Handing over the keys to the Purple People Eater

It was the weekend before Memorial Day weekend in 2002. I had joined a beach house on Long Beach Island on the Jersey Shore, and it dawned upon me that I might need some sort of vehicle to transport me to LBI, among other things.

The Purple People Eater, after one last car wash.

The Purple People Eater, after one last car wash.

After what looked to be a fruitless day of car shopping, I stopped at one last lot and, buried behind cars that were way above and beyond my means (BMW, Audi, Mercedes), I spotted a 1997 Honda Accord.

The good news: The car was exactly what I was looking for. Hondas are reliable stalwarts, and I was looking for something 1997 or newer, because insurance was cheaper for cars of that age at the time. And it was within my price range, or, more accurately, at the very top of my price range. The bad news: It was purple (really dark purple, not Grape Ape purple, but still purple), with gold trim.

However, when shopping for used cars, you have to make sacrifices, so, despite the fact that the gold trim made me want to hurl all over the hood, I drove the 1997 Honda Accord home to Hoboken that day, and it remained with me until Martin Luther King Jr. Day of this year, when I finally traded it in.

All relationships have their highlights and lowlights, and my relationship with the Purple People Eater was no exception. So, without further ado:

The good:

  • The Accord got me down to LBI for several summers, where, among other things, I relaxed on the beach, drank until I forgot how much I hated the planet, met several people who are now close friends, and got to know the future Mrs. 9.
  • The Accord was also my primary mode of transportation to Brendan Byrne Arena/Continental Airlines Arena/Izod Center, former home of the New Jersey Nets, during the glorious run with Jason Kidd that included consecutive trips to the NBA Finals.
  • And the Accord got myself and several teammates to many Bar None and Big Easy football games. We won the championship of our league in 1996, before the Accord was even born, but we had a successful and fun run, with multiple playoff victories, and the Purple People Eater carried many of us to Randall’s Island, or Grand Street and the FDR Drive, and to the bar afterward for wings and liquid refreshments (only two for me, thanks, I have to drive, and NO shots!).
  • The Accord was part of many a tailgate in the Giants Stadium parking lot prior to glorious shows by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and other shows at other venues, including my favorite band, Rush, at the PNC Bank Arts Center and Jones Beach (most uncomfortable, hottest show I’ve ever sat through).

The bad:

  • The brakes on the Accord always sucked, no matter how many times I had them adjusted, and how many different mechanics looked at them. Even though I drove the car for 11 years, I never got used to that nervous feeling whenever I had to stop quickly. And I feel bad for people who were passengers in other cars I drove, because years of having to push down as hard as humanly possible on the Accord’s brakes constantly caused me to slam on the brakes of other cars and send everything within those cars spiraling forward.
  • This was obviously not the fault of the car (or of the driver, I might add), but back in 2008, the Accord met Pothole-Zilla, and the Accord lost, badly, to the tune of two new tires, a new radiator, a new radiator cap, two new hoses, and more than $800 of hard-earned Benjamins.
  • The following year, my transmission died, and I have been driving on a rebuilt transmission since. It worked fine, for the most part, except that I was strongly advised to let the oil temperature rise for a few minutes before driving the car, and I have the same patience level as most native New Yorkers, which is basically zero.
  • The gold H. Many have perished in pursuit of it.

    The gold H. Many have perished in pursuit of it.

    Around the same time, I noticed a spot on the roof where the paint had begun to wear away. Over the next few months, this spot began to spread like an STD through a Hoboken bar, to the point where I feared that the roof would rust over and cave in one day. While I love convertibles, this wasn’t quite what I had in mind. So, in the interest of selling or trading in the car somewhere down the line, I spent about $2,000 on a complete repainting and detailing. The only good thing to come out of it was that part of the process included removing the God-forsaken gold trim and replacing it with a traditional chrome trim that made the car much less of an eyesore. I kept the gold H from the grill as a souvenir, and I may mount it on a gold rope chain one day so I can sport my very own hip-hop necklace.

  • The motor that drives the power windows needed replacing. The windows would go down, but I would have to jiggle the switch hundreds of times until something connected and the windows would roll back up.
  • The controls for the air conditioning/heating and defroster only worked if you punched the console Arthur Fonzarelli-style, and even then, only about one-half of the time.
  • And just in case I had any lingering doubts as to whether I was making the right move, when I started the Accord for the final time to drive it to the dealership and turn it in, I noticed that only one headlight was working due to a short.

While it was definitely time to part ways with the Purple People Eater, I had a lot of good memories with the car, and I will definitely miss it. I am now driving a dark grey 2010 Nissan Rogue, and I am sure I will grow to love this car, too. It’s in great condition, and it’s a lot of fun to drive, and I hope the memories I will create with the Rogue match up with those from the Accord, although that’s a pretty tall task.

Farewell, Purple People Eater, and thank you for the companionship and a job well done (for the most part).

Another football coaches’ silly season has come and gone

The January silly season of football coaches switching jobs, both college and National Football League, has pretty much wrapped up, give or take the occasional Rob Ryan, and it left me with the same question that goes through my head every year. Which means less: Coaches who swear their loyalty up and down at end-of-season press conferences, only to switch jobs later that week; or coaches’ signatures on contracts in the first place?

“This is the greatest job in the world, and I am not speaking to any other teams.”

I don’t know what makes me shake my head more: A coach signing a five-year deal, and then heading for “greener pastures” after one season; or a coach who practically cuts open his veins to show that he bleeds school colors or team colors, despite the fact that he pretty much has the keys to his next office in hand.

