All posts by michaelbrianwalker

Currently: math/economics teacher at Ramsey High School, commissioner of both a fantasy baseball league and a fantasy football league Past: Graduate of Midland Park High School Class of 2000 and Colgate University Class of 2004, pricing/yield analyst at AvisBudget from 2004 through 2007, member of MPHS baseball and cross-country teams Fan of: Mets, Devils, Giants Achievements: Named "World's Slowest Eater" by everyone who knows me, played on the 2003-4 Colgate intramural-championship ice-hockey team, two-time IceHouse Adult League Champion, have twice been hit by deer while driving, coached the league-tourney-champion 2008-9 Ramsey Rams JV ice-hockey team (universally regarded by me as the greatest JV hockey team of all time), once ran 6 miles listening to nothing but Lonely Island's "Jack Sparrow" on repeat, picked Gonzaga 10 times to win the championship (yes, I was that guy before it was fashionable to be that guy), stayed for all 17 innings of a 2000 Newark Bears/Somerset Patriots game (and caught my only career foul ball at a pro game during the 16th inning), and have not eaten breakfast regularly since 1996

Five Thoughts from Wild-Card Weekend – Don’t Worry; Only Three are About Kickers

Wild Card Weekend has come to a close, and I am not here to provide full recaps of the four games.  I would, however, like to cover five thoughts from the weekend.  Yes, most of them deal with kickers.  Let us dive right in.

  • Maybe teams should activate second kickers for playoff games.

 Yes, Seattle did overcome the loss of Sebastian Janikowski by converting the team’s fourth downs and two-point conversions.  However, the Seahawks had no chance at an onside kick and gave the Cowboys good field position on the regular kickoffs.  Furthermore, had Seattle recovered the onside kick in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks would have unlikely been able to attempt a field goal at all, though the team was down by only 2.  This got me to thinking….What is more important, carrying a last depth linebacker or special-teams guy or making sure that an injury does not end your entire kicking game?  While I never like to overreact to the worst-case scenario (which occurred to Seattle), the debate has merit.

Image result for janikowski hurt
Photo via The Seattle Times
  • Coaches should not be able to call timeouts.

It has now been more than ten years since the league changed the rule to allow coaches to call timeouts.  Before that, only players could call timeouts.  I believe that it was an unintended consequence of this rule change that coaches now call timeouts as kickers are kicking game-winning field goals, but all coaches use this tactic.  Sometimes the kicker makes the nullified kick and misses the second (as Cody Parkey did).  Sometimes the opposite happens.  Sometimes, the kicker misses both.  Sometimes, he makes both.  It does not matter – I cannot stand this rule.  If you are a sports fan at all, it does not feel right when the timeout is called as the kicker is striking the football.  You cannot call a timeout mid-free throw or mid-penalty shot.  You should not be able to do it as a kicker approaches a field goal either.  Thus, leave timeouts to the people on the field.  Yes, teams could still ice kickers under my rule change, but at least teams would have to ice the kickers before they boot field-goal attempts that end up not counting.

  • Do not ask kickers what happened when they missed a field goal.

As if it was not tough enough for Cody Parkey to miss a do-or-die playoff field goal, he then had to answer questions from a million media members about how he missed the field goal.  The simple answer is that, when people try to kick an oblong object 43 yards through the air and between two goalposts, even the best people are not perfect.  We all watched Parkey miss the field goal, and we all saw him strike the ball like any field-goal kicker does.  We have all seen kickers miss field goals, and this was another such case.  It happens.  There is no magical explanation.

Image result for cody parkey
Photo via NJ.com
  • It is funny how athletes’ narratives change based on things completely out of their control.

