An Open Letter to Jeffrey Lange, Infamous Snowball Thrower

Tuesday, November 3, 2009 |

Dear Jeff (can I call you Jeff?),

You're a rather difficult fellow to find, I must say, especially for a lazy non-reporter like myself who didn't try very hard*. My guess is, after the unfortunate events of December 23, 1995 and their subsequent aftermath, you moved away from the area. Who could blame you? 

Still, you may have heard that the San Diego Chargers are coming to town to take on the Giants this Sunday, Jeff. Would you believe the last time the Chargers visited Giants Stadium was 1995?

I know, I know. It's crazy. I was at that game, too. And 14 years is a long time to wait for redemption, brother.

Hell, I was 20 years old then. I had long hair, two earrings in my left ear, and not a care in the world at the time. I thought Phish was really rad. The Giants, on the other hand, were not rad, Jeff. Instead, they were awful. This was year two of the Dave Brown era, mind you. The season, I'm sure you remember, opened with a 35-0 home loss to Dallas on Monday Night Football and did not get much better after that. The team finished 5-11 and did not have a single player selected to the Pro Bowl for the second consecutive year. Not even Rodney Hampton, who posted a career-high 1,182 yards rushing that season. So when 24 unanswered second-half points turned a promising 17-3 halftime lead into yet another agonizing loss, punctuated with the final indignity of a 99-yard interception return for a touchdown, you and I and everyone else at Giants Stadium let it be known we'd had enough.

And we reached down below our seats, filled our ski-gloved hands with copious amounts of hard-packed snow (and ice), and hurled it. Boy did we hurl it. 

That's where you come in, Jeff. And the 15 guys who got arrested that day. And the 115 fans who were ejected by police, ejections resulting in the revocation of 75 season-ticket packages. It was quite a scene.

But as you argued before the judge, you were far from the only one throwing snowballs that miserable Christmas Eve Eve. You were just the one unlucky enough to be singled out by an Associated Press cameraman and, the following day, by The New York Post. Tough break, Jeff.

As my friend Andy (who attended this game with me and The Old Man) recently recalled over email, "every single person in that stadium was throwing snowballs. Every single one." That may be little consolation to you now, seeing as how your life's been ruined and all, but Andy is 100% right. Everyone was throwing snowballs. If you know someone who attended that game, be assured that that person chucked some snow. That means your mom, your dad, your uncle Lou. Father McGuigan. Your barber, your congressman, your nanna. Sheila from accounts receivable and her husband, Irv. Your fourth grade teacher, your dry cleaner, the Harry M. Stevens guy. All the dudes in the wheelchair section. Everyone, Jeff. Everyone.**

"I hate to see this," Giants owner Wellington Mara said shortly afterward, "but I guess it's human nature. People see snow, they make snowballs."

Why nobody came forward to defend you, other than your attorney, I can't really say. I can only assume it was because the rest of us feared losing our season tickets. Or maybe it had something to do with your previous burglary and assault charges. But 14 years later, now that the statute of limitations has run out, I'll confess that I lobbed one or two myself, most likely in the general direction of the side judge. I've always had it in for side judges, Jeff.

I'm fairly certain, though, that neither you nor I was the fan whose icy projectile struck and knocked unconscious Chargers equipment manager Sid Brooks, who had to be removed from the field on a stretcher. Like Dave Brown, I am simply not that accurate (especially throwing into swirling winds) and I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt. It's about time somebody did, Jeff.

I don't know if this letter will ever reach you, but if it does, be heartened by the knowledge that Sunday offers a chance for renewal. The Chargers will be in town, without Junior Seau, and there is no snow in the forecast. If you can scrounge up a ticket, consider yourself cordially invited to our tailgate near 10C.

I'll see you there, Jeff. Beers are on me.



* = In case you're curious, Jeff, there are 112 different Jeffrey Langes on Facebook. And can you believe how old Jessica Lange got? 
** = Except The Old Man, who does not partake in shenanigans.  
Lange photo by Bill Kostroun, Associated Press. 

The Wrecking Ball Can Wait

Thursday, October 29, 2009 |

Giants Stadium, I'm wont to imagine, is dying before my eyes. Game by game, tribute by tribute, it is passing into the past.

But it isn't really dying so much as it's being euthanized. In 2009, it's the Logan 5 of stadiums, running at top speed towards forced obsolescence despite remaining, on its surface, vital and spirited. By Spring it will be a parking lot, but for now and for the remainder of the season, it's home.

At 2009 tailgates, the future rises against the sky. It’s already shiny. And huge. And triple awesome, says the PSL brochure. I’m sure it is, and on some level I’m looking forward to it, but I’m not ready to say goodbye to Giants Stadium so fast. Not when there’s still a chance—5 chances, at minimum—to wring some more magic from its old bones.

Ah, who am I kidding? Old bones? Giants Stadium is a year younger than I am. If after 33 years Giants Stadium has outlived its usefulness, does that mean it’s time to take me up Mount Ubasuteyama as well? And if so, how should that make The Old Man feel? He was nearly that age when they first opened the joint.

Each week, the legends of the franchise are returning to pay their last respects. Some of them, like Frank Gifford and Andy Robustelli, never played a down here. Others, like George Martin and Harry Carson, had already established permanent residence by the time Lawrence Taylor was busy making Giants Stadium his playground. But they all come back. Bob Tucker and John Mendenhall. Joe Morris and Rodney Hampton. Leonard Marshall and Mark Bavaro. They all want to feel the Hawk whip across their cheek one more time because each of them knows what's at stake when we lose this place.

But there are losses and there are losses. On the field, the losses the Giants have sustained the past two weeks have proven true yet again the axiom that the NFL is a week-to-week league. After three games, the local tabloids were all suggesting the possibility of a Giants vs. Jets Super Bowl. Two weeks later, after the Jets crashed to earth, the talk turned to that of a potential “Manning Bowl.” Now, after two consecutive losses, the Giants suddenly face a “must win” game at arch-rival Philadelphia. They’ve dropped like a stone in most power rankings. National columnists are questioning their lack of a quality win. What a difference a week or two makes.

