one of the great FVEs of my life. I'll be watching... and holding my breath.