The classic case of this is how Mike Mussina is not considered a “winner” as a Yankee, yet, had Mariano Rivera closed the door on the DBacks in the Bottom of the 9th Inning, Mussina would be considered a “winner”.  The same thing is true right now with Nick Foles.  Look, I love Nick Foles.  I would love Nick Foles to be the Giants’ starting QB next year.  However, he did lead the Eagles to only 16 points on Sunday.  If Cody Parkey’s kick were an inch to the right, we are all talking today about how Carson Wentz would have been able to lead the Eagles to more than 16 points.  Instead, we are discussing Foles’s magic in leading the Eagles on another game-winning drive.  At least Foles did lead a dramatic game-winning drive and lead Philly to more than 10 points.  The most egregious example of my “narrative” point came three years ago with the Blair Walsh Seattle/Minnesota miss.  Seattle won that game because Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard field goal to give the Seahawks a 10-9 win.  People are unfairly treating Parkey’s 43-yard attempt as a chip shot.  It was not.  Blair Walsh’s, however, was a chip shot….and he missed it.  What happened immediately after the game?  The FOX NFL crew (Terry Bradshaw and pals) praised Russell Wilson for doing enough to win.  Yes, I am sure that is exactly what they would have been saying had Walsh made a kick that kickers make 98% of the time to give the Seahawks a 12-10 loss.

Image result for nick foles magic
Photo via The Ringer
  • Who foresaw the “Allen Robinson catch/no catch” issue coming? This guy.

Last year, I responded to the Jesse James play by saying that the issue was not that it is wrong to have to complete the catch to the ground.  After all, if a guy is tumbling to the ground, he might take three steps and have the ball pop out.  If that receiver has never actually gained his footing, it seems wrong to call a fumble.  That was the case with Anthony Miller.  We have all seen many plays like this, and we know these passes are incomplete.  With James, however, he clearly planted two feet before diving for the end zone and then having the ball pop out.  We all knew that should have been a touchdown. Therefore, it is a bit arbitrary to decide when receivers must complete the catch to the ground and when they need not.  That is why I proposed last year to leave the catch rule alone but to limit reviews to one minute.  This way, the obvious bad calls are reversed, but we do not end up with ridiculous overturns like with Jesse James.  Furthermore, the Anthony Miller play would have ended up “incomplete” as it should have been.

 

That sums up my key thoughts from Wild-Card Weekend.

Meet the One Person in America Who Likes the MNF Announcing Crew

This year, ESPN completely overhauled its Monday Night Football announcing team, as the network handed duties over to play-by-play announcer Joe Tessitore and analysts Jason Witten and Anthony “Booger” McFarland.  We did not have to wade too deep into the 2018 season for NFL fans across the United States to begin ripping this announcing trio.  It seems that football fans have decided that this announcing team is not ready for prime time.  Well, I have come across one person who actually likes this crew of announcers, and that person is yours truly.  Yes, I admit it – I enjoy Tessitore, Witten, and Booger.  Before you have me committed to a mental institution, please allow me to explain myself.

When I analyze an announcing team, I ask myself the following questions:

  • Does the play-by-play announcer do a good job describing the play?
  • Does the play-by-play announcer have a good voice for TV?
  • Do the analysts have serviceable voices for TV?
  • Are the analysts are able to dissect a play that has just happened in a way that educates me but does not feel “over my head”?
  • Do the announcers discuss the most important storylines of the game at the appropriate times?
  • Do the announcers converse comfortably with each other?
  • Do the announcers avoid embellishment, exaggeration, and self-fabricated storylines?

 

Very simply, the more “Yes” responses I can give to the questions above, the better the announcing team.  In terms of the MNF team, I am actually able to answer “Yes” to all seven questions above.  Allow me to explain, question by question.

 

  • I believe that Tessitore notes everything that is happening in a comfortable way. He does not embellish anything to try to put himself above the moment.  His voice rises and falls appropriately, based upon the moments he experiences.

 

  • Tess has a great, deep announcing voice.
Image result for joe tessitore monday night football
Image via USA Today
  • This is where most people will start to disagree with me. I think that Witten and McFarland have serviceable TV voices.  Their voices are not James Earl Jones-level great, but, for analysts, all I need is “serviceable”.  In other words, their voices need to avoid being Jerry Glanville-level annoying.  (Yes, I realize that most of you college students will have to Google “Jerry Glanville”, and some of you will even have to Google “James Earl Jones”.)  Anyway, it has become very easy to mock Jason Witten for the long pauses he tends to take mid-sentence.  I do not deny that these pauses exist, but I do not find that they hurt Witten’s ability to make points.  His pauses are his thing.  The guy played an entire NFL career and never missed games due to injury.  If the sole repercussion of Witten’s 15 years of NFL collisions is that he pauses mid-sentence, I can live with it.