These losses have also led the knee-jerk contingent among the Giants fanbase to declare that the sky is falling. It isn't, of course. But soon, the upper deck in Giants Stadium will fall. It will be followed by the mezzanine, then the lower level. When they hear the sickening creak as the building’s final beams collapse, Giants fans will learn the difference between loss and loss.  

This is the lesson we all have to learn eventually, of course, the hard lesson of "The Ball Poem." Once the stadium is gone we’ll be left with no choice but to move on, to accept its finality. It will live on in our memories only. Some glorious. Some infamous. Some personal. When we lose Giants Stadium, we’ll also be losing part of ourselves. But how does one mourn such a loss?

Last year I sat by and watched some of my blolleagues attempt to eulogize Shea Stadium in its final days, with varying degrees of success. Shea, however, was different. While it retained a certain sense of dilapidated charm in the hearts of the diehards, it was in the end a stadium on life support. A stadium that truly had outlived its usefulness. But Giants Stadium? Giants Stadium is, from my perspective, as vibrant today as it ever was. Beyond that, it’s become my treehouse, that place where I can go to get away from it all in the company of 80,000 mostly anonymous friends. My initials, along with thousands of others, adorn its still sturdy trunk. Aside from it being short a few luxury boxes, why would anyone want to tear a place like that down? A place that has brought so many people together. A place where the ghosts of Wellington Mara and Brad Van Pelt are as much of a presence as those swirling winds are. A place that stands as a physical link between generations.

Could it be the Giants 53% winning percentage in the building? 

A wise friend from the Met-blogging ranks counseled me back in the Spring to take this season as it comes to me, to let it unfold naturally. I've been trying my best to heed his advice, to follow Warren Zevon's lead and "enjoy every sandwich," but it's not easy sitting in seats that are already for sale. And it's never easy to watch a ticking clock, especially when you know it's attached to a bomb.

I'm doing what I can, though, trying to take it one game at a time like the players and coaches are so fond of saying. I feel fortunate to have this year to celebrate Giants Stadium's final season, to take my 7-year-old nephew to a game as well as my wife, who is pregnant with our first child. That child will only know the new stadium as home, which is weird for me. But like CitiField did, I'm sure it will grow on me. Perhaps my child will pen an ode like this thirty-something years from now after forming his own emotional attachment to the giant flying saucer next door. One day, that new, state-of-the-art facility rising in the parking lot will itself be perceived as obsolete and be replaced by an even greater monstrosity. This will, of course, be characterized as progress by those who stand to profit from it most. By then, a personal seat license will likely run one the cost of a house today and surely pitched to fans as a sound investment. But I imagine that my investment in the Giants then, like now, will transcend economics.

At the beginning of the season, New York magazine's Will Leitch wrote that "no one cries for the Meadowlands. Fond reminiscences of the old Giants Stadium," he continued, "are nowhere to be found." The words angered me when I first read them, before I realized that they were 100% accurate. That made me angrier. But make no mistake, Giants fans, the death of Giants Stadium is a tragedy. And an utterly avoidable one.

It may not settle in until next season, when the suits move in. And with them their wine, cheese and entitlement. The gameday experience will never be the same. So I implore you all to appreciate this facility while you still can. There’s still 5 games left to play, and If we get lucky we’ll be rewarded with another home game or two come January. The Giants would like nothing more than to give the Stadium the send-off it deserves, and so should you.

The wrecking ball can wait, friends. Trust me. There's no need to report to Carrousel 'til springtime.  

Enjoy the run. 

Patton Oswalt Can't Do a New York Accent?

Friday, September 25, 2009 |

I posted about a month ago about the release of Robert D. Siegel's Big Fan, a thoroughly engrossing film about the obsessive and illogical nature of sports fandom. Starring Patton Oswalt in his first dramatic lead role, Kevin Corrigan, Marcia Jean Kurtz and Michael Rapaport as "Philadelphia Phil," Big Fan is a film with which I both identified and which cut a bit too close to my Giants-obsessed bones. Shining a spotlight on the bewildering, oft-unreciprocated devotion fans like Siegel's protagonist, Paul Aufiero, and I show to our beloved New York Giants, the film begs the question, why do we care so much? 

It's not a question that's easily answered, and fortunately for viewers of Big Fan, Siegel doesn't attempt to answer it. Jerry Seinfeld once aptly pointed out that sports fans are ultimately just rooting for laundry. Kissing Suzy Kolber's Drew Magary took the observation a step further when, after learning that his favorite team was on the verge of signing Brett Favre, he opined that loving a sports team is "a thoughtless, irrational, singularly idiotic pursuit." Both Seinfeld and Magary have a point, of course, but that doesn't stop either of them from rooting for their Mets and Vikings, respectively. Both are able to acknowledge their own lunacy (or, in my case, bluenacy) while remaining simultaneously enraptured by it, and they're able to do so because they understand that the idiocy of investing oneself emotionally in the outcomes of sporting events is part of the bargain. In fact, it's part of the appeal. Love was not designed to be reasonable.

Still, Siegel's Aufiero (Oswalt) takes his unwavering allegiance to Big Blue to an unnerving extreme. His actions reveal a man who, in his detachment from reality, loves the New York Giants more than he loves himself. This caused some literary-leaning reviewers to draw comparisons between Big Fan and Frederick Exley's cult masterwork, A Fan's Notes. But while there are some similarities between the film and the 1968 William Faulkner Award recipient, they are only superficial. Acutely aware of and tormented by his failure, Exley fantasized about admonishing his hero, Frank Gifford, by shouting at him that "life isn't all a goddam football game! You won't always get the girl! Life is rejection and pain and loss." Aufiero, on the other hand, uses football to shield himself from the pain of rejection, loss, and failure. To him, life truly is all a football game.

What isn’t clear, though, is why. And while this is a question that's left unanswered (intentionally) in the film, Rob Siegel was kind enough to answer it (and a few others as well) for the readers of this humble blog. What follows below is my recent interview with Big Fan's writer/director, unedited and in its entirety.

