Ralph Wilson Stadium

Ralph Wilson Stadium

Monday, 14 November 2016

Heavyhearted Heroes

Dez Bryant points to the sky after scoring a touchdown for his late father.
Sports can bring a wave of emotions to the people that play and watch them. The feeling of scoring a huge goal or winning a championship can easily be compared to the crushing moment of a last second loss or making a mistake that costs your team the game. Given the nature of professional sports, athletes do whatever it takes and leave it all on the line to come up victorious. 

However, certain things happen in this game we call life that are out of our control. One of these things is the loss of a loved one. Whether it be sudden or expected, nothing can ever make that sort of experience easy. That being said, I can't help but admire athletes that go out and honour a family or friend shortly after their passing. Given my own experiences of losing both my father and grandfather and my never ending love for sports, moments like these really hit close to home.

This post will take a look at instances in professional sports where athletes have had to deal with life's biggest loss only to come out as winners in the end.

Yesterday, less than 24 hours after the death of his father, Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys had one of his best games of the year. Racking up 116 receiving yards and a touchdown, Bryant played a big role in his team’s win against the Pittsburgh Steelers. His 50 yard touchdown was followed up with a moment of tribute to his father as he took a knee and pointed up to the sky. Following the win, the Cowboys gave Bryant the game ball which is a tradition used in sports to congratulate someone that had a big influence on a game. One can only imagine what was going through Dez’s mind at that point, but we can all be sure that his father would have been proud.


The Miami Marlins come together after winning a game for Jose Fernandez
This past September, the baseball world lost Jose Fernandez. Regarded as one of the game's most promising young stars, Fernandez's life was taken away far too early as he and two other friends lost their lives in a boating accident. In the days following his death, teams and players across the major leagues paid tribute to Fernandez by honouring his jersey number 16 and holding a moment of silence prior to their games. His team, the Miami Marlins, cancelled their game that day. On September 26, the team played their first game since losing their beloved pitcher. In the first inning, the Marlins' leadoff hitter, DeeGordon, had one of the most memorable moments in his life. On the third pitch of his at bat, Gordon hit his first and only home run of the season. Fighting back tears as he jogged through the bases, Gordon was welcomed by his equally emotional teammates upon returning to the dugout.  He stated that it was the furthest he had ever hit a ball and knew Jose was there with him. The Marlins went on to win the game and came together in a post-game ceremony where they took a moment to remember their lost brother.


Martin St. Louis
Martin St. Louis is a household when it comes to hockey. Now retired, Marty was one of the best players of his time. He won multiple individual awards (including an MVP and scoring titles) as well as a Stanley Cup and Olympic gold medal. His path to success was not an easy one, as his size was seen as an issue to many in the hockey world. However, St. Louis defied the odds and pretty much won everything one could hope for in a hockey career. This can all be attributed to Martin's work ethic, strength and perseverance which he put on display for all of us on Mother's Day in 2014. Just days after suddenly losing his mom, Martin scored a big goal for the New York Rangers in a must-win game for the team. With Martin's family was in attendance, the Rangers went on to win the game. They eventually won the series and as fate would have it met the Montreal Canadiens in the next round of the playoffs. This gave St. Louis the opportunity to be close to home during this tough time while also being able to continue playing hockey. Moments like these make for a feel good story and show how the hockey gods can work in magical ways. 


Favre during his memorable Monday Night game.
Finally, we look at a performance by one of football's greatest quarterbacks. In December of 2003, Brett Favre played the game of his life for the Green Bay Packers. One day after losing his father, Favre suited up for Monday Night Football where he and the Pack would play the Oakland Raiders. For those who do not know, playing in the Monday night game is something that every football player dreams of. Millions across the U.S. (and many Canadians) tune in to watch this game - giving athletes a chance to make a name for themselves on a big stage. Favre went on to throw an astonishing 399 yards and four touchdowns as he lead the Packers to a 41-7 victory. While Favre was already an elite quarterback at the time, this game added to his legendary status and NFL career. 

