Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Challenger Explosion: A Teacher Recalls That Fateful Day

Article first published as The Challenger Explosion: A Teacher Recalls That Fateful Day on Blogcritics.

January 1986. It's kind of like November 1963 or December 1941 or September 2001. The Challenger explosion was a news event that not only overwhelmed people with its impact but created a lasting impression and inspired the inevitable "Where were you?" question. Those of us who remember that day twenty-five years ago will never forget the time and place we heard about this terrible moment in the collective memory of our nation.

I was a seventh grade teacher in a Catholic school in Queens, NY. Although I taught English classes, I spoke about the Challenger blastoff with my students in the weeks before the launch. Besides the obvious applications to science and math connected to such an event, I found there was an extremely tangible literary element to space travel. Had not space voyages been the subject of stories and poems? Each time I watched a craft takeoff, I felt awash in the lyrical countdown that was poetic as it was methodical.

There was also another connection I had to the Challenger: I had submitted an application to the Teacher in Space Program that would eventually land Christa McAuliffe in the Challenger on January 28, 1986. I recall it was a long application, filled out a couple of years before when I was a rookie teacher. Although I figured I didn't stand a chance against all the scientific types that probably would be chosen, I still sent it in because I believed in taking every opportunity. Besides, if I were selected, it would fulfill all my boyhood Captain Kirk dreams to - if not boldly go where no man had gone before - be floating around in the velvet black of space and looking down at the hazy blue marble Earth.

Of course, I was not selected and I never told my students about it. I had told my family and I remember my Mom thinking I was crazy. "Who would want to do a thing like that?" she asked. Well, I wanted to do it because it would be the stuff of all the tales I had ever read and all the TV shows and films I had seen about space travel. I would write about it and maybe even star in a television show later on - something like Teacher in Space.

We all know that many educators applied for this opportunity of a lifetime, but in the end Christa McAuliffe was chosen as the teacher who would go on the voyage. Though I envied her at first, I grew to accept not going and also to embrace the fact that one of my own would be making this fantastic voyage. It was a source of great pride for all us earthbound teachers, for we saw the adulation and respect that people everywhere had, not just for Christa, but for teachers in general now that she had become so famous.

So on that fateful day I was teaching a lesson about transitive and intransitive verbs. I probably sighed a little bit, glanced at my watch, and thought about Christa taking off for the heavens while I was stuck with my feet firmly planted on the ground teaching something most of my students found boring. In those days we didn't have televisions in every classroom, but I knew one of the science teachers had signed out the only one we had on a rolling cart on our floor. She and her class were watching the liftoff down the hall. My students worked on a few examples in their notebooks and the serene quiet was suddenly broken by a kind of crying and moaning that floated through the doorway, a sort of crush of recognition that something horrible happened.

In a few moments the principal's stoic voice came over the classroom intercom announcing, "The Challenger Space Shuttle has exploded on takeoff. Please pray for those on board and their families and friends." Once she stopped speaking, I heard my students gasping, some staring out the window as if they thought they'd see falling pieces of the ship coming down from the sky.

What do you say in moments like this? Sometimes silence is the best thing, and I just sat on the edge of my desk and stared at them as they buzzed their conversations and cried tears. I waited for a time and then one of the girls (who had been following Christa's journey diligently and had written about it in her journal) looked up at me and asked the question I had no answer for: "Mr. Lana, why did this happen?"

Twenty-five years have passed and I still don't have the answer. At the time I think I stammered a bit, fighting my own tears, and said something about God's plan and Christa's bravery. I honestly don't remember what I said anymore, and I'm not sure if it brought any comfort to my students. I do know that nothing brought any comfort to me: not that day or a long time afterwards.

I remember staring at the cold winter sky that night so long ago, staring up at the constellation Orion so bold and bright in the dark night sky. I thought how I had submitted that application and wanted to really go, but so did so many others. Christa went for all of us, all the teachers who worked so hard everyday, who loved their jobs and their students as much as anything in life. That kind of dedication and spirit sent Christa McAuliffe up in that Space Shuttle, and not even the explosion that took her life could destroy the power of the example she set for teachers and students in America and all over the world.

So tonight I looked up at the sky again, but I couldn't see Orion or anything else because there was a cloudy sky, ready to drop more snow on us. Still, I could see the trail that she blazed that day, and though she's gone her memory remains and her name will forever linger in the firmament, inspiring us now and forevermore with her bold desire to reach for the stars.

