A happy and healthy Thanksgiving to everyone out there.
On this day of thanks, I thought it would be fun to list the 10 things I’ve been thankful for in 2008 when it comes to New York sports.
As a fan of the Mets, Jets, Knicks, Rangers, and Syracuse basketball team, I tried focusing on my teams but had to stray to come up with 10, especially with the teams’ lack of success.
10. The Major League Baseball All Star Game
I was lucky enough to be in attendance at the final All Star Game ever at Yankee Stadium. As I sat out in the left field bleachers, I couldn’t see everything, but I made sure I stuck around for all 15 innings and all five-plus hours in watching the American League pull out the victory and claim home field advantage in the World Series.
Seeing all the legends like Willie Mays and Hank Aaron was a once in a lifetime experience, and the whole night was as good as it gets for a baseball fan.
9. October Baseball without the Yankees
Now, the Mets weren’t part of the postseason either, so I know I’m opening myself up here for major criticism. However, after having to watch the Yankees extend their season for 12 years in a row, enough was enough.
The fact that the team wasn’t able to make the playoffs in the final season of their historic ballpark was icing on the cake. It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving fanbase.
Of course it only made things sweeter seeing Joe Torre get his Dodgers into the NLCS. However, his firing was still the correct decision, right George?
8. Henrik Lundqvist
I’ll admit it, I don’t watch a ton of hockey, but when I watch the Rangers, I can’t help but marvel at how dominant king Henry can be between the pipes. He stands on his head night after night keeping the team in games when the offense struggles.
Back in the spring, when the Rangers were looking to earn a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals, Lundqvist was sensational against Pittsburgh. Lundqvist led the squad when they weren’t able to capitalize on power play opportunities.
Lundqvist is quietly one of the five best athletes this city has to offer. Write it down.
7. Jonny Flynn
After two seasons of missing out on the NCAA tournament, the orange have jumped out to a 5-0 start, including road wins on back to back nights against Florida and Kansas. The big reason behind their early success has been the play of sophomore point guard Jonny Flynn, who is making a case as one of the best one-guards in all of America. His name has been mentioned in the same breath as guards like Darren Collison and Ty Lawson.
Flynn forced overtime Tuesday night with a game tying three with 6.4 seconds left. His ability to create shots for his teammates and score the basketball will make Syracuse a contender throughout the year. He’s the best pure basketball player Jim Boeheim has coached since Carmelo Anthony.
6. Leon Washington
The Jets’ most valuable player in my eyes, Washington makes something happen every game. You can pencil him in for making at least one game-changing play, whether it’s a long touchdown run or taking a kickoff back to the house.
Leon has been important in spelling Thomas Jones, and the two have formed a dynamic rushing tandem that has helped put the Jets on top of the AFC East, and in contention for a possible postseason run.
The quarterback handing Washington the ball has been a pretty big reason for their success as well, but more on him later.
5. The Escape, the Catch, the Upset
I’m not a Giants fan, but unlike the Mets-Yankees hate I’ve developed growing up, I always root for the Giants unless they’re taking on my Jets.
While my Jets were nowhere to be found in January, the Giants’ playoff run last season was something that any sports fan could appreciate. Going on the road and winning games in Tampa, Dallas, and Green Bay, when the wind chill was -20, and defeating the previously undefeated Patriots was all sorts of fun.
Of course the moment from that game that I, like everybody else, will think of first was the escape of Eli Manning and the throw and catch to David Tyree, who pinned the ball against his helmet on the Giants’ final touchdown drive, setting up the game-winning score.
The game was phenomenal, the Giants won a hard earned championship, and the Patriots were denied their piece of football immortality.
4. Johan Santana
While the Mets’ season ended up being a waste, the performance of Johan Santana was anything but that. Santana was brilliant, winning 16 games and finishing third in National League Cy Young voting.
It was his final two performances of the season, including his complete game, a three-hit shutout on the second to last game of the season (a game I was at), that electrified Mets fans and gave them hope that they would be able to avoid a second consecutive late season collapse.
Of course they didn’t, but that was no fault of Santana, who was pitching with a torn ligament in his knee. For all the prospects and money Omar Minaya and ownership gave up to bring him to Queens, and in the midst of a very disappointing season, Santana certainly shined.
3. Donnie Walsh
I could have given Isiah Thomas a spot and spoken about how I’m thankful for his removal, but I’m going to group that with Walsh. Since being hired by owner James Dolan, Walsh wasted little time in removing Thomas as coach.
Walsh not only was able to effectively end the dreadful Isiah Thomas era, but he hired a proven winner in Mike D’Antoni. He has already begun to clear cap space for when LeBron James, among others, becomes a free agent in 2010.
The trades of Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph clear nearly $28 million of cap space going into the summer of 2010, when the Knicks will be primed to start a new era with James leading the way.
Walsh would have topped my list, but still hasn’t gotten rid of Stephon Marbury, although that probably isn’t too far off from happening.
2. Shea Goodbye
I’ve been going to Shea Stadium for nearly 15 years, and at 21 years old, aside from the places I’ve called home and the classrooms I’ve been in, there isn’t a place I’ve spent more time than the former home of the Mets.
Although the season didn’t end as planned, I was able to drive home from Syracuse to attend the final three regular season games in the history of the ballpark. It was an emotional weekend, and it was great seeing the likes of Mike Piazza, Doc Gooden, and Tom Seaver one last time at Shea.
The final season at Shea also included Billy Joel as the last entertainer of the stadium, and I was lucky enough to be there when Paul McCartney came out.
All in all, some of my best memories were at Shea, and knowing I’ll never be there again to watch baseball is something that probably won’t sink in until I’m watching games at Citi Field.
1. Brett Favre
I can’t think of anything greater than one of your favorite players joining one of your favorite teams. Such was the case when, in early August, the New York Jets acquired one of the greatest to ever play the game to be their quarterback. Brett Favre was the centerpiece to an offseason makeover following a disastrous 4-12 season.
Bringing his one of a kind skills and child-like exuberance, the Jets find themselves at 8-3 and in contention for a division championship. Favre has completely changed the culture in the Jets locker room. Over the course of the season the group has come together as a unit and played the type of winning football Jets fans aren’t all accustomed used to.
Favre is easy to like and easier to root for, especially when he’s getting his team victories.