Sports Outside the Beltway

Alaskan Adventure

This is not the typical sports story for all you fantasy loving baseball and football junkies. This is a little bit of a personal story of a recent trip my wife and I ventured on to the great Last Frontier, the 49th State, Alaska. 22 hours of light in the summer, about 600,000 folks in a state the size of almost 1/3 of the “lower 48″, as the Alaskans like to say, and wildlife like you couldn’t imagine, even in an Animal Planet special.

If you ever get the opportunity, please go and just take in the serenity of the place and realize why Teddy Roosevelt and former Secretary of State to Abraham Lincoln William Seward just fell in love with this place. Better to be a part of the USA, than a bridge to Siberia. At any rate, the sports angle.

If you love to fish, they have the best salmon, trout and halibut fishing in the world. Great guides, clean waters, a multitude of fish and just you and the streams they spawn on. If hiking or sightseeing is your bag, Denali National Forest with Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America, almost 4 miles high from it’s base, gives some breathtaking views. Always covered with snow, even in July.

Local sports are interesting in the great north as well. High School football season starts first week of August, ends in October because it gets too darn cold and dark. Summer baseball leagues are huge in Alaska, many major leaguers and wannabees play there, much like the Cape Cod leagues. Another big sport is the dogsled races or Iditarod, which takes place in January and goes over 2,000 miles from Anchorage to Nome. Not for the feint of heart. And of course, there is the Great Alaskan Shootout that takes place prior to the NCAA basketball season, with teams from the “lower 48″, taking on Alaskan colleges.

All in all, a pretty terrific place, they have ESPN on everywhere, love the Seattle teams and even have a daily newspaper that reports on all scores from around the country. 4 hour difference in time between the east and the north. So again, if you have the druthers, take a trip that you won’t regret and you’ll get your sports fix too!


The Manning Saga

First came Archie. I remember him well. I was young and an avid fan watching the elder Manning lose game after game with those horrendous Saint teams that could only muster 1 or 2 wins a year. Then came Peyton. Great career at Tennessee, however the knock on the college game was he couldn’t bring home a national championship to the Orange and White faithful. Center stage, Indianapolis Colts. Same story, year after year. Mega stats, can’t win the big game when it counts. Fast forward to yesterday – Colts vs. Pats. If he loses and throws for 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns and no picks, it was a good Peyton day, but again the brass ring was elusive. Win – the monkey and everything else is off the Manning back. The biggest drive of his life – college or pro came yesterday. 80 yards to go, down by 3, forget the tie, it was time for Peyton to win and watch the white smoke rise from the RCA dome.

Even if he loses the Super Bowl, he exorcised the Patriot ghosts, the team that owned him. He won and did it on his own terms. He took a knee. It was fitting for the Manning clan. It is his time to shine – his father’s dream and perhaps his brother Eli’s future. One thing for certain. The Saints were not the feel good story of New Orleans this year. The real deal is the Manning’s and how they have overcome scrutiny, while maintaining a strong family core and helping those in the bayou who have needed it the most. This is the Manning tradition and it happened to one of the nicest people and families in professional sports.


The Bowl Experience

I have never been to a live bowl game before. Although I always wanted to go, it just never came up and I never had the time or anyone to go with me. Living in the Northeast, it makes it kind of difficult to just up and get in a car and drive to the game and drive back after it’s done.

Well, 47 years later, I finally get my opportunity to attend a bowl game, firsthand. It was the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl in beautiful and historic Nashville, Tennessee. If you’ve never been to Nashville, you must make a point of it, whether you like honky tonk music or not. It is truly a delightful place to go and the people are actually very accomodating (touristy places) and it’s a very clean city. Not to mention, that LP Field, home of the Tennessee Titans is a 10-minute walk from downtown Nashville.

The University of Kentucky Wilcats played the Clemson University Tigers, in a classic ACC-SEC battle. Both schools got to the game in different ways. Clemson was supposed to vie for the national title, or at least an ACC crown, beating Wake Forest and then losing 3 out of their last 4 games to go 8-4. Kentucky was making it’s first bowl appearance since 1999, and had been on probation the last few years. This team went 7-5 and had an impressive win against Georgia and took Tennessee down to the wire, losing 17-12 at UT. At any rate, it was a great matchup of two potentially powerful offenses and suspect defenses at best.

Clemson was the favorite by 10 points and quite frankly, Kentucky seemed happy to be going to a bowl at all. They had not won one in 24 years and the fans were obviously ecstatic about going to Nashville, a short trip from the Bluegrass state by car. The bowl, which had done well in previous years, was a sellout on the first day and had a record crowd of 68,000 screaming blue and white and orange fans. The place was 60% or more Kentucky fans, but the Clemson faithful were to be recognized.

