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October 20, 2008

Why the Tampa Bay Rays Must Fail

Looking through the history of Major League Baseball, one would be hard-pressed to find a franchise more atrocious than the 1998-2007 Tampa Bay Devil Rays. In the pantheon of awful teams, the Rays found themselves with the likes of the 1999 Los Angeles Clippers, the 1992 Ottawa Senators, and essentially the entire collective existence of the Detroit Lions. Only once in their decade-long history had they not finished dead last within their division, and at no point did they ever lose less than 90 games in a season. Now, a mere one year removed from the farce that was their history, here they sit on the precipice of a World Championship. As my mind continues to try to wrap itself around this fact, I continue to find myself returning to the same thought.

They must be stopped.

Is it fun to root for the underdog? Of course it is. It gives every fan hope that, someday, they too could see their team drenched in champagne at season’s end. And it is always enjoyable to watch the fans of disposed favorites spend the offseason attempting to rationalize why it was okay to lose. After all, the popularity of March Madness is entirely based on these two points (see: George Mason and Duke, respectively). But there is something inherently wrong with the prospect of memorabilia adorned with the words “World Champion Tampa Bay Rays”.

Now, to help explain, I should probably add one small but significant fact – I am a Chicago Cubs fan. Yes, the same Chicago Cubs that just spent six months compiling the best record in their league, only to be swept out of October in three games. The same Chicago Cubs that now find their championship drought at an even 100 years. The team has been forced to watch the crowning of the champion on television since before there was television… nearly before there was even radio! And yet, here we sit as a fan base, preparing ourselves for yet another upstart to hoist a banner to the rafters before us.

We’ve been here before. Back in 1997, the Florida Marlins took home the title after a grueling five year wait. And just to rub it in, they went ahead and dismantled their entire team, rebuilt, and then stormed through Wrigley Field in 2003 to win a second championship, matching the Cubs franchise total in a mere eleven years. The Arizona Diamondbacks capped their fourth year in existence with a thrilling World Series victory over the Yankees in 2001. Even the Colorado Rockies joined in the fun last year, making their first Series before eventually falling to Boston.

For the most part, those were painful to watch, but at least we had company. The Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox each had droughts nearly as long at the Cubs, and Red Sox fans are more than familiar with the concept of curses. But one by one, they each left us. During Boston’s magical run of 2004, numerous Cubs fans expressed their joy in watching the Red Sox shed their curse, thinking that it would somehow be our turn next. They felt relieved; I felt abandoned. They did not understand why it did not make me feel better. I explained that throughout the entire comeback against New York, I found myself rooting for the hated Yankees. Why? Because a season that ends in a Yankees championship is like a season that never happened… and a season that never happened meant that we were not one step closer to being the sole exception to the law of averages. Of course, a year later, the White Sox etched their name onto the trophy and scratched their name off the list of historical misery as well. And then we were officially alone, left to watch teams with no history, no character, and no emotional connection shed tears of joy upon the championship trophy, a scene with which we could not empathize.

For a true sports fan, there is nothing quite as sacred as your team’s first championship of your lifetime. It is a journey you take, the ebb and flow of fandom pulling you in directions you never expected. You, as a fan, feel as if you deserve the championship just as much, if not more, than the team itself. At times you cheered; at times you walked away in frustration. But through the entire struggle, you were never indifferent.

And that brings us back to Tampa Bay. A year ago, they produced the worst record in the league, which had been preceded by nine years of near-identical results – only nobody cared enough to notice, or noticed enough to care. Now? World Series. Suddenly, the kid who had been eating glue in the corner for the past decade is acing the SATs and dating the head cheerleader. Meanwhile, we Cubs fans are left, alone, to wonder how we got bypassed again.

Now, could that be us next year? Maybe, but I have 100 years to tell me it won’t be. After all, this could have been the year. But it wasn’t. Instead, I am forced to watch a team with nary a fan base continue to inch closer to the goal that has eluded us for a century. I am forced to watch a team that thinks that its mere decade-long struggle with wins and apathy may finally be over. I am forced to watch a team that now elicits one simple response…

Go Phillies.

Apologies for the Lack of Posts

With apologies to my loyal reader(s), I must say that, not surprisingly, graduate school has seemed to take up a large chunk of my time, thus causing me to fall behind in my posts here. Nevertheless, I still intend to write whenever I can (and whenever a topic comes to mind)...

As a side note, I am currently writing for The Exchange, the UCLA Anderson student paper, and trying to interject more sports into the conversation whenever possible. In those instances, I plan on posting the pre-edited-for-length versions here. So that's something, right?

Again, apologies for the recent lack of posts, but please still check back often. It just might be your lucky day and there will be something to distract you from work, which is essentially why you're most likely here anyways...

September 20, 2008

NFL Scorecard - Week 3 Predictions

So much for getting off on the right foot...

After starting the season with double-digit wins, my luck decided to take a turn for the worse, as I completely tanked last week. Good thing nobody actually uses (or even reads) this for gambling purposes...

Well, I'm getting to this a bit later than usual this week. For those of you who know me, you are aware that I started my grad school orientation this week, which surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, takes up a whole lotta time during the week. But I'm here now, ready to either turn it around... or continue on my downward spiral of awful picks. Again, hopefully nobody's actually putting any weight to these...

Atlanta (-5.5) vs Kansas City - Um, next time, can I please be made aware of the fact that Tyler Thigpen is the backup quarterback on this team? I never thought I'd long for the days of Damon Huard. I'm guessing that makes it me and the entire Chiefs fan base... Well, Thigpen looked awful against Oakland so, good luck on your first start, kid... I'm going with the Falcons.

Buffalo (-9) vs Oakland - Okay, Bills, I'm on board. Now don't let me down. I think it's safe to say that the Raiders will be facing a team that's a bit better than last week. Darren McFadden definitely showed why the Raiders chose him last April, but the Bills have a nice running back of their own, and a lot more on both sides of the ball than Oakland.

Tennessee (-5.5) vs Houston - Am I the only one that feels that the Titans will be better with the constant Vince Young drama/development they've had the last couple years? No? Okay then, we're in agreement. The Texans did essentially have a bye week last week, but I wouldn't say it was a typical bye week where they could use both weeks to game plan against the Titans. So on equal footing, this one goes to Tennessee.

New York Giants (-13) vs Cincinnati - Until Carson Palmer shows himself as a competent quarterback again, I can't go for Cincy under any circumstances. He was once a quarterback with all the talent in the world, lighting the league on fire. Then a freak play tears his ACL and he hasn't been the same. How worried do you think Patriots fans are right now...?

Washington (-3) vs Arizona - This would make five straight favorites for me. That's never a good sign. But the Redskins finally came alive last week in their win over the Saints. Granted, the Saints don't exactly have a stellar defense, but Arizona doesn't exactly have a stellar team either. I still think Washington would win the NFC West, and I guess here's their first test.

Miami (+13) at New England - So let me get this straight... the Patriots scored only 19 points against a team that beat the Dolphins and are now giving 13 points to Miami? I guess Vegas doesn't have a lot of confidence in the Miami offense. Not exactly off-base there, but it still seems like a large spread for a team still trying to find its identity.

Chicago (-3) vs Tampa Bay - The Bears, as I always expect them to do at this point, choked one away against Carolina last week. So why am I going with them this week? Because I'm apparently an idiot... But I'm a loyal idiot, I guess. Just ignore the fact that I've gone against them the last two weeks.

Minnesota (-3) vs Carolina - Speaking of Carolina, can they make it three comebacks in a row? I'm guessing no, but I also thought the Vikings would knock off the Colts last week. And what I've learned is that "close" isn't "correct". I think this might be another situation like the Titans where Gus Frerotte might actually make them play better, not because he's more skilled, but he's more known, and the offense and defense won't be sitting there wondering if they can overcome their quarterback. They'll just go out and play.

St. Louis (+9) at Seattle - Following last week's theory of never going with an NFC West team giving more than 7 points, I'm going with the Rams this week. The Rams are still terrible, and I think they'll lose, but in this division, they all suck...

San Francisco (-4.5) vs Detroit - Speaking of sucking, here's San Francisco and Detroit! Is it just me or are there a lot of horrendous matchups early this season? I guess whenever Detroit is involved, that pretty much screws up the appeal of any matchup... They've fallen behind 21-0 in both games this season, which to those unfamiliar with football, is not a good thing... The 49ers may come from the NFC West, but I think Detroit is an honorary member of that division this season.

New Orleans (+5) at Denver - Every year, there's a team that I always miscalculate but consistently pick thinking that they'll turn it around. And every year, there's a team that I always miscalculate but consistently pick against them thinking that they'll come back to earth. I think those teams might be the Saints and Broncos this year, respectively. And that explains this pick...

Pittsburgh (+3) at Philadelphia - With apologies to my roommate, who is a huge Eagles fan and one of my few consistent readers, I've gotta go with Pittsburgh this week. I like Philadelphia, but there has to be some sort of emotional letdown this weekend, doesn't there? I mean, they just took on their arch rivals in an instant-classic Monday night game, then have to turn it around in six days and take on their intra-state rival, who, by the way, is 2-0? Just seems like a lot to me.

Indianapolis (-6) vs Jacksonville - The Colts showed life last week. The Jaguars continued to struggle. The Colts still own this division until proven otherwise...

Cleveland (+2) at Baltimore - The Browns offense has scored a total of 16 points in two weeks. This is why I didn't touch Derek Anderson during my fantasy draft this year. They were bound to come down from last season, now that they're not a surprise, but there still is too much talent on the offensive side of the ball to not still compete with the lower-level teams in the league. I'm looking at you, Baltimore... It's strength vs. strength in this matchup, with the Browns offense going up against the Ravens defense... and weakness vs. weakness on the other side... Sounds like a close game to me.

Dallas (-3) at Green Bay - I hate when my two fantasy running backs go against each other in a week, like I have with Barber and Grant in this game. Unless the game is ultra close, one team will be throwing by the end, which essentially limits one of the two by mid-third quarter. How does that affect this game? Well, it doesn't, but I just wanted to vent...

New York Jets (+8.5) at San Diego - You know the Chargers are going to turn it on at some point. You just know it. But is it this week? Is it next week? Will they show signs and squeek out a win before starting to blow things open? I don't know the answer to those, but I know this is Favre's first MNF game with the Jets, and against a wobbly Chargers team, that spread is too much for #4.

Last Week: 4-10-1
Overall: 14-16-1