Monday, January 25, 2010

Sports Heartbreak

So here we are again. The day after another conference champion loss. This is the third one in my 20 years of being a Vikings fan. They do get easier. This one was easier, anyway. Or maybe the shock of being so close to the Super Bowl hasn't worn off yet. I don't know. I still remember the heartache 1998 like it was yesterday. I watched the game by myself in my parents basement in Illinois. I could hardly believe what I watched. That was a home game that they should have won. This, while in some ways similar, was not that. Not at all.

A few people tweeted last night that the Vikings did not deserve to even get to the overtime. I don't disagree because of how sloppy they played, but New Orleans kept the Vikings in the game. Way too long. The Saints extreme failure to convert on third downs, coupled with an inability to capitalize on the Vikings turnovers.

I'll tell you the truth, when they got inside field goal range with less than 2 minutes to play, I started getting a little teary. I thought I was going to finally get to see this team go to a superbowl. Should've known better. It's not over till it's over.

Could've. Would've. Should've. I saw the Favre "I told you so's" right away on Twitter last night after the game was over. We don't really need to collectively go there as Vikings fans, and we're being really disingenuous if we do. Just about everybody in Vikings nation bought into the notion of Favre as the guy who could get us there, and if you say you didn't now that it's over, and you're any kind of Vikings fan, you're a fucking liar. We can armchair QB this thing all day, it's not going to change that we got beat.

The thing is, Favre didn't lose that game by himself. Turnovers lost that game, a couple of fumbles by the guy we used to call Purple Jesus, but maybe some fumble oriented name would be a better fit now. He's got a rep worse than Tiki Barber at his worst now and he'll need to work on that. Elite backs don't fumble the ball at pivotal times like that. The D stoppped New Orleans, but seemingly couldn't when they needed to. Brees did not look like the top caliber QB that he was for most of the season.

I'm thankful that it was a heck of a game and that the Vikings were in the game the whole time. 41-0 was a fucking nightmare for me, nearly 10 years ago, and this was a LOT better than that. I saw Dan Barreiro of KFAN rank this second after 98, but I don't agree. It's at least third for me, at least in my lifetime, and for all time Vikings big game losses, it's probably lower than that. (the 70s are a whole other ballgame of disappointment).

And as for Favre, I really hope the guy commits to retirement and the Vikings move on. Bringing him back for another season isn't going to do anybody any good. He was visibly tired and the Saints abused him last night. I'd hate to see the guy end his career with a bad injury. Maybe the INT was just the way he was meant to end his career. I will be upset if he yanks us around for another off-season. But I'm also prepared for that to happen. It is Brett Favre after all.

And hey, at least we don't have to suffer a manhandling from the Colts in the Superbowl now. Not much of a bright side, but the Vikings would have been seriously mismatched against them if they had made it. That would have been a tough game to not get blown out of.

And to all of you in the national scene, you're welcome. You don't have to hear about Brett Favre anymore. At least for a couple of weeks, anyway.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Sports Allegiances in my life

Brett Favre on the Vikings. What a crazy season. I was not surprised by the sheer number of bandwagon jumpers this year onto the Brett Favre/Minnesota Vikings bandwagon. It's a completely normal phenomenon in these parts for all sports. The Twins suffer from the same thing, and the Timberwolves bandwagon is about as low as it's ever been. Even I jumped off that ride after KG bailed (I wasn't really on it too hard to begin with). Truth be told, I'm still a Bulls fan. Hockey actually seems to have the strongest consistent support of any sport in this state, and it's probably stronger at the collegiate level. But I've even heard some Gopher fans questioning that this year.

I was talking to my brother about the history of our sports fandom - the first 18 years of mine were largely shared with him and we still have a lot of the same allegiances and dislikes of sports teams. My sports loyalties are largely shaped by geography. My dad was a corporate executive when we were kids and we moved a lot because he was re-positioning his career with a series of acquisitions dictating where he worked. I spent my most formative years living on the east coast. I was actually born in Philly and lived there till I was almost 5 years old. Really not old enough to ever be a fan of anything there. Even though, I remember having an odd assortment of Phillies and Flyers gear and a Philly Fanatic Doll, I did not live there in any state that I'd remember sports.

My earliest memories of sports are really with baseball and the Mets. I played little league when I was a kid and had an early infatuation with the sport. I grew up in Trumbull, Connecticut - a working class town that was in the sports fandom very close to the border of New York and Boston sports. My brother and I always veered towards New York sports - we were geographically closer, after all - but I also remember having childhood friends that were also fans of Boston sports. It tended to go like this: if you liked the Yankees and Jets, then forget about anything from Boston. If you were a Mets fan, then you might also be a Sox fan. This was also in the days before inter-league (although - 1986 probably did a good job of setting up those lines more distinctly). If you were a New York football Giants fan, then maybe you also took pity on the Patriots. This was in the mid-80s, long before the Belichick era Patriots. This is the Patriots you took pity on in Superbowl XX. They were not a great team for a big bunch of the decade though.

1986 was a magical sports year if you were a New York fan of a certain persuasion. I don't remember exactly how I became a Mets fan that year - most of my family was either sports agnostic or firmly entrenched in the Yankees camp. Several of the neighborhood kids that I hung out with came from huge Yankees familes (The woman in this video was my neighbor from across the street!) But the Yankees sucked in the 80s. In my romanticized remembered of this era, I'd like to think I was a Mets fan because it was the opposite of what everybody else liked, but really, I think it was just that they were damn good in 1986.

I think what's helped me through as a sports fan over the years is that I got a taste of the good life early on because of that 1986 Mets team. They won the world series and the hearts of millions of fans that year. I remember my first week in college in Minnesota in 1996 when I met a dude from Connecticut while possibly slightly inebriated at a party. And we proceeded to reminisce about the '86 Mets and the series for no less than an hour. It was beautiful. They were that kind of team, one that you could reminisce about 10 years later as if it had happened yesterday.

Another funny thing happened in 1986 - the New York Giants had a kick-ass season. And I was also starting to get into football. Unlike baseball however, I don't remember any doubt about this team in my family- I came from a NY Giants family. None of this Jets stuff. And they had a great year, Sims had a career year, the great defense with LT, Harry Carson. They beat the Broncos in Super Bowl XXI. And my brother was on his way to lifetime of NY Giants fandom.

Those of you that know me today probably would pause here and wonder what happened. My fan tastes, as you'll start to see, are decidedly less loyal than that of my brother's, at least when it comes to football. What happened was that a few years after the Giants won the Superbowl we were on the way out of the east coast for good. I haven't lived anywhere but the Midwest since. And that definitely shaped my sports fandom forever. I have no doubt if I had remained in the New York area that I would to this day be a Giants and Mets fan. Either that, or better technology as we have today. It's so much easier to move today and still follow your teams of choice with the internet, blogs, dish/cable packages, ESPN ad nasuem and DVRs. I will probably be a dedicated fan of the teams I am now forever. It's just so much easier.

Back in the early 90s, it wasn't that easy. We didn't even have cable for the one year we lived in Orono, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis. Only an antenna. New York Giants? Maybe I could see one or two games a year, usually a Monday night game or the odd national game on one of the Networks that wasn't an NFC Central battle when the Vikings were not playing. My brother held fast, but I bailed - sort of. I actually remember it being more of an agnostic thing towards the NFL. If I could not watch the Giants, I was certainly not going to watch this team in Purple that wasn't all that good.

But I did end up watching it, and that was the foundation for my fandom. 20 years ago this year was when that occurred. So I tell people I've been a Vikings fan for 20 years, though it really started with a more solid passion in 1996. I remained somewhat disinterested in football during high school.

The Twins were a team I could get behind, though. There wasn't any conflict with being a fan of theirs and the Mets. I remember going to a lot of games in 1990 and 1991 before we moved to Chicago. The North Stars had a good run in the Stanley Cup playoffs that year too, which was really my first Ice Hockey fan experiences. And lo and behold, the Giants won the Superbowl again. My brother and I got to watch them a lot in the playoffs and the Superbowl of course, so I was, at least temporarily, back in that arena.

I couldn't complain too much about moving to Chicago from a sports perspective. Chicago had a lot to offer for the sports fan. We moved in the middle of the Twins run towards the world series, and I remember watching the end of game 7 of the '91 series on the 13 inch hand me down TV in my bedroom in our house in the Chicago suburbs. That was a team I wholeheartedly embraced and probably why I'm still a Twins fan today.

So, by the age of 12, I had tasted 4 championships in 2 different sports of teams that I cared for. That's not a bad track record. But it was about to get even better. Living in Chicago in the 90s was a treat as a sports fan. I didn't have any prior NBA alliances - I wasn't really a wolves fan when we lived in the Twin Cities in 1991. We did manage to go to their first game ever at Target Center (at the time, I remember it seeming like an awesome stadium, but almost 20 years later, it's a dump!), but otherwise, they were an expansion team with a long way to go towards relevance.