What’s better than attending college events where the pep band plays in your hotel lobby, a battle of the marching bands in the middle of Nashville’s busy club district and a pre-game breakfast at one of the town’s most historic restaurants? How about a 70 degree sunny day at the end of December? How about a great performance by an underdog Kentucky team? I must admit that my wife is an alum of UK and we did our best to wear as much blue and white as possible, sitting 15 rows from the field on the 30-yard line with the other UK fans.

It was, by far, the most exciting college football I have ever attended live. In fact, it was so memorable, I am hoping that UK makes it back to another bowl next year, no matter where it might be. Maybe Florida, New Orleans or who knows, a national championship? Oh well, wishful thinking, but the moral of the story is —- find out where you favorite team is playing (since there are so many bowls), get your buddies or your best guy or gal and hop on in a car, plane, train or whatever floats your boat and enjoy the many days of festivities. It’ll knock your socks off!


MSG Post Mortem

There’s more to the story about what happened late Saturday night at the hallowed Madison Square Garden in New York than meets the eye. Sports fanatics (like myself), tend to take what happened at face value. However, being a resident of the greater New York metropolitan area and also being a lifelong Knickerbockers fan, I must intercede on behalf of all the suffering fans waiting patiently for a glimmer of hope at the end of a long, dark tunnel.

Let’s examine the facts. Less than a minute to go in another boring affair, with the Knicks getting blown out, yet again on their home court, Nuggets coach and Isiah Thomas hater, George Karl, leaves his star players on the court up by over 20 points. A little retribution for his buddy Larry Brown? A bashing of the hated Thomas? Or just a “who cares” attitude by Karl? Whatever the answer, he had no business allowing one of the three best players in the game stay on the court, despite the game being over with a minute to go. Thomas, for his failings, seemed to warn or threaten Carmelo Anthony to stay away from what turned out to be Pistons-Pacers lite.

In the end, suspensions and fines abound, the NBA suffering another perverbial black eye, and both teams attempting to do damage control over something that should have never happened in the first place. Karl is wrong and his team’s owner should take him to the woodshed for allowing Anthony to miss 20% of the season, not to mention the fines and what inevitably will be empty seats in Denver. Thomas, hated amongst most of the league, is not much better. He seemed to incite the fallout Saturday and trumped that “no one pushes us around in our house”. Funny, as a fan, I’m waiting to see this “team” pull together and play solid defense. The Knicks, the once storied franchise, are a mere 5-10 at home — at the squared circle — Madison Square Garden. Play like a team, then act like one.

We are all hopeful, Knicks and NBA fans alike, that this is the last in the theatrics we will see this year and we can get back to the kind of play we all enjoyed when Magic, Bird, Jordan and the like played back when basketball was fun.


Free NFL Network (At least for Rutgers fans)

So, the new NFL Network granted reprieve to the faithful following of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, and will televise the game free to all those New Jersey folks pining to see their team take the field in the first-ever Texas Bowl on December 28th against Kansas State. For a while, it was nip-and-tuck, and no one was quite sure if they were going to have to find the local sports bar or locate someone who may be lucky enough to have this rare commodity.

Did anyone try to watch the game on Thanskgiving night? It was supposed to be broadcast to everyone, but when the game started, the NFL Network switched over to a documentary and all those turkey-eating football fanatics were left in the dark. The NFL Network, for all it’s hype, is only showing eight games this season, as well as a smattering of college bowl games. Did anyone tell the powers that be that there may be real football fans out there wanting to watch some of these late season battles?

Someone has got to be watching the store for the almighty league where they play for pay. At any rate, all you scarlet-wearing fans can breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy the festivities as New Jersey will be proudly represented during Holiday bowl week in the state where everything is big.


A.I. – Last Great Hope for the City of Brotherly Love

Oh, how I hate to write about Philly’s prodigal son. All those naysayers out there, thinking that Mr. Iverson would bring a coveted championship to South Philadelphia, ala Dr. J is now just a mere memory. Hold onto to those jerseys fans, Ebay may be calling soon with a plethora of collectors. Unfortunately for the owners and the fans, this is another in the long line of disappointments to annoint the city known for “almost rans”. Ask all the Eagle fans about that other humanitarian, Terrell Owens. Oh yeh, he’s gone. How about throwing snowballs and hurling obscenities at Santa Claus? Remember that all you docile Philly fans?

I know it’s hard rooting for your teams. The last time any Philly team won was the Philadelphia Phantoms (the Flyers minor league affiliate) – but alas, it’s better than nothing. How bout a cheese steak with that? The woiks. Rocky Balboa is making a comeback – Can you say Rocky VV? Time to unearth the statue after all.

Getting back to A.I. It’s a shame that someone with so much talent can’t find a team to play with at this stage in his career. Oh yeh, I said team. Iverson’s a team of one. Maybe the Knicks would take him to go along with that other talented one-man show, Stephon Marbury. That would be great for the Garden faithful. At least it would be dueling jerseys – not many wins, but hey, who needs that anyway!


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