A Soft, Sinking Feeling

super bowl vidLast Sunday night was to be my last night in New England for a while. What better way to spend it than by watching my favorite team do what it does best. Win.

It all went perfectly according to plan.

The Patriots didn’t just win, they won big. They turned in a playoff performance for the ages.

Unable to sleep and wanting more, I turned to the ‘Deep Throat’ of Patriots porn, the 2001 Super Bowl video. Yes a video, as in VHS. It’s easy to forget that the legend of Belichick and Brady was born all the way back before DVDs ruled the world.  But it was. That’s how long they’ve been this good.

As I melted into the couch, the familiar story played out as beautifully as it always does. Pats are supposed to be a last place team. Franchise QB goes down and they start 0-2. Scrawny kid from Michigan and the bottom of the depth chart steps in and things start changing. Big wins over the Colts and Chargers. Big wins over the Bills and Saints.

An offense led by the powerful running of Antowain Smith. The big plays of Troy Brown and David Patten. And Brady introducing the world to Brady.

I’m in heaven reliving this regular season, and then it’s time for the Snow Bowl.

A magical night that changed the football world forever. Storybook stuff. A wildest dream come true.

Follow that up with the win in Pittsburgh, and you can’t help but think that this is the greatest single season in the history of Patriots football (sorry 2007, but, ya know…). Bledsoe comes back to save the day, Troy Brown returns a punt. Big play after big play. It was an incredible win, and as I watch it unfold, 13 years later, I’m shaking with the anticipation of the big game in New Orleans.

Keep in mind I’ve seen this video dozens of times. It’s that good. The story is that amazing.

The bulbs flash, Vinatieri kicks it off, and suddenly, something unexpected happened within me.   I encountered a hitch in my joy.

The Patriots came to play, and it shows. They are beating the Rams up, chipping receivers at the line of scrimmage, blitzing at all the right times, and the looks on the faces of the Rams players tell a story of frustration and disbelief.   Their eyes seem to show a helpless feeling. It’s almost as if the Patriots knew what was coming.

And that’s when it hit me.

The Patriots might have known exactly what was coming.

Some have said and many still believe that they videotaped the Rams in the Superdome in the days leading up to the Super Bowl. I refuse to believe this actually happened, but, I will concede that at the very least somebody might have seen the walkthrough and talked about it.   They sure as hell looked like a team that was playing with an unfair advantage.

Not sure why, eight years after Spygate, it finally sunk in, but it did. Maybe there was something to all these allegations after all. Maybe BB was fined a half a million dollars for a reason.

And as I watched the befuddled Rams retreat to the locker room, my Patriots up 14-3 at the half, for the first time ever I felt bad for Kurt Warner and company.

I watched the Rams come back in the second half – almost all the way back – and I couldn’t help but wonder how the game would have turned out if Matt Walsh hadn’t been on the Patriots staff in 2001. I hated myself for thinking these thoughts, but I thought them all the same.

However, in the end, the Masshole in me prevailed and I relished the victory as always. I got choked up when Vinatieri made the kick. I grinned like an idiot when Mr. Kraft reminded me that we are all Patriots. And I went to bed on that oh so familiar Sunday night cloud of superiority that Patriots fans know better than anyone else.

I was ready to once again bury the truth of the trickery and deceit like I have for the past eight years. Ready to win the Super Bowl yet again. Because hey, if we win a fourth fair and square who cares if we cheated a little for the first one, right?

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The next morning I was filling a glass of water, my car packed, about to say my goodbyes to New England for a few months.

“Have you heard some Indy media guys are accusing the Patriots of deflating their balls last night?” my dad asked. I hadn’t heard that, but I didn’t really think much of it. Those poor poor loser Colts, I thought. They must be looking for anything they can to justify that spanking.

Then I listened to Brady laughing off the allegations. That was all I needed to hear.

On to Seattle. Let the haters say whatever they want. This is will be the one that silences them all.

But it didn’t go away.

Deflategate became a word. And now it seems that that’s because it happened. Somehow, some way, the Patriots manipulated their footballs.

Brady must have known, as he sat there laughing, that the allegations that were 100% true.

The Patriots, it seems, found another way to push the limits of fair play. And they got busted. Again.

So now whenever I watch the 2001 Super Bowl video, I will feel just a little bit sorry for the Rams.

When I celebrate the fourth Super Bowl title 10 days from now, it won’t be perfect.

From now on, for the rest of my life, whenever I’m forced to defend the honor of my franchise, my coach and my quarterback – I will, but without the certainty that what I’m saying is just and true.

It will always be just a little bit off.

No one will ever be able to deny that this dynasty, in terms of wins and losses, is the greatest of all time. In any sport. But, at the same time, no one will ever be able to successfully argue that it was built on a foundation of integrity.

That, my friends, is a horrible, sobering thought. And one that we, as Patriots fans, all better come to grips with pretty soon.

We can rationalize and deny it all we want, but the facts are the facts.

As the greatest coach in NFL history has reminded us time and time again, sadly, it is what it is.