Becoming a head football coach at any level is a long and difficult career choice, with the odds stacked against advancing far enough to reach the pinnacle of the profession. I am by no means attempting to gloss over the long hours and hard work involved. But for those who work hard enough and are fortunate enough to advance, is there a better work situation in any other profession?

Once a head coach signs his name on a contract, the only actions that can derail him from either receiving every cent agreed upon or leaving for a better job are illegal activities, either by NCAA, NFL, or actual legal standards. If you do a lousy job and your team loses at an unacceptable rate, you still collect every dime. And if your team succeeds, the next, “better” job is only a phone call away.

However, the days of someone staying in the same job for decades, like a Tom Landry or a pre-scandal Joe Paterno, are long-gone. It’s a different era now, with coaches leaving for better jobs at the drop of a hat, or impatient NFL owners or college boosters, administrations, and athletic directors who are unwilling to allow programs to grow. As sports fans, we may not like this, but we have no choice other than to accept it.

There is one change that I firmly believe should occur, however, on both the college and professional levels. The commitment required by the sport of football, from both coaches and players, is far and away the most severe of any sport in terms of time, mental preparation, and physical preparation. When teams that have had some success during the season near the end of their journeys, the deserving or lucky ones are rewarded with bowl games in college, or playoff berths in the NFL.

I think it is absolutely inexcusable that job interviews are allowed to take place before teams’ seasons are finished, and that includes bowl games and playoff runs. As a player or fellow coach, I want to know that I am getting the full commitment and focus of everyone on the staff so my team can take advantage of the opportunity it earned. There is no way coaches who are interviewing for other positions are anywhere near 100% focused on their current duties. It’s humanly impossible.

I know my proposal is a pipe dream, and it will never happen on either level, with the pressure to beat out competitors and get the “right man for the job” in place as soon as possible, but I strongly believe coaches should be prohibited from contact with other schools or organizations until their teams’ seasons are completed.

The number of years on the contract may be irrelevant, but would it kill these guys to at least finish their jobs for the season before making their next moves?

Is it time to blow up this edition of the Dallas Cowboys? I vote no

Now that I have had about a week-and-a-half to cool off after the latest end-of-season crumble by my beloved Dallas Cowboys, I believe I can speak rationally about what the club should do going into next season, and my suggestions will not involve the types of violence that would have been included had I tried to write this last week.

To all the haters ... COWBOYS FOR LIFE!

To all the haters … COWBOYS FOR LIFE!

One of the most common thoughts I’ve heard is that the team and coaching staff need to be blown up and rebuilt. This theory has been advanced by “experts” and average fans, and by Cowboys fans and Dallas haters. It may sound like the right thing to do, but the National Football League doesn’t work that way.

Tony Romo has been an obvious target, and considering the fact that the last play he will be remembered for after this season was one of the more pathetic interceptions thrown in quite some time, targeting Romo is expected, and fair. I am pro-Romo overall, but not to the point where I’m 100% all-in and blind to the facts.

When you take the field with Romo as your quarterback, you are signing on for the good and the bad. Romo will single-handedly win games, as he did on several occasions late this season. He will also single-handedly lose games, which he proved quite adept at doing last season, when he gift-wrapped victories for the New York Jets and Detroit Lions. I still think there is more good than bad in Romo. The bad tends to be overly magnified, which is part of the job of being an NFL quarterback in general, much less the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys.

For those who want to see a change at the quarterback position: I’d love to hear your suggestions. The NFL is not fantasy football. Aaron Rodgers will not be the starting quarterback for the Cowboys next season, nor will Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Tom Brady (like Dallas needs yet another reason to be universally hated), Peyton Manning, and so on.

Is replacing Romo with a backup with limited NFL experience the answer? Are the Cowboys really better off with, say, Matt Flynn, who had a couple of brilliant outings for the Green Bay Packers, but couldn’t beat out Russell Wilson for the Seattle Seahawks’ starting job? Is the team better off with someone like its current backup, Kyle Orton, who has extensive starting experience, but who played himself into a backup role? Hell, maybe the Cowboys should buy into the hype and go after Tim Tebow, for he shall lead us to the promised land! I would keep Romo over any of these options, without a second thought.

As for the draft, even if the Cowboys are able to swing the type of deal they pulled off last season, in moving up to select Morris Claiborne, are any of the quarterbacks who will be available really game-changers? Scouting and projecting is nowhere near an exact science — think of it this way: JaMarcus Russell was the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, and Romo was undrafted — but I just don’t see an Andrew Luck, a Robert Griffin III, or even a Wilson in this draft.

Overall, I see no choice but to proceed with Romo, for at least one more year. I am not a believer in change for the sake of change.

Another popular target, deservedly so, is Head Coach Jason Garrett. The coach is the easiest thing to change. As the cliché says, “You can’t fire all of the players.” And while Garrett do anything anywhere near as foolish as icing his own kicker, like he did to cost the team a game against the Arizona Cardinals last season, there were times when his judgment was questionable, at best, and I had a major issue with his tendency to give up on the running game at the first sign of adversity.

One thing I will say for Garrett is that this team has never lacked effort under his leadership, as it did on numerous occasions when “led” by his predecessor, Wade Phillips. Of course, the argument can be raised that the players should be motivated by their paychecks and the desire to secure their jobs, but sadly, as is the case on most teams in most sports, it doesn’t always work that way.

But I’ll play along: If Garrett is not the head coach next season, who should it be? Will the team really improve if it replaces Garrett with an NFL retread, or a college coach? I don’t believe that’s the solution.

I would have loved to see Sean Payton come back to the Cowboys’ organization, which never should have let him go in the first place, and there was a brief window of hope when his extension with the New Orleans Saints was declared invalid by the league, but Payton is back in the Saints’ fold and off the table.

I would make an exception for Mike Holmgren, but I don’t see any scenario where Holmgren would work for Jerry Jones. Holmgren clearly wants full control of the team, and as long as the Cowboys’ owner fancies himself as a GM, coach, and God knows what else, the two personalities won’t mix. If you need proof of this, recall that another coach who demanded complete control, Bill Parcells, was force-fed Terrell Owens, who he clearly never wanted on the team. Does that sound like complete control to you?

I also thought about Lovie Smith, mainly because the atmosphere around the Cowboys comes off as too relaxed, and it would be nice to have someone come in and put a foot up people’s asses. But Smith has only been marginally more successful than Garrett, and I’m not sure the move would accomplish anything.

Much like Romo, I believe Garrett deserves one more season. If there is no improvement next year, then it’s time for a change.

What should the Cowboys address during the offseason? The absolute top priority has to be the offensive line. The club tried to remedy this issue during the last offseason, by re-signing Doug Free and adding Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau, but it failed miserably. Free has been an utter and complete disaster, and if he can be cut outright without drastic damage to the salary cap, he should. Everyone else was just plain mediocre, at best. While former No. 1 draft pick Tyron Smith is probably the most talented member of the unit, he is also a penalty machine, and the penalties tend to come at the worst times, absolutely killing momentum. I don’t have any specific names in mind, professional or college, but changes must be made.

Another thing Dallas must do, which is much easier said than done, is try to figure out just how much they can rely on some of the players that have performed well but missed time due to injuries. Sean Lee, Miles Austin, and Demarco Murray are all outstanding football players, but an outstanding football player doesn’t do his team much good when he’s on the bench in street clothes, or, as was the case with Austin this season, trying to play through (admirable) at much less than full strength. Can the Cowboys afford to base their offensive game plans around Murray and their defensive game plans around Lee, only to see the two of them go down again?

As I said, this is far easier said than done. Injuries can’t possibly be predicted, and they are part of the game of football, but it’s frustrating to constantly see the team’s most valuable players out of uniform.

This should be an interesting offseason, to say the least, but the window on this team is closing, and closing quickly. I am not on board with rebuilding now. Rebuilding in football doesn’t really exist. At least when teams try to do so in Major League Baseball, their fans can follow their prospects’ journeys through the minor leagues and retain some hope (see: Kansas City Royals). Football doesn’t work that way. However, if this team doesn’t succeed next year, it might be time for drastic moves.

One more thing before I go: If this current nucleus of Cowboys never wins a Super Bowl, I don’t blame Tony Romo, or Jason Garrett, or DeMarcus Ware, or Jason Witten, or even Wade Phillips. I will tell you who I blame: Patrick FUCKING Crayton.

Patrick Crayton, the former No. 3 wide receiver? Yes, that bum. Why? The week before the Cowboys played the New York Giants in a divisional playoff game, Crayton did nothing but run his mouth. The two teams are divisional rivals, and the Cowboys swept both regular-season meetings. Talking trash accomplishes nothing. Shut up, don’t motivate the Giants any more than they already are, and play the game.

After running his mouth all week, Crayton dropped the pass that would have put the game away for the Cowboys, who, at 13-3, had their best season by far since the Super Bowl years of the early 1990s. A perfectly thrown ball to a wide-open Crayton in the fourth quarter would have, at minimum, resulted in 40 yards, a first down, and two or three more minutes off the clock. Instead, Hands of Stone dropped the ball, the Giants took over, and the rest is history.

Would the Cowboys have won the Super Bowl that year? Not necessarily, but you never know, and, as I said, the 2007 squad was the best in recent years.

So, to the Cowboys: Stay the course, improve the O-line, and let’s give this one more run. And to Patrick Crayton, wherever you are: FUCK YOU.

Overpriced tickets, empty seats, and clueless management

The fact that sports ticket prices are completely out of hand is far from a new revelation, and my favorite club in any sport, the New York Yankees, falls among the worst offenders, possibly even occupying the top spot.

Go team go!

Empty seats, especially in the premium sections, have become the norm, no matter how big the game, or how nice the weather. And as clueless as management at some of these teams can be, they are trying to remedy the problem. But are they trying hard enough?

I became a Yankees season-ticket holder (half-season through 2008, full season for 2009 and 2010) in 1997, and I gave my seats up after the 2010 season (click the link for the long list of reasons why). The Yankees have managed to treat me better as a former ticket holder than when I actually had the account active.

I have received several calls over the past few months from the Yankees ticket office, gauging my interest in rejoining the fold for the 2013 season. I am actually surprised that the club is putting that much effort into cases like mine. When I go to Dunkin’ Donuts, I usually drop the coins I receive as change into the tip jar. The $4,000 or so that my season tickets cost means less to the Yankees than those coins mean to me.

I don’t even bother answering anymore because, in all fairness to the Yankees, I am in no position to commit to tickets of any sort, and many of the factors have nothing to do with the team or its pricing. We are moving, which would make attending weeknight games virtually impossible, and our family expanded, which completely changes the priorities of our budget.

But the few times I did make last-ditch attempts to keep some kind of ticket plan, the seats they were willing to offer me at a reasonable price were pure crap. I may have tried to plead my case with Mrs. 9 if I could have gotten something in the first few rows of the 400 level, in the infield, but when I was offered high rows in the outfield, my response was, “Dude, I have a 50-inch TV. Why would I sit all the way up there?”

And it’s not just the Yankees: A good friend Is part of a group that splits premium (and I do mean premium) Mets tickets, and the Mets actually lowered their prices significantly. Still, the skeptic in me wonders: If the Mets had been a playoff team in any of the three seasons since moving to Citi Field, would they have extended that offer? My gut says no.

Another good friend stopped by tables that the New York Giants and New York Jets set up at an event, and he received the big-time hard sell from both teams. When they asked,” What’s it going to take to get you in these seats?” sounding like desperate used-car salesmen, his response was, “Drop the PSL.” Naturally, they refused.

For years, the only way to get Giants season tickets was to put your name on a waiting list and wait several years (my name was on one prior to the new stadium opening, and I was told to expect a 15- to 20-year wait). I find it almost laughable that I could pick up the phone today and become a season ticket holder if I wanted to, but that would require an investment beyond my means, especially when I don’t root for the team.

For those not in the know, PSL stands for “personal seat license,” which is the biggest scam in the sports ticketing industry. A PSL basically forces fans to pay a large lump sum of money, simply for the right to shell out more money for the actual tickets.

Some PSLs offer owners the right to purchase their seats for other events (concerts, other sports), but the Giants and Jets can’t even do that. When Bruce Springsteen plays MetLife Stadium, who gets the seat: The Giants fan, or the Jets fan? Those teams’ PSL holders receive perks, such as early access to ticket sales, but is that enough?

One of the most irritating things about PSLs is that teams pitch them to fans as investment opportunities, touting how much the fans can profit if they resell the PSLs. I realize running a sports team is running a business, but being a sports fan is an entirely different story. If someone is enough of a fan of the team to consider forking over several thousand dollars per seat for PSLs, selling those rights is the furthest thing from their minds.

Back on topic: It’s obvious that teams are recognizing the fact that the prices they are trying to charge in an economy that is still scuffling are completely out of hand, leading to the large pockets of empty seats in very visible locations (field level behind home plate for baseball, field level between the 40-yard-lines for football), but are they doing enough about it? My experience Saturday, which prompted me to write this blog post, suggests otherwise.

$275? Seriously?

A friend from college was nice enough to give me two tickets to Saturday afternoon’s Yankees game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and we took 0.9 to his first-ever Yankees game. They were fun seats, especially since I usually sit upstairs: section 117a (field level, behind the Yankees dugout), row 30.

However, when I looked at the ticket price, my jaw dropped. The face value of the tickets was $275 apiece. I am not by any means trying to sound ungrateful for the tickets, and I was happy to learn that my friend received them as a gift, so he didn’t shell out that ungodly sum of money for them, but seriously?

First of all, they were technically field level seats, but they were nowhere near the field. As I said, they were in row 30, but the Legends Suite seats are in front of the field level seats, so they were really about 40 rows up.

Second, they were in the back row, and the condiments station was directly behind us. I joked about getting something spilled on me when we first got there, and somebody with an $11.50 cup of Miller Lite soon obliged.

Third, the section to our right had a handicapped seating area in place of rows 26-30. I am all for ballparks having as much handicapped access and seating as possible, and I applaud the existence of this seating area, and all of the others in the ballpark. However, because of the location of this particular handicapped seating area, I could not see anything hit down the right field line.

Charging $275 for those tickets is beyond criminal. I would have been irate if I actually paid that silly price to sit there. And despite the beautiful weather and excellent opponent, there were plenty of empty seats around us.

Also, I have no way to prove this, but if you look at StubHub, there are usually thousands of tickets available for every game. In the case of Saturday’s game, there were more than 2,400 available on the morning of the game. Yet, despite the fact that StubHub users can assign any price they wish to their tickets, there are often large groups of listings at the exact same price, all for seats in sections like 117a, and all from a handful of user names. So, either a few people are rich enough to own several-hundred field level season tickets apiece, or the Yankees are flooding the secondary market with tickets they can’t sell. You decide. I already have.

Sports teams have a choice: Either take a serious look at your pricing policies, or continue to see more and more empty seats. But despite recent economic struggles, the teams’ management remains far too arrogant, for the most part, to admit that the current structure is out of hand. It will be interesting to see if this ever changes.

You won’t like me very much when the 2012 NFL season starts, and frankly, this Dallas Cowboys fan doesn’t care

Since this is the time of year for New Year’s resolutions, I thought I’d reflect on one that I made quietly, to myself, last year, which didn’t come close to turning out as planned.

I am a die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan, and I have been since 1975, when I was seven years old and saw a few of their games on TV as the team was en route to a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl X.

I am very intense about the team, especially on game day. Don’t waste your breath by telling me that it’s just a game, and that the team doesn’t care about me so I shouldn’t care about them. That’s not the way I’m wired.

For three to four hours every week during the National Football League season, I am fully locked into the game, and I take losses very, very hard. It’s only a 16-game season, so the only major sport where each game is more critical is college football, where one loss can derail an entire season. And no sport has a longer, more painful offseason than football. I’m still dealing with a fresh wound on that front this week, as I will not see another meaningful Cowboys game for eight months after a brutal loss to the New York Giants this past Sunday.