Many people look up to professional athletes based on their accomplishments and record breaking performances. However, if there is ever a time to look up to them it is when they are at their lowest. When someone can come out of a tough situation like the athletes mentioned in this post, it gives us all hope that we can overcome our own struggles. This is something that can be applied not only to sports, but in everyday life as well.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Longest droughts of the Big Four

The Chicago Cubs celebrating their World Series victory
Just over a week ago, the Chicago Cubs did the impossible and won their first World Series title in 108 years. Nicknamed the Lovable Losers by many due to their less than glamorous history, the Cubbies have had the weight of the world lifted off of their shoulders. Before Wednesday’s championship victory, the Cubs held the longest drought between league titles out of the four major leagues in North America (MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL). This post will look into the teams that currently hold that title in each of these leagues.

MLB

Sticking with baseball, the Cleveland Indians now hold the longest drought in the MLB. Oddly enough, this is the very same team that Chicago beat in the World Series. In what is considered to be one of the most memorable World Series in history (especially game seven), the Cleveland Indians blew a 3-1 series lead and came up short losing in front of their home fans. Cleveland’s last World Series came in 1948 so it is safe to say that their fans have experienced their fair share of disappointments. 

The city itself hadn’t even won a major sports title in 52 years until this past June when LeBron James and the Cavaliers beat the Golden State Warriors in a heated seven-game NBA Finals. That being said, an Indians’ victory would have been a huge accomplishment for the blue-collar city. In the meantime, fans will have to hold out hope that the Indians will have a better run next year and that the Cavs can defend their title. As for their football team (the Browns), they won’t be competing for a championship anytime soon… but hey, miracles can happen.

NBA

Currently, there are 12 teams who have never won a championship but the longest streak belongs to the Sacramento Kings. The Kings have zero championships and have failed to make an appearance in the finals since 1951 (back when they were the Rochester Royals). When a team associates its name with that of royalty and ruling one would assume said team knows a thing or two about winning. The exact opposite can be said for Sacramento’s club.

Past years have seen a team that was able to compete with some of the NBA’s best and make a deep playoff push. However, that has not been the case since the early 2000’s and the team itself has failed to play a postseason game since the 2005-06 season. Since then, the team has struggled and even faced the potential of relocating to multiple cities within the United States. Now that a new ownership group is running the organization, rumours of the team moving are a thing of the past. That being said, if the team doesn’t start winning the name Kings may have to be as well.

NFL

Nine of the NFL’s 32 teams have failed to bring a Super Bowl title back to their fans. My Buffalo Bills (who went to four straight Super Bowls in the early 90’s) are sadly a part of that group. At the moment, the Arizona Cardinals hold the longest streak for a Super Bowl victory drought. Their last title came in the 1947 season when they won the NFL Championship (prior to the AFL-NFL merger). It is safe to say that this franchise is hungry as their drought approaches 70 years.

The Arizona Cardinals have had their fair share of chances to end their championship drought. Since their most recent Super Bowl appearance in 2008, the Cards have had some up and down years but appeared to get it together last year. After boasting an impressive record of 13-3 in 2015, they wound up losing to the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship game. With the second half of the NFL season now underway, the Cardinals have a lot of work to do in order to make a playoff push. As quarterback Carson Palmer and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald continue to age, the window of opportunity with Arizona’s current squad is closing quickly. They do have some good young pieces to build around but will have to find suitable replacements for their seasoned veterans if they want to seriously contend again.

NHL

There are currently two teams who are tied for the longest drought in the hockey. These two teams are the St. Louis Blues and the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Blues joined the league in the 1967-68 season and have yet to win hockey’s most desired trophy. The Leafs however, have 13 titles in franchise history but haven’t won or even appeared in a Stanley Cup final since 1967 (the year before the Blues were a team).

The Blues have been a serious threat in the Western Conference for some time now and have featured some very talented rosters that were more than capable of winning a championship. For whatever reason those teams could never get it together and always seemed to choke in the playoffs. St. Louis appears to be a well structured team for the time being as they have quality forwards, defence and goalies. Whether or not they can finally get over the hurdle remains to be seen but they should have a few more years where they can have a shot at it.