Photo Credit:

Friday, January 28, 2011

Another Snowstorm in New York City: Raise the White Flag

Article first published as Another Snowstorm in New York City: Raise the White Flag on Blogcritics.

It's official: there's a record snowfall in New York City this January. An additional fifteen inches fell in Central Park during this latest storm, bringing the total to 37.1 inches for this winter. Since the normal snowfall for the entire winter in NYC is 22 inches - and we still have a long way to go even if the groundhog sees his shadow or not on February 2 - this weather is making life miserable for most of us (unless you count the smiling and happy kids). Even Mayor Michael Bloomberg conceded defeat this time and rightly declared a Snow Emergency and closed the schools.

So I am raising a white flag. Mother Nature, you win. I am humbled by your awesome power and the majesty of your brushstroke. Going out early this morning, everything seemed to have been imbued with white in artistic spattering, as if the old Gal dabbed her hands across window screens and storm doors. The patterns of the blasts of ice and snow were intermittent, as if almost down intentionally to shatter light and bring focus on a particular cluster of frosty images of cold, crystalline beauty.

There is no doubt a message in all this to we city dwellers similar to the one sent by Klaatu in the film The Day the Earth Stood Still. We may think we are invincible, that we are immune to the universe around us, and can go on doing whatever it is that pleases us at the expense of all things natural. This is a reality check. Mother Nature is telling us "I can stop you cold. I can put you in the deep freeze and let you stew. I can close your airports, shut down your transit, and send you back to the Dark Ages if I like."

Today it seems that way. Everything has stopped again. There is beauty and majesty in the hush that is thrown over the city, one that is usually like what the poet William Wordsmith described as the "world that is too much with us." The ever moving, non-stopping metropolis is polarized and encased in ice. We are forced to reckon with the unimaginable concept that we are vulnerable, mortal, and at the mercy of something much greater than ourselves.

I walked back home when I found the corner store shuttered. Humbled yet again by this winter, I have to make my own coffee, forgo the comfort of readily available bagels and muffins, and deal with my kids brimming with excitement. They know so much more than we do, but sometimes we're reticent to recognize their wisdom. They want to play and, if just for today, I'm going to forget the worries of the world and dive into that snow with them. Oh, and I may even share with them my secret snowball making technique. Sorry, can't divulge that here.

So today the world is white: a stark and stoic reminder that we all better not take Mother Nature for granted. Those of you old enough may recall that old margarine commercial's iconic line, "It's not nice to fool with Mother Nature!" I think most of my fellow New Yorkers will definitely agree with that at this point. We raise the white flag, Mother Nature. You win. Now, please, give us a break!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

As Gang Green Turns: Jets 24-19 Loss to Steelers Ends the Green Dream

Article first published as As Gang Green Turns: Jets 24-19 Loss to Steelers Ends the Green Dream on Blogcritics.

Whether Jets head coach Rex Ryan realizes it or not, all that talking kind of takes its toll. The Jets were really good talkers, sometimes in a yada-yada-yada kind of way. Ryan and his guys talked so much they gave those ladies on The View a run for their money. Even Joy (there's no key to turn off my mouth) Behar can't compete with the likes of Rex, but then again she doesn't have to go out on a field and prove something every week the way he does, so it is kind of funny when Joy goes off, but not so much when Rex does.

Ryan talked a good talk all season (and even during the preseason on the HBO series Hard Knocks), but in the end all the swagger kind of caught up with him and the team. You can just get by so long on being verbose when you have to throw or run a football.

What did the Jets in yesterday was a combination of too much sound and not enough fury. The great writer William Shakespeare wrote about a tale told by an idiot that was full of sound and fury but signified nothing. In essence these words from Macbeth can be applied to Ryan, who strove to take the castle and then the kingdom, but forgot that words are fine in dramas but not as important on the playing field.

If Jets fans weren't ready to pack it in at the half (when their team was down 24-3), it is only because we have seen it all before. It's the old Tug McGraw "You gotta believe" mentality, and we Jets fans as well as Mets fans have been suckered by the concept of being the underdog and loving it. Well, as good old Maxwell Smart (played by Don Adams on the great television show Get Smart) used to say, "Missed it by that much." We go home and they move forward and that's that.

Sure, we fans got into the second half. The Jets defense did what it should have done in the first half. They had Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger falling apart at the seams, but that is the problem with the Jets. They make you think the comeback is possible. They lull you into hoping that there will be one more pass, one more play, the Nick Folk field goal that just makes it to win with zero seconds left.

