As a dutiful parent, I try to instil in my daughter a sense of sportsmanship, teaching her how to win and lose with class and dignity. After a heated bout of CandyLand or Chutes and Ladders, our routine involves the winner shaking the loser's hand, with the loser congratulating the winner. Now, that's not to say there's a lack of competitiveness involved. Both sides go all out to win, and there's none of this, "She's only seven so I'm going to let her win" stuff or "Everybody gets a trophy just for participating" nonsense. The games are a knock-down, drag-out brawl, as Chutes and Ladders does cultivate a dog-eat-dog world after all, but they're filled with an honest, competitive spirit, minus any trash-talking or insults (except when she declares, "I like Mommy better than you").
But, as we've seen this past week, the NFL is filled with boneheaded, selfish, me-first players, who put themselves above their team and act in classless, what-the-heck-are-they-thinking ways. In the New York Jets' win over the Buffalo Bills, Stevie Johnson's actions make him the winner of the Idiot of the Week Award, for his combination Plaxico Burress impression and crashing jet routine end-zone celebration. Yes, his look-at-me act was supposedly all in good fun, but he cost his team 15 yards, which led to a Jet touchdown (and his wallet is now $10,000 lighter). The Jets are not exactly filled with classy, good-citizen types themselves, so when you offend them, you must have done something wrong. Santonio Holmes stated, "It was a selfish, classless act on his behalf." And Dustin Keller added, "He's an idiot for that one. . . . It's not comical at all and he should be embarrassed." Maybe Johnson should follow the example of his teammate, David Nelson, and just hand the ball to the ref. And maybe if all the time and energy he spent coming up with that little skit was spent taking a few extra reps in practice, he might not have dropped that pass at the end of the game. There's nothing wrong with an exuberant Homer Jones-like spike or some real, spontaneous emotion after scoring a touchdown, and even a harmless salsa dance is fairly reasonable (to Victor Cruz's credit, he didn't bother with his signature celebration after he scored while his team was getting blown out), but a choreographed routine straight from a scene out of a Charlie Chaplin movie that targets an opposing player? Was there no part of Johnson's brain that said, "Maybe I shouldn't do this, this could cost my team some yardage and possibly the game"?
And then there's Brandon Jacobs, who pretty much went crazy when he scored a touchdown on Monday night, taunting and yelling at the Saints' defense. His teammates had to drag him to the sidelines before he could be flagged with a penalty. What was there to brag and boast about? The score made the game 21-10. The Saints were having their way with the Giants, embarrassing them on national television. Jacobs is in the midst of a horrible year, and he won't stop insulting his own fans ("The best thing they do here is boo"; and: "It seems like we are playing at home and we are out there by ourselves"), and when he finally does something positive on the field, he acts like a lunatic, going all DeSean Jackson on New Orleans. One player after another is acting like a crazed maniac, with no sense of control or coming close to knowing what is right and what is wrong, and their teams are the ones that suffer.
The point of all this, though, is not to get up on a soapbox and moralize, the point is this: These guys are a bunch of selfish idiots. Maybe a couple of games of CandyLand would serve them well. And now on to the top stories of the week in the world of New York sports.
Still Alive: The Jets turned a come-from-behind victory into a hair-pulling, they-can't-blow-it-again-can-they? ending where they were almost Tebowed again, but this time Tim Tebow didn't even need to be present. Stevie Johnson dropped a wide-open pass and Ryan Fitzpatrick missed a wide-open Johnson in the end zone, helping in the Jets' meltdownish defensive last stand. The Jets don't resemble a playoff team let alone a Super Bowl contender but they remain alive in the playoff hunt nonetheless. Mark this one down in the win-is-a-win category. Mark Sanchez was the confounding, inconsistent quarterback that he's been all season, but mixed in with all that frustration and yet another brutal interception were four touchdown passes and the fourth-quarter game-winning drive, where he went 6-for-8 and finished it off with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes. Plaxico Burress (TD, four catches, 54 yards) and Dustin Keller (two TDs, four catches, 61 yards) made Sanchez's life easier with a handful of spectacular catches, including Burress' one-handed season-saver, Shonn Greene gained 78 rushing yards to help set up the passing game and the offensive line opened holes and protected Sanchez, giving him time to throw on those four touchdown passes. Aaron Maybin notched two sacks as he enacted a bit of revenge on his former team, David Harris also picked up a sack to go along with seven tackles and Darrelle Revis led the team with eight tackles, though he had a surprisingly subpar game. Besides Sanchez's interception, the worst play of the game was an Antonio Cromartie muff of a punt, and to make matters worse, he was burned by Brad Smith for a touchdown only a few seconds later. But when you're fighting for your playoff life, those are all just minor details, as the W is the only thing that matters -- unless you keep playing this way, then, of course, you won't have a chance.