As for the Leafs, they have had very limited success recently and fans have not been happy. While this Original Six franchise may have a storied past, it has only tasted the playoffs once since the 2003-04 season. That lone playoff appearance was in 2013 and ended in heartbreak. After a restructuring of the organization’s front office, things appear to be headed in a positive direction for Toronto. With the likes of Lou Lamoriello, Brendan Shanahan and Mike Babcock calling the shots and young players like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Morgan Reilly in development, the Leafs are poised to have a promising future. As a Leafs fan, I am keeping my expectations low for now and will enjoy watching the team grow and play exciting hockey before they contend for a Stanley Cup. 

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Crosby nears return from concussion

Sidney Crosby
Sidney Crosby will be a game-time decision for the Penguins tonight. After winning his second Stanley Cup in June and first World Cup in September, Crosby appeared to be at the top of his game. Unfortunately, Sid the Kid was knocked out of the Pen’s lineup after suffering a concussion during a pre-season practice in early October. Given his history with concussions, this news caused quite a stir in the hockey world.

With the knowledge that now exists regarding concussions and head injuries, it is a necessity to allow your body to heal properly. This is something that many athletes have dealt with, especially those who play in contact sports. Leagues have also become proactive in ensuring the well-being of their athletes. Concussion protocol is used to evaluate the status of each individual and to determine the next steps that should be taken before an athlete returns to play.

The timing of Crosby’s most recent concussion could not have been worse. He was playing incredible hockey and was the clear-cut number one player in the world. As the recipient of both the Conne Smythe Trophy, as the NHL’s best player in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and World Cup of Hockey's Most Valuable Player Award, many anticipated that Crosby would carry his recent success into this season and take the league by storm. The news of the injury came as a huge surprise and was an immediate disappointment. 

Crosby’s first notable concussion occurred on Jan. 1, 2011 in the NHL’s Winter Classic when he was blindsided by a hit to the head from Washington Capital’s forward David Steckel. While attempting to return to play just four days later, he was hurt yet again and would go on to miss the next eight months. At the time, he was leading the NHL with 66 points (32 goals, 34 assists) in just 41 games and was by far the best player in the league. Additional injuries in the next two seasons would cause the game’s best player to suit up for only 99 of a possible 212 games. This struck fear into the minds of hockey fans as well as uncertainty regarding Crosby’s future.

As someone who follows hockey very closely, I am hoping that this is the last of Sidney’s injuries. He is the face of the game and will go down as one of the greatest players to ever lace up the skates. Regardless of how well he plays against my favourite team (the Leafs), I still love him as an athlete and could not imagine what the league would be like without him. Players of his caliber do not come around often so we want to keep him around for as long as we can.

Monday, 13 April 2015

The Second Season: The NHL Playoffs


(Video accessed from The Best of the NHL

Yet another regular season has come to an end in the NHL and boy was it a good one. Now as a Leafs fan it wasn't the best of times, but there was still plenty of highlight reel plays and suspenseful games that kept me on the edge of my seat. It is safe to say that this season did not disappoint.

This year had one of the tightest races for the scoring title in recent history. It came down to the last day of the season before we knew who would take home the Art Ross Trophy. Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars eventually won it after beating out John Tavares by one point. This was the first time since the 2003-04 season that no one scored more than 100 points in a full 82-game season. While that fact may be a little disappointing, there was still many players who had outstanding seasons. Vladimir Tarasenko, Johnny Gaudreau and Andrew Hammond are just a few examples of guys who had a breakout year. The rise of this new talent can only make us excited for upcoming years. 

Now that the regular season is done teams must either pack up their equipment for the summer or prepare for the playoffs. I unfortunately lost a best to my friend and now have to "cheer" for the New York Rangers. They made it all the way to the finals last year and were the best team in the league this year so they just might have a good chance. The same can't be said about the team they lost to in the finals though (the Los Angeles Kings). They didn't qualify for the playoffs. This is the first time in eight years that the defending champions didn't make it. Canadian fans will be happy to note that five of the seven teams located in the Great White North did make it. This will undoubtedly bring excitement to fans across the county. 