Alas, no storybook endings happened in Pittsburgh. The better team is going to the Super Bowl; Gang Green gets to stay home and watch all those expensive commercials and drown their sorrows in beverages of their choice. In the end Mark Sanchez was no Joe Namath on this day, though he played valiantly and would have had a chance if the defense played the first half right. Instead, Sanchez gets to rest a sore shoulder and Ryan his wounded ego.

Now that we have seen the Jets get to the AFC Championship game two years in a row and not move on, we fans are going to expect much more next year. Yes, we Mets and Jets fans are always looking at calendars and dreaming. How many more more next years can there be? When does this year ever become the next year we hoped it would be?

The soap opera As Gang Green Turns now goes on hiatus. One can only wonder what will happen? Will some of the cast be let go? Will new characters be brought in? Maybe the most important question is this: what will Rex Ryan do to engineer a team that will allow Jets fans to not only believe in the dream but to see it realized in February 2012?

Photo Credits:
Rex Ryan -
Don Adams -

Friday, January 21, 2011

As Gang Green Turns: What a Difference a Week Makes - Jets and Steelers Play Nice?

Article first published as As Gang Green Turns: What a Difference a Week Makes - Jets and Steelers Play Nice? on Blogcritics.

It is amazing how different things can be in one week in the soap opera As Gang Green Turns. You will probably recall all the bluster coming from New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan concerning his arch nemesis Darth Bull - New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick - in the week before the game between the Jets and Pats. This was a showdown. This was a war between coaches. Man your battle stations and full speed ahead.

Well, this week the Ryan Express has slowed down some. He has toned down all the rhetoric and has actually made nice. He likes Pittsburgh Steelers' head coach Mike Tomlin. He admires the man. He respects him. The last time Rex got so enamored with someone (Darrelle Revis - when he was missing from training camp), he talked about giving his corner back a great big smooch if he walked in the door. Mr. Tomlin, you have been warned.

And if our wondering eyes are to believe what we are seeing, then we get a reciprocal round of praising of Ryan by Tomlin. He likes Rex too. There is either something wrong with this picture, or perhaps it is just the silence before the fury. Either way, this kind of lovey-dovey stuff gives me the creeps right before a big game.

Now, before you go thinking this game is going to be boring, today Steelers' defensive back Ike Taylor said he was going to "lay him out" in reference to his former teammate, Jets' wide receiver Santonio Holmes. Ah, some turmoil has finally surfaced. This is just the kind of threat we need to get the fun going again.

Come on, Rex, you know you want to respond to this comment. Truthfully, we're waiting.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

As Gang Green Turns: Jets Sack Pats 28-21 - Bring on the Steelers!

Article first published as As Gang Green Turns: Jets Sack Pats 28-21 - Bring on the Steelers! on Blogcritics.

Today Jets fans are bursting with green pride, while fans of the New England Patriots just might be green with envy, but no matter what the game last night settled - at least for this season - the score between the two teams in favor of the Jets. The Jets now head into their second AFC Championship Game in a row, and one has to give a great deal of credit to Jets' head coach Rex Ryan as the man who has got them there.

Make no mistake, this was a battle of wits and wills between two tough competitors. You could say that Mark Sanchez beat Tom Brady, or you could say the Jets' defense beat Tom Brady (sacking him five times in the process), and you could even say the Jets' offense was just better than the Pats' offense. While these things are all true in regard to last night's game, the real battle - as stated during last week by Ryan - was between the head coaches Ryan and Bill Belichick.

Last week I referred to Ryan and Belichick as Luke Piewalker and Darth Bull respectively (alluding to the famous Star Wars characters), but as I watched the game last night, something made Belichick lose his imposing status. Wearing a frumpy Patriots' hoody and his headphones, Belichick looked more like a worn-out Yoda who the force did not have with him. At times Belichick seemed lost, as if the proceedings could not be happening before his eyes as his padawans were getting clobbered.

What even seemed more impressive was that the Jets defense got to Brady. Besides sacking him five times, Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Drew Coleman, and company rattled Brady's cage. During every possession he seemed rushed and even flustered, trying to find someone to throw the ball to but being dogged by that relentless Jets defense that had him flinching even when no one was close to him.