 

  • The “Booger”-mobile is something that I initially thought would not work, but I have actually enjoyed it. I feel that the combination of Witten in the press box and Booger at field level do a great job of analyzing plays immediately after they happen.  I am not going to compare these guys to Cris Collinsworth nor Tony Romo, as those are the best two analysts in the business.  However, just because there are people better does not make the MNF trio bad.  In fact, it is weird to me that people’s bar for judging these announcers seems to be at the elite level.  Have you ever watched any announcing team below the networks’ top teams?  I covered some of this a few weeks ago, but there is plenty not to like about those announcing teams.  Furthermore, even if you use a higher bar for national announcing teams than for other teams; I ask you to remember Troy Aikman, Jon Gruden, and Tony Kornheiser.  It is fun to mock Aikman, but I would say he is on a par with the Witten/Booger duo (which is a compliment only when it comes from me).  As of the other two guys, I put Witten and Booger well above them.  I will return to this discussion in a bit.
Image result for booger mobile
Image via The Big Lead
  • As I also discussed a few weeks ago, it is very annoying when all of the viewers at home are discussing a different aspect of a game or play than the announcers are. For example, an announcer might be analyzing whether or not a receiver has kept his two feet inbounds, while everyone at home can see that the ball came loose to render the “feet” discussion irrelevant.  The MNF team successfully avoids this awkward scenario.

 

  • My favorite thing about the MNF team is that Witten and Booger often disagree with each other but do so in a respectful manner. The classic example came during Week 3’s Pittsburgh/Tampa Bay contest; as Witten argued that Le’Veon Bell was wrong for holding out while Booger argued that Bell was correct.  Both analysts provided compelling cases for their sides, and the two announcers were civil the whole time.  We are used to seeing forced laughter between broadcast partners (which does sometimes happen with the MNF team too) and especially between studio hosts on FOX and CBS.  We are used to announcers mindlessly agreeing with each other about everything.  (Aikman says “You’re exactly right, Joe.” in his sleep.)  Therefore, it is refreshing to hear differing opinions within the same broadcast.

 

  • For those who forget this question read, “Do the announcers avoid embellishment, exaggeration, and self-fabricated storylines?” In other words, do the announcers avoid doing the main thing that ESPN always does???  Ironically this announcing team does.  For years, we were saddled with Jon Gruden singing the praises of guys like Preston Parker and Blake Bortles.  We heard him say that Jarvis Landry is as good as OBJ.  We heard Gruden say, “I like this guy” about at least 75 players per team per game.    Prior to that, we had Tony Kornheiser try to do three hours of PTI during every MNF game.  That meant that Kornheiser would awkwardly try to weave 3 or 4 storylines like “Are the Cowboys the most popular team in America?” into every minute of every game.  That stuff worked on PTI.  It did not work during games.   You are announcing a football game; you do not need to fabricate storylines.  The game presents its own storylines.  Kornheiser did not get it.

 

Who does get it though?  Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten, and Booger McFarland.  Therefore, I would like to congratulate ESPN.  Even a blind squirrel catches a nut once in a while, and that is the case with ESPN and this announcing team.

 

If the Jets Were Going to Fire Todd Bowles After This Season, They Should Have Fired Him Before This Season

If the Jets were going to fire Todd Bowles after this season, they should have fired him after last season.

I lived through the entire 2018 offseason, and I listened to countless local radio personalities discuss what the mark of a successful 2018 Jets season would be.  Everyone seemed to be in agreement that we should judge this Jets season on the development of rookie quarterback Sam Darnold, not on wins and losses.

