Friday, July 25, 2014

The Prime of Fandom

Photo courtesy of NY Post
I began watching football and basketball in the fall of 2004, and continued by becoming a full-fledged baseball fan in April 2005. Initially, I denounced hockey when it returned in 2005 from its lockout the previous year, but about six weeks into the season my grandfather took me to my first Ranger game and I became obsessed.

I've dealt with a lot of shit. A lot of shit. In the first season that I followed religiously, the Jets, who I adopted as my team due to my father's being a longtime fan, made the playoffs after a successful 10-6 season. They began the year undefeated, going 5-0 before finally suffering a loss to the New England Patriots. I was so spoiled from the beginning that I didn't even know what losing felt like until October 24, six weeks after the season began.

Photo courtesy of Dallas Penn
Curtis Martin captured the rushing title by one yard over Seattle running back (and the guy who was about to dominate the NFL in the upcoming season) Shaun Alexander (leading to a hilarious situation in which Alexander got mad at the Seahawks and coach Mike Holmgren for not running with the ball at the one yard line, causing him to fall short of a tie for the rushing title). Jonathan Vilma won Defensive Rookie of the Year. Chad Pennington only missed 3 games that season, and I fell in love with Santana Moss. In December (my birthday is two weeks before Christmas, so when I receive gifts is such a blur that I have to simply refer to it as "December"), I received not only a Santana Moss jersey that was huge on me at the time (and for whatever reason, still fits me almost ten years later), but a giant Moss poster that was taped to my wall until I moved at the end of 2012.

Everything was going swimmingly at the time. The Jets even won their Wild Card playoff game on the road, defeating Drew Brees and the San Diego Chargers (wow that felt weird to type) in overtime despite an insanely stupid roughing the passer penalty by Eric Barton on 4th and 2 with 24 seconds left that allowed the Chargers to tie the game. A missed 40 yard field goal by Nate Kaeding kept the Jets alive, and Doug Brien drilled home a short 28 yarder, 8 seconds away from double OT, to win it.

Little did I know that merely a week later, that the Wild Card game hero, Doug Brien, would become the biggest goat imaginable.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Re-Evaluating The Kingdom

Photo from
Just because the Internet in Ghana is spotty doesn't mean that I was not well aware of the Decision 2.0: Instagram/Sports Illustrated Edition last Friday.

This was a lot different from how I found out about the formation of the Big 3 in 2010. I had been in Ghana for about two weeks before finally making my way to an Internet cafe. It was at this point that I was forced to digest, all at once, that Amar'e Stoudemire was headed to my Knicks, and that Chris Bosh and LeBron James were to join Dwyane Wade in Miami. I couldn't control myself and said, "wait, what???" as I looked flabbergasted at my computer screen.

This time around, it was my mom who told me, while on AOL's home page before checking her email (because for some reason she's one of the 7 people on the planet that doesn't use Gmail) that LeBron James was headed to Cleveland. My mother, who is not a sports fan at all, only knew to tell me this being I had spent a few minutes earlier in the day recounting to her the insanity that was taking place back in the U.S. that I heard about through Twitter and Facebook; from website hackers, to cupcake stores, to people camping outside of James's home, to reminding her about to angry letter in blue Comic Sans that the Cavaliers had removed from their website recently.

I had some time to stew, try and digest my dinner, accept that the people who had been yelling about LeBron returning were actually not insane, accept that the Cavs actually executed their pipe dream after seemingly wasting all of their time and energy in a wild pursuit of their former hero, and read. My eyes began to digest Grantland like a seven year old let loose at a free all-you-can-eat ice cream buffet.

Now I'm calm, confused, and ready to re-evaluate the NBA landscape, which was altered forever by two links that James simply tweeted out of the blue.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Belo Horizonte Massacre

Photo from
 I know I said I probably wouldn't post anything while in Ghana, but this is a can't miss opportunity.

Right now I'm working at a newspaper in Ghana called The Finder, and an edited version of this article will be published in the weekly sports edition. So, I'm basically an international superstar. Hold the applause, please. 

