By Jason Keidel
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Men love to ask each other meaningless questions. Hulk vs. Thor? ’84 Niners vs. ’85 Bears? Ginger vs. Mary Ann?
One such question, which has no bearing on anything other than the abstract, was posed to me: Do I consider myself an American or a New Yorker?
Perhaps it’s not very patriotic, but I am a New Yorker before anything. Maybe you must be from here, born & bred, one block swathed in money and marble, the next block dark and dank and dangerous.
There is – or there was – a rhythm to Gotham, a hum under our feet when we walked the streets, the ground murmuring with commerce and commuters, the trains running like veins under the city’s skin. The myriad accents, from the bold Brooklyn consonants to the more proper, elitist diction of my island.
New York is so resilient we can survive fires and murders and terrorists. Even trees grow through fences. Not around, but through, swallowing metal on its way to the sky.
But for all our provincial pride, all our native narcissism, there’s no denying the grotesque state of our sports teams.
Local cable providers love to remind us that we have nine – yes, nine – professional sports clubs, a way of persuading us to click on this package or that so we can view the screen-in-screen horror we call baseball, football, and basketball.
Let’s take a quick stroll down our athletic graveyard.
The Knicks consider beating the 5-20 Bucks in double overtime an achievement. “This was big time,” were coach Mike Woodson’s exact words, echoed by the most overrated player in the sport, Carmelo Anthony. They are 8-17, swathed in mutiny, and about to be blown up.
The Nets sold the farm for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and are 9-16. Deron Williams has his $100 million and has shown no desire to be the dynamic point guard he was in Utah. Jason Kidd is lost, spills drinks on the court to be clever, and fired his top assistant, Lawrence Frank, right after signing him to a $6 million contract.
GM Jerry Reese planted a clock inside the Giants’ locker room, counting down to the Super Bowl, presumably to inspire his Big Blue brethren. They responded by starting 0-6 and were just humiliated at home by the Seahawks. There have been two shutouts in the NFL, and the Giants have been the progenitors of both.
Rex Ryan lost a ton and his tongue this offseason. Being svelte and silent has helped the Jets perform better than any of us anticipated, but only with Gang Green is 7-9 a step in the right direction. They haven’t been to a Super Bowl since 1969, and may not return until 2069.
The Mets are trying to do things on the cheap in the same town as the Yankees. In fairness, even when they spend they still stink. The future looked blinding with Matt Harvey pitching as well as any young pitcher since another Mets phenom – Doc Gooden. Until, of course, Harvey tore a ligament in his pitching elbow. Mets fans would sign for 81-81 tomorrow.
The Yankees lost Robinson Cano because they didn’t think he was worth $240 million. Fair enough. If only they didn’t think Jacoby Ellsbury was worth $150 million. They lost their best player (Cano), the best closer in baseball history (Rivera), Derek Jeter is 39 and coming off a twice-broken ankle. A-Rod is old, expensive, and unwelcome, and CC Sabathia is suddenly looking worn out. They missed the playoffs despite spending over $200 million in 2013. Expect the same in 2014.
And even if you embrace the Canadian pastime in America – hockey, where it seems every other player is named Perrier or Lemieux or some French derivation with too many silent consonants – our three locals are wretched. That would be the Rangers, Islanders, and Devils for the record, who are a combined 39-51-15.
Toss a dart at the American map and you’ll find more fertile sports soil. And many of these cities are missing an NFL, MLB, or NBA team.
Seattle? Seahawks are favored to reach the Super Bowl.
Los Angeles? Clippers are playoff bound. The Dodgers are World Series contenders. The Angels have the best young player on Earth.
Chicago? Bears and Bulls are relevant. Blackhawks are current caretakers of the Stanley Cup.
Houston? Rockets have two of the top-ten players in the sport.
Indianapolis? Andrew Luck will keep the Colts relevant until 2025. Pacers could be the best team in the NBA.
Dallas? America’s Team, while schizophrenic, still make the playoffs with two more wins. The Rangers recently reached the World Series in consecutive years.
Denver? Peyton and the Broncos should play in brother Eli’s backyard in February. The Nuggets almost always make the playoffs. Even the Rockies have several young studs who make baseball worth watching.
Boston? Red Sox are World Series champions and Tom Brady has been to five Super Bowls. Had Gronk stayed healthy, they probably would have played in a sixth.
We could go on, but there is ample proof that New York City is the worst sports town in the nation. And it’s not particularly close. Seven teams are currently in their regular seasons, and all are having losing seasons.
If you’ve ever flown to New York City, you may have seen that gorgeous woman who lives on New York Harbor. She may be green, made of copper, and over 100 years old, but the Statue of Liberty represents our love of freedom and our sense of inclusion, tolerance, and diversity.
Written on the green goddess is the following…
“Give me your tired, your poor…send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me…”
Little did Lady Liberty know that the folks with those qualities would all play for our pro sports teams.
Madison Square Garden, the vortex of the city’s sports scene, is often called The World’s Most Famous Arena. Just don’t call it the most successful. The Knicks haven’t won anything since Richard Nixon was flashing deuces in front of Marine One. Only in New York City is a 1973 championship considered recent success. Lost on our more jaded natives is the fact that MSG is far better known for boxing than basketball.
There was nothing wrong with Yankee Stadium, yet they smashed it and replaced it with that gaudy, limestone martini bar across the street. There was nothing wrong with Giants Stadium, yet they smashed it and started charging fans PSLs, a euphemism for a new, fat tax.
But it does serve as a microcosm for our sports scene. We exist entirely on reputation, projection, and hyperbole. In truth, the present is brutal, and the future looks woeful. Maybe we sold our soul when we turned Manhattan into an embellished strip mall, a row of condos and pharmacies. We sold Times Square to Disney, froze the furnace of Hell’s Kitchen, and we haven’t been right since. It makes one long for more exciting times.
You may recall Frank Sinatra’s famous ballad for the five boroughs…
‘Start spreading the news…
I’m leaving today…
I want to be part of it…
New York, New York…’
The worst sports town in America.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden.
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