Thursday, November 22, 2012

Spare Neurons - Turkey Day Edition

by Hal Bent, BostonSportPage.com

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  I am thankful that I have a forum to share my thoughts on sports with you all, and especially that you take your valuable time to read my little blog.  Readers can check-out my Thanksgiving Family Memories and Sports here, but this is all Boston Sports. Jumping right in as the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade rolls by on the television and my lovely wife and my nine-year-old daughter bake in the kitchen:


  • RED SOX:
    • Jonny Gomes. Well, cannot say it is a surprise. A lefty-masher to platoon in left-field and fill in at DH if Ortiz goes down with an injury was somewhere on General Manager Ben Cherington's list. Gomes will hit with some power, unfortunately make Manny Ramirez look like a gold glove outfielder in comparison, and strike out a lot. He is a spare part to fill in the bench: nothing more.  At best, he takes over for Cody Ross as surprise power hitter in the outfield for a year before moving on. It appears the Sox want to have rookies Ryan Kalish, Alex Hassan, and Jerry Sands compete for space in the outfield next to Jacoby Ellsbury (provided he's not moved for pitching and prospects this off-season).
  • PATRIOTS:
    • A Thanksgiving Day showdown against the hated Jets is on tap for tonight.  After the Jets lost their Super Bowl against the Pats the New Yorkers over-reacted as ususal and declared their season dead as a door-nail.  Following up with a win over the terrible St Louis Rams (they were creamed 45-7 by the Patriots after all), the pendulum has swung and suddenly the Jets are a win against the Patriots from being an unstoppable juggernaut rolling into the Super Bowl behind superstar Mark Sanchez.  
    • The Jets know they have to come out and play a perfect game against the Patriots, even without having to face Chandler Jones and Rob Gronkowski.  Turn-overs, special teams, and the match-up in the trenches looms large in this game.  The Jets have to rattle Brady, stuff the run, pass the ball effectively, and get Shonn Green in rhythm for 100+ yards on the ground.  Heck, that is EVERY team's recipe against the Patriots.  
    • The Patriots have the talent to win going away on the road against the Jets. What usually happens is Rex Ryan brings enough wrinkles on offense and defense to get the Patriots off their game. It's like fighting against someone more technically proficient and stronger. They cannot be beat by lining up and fighting traditionally. Instead, you have to have them dragged down to a brawl in the mud and negate their advantages, enrage them, get them to stop thinking and then there is a chance to gut out  a win.  The Patriots need to stay out of that trap.
      • WHAT TO WATCH FOR TONIGHT: 
        • Can Steven Ridley and the Patriots running backs get back to turning second and long into third and short or a first down?  They did it so effectively in the first half of the season and have lost that momentum.
        • Can the Patriots defense generate pressure on Mark Sanchez without Chandler Jones in the line-up? Rob Ninkovich and Jermaine Cunningham have the ability, and don't discount Trevor Scott coming in on third down to rush the outside with fresh legs and Cunningham moving inside next to Vince Wilfork. 
        • Can the Patriots secondary eliminate their mental mistakes and get the squad off the field on third down?  The Patriots getting opposing offenses off the field in a three-and-out has been huge for the offense.  Then, the Patriots can go hurry-up and wear down the defense and run up a lead and turn the opposition into a one-dimensional offense as they play from behind.  It all starts with a stop on third down. 
        • Can the Patriots prevent big plays on Special Teams? Making big plays is as good as stopping them. Devin McCourty had that huge touchdown return for a touchdown last game, and the Jets special teams is usually one of the best in the league.  Giving the Jets a short field or cheap touchdown must not be allowed to happen. 
        • Can the real Brandon Lloyd step up? How many times has Lloyd and Brady just missed by a fingertip on a long pass? A couple big plays by Lloyd could roll Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie off of Wes Welker and open the middle of the field for Tom Brady.  Hopefully, Cromartie will be too tired due to jetting around to visit all his children across the country on Thanksgiving to chase the Patriots receivers. 
OK, that's it for today. Have a happy, healthy, and safe Thanksgiving!

Spare Thanksgiving Neurons Before Tryptophan Kicks In

by Hal Bent, BostonSportPage.com

Before I pass on a few quick thoughts across the Boston sports scene this Thanksgiving before turkey kicks in, I thought I needed a brief trip down memory lane, starting with Thanksgiving itself, so much to be thankful for here at BostonSportPage.com.  I don't usually write in a stream-of-consciousness style (I tend to be deliberate and re-write often), but what the heck, its a holiday:

Sports always makes me think of how my Dad imbued me, his tenth child and first son, with a love of sports at an early age, and watching the Red Sox find new ways to lose on Channel 38 back in the early eighties and listen to the diatribes about how the Sox started breaking his heart in the forties when he was a child, how the Boston Braves were the working-class baseball team in those days, how he drifted away in the early sixties only to be sucked in by the Impossible Dream in '67, losing in '75, '78, and especially '86, where I remember the entire family in the living room watching the ALCS as Dave Henderson hit his game tying home run, and then how I watched game six in the living room and my Dad's instructions to wake him up for the last out and watching with him as the Red Sox imploded in spectacular fashion. Then, as I had my own family, the joy of 2004 and 2007 where my Dad finally saw the loser pull out the world series championship at long last.