*     *     *

MW: To begin, I've read that you hail from Long Island and attended the University of Michigan. Me, too. I graduated from U of M in 1997. Did you ever meet anybody while growing up on L.I. or when going to U of M that had a Paul Aufiero-like dedication to a team? Is Paul based on anyone? 

RS: I can't say I've ever met anybody exactly like Paul. He's kind of a composite of guys I heard listening to sports radio. As a kid, I used to listen to WFAN a lot, especially Steve Somers. He was my favorite. And the conversations you used to hear on there tended to be fairly intelligent, reasoned back-and-forth discourse. As sports radio goes, WFAN is pretty high quality. But then, when I went away to college, I couldn't get WFAN, so I'd listen to other radio shows, like the nationally syndicated ESPN-type stuff. The vibe was different, more chest-thumping in tone. Those shows were more like what I have in the movie, where people are calling up and just basically ranting, delivering these testosterone-driven monologues that sound like some pro wrestler talking about how they're gonna kick their opponent's ass. So even though the movie was inspired by FAN, it's modeled more after the Jim Rome-ish type stuff. 

MW: To me, more than anything, Big Fan felt like a film about the people who inhabit the strange world of sports radio. Like you, I grew up listening to WFAN all the time (Steve Somers was always my favorite, too), so in a way Paul Aufiero as a character was familiar to me. He's a type, cut from a similar cloth as regular callers like "Jerome from Manhattan," "Doris from RegoPark," "John from Sandy Hook," "Bruce from Bayside," "Short Al from Brooklyn," and "Miriam from Forest Hills." Like Paul, these people all use WFAN's airwaves to help compensate for some sort of personal shortcoming. The difference between these callers and Paul lies in the severity of that shortcoming. Miriam is blind. Doris (R.I.P.) suffered from the same disease that afflicted the Elephant Man. Jerome suffers from epilepsy and various other illnesses. But Paul? Paul's just a guy who, for some reason, is unable to cope with adult life. He's insulated himself in a childlike state of being, under NFL bedsheets, but it is not clear why. The film's climactic scene suggests that perhaps Paul had been the target of bullies in his youth ("You didn't have to be so mean", he says to Philadelphia Phil) but it's not overtly stated. So I guess what I'm wondering is why Paul is in the state that he's in. Why does he refuse to accept the norms of adulthood? And how do the Giants and/or sports radio fit into that? 

RS: You're right--I never make it clear what the hole is in Paul's life that he's trying to fill. I didn't think it was necessary to. Viewers can fill in the blank with whatever they imagine. As for the "You didn't have to be so mean" line, I think of that as referring to the sports radio culture he's a part of. Sports radio can, at its worst, be a really angry, hostile place. And it's one Paul enthusiastically takes part in; he's one of these mean people he's complaining about. Sports radio is a lot like the blogosphere--the anonymity of the Internet frees people up to be really nasty to each other and let loose with their most vicious impulses. The tone of discourse on the web tends to be really angry, even more than on sports radio. It's just men taking on these angry personas and saying things they'd never say to somebody's face in their real lives. I guess it's cathartic. 

MW: On a related note, I found it curious that nobody else in Paul's family is a Giants fan. In fact, it doesn't appear that any of them cares about football at all. Fandom, especially extreme fandom, is often the result of breeding (so to speak). It's generational. Fathers and sons. Brothers. Family bonding over a shared experience. But Paul's brother is not a Giants fan.  And there is never any mention in the film of Paul's father.  So where does his loyalty to the Giants come from? What is the origin of his fandom? Was there a defining moment in his life, perhaps in his youth, that made him this way? That made him so psychotically loyal to a bunch of strangers dressed in blue? 

RS: It's never explained in the movie, but I always imagined that his father, now deceased, was the one who got him into the Giants. This was something they bonded over. But I don't even think his dad necessarily needed to be into football for him to catch the bug. I'm a huge football fan, and I definitely didn't get it from my dad or anybody else in my family. I'm the only Siegel who's into football. I really don't know where it came from. I just remember watching the 1979 Super Bowl between the Steelers and Rams and falling in love. That was it. I was a Steelers fan for life. 

MW: One of the things I like best about the film was that it rings of authenticity, right down to using the actual names of players (except for Bishop). The scenes in which Paul and his buddy watch games are spot on. That's the way fans watch games. They fidget nervously. They pace. They yell. They carry on. It's very visceral. And it was a nice touch to use a real sports jock like Scott Farrell (though I would have preferred a local voice).  The sports bar scene is 100% realistic (but was that close-up shot of the Flyers scoring on the Islanders really necessary?) That said, there was one little nit-picky thing about the film that  bothered me. And that, quite simply, is that Paul doesn't talk like an Italian dude from Staten Island. His brother does. His best friend does. His mother does. Why doesn’t Paul? 

RS: I'll give you a very simple answer: Patton couldn't do a New York accent. He tried during the first few days of the shoot, but it kept coming out like a Boston accent. Like "Jacobs runs up the middle for 19 yahds!" I made the decision to scrap the accent and just have Patton use his own voice. No accent is better than a bad accent. A bad accent can ruin an entire movie.

Frank Gifford is All Class

Tuesday, September 15, 2009 |

There were many highlights in the Giants opening week win over Washington, most notably the incredible strip/fumble recovery/touchdown by Osi Umenyiora and the exemplary individual effort exhibited by Mario Manningham on his first NFL touchdown. But while wins are always great, especially against a division rival, those of you who watched the game on television likely missed the afternoon's ultimate highlight.

At halftime, the Giants brought out something in the neighborhood of 80 former players spanning six decades, honoring them in a short ceremony to commemorate the final year of Giants Stadium and to acknowledge the 8 year anniversary of the tragedies of 9/11. Proving that Wellington Mara's "once a Giant, always a Giant" philosophy still holds true, it was a remarkable turnout and an amazing (and incredibly rare) assemblage of talent.

The Old Man seemed to get a kick out of seeing "wilderness years" old timers like Tucker Frederickson, Aaron Thomas, Bob Tucker, and John Mendenhall out there. And I felt privileged to get a glimpse at true legends like Andy Robustelli and Frank Gifford (pictured left), 83 and 79 years old respectively, lined up alongside heroes of my youth, Harry Carson, Rodney Hampton, and Leonard Marshall. It didn't even matter that L.T. and Phil Simms couldn't make it, because Stephen Baker could. And Karl Nelson. And Fred Dryer, and dozens of other Giants, stars and scrubs alike. 