They've Got Garlic in Their Soul (or How the Giants Stole Christmas): I conveniently watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas in the half hour leading up to Monday night's New York Giants game, and a lyric from the "You're a Mean One" song perfectly encapsulates the Giants' performance against the Saints: "The three words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote: Stink! Stank! Stunk!" The Giants looked completely unprepared for what they were getting themselves into, with the defense putting in an all-time-low showing (577 total yards given up). There was no emotion, no urgency, no nothing. Three people showed up for the game: Eli Manning, Victor Cruz and Jason Pierre-Paul. No one else, including the coaching staff, could honestly say they left their all on the field and put in a hard night's work. Yes, the Giants amazingly still have the fate of their season in their own hands, with a sweep of the Cowboys and a couple of other wins giving them the division title, but the usual second-half swoon that has come to define Big Blue is in full force, and right now they don't appear as if they could win one game let alone four. And right now Giant fans don't want to touch them with a 39-and-a-half-foot pole.
In or Out? Here's a quick rundown on who is playing on Sunday in the Giants-Packers and Jets-Redskins games, who isn't and who is still questionable. Osi Umenyiora: Out for two to four weeks. Will Beatty: Out for the season. Ahmad Bradshaw: He says he's going to play, but he's still questionable. Mario Manningham: Very questionable. Mark Herzlich: Out. Michael Boley: He says he's "hopeful." LaDainian Tomlinson: In. Jeremy Kerley: In. Mike DeVito: Out. Giants: Hopefully in, after Monday's no-show.
Let the Games Begin: After getting our basketball fix by flipping around the dial and settling for Dave DeBusschere and Earl Monroe profiles, a 1994 New York Knicks game on MSG or vainly searching for old reruns of the White Shadow (should the Knicks give Salami a call to fill their long-term point-guard needs?), we'll now have the real thing, beginning on Christmas day, when the Knicks host the Boston Celtics. The lockout is all but over, with free agency and training camps starting on December 9, followed by a 66-game season (maybe that's better than the endless 82-game schedule anyway). The owners didn't get a hard cap or the end of guaranteed contracts, but there will be a stricter luxury tax, helping to save them from themselves, along with the ability to jettison one contract in an amnesty clause, and the players will only get around 50 percent of basketball-related income, down from the previous deal's 57 percent. (Years ago, my father imposed a lockout of my brothers and me, instead of the usual grounding, and it worked. We only received 50 percent of elementary-school-related income, we agreed on a hard cap of our allowance, but free agency began at the age of 18 -- my father wanted to make it 14. My brothers and I briefly signed with a school in China until the situation was resolved.) Like back then, we now have to round up and find the NBA players. We know where Kris Humphries was, and maybe he split up with his wife just in time, but we don't know where he'll end up (though the New Jersey Nets will need somebody to grab a rebound for them). Deron Williams can come back home to New Jersey (but for how long?), after spending a brief stint in Turkey. Dwight Howard to the Nets and Chris Paul to the Knicks rumors are running rampant, but in the Knicks' case they most likely don't have the assets to pull off that trade. And Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups can begin working on that much-needed chemistry, but they still need a center to join them. Mike D'Antoni, though, is already on the hot seat, as all the built-in excuses for the Knicks over the last few years won't be there to fall back on anymore.