The Patriots were a constant as a child as well, though they were only on television on the road as their terrible teams were always blacked out at home as Schaefer/Sullivan/Foxboro Stadium never sold out. The improbable run to the Super Bowl in 1986, again in the living room as a kid watching the Patriots FINALLY beat the Dolphins (squishing the fish, as it were), and then the horrible destruction of the team by the Bears in Super Bowl XX.  I remember that I would create signs and posters for every Super Bowl (rooting against the 49ers at every opportunity) and cheering on the Redskins (my adopted team as a child, as were the St. Louis Cardinals in baseball). I remember in '83 missing the second half of Super Bowl XVIII after the Raiders were destroying the Redskins and I was grounded for beating up my younger brother after he was taunting me.  That is the only time I ever missed any part of a Super Bowl that I can recall.

There were many afternoons listening to the Celtics on the radio or with Tommy Heinsohn on CBS and my Dad telling stories of Tommy-Gun and his instant offense for the old Celtics teams when he was younger.  Rooting for Larry Joe Bird, Cornbread Maxwell, and M.L. Carr  taking on the dreaded Lakers and 76ers.  The occasional Bruins games on TV38 always leading to the story from my Dad about how he tried to recreate Bobby Orr's famous goal while ice skating with the older kids and broke his wrist.

Watching the Bruins always meant my memories turned to when I had met my wife and we were first dating, and the many nights we sat on the couch as her step-dad sat in his recliner watching the Bruins on tv.  Many, many nights were spent there (it was a true hockey family, with both couches filled with her family) and I remember them fondly. How Sonny would appear asleep, eyes shut, recliner-back, snoring, and with some goal-line radar would bolt up shouting "gooooooallllllllll!" as the puck slid into the net.  It was amazing how he never missed a single goal. Those wonderful days as I ingratiated myself into the family...young and head-over-heels in love. Now, I'm older, but still head-over-heels in love with the same wonderful woman.

Sports brings my thoughts to family, and my own family as well.  Watching the Patriots march to their first Super Bowl with my newborn son in my lap.  Sitting on the coach in our first house, with my wife and my two best friends, and a snowstorm whirled around us outside and the tuck rule and Adam Vinatieri kicking his clutch field goals. How I put my infant son to bed at half-time of Super Bowl XXXVI and when the Rams tied the score, I ran back upstairs to wake him up and sit with me, my wife, and my two best friends again for good luck as Tom Brady marched the Patriots down the field as they went onto their improbable win, a Patriots Super Bowl victory--something even more improbable than what happened in 2004. 

My then three-year-old son running around in 2004 while I watched the playoffs as "the Rally Weasel" running around again and again in a circle.  The Sox were playing the Angels in the ALDS, and I was trying to come up with a way to counter-act the Rally Monkey. I figured a weasel would eat a monkey, so thus my son, the Rally Weasel, was created.  Then lying in bed next to my wife, holding her as the last out of 2004 was recorded and watching the celebration with her, thinking I had never thought this would happen. 

Going to my wife's grandparents house to watch the major pay-per-view boxing matches  is another great memory, I hold. The kids sleeping on the couch, watching the bouts and hanging with family is a cherished memory.  My Dad, like Gramps, are boxing fans from way back when boxing was an integral part of the American sports scene. Watching the bouts brought that feeling of family and connection across generations. 

Sports, like Thanksgiving, mean family to me. Even today, watching sports with the family (whether they want to or not!) is what life and love really means to me. Sports gave me a special bond with my Dad that I still feel today, and I am so thankful that I get to share my family with him and my mom (a charter member of the Carl Yastrzemski fan club and long-suffering Red Sox fan).  My Dad's father passed away when I was three, so I always felt I missed out so much not having my grandfather knowing how close he and my Dad were, and am so thankful that my children have had the opportunity to know and be loved not only by grand-parents, but great-grandparents, step-grand-parents, uncles, aunts, cousins (my wife is also from a large family) and even an honorary uncle (my best pal, their Silly Uncle Tim).  Life is family and love, and sports has played a major role in my life to bring together family and bond and share the love we have for each other. This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for my family and how sports has played such a major role in creating that bond. Love, life, family and sports. I am so thankful to so many for so much. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

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