The Yankees have more at stake in their series against the Rangers than just an American League Championship. Going all the way back to the beginning of time (is that too far?), New York teams are undefeated in playoff series against Dallas squads. This year's ALCS is, amazingly, only the sixth New York-Dallas playoff matchup in all four major sports (and yes, I'm counting the Rangers even though they play in Arlington). The Yankees have defeated the Rangers three previous times, with the initial beat down happening in 1996, when the Bombers won the ALDS, 3-1 (Darren Oliver was pitching for Texas back than also). The Rangers were swept in 1998 and '99, and only managed to score one run in the whole series in '99.
Even though the Giants and Cowboys have a rivalry spanning decades, they've only met once in the postseason, back in 2007, when the eventual-Super Bowl-champion Giants went into Texas and whipped the 'Boys in their own backyard, with Brandon Jacobs powering in the winning touchdown. The only chance the Jets have had for a Texas showdown was back in the fledgling days of the AFL when they were known as the Titans and the Chiefs began life as the Dallas Texans, before moving to Kansas City in 1963. While Dallas beat the Oilers in an all-Texas AFL Championship in 1962, the Titans/Jets wouldn't make the playoffs until their 1968 Super Bowl-winning season. In the USFL, the New Jersey Generals qualified for the playoffs twice but never met a Dallas team, mainly because there wasn't one. The closest was the Houston Gamblers, but Houston doesn't count because it's in Houston, not Dallas.
In basketball, the Knicks and Mavericks have never met, nor have the Nets and Mavs. Back in the ABA, the Nets (or Americans, as they were known in their inaugural season) never faced off against the old Dallas Chaparrals (who moved and became the San Antonio Spurs in 1973). On the ice, the Rangers have yet to meet Dallas in the Stanley Cup Finals, though the Devils smacked around the Stars to win the 2000 Cup (we'll count the Devils as "New York" in this instance). The Islanders sent the North Stars packing for their second of four consecutive Cups in '81, but that was the Minnesota version, so that won't count either. There was no Dallas team in the WHA, so the New York Raiders/Golden Blades/New Jersey Knights couldn't square off against Dallas in the playoffs, not that they ever qualified in the first place. Again, Houston had the nearest team, but the Aeros don't count (and I can't even make any Urban Cowboy wisecracks either, because that was also Houston).
So, it's New York five, Dallas nothing, with our winning streak on the line. And now on to the top stories of the week in the world of New York sports:
The Ghosts of Playoffs Past: The Yankees-Rangers series has been like an LCS greatest hits. There was the Jeffrey Maier/Derek Jeter home run moment with Robinson Cano's game four clout. Brett Gardner had to fight off a Steve Bartman clone in the same game (Mets trivia: Luis Castillo hit the Bartman ball, while Moises Alou tried to catch it). Joe Girardi and A.J. Burnett did their Grady Little/Pedro Martinez impression when Burnett was left in the game a little too long. A Molina brother hit a backbreaking home run against a New York team. A dominating Cliff Lee channeled Mike Scott circa 1986. Texas mimicked the 1972 A's when they successful swiped home in a double steal, as Oakland did against Detroit. And a star player (Mark Teixeira) tore his hamstring, a la, once again, the '72 A's, when Reggie Jackson did the same in that aforementioned double steal of home. When the eighth inning of game one ended, it seemed like the series belonged to the Yankees right then and there, but Texas not only bounced back, they took control of the ALCS. But after the dust settled with two games remaining, the Yankees are still breathing, thanks to Cano, CC Sabathia and Curtis Granderson. David Stern did announce after the Bombers' win that he wants to cut Yankee player salaries by a third, though, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell fined the Yankee Stadium warning track for a helmet to butt hit on Lance Berkman. Finally, somebody, please, tell Gardner to stop sliding into first. The only reason to do it is to avoid a tag, otherwise it just slows you down. He would have had an infield hit in game three if he would have just kept running, and maybe even had a chance to run over Lee and knock him out of the game.
Trap Game: While Tom Coughlin wouldn't use the "T" word, the Giants had to do everything but chew their own leg off to escape from the trap, but escape they did, hanging on for a 28-20 victory. The defense knocked another quarterback out of the game, with Osi Umenyiora becoming the king of the strip sack, Deon Grant made plays all over the field and Jonathan Goff is getting better and better. Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs ate up yardage all day long, with the help of Bear Pascoe's blocking. But ultimately, the one-win Lions kept shooting themselves in the foot, and the Giants just waited them out until the game was won. But Big Blue's victory wasn't good enough for the relentlessly bitter and disgruntled C.C. Brown, who had ripped into Eli Manning all week, and even did so after the game. Manning carving up the Detroit D to the tune of a 20-for-30, 177-yard, two-TD, zero-interception performance didn't impress the journeyman safety. He insisted he and the Lions "gave" him plays. Well, sure, C.C., that's because you're terrible. That's what terrible players do. He also claims the Giants owe him an apology. I think it would be more fitting, though, if he apologized to Giant fans for his part in last season's debacle. Brown's outburst brings to mind an incident from 1991, when Craig Hodges won the three-point shooting contest. Asked if his victory was tainted because Larry Bird didn't participate that year, Hodges said, "He knows where to find me." When told of Hodges' boast, the Celtic great replied with a succinct, yet highly effective quip: "Yeah, at the end of the Bulls bench."
Grand Larceny: To a man, the Jets claim they stole the game, and got out of town as quickly as possible. Their prayers were answered with the fourth-down Hail Mary that will most likely be remembered in Denver for years to come. That's two nail-biters in a row, and two subpar outings by Mark Sanchez, who threw his first picks of the season. But that's what good teams do--they win when they're not at their best. And the victory gives Gang Green the best record in the NFL. Whether it's 24-20 or 24-0, a win smells and tastes just as sweet. In fact, the Jets fifth victory has the enticing aroma of one of Wilma Flintstone's yabba-dabba-dooberry pies that always had Fred floating into the air as he took a sniff. The Jets now head into their bye week, with their biggest concern being that no one on the team gets arrested, which is always a crapshoot for them.
No. 1: Ladies and gentlemen, you're first-place New York Islanders. Not since the Little Rascals has there been a more ingenious, plucky group of kids. Kyle Okposo and Mark Streit out on injured reserve? No problem. They lost in OT to Pittsburgh on Friday, but that was largely due to a phantom penalty, and for the rest of the week they couldn't lose, beating Colorado, 5-2, on Saturday, defeating the Leafs, 2-1, on Monday thanks to a John Tavares overtime goal, and whipping Tampa Bay last night when Matt Moulson put home the game-winner in OT. I think I even saw Petey the dog on their bench this week. Just before the puck dropped on opening night, the atmosphere around the Isles was one of dread and disaster, with all the injuries piling up in preseason, but they've impressively shrugged all that off, and have played with passion and energy.
Happy Days Are Here Again: The Rangers' home opener on Friday couldn't have been more of a disaster. Marian Gaborik separated his shoulder and Chris Drury broke his finger (again), and we found out Vinny Prospal would be having knee surgery and why Ace Frehley wasn't the lead singer of Kiss. The Blueshirts did pick up a point, thanks to two third-period Brian Boyle goals, but lost in OT. On Monday, vs. Colorado, they lost the game on special teams, when they went 0-5 on the power play and 0-2 killing penalties. Worried about his team fading into oblivion so early, John Tortorella dipped into his bag of leadership skills, channeling his heroes, Toe Blake, Scotty Bowman, Herb Brooks and, coincidentally, the recently deceased Tom Bosley, who co-starred on Happy Days. What would Mr. C say to Richie, Potsie and Ralph when they got into one of their jams, mused the Ranger coach. So Tortorella sat his team down and gave them a sensible talk using reason and common sense, while Mrs. T made cookies for them, and last night's solid, all-around well-played game was the result. After the win, Tortorella arranged for Henry Winkler to stop by the locker room to give the team a thumbs up and one big "Aaaayyyy."
The Rock (Bottom): The Devils entered last night's game with a 1-4-1 record, after falling to Colorado and Boston this week. Their high-powered offense wasn't very high-powered, their defense wasn't your father's New Jersey Devils' defense and Martin Brodeur was starting to play like the 38-year-old that he is. A desperate John MacLean declared to his team before last night's game against Montreal that if they pulled out a win, he would grow one of those outrageous mutton-chops-mustache-and-beard configurations like that guy who started the Rent Is Too Damn High Party, and start making outrageous quotes about his karate skills in his post-game press conferences to boot. And what do you know? That did the trick, as the Devils played their best game of the year last night. And now they're hoping that they've already hit rock bottom and are ready to take off.
Ass-Clown Redux: The Mets and Frankie Rodriguez settled their dispute out of court this week. The team doesn't have to pay him the $3.1 million for the time missed at the end of the 2010 season, and the Mets agreed not to try and void his contract. It looks like the Mets are planning on keeping the angry closer around for next year (though maybe the new GM, whittled down to the final six candidates by the Mets this week, will have other ideas about that), and he's most likely untradeable anyway. But if K-Rod comes to spring training dressed in a clown outfit, while listening to "Pagliacci," and threatening to put the kibosh on one of his teammates, a la Crazy Joe Davola, then it might be in their best interest to make him disappear.
(For in-depth analysis and discussion of the Yankees, Mets, Giants, Jets, Rangers, Islanders and Devils, go to SB Nation's Pinstripe Alley, Amazin' Avenue, Big Blue View, Gang Green Nation, Blueshirt Banter, Lighthouse Hockey and In Lou We Trust, respectively.)