Sanchez was impressive going 16 - 25 for 194 yards with three touchdown passes and no interceptions. While he no doubt had to be nervous going into this game at Foxborough, he showed the grit and determination of one more experienced on this night, and this ongoing maturation process has been happening though not always obvious in the later games of the season. Now it seems Sanchez has found himself, is comfortable with his receivers, and is playing the game smarter than he ever has before.

Last week Rex Ryan said that there was the only one bigger game in Jets team history than this one, and that was the victory of Joe Namath and his team in Super Bowl III. At the time I thought this was more typical Ryan bluster, but now I see the wisdom of this comment. Beating the Patriots - and especially beating Belichick - was indeed crucial and exorcises the haunting 45-3 loss to the Pats last month.

Now the Jets will turn their attention to the Pittsburgh Steelers. If the Jets can indeed beat the Steelers next week and reach the Super Bowl, the achievement will be even more amazing because they will have won three playoff games in a row against the best teams around: the Colts, the Patriots, and the Steelers. Even more amazing is the fact that they will have done this on the road.

There will be lots of talk going on this week, and I am sure much of it will be coming from Ryan as per his usual routine. Still, despite all the talk and all the hype, Ryan and his men came out and walked the walked. In two more weeks, they may even get to walk the walk of Super Bowl champions. If they do win it all, should we worry that Rex will finally run out of things to say? Not a chance.

That's it until next week at Pittsburgh in the ongoing sports soap opera As Gang Green Turns.

Monday, January 17, 2011

As Gang Green Turns: Patriot Fun and Games

Article first published as As Gang Green Turns: Patriot Fun and Games on Blogcritics.

I don't know how exciting this week would be if Rex Ryan was not the head coach of the Jets, but I'd rather not find out. Despite all his weaknesses, King Rex is certainly fun to watch and to listen to whenever he finds a microphone in his vicinity. This week as we are waiting for the big game against the New England Patriots, Rex has not disappointed the green-blooded faithful.

First, Rex would lead us all to believe that whatever happens on that gridiron is inconsequential. No, Rex is not running on the field and throwing passes for his ailing quarterback Mark Sanchez, although the prospect of seeing him even making one play would be worth the price of admission. No, Rex Ryan is not talking about the on the field stuff because this is a battle of wills between Patriots' head coach Bill Belichick and him.

You can almost see this as a Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker matchup. Belichick is off course the head of the Evil Empire, dressed in black and weilding a red light saber. Rex would be a rather chubby Luke, with blue light saber ready for action. Rex would be the underdog - as of course he is - but one good swing of that Jedi electronic blade just might take out the evil Lord of the Gridiron.

Anyway, that is Rex's take on it. It is a battle between Bill and him. What goes on during the game boils down to this battle of minds and wills. This would be a very funny thing is it were not so serious because the battle is on the field, and Rex better start getting that straight.

Then we have Antonio Cromartie upping the ante by calling Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady an expletive. Ryan joked with reporters that he found this kind of thing offensive, with everyone laughing as they recalled his salty language on the HBO series Hard Knocks. Why Cromartie ever started this thing is beyond me. It makes as much sense as Ryan saying the battle is between him and Belichick. I am sure all the guys on the
Patriots are going to love Rex and his minions more than ever now.

To add to the insanity this week, Mexican TV reporter Ines Sainz (the woman who claimed harassment by the Jets as she tried to interview Sanchez last year) comes out and says she picks the Jets to win the Super Bowl. Why would a woman who accused this team of being disrestful to her do this? I guess this sort of incongruous and totally gratuitous kind of thing is now commonplace in the soap opera As Gang Green Turns, but such is what we have come to expect from the team and those associated with it.

So we go into this game on Sunday with lots of drama, but none of it matters in any way except to keep the reporters talking, the fans squawking, and the players rumbling. The only thing that truly matters is when Tom Brady and Mark Sanchez walk on that field in Foxborough this Sunday. They are the ones that will be doing battle, as Darth Bull and Rex Piewalker are on the sidelines. Until then, I guess we are just going to have to put up with these ongoing Jets and Patriots and their fun and games.

Photo credit: NY Daily News

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Passing of a Pet: He Was Not Just a Dog

Article first published as The Passing of a Pet: He Was Not Just a Dog on Blogcritics.

Our thirteen-year old dog Max passed on yesterday after spending a week in the veterinary hospital. They tried to help him, but there was nothing they could do in the end, so he was put to sleep as I held him in my arms. I told him before he died that he was going from my arms into my mother's, and I don't know if that thought comforted him, but it did help me.