The Stanley Cup

Based on how the regular season ended, one can only assume the playoffs are going to be intense. The last two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference were determined on the last day of the season. This is thanks in large part due to the Ottawa Senators "Cinderella Story". They went on an unbelievable run and fought their way into the playoffs after having a less than impressive start to the season. 

With that being said, any team that made the playoffs deserves to be there. I am just looking forward to seeing the best hockey there is. This is what these men dedicate their lives for. Playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is something every hockey player dreams of and only a few get the chance to do it.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Will Ferrell: The new face of the MLB?

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Collage of Will Ferrell with his 10 different teams (Courtesy of MLB)

Spring training is a time when MLB teams prepare for the upcoming season. This is also an opportunity for young ball players to make a name for themselves in hopes of being on the opening day roster. However, yesterday a well-known celebrity took to the field and showed what he was made of. That somebody was actor and comedian, Will Ferrell


Now those who are big fans of his films should not worry about his acting career being over. As part of an HBO special from Funny or Die, Ferrell managed to play for 10 teams and played every single position on the field. These teams consisted of the Athletics, Mariners, Angels, Cubs, D-backs, Reds, White Sox, Giants, Dodgers and Padres. He even took the reigns as base coach during his short-lived MLB career. Throughout the entire day, he never broke character. He acted as if he actually was a professional baseball player. The players and fans loved every moment and it made for a great day. 


While Ferrell's professional career was a joke, the reasoning behind it was not. The whole day was focused on a campaign to raise money for cancer. Items use by Will Ferrell during the games will be up for auction on mlb.mlb.com/home with proceeds going to Stand Up to Cancer and Cancer for College. I tip my hat off to not only Will Ferrell, but to the MLB as well. With Will Ferrell's celebrity and the popularity of professional baseball, this was an amazing way to support a cause that is near and dear to many of us.


(Short clip of Will Ferrell's day in the MLB  courtesy of UPROXX)

Friday, 6 March 2015

Bills and Eagles make big trade


LeSean McCoy as a Philadelphia Eagle

As I am on vacation this week I have been doing my best to keep updated with sports. I was watching ESPN one night and I learned the Buffalo Bills have agreed on a trade where they will acquire LeSean McCoy from the Philadelphia Eagles while they give up Kiko Alonso.

This trade had many football fans scratching their heads as they wondered what in the world the Eagles were thinking. McCoy is one of the best running backs in the entire NFL and will be a hard talent to replace. With that being said, they are getting a pretty good linebacker in Kiko Alonso. He was a candidate for Rookie of the Year award in his first season but missed all of last year due to injury.


Kiko Alonso trying to make a tackle
As a Buffalo Bills fan, I like the move. For starters, the team had a good defense in 2014, and that was without Alonso. I am confident they can repeat last year's performance without him. The team had a solid running back tandem in C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. However, both missed a considerable amount of time last year due to injuries. The offence did struggle and probably was the reason the team lost some games.

The addition of McCoy will give Buffalo the opportunity of having an elite running back. The only downfall I can see from this is that Spiller will not be with the team next year due to McCoy's large salary. While it is a tough loss, McCoy and Jackson should be able to make a big impact together. At the end of the day you have to take chances and make sacrifices if you want to succeed. 

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Every rose has its thorn: The Derrick Rose injury story

Derrick Rose favouring his knee
Chicago Bulls' point guardDerrick Rose, has once again suffered a knee injury. The former first overall pick and NBA MVP has had his fair share of bad luck lately. Revered as one of the league's best (if not the best) point guards in his prime, Rose has experienced three serious injuries in three years. 

The man could fake out any opponent with his smooth crossovers, sink three-point shots with ease and even drive to the net and put the ball home with a slam dunk. Regardless of what team you cheer for, if Derrick Rose was playing you were hoping for a highