As a life-long restaurant employee, I think I have a different view of New Years Eve and New Years Day than most. For me, theyve always meant one thing- work. That its a different kind of work, Ill give you. The two-day ritual of celebration lends itself to no end of amusing situations and, of course, most have to do with the level of beverage consumption. For those in my business, this weekend will be the end of our silly season. Next week will bring the turn of the calendar and the reality of another long winter will be in front of us.
Its what the holiday signifies that is the cool thing. Its our reset button. The angst that many feel during the holidays should be gone, at least until the credit card bills come in, and its time to go a little crazy. Of course, as always for me, there are also sporting ramifications.
I cant remember a college bowl season that I have had as little interest in. Admittedly Im still in a funk over the happenings at Penn State, but for most of my life Ive been a bowl fanatic. I think that had to do with the two-week frenzy of activity leading up to the smorgasbord of games on Jan. 1. Now we have a bloated, irrelevant slate of 35 games spread out over a mind-numbing 23 days, which includes 6 after New Years. Thats 70 bowl teams, out of 120! What is this the NHL? I guess the NCAA wants to put the bowl in the Football Bowl Subdivision! (Can we just go back to Division I, please?)Included this year are 15 teams that went 7-5, 13 that went 6-6 and, ridiculously, one that went 6-7. Nothing like rewarding mediocrity. Whats next, everyone gets a trophy? Lets call it what it is: a cash grab! Are any of the stadiums for half of these games even half full? No! The people where these games are played are as apathetic as I am. What the games really are is ESPN holiday programming. AGAIN, what we need is a playoff: 16 teams, using 15 of the existing bowls, over 21 days. Everyone else can go back to class, since thats what the NCAA cares about, right? The student athlete? I wont hold my breath. But thats what the spirit of the New Year is about: All that can be better in the future.
This year, the New Year will bring an NFL Sunday. I can live with that. Theres plenty of playoff intrigue, plus the Bears are a car wreck that you cant take your eyes off of! Then during the evening, The Bulls open the home portion of their championship schedule. Say what you want about the NBA, but any game with Derrick Rose, is one worth watching. Fortunately with the ultra-condensed schedule, he can be in your living room every other night for the 4 months. Then he will be in the NBA playoffs, where the first round takes three weeks to complete a seven game series. (Dont get me started!)
College Bowl Day will be on Monday. Ill watch the Rose Bowl, because no matter who is playing, I enjoy watching the game. Theres always perfect weather, the field is pristine and its cool that the game starts in bright sunshine and ends in the dark of night. Not to mention, besides the National Title Game, it also has the best football matchup: The finesse and explosiveness of the Oregon Ducks versus the bulk and power of the Wisconsin Badgers. Its a shame this game wasnt a national semifinal, but Ill stop beating that horse.(At least here anyway, come into the bar if you want it uncensored!)
The other game on Monday that Im looking forward to is not even a football game. Its the NHL Winter Classic featuring the Flyers against the New York Rangers in Citizens Bank Ballpark in Philadelphia. I think the NHL playing outside is cool, especially if theyre fortunate enough to get a little snow. The game isnt always the best, as the ice condition can vary wildly, but the scenery is always surreal. I always think back to skating on the ice at Wrigley Field before the game here 3 years ago. It was very exciting for me, but even more so was watching how excited the Hawks alumni and national hockey press were. It was like a bunch of kids playing hooky. I remember the look in former Hawk Brian Noonans eyes when he told me he was more than a little jealous of the guys that were getting a chance to live a dream and play outside as pros with the hockey world watching.
The added intrigue of the game is due to the 247 series for the game on HBO. The four episodes for the game last year between the Penguins and Capitals was as good as any sports program I have ever watched. For a fan, getting behind the scenes access is something we all crave. With the constant presence of the cameras, they are able to catch a lot of real moments. This year has lived up to the hype as it follows the bitter rivals non-stop leading up to the big game.
Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov is everything you would expect of a person who stops frozen rubber disks for a living. Honestly? The universe? Dogs as blonde women? Yikes! And Scottie Hartnell off the ice is not quite what you would expect. (Makes me wish they had done this before the Hawks-Wings game.)
But in both last year and this years episodes, its the coaches who steal the show. There is a reason these guys are responsible for leading men into battle. The force of their will is undeniable when you see it in so many instances. Much unlike what we are used to when we watch certain coaches during their news conferences. So many times, you just want to say: Why cant you just show a little emotion and say something more than a clich? Well, these guys take it to another level. When I talk about last years show, I tell people that it got me to like (former) Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, who until that point, I had despised. This years show features Rangers coach John Tortorella and my guy Peter Laviolette. Its easy to see why both have their names etched on Lord Stanleys Cup, although I still have a little of my disdain towards Tortorella. What can I say? I mean, he is coaching the Rangers! (One word of warning: The language these guys use would make Rex Bleeping Ryan blush!)
But most of all, what the new year will bring, is hope. I know we learned in Shawshank that hope can be a dangerous thing, but for those of us who have been involved in long-time unrequited relationships with our beloved teams, its about all we have to hold on to. This has to be the year! Doesnt it?
The best part is that the slate has been wiped clean, in some cases 103 times! (Im sorry, had to take it. We only tease the ones we love!) The changing of the calendar is like Opening Day for our lives, rooting or otherwise. Instead of dwelling on the past, we can celebrate the fact that it is the past.
So come on in, pull up a stool, and entertain me this weekend. We can laugh as we look back at how our teams imploded last year and point out how thing will be different this year. Hopefully, this is the year we get it right.