Would you believe I even cheered Chris Calloway

After the ceremony, the players walked back down into the tunnel near the endzone where our seats have been located since the stadium opened. A few seconds later, though, Gifford re-emerged. Still possessed of the charm that once made him a matinee idol, The near octogenarian jogged gingerly over to the corner of the field, where a group of soldiers were gathered along the wall. Without fanfare or a swarm of paparazzi, or being prodded by a publicist, he approached each soldier individually, looked them in the eye, shook his/her hand, and offered each his sincere thanks (and an autograph). 

It was a small gesture that speaks to the man's enduring character. It clearly wasn't for show. Though old #16 never served in the military himself, his best friend and teammate, the late Charley Conerly, fought in the Battle of Guam and Gifford has an immense respect for the uniformed servicemen who put their lives on the line to protect our freedom. Seeing him take time out to personally thank those soldiers was, for me, an unusually moving experience.

Following Gifford's cue, Hampton and Super Bowl XXV hero Ottis Anderson came back out of the tunnel and did the same. Theirs was a similarly touching gesture.

On a day in which the 2009 Giants outclassed a division rival, the Giants Alumni exhibited a significant measure of class as well. None of the beat reporters seemed to notice, and if they did, they didn't write about it (in fact, I haven't seen a single word about the halftime ceremony in any publication). And something tells me that's just fine with Giff, Rodney and Ottis. 

Same Blog, New Look

Monday, September 14, 2009 |

You may (or may not) have noticed that Bluenatic looks rather different than it did the last time you surfed over here. That's because I did a semi redesign over the weekend, prompted by the promise of a new football season and some insightful feedback regarding the color scheme I'd been employing (dark background, white letters) and width of the main column (unnecessarily narrow).

This redesign is a work-in-progress, though, so if you should have any ideas about how I can improve the design to make it more reader friendly, please leave those ideas in the comments.


The Myth of the #1 Receiver

Wednesday, September 2, 2009 |

It seems that with lone exception of Sporting News, every preseason magazine, blog, TV pundit and sports radio host in America is convinced that the Giants can't make it to the Super Bowl this season without a true #1 (or go-to) receiver. Most of them have cited how the Giants lost 4 of their last 5 games (including the playoffs) and struggled to score points last season after Plaxico Burress exited the lineup. But while these doubters are looking at recent past performance as an indicator of what to expect in 2009, they would also do well to take a look back at some history.

The 2009 Giants, like many championship teams of the past, are built around a great defense and a dominant running game. These hallmarks of smashmouth football are what led the Giants to titles after the 1986, 1990 and 2007 seasons. In recent years, they are also what propelled teams like the '00 Ravens, '02 Buccaneers, '01, '03 & '04 Patriots and the '05 & '08 Steelers to Lombardi trophies.

In 1986, arguably the greatest season in franchise history, the Giants didn't have a single wide receiver top 31 receptions in the regular season. Their #1 wideout, statistically speaking, was Bobby Johnson, an undrafted third-year player who totaled one catch for 15 yards in the entire postseason that year. Johnson, of course, is most famous for hauling in Phil Simms' pass on fourth and seventeen at the Metrodome that season, but it is notable that his 31 receptions, 534 yards and 5 touchdown grabs were all team highs among the 1986 Giants wide receiving corps.
Do you remember who the Giants leading receiver was in Super Bowl XXI in Pasadena? No? Why it was none other than Stacy Robinson (pictured at the top of this post) a young, second-year player of North Dakota State whose 48 career catches spread across 6 NFL seasons were 9 less than a fellow young, second-year player, Steve Smith, registered last season. Lionel Manuel (3-43-0) and Phil McConkey (2-50-1) also got in on the action in Pasadena that day, as the Giants offense scored 39 points en route to their first Super Bowl championship. Would even the most ardent Giants fan argue that Robinson, Manuel, McConkey, or Johnson was a #1 receiver?

To be fair, the Giants #1 receiver in 1986 (and, it could be reasonably argued, 1990) was Mark Bavaro, who that year became the first and last Giants tight end to gain 1,000 yards in a season. Bavaro's 66 receptions from the tight end position were twice that of the Giants second leading receiver, fullback Tony Galbreath, those 99 combined receptions a strong indication that the Giants ball control-oriented rushing attack produced a lot of manageable third and shorts for Simms & Co.

In 1990, when the Giants returned to the Super Bowl (again powered by a strong running game and overpowering defense), they were again led in receptions by Bavaro and a running back (David Meggett). Stephen "The Touchdown Maker" Baker (26-541-4) and
former first-round pick Mark Ingram (26-499-5) tied for the lead among wide receivers with 26 receptions apiece. In the Super Bowl against Buffalo that year, both Baker and Ingram made career-defining plays when the Giants needed them most, but let's not fool ourselves into believing that either player was ever a true #1 receiver. They weren't.

Instead, Baker and Ingram were key cogs in an offensive machine just efficient enough to keep the chains moving, the clock winding, and the Giants defense fresh. They made plays when they had to, but they were not game-breakers. The only game-breakers the 1990 Giants had, with the possible exception of Meggett, were on defense. And that was fine. For all the talk of "stretching the field" and "keeping the defense honest," the Giants simply lined up and ran the ball down its opponents' throats. Three yards here. Four yards there. A short pass on third down. It got the job done.

Even in 2007, when the Giants actually had a true #1 wideout in Burress (his performance in Green Bay was positively Ricean) it was the unsung receivers who came up big in the Super Bowl when the game was on the line. Sure, Burress caught the game-winning pass, but the Giants never would have been in a position to make that play had it not been for the contributions of Kevin Boss, Steve Smith, and David Tyree.

Boss' 45-yard catch and run on the first play of the fourth quarter was, many believe, the turning point of the game. Steve Smith's 12-yard reception along the sideline on 3rd and 11 with 45 seconds remaining gave the Giants a much needed first down and clock-stoppage, and put the Giants in a position to take that shot at the end zone on the next play. And Tyree? Do I really need to explain Tyree's contributions that evening?

All of this is just a roundabout way of trying to say that football is a team game, and that it takes a team to win a Super Bowl--not individual superstars, especially at the wide receiver position. Despite their best combined efforts, all-world wideouts Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Cris Carter and Tim Brown own zero championship rings. Lesser-light Troy Brown, on the other hand, owns three. I never said it was fair, but it is what it is.

And the Giants are what they are, too. In their 6th season under Tom Coughlin they know exactly who they are and what they're capable of. They've got one of the best offensive lines in the NFL and, even with the loss of Derrick Ward to free agency, an outstanding running game with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw (and Madison Hedgecock) leading the way. They've got a reliable if not exactly spectacular tight end in Boss, whose 6 touchdown receptions was fourth best among NFL tight ends in 2008, and a group of young wide receivers eager to prove that they can consistently make plays at the NFL level. Add all that to a sack-happy defense with a front four that's 8 deep, and you have a team that looks to be as good as any other in the National Football League in 2009. With or without a true # 1 receiver.

Big Fan Hits Theaters Today

Friday, August 28, 2009 |

As the Giants prepare to face the Jets for the 41st consecutive preseason tomorrow night (they are 18-21-1 in the previous 40 contests), I figured I'd drop this quick post to remind you that writer/director Robert Siegel's Big Fan opens today (Fri. 8/28) in New York and Philadelphia.

I did a short write-up about the film back in July, but here's another link to the trailer.

In short, Big Fan is the intense story of Paul Aufiero (Patton Oswalt), an obsessed Giants fan whose violent run-in with his favorite player (the fictional linebacker Quantrell Bishop) brings his entire world crashing down around him.

In the wake of the Plaxico Burress fiasco, the film's pivotal scene cuts
chillingly close to the bone, so it will be interesting to see how the Giants organization responds to it. In a recent interview with Deadspin, Siegel (The Wrestler) told Sarah Schorno that he did not seek (or need) permission from the Giants or the NFL to use the team's name, trademarks, or stadium as a backdrop in the film, and that the filmmakers have "no formal relationship with the team." Though former Giants tight end Howard Cross has cooperated with the filmmakers by participating in a few Q&As, Giants VP of Communications Pat Hanlon told me this morning that to his knowledge, nobody in the organization has seen the film. That would, I assume, include linebacker Jonathan Goff, who shares a number (54) and position with the fictional Bishop. 

In today's New York Times, Mahnola Dargis writes that Big Fan is an "agreeably low-key and modest film" that "avoids sentimentality without abandoning sentiment." Those are words rarely, if ever, used to describe--for lack of a better phrase--sports films.

To my knowledge, Big Fan is the first feature film since Warner Bros' atrocious 1972 adaptation of Fred Exley's masterpiece, A Fan's Notes, in which the New York Giants are featured in any kind of prominent way.

As an official partner of the film I'll be screening it over the weekend and likely posting a review. I'm also working to arrange a short interview w/ Siegel, who like me is a native Long Islander and graduate of the University of Michigan. So stay tuned for updates on that.

Making the Cover

Monday, August 3, 2009 |

Hi! I'm Mark Weinstein. You might remember me as the guy who writes 4,000-word odes to mostly forgotten ex-Giants like Charley Conerly and Rodney Hampton. Or as the guy who once kind of had a radio show. Some of you might even remember me as the fellow who released three albums nobody has ever listened to. Or as the guy who's spent the past 10 years helping to realize other people's dreams.

What you probably don't remember me as, though, is as a writer of books. And the reason for that is because up until about a month ago, I wasn't one. Believe me, as an editor I've had to rewrite more books than I'd care to admit, and my name has appeared in the acknowledgments of more than a hundred Timeless Works of Literature (TWOL). But until the book pictured above came off press back in June, I'd never before had my name appear on a book's front cover.

Examining the photo you might notice that I am only listed as a co-writer on the project, and that I do not earn top-billing. That's true, and entirely justified. I penned only 5 of the book's 30 chapters, the others written by "Mr. Stats," himself, Elliott Kalb. So it's not so much my book as it is a book I contributed to (and edited). Gotta start somewhere.

In The 30 Greatest Sports Conspiracy Theories of All Time, Kalb and I examine the most notable conspiracies in sports history, from Major League Baseball, the NFL, NBA, NHL, NCAA, to the Olympics, NASCAR, the horse track and the prize ring. Separating fact from myth, we attempt to determine which of these long-held conspiracy theories hold water, and which ones fall flat under scrutiny.

The five conspiracies I tackle in my chapters are:

: Did UNLV throw the 1991 NCAA semi-final game against Duke?
#27: Was ironman Cal Ripken's 2001 All-Star game home run a set-up?
#28 &
#29: (Double conspiracy!): Did the New England Patriots, with an assist from the NFL, cheat their way to a dynasty?
#30: Did Chinese Olympic hero Liu Xiang fake an injury at the 2008 Beijing Games?

You might be surprised by the answers to these questions. And the only way to learn the answers is to buy the book. Or borrow it from your public library. Or beg me for one. Or steal a copy.

This post isn't all self-promotion, either. There's a Giants angle, too, as chapter #10 deals with the scandal surrounding the 1946 NFL championship game, before which two Giants (quarterback Frank Filchock and back Merle Hapes) were accused of conspiring with gamblers.

Taking that into consideration, as well as how I've selflessly used this blog to help promote books by both Ralph Vacchiano (my acquisition) and Murray Greenberg (not mine) in the past, I hope that you will forgive this rare bit of self-promotion. If not, I apologize. More Giants (and Mets) posts are forthcoming. I promise.

Carry on, now.

Edit 8/11/09: Newsday's Neil Best offers a nice mini-review on his Watchdog blog, referencing my Newsday-carrying past.

The Greatest Pack of Baseball Cards Ever

Sunday, July 26, 2009 |

The wife and I stopped by Economy Candy again on Saturday. Nestled on Rivington Street in the shadow of the new, ultra-modern $500-a-night hotel across the street, Economy Candy (Est. 1937) is one of the last remaining holdouts against the sad, hipster-fueled gentrification of New York's Lower East Side.