The Bulls. We moved to Chicago in June of 1991, just as the Bulls were winning their first NBA championship. I remember going to Chicago to look at houses with my parents in the spring of 1991 and it was Bulls fever EVERYWHERE. Madness. Jordan. Pippen. This was not a bandwagon it would take much persuasion at all to hop onto, particularly if you had no prior NBA allegiances. The whole city, heck, a big chunk of the country was hopping onto this thing. And it was a great run. They were unstoppable. They were a team you never lost confidence in, you knew they'd get it done, that push come to shove, Jordan would come through in the clutch. It was a beautiful thing. And I was right there for a front seat to it.

Bulls games became a regular event for my family. We watched every game, every night they were on. To this day, I cannot say that about any sport with a regular season schedule longer than 16 games. Except for the 94-95 Jordan Baseball years, it was a dominant stretch for a great team anchored by one of the greatest ever. I recall watching nearly every game in 1995-1996, the 72-10 season. That was nearly as perfect of a season and team as any ever in any sport. Or so it remains in my mind, at least.

I left for college in the latter half of 1996, and it was back to the Twin Cities, where I live to this day. Solidly in the Bulls camp, I'd also picked up an appreciation for the Cubs. I loved going to games when I was in high school - this was before the resurgence of Wrigley as the "it" destination and it was easy to get tickets to many day games in the summer. I remember going with friends to a number of games where we walked right up to the ticket window and sat in the first row of the upper deck. Those days are LONG gone. That Cubs fandom has only intensified as I grow further and further from 1986 and the Mets.

My football allegiances were decided less figured out at this stage in my life. The Giants were still lingering but the Vikings picked up a new attractiveness now that I was again a resident of the Twin Cities. I don't recall watching all of their games during the 96 and 97 campaigns, but by 1998, I had my own apartment, and my own TV. And I squarely remember watching ever game that season. And I've watched pretty much every game since that season. I consider myself something of a diehard. I've stuck with them through 8 years of the Mike Tice and early Chilly era. I was even a season ticket holder for the 2006 season. That was something of a failed experiment as my friend I went in with on a pair of tickets decided to buy a house, and I decided that I liked watching the games better on TV. But it was still a fun season, to go to every game. And sit there till the end through some really bad games. I'm as loyal as ever today. I struggled with Favre last summer, more because of how he yanked everybody around for a couple of months. But it didn't take me long to let him into the fold. I'm a Vikings fan first.

The Twins creeped into my consciousness as they had a great run in the first part of the decade. They've been fun to watch and I'm happy that I'm a fan of their ballclub. 2003 was an interesting season as the Cubs made it pretty far in the playoffs, ultimately losing after the Steve Bartman debacle, but it was a season that helped renew my devotion towards them as my National League team of choice. The twins also made it into the playoffs that year and several others but it's always ended in heartache.

It's been a pretty good run for championships and I'm ready for some more. I've been in the Twin Cites for 10 years. We're due for something. This could be the year. I'm a believer.

Monday, January 4, 2010

My New Year's goals

I don't really call them resolutions, but I suppose that's what they are. I just think there's a certain stigma attached when you call them that.

At any rate, here's what I'm thinking:
1) Take a walk every day - even if it's just a few blocks. The intent is to ease back into an ongoing fitness regiment slowly. I've been quite sedentary, more than I'd like to be, and as a result have gained more weight than I care to admit. It also serves to get out of the house for a little while and enjoy the outdoors. Since it's really cold right now, indoor substitution will probably occur. Katie and I walked around the Mall of America a couple of times the other night, and we'll probably do the same a few nights this week, given how cold it is. But we also walked outside on New Year's Day and yesterday, so it's possible. Just have to bundle up!

I'm not committing to it yet, but I'd like to eventually give running another shot. I've had brief flings with it over the years, but I've never fully committed. My dad runs marathons, why can't I?

2)Read a book at least 30 minutes a day - The funny thing about these modern times, is that I probably read more than I ever have. Between things at work, and then a constant source of stuff to read in Google Reader, it's a constant thing. But what I have slowed down on is books. I have a growing stack of stuff I have bought but not read, and I want to rectify that. So I'm committing to reading a book at least 30 minutes a day.

3) Do at least 3 hours of non-routine work on the house every weekend - This one might be a little tougher to accomplish, particularly in the winter when I can't work outside, but I'm going to try. My house is old and it needs a lot of work to get it up to speed cosmetically with what Katie and I would like. It's certainly very livable as is, but there's a lot of things I can be doing to improve it. Once it gets warmer, this should be a lot easier - the outside of the house, particularly the landscaping and yard, needs a LOT of work.

That's it for this point in time. I'm using the New Year as a jumping off point, but will revisit throughout the year to add and remove goals.