We all watched what happened last night (or afternoon for those of you in the States). We all looked on in disbelief as Germany chopped up Brazil, chewed them, spit them back out, then chewed them again. I don't know if I can find words to describe the game correctly. Germany annihilated, crushed, mauled, massacred, pillaged, and plundered Brazil. They continued their war against all Portugese speaking nations by beating the Brazilians 7-1, a few weeks after defeating Portugal 4-1 behind a hat trick by Thomas Müller.

Even the goal that Oscar drilled home in the 90th minute couldn't save face for his team and his country. The fans in the crowd even booed their own home team after scoring. Everyone knew that they had no business scoring a single goal in that game. In fact, Brazil deserved to score negative goals in that match.

Coming into the match, people were unsure about how Brazil could combat the losses of star forward Neymar, and their captain Tiago Silva at center back. Even with Neymar, the attack had been lackluster throughout the entire tournament. Last night was the time for Oscar, Fred, and Hulk to step it up now that they didn't have their skillful teammate to bail them out up front. And for the first 10 minutes or so, it looked like they were doing a good job at it. The Brazilians controlled the possession early, forcing the issue and getting the ball deep into the German defense. They were doing a poor job at communicating and connecting on their passes once there. In addition, center backs Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng, who is of Ghanaian descent, were disrupting the host nation's offense.

Despite not touching the ball often, the Germans opened up the scoring with a very nice side-footed volley from Müller, giving him his fifth goal of the World Cup, putting him one goal behind Colombian James Rodriguez for the tournament lead.

Immediately following that score, Brazil continued to control the ball, but were undone by sloppy play at the front. Then at around the 19th minute, there was a shift in the play, as Germany now was consistently putting pressure of Brazil's defensive unit. It was at this point that I wrote in my notes that Dante was actually playing pretty well at center back, filling in for Tiago Silva. It was true at the time, but it was quickly undone, as horrible mistakes by him, Fernandinho, and David Luiz allowed Germany to score three goals in a six minute span.

The first of those goals was a historic one, as Miroslav Klose scored his 16th goal at the World Cup, becoming the most prolific scorer in the history of the ultimate tournament. It only exacerbated the anguish of the Brazilian faithful, as he dethroned one of the biggest Brazilian stars ever, Ronaldo.

Then, only a minute later, Toni Kroos kicked off a stretch in which he beat Brazil's back line twice in two minutes to put his team up 4-0.

Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse for Brazil, Sami Khedira drove in a shot from near the top of the box and it looked like the Germans were simply fooling around at that point.

Despite giving up five goals in the first half, Brazilian goalkeeper Júlio César wasn't even playing poorly. He was not given a proper chance to make saves because his defenders were always leaving wide open spaces for German attackers to run into, then trailing behind once the ball was controlled. The most glaring measure of this was the fact that Brazil controlled possession for 64% of the first half, yet found themselves trailing by 5 goals because they simply were not ready to combat the German counterattack.

The story of the second half was Manuel Neuer messing with Brazil. With the game firmly in his side's hands, he was finally tested as the Brazilians were able to string together some quality offensive chances. But Neuer responded in brilliant fashion with two great saves, then two consecutive stops against Paulinho within the first eight minutes of the second half.

César played well when his teammates gave him a fair chance, but that didn't last long as another defensive lapse led to substitute Andre Schurrle scoring twice within ten minutes, with the second goal being a beautiful left-footed strike that was perfectly placed at the top of the net. At this point the Brazilian faithful were applauding every time their team conceded a goal, because they had given up on cheering for their own team. Also, the television graphic couldn't contain all of Germany's goals at once, so they were forced to scroll up to them all.

And then came the finish, which included an absolutely ridiculous pity goal scored by Oscar to try and salvage some semblance of respect for his team and his nation. But that didn't work. His team his defeated about as soundly as possible. They disappointed themselves and their entire country with a disgraceful performance.

Now's also a good time to point out that Ghana drew Germany in the group stage.