Stepping into the place is like stepping back in time. The store is stocked floor-to-ceiling with a dizzying selection of hard-to-find sweets
that you likely haven't seen since childhood, and it never fails to transport me to a time in my life when all it took to make me happy was a fresh pouch of Big League Chew and some Fun Dip.

I stop in there whenever I'm nearby, which is often. I live within walking distance of the store. But I confess that the reason I frequent Economy Candy isn't just so I can load up on candy buttons, Pop Rocks, and bubblegum cigarettes.
That's certainly a part of it, but beyond all the wax lips, candy necklaces and collectible Pez dispensers, there's something else about the place that keeps me coming back. Mostly, I come back for the old baseball cards.

Yes, Economy Candy has stacks and stacks of unopened wax packs of 1988 and 1989 (and occasionally 1987) Topps baseball cards for sale, reasonably priced at a buck a pop. 1988 and 1989 were years I spent actively collecting and taking great delight in baseball cards (there are tens of thousands of them stuffed in closets back at my folks' house), and purchasing a few packs from time to time these days helps me recapture, if only for a moment, some of that old joy. There are few thrills in adult life that can match the experience of opening up a wax pack, setting aside the gum, breaking and flipping the turned-over half of the cards at the "special offer" insert, and then carefully thumbing one's way through each of the pack's 15 cards in search of one's heroes. Or, as the estimable Josh Wilker calls them, one's cardboard gods.

As a 13-year old in 1988, my cardboard gods were always New York Mets. And then, much like now, I had to flip past a lot of Fred Manriques and Moose Stubings before I got to a Mookie Wilson. Even when I found a Met, I always seemed to find more Barry Lyonses and Jeff Innises than I did Keith Hernandezes. And that was fine. If you wanted a Keith Hernandez you had to earn a Keith Hernandez. You had to ride your bike to the stationery store a bunch of times. You had to spend your hard-earned allowance ($2 a week, for me). You had to open a lot of wax packs. That's what made the discovery of a Keith Hernandez all the more special.

That's also what made Saturday so incredible. Standing on the sidewalk under Economy Candy's firetruck red awning I opened what very well might be, from this 34-year-old Mets fan's perspective, the single greatest wax pack of 1988 Topps baseball cards ever sealed in Duryea, Pennsylvania. Of the 15 cards, 7 pictured current, former or future Mets.

The pack contained:

A Roger McDowell, inventor of the Hotfoot.
A Kevin Mitchell (in a Giants uniform) who, as a rookie, singled and scored the game-tying run in the greatest inning in New York Mets history.
A Nolan Ryan (In an Astros uniform) who, as a babyfaced 22-year-old fireballer, won his first and only World Series ring as a member of the 1969 Miracle Mets.
A Tim Leary (in a Dodgers uniform), who the Mets made the second overall pick in the 1979 Amateur Draft but who won just 4 games in 10 career starts as a Met.
A Brett Butler (in an Indians uniform), who would spend 90 games roaming the Mets outfield in 1995 (hitting .311) before being traded to the Dodgers for two players who would never reach the majors.

None of those cards are what made this the greatest pack ever, though. Neither is the Gary Matthews (1973 NL Rookie of the Year), the Graig Nettles (six-time All-Star), the Bo Diaz (strangest athlete death on record) or the Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd, who gave up six runs (including a leadoff home run to Lenny Dykstra) in a Game 3 loss to the Mets in the 1986 World Series.

Forget those cards. They don't matter in the slightest.

No. The real reason why this was the greatest pack ever is because it contained both a Darryl Strawberry and a Dwight Gooden.

I'm not kidding. Doc and Darryl. In the same pack.

If I had opened this pack in 1988, it's entirely possible that I might have shit myself.
Both players were still in their respective primes in 1988, in true All-Star form. That was the year Darryl hit the roof in Montreal on Opening Day and ended up leading the league in home runs, slugging percentage and OPS (and getting robbed of the NL MVP award). Doc won 18 games and made the All-Star team for the fourth time that year. They were just two years removed from a world championship, came close to reaching the World Series again, and in New York (and my neighborhood) they were like gods. Not just cardboard gods, mind you, but actual diamond deities deserving of worship. I had a life-sized poster of Strawberry on my closet door. A few feet down the wall, next to Lawrence Taylor, hung Doc's iconic Sports Illustrated poster.

Doc and Darryl never came in the same pack. Ever.
You had a better chance of getting three Tom Nietos than getting both a Darryl and a Doc. Getting them in the same pack of cards would be like winning twice on the same scratch-off lottery ticket. Or like catching two keepers with one worm. It just didn't happen. At least not to me.

But 21 years later, as I stood under Economy Candy's awning shielding myself from the hot afternoon sun, there they were, just three cards apart. And I'm not at all ashamed to admit that reuniting with them there made my entire weekend.

* * *

I'm not one of those Mets fans who laments what might have been with Doc and Darryl. While it's true that they may have accomplished more had they heeded the sage advice printed on Topps' 1988 wax packaging and said no to drugs (and alcohol), I think the whole "Dead End Kids" perception is greatly overblown. Because those kids accomplished plenty.

First of all, they did what no Mets in the past 23 years have been able to do, which is deliver a World Championship to Flushing. The significance of that cannot and should not be understated. While Mets they were also named to a combined 11 National League All-Star teams, and won back-to-back NL Rookie of the Year awards in 1983 and 1984, becoming the last Mets to be so honored.

19 years after he last donned a Mets uniform, Darryl Strawberry is still the franchise's all-time leader in home runs, runs scored, runs batted in, walks, and extra base hits. He's second in total bases. He did all that in just 8 years. Not bad for a guy who never realized his potential.

15 years after last donning the blue and orange, Dwight Gooden still stands as the franchise's all-time leader in winning percentage and fewest home runs allowed per nine innings. If it weren't for a Hall of Fame legend named Tom Seaver, he'd also be the club's all-time leader in wins and strikeouts. Besides Seaver, Gooden is the only New York Met to capture a Cy Young Award, which he did in his phenomenal 1985 campaign. Not too bad for a guy who is believed to have snorted his career away.