Four in a Row: When the New York Rangers were winning seven games in a row there was always a "but" attached to their wins: The teams they beat were lower echelon teams; if it weren't for Henrik Lundqvist they would have lost; they still can't score a power-play goal. And the two losses following that streak proved that inconsistent play will eventually catch up to a team. But in their four wins this week, they defeated winning, top-of-the-division teams (or the most part), they scored on the power play (though they're still stymied by 5-on-3's), they set the tone and tempo in the games, they were solid on defense, they produced on offense and they matched any toughness they encountered (Brandon Prust and Sean Avery took care of things in the first seconds of the wins over the Flyers and Penguins). A small part of their success can be attributed to the callups of Carl Hagelin and John Mitchell (who blocked a shot with his face on Thursday but lived to tell about it), who have not only given the team depth but they've been producing as well (speaking of depth, 14 different Rangers recorded a point in the victory over the Hurricanes). The schedule this week was a measuring stick for the Blueshirts, and they passed with flying colors. The Rangers also introduced their Winter Classic throwback jerseys. At first glance, with the Rangers logo on the front, I immediately conjured up nightmares of the old late-'70s Ken Hodge-era atrocities they sported for a few seasons, but once I gave them a longer look, they're more classic, classy throwback than classic, horrible-mistake bad dream.
One Going Up, the Other Going Down: Was it all Blake Comeau's fault? Since being claimed off waivers by Calgary, the New York Islanders have been a different team. Actually, it's more the doing of Al Montoya, the goalie picked off the scrap heap a year ago, who's been playing like the goalie with the 15-year contract was supposed to be playing like. After losing the first game of a home-and-home to the New Jersey Devils, 1-0, Montoya and the Islanders not only won two in a row, beating the Devils on Saturday, 3-2, and Buffalo on Tuesday, 2-1, but those were their first two road wins of the year and their first back-to-back wins since October. Montoya now has a sparkling 2.06 GAA, a .933 save percentage and he even has a winning record (4-3-1). Meanwhile, after the Devils defeated the Islanders on Saturday in a goalies' duel, with Johan Hedberg earning the shutout, they lost in controversial fashion the following day, when Zach Parise appeared to score the tying goal just before the final buzzer went off. But the goal was disallowed, when the replay gurus in Toronto claimed Parise kicked the puck in the net, but that judgment call is still up for debate. An Ilya Kovalchuk turnover led to the winning goal, when Michael Grabner swooped in, stole the puck and put it in the net. And on Wednesday, though Kovalchuk scored the only goal in New Jersey's 6-1 trouncing at the hands of the Avalanche, he was minus-4 in the game, and Martin Brodeur was hung out to dry, letting in all six goals against Colorado. There was no goaltenders' duel or controversy in this one. It was just a good old-fashioned butt kicking.
Slow and Steady: Things are predictably slow for the New York Yankees and New York Mets. The Bombers signed Freddy Garcia to a one-year deal in the neighborhood of $4 million, and the Mets are kicking the tires on potential closers while taking a wait-and-see approach with Jose Reyes. Those wild, carefree A.J. Burnett, Rafael Soriano, Jason Bay, Francisco Rodriguez spending sprees are a thing of the past -- unless George Steinbrenner rises from the dead and signs Albert Pujols.
Tanned, Rested & Ready: The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry could use a bit of spicing up, and who better than Bobby Valentine to do that? The now-dysfunctional Red Sox will be even more entertaining than ever before with the controversial Valentine at the helm. He's Billy Martin without the alcoholism. Leo Durocher without the gambling. John McGraw with a computer. He has baggage and a lightning-rod personality, but who's smarter than he is between the white lines? He outmanaged Buck Showalter, Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox and Dusty Baker in the 1999 and 2000 playoffs, and he took the Mets, with an outfield of Timo Perez, Jay Payton and Benny Agbayani, not to mention Mike Bordick at short and Todd Zeile at first, to the World Series, so contending with Boston's roster should be a piece of cake for him. But things surely won't go smoothly with the combustible combination of Valentine and the inmates that ran the asylum in Fenway last season.
And that's the New York week that was (with a little Boston and Buffalo thrown in for good measure).