I have actually calmed down quite a bit, which some may find scary. In the mid-1990s, when the Cowboys won three Super Bowls in four years, I was a total, complete asshole during games. I readily admit this. If I were at a bar rooting for a different team, I’d have wanted to kick my own ass.

But the combination of growing a little older and a little wiser (shut it!), and the fact that the Cowboys have only had one team over the past 16 years that I truly believed was a Super Bowl contender, has definitely mellowed me. I still take losses very hard, but I’ve really made an effort to cut down on trash-talking and back-and-forth with opposing fans and people who just hate the Cowboys.

So after a hideous 6-10 season last year, where the only place to go was up, I quietly decided to myself that I would not say anything derogatory about the Cowboys’ opponents, particularly on Facebook. While I made no effort whatsoever to hide the fact that I was still rooting hard for the team, I made it a point to identify teams as tough opponents, or tricky match-ups, as opposed to previous years, when, had Facebook been around, my status might have read, “Heading out to watch the Dallas Cowboys kick the ever-loving shit out of this team by about four touchdowns.”

Did it work? Did it cut down on any of the negative back-and-forth? Actually, the result was quite the opposite. Despite saying at the beginning of the season that I saw this year’s Cowboys as an 8-8 team (sadly, I was right on the mark), and despite not running my mouth (or my fingers, in the case of Facebook), I was on the receiving end of more abuse and more venom than in any previous season as a Cowboys fan. And it all came from people who I consider friends.

I admit to two exceptions to my rule. There was one week earlier in the season when the Cowboys won and every other team in the NFC East lost, so I posted something smart-assed along the lines of, “Everyone whose teams won in the NFC East, take one step forward. Not so fast, Eagles, Giants and Redskins fans!” And a friend posted a picture of the towels the Giants gave away this past Sunday, so I jokingly asked if Giants fans were waving the white flag of surrender already. I don’t consider either of those to be that inflammatory.

Yet the amount of venom directed toward my football team and myself, and the hypocrisy that accompanied it, was staggering. And texting me during a vital game that the Cowboys are losing to ask me if I’m having fun violates any sort of decency as a sports fan (although I don’t consider the person who did it to me this past Sunday to be a real sports fan, anyway, since my cats know more about football than she does).

Why do I say hypocrisy? Mainly for this reason: The same people who accuse me of being a front-runner because I root for the Cowboys also go out of their way to constantly point out that the Cowboys have just two playoff victories since winning Super Bowl XXX in January 1996. So, which is it? Make up your minds. Front-runners jump on the bandwagons of teams that are winning. How am I front-running by continuing to root for a team with two playoff wins in 16 years? Ask anyone who went to college with me what a front-runner I was during my senior year, when the Cowboys went 1-15, and I went to the Sports Page, a now-defunct sports bar near NYU, and begged them to put the Cowboys on one TV every single week.

The explanation I get involves the fact that the Cowboys were a championship team when I was growing up. This is true, and a valid point. I don’t feel like I should have to defend my choice of football teams, but I will, anyway. I grew up in a family that knew absolutely nothing about sports, nor had any interest in them. I didn’t have the dad or uncle who showed up at the house with Giants or Jets tickets and took me to games. I taught myself everything about sports. The Cowboys were on TV often back then, and I loved the way Roger Staubach played. Then, after having seen Tony Dorsett play for the University of Pittsburgh, when the Cowboys were able to swing a trade with the Seattle Seahawks and draft him, I was 100% hooked, and I still am.

I can’t tell you how many times people yell at me, “I grew up in New York (or New Jersey), and I’ve been a Giants (or Jets) fan my whole life.” Well, goody the fuck for you. What do you want: a medal, a cookie, or both? Not everyone grows up that way, and with football in particular, you always see people who root for out-of-area teams. Deal with it.

One of my favorite things I’ve been told this season — and I really wish I was making this up — is that I should convert and become a Giants fan. Really? Who the fuck do you people think you are? I was a Cowboys fan before I was friends with any of you, yet I should ditch a team I have spent more than 35 years rooting for and bleeding with because you don’t like them? Perhaps you’d like me to change religions, as well, or political affiliations? Is there anything else you don’t like about me? Please make a list, so I can change and be perfect like you. What fucking nerve.

Oh, and by the way, a lot of you shitheads really need to come up with some new material. Tony Homo just isn’t funny anymore. It may have been funny the first few times, and I did cringe when I realized what Tony Romo’s last name rhymed with, but it is old and tired, much like most of your comments and jokes this season. Abuse that is actually funny is a lot easier to take. None of the crap I read or listened to this season fell into that category. You people are just not funny. Work on that.

It got so ridiculous this season that people I haven’t talked to in months, or, in one case, more than 25 years (no exaggeration, high school) made it a point to rip into the Cowboys on my Facebook page or via text messages. Some of the venom came from people who aren’t even fans. I guarantee you a few of the people couldn’t name 10 Giants players. Yet they have nothing better to do than rip me and my team, and this is during a year when I stuck to my resolution to be as well behaved about football as possible.

Well, guess what, assholes? The season is over (for my team, anyway). And since trying to be gracious in both victory and defeat only brought more abuse my way, there’s really no point in sticking to that, is there? Next season, I am going to be my mid-1990s asshole of a Cowboys fan self. I don’t care if the team goes 2-14 or 14-2: I am running my mouth like a sewer from the opening kickoff on.

Being a Cowboys fan is part of who I am. When you became friends with me, you should have accepted that. If you can’t, and you want out, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. As I said, my loyalty to the Cowboys is older than any of my friendships. Plus, I have enough true friends who accept me for who I am, and who will always be true friends. If the fact that I’m a Cowboys fan bothers you so much, don’t be my friend. I will live, survive, and thrive just nicely without you. You probably won’t be missed.

A boring Monday night suddenly turns into one hour of absolute craziness: Why I LOVE sports

This past Monday night, I settled into the recliner, laptop at the ready, to watch the two Monday Night Football games (the Giants-Vikings game got moved to Monday night, and to Ford Field in Detroit, due to the collapse of the Metrodome roof in Minneapolis) and monitor my two fantasy-football playoff match-ups.

Derrick Mason

I had pretty much given up on one, as I went into the night five points down with only Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin remaining, while my opponent had two stellar running backs: Ray Rice of the Ravens and Ahmad Bradshaw of the Giants. My suspicions were correct: I got smoked.

But in my other league, I had a lead of around 13 points (stupid Yahoo! leagues and their fractions of points) and the better Ravens WR, Derrick Mason, while my opponent had Matt Schaub, the quarterback for the Texans.

Things started going my way, as Mason caught a touchdown pass, while the Ravens’ defense absolutely smothered the Texans. Mason caught his second touchdown pass early in the second half, and I had a lead of more than 20 points, so I felt pretty safe and confident.

And then, suddenly, the big, bad Baltimore Ravens defense absolutely forgot how to play football. Schaub started completing pass after pass, including two for touchdowns. I still had a lead, and the Ravens had the ball with just over two minutes to go, facing a third-and-two. The Texans had no time-outs remaining, and the Ravens had been running the ball down their throats, so I figured they’d dial up one more running play, pick up the first down, and kill the clock, both on the Texans and my fantasy opponent.

I figured wrong. They attempted a pass on third-and-two that was nowhere near complete, stopping the clock and putting the ball back in the hands of the red-hot Schaub, who then proceeded to march the Texans down the field, cutting into my lead in the process. I quickly calculated that as long as he didn’t throw another touchdown pass, I’d barely hold on, but the Baltimore defense was completely gassed, and he found a wide-open receiver in the end zone, making the score Ravens 28, Texans 26, and giving my fantasy opponent the lead.

Now I had to switch gears and root for the Texans to make the two-point conversion, even if Schaub was involved, because if they didn’t convert, the Ravens would just run out the clock and, while they would win, I would lose. The Texans converted, and the Ravens just killed the clock, setting up overtime.

Cliff Lee

While all of this was going on, I had Seesmic, the Twitter client I use, up and running, and noticed a trickle of Tweets about Cliff Lee, that quickly became a steady stream, and then a downpour. And I’m talking about Tweets from legitimate sportswriters, not dumb-assed fans.

First, news broke that a third team was in the running, joining the Yankees and Rangers. Then came word that the Yankees were out. It was revealed that the Phillies were the third team and, moments later, winners of the Cliff Lee bidding, and Tweets galore spelled out contract terms, his reasons for picking Philadelphia, and what-not.

So, while dying a slow fantasy-football death, I was also following the Cliff Lee saga, and I was very disappointed, although not the least bit angry, that he didn’t sign with the Yankees. Meanwhile, in the football game, the Ravens got the ball first in overtime and did nothing with it, punting and pinning the Texans deep in their own territory. I was still down about two points, and it wasn’t looking good at all.

Suddenly, lightning struck and, for once, it was in my favor. Schaub dropped back to pass out of his own end zone and threw a perfect bullet, right into the hands of Ravens defensive back Josh Wilson, who returned it for a game-ending touchdown. The final score was Ravens 34, Texans 28, but, much more important for yours truly, I consulted our league rules and discovered that interceptions mean a loss of three points for quarterbacks, meaning that my fantasy squad had just clutched victory from the jaws of defeat. The final score that really mattered was 124.54-123.22. And yes, Yahoo! really needs to lose the fractions.

Everything I just wrote about took place in roughly one hour, and nights like this are why I will always be a rabid sports fan. The emotional roller-coaster ride was fantastic, and I was both burned out and refreshed when the final whistle blew on my evening, despite the split decision (winning my fantasy-football playoff game, but the Yankees losing out on Cliff Lee). To the sports haters: Can opera do that? I don’t think so.

The 2010 Dallas Cowboys: The entire organization has given up, from the owner down to the players

Love him or hate him (and most people do, indeed, hate him quite fiercely), the one thing nobody could possibly say about Jerry Jones was that he doesn’t care about the Dallas Cowboys. Until yesterday: The fact that Wade Phillips is still the head coach of this team, Jason Garrett is still the offensive coordinator, and Joe DeCamillis is still the special teams coach points to the following conclusion: Jerry Jones got his new stadium, and his millions of dollars of money from personal seat licenses, so the Cowboys’ win-loss record means nothing to him.

We're in more pain than you are, Wade. Just quit already.

No matter how much anyone reading this might hate the Cowboys, there is no way anyone who has watched more than three downs of football can look at this club’s roster and the way its defense has been performing and say that it’s a 1-4 football team. Yet, that’s exactly where their record sits right now, and yesterday’s loss to the vastly overrated Minnesota Vikings and dirty old sexter Brett Favre basically ended any chance this team had to be relevant this season.

Some of the same problems cost the Cowboys yet another game, yet nothing is ever done about them.

