Friday, November 19, 2010

When Sports Collide -- Part 1

Originally posted on Facebook -- 10/20/10

October is my favorite month of the year.

There's that chill in the air that causes you to wear hoodies on a regular basis, and leaves you seeing your breath for the first time. The trees' leaves morph from their normal green color to vibrant shades of red, yellow and orange before floating to the ground. The seasonal food becomes warm and rich, accented with spices. And of course, there's Halloween -- which gives everyone an excuse to dress up in costumes and pig out on candy!

For a sports junkie, however, October offers another lure -- a veritable orgy of game options! The NHL and NBA begin their seasons during this month. The NFL and college football seasons are in full swing. And last, but certainly not least -- postseason baseball makes its presence once again. There is a magical aura that surrounds these events -- whether it's a team's season opener, a big "contender or pretender" statement game, or a final push toward the ultimate goal...a championship.

Last week presented an opportunity to dive headfirst into the plethora of sports that October has to offer. First, the New York Jets hosted the Minnesota Vikings in a Monday Night Football contest. On Friday, the New Jersey Devils took on the Colorado Avalanche at the Prudential Center in Newark. Finishing the week off in style, I attended Game 1 of the National League Championship Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and San Francisco Giants on Saturday night. While only one of my favorite teams was involved in these games, it was quite easy to get sucked into the atmosphere of each.

When the Vikings headed into New Meadowlands Stadium for their Week 5 contest against the Jets, there were a number of storylines. The Vikings were coming off a bye week after stumbling to an early 1-2 record, while the Jets were 3-1 and looking to continue living up to their lofty early-season expectations.

There was also the drama surrounding Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre. Not only was the future Hall-of-Famer making his NFL-record 289th consecutive start, but he was also attempting to become the 1st player in NFL history to throw for at least 70,000 yards in his career, and the 1st to amass 500 touchdown passes. Favre was also embroiled in a controversy with a former Jets' employee, in which he allegedly sent inappropriate and racy cell phone photos to a gameday hostess when he was a member of the team in 2008.

Mother Nature literally threatened to dampen the spirits of almost 78,000 in attendance, as lightning strikes and heavy rain in the area delayed the start by over a half-hour. Once the game got underway, both teams appeared out of rhythm -- and then the weather made itself a factor once again. A virtual monsoon pelted both the fans and the field, and the Jets held a rather uneventful 9-0 lead at halftime, thanks to 3 Nick Folk field goals. As the 3rd quarter was about to begin, the storm subsided -- and everyone was in for a 2nd half treat.

Now, I was among the many who wanted Brett Favre to retire from football once-and-for-all during each of the last 2 years. I didn't like what he did to Green Bay and their fans during his 1st "retirement." I didn't like how he backed out of his contract with the Jets by "retiring" again, only to sign with the Vikings. And frankly, I was tired of the "Will he or won't he?" speculation on whether he was playing again this season. Upon entering the stadium Monday night, I wanted to see Favre fail, and fail miserably -- just to drive him one step closer to giving it up for good. The 1st half provided some personal satisfaction, as the 41-year-old QB struggled. A funny thing happened during the 2nd half, however -- I discovered that Favre, despite his flaws and despite all of the controversy that surrounded him, is still fun to watch.

After the Jets got another Folk field goal to take a 12-0 lead midway through the 3rd quarter, Favre went to work. With 2:10 remaining in the 3rd, Favre connected with new acquisition Randy Moss on a 37-yard bomb into the end zone; the 500th TD pass of Favre's distinguished career. The Jets then booted their 5th field goal of the game to make it 15-7 at the end of the 3rd quarter. The Vikings would instantly answer, thanks in part to another classic Favre pass. Under pressure from the Jets' defensive blitz, old #4 hit speedy receiver Percy Harvin over the middle with a throw on the run, and Harvin scampered the rest of the way for a 34-yard touchdown! After the 2-point conversion failed, it was now 15-13. With the exception of a few scattered Vikings' fans, the still-soaked crowd at New Meadowlands Stadium fell deathly silent. Favre was seemingly transporting back to the prime of his career to victimize his former team.

Both teams entered into a stalemate during the next few minutes, with both the Jets' and Vikings' defenses stepping up. Finally, with 4:30 remaining in the game, New York running back Shonn Greene broke through, and scored on a 23-yard run to make it 22-13, Jets! As the fans celebrated, there was still a nagging thought in the back of everyone's minds -- Brett Favre. The Vikings' QB has 29 4th quarter comebacks in his career -- is there another one left?

It sure appeared that way at first. The Vikings drove 60 yards in 1:21, culminating with another Favre TD pass to Harvin. With just over 3 minutes remaining, it was now 22-20 -- plenty of time for Minnesota to make a defensive stop and drive for a game-winning field goal or touchdown.

With the Jets starting their next drive at their own 22-yard-line, they gained one 1st down before being forced to punt at the 2-minute warning. The Vikings -- and Favre -- were about to get the ball. The tension inside New Meadowlands Stadium was almost immeasurable...the dreaded fear of, "Here we go again" at the front of almost everyone's minds.

Only a few had headed for the exits, as the nervous fans attempted to muster up enough noise to distract the Minnesota offense. The Vikings started the drive at their own 16-yard-line -- needing at least 50 yards to get into field goal range.

Favre's 1st pass to Randy Moss fell incomplete. His 2nd pass to Percy Harvin fell harmlessly to the turf as well. It was now 3rd down and 10 -- and the fans' cheers had changed from tentative to boisterous. They sensed the biggest moment of the game. A Jets encroachment penalty made it 3rd-and-5 -- further building the drama. Standing in the shotgun formation, Favre took the snap -- looked to the right -- threw a short pass intended for tight end Visanthe Shiancoe -- and it was picked off by Jets' defensive back Dwight Lowery! Lowery raced into the end zone for a game-clinching touchdown -- as the fans jumped around and screamed at the top of their lungs. It was now 29-20, and the Jets' fans in attendance -- who waited out a weather delay, sat through a moribund 1st half while being pelted by heavy rain, and witnessed one of the most exciting 2nd halves of the NFL season -- could finally go home happy.
All that excitement, and it was only Monday! What would the rest of the week have in store?

To be continued...

Minnesota's Brett Favre throws his 500th career TD pass

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