I felt that this was completely logical.  The 2018 Jets team had one of the least-talented rosters in the NFL, and most of the team’s talent was either first/second-year players (Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye, Chris Herndon), players with offseason issues (Robby Anderson), or players returning from major injuries (Quincy Enunwa).  Sure, Leonard Williams, Trumaine Johnson, and Darron Lee are also talented players, but the fact remains that most of the roster was composed of untalented players, unproven players, and players returning from major injuries or off-field issues.  Thus, if Sam Darnold could show some signs of success and progress as a rookie; it would be reasonable to assume that he would improve next year and in future years, as he gains NFL experience and as the team increases the talent around him.

Image result for sam darnold
Image via NJ.com

Anyway, what ultimately happened this year?  The Jets went 4-12, and Sam Darnold showed signs of success and progress.  He showed that he has a chance to be a true franchise quarterback for the Jets.  Meanwhile, the 2018 Jets went 4-9 with Darnold as a starter and 0-3 when Josh McCown was the starter.  As a result of this season, Todd Bowles was fired.  This makes no sense to me.  I thought that we all agreed that, if Darnold had a good enough rookie campaign, Todd Bowles would stay onboard.  Instead, the Jets moved the goalposts between the 2018 offseason and the end of the 2018 season and fired Bowles on Sunday.

Were there good reasons to relieve Bowles of his duties?  Sure.  Some believe that he was at fault for the Jets taking too many penalties.  Some believe that he was at fault for various forms of locker-room dissension.  Some believe that he is too dry and boring to be a good head coach.  (This was pretty much the main knock on Bill Belichick after his first six underwhelming seasons as an NFL head coach.  Once Belichick started winning Super Bowls, that “dry” and “boring” demeanor suddenly became an asset.)  Thus, yes, there were legitimate reasons to fire Bowles.

The only issue is that all of these issues existed before the 2018 season as well.  Thus, the Jets could have fired Bowles before the 2018 season (on the same grounds that they ultimately used to fire him on Sunday).  Then, the team could have hired a new coach to start 2018 fresh with Darnold.  This would have allowed Darnold to grow with the stability of one head coach (and likely one offensive coordinator).  Instead, the Jets decided to let Darnold have a solid rookie season, gain confidence, and then be saddled in 2019 with a completely new head coach and offensive coordinator.  Good move, Jets.  I am shocked that an organization that both fired Eric Mangini after two winning seasons in three years and put starting QB Mark Sanchez behind a third-string offensive line in a preseason game would make such a bad decision…

…but hey, at least the Jets did not fire their coach after his first season, a season in which he was given Sam Bradford, a rookie quarterback, and the 30th-most talented roster in the league.  No, that honor goes to the Arizona Cardinals and their recently deposed head coach, Steve Wilks.  I have vented in the past about teams firing coaches too soon, but I really feel bad for Wilks on that one.

Image result for steve wilks
Image via Arizona Cardinals

That said, the Jets did mess up the Todd Bowles situation. I am not saying that he deserved to be fired last year or this year.  Bowles seems to be a respected football man who knows how to coach.  However, if the Jets were going to fire him after a solid rookie campaign by Sam Darnold, they should have fired him before this season.

Every NFL Broadcast Needs a Young Guy on the Staff to Keep the Old Announcers from Repeating Nonsense

We watched a thrilling Bears/Giants game Sunday.  It was easily one of the more enjoyable Giants games I have ever watched, even though the Giants are going nowhere this season.  That said, FOX’s analyst Charles Davis made me realize that NFL broadcasts need to employ an additional person.  They need to employ a football fan under the age of 40 whose sole job is to notify the production team when an analyst makes a point that everyone under 40 knows is wrong.  This plan will keep the announcer from belaboring that point.  I am not trying to single out Charles Davis here.  Plenty of veteran announcers (see “Aikman, Troy”) fall into this same category.

You are probably wondering, “What did Charles Davis say today to make you want to write this post?”  It was actually two things.  Let us start with the main one…

If you watched the game, you know that the momentum-changing play was Saquon Barkley’s 3rd-and-23 run at the end of the first half.  Instead though, Charles Davis focused over and over and over again on the fact that the Bears called timeout before this run.  When the Bears called timeout, there were 16 seconds on the clock with the Giants facing 3rd and 23 from their own 30.  The Bears’ only mistake was that they let time (I am not sure exactly how many seconds) tick off the clock between the previous play and this timeout.  Anyone under 40 watching this game knows that the Bears should have called timeout immediately after second down (a sack of Eli).  This way, assuming the Bears create a stop on 3rd down, the Bears can call another timeout and have a chance to block a punt or throw up a Hail Mary.  Somehow, neither play-by-play announcer Kevin Burkhardt nor Davis noted at any time before the timeout that the Bears should want to call a timeout.  Everyone knows that 3rd-and-23 is supposed to be an automatic 3rd-down stop.  Thus, the Bears did the automatic thing by calling timeout.  It is a basic thing. There is nothing noteworthy at all about it, yet Davis harped on this point over and over and over again for the rest of the game.  Saquon made an amazing run.  That was the story, not the timeout.  Had FOX gone with my suggestion, someone could have told Davis after his first comment about the timeout, “everyone knows the timeout made sense.  Focus on the Saquon run.”

Image result for charles davis and kevin burkhardt
Image via Charles Davis

The second Davis faux-pas deals with the classic “down by 10 with 2 minutes to go” saga.  Roughly 10 years ago, older announcers could not yet deal with the concept that it sometimes makes sense to kick a field goal, then do an onside kick, and then go for a touchdown.  Now, older announcers have caught on to the concept, but they overuse it.  The Bears used a big play to arrive at 1st and Goal with 1:28 to play.  From that point on, Davis said repeatedly, “The Bears don’t need to go for a touchdown here.  They are going to have to get a field goal at some point anyway.”

Of course, he is not wrong that a field goal there keeps the Bears’ hope for a win alive.  However, anyone under 40 watching that game knows that the primary storyline at that point is: If you have made it to first and goal, you really really really really want to get the touchdown there.  After all, to get an onside kick is tough enough.  To then march downfield for a touchdown is even tougher.  Thus, you do not want to sacrifice a goal-to-go scenario by settling for a field goal.  The main goal there is to score a touchdown, so that, in the event of a successful onside kick, the Bears need only a field goal to tie.  Plus, they could then win the game on a touchdown.

Granted, we know that the Bears did ultimately kick a field goal on 4th down.  Once 4th down arrived, Davis was justified in saying it was OK for the Bears to settle for a field goal.  Yes, the Bears did score a touchdown after the onside kick, but, if they had scored a TD on that first of the two drives, perhaps they would have won the game with another regulation TD.  The moral of the story is that anyone under 40 was thinking that Davis was off-base with the “The Bears can kick a FG here, since they need a FG at some point anyway” storyline.  Let us get someone on the production team to tell Davis to stop repeating that comment unless it is fourth down.

At this point, you might be wondering if today was the first day that this thought entered my head.  Definitely not.  Over the years, here are the most common cases where broadcast teams could use a young mind in the production staff:

  • 4th Downs: Plain and simple. If you are over 45, you are Troy Aikman, or you are both; you think that teams should never ever go for it on 4th down unless it’s 4th and goal from the 1 with 1 second remaining and your team down by 7.  (And even then, Aikman might advise a field goal.)  Needless to say, young people recognize that, in the modern era of crazy amounts of offense, going for it on 4th down is often the right move.  In fact, the second-quickest way to out yourself as an old person is by saying, “You always wanna take the points”.  Of course, the quickest way to out yourself is to say either “The Twitter” or “The Facebook”. Additionally, young minds realize that, if you go for it on 4th down inside the other team’s 20 and do not convert, you still force the other offense to travel further than if you kick a field goal.  When a team misses a conversion deep into opposing territory, no 40+-year-old announcer has ever noted that the team benefited thereafter from forcing a three-and-out and receiving good field position after the punt.
Image result for troy aikman in booth
Image via Fox Sports
  • Space-time continuum: This one overlaps with #1. If a team passes up a 1st-quarter field goal, goes for the first down, and does not convert; you cannot say with 2 minutes left in the game, “The Giants are down by 2, but, if they had only kicked that field goal in the first quarter, they would be winning now.”  Back to the Future came out in 1985, yet older announcers know nothing about the space-time continuum.  If you change what happens early in a game, everything that happens thereafter changes too.  The under-40 production guy would know this.

 

  • Committing to the running game: Older announcers are always bewildered when teams with strong running games deviate from the run when down by 21 in the second half. “I don’t know why the Cardinals are abandoning the run here.  They told us in production meetings that they wanted to control the running game.”  Wanna know who does know?  Young people.  Teams do not run the ball when down 21 in the second half.

 

  • “You’re on the road/at home/going nowhere this season, you might as well go for it here.” – Again, I have never heard someone under 40 base a punt/FG/go-for-it decision on whether a team is home or away. I swear these comments are the small talk of old announcers.  We are annoyed when people walk tell us, “Monday again?  Oh, the weekend goes by too fast.”  Mindless talk, just like this “home/road” garbage.  Herm Edwards was right that every coach “plays to win the game”.  Your record does not dictate whether or not to go for it on 4th  Neither does home/away.  Your talent and the game situation do.  Speaking of which…

Image result for herm edwards you play to win the game gif

  • Going for two: For older announcers, going for two is like new technology, new rappers, and difficult-to-pronounce names combined. It is an absolute trainwreck.  It has always been a disaster, but, now that strong offensive teams have realized that, with extra points being less sure things (since being moved back), it can make sense to go for two all the time.  This makes things especially tough for older announcers.  “Why wouldn’t you just take the sure point here???” is something they say in their sleep at this point.  Additionally, when a team is down 15 late in a game and scores a TD, you know that an old announcer’s head is ready to explode if the team goes for 2 after the first TD.  “Why are they going for two here????  They don’t need to go for it yet.  If they miss it here, the game is over.”  As a counterpoint, young people present math.  You might as well go for two first, so that, if you miss it, you know you have to find a way to score twice more.  Lastly, in terms of 2-point conversions.  If you are down 7 and score a touchdown at the end of regulation, your decision is simple.  If you are the favorite, you kick the extra point and take your chances in OT.  If you are the underdog, you go for two.  It’s the basic “NCAA Basketball Tournament” premise.  There is no way UMBC would have beaten UVA in a Best-of-7 last year, but UMBC was able to win a Best-of-1.  If you are the underdog, your chances improve as you decrease the sample size.  Thus, you would rather beat the favorite over one play than over multiple overtime possessions.

 

Guess who understands this?  Young football fans.  Thus, NFL broadcasts, the time has come to put young guys in the production staff to make sure your announcers do not keep harping on silly points.

Jacob deGrom Provides Yet Another Example of a Professional Athlete Having No Idea What “Humbled” Means

A few weeks ago, Jacob deGrom captured the National League Cy Young Award.  As a Mets fan, I was very excited to have him win this well-deserved honor.  However, deGrom ruined a perfect moment with the following statement.

“I want to thank the Baseball Writers for this honor. I’m extremely humbled to win this award along with some other great former Mets such as Tom SeaverDwight Gooden and R.A. Dickey. I’d especially like to thank my teammates, coaching staff and my family.”

This statement shows that deGrom is just another in a long line of athletes who do not know the meaning of the word “humbled”, and frankly I am sick of it.  Tom Seaver is one of the greatest pitchers of all time; Dwight Gooden won a Cy Young Award in one of the greatest single seasons by any pitcher; and R.A. Dickey was beloved by Mets fans.  Thus, there are many words to describe how I would feel if I joined that esteemed list:

“Flattered”, “honored”, “amazing”, “The Man”, The Sh!t” are the first five things that come to mind.  “Humbled” falls at Spot #1,948,345 in the list of ways I would feel if I won the Cy Young Award and were put on that list of great pitchers.  The top synonyms for “humbled” are “defeated”, “beaten”, “crushed”, “humiliated”, “degraded”, and “shamed”.  If you win the Cy Young Award and feel any of those six emotions, please seek a mental-health professional help immediately because you should be feeling your best at a time of such high honor.