Max was a rescued dog. He left a life of abuse and came into our family. He lived with my mother and father, but I visited them frequently and, later on, brought my children there to see him and Charlie, my parents' other dog. Though Max came from horrific conditions, he never displayed that. He was the kindest, gentlest, and most considerate being you could imagine. It's a shame more people don't share those qualities.

Max was a black Lab mix and replaced another Max, a yellow Lab who died the year before. The "Yellow Max," as my daughter called him, was legendary in my family for being such a wonderful dog. We named this new dog Max in his honor, and he more than lived up to the name: he actually supplanted the old Max in every way.

He was a constant companion to my father. He and Charlie shadowed Dad wherever he went. If Dad was in the yard, they were following along. If he sat at his desk, they were at his feet. While Charlie was a bit more independent, Max was loyal and would constantly put his head in my father's lap for a petting. Max "shared the wealth" as we used to joke, always putting his head on other people's laps too.

When my mother passed away, Max and Charlie mourned her loss, but they also stepped up to the challenge of loving us even more. After my father suffered a stroke, I would bring the dogs to see my father in the rehab facility. They proved to be the best medicine for him and also a tremendous incentive to get better and come home.

Although my father has been confined to a wheelchair in these years since his stroke, Max and Charlie were my father's best friends. Max particularly gave nothing but love. While Charlie is feisty, Max was lovable and affectionate. He seemed to innately know how to make us all feel better when we were down, and he never stopped coming up and greeting me as I came into the house, tail wagging and tongue ready for a few kisses.

My daughter particularly loved Max. I can recall her sitting on the sofa in my father's house petting the soft, sweet fur on the top of his head. While Lauren seemed thrilled with this going on for a long time, Max remained constant and available to her. He enjoyed the affection and knowing he was giving it back to you.

Only a week ago I brought the kids to have lunch with Dad. Max and Charlie sat under the table in their usual way, my father giving them bits of his meal. Max seemed fine that day, but the next morning he collapsed outside, and the mobile vet was called. Max was taken away to the hospital for what we all hoped would be a quick stay, but sadly it was not.

We went to see Max in the hospital, and we learned he had vestibular disease and that brought on an attack similar to a stroke in humans. This caused him to keep vomitting and made his walking unsteady. Last Saturday I took my father to see Max, and we fed him some food from home. It was a good visit and we seemed hopeful for him getting better, but he kept throwing up and could not get stronger because he was not eating.

Yesterday I spoke with the doctor and she said Max was suffering at this point. Of course, all my hope was gone and I checked with my Dad, and he said we should let him go. I told the doctor I would be coming in to be with the dog when he passed on. Letting go is never easy, but the idea of letting Max go still seemed inconceivable to me. This couldn't be happening, not to my Max. It seemed unreal.

Driving to the hospital took an eternity. As I drove I kept thinking of all the times spent with Max, all his gentle ways, and the deep, guttural bark that would shake the house. I would miss all these things, but mostly I would miss his beautiful soul. Yes, I believe most fervently he had a soul. He would look at me so deeply, and in those moments I felt like he could connect to my heart and mind as much as any person. He read our thoughts, and he knew when we needed him, and he was always there for us.

The doctor and nurses put me in the ultrasound room, which had a large metal table in the center of it. I stared at the machine and the plastic bottle of jelly, thinking of the positive times I had experience with those machines when my wife was pregnant. Now, this moment seemed the antithesis of that hopefulness. This would be the room where Max would pass away.

Max was brought in, a thick towel was spread on the table, and he lay there breathing heavily. I asked to be alone with him, and for over an hour I sat there petting him, staring into his eyes, and hugging him hard. I put my head on his side and heard the fierce beating of his heart. The doctors had said that it was good and strong, and that was not surprising. Max was all about love and nurturing us with as much as he could give of his grand heart, so that his stout-heartedness stayed with him until his last breath makes sense to me.

The doctor came in a few times, and I kept saying I was not ready yet. I spoke to Max some more, told him how much we all loved him, told him that I would never forget him, and he became peaceful, finally putting his head down between his paws. He started licking his right front paw, where they had shaved away his fur for an IV. I lifted his head and he licked my face, as he had done so many times before. He put his head down again and I kept petting him, and the doctor came back and I told her I was ready.

Max passed on as I held him and kissed him. His eyes rolled back, and the life left him. I cried again, deeply and with anguish, but then I had a vision of him running as he did when he was a young dog, and for a moment I was bolstered with the notion that all his pain was gone, that he was running right across a sunkissed meadow into my mother's arms. She loved him very much, so I am sure they will be happy being reunited.

