Thursday, August 23, 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your 2007 Minnesota Vikings!

I'm not ashamed to say it was one of the worst days of my life. Not that I actively keep track of those kinds of things. But January 18th, 1999 is in the top 10.

That's the day when the Vikings' incredible 1998 season came to a screeching halt at the hands of Chris Freaking Chandler and the Atlanta Falcons. I distinctly remember watching Gary Anderson's field goal drift to the left, his ONLY miss of the ENTIRE year of course, which would have given the Vikings a 10 point lead and essentially ice the game. I obviously was not the only fan who saw Chris Freaking Chandler (I insist on using his full name) trot out after the miss, feeling like I was looking at some kind of insane mutant hybrid concoction of Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas and Superman, essentially ready to say to everyone watching, "Hey what's up? We're tying this game, okay? You know that, right? I hope everyone here knows that. So, Vikings defense, can you just kind of roll over for us please? Yeah, like that. Thanks." To say I wasn't surprised at the proceedings is an insult to my Viking fanhood up to that point.

You know the rest of the story. Tie game, Denny Green inexplicably takes a knee, despite 40 seconds still showing on the clock, 2 timeouts yet to be taken, and the most powerful offense in the HISTORY OF THE NFL up to that point at his disposal, which essentially is like Phil Jackson saying to MJ during a playoff game, "I know the game's tied, and there's only about a minute left, but I'm gonna have you just hang out on the bench til we get to overtime, is that cool?" Or like going up to Denny Green and asking, "Can you just punch me in the face right now?" I could trot out a million examples of how devastatingly stupid this decision was, but the point is, there's not a Vikings fan I know that doesn't get worked up about it to this day.

They proceed to do nothing in overtime, eventually losing on a 38 yard field goal by Morten Anderson. I remember making the slow walk upstairs, peeling off my Randy Moss jersey like it were covered in infectious disease, and taking the longest shower of my life. Yeah, it was bad.

Little did I know that day would become depressing for another reason entirely: it was my peak as a Vikings fan, in terms of interest, passion, devotion, whatever you want to call it. It was all downhill from there.

These days, it's weird for me to look back at that game and remember how depressed I was afterwards. It feels like a million years ago. Recently I started to wonder why that is; I still watch at least 6 hours of NFL football (sorry, the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE) every Sunday, I'm in at least two fantasy leagues every year, I make friendly bets, football's always a huge topic of discussion both at work and among my friends, etc. Yet last year, as the season wore on, something changed. Watching the Vikings had become more of a chore, more of a tedious obligation, and it was BORING as hell.

I may be a Vikings fan, but I'm not a mindless idiot and I won't watch anything thrown in front of me. Trying to watch them last year was the equivalent of a band like Metallica releasing a pure disco album with some poor impressionable fanboy feeling obligated to listen to it, because god forbid if he didn't like it, he wouldn't be a REAL fan now would he? Well, screw that. I'm not going to watch 97 straight off-tackle handoffs. I'm not going to watch the same sort of playcalling I could walk down the street and see at Bloomington Jefferson high school.

In the past few years, there was seemingly ALWAYS something going on with the Vikings, on or off the field, and it all culminated with the comical Lake Minnetonka incident and Mike Tice's firing. Subsequently, they made a knee-jerk hire, getting the most straight-laced exciting-as-watching-grass-grow coach they could get, with the #1 priority being not to let himself or any of his players further embarrass the franchise. After watching the Vikings last season, or trying to, I get the feeling that during the interview process, they decided to tack on one more question for Childress at the last second as he was leaving, "Uh, you can actually COACH a football team and manage a game, right? Just checking."

Turns out, not only can he manage a game that drives me to go do my laundry instead of watch, but he also falls right into the head-coach-ego-circle-jerk that feels it is in the best interest to form the team according to his own system, rather than form his system to the team's strengths. Hey, he even said himself after he was hired, "This could be my only opportunity to be a head coach in this league, so I have to try it MY way." He might as well have kept talking - "Wide receivers, who needs em? Hell, any name players on offense at all whatsoever? Nuts to that! In fact, let's make a huge reach with our 2nd round draft pick to get a guy who only played Division II college football, because I'm full enough of myself to believe that I think I can mold this guy into what I want him to be for my system. And once I do that, who gets the credit? Me!"

I remember being so eager to get rid of Tice as a coach. "ANYBODY but him" was the sentiment. Well, we GOT anybody but him. I'm forced to remember when the Steelers were stuck with Kordell Stewart as their starting quarterback for years and years, with their fanbase begging and pleading for coach Bill Cowher to dump him and start someone else, ANYBODY else. And when they got ANYBODY else (Tommy Maddox), there was a brief honeymoon period, before the fanbase seemed to collectively realize, "Hey, wait a second... TOMMY MADDOX is our quarterback?!? How did this happen????" Call it the Kordell Corollary. That's really the only feeling I have this year about the Vikings, other than total apathy. I'm nostalgic for Mike Freaking Tice (let's also use his full name). And it sucks.

The old adage goes, "Tis better to have loved than not loved at all." There's a similar, more accurate adage for me these days that goes, "Tis better to have suffered than not rooted at all."