Unfortunately, deGrom is just one of many athletes who misuse the word “humbled”.  We hear it all the time.  NBA players are humbled when they are compared to Larry Bird or Magic Johnson, and quarterback are humbled when they are compared to Joe Montana and Tom Brady.  Stop it.  Some people absolutely need to be able to used the word “humbled”, and the word does not work if others are using the word inappropriately.  Here are two athletes who reserve the right to say “humbled”:

  • Matt Harvey: The guy was “The Dark Knight” and was being discussed along the lines of Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden. He was sleeping with supermodels and was the big man about town in New York City.  Then, a few minutes later; the guy was pitching to an ERA near 7, then pitching out of the bullpen; and then pitching in Cincinnati.  Three years ago, he thought he would someday earn the biggest contract in history for an MLB pitcher.  Now, he is hoping to earn a contract of any kind.  Now, that is humbling.
Image result for matt harvey bad
Image via The Boston Globe
  • Aaron Williams (7 Days in Hell): The guy was the top tennis player in the world. An announcer stated during Williams’s prime, “There is no one in the world who does not want to have sex with Aaron Williams.”  The guy was unbeatable on the court until an unfortunate day at Wimbledon.  On that day, he accidentally killed a spectator with a serve before shoving a member of the English royal family.  This started a downward spiral that ultimately ended up with Williams serving time in a Swedish prison.  Again, that is humbling.  (Bonus points: Andy Samberg’s character in Popstar debuted a song called “Humble” in which he appropriately yet ironically uses the word “humble”.)

Thus, Jacob deGrom, you have not been humbled.  If you go out there next year and pitch to an ERA of 5.00, you may say that you are humbled.  If you get knocked out of a game after allowing 10 runs in the first inning, you may say that you are humbled.  If your agent-turned-GM refuses you a long-term extension and compares you to 2017 Tyler Clippard, 2005 Carl Pavano, and 1998 Mel Rojas; you may say that you are humbled.  Lastly, if your wife leaves you for the bass player from Nickelback on the same day that your dog sets your house on fire, you may say that you are humbled.

However, 2018 National League Cy Young Award Winner, Jacob deGrom, as we stand here today, you have not been humbled.  Congratulations though.  It was an absolute delight to watch one of the most incredible pitching seasons I have ever seen.

The “Discover Thanksgiving Showdown” – the NHL’s Dumbest Gimmick

(Note: I am writing this article before this year’s “Discover Thanksgiving Showdown”, but it is being published after the game.)

Today is a special day on the NHL calendar, as we have the annual occurrence of the league’s dumbest gimmick, the “Discover Thanksgiving Showdown”.  For a league with shootouts, 3-on-3 overtime, and somewhere between 10 and 82 outdoor games per year (sorry, I have lost count); it is quite an accomplishment to earn the honor of “NHL’s Dumbest Gimmick”.

Some of you might be wondering, “Wait, I have never even heard of this “Discover” thing.  Fair enough.  Allow me to explain.  “Discover” is a credit-card company that airs the most annoying commercials (“We treat you, like you’d treat you.”) I have ever seen.  Somehow, I have lived 37 years, yet I do not recall ever seeing a “Discover” card used in my actual life.

Oh wait, you mean you have never heard of the “Discover Thanksgiving Showdown”.  Well, the previous paragraph will nevertheless go over big with all of the American Express employees I know.  Anyway, let us discuss the “showdown”.

This game is simply a game on Black Friday afternoon.  The game airs on NBC and almost always features the Rangers.  In the rare case that the Rangers are not involved, the Penguins and Sidney Crosby are.  I cannot find evidence of a 2012 edition of the “Showdown”, but I have evidence of 2011 and 2013-2018 editions of this gimmick.  Thus, in five of the seven editions, the Rangers have appeared.  As mentioned earlier, the Penguins have had several appearances in this game as well.  Meanwhile, the only other teams to have been blessed with the gift of playing in the “Discover Thanksgiving Showdown” have been the Red Wings (back when they were good), Flyers, and Bruins.

