Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE
The New York Yankees' loss to the Detroit Tigers in the American League Championship Series was met with outrage by Yankee fans along with some corners of the media. They were expected to win, but they fell short and subsequently their desire and effort was questioned. The New York Giants were expected to defeat the Washington Redskins this past Sunday, and they did. Barely, and with only a minute or so to spare. But they won. And many who follow the Giants closely had no doubt that they would pull out the victory at the end. The New York Jets were underdogs in their divisional matchup with the New England Patriots, and they somewhat surprisingly almost pulled off an upset, but were doomed by their own mistakes. Each of these three teams have different expectations attached to them, and the outcomes of their most recent games or series magnify how we view each team and the demands placed on each one.
The Giants are right in their prime, fresh off a Super Bowl victory with Eli Manning having put to bed any questions surrounding his elite status, and he may now be on the road to Canton. He's the fourth-quarter magician, who always comes out on top when given one last chance with the ball. The 1996-2000 Yankees always found a way to win, capitalizing on their opponents' mistakes, ready to pounce at the end, and now it's Manning who best exemplifies that trait these days. Give him one chance to win the game, and he'll take it. When Robert Griffin III and the Redskins took the lead with just under two minutes remaining in the game, there wasn't a shred of doubt that Manning (with the help of Victor Cruz and the offensive line, of course) would prevail in the end. As Kevin Boothe said afterward, "I'm sure there wasn't one guy on the sideline that didn't think he wasn't going to make a big play for us at the end of the game. He's unflappable." Manning does it week after week, and we still marvel at his handiwork. His cool, calm, clutch endings still excite, and the Giants and their fans are happy to have him on their side. We expect him and the Giants to win, but there's no jadedness and nothing's taken for granted.
And it used to be like that for the Yankees. They may not have always had the best regular-season record, and even as in 2000, when they had the worst mark of any qualifying playoff team, they won when it counted. And it was appreciated each and every time. The organization itself lives and dies by their World Series or bust mantra, and lately they've been dying by it, setting themselves and their fans up for a big fall. A 95-win, first-place season is viewed as one big failure. Did the Yankees deserve the constant booing during this year's postseason in their own stadium? Maybe. But it's a stark contrast to the enjoying-the-ride scenes in Baltimore, Oakland, St. Louis, San Francisco and Detroit. Batting an all-time postseason low of .188 will make any team look lifeless, and the team's patient, taking-pitches approach went awry this October, but the Yankees haven't exactly been the Gashouse Gang when it comes to hustling or effort in the first place. Their middle of the lineup is Exhibit A: Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez may spend countless hours preparing for a game, but once the first pitch is thrown they settle into jogging, making-the-minimal-effort mode while going about their business on the field. Why should anyone expect them to change now, with the season on the line? They are who they are. Their fans expect effort, but they also expect results, which translates into a World Series. The new Yankee Stadium is a perfect representation of the universe the Yankees have built for themselves -- a quiet spot for the wealthy to sit among empty seats, with some diehards mixed in who demand more for their money.
The Jets are still hoping to get where the Giants are right now and where the Yankees have been. After last season, expectations have been lowered and even Rex Ryan has been humbled. They put up a fight in their overtime loss to the Patriots, but while Victor Cruz was hauling in the game-winning touchdown pass, Stephen Hill was dropping a crucial pass with just over two minutes to play, and while Manning was authoring yet another come-from-behind victory, Mark Sanchez (who otherwise had a solid afternoon) fumbled the game away when his team needed him the most (of course his offensive line left him out to dry). Not to mention the Giants defense forcing a fumble to seal the game, while the Jet defense let the Patriots drive down field twice at the end to score the tying and winning points. Just as many fans were predicting the Jets wouldn't hold on to their late-game lead as were thinking they could pull off an upset. Is it the Same Old Jets? Maybe not, but that sentiment still lives, even in the Rex Ryan era.
What do we expect from our teams? Do we really think the Yankees will win the World Series every year? Or was their lack of offense and seeming lack of effort coupled with their big payroll the real reason for the over-the-top outrage at their failure? Maybe they're just past their expiration date. Giant fans haven't reached the point of no return. Every Eli Manning comeback, though now somewhat expected and not too surprising, is met with joy. The Jets are almost expected to lose these days. Just staying close to the Patriots or Houston Texans is a victory in and of itself. Three teams, three different expectations, fair or not.