The NHL's Winter Classic took place again on New Year's Day (well, night). The event has now gone from experiment to tradition. It gets the game back to its roots, with a nostalgic nod to pond hockey. Of course, Gary Bettman would love to somehow have the Penguins play the Capitals every year. Maybe he can get three teams to play at once. But that's another story.
Can this type of display be done with other sports? What if the New York Yankees took on the Los Angeles Dodgers in a game of stickball in Brooklyn? It may be hard to cram 60,000 spectators on the sidewalks to view the game, but we'll worry about the details later. How about a basketball game played at a YMCA using a couple of old peach baskets? Or the New York Knicks battling the Boston Celtics at Rucker Park? Remember when you played a game of football in the street when you were a kid? How about the New York Giants playing the Dallas Cowboys on Eighth Avenue? With no helmets, pads or uniforms. They all have to wear Sears Toughskins jeans and sweatshirts. I can't see anything going wrong with that idea. Just throwing it out there . . .
Now on to the top stories of the week in the world of New York sports.
Over and Out: When is a win really a loss? When it's Sunday's Giants victory over the Redskins. Oh, the turnovers, the meltdowns and the lost opportunities. The Giants finally did what they had to do against the Redskins this past Sunday but it was too little too late. Tom Coughlin is staying, and told his team's critics to kiss his backside to boot, so now all that's left to do is pick at the carcass. Keith Bulluck summed up the whole season, "As a team we left a lot on the table. It's like we set the table but we didn't eat. We let other people come eat the food that we laid out all nicely. It's an unsettling feeling." It's an unsettling feeling for Giant fans, too. And now I'm hungry, as well.
Tanned, Rested and Ready: The New York Jets romped over the Bills, 38-7, in their tune-up for the playoffs. Everything went according to plan. The players who needed rest got some rest, the fill-ins, especially Joe McKnight, filled in admirably and the team didn't sustain any injuries. And now it's on to Rex Ryan's Great White Whale - Peyton Manning. Ryan is 1-5 against Manning, but the one win comes with an asterisk since it came in the final game of the 2009 season when Manning didn't play the whole game. Rex did a whole lot of talking this week, of course, even saying he wants to "put the shoe on the other foot." Luckily, there haven't been any YouTube videos surfacing of Ryan filming Manning's feet.
The Nightmare Is Over: Sometimes I have to throw cold water in my face to make sure this Knicks season isn't all just a dream. Am I really awake? I turn on the TV and half expect Isiah Thomas and Stephon Marbury to be roaming the Garden floor, while saying to myself, "Oh yeah, Amar'e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton were just too good to be true." But what do you know? It's really happening. This week, they beat the should-be-beaten Pacers, but lost Danilo Gallinari in the process. But he wasn't missed on Tuesday, when the Knicks played their best game of the year, defeating the league-best Spurs. And they didn't just beat San Antonio, they pulverized them, with an ABA-like 128-point offensive explosion. George Gervin or Larry Kenon wouldn't have made a difference for the Spurs in that game. And who needs Tony Parker? Or Steve Nash for that matter? New York has Raymond Felton. Let's count our blessings.
One a Week: After losing to Chicago and Minnesota over the weekend, the New Jersey Nets defeated the Bulls in a thriller for their only win of the week, when Sasha Vujacic dumped in the game-winner with 5.3 seconds left. Derrick Favors made his first NBA start, while Kris Humphries was moved to the bench. Humphries responded positively, with 20 points and 11 boards. Hey, it worked for Wilson Chandler earlier this season. And when you're dating Kim Kardashian, starting, coming off the bench - who cares?
Zucca-rific! Tiny Mats Zuccarello was the hero for the New York Rangers on Wednesday night, when he netted the overtime game-winning goal with a wicked top-shelf, no-angle shot. It was the perfect time for him to notch his first NHL goal. And who cares if he's the runt of the litter: "I have been like this for 23 years. I have had a long time to practice being small. I have to use being small to my advantage."
Michael Del Zotto was given the Josh Bailey treatment and sent down to the worst-named team in the country, the Connecticut Whale. Matt Gilroy is having the best stretch of his career, scoring another goal in the win over Carolina. Henrik Lundqvist, Brandon Dubinsky and Sean Avery all had strong games in Wednesday's victory. Ruslan Fedotenko bruised his hand in Saturday's overtime loss to Tampa Bay, but didn't miss a game. With all their shot-blocking hand injuries, maybe the Ranger players should start wearing a goalie's waffle instead of regular gloves. But as long as the Blueshirts stick to their blueprint of outworking their opponent and doing the little things, they'll keep winning. They're like the Knicks--they may not be an elite team, but they're getting there little by little. Baby steps.
Matt Foley's Hockey Team That Could: Speaking of the Winter Classic, if the New York Islanders' arena situation isn't fixed soon, every home game will be a Winter Classic for them--because they'll be playing outside. And if things go from bad to worse, they may find themselves living in a van down by the river. Meanwhile, indoors on the ice, the Islanders went into Hockeytown on Friday and impressively beat the Red Wings, 4-3, in overtime, and Calgary native Nathan Lawson relieved the seemingly-always-injured Rick DiPietro and defeated his hometown team, 5-2, with John Tavares and Matt Moulson racking up two goals apiece. The Isles finished the week with a 1983 and '84 Stanley Cup Finals rematch with the Edmonton Oilers, and like in '84, they lost. Speaking of the old days, hasn't that been Jiggs McDonald at the mike the last few games?
Will the Nightmare Ever End? The New Jersey Devils actually won a game last Friday, but since then they lost to Carolina, lost to Minnesota, lost to Philadelphia, Martin Brodeur has been demoted to splitting time with Johan Hedberg and captain Jamie Langenbrunner is on the trading block. The season can't end soon enough for the Devils.
A Little Baseball Hot Stoveness: The New York Mets did a little tweaking to their roster this week. They added two pitchers, both coming off recent surgeries. Lefty Chris Capuano signed for $1.5 million, and righty Taylor Buchholz will get $600,000. Capuano can be the new Hisanori Takahashi--fifth starter, short reliever, long reliever, whatever. As for the Yankees and Andy Pettitte, the veteran said he's waiting to consult with Brett Favre to decide if he should return or not, which means he'll make his decision during training camp in August.