While Doc and Darryl have certainly both endured personal setbacks in their lives that affected their baseball careers negatively,
I never felt let down by their failures as men. Despite their shortcomings, they still accomplished more than a ton of guys who kept their noses clean and supposedly got the most out of their talent. And today I choose to remember them as they were on their baseball cards. I celebrate them. And while I acknowledge it's sad that for many they will always be remembered for those off the field troubles, all it takes is something like opening a rare pack of baseball cards to remind me how much they meant to me (and other young Mets fans) growing up.

On the field, Darryl and Doc never let me down. And on Saturday, in the midst of one of the most disappointing seasons in recent Mets history, they picked me up again. Together.

The 2009 Mets Season Summed Up in 4 Photos

Thursday, July 23, 2009 |

You can blame all the injuries if you really want to. It's certainly not easy to win baseball games when three of your four best position players are on the disabled list for an extended period of time.

You can blame the pitching, too. Santana and K-Rod notwithstanding, Mets pitchers have been inconsistent at their best, atrocious at their worst. The injuries to Maine and Putz (and now Nieve) don't help.

You can blame management as well. Or the training/medical staff. Or Jerry Manuel and his coaches. Cases can be made to support blaming all of them.

But it doesn't take a Silver Slugger or Cy Young candidate to catch a pop fly, or to touch third base. It doesn't take an All-Star to make a routine play. It doesn't take a brilliant GM or astute game manager to field a team that looks like it cares out there.

But as Coach Norman Dale so eloquently pointed out in Hoosiers, "This is your team," Mets fans. And unlike the 1952 Hickory Huskers, it doesn't look like Jimmy Chitwood is going to come to the rescue. Beltran, Reyes, and Delgado may not return this season at all. If they do, who knows how effective they'll be? Or how far out of the playoff race the team will have fallen by that point.

After dropping two out of three to the worst team in baseball, today, mercifully, is an off day for the New York Metropolitans. That means, theoretically, that they can't humiliate themselves again until tomorrow.

I guess that's a start.

And I thought I was the world's biggest New York Giants fan

Friday, July 10, 2009 |

It's not set for release until August 28th, but here's the trailer for writer/director Robert D. Siegel's Big Fan, the intense story of an obsessed New York Giants fan whose violent run-in with his favorite player (the fictional linebacker Quantrell Bishop) brings his entire world crashing down around him.

Big Fan marks the directorial debut of Siegel, the writer of last year's excellent The Wrestler. It stars comedian Patton Oswalt (as toll-collector Paul Aufiero) in his first dramatic lead, with Kevin Corrigan (rocking the classic Starter jacket above), Michael Rapaport and Marcia Jean Kurtz as Aufiero's mother. No mention in the press materials of there being any cameos from actual Giants players or coaches, though.

The film has been a big hit on the festival circuit and has been receiving excellent critical notices (from The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Rolling Stone, among others). Locally, it's only set to play at Angelika Film Center, but more theaters are likely to pick it up as well.

I wonder what linebacker Jonathan Goff, #54, thinks about this?

Edit 7/24: Turns out there are, um, two more reasons to go see Big Fan.

On Jay Feely, Politics, Paradise Lost and Ceramics

Wednesday, June 24, 2009 |

I'm not much into politics. Though it manages to catch my interest from time to time, it's something that I choose to observe from the periphery. It's not a subject I feel particularly qualified to speak on.

Me, I'll stick to what I know. Football. Baseball. Books. Bebop. Hip hop. Sports movies.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of former Giants (and current Jets) placekicker Jay Feely, who participated in "The Great American Panel" on Fox News' Sean Hannity Show on Monday.

Turns out Feely isn't a big fan of President Obama, and on Monday he went as far as to openly question the President's character.

When prompted by Hannity to speak on America's support of Iranian students, Feely first quoted some old dead guy named Phillips Brooks, then dug into Obama. "He's creating a foundation from which he must lead from," Feely said, "and that foundation does not have the same character traits that have made this nation great."

Hannity and Feely's panel mates ate it up. "You are ruining the stereotype of the typical football player," said one. "That is really well said," added Hannity.

Though Feely is a man who kicks footballs for a living (and not all that proficiently, one might reasonably argue), his appearances on shows like Hannity indicate that he clearly sees himself as someone whose greater future lies beyond the gridiron. Like football stars Jack Kemp, Steve Largent, J.C. Watts, and fellow Wolverine Gerald Ford did before him, it's possible that Feely intends to use his platform as a star athlete to one day springboard himself to elected office. And wouldn't that be something?

In a 2006 interview with John Branch of The New York Times, ESPN producer Pete McConville (of the ill-fated "Cold Pizza") said of Feely: "If you told me that in 10 years he'd be governor of Florida, I'd say, 'O.K., I could see that.'"


Yesterday, after Deadspin and Newsday's Bob Glauber had a little fun with him, Feely posted 18 separate posts to his Twitter account in an attempt to clarify and amplify the statements he made on Hannity. One of those posts (or Tweets, as the kids call them) caught my eye (and ire) more than the others:

"Any American who chooses to educate themselves (and unfortunately many who don't) can add to the dialogue and make our country better," Feely tweeted.

Oh, so Jay Feely wants to talk about education now? Interesting.

For years, I've been itching to share my "education of Jay Feely story." Those feelings only intensified after his three-miss horrorshow in Seattle back in 2005. And when I started this little blog in January, 2008, I knew I'd get to it eventually. All I needed was an appropriate opportunity. Well, here we are.

Flash back with me, if you will, to the Winter of 1995, when Feely and I were both students at
the University of Michigan. I'm a 20-year-old junior with an uncontrollable Jewfro (contained, on most days, inside a dirty white ballcap), two hoop earrings in my left ear, and a penchant for writing endless collections of manic, unpublishable poetry. Feely, on the other hand, is a 19-year-old sophomore/redshirt freshman finance major who had seen his first action for Lloyd Carr's Wolverines that previous fall as a kickoff specialist.