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Nipissing Lakers Season Opener

We’re doin’ it live tonight thanks to mixlr!  Here’s the link – http://mixlr.com/nipissing-lakers-hockey

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First Ever CDR – Twenty Boat Spiced Rum

So I’m finally giving this a shot.. Below is the pilot episode of a daily review show I’ve had had brewing in my mind for a while… The show is called Craig’s Daily Review.  In theory, every day I will review something.. Could be a book, a movie, an episode of a tv show, a meal, a bird noise, literally anything.. And hopefully it entertain/inform for a minute or two..  I promise that if/when more are made, they will all be shorter than this first one.

Cheers

S1E1

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A First Encounter with Hockey in Oz

Henke Rink. Up and down the ice they go.

On summer’s doorstep in Melbourne, Australia the Melbourne Ice Women’s professional hockey team practice – and you feel as if you’re anywhere but Australia.

Stick saves, hard shots, fast skating – the defending McKowen Cup champions are coming off an opening weekend sweep of the Brisbane Goannas.  After a punishing 8-1 win in the season opener, the Ice needed to rally late in game two for a narrow 4-3 victory.

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Dotting the rinkside seats on this Tuesday night are various Melbourne hockey heads.  Some players themselves, others fans, others god only knows.   What they all have in common however is a pure and basic love for hockey that one does not expect to find in a country known for reefs, kangaroos and a unique brand of football with it’s own set of rules.

Yet here they are.  After work they gather together. Men and women who share an unmistakable accent, and a desire for a harder wrist shot.

The passion these souls have for the game is nothing short of remarkable.  They watch Winnipeg Jets and Pittsburgh Penguins games online via NHL Gamecenter. They spend thousands of dollars to play in recreational leagues so popular that the governing bodies have been forced to implement limits on their participation.  Men can only play in the summer OR winter season because there simply aren’t enough teams to allow them to play both.

Women on the other hand, are allowed to play in both seasons if they so desire in an effort to grow the game among the fairer sex.  But of course these girls are hockey girls, and there is nothing fairer about them.  They’d sit out one of the two seasons rather than see a more skilled male be denied a roster spot.

There may not be an indigenous hockey culture here yet. But goddamn these guys get it.

What a welcome surprise for a Bostonian who’s walkabout into the hockey culture of Oz came with doubts and a genuine lack of expectations – good or bad.

It’s the other side of the planet, but it’s the same game.  The same zamboni, the same rubber disk and the same blend of balance, skill, strength and attitude that you’d find in Detroit, Vancouver or Colorado.

What’s different is the pioneering nature of the skaters down here.  A self-described “addiction” drives these men and women to pour all of their free time and money into frozen water.   In a country that’s largely impervious to the language of hockey, these guys speak it fluently.

Nothing says hockey like a girl who’s forgotten her sports bra and laughs as she wears her expensive French lingerie to practice instead.  It just doesn’t get any more hockey than that.

And while the skating isn’t perfect and the shots don’t get lifted too far off the ice, the game is here.  It’s a crawling infant that drinks beer and eats steak.  And before long, it’ll be strutting around shitting on the floor and telling you to pick it up.

It’s hockey in Australia – in the summer.  And it’s bloody awesome to find.

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Jake Peavy; An Irrational Love from Mobile to Boston

PeavyBayBears

My love affair with Jake Peavy the pitcher began in the summer of 2002, as a fantasy baseball obsessed 16-year-old on my annual summer vacation to my grandparents cottage in Baldwin, Michigan.

It was the days of dial-up internet, and my dad and I would rack up a bigger phone bill over the course of 7 days in the cottage than my grandparents would spend during the other 358 days of the year.  My dad had legitimate work to do.  I had a fantasy team to run.

And that summer I found my guy in the 21-year-old rookie Peavy, who I liked because he threw strikes.  I read the scouting reports, drooled over the box scores, and waited up late at night to perhaps catch a glimpse of one of his West Coast starts on Sportscenter. This was, after all, back when Sportscenter was a medium for highlights – not hype.

I watched, and I liked, and the following Spring, as a Junior in high school, I made Peavy “Mr. Irrelevant”, the last overall pick in a live draft with a group of friends that I still play fantasy baseball with.  I sat through 20-some-odd grueling rounds at Sawyer’s house in South Newton, just waiting for the moment when I could say, “I want Peavy,” and I could watch his name be drawn on the whiteboard with the rest of my team.  Of course I knew he was a top tier player, but my arrogance, and desire to one-up everyone else made me content to watch him slide round after round.   Just so I could say, “I told you so” later that year and for years to come.

Finally, after hours, he was mine, and he was good.  Year after year after year.

Fast forward to 2013.

Jake Peavy is an aging hurler with a lot of miles, but still some of the best raw talent in the game.  I live in Mobile, AL, Peavy’s hometown, and work as the play-by-play broadcaster for the Mobile BayBears – where Peavy pitched in 2001 and 2002.  Jake Peavy is a member of the BayBears Hall of Fame, and Suite 21 at Hank Aaron Stadium is the Jake Peavy suite.  He buys the suite for every one of the 70 BayBears home games, and he donates the suite to deserving charities throughout the community throughout the season.  Seeing his name every day at the ballpark is a thrill.  Having a signed limited edition print of him as a BayBear hanging beside my desk is even cooler.