Penalties: The Cowboys hit double-digits yet again, with 11 penalties for 91 yards, although one was a complete crock of shit, which I’ll get to in a bit. How can one team make the same mistakes over and over and over again? And the penalties are getting dumber by the second: The team has been flagged for celebration penalties after touchdowns for two consecutive games. Um, guys, you’re 1-4: Exactly what the fuck is there to celebrate? The only way to remedy this is to pull any player who commits a bone-headed penalty from at least the rest of the series, and the following series, whether it’s Alan Ball, Miles Austin, or even Tony Romo. The same problem is killing this team game after game after game, and absolutely nothing is being done about it.

Oh, yeah, on to the bullshit call: With the Vikings up 24-21 and driving and a little over two minutes left in the game, the Cowboys stopped them on a third down that would have given them the ball back in decent field position before the two-minute warning, but they were flagged for pass interference on a ball thrown 10 feet over the intended receiver’s head. The team has earned such a reputation for penalties that if anything is remotely close to an infraction, the call goes against Dallas. But that was still a gutless call. The officials know what’s at stake in a game between 1-3 teams. You do NOT end a team’s season, for all intents and purposes, on a very, very marginal call, at best. If the situation were reversed, there is no way in hell the Vikings would have been flagged for pass interference.

On a side note, supposed head coach and leader Wade Phillips barely protested the call. Would an explosion have caused the gutless officials to change the call? No, but the players need to know that their coaches have their backs. That call doomed their season, and Phillips just stood there with the same flabbergasted look cameras catch on his face several times per game. This is not what an NFL head coach looks like.

Special teams: When the practice bubble collapsed in May and injured several staffers, including special teams coach Joe DeCamillis, did anyone bother to check DeCamillis for brain damage? This special teams unit is a sick joke and a disgrace. The kickoff return unit rarely gets the ball past the 20. The one success by the punt return unit was strictly due to individual effort by Dez Bryant. And the kick coverage, both on kickoffs and punts, is abysmal. I feel bad that the man got hurt, and I feel for the other victims, as well. I’m not trying to poke fun at a tragic situation. But the NFL is a results-oriented business, and the results from the Cowboys’ special teams thus far this season have been absolute and total crap. It’s time for a change. Ask the Miami Dolphins about that. DeCamillis shouldn’t have even been let on the plane back to Dallas from Minneapolis.

Play calling: If Jason Garrett is an offensive genius, then I am an expert in nuclear physics. And since I barely passed most of my science courses in high school and college, you do the math. Where is the commitment to the run I keep hearing about? And I know the Minnesota pass rush dominated the Cowboys in the 34-3 playoff beating last year, but barely throwing downfield and barely targeting Miles Austin? Why have weapons if you’re not going to use them? Jason Garrett is a complete disaster as an offensive coordinator.

But a new problem surfaced Sunday, and it has the potential to be a far bigger issue than any of the problems mentioned above. Of all people, Troy Aikman pointed it out during the Fox broadcast of the game. Yes, the bullshit pass interference call I mentioned earlier pretty much drained any hope, but the Cowboys were still in a position to get the ball back with 30 seconds left and no time outs. Granted, the situation sucks, but it’s one last chance, however small it might be. Yet when the camera panned the Cowboys’ bench, all you saw was offensive players sitting there, staring straight into space. Tony Romo and his receivers didn’t bother getting together to talk about their last shot. The offensive line didn’t bother getting together to discuss how to give Romo time for a miracle play. The team had flat-out given up, which should never happen, and which had never happened before.

Apparently, the owner has given up, as well.

More on the moron (Wade Phillips), and I didn’t forget you either, Jason Garrett

The 2010 season is rapidly slipping away for the Dallas Cowboys, and it’s only two weeks old. For the second week in a row, the Cowboys lost to a team with inferior talent, and I blame the coaching staff for a good part of it.

Jason Garrett, OFFENSIVE offensive coordinator

I am not trying to paint the 2010 Cowboys as the 1992-95 Cowboys when it comes to talent, nor am I trying to compare the 2010 Chicago Bears with the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but on paper, the Cowboys have a far more talented roster than that of the Bears. That and $100,000 will get them a PSL in Cowboys Stadium, however, as the Bears won the game, which is all that matters.

My beefs with the game plan and coaching decisions in Sunday’s debacle, in order of how stupid I thought they were, follow.

First off, Dez Bryant had just returned a punt for a touchdown, to give the Cowboys the lead and all of the momentum, and the coaching staff calls for an onside kick? Why? Onside kicks are something that should be used by less-talented teams trying to match up with superior teams, not vice versa. I certainly can’t blame the coaching staff for the piss-poor execution of the kick, which was popped up into the air without a Cowboys player in the vicinity, but Chicago’s recovery and resulting excellent field position put all the momentum back on the sideline of the Bears, and they took advantage.

Second, when Marion Barber III ripped off three straight runs of around seven to nine yards apiece, naturally, it made perfect sense to rip out the page of the playbook that contained plays where Barber runs right, because that’s obviously what offensive (and I DO mean offensive) coordinator Jason Garrett did. After absolutely carving through the Chicago defense three consecutive plays, not even being touched until five yards were already in the books, the only times Barber saw the ball the rest of the game were in obvious short-yardage situations, when the entire stadium knew he was running up the gut. It’s elementary football strategy: When you find something that works, keep running it until your opponent proves that they can stop it.

Third, the Bears converted a third-and-17 deep in their own territory by completing a 60-plus-yard pass. That should absolutely, positively never happen. While that may be the fault of the secondary, and not necessarily the coaching staff, a well-coached team doesn’t make mistakes like those. The Cowboys do.