It's first day of Winter Term, and I'm sitting in the back row of a classroom in Mason Hall as a professor begins to explain the syllabus for, if memory serves, English 469: The Works of John Milton. It's a high level course which, I quickly realize, I have no business taking (I dropped the class shortly after), and as the professor continues to run down what can best be described as an intimidating reading list (
Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, Samson Agonistes, etc.) I notice a shadowy figure shuffling nervously in the doorway.

After a few moments, the professor is alerted to the shuffler's presence and asks if she can help him. And, as if on cue, in walks Hannity's pal, Jay Feely. He looks lost, but he also looks like he's not sure if he's lost. Somehow, he's caught in between.

"Um," Feely stammers. "Is this ceramics?"

"I beg your pardon?" responds the professor.

Undeterred by the smattering of audible snickers that has broken out throughout the classroom, Feely repeats himself.

"Is this ceramics?"

"Do you see any potter's wheels, young man?"

Feely looks around. "No."

"How about clay? Do you see any clay?"


"Then I guess this isn't ceramics, then."


You should have seen the look on Feely's face. I don't think I'll ever forget it. It was the kind of face a teenage boy makes when he gets caught masturbating by his mother. Or the face Bald Bull made when you stuck him in the gut. Ironically enough, it was the same face Feely would make 10 years later on the carpet of Qwest Field while, thousands of miles away, yours truly savagely destroyed a barstool.

The idiocy of the exchange cannot be understated for a variety of reasons, most notably a basic understanding of Michigan's campus. It's a big campus to be sure, but it's even bigger when you take into account that there is a Central Campus--where Mason Hall is located--and a North Campus--where the art school (and engineering school, and music school) is located. In order to get from Central Campus to North Campus, one must board a bus and ride for approximately 15 minutes. They're absolutely nowhere near each other. And unless Feely had been trapped under a blocking sled for a year and a half, he had to know that. Really.

The relaying of this story is not intended to disparage Feely so much as to pump the brakes on whatever "up with Feely, the great intellectual" groundswell might be emerging from the desperate right. To be fair, he was just a kid at the time. And by all accounts Feely appears to be a decent human being, commendably active with various charities such as the United Way, Easter Seals, and the Muscular Dystrophy Association. I know he's been through some difficult times in his life, too, and I don't mean to diminish what he has overcome by pointing out that the guy's a doofus.

Clearly he is, but his politics make that point for me.

Feely may well have a future in politics, but for now I suggest he stick to kicking footballs. And just in case he forgets his place again, I'll remind him that much like that classroom in Mason Hall, there aren't any potter's wheels in the New York Jets locker room.

Should've Known Better

Sunday, June 14, 2009 |

Please forgive the crudely executed image above. I created it in MS Paint, which accounts for the poor shading. Still, I think it effectively illustrates what the Mets and, more specifically, Johan Santana, laid today at Yankee Stadium. Really, I should've known better than to be encouraged by yesterday's performance. After enduring nearly 30 years' worth of major disappointments (1986 notwithstanding), I really should have been more suspicious, more conservative in my optimism regarding a legitimate Metropolitan turnaround. These guys are hardly as resilient as I'd imagined.

Turns out one bounceback win in and of itself isn't enough to stop the bleeding. Instead, Saturday's victory served the same purpose as applying a band aid when in need of a tourniquet, or trying to plug a leaking canoe with a stick of Juicy Fruit. Sure, it might buy you a few more minutes out on the lake, but eventually the canoe is gonna take on water again. and sooner or later (and probably sooner, knowing these Mets) that canoe is gonna submerge, never to resurface.

The Mets, it would appear, are taking on lots of water, and they're awfully far from shore.

As today's humiliating final score would indicate, Greg Prince's comparison of the 2009 Mets and 1978 Football Giants was apt. 15-0 certainly sounds like a football score to me. And if Friday night marked Luis Castillo's "Joe Pisarcik moment," then this afternoon marked Johan Santana's Dave Brown moment. Santana's pitches were intercepted with seeming ease by the Yankees' bats, and, after being roughed up for 9 runs, he was sacked in the fourth inning. Santana looked less like an ace out there than someone in need of an Ace bandage. And a copy of this book.

I don't quite know why it is that I continue to allow this team to fool me into believing in them, especially after the events of the past two-plus seasons. Ever since Adam Wainwright's wicked curveball froze Carlos Beltran to end the 2006 NLCS, the Mets have been an imposter, a bunch of baseball zombies masquerading as a major league baseball team. Sure, David Wright is leading the major leagues in hitting. Carlos Beltran is swinging a hot bat, too. Francisco Rodriguez has been outstanding, and Omir Santos has been a revelation. All of those things, plus two dollars, will get you a ride on the subway, but none of those things are enough, individually, to make the whole of this team equal the sum of its parts.

In a way, these Mets truly do remind me of the Giants teams of the Dave Clown
I mean Brownera. Those teams had some outstanding talent in Rodney Hampton, Michael Strahan, Jessie Armstead, Jumbo Elliott, Keith Hamilton, and others. They also had a coach (Dan Reeves) who had reached three Super Bowls and who today stands as the 8th winningest coach in NFL history. But the Giants managed only 23 wins out of the 53 Brown started, partially because they lacked talent to support their star players, but mostly because they lacked an identity.

The Mets, unfortunately, have an identity. Just ask 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels
They're "choke artists." And though they'll do their best to downplay the embarrassment of today's loss as they did Friday night's debacle, that's the identity they'll carry with them until they prove themselves otherwise. There's still more than 100 games left in the 2009 season. There's a whole lot of baseball left to play. But I'm through believing in these guys.

I wasted a beautiful day in New York City by staying indoors and listening to the Mets get humiliated while working on an edit that's proving to be more arduous than I anticipated. The latter I can accept, because it's my work and I get paid to do it. But the former I really should have avoided. I should have heeded the sage advice of my friend Jon Springer, who yesterday cautioned the readers of his terrific blog to "get outdoors, have dinner with ... family, take a few days off." I should've known better.

Tomorrow, mercifully, is an off day for the Mets. The way they're playing, they'll have plenty more of them come October.