I live 2 1/2 miles from St. Paul’s Episcopal High School, where Peavy pitched from 1996-1999, and from where he was drafted in the 15th round by the San Diego Padres in 1999.

One of my first assignments upon moving down to Mobile was to work a high school baseball tournament.  As the official scorer for a game at Mary G. Montgomery High School, I sat in the press box next to one of Peavy’s hunting buddies, the PA announcer, who regaled us with tales of Peavy the outdoorsman throughout the night.

It was cool to feel so close to a pitcher I so irrationally loved back in February, and even last week when there was no telling where he would end up pitching the balance of his current contract.  Now that he’s been traded to the Red Sox, and could presumably finish his career with the Red Sox, I’m simply over the moon.

Imagining the ’44’ in red on the mound at Fenway against the Rays in Spetember (because who really cares about the Yankees any more) is awesome.  The thought that I might be back in Boston with a chance to see Peavy pitch at Fenway during this postseason is surreal.

Red Sox fans who don’t really know Jake Peavy, know this, we just made our greatest deadline deal since ’04.   Get excited.  Should his health hold up, we’ll be getting at least 14 more months from one of the 21st century’s great pitchers.  And that’s worth a Jose Iglesias every day of the week.

And by the way guys, I told you so!

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On Being a Hockey Fan in the Deep South

You know what’s not particularly fun? Or easy?

Being a Boston Bruins fan in Mobile, Alabama.

In a year that is shaping up to be historically exciting – a 48 game blitz to the playoffs with one of the most complete teams I’ve ever cheered for – there is nothing I want to do more than watch every single minute of the action.

Unfortunately, that’s not in the cards.

Here are three little anecdotes that should give you a pretty good idea of what it’s like to bleed Black and Gold in a land awash in a Crimson Tide.

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It started with a simple conversation.

While downtown for my first Mardi Gras parade of the season (there are literally multiple Mardi Gras parades every day for weeks) I came upon a familiar shape; a beautiful structure. An arena that had all the makings of a hockey house.

I asked a Mobilian in my party what it was used for, hoping that maybe I could at least see some decent amateur hockey…

I was about 10 years too late.

Originally it had housed the Mobile Mysticks, a minor league hockey team that lasted all of seven seasons in the mid 90’s and early 2000’s.

“What’s it used for now,” I asked.

“Mostly gun shows and knife shows.”

And there I had it.  Everything I needed to know about the hockey culture in my new home.

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My next experience came later that same day.  The Bruins were in Toronto to begin another season of utter dominance in that particular match-up, and the game was on NHL Network.

Score.

I don’t have cable, but at least I could go to bar and watch it.

I arrived at Baumhauer’s just in time for the start of the second period.

What’s Baumhauer’s, you ask?  Well it’s your traditional family sports restaurant, full of big TVs, burgers, wings, and two beer sizes – 10 and 25 ounces.  Named after a former Miami Dolphins lineman, Baumhauer’s, ironically, was brimming with patrons who, to my Yankee ears, sounded an awful lot like Boomhauer from King of the Hill.

But I digress.

I sat at the bar and asked the bartender to switch one of the many screens over to the NHL Network.  The request was so unusual that the manager actually came out to see who had asked for it.

She couldn’t have been nicer in explaining that she’d never had anyone ask for a hockey game before, and together we found the game.  There was nothing bad about the experience at all, but it was another stark reminder (at the end of a week full of stark reminders) that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.  Or Canada, for that matter, either.

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My third and final experience was certainly the best of all, and as I sit here and type I am actually full of hope now that I see the trend this story has revealed to me.

Not only was Wednesday night the first Bruins/Canadians game of the season, not only was the game on NBC Sports (meaning I could find it at a bar), but it was also Wing Wednesday at Hooters.

I’ve never been more serious in my life when I say that it literally doesn’t get any better than that for a hockey fan down here.

I sat myself out of everyone’s way at a back corner table and had a front row seat in front of a decent sized TV for a great third period comeback and another dominant 60 minutes from Tuukka “I’m the reason Stuart Scott coined the expression ‘cool as the other side of the pillow’” Rask.

It was awesome.

But now as we head into a weekend that features a pair of games, I am faced with the prospect of 120 minutes lost.  No David Krejci, Tyler Seguin and Milan Lucic.  No Dennis Seidenberg.

No national coverage, about five Mardi Gras parades to ride in, and nothing but weapons to be found at the local ice rink.

That’s the name of the game though.  Nobody ever said life in the minor leagues was easy.

And honestly, it could be a lot worse.  At least I’m lucky enough to have the internet and cable TV.  At least I can circle the next Wednesday night NBC Sports telecast (March 27) and start saving my pennies for 6.99 wings and 7.99 Miller Light pitchers.

And at least I’m not a Montreal Canadians fan.

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Below, you will find links to nearly all 60 of the 2012 “Countdown to Spring Training” series that I headed on dunedinbluejays.com.  The project allowed me and my team to delve deep into the storied history of the Toronto Blue Jays to get folks excited for Spring Training.

January Stories

February Stories

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November 28, 2012 · 12:32 pm