Of course, when a pet passes away it is the end of a relationship. Some people may laugh or say, "He was just a dog," but those are the ones that have never had a pet be an integral part of the family. Max was like a brother to me, a son to my mother and father, and an "uncle" to my kids. When I think of him I don't think of anything but love: an all encompassing, powerful and unconditional love, that was his essence. The body I left on that table as I staggered out the door would be cremated, the ashes thrown into the earth, but his spirit is free and romping in the wind, indestructible and eternal.

I know my father mourns his loss, so does little Charlie, my kids, and all the rest of my family. In time we will be able to look at his pictures and talk fondly of his memory, but for now the tears still flow, and his loss weighs heavily on us. In the end I think of Max not as a dog or as a beloved family member, but most of all as a great friend. Rest in peace, Max.

Monday, January 10, 2011

As Gang Green Turns: Jets Get Saturday Night Fever and Beat Colts 17-16

Article first published as As Gang Green Turns: Jets Get Saturday Night Fever and Beat Colts 17-16 on Blogcritics.

There was a crazy notion here in New York all last week that the Ghost of Playoffs Past, played by a ghoulish Peyton Manning, was going to come back and ruin the party for the Jets again. Everyone was talking about head coach Rex Ryan fearing Manning and that it would all turn out so badly, but Ryan's "Hope" was found in a great running game for the offense, a defense that had been engineered in many ways just for this rematch, and a last second kick that hit the right spot.

There was a tough first half of matched zeroes, but the way Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, and company were going, it looked like Manning was closed for business. This was the way Ryan envisioned things when he brought Cromartie into the mix. Things did change in the second half, and Ryan had to start worrying that no matter how well he had planned for this moment, Manning and the Colts were just going to squeak away with a 16-14 win.

Then came Mark Sanchez. Yes, he of the hurting arm and having a pretty much off night. When the pressure is on, Sanchez seems to rise to the challenge, and with fifty three seconds left he brought the team down the field and got them to where they needed to be for Nick Folk to have one shot to put it through the uprights. Talk about pressure! But Folk was game and the kick was good.

Unlike last year, Manning goes back home and the Jets move on. It felt good as a Jets fan to see Manning skulking off, defeated by Rex Ryan's crew, the guy he had bested so many times before. After the game Ryan enjoyed the moment and then some, telling reporters that it felt good to see Manning know the feeling that he has known. Rex had the salt and was enjoying rubbing it in Manning's wounds.

Of course, all green-blooded Jets fans were happy last night. It was a magic moment of victory with no time left on the clock. It's the stuff of all kids' dreams when they stand on a field or court: hit the homer that wins the big game, sink the basket at the last second, slap the puck into the net, or kick that ball free and clear. Nick Folk had that moment last night and the Jets rightly celebrated an amazing 17-16 victory.

But make no mistake: Tom Brady and the New England Patriots loom next weekend, and we can bet that Bill Belichick was enjoying this game and licking his chops for the next round. With Sanchez still ailing, and the Jets just barely getting this win, it looks like there could be another big blowout in Foxborough next week.

Still, there is always a miracle that can be had if things align the right way for Rex and his men. Anyone who watched last night's game and saw that ball end things the Jets' way have to be believers. So until next week, channel the late great Mets' pitcher Tug McGraw saying "Ya gotta believe," do a lot of praying, and keep your fingers crossed.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

As Gang Green Turns: Jets Beat Bills And Will Play Colts Next Week

Article first published as As Gang Green Turns: Jets Beat Bills And Will Play Colts Next Week on Blogcritics.

All this past week, head coach Rex Ryan made it clear that he wanted to win number 11 real bad, and his team went out and got it for him today, even though many of his regulars sat it out. The Jets (11-5) beat the Buffalo Bills 38-7 at New Meadowlands Stadium, and then they had a victory parade around the field to celebrate. Of course, beating the Bills (4-12 ) with replacements is not terrible but it is nothing to brag about either.

Hurting quarterback Mark Sanchez started and stayed on the field for one series of plays, but then he was gone and Mark Brunell took over and ended up tossing two touchdown passes, and even third string QB Kellen Clemens got in on the act and ran for a ten-yard touchdown. Rookie Joe McKnight carried the ball 32 times for 158 yards, and the defense handled the Bills despite Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie taking the day off.

As fate would enter the picture, the Jets were getting that eleventh win for Ryan while the Kansas City Chiefs were losing to the Oakland Raiders. This set up next week's game against the Indianapolis Colts, reminding everyone of last year's Jets loss to Peyton Manning and company in the AFC Championship game.

Ryan was certainly not letting this rematch get to him as he made his comments after the game. He is still going with his usual "we're the best team out there" routine, but he did qualify it by saying that now the team has to step up and prove it.

All week long people were debating whether or not Sanchez should play, but Ryan obviously took the most cautious path with his young QB. We can question whether or not Sanchez will be prepared for next week, but we know that the team is facing the always tough and prepared Peyton Manning. If they should somehow miraculously survive the Colts, then the next opponent would be Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. These impending match ups should temper the enthusiasm of even the most green-blooded Jets faithful.

Still, Ryan has talked the talk all year long, and his team has taken him into the playoffs for the second year in a row. Now the time for talking is over (but that's not going to stop Ryan) and the team has to walk the walk. The biggest concern for this team is getting guys like Cromartie, Revis, LaDainian Tomlinson, Shonn Greene, and Sanchez back in good shape for the game. If they are still hurting and not up to their full playing ability, then it is likely Gang Green's return to the playoffs will be brief.

Photo Credit: Robert Sabo/NY Daily News

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Sports Fan's New Year's Resolutions

Article first published as A Sports Fan's New Year's Resolutions on Blogcritics.

I basically don't like resolutions - primarily because that sets someone up for failure - but for me 2010 in sports was a difficult and sometimes painful year. In order to make life easier for me (and those I love) I have come to the conclusion that making some resolutions (and keeping them at least for a time) will make everyone happier.

So, here it goes, my sports resolutions in no apparent order. In 2011 I resolve to:

1. Stop expecting my teams (Mets, Jets, Islanders, Knicks) to make the playoffs. This is an unreal expectation and ruins my enjoyment of the games themselves.

2. Stop comparing Jets head coach Rex Ryan to silent film star Fatty Arbuckle (Fatty was much cuter anyway).

3. Stop watching ESPN so much and play with my kids more. I can always get the scores from the paper the next day, right? Who needs to see highlights.

4. Give Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins a chance with the Mets. I know Willie Randolph is never coming back, so I have to live with that. Come on, Terry, make me believe again.

5. Let go of the notion of switching channels back and forth when watching games. I don't really enjoy games this way, but I can't help wanting to see what's happening someplace else, but then I end up missing the really great or big plays.

6. Stop comparing Rex Ryan to the late comic John Candy (John was much funnier anyway).

7. Stop enjoying the fact that Tiger Woods didn't win one tournament last year and may never again be the great golfer he once was. Hasn't the guy been punished long enough? I mean if Eliot Spitzer can get a show on CNN, Tiger should really be forgiven. He's not as bad as Billy the Kid or someone like that, right?

8. Enjoy watching Rafael Nadal beat the pants off everyone he faces and not keep thinking that his days as number one are ending. He may still end up being the greatest tennis player ever.

9. Stop waiting for broadcaster and former tennis player John McEnroe to say something politically incorrect again. I know it is only a matter of time.

10. Stop comparing Rex Ryan to John Goodman (hey, Goodman has lost a lot of weight).

11. Give up the notion of Brett Favre appearing in the sequel to There's Something About Mary.

12. Keep enjoying the fact that OJ Simpson will not be appearing in anything other than jailhouse photos in an orange jumpsuit.

13. Stop blaming Carlos Beltran for keeping his bat on his shoulder and looking at that third strike from Adam Wainwright with the bases loaded to end Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS. I mean, come on, it's time to forgive and forget.

14. Stop comparing Rex Ryan to the late comedian Chris Farley (hey, Rex would never be able to make living in a van down by the river funny).

15. Get over the fact that the Jets really don't belong in the playoffs this year. This will help me enormously when they are eliminated in the first round anyway.

16. Never get angry about anything Mike Francesa says on WFAN radio ever again. If I could just stop listening...

17. Continue laughing over how pompous Yankee announcer Michael Kay got roasted in his own pudding for declaring the Texas Rangers dead after the Yankees won the first game in the playoffs. We know how well that turned out for Mike.

18. Stop wishing to see headlines declaring that George Steinbrenner hired (or fired) Billy Martin. I mean, aren't they in heaven right now still having an argument over Miller Lite being less filling or tasting great?