And on the topic of mistakes that should never be made by a well-coached team: Roy Williams finally did something right and caught a few passes, but his fumble was the death knell for any potential Cowboys comeback. It’s one thing to fumble while fighting for more yards, but Williams’ forward progress had been stopped for a couple of seconds already, and he was gaining absolutely nothing by trying to fight off the tackle. The fumble was his fault, but situations like the one he found himself in should have been addressed repeatedly by the coaching staff. My guess is that they weren’t.

The only reason to keep any sliver of hope alive is the fact that there are no 2-0 teams in the NFC East, so the Cowboys are only one game out of first place with 14 to go. But two opportunities for what should have been easy wins were thrown away, and the schedule gets much more difficult now, starting with Sunday’s trip to Houston to take on the Texans. After what I’ve seen during the first two games this season, I am not the least bit confident.

Decision time for Jerry Jones

To Jerry Jones, the Dallas Cowboys owner, general manager and whatever other titles you’d like to give yourself: It’s time to decide whether you want to feed your ego and maintain control over this football team, or whether you want to win another Super Bowl. The way things are trending, the two options are not mutually exclusive.

Clueless Wade Phillips strikes again ...

Wade Phillips may be a great yes-man, but when it comes to coaching in the National Football League, his tenure with the Cowboys has been marked by underachieving and a complete and utter lack of discipline. Penalties continue to kill this team, and last night’s loss to a far inferior Washington Redskins squad was just the latest example.

Phillips insists that he’s not concerned by penalties, and that they eventually end up evening themselves out. The Redskins were penalized five times for 42 yards, while Wade’s gang of morons was flagged 12 times for 91 yards. Does that sound even to you? (Note: I am not complaining about the officiating. I thought the calls were justified.)

Even worse, it seems as if just about every Cowboys penalty negates a big play, whether on offense, defense or special teams. And none was worse than the holding violation on the last play of the game (again, I have no issue with the call), which took the winning touchdown off the board.

Another question: Why was Alex Barron even allowed to board the team plane back to Dallas? Jimmy Johnson, or just about any legitimate NFL head coach with a grasp on reality, would have cut him on the way to the locker room after the game. Being called for holding three times is absolutely unacceptable, and it’s even worse when all three calls were correct beyond any form of debate.

It’s no secret that offensive linemen hold on nearly every play during a game. But there’s a difference between a brief, well-hidden grab of a jersey out of the officials’ view and what Barron did. No official wants his call to be the deciding factor at the end of the game, but when you have an offensive lineman put two arms around a pass-rusher’s shoulders and neck, hog-tie him and drag him to the ground, the officials had no choice but to throw the flag.

I still believe this team can be a Super Bowl contender. I’m not even remotely suggesting that it’s the best team in the league — only that Dallas should be in the conversation when listing teams with a chance to win the big game. But constantly giving away first downs, big third-down stops and chunks of return yardage due to silly, sloppy, undisciplined play is not the way to go in a league where subpar efforts will doom you even against weaker teams.

So, Jerry Jones, I beg you to put down the Botox, do what’s best for this football team and hire a real head coach who will demand accountability of his players, and then swallow your pride and step out of the way so the man can do his job. Otherwise, the only Super Bowl you will see is this season’s, because it will be played in your stadium, but your football club will be sitting in the luxury suites next to you, and not fighting for a Lombardi trophy.

There used to be a ballpark, part II

Anybody who knows me already knows quite well how I feel about the destruction of the real Yankee Stadium. While the new Yankee Stadium has definitely grown on me, watching the old ballpark being torn down feels like losing a family member. I still can’t digest the idea that Box 611 no longer exists.

What was left of the real Yankee Stadium on Opening Day

When you’re younger, you think everything will last forever, including ballparks. Then as you move on in life, you come to the sad realization that nothing is forever.

The wounds of Yankee Stadium are still fresh. Even though the Yankees christened the new ballpark with a World Series championship, the skeletal remains of the real ballpark are still looming.

The past couple of weeks have brought the beginnings of a new baseball season, but also two more endings related to my favorite teams: Texas Stadium, the former home of the Dallas Cowboys, was imploded (see below). And while the building isn’t going anywhere just yet, the New Jersey Nets played their last game at the IZOD Center (formerly known as the Continental Airlines Arena, Brendan Byrne Arena and the Meadowlands Arena), as the team is finally taking my advice and moving to Newark, allegedly for two years while the Barclays Center in Brooklyn is being built, but, as I’ve said repeatedly, I’ll believe the team is moving to Brooklyn when I see a building.

The New Jersey Nets thank all 27 of their fans

Neither building means anywhere near as much to be as the real Yankee Stadium did.

I only went to two Cowboys games in Texas Stadium and, as magnificent as the new Cowboys Stadium looks on TV, it’s still weird not seeing the ugly but familiar building I grew up watching on TV.

And while the New Jersey Nets’ best two seasons as a franchise came at the IZOD Center (then Continental Airlines Arena), the building itself had very little character and, thanks to the Nets’ piss-poor fan base, even less atmosphere.

Still, it’s bizarre to see three buildings that were part of my fabric as a sports fan disappear (I know the IZOD Center is still standing, but Disney on Ice is not a sport, and the Devils, Nets and Seton Hall are all gone). Nothing is forever and, sometimes, change is good, but that doesn’t make it any less jarring or weird.