With Christmas just two days away, it's only appropriate to wrap up the week and send us into the holiday with a Christmas Carol-type sports tale, with a Ghost of Christmas Past, Present and Future. Now I'm not sure who's exactly Ebenezer Scrooge in the upcoming story -- it may be me, it may be the New York Knicks franchise or it may be Patrick Ewing or Amar'e Stoudemire, but nevertheless, the story must be told (well, it doesn't have to be told, but it will, like it or not).
Back on Christmas day of 1985, I was living in a ramshackle apartment in enemy territory, namely Boston. Just about everyone I knew was out of town or otherwise occupied, and my family was scattered across the country, thousands of miles away. I was young so I wasn't too concerned or distraught about spending Christmas on my own. One thing I did forget to do, though, was buy any food. And when I walked around the neighborhood, there wasn't a store or restaurant open anywhere in sight. Not so much as a goose hanging in any window. So I heated up the one can of soup I had and flipped on the black-and-white TV, which sported a wire clothes hanger for an antenna (ok, now this anecdote sounds like it took place in 19th-century England and I was dining on gruel -- maybe I'm Bob Cratchit or Tiny Tim in all this). But broadcast on that Christmas day was the Knicks' Ghost of Christmas Past -- one of the great all-time comebacks in team (or NBA for that matter) history. Rookie Patrick Ewing and his lowly Knicks (23-59 that year) beat one of the best teams basketball has ever seen, the 1985-'86 Boston Celtics. But they didn't just beat them, they overcame a third-quarter 25-point deficit and came out victorious, and adding to the drama were two overtime periods.
So as I spooned up my Christmas dinner of chicken noodle soup (I did actually have silverware and a bowl), I watched the Celtics jump out to a 46-32 halftime lead. And soon in the second half, Larry Bird and Co. were winning by a seemingly insurmountable 58-33 cushion. The Celtics had Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge in the starting lineup, not to mention Bill Walton and Scott Wedman coming off the bench. There was no way they could lose this game. But 32 Ewing points and 11 rebounds later, along with Rory Sparrow's 22 points and eight assists and reserves Gerald Wilkins (14 points), Pat Cummings (11 rebounds) and Ken Bannister (eight points, 14 rebounds) all chipping in, the Knicks celebrated Christmas with a 113-104 win, and most likely dined on something more special than a can of soup.
This year, the two teams meet again on December 25th (the Ghost of Christmas Present). The Knicks will surely do better than the last-place 1986 edition of the team, while the Celtics will most likely not resemble their great '86 ancestors (who went on to win 46 of their last 54 games after that Christmas nightmare, along with the NBA Championship). We'll soon find out if this season's opening game of the year will prove to be just as memorable as the game 26 years ago. And what will the Ghost of Christmas Future show the Knicks when it gives the team a glimpse of its upcoming season? Will they be a powerhouse one year from now? Will they be coming off a long postseason run? And will I be eating something better two days from now than one lousy can of soup? Only the Ghosts know the answers to those questions.
And now on to the top stories of the week in the world of New York sports (oh, and the Knicks had other memorable Christmas-day games, like the one in 1984, when they were defeated by the New Jersey Nets, with Bernard King scoring 60 points in a losing cause, with 40 coming in the first half, but I don't have a soup story for that one).
No-Show: Ok, let's get this bit of craziness out of the way first: If the New York Giants win their last two games of the season they will win their division. Of course, they've only managed to win one of their last six, and that one came with a miracle ending, so winning two in a row is a tall task for this team. Chris Canty succinctly summed up the Giants' showing in Sunday's 23-10 loss to the Redskins when he called their performance "embarrassing." Maybe for the offense it was just a matter of execution -- if Hakeem Nicks didn't drop that long pass in the first quarter or let the ball slip right through his hands in the end zone later in the game or if Mario Manningham ran the right route or if Eli Manning didn't make a couple of poor throws or if Lawrence Tynes didn't miss an easy field goal, the ending might have been different. And the defense only ended up allowing 23 points, which should be good enough to defeat the Redskins, yet they had trouble with coverage and making tackles once again. Like the offense, if they would have made a few extra plays, the ending might have been different. But, while it may be unfair to damn a team by labeling it one that doesn't have heart or character or grit or toughness, it sure looked like the Giants barely showed up for this must-win game over last-place Washington. There was no carryover from their inspiring victory over the Cowboys, no momentum, no taking their destiny-in-their-own-hands position and grabbing the 'Skins by the throat. Instead, they played the game like walking zombies, sleepwalking through the afternoon. They talk the talk, but they surely don't walk the walk. Well, there's always next week. But soon, very soon, they're going to run out of "next weeks."