19. Stop comparing Rex Ryan to Santa Claus (though Rex does have the "Ho, Ho, Ho" part down right).

20. Stop reading the newspaper from back to front. I have been doing this since high school, and there has to be something more important on the front page than the back page after all these years.

21. Give up all hope for the Islanders to get a new home before I am too old to go to the games. Also, I give up hope of the team making the playoffs or being like that 1980s team that I loved so much.

22. Keep telling myself that all those technical fouls Amar'e Stoudemire keeps racking up (he has ten so far this season) are just how he plays an aggressive game and won't adversely affect him or the Knicks in the long run.

23. Stop going downstairs during family parties to watch the game. This is going to be a tough one, but I must say I always get back upstairs in time for them to sing "Happy Birthday" and blow out the candles.

24. Wear my teams' hats and attire during the season, even during overlap times like the month of September when I will wear a Jets cap and a Mets T-shirt.

25. Finally, stop comparing Rex Ryan to Ralph Kramden (as played by Jackie Gleason on The Honeymooners) because only Ralph could admit the obvious about his big mouth.

There you have it, folks. I don't know how long I can keep these resolutions, but I can promise you I will make it until tomorrow. After that, hide the remote controls and let the games begin.

Happy New Year!

Photo Credits:

Fatty Arbuckle:
Eliot Spitzer:
Amar'e Stoudemire:

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Blizzard of 2010: Mayor Visits Unplowed Areas, But People Still Are Stuck in Homes

Article first published as Blizzard of 2010: Mayor Visits Unplowed Areas, But People Still Are Stuck in Homes on Blogcritics.

As this is New Year's Eve, my first and easiest resolution is to note that this will be my final article on the subject of the blizzard of 2010. While the analysis of the city's handling of the major weather event will go on for some time, those of us who have lived through it don't need the Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty to do his "research." We know what went wrong and apologies at this point are meaningless.

One thing I have wanted to say all along is that we New Yorkers do not blame sanitation workers - New York's Strongest - for what happened. Many of these guys have been working twelve-hour shifts all week long, fighting a losing battle, and knowing that people are angry. These guys are fellow New Yorkers (for the most part), and they feel our pain.

It is the head of the department and his minions who are to blame, along with the Mayor and his cadre of nitwits who failed to declare an emergency on time. A declaration would have taken buses off the streets, not making them massive obstacles stuck in the snow and in the way of sanitation plows. It would have also taken many cars off streets where they were eventually abandoned and also in the path of workers.

Mayor Bloomberg traveled to the hardest hit areas yesterday, but to many this was four days too late. One might have expected him to be pelted with snowballs as he stood among complaining homeowners, but a bucket of water would have been better, only for us to have his "I'm melting" moment as his feet would sink beneath him into the Brooklyn street that he neglected to have plowed.

There is no way to know what will happen in the weeks ahead. Will we eventually learn if the story about a "slowdown" called by outer borough sanitation bosses is true? Will we ever know why Manhattan bike lanes were plowed before Queens and Brooklyn streets? Will someone answer for the deaths caused by those unplowed streets preventing EMS workers to get to these people?

All I know is that Mayor Bloomberg and John Doherty seem an awful lot like Bruce Ismay and Captain EJ Smith of Titanic fame. As Smith's boss, Ismay ordered the captain to speed through waters known for icebergs to get to New York ahead of time. We know how well that turned out: lots of people died and Smith went down with his ship. Problem here is Doherty is still standing, and Mayor Bloomberg has thrown him a life preserver and is behind him all the way.

New Yorkers are a resilient bunch. As most of the world now knows after 9/11, we can take a few tough punches, even go down for the count, but then we get up and are ready to go twelve rounds. This blizzard packed a wallop, and we are down but not out. The problem is that we have the wrong guy in our corner, so when the bell rings, we want to turn around and sock him instead of our opponent.

The snow in our streets will eventually melt, the rivulets of its residue will go down our city sewers and eventually out to sea. Time will move on, but this is one storm that will not be forgotten nor will our Mayor's response to it.

I have one comforting thought: on a cold winter's night In the weeks ahead Bloomberg is going to hear a voice in his room in the palace that overlooks New York City. He will rub his eyes and look up to see the Ghost of Blizzards Past John Lindsay hovering over his bed. Lindsay will say, "Welcome to the club, Mike." Then he will go "poof" and disappear. How do you go back to sleep after that, Mr. Mayor?

Photo Credit: Maisel/NY Daily News