Friday, April 07, 2006

It's Been A While
By Ben Valentine

Some things that have happened in the last nine years:

I entered high school bright eyed and optimistic about the future. A psychologist could probably make a fortune off the emotional scarring the next four years created. Come to think of it, if I wrote a book about it, I probably could too. And most of it would be true!

The Marlins won the World Series. Then the Yankees did. Then again and once more for good measure, beating the Mets in the last one.

I accurately predict France winning the 1998 World Cup. The name “Zidane” becomes the toast of a nation. No one in the US notices as the national team finishes 32 out of 32 teams for the tournament.

UConn wins its first National Championship in men’s college basketball with names like Rip Hamilton, Khalid El-Amin and Jake Voskuhl. They a beat a Duke team with Elton Brand and Corey Maggette. Also in that tournament a St. John’s team with Ron Artest and Eric Barkley loses to an Ohio State team by one in the elite eight with Scoonie Penn and Michael Redd. Ohio State makes it to the final four.

Check that, according to the NCAA, that last part with Ohio State never happened.

The Cleveland Browns rejoin the NFL and draft Tim Couch as their #1 scapegoat for the next five years.

The Spurs win the NBA championship right after the league misses half a season do to a lockout. Then the Lakers won it, then again and once more for good measure. Hey can you name the team the Spurs beat to win that first title? That’s right, your New York Knickerbockers, who were the 8th seed in the East that year.

The Giants went to the Super Bowl. Remember, Kerry Collins was their QB? The Ravens won it that year. Remember, Trent Dilfer was their QB and Brandon Stokley caught a TD pass?

George Bush got “elected” President by the narrowest of margins. People in Florida complain, but they’re African American and Democrats, so sadly, nobody cares.

I graduated high school and began my college life at NYU in September of 2001as a bright eyed, freshman unsure of what to expect in the four years ahead. A psychologist could probably make a fortune off the emotional scarring the next four years created. Come to think of it, if I wrote a book about it, I probably could too. And ALL of that one would be true.

Coming back from a Mets game in the first week of that month, I walk south on University Place and see the World Trade Center in the night sky. I think about the familiarity of those buildings in the NY skyline and how I’ll get used to see that sight in my time in the city.

So much for that previous thought. September 11th 2001. (Which I slept through because I had a 2 PM class. That’s pretty bad considering I was about a mile away from the WTC) I’m told the world is changed. For me, it stays pretty much the same, except for the air quality around lower Manhattan.

Barry Bonds hits 73 homers. Reporters mysteriously forget about what a jerk he is as they chase after the story. They also don’t stop to wonder how a player near the age of forty suddenly puts up his best season, especially since he had never before in his career hit fifty homers. I do and mention to those who will listen, my parents and freshman roommate Gray, that Bonds’ facial structure has changed and HGH is undetectable. Not that MLB tested anyway. (You don’t have to believe this, but I did discuss it at the time.)

Tony Womack steps in the bucket and doubles down the right field line against Mariano Rivera. Luis Gonzalez singles over the drawn in infield and the Yankees’ championship run ends in spectacular fashion.

Gray informs me he once played against Dontrelle Willis, one of the low level minor leaguers involved in the Antonio Alfonseca trade. I dismiss this as somewhat interesting but not all that important. I mean who is Dontrelle Willis anyway? Some prospect who will most likely amount to nothing.

War in Afghanistan. On going.

The Patriots win the Super Bowl. Multiply that by three.

The Nets managed to finally shed their tag as “the East Coast Clippers” to win the Atlantic Division three straight years and make the NBA finals twice in a row. The Devils also win a bunch of Stanley Cups, bringing an unprecedented level of success to the state of New Jersey. But it’s Jersey, so no one cares.

Brazil wins the World Cup, knocking out my pick, England, in the quarterfinals. The US does surprisingly well, losing a tough game to Germany in the quarters. A couple of more people care.

Baseball nearly locks out its players. The sides agree before Armageddon.

The Houston Texans join the NFL. Their first pick is Fresno State QB David Carr, who spends the next four years on his back more than (insert tasteless joke about female celebrity here).

Some Mets players get busted for smoking pot. Mo Vaughn surprisingly found not to be among them. Meanwhile the low budget Marlins win the World Series… again. Josh Beckett gets a three year grace period in which sports writers will gloss over his injury problems and inconsistencies.

Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade, Kirk Hinrich. Oh and Darko Milicic.

The St. John’s Red Storm win the NIT led by Marcus Hatten. I attended their opening round win over Boston University. That night the war in Iraq began. Also ongoing.

Kobe is accused of sexually assaulting a woman in Colorado. Mrs. Kobe gets a four million dollar ring as compensation. Jim Dolan ponders hiring her as GM of the Knicks. Instead, he goes with Isaiah Thomas. The Spurs go on to win two more championships. The Pistons get one in between, making Larry Brown the most overrated coach in the NBA.

UConn wins its second National Championship with stars like Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon over a Duke team with Luol Deng, Chris Duhon and Sheldon Williams. JJ Reddick learns what it means to choke on the national stage for the first time.

The NHL misses a season. Me and 25 other people notice.

George Bush gets re-elected, for real this time.

Baseball returns to the swamp as the Expos move to Washington and become the Nationals, prompting me to write way too many times about how much I hate the Nationals and MLB for the travesty.

The Jets miss the AFC Championship game wide right. A year later everyone is gone. Except Chad. He’s hanging by the thread connecting his rotator cuff. Oh and Curtis. He’s still grinding.

My return to fantasy baseball gives the names John Patterson and Dan Haren far more meaning than they actually should have to a Mets fan living in New York.

I graduate NYU. No idea what to do with myself. Still haven’t figured out what to do either.

Of course if you peruse that list, you’ll see something is not on there. The New York Rangers received no mention. You see in this nine year stretch between 1997 and 2006 the Rangers have made the playoffs a grand total of zero times.

Until now.

Yes, it’s been a long nine years since the New York Rangers last made the playoffs, an amazing feat considering half the teams in the NHL get in. The last time they were there, they had Mike Richter in goal, Wayne Gretzky and Brian Leetch, while both Mark Messier and Alexei Kovalev were on their first go rounds with the team. Jaromir Jagr was playing with Super Mario in Pittsburgh.

But finally the drought has ended. For the first time since 1997, the Rangers are in the postseason.

I’ll say it again, the Rangers have made the playoffs. After nine years of waiting, you’ll have to excuse me as a rub my eyes, and look at what I’ve just typed in semi disbelief.

How far will they go? Who knows? If they fail to win the division, they’ll get the Sabres, who currently have four more points than the Blueshirts. Even if the Rangers do lock up the third seed, they’ll face the Devils, who are always dangerous with Martin Brodeur, or the Canadiens and their scorching hot goalie Cristobal Huet. Hot goalies = bad for opposing teams in the NHL playoffs.

But you know what? It really doesn’t matter. No one expected this. Right now it was supposed to be nine years going on an even decade. Disappointment and failure, thy name is Slats. Maybe the kids will pull it together for respectability next year.

Except the Rangers again failed to live up to expectations. They were expected to be one of the worst five teams in hockey. Instead, they’re arguably one of the five best. They couldn’t win with an unfair advantage of the NHL’s previous salary structure. Now they’re one of the best constructed teams financially in the game under the cap. How’s that for irony?

In the end, all that matters is that after nine long years, the New York Rangers are heading back to the postseason.

How sweet it is.


Blogger Matt Brown said...

Womack may have had some World Series heroics, but my favorite Tony Womack moment of all-time (and one of the most hilariously awkward TV interview moments you'll ever see) occurred earlier in the 2001 postseason, in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Cardinals...

Womack hits an RBI single with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to give Arizona a series-clinching 2-1 win. Just moments afterwards, Womack is standing on the third base line with a mic and an earpiece, being interviewed by Joe Buck from up in the press box. In the middle of the interview, a woman runs into the shot and gives Womack a big hug, then exits stage left.

Buck: "Who was that? Was that your mother?"

Womack: "Um, no. That was my wife."

3:32 AM  

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