Blown Up: We could just say, "See above, and wherever it says ‘Giants' insert ‘Jets' and replace ‘Hakeem Nicks' with ‘Santonio Holmes,'" about the New York Jets' 45-19 thrashing at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles, and it would pretty much be accurate. Holmes had a day to forget, as he singlehandedly handed the Eagles their first 14 points of the game, and he later embarrassed himself, when, after scoring a touchdown to make the game 28-10, he foolishly, idiotically, selfishly (take your pick) committed an unsportsmanlike taunting penalty. Really? Your team is getting blown out and humiliated and you're taunting the opponent who is handing you your lunch? And Holmes was one of the Jets who spoke out about Stevie Johnson's boneheaded act as well. Unfortunately, that is just routine, run-of-the-mill behavior in the NFL these days, a look-at-me act that supersedes any sense of what's good for the team or the circumstances of the game. His teammates were right beside him, though, in the turnover department, and the defense couldn't stop Michael Vick and the Eagles' offense at all. Like the Giants, they had everything in front of them right where they wanted it, but took their prosperous position and blew it up with a hand grenade. But also like the Giants, they're not dead yet -- they just played like they were last Sunday.
The Battles of New York: Not only do the Giants "visit" the Jets on Saturday (for previews, news and updates click here, and for a history of the series go here), but the Knicks battled the Nets in two preseason matchups and the three local hockey teams staged a turf war (or is it ice war?) of their own this past week. As for the football teams, Rex Ryan got the trash talk rolling, with his usual bombastic proclamations about the Jets' place in the city and his thoughts on the Giants, and seemingly everyone but Tom Coughlin added their two cents, including Holmes, Nicks, Kareem McKenzie and on and on. The Knicks and Nets didn't engage in a war of words, but the two teams did make some last-minute additions to their roster. The Knicks signed Steve Novak and Baron Davis, though they'll have to wait awhile for Davis to be healthy enough to play, and the Nets added Kris Humphries, who signed a one-year $8 million contract (after his 10-day contract with Kim Kardashian expired), DeShawn Stevenson and Mehmet Okur, after they got the devasting news that Brook Lopez will be out four to eight weeks with a broken foot, which of course affects any trade scenario for Dwight Howard. On the court, the two teams warmed up for their regular-season openers with a pair of exhibition games, with the Knicks winning both. The first one on Saturday was a slop-fest, with Iman Shumpert (16 points) starring for New York while Lopez scored 15 points and grabbed an un-Lopez-like 11 rebounds for the Nets (so much for promising starts). In the rematch on Wednesday, Carmelo Anthony ran the offense, scored 21 points and hauled in eight rebounds, Tyson Chandler had 12 boards and two blocks, Deron Williams also poured in 21 points while handing out seven assists and poor Humphries had the wrath of the Kardashian-hating crowd rain down on him every time he touched the ball. On the ice, the New York Rangers took on both the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders this week, with Henrik Lundqvist continuing his mastery of Martin Brodeur and stopping the Devils' winning streak with a 4-1 win, though the game was a lot closer than the score indicated, and they also ended the Isles' winning streak, with a 4-2 victory. In the non-rivalry games, the Rangers used every spare second there was to defeat the Coyotes on Saturday, 3-2, when Brad Richards scored the winner with .1 seconds left, the Devils shellacked the Stars 6-3 on Friday (with Zach Parise notching four points) and beat the Canadiens, 5-3, on Saturday. And the Isles got their first extra-time win of the season on Saturday, with a 2-1 shootout victory over the Wild, and did it again vs. the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, this time winning 3-2 (though Al Montoya had to leave the game with a concussion).
No. 27: Last Friday, the Devils hoisted their third retired number to the rafters, when they honored the best offensive defenseman in team history, Scott Niedermayer, as he joins Ken Daneyko's No. 3 and Scott Stevens' No. 4 (is it fitting that the first three Devils' retired jerseys were worn by defensemen?). Niedermayer won just about every championship there was to win in his long career: the Olympic gold medal, Memorial Cup, World Cup, World Junior Ice Hockey Championship gold, IIHF World Championship gold and four Stanley Cups (three with the Devils). He made the All-Rookie Team, was a First-Team All-Star and played in three All-Star games while with New Jersey, won the Norris Trophy in 2004, won the Conn Smythe Trophy (while with the Ducks) and he led the league in playoff points in 2003, with 18 (tied with teammate Jamie Langenbrunner). In his 13 years with New Jersey, he scored 125 goals, had 414 assists and piled up 539 points. For his career, he compiled 740 points (172 goals, 568 assists) and was a plus-167. And he was filled with nothing but class and dignity throughout his whole career.
The Week of the Devil: One night after Niedermayer took his rightful place in the pantheon of Devils legends, Patrik Elias broke John MacLean's franchise goal-scoring record, with the 348th of his career (he's already the team's all-time assists and points leader). He tied the record and smashed it in the same game, and his second proved to be the game-winner in the 5-3 victory over the Canadiens. Elias' No. 26 will undoubtedly join the other three retired numbers when the Devil great slips off his jersey for the final time.
Baseball? There's not much going on for the New York Yankees or New York Mets. The Texas Rangers won the Yu Darvish sweepstakes, and the Mets continued to cut costs by eliminating their Port St. Lucie team from the rookie level Gulf Coast League. If things keep going the way they are, and the Wilpons continue to refuse to sell the team, the Mets may just quietly disband via a low-key press release.
And that's the New York week that was. But we'll leave you with a stirring, heartfelt speech on the true meaning of the upcoming holiday. And who better to give that speech than Bill Murray. So here is the big finale from Scrooged, when Murray tells us what the Christmas season is all about.