Sunday, August 19, 2007

When Baseball Cards Made Players Stars Before They Ever Did a Damn Thing

With each passing day, seemingly, people of my generation (born in the early 80s) are turning into the old Dana Carvey exaggerated-old-man character. "Back in MY day, we didn't HAVE iPods or PSPs! We had Tiger games! Those shitty hand-held games that ran off of 8 D-cell batteries and still only lasted 45 minutes! And we liked it, weeeeeeee LOVED it!"

These days, my tune is something like: "We didn't have this fancy shmacy technological computer garbage to waste our money on! We had baseball cards! Back then, we thought they were going to be worth thousands of dollars! What are they worth now? NOTHING! Does it matter? NO! Because we liked it, weeeeeeee LOVED it!"

This was all brought on by a price guide I found while going through some old crap at my parents' house the other day. A Beckett Baseball Card Monthly price guide, from May 1992, with Steve Avery on the cover.

1992 was in the middle of a great time for baseball. Fresh off an outstanding World Series the year before, still before anyone fathomed the thought of a strike or god forbid even the World Series getting canceled, with a slew of great young players coming up. Ehh, actually, scratch that last part. One of the great things about baseball cards is that it made huge stars of guys before they'd done a damn thing in the majors. Guys like:

Phil Plantier - 1991 Topps Stadium Club
Value circa May 1992 - $14.00 (Please bear in mind that $14 is a TON of money to an 8 year old)
Current worth - NOTHING

I was always kind of flabbergasted, even as an impressionable 8 year old, that this guy's cards were worth as much as they were. I distinctly remember having a conversation with a kid who lived down the road from me whose persuit of owning every Phil Plantier rookie card consumed his young life. It went something like this:
Me: How many home runs did he have last year?
Him, looking at the back of the card: It says he didn't have any...
Me: So why's it worth so much?
Him: I don't know...
Me, now looking at the back of the card: What team is Pawtucket?
Him: I don't know...
Career Stats - .243 career batting average, 91 career HRs, .771 career OPS in 8 seasons with 5 different ballclubs
What's he doing now? - Managing the Macon Music, current titleholder of the worst sports franchise name in recorded history.

Brien Taylor - 1992 Topps Stadium Club Dome
Value circa May 1992 - $14.00
Current worth - NOTHING

Yes, all you have to do is be the first overall pick by the New York Yankees in order for your cards to be ridiculously inflated in value! You don't even need to pitch an inning of actual major league baseball! Just make sure you actually GET to the majors eventually. Of course, a 1993 bar fight didn't exactly help that cause.
Career Stats - No Major League stats
What's he doing now? - Working in real-estate, so sayeth Wikipedia.

Ben McDonald - 1991 Leaf Studio
Value circa May 1992 - $0.35
Current worth - NOTHING

Alright, I have a cheat a bit here, because technically this card wasn't worth anything in 1992 (that's how fast this guy burned out), but still, everyone remembers Ben McDonald, who was pretty much a poor man's Ben Sheets (right down to the Olympic career). Everyone among my circle of friends at the time was also tripping over themselves to get their hands on the brand new Leaf Studio series, which featured pictures of really ugly baseball players in a photo studio. Awesome, I really want airbrushed pictures of Randy Johnson's mullet and Eric Show's mustache.
Career Stats - 78-70 record, 1.257 WHIP, 3.91 ERA... Hey, that's not that bad! What the hell!
What's he doing now? - Probably running around telling people "Hey! I wasn't THAT bad, you douchebags! I had a 3.91 ERA! THREE POINT NINE ONE!"

Todd Van Poppel - 1992 Fleer Rookie Sensations
Value circa May 1992 - $15.00
Current worth - NOTHING

This guy is pretty much the reason I made this entry. Who doesn't hate Todd Van Poppel? In fact, I shouldn't even say this card is worth nothing, because its comedic value is almost unmatched. When you want to torture a contemporary, or even your worst enemy, just shower him with Todd Van Poppel cards. Horrible memories of wasted time and money will come rushing back. I still can't get that straight-as-an-arrow fastball out of my head. He made LaTroy Hawkins look like Roger Clemens.
Career Stats - 40-52 record, 5.58 ERA, 1.549 WHIP over 11 years with 6 teams, mostly as a reliever
What's he doing now? - Who knows.

Gregg Jefferies - 1989 Topps Future Stars
Value circa May 1992 - I don't know, I'm too angry to look
Current worth - NOTHING

Just looking at this card gets me pissed off. I wish I were kidding. I traded like four Tom Glavine cards for this and his Donruss Rated Rookie way back in the day, thinking I was totally fleecing my friend, because he was a Glavine fanboy. I even ended up getting a 1989 Topps set for Christmas that year, overjoyed that I now had TWO of these cards, completely oblivious that I would eventually get more and more depressed as Jefferies hit .210 like 57 years in a row. I feel like throwing on a black t-shirt, listening to Morrissey and cutting myself with a thumbtack while writing some crappy poetry about somehow finding a sabremetrical way to prove that Gregg Jefferies actually DOESN'T suck, and that somehow his cards WILL be worth something and that this impossibly deep emotional rollercoaster will have a happy ending. I'm not even going to post your career stats, and I don't CARE what you're doing now. Screw you, Gregg Jefferies.

Honorable mentions that weren't quite awful/anger-inducing enough to make this entry (just players in general) - Todd Zeile, Eric Karros, J.T. Snow, Steve Avery, David Justice, Earl Cunningham, Ryan Klesko, and Scott Erickson. We haven't forgotten about you. Bastards.

(Special thanks to