Image result for rangers bruins black friday
Photo via The Associated Press

You might now be wondering, “Is this game special because it is the only game played on Black Friday?”  Nope!  There are 15 games being played today, and 14 of them will sadly go unsponsored by the United States’ fourth-most popular credit card.  (Yes, I do realize the NHL is, at best, the United States’ fourth-most popular professional sports league.)

“Surely there must be something extra-special about the ‘Showdown’ game, compared to today’s other twelve games,” you must be thinking.  Nope.  There is nothing special at all.  The Rangers and Flyers today are both playing only 1 of their 82 respective games.  It carries no more weight than the Islanders/Devils game that will take place later in the day.

The NHL has historically done an excellent job of minimizing national-TV exposure for 75-80% of the league.  While the NFL logically realized long ago that it was wise to flex the best teams into primetime matchups, the NHL has made sure that the top matchups always feature a combination of the five afore-mentioned teams, Kings, Blackhawks, and Capitals.  Thus, if – Heaven forbid – one of the other 23 NHL teams appears in the Stanley Cup Finals, it can be bad for ratings.  Thus, had we ended up last year with a Winnipeg/Tampa Bay Finals (which was possible as of the Conference Finals), the league surely would experienced a ratings disappointment….and that disappointment would have been self-inflicted, given that the league does not care to promote strong teams that fall outside the list of eight “chosen” franchises.

Here is the bright side though.  I am a Devils fan, so I experienced seven consecutive seasons (1997-8 through 2003-4) in which the Devils were a top team, in which the Rangers missed the playoffs, but in which the Devils appeared on regular-season national TV only when playing the Rangers.  Thus, I know that the Devils will never play in the “Discover Thanksgiving Showdown” nor Winter Classic.  I know that their NBC appearances are generally rare typically require the Rangers as an opponent.  The bright side though is that I get Erika Wacther over Pierre McGuire during every Devils game, and that is a big-time victory for every Devils fan.

Thus, while the “Discover Thanksgiving Showdown” is silly, and I am perfectly OK with the Devils never being invited to it.

Steve Pearce: The Forrest Gump of the AL East

We are now nearly three weeks removed from the World Series.  In the modern media climate, two weeks is an eternity, but that will not keep me from addressing a hidden subplot from this year’s Fall Classic.  Steve Pearce has become the Forrest Gump of the American League East.  Forrest had a knack for finding his way to historical events and being around different United States presidents.  Take a look at Steve Pearce.  He has the same knack but in terms of the AL East.

First off, this guy has played for all five teams in the afore-mentioned division.  OK, big deal.  Eric Hinske probably did too (I do not feel like looking up whether he actually did or did not), and nobody outside of his family really cares about his baseball career.  Well, Pearce is a different story.  He is an ex-Yankee who won the World Series MVP for the Red Sox.  Now, some of you might be thinking, “Yeah, but he was on the Yankees for all of a half-hour in 2012”.  True, I do not know if he ever did anything that memorable as a Yankee.  However, he is quite responsible for one of the most celebrated moments in recent Yankees history.

In 2014, Steve Pearce – then an Oriole – hit the game-tying homerun in the Top of the 9th Inning of Derek Jeter’s last game at Yankee Stadium.  Do you remember having that feeling, “Oh my God, the Orioles just gave up a 3-run lead in the 9th so that Derek Jeter can bat in the Bottom of the 9th.”  I remember having that feeling.  I remember the Bottom of the 9th feeling scripted.  I remember feeling goosebumps and actually feeling slightly happy when Jeter drove in the winning run.  None of that would have happened if it were not for ex-Yankee, future-World Series MVP for Boston, and then-Oriole Steve Pearce. 

We will save his big moments as a Ray and as a Blue Jay for another day, a day when there are literally zero remaining topics on Earth for me to cover.  For now though, remember that Steve Pearce is the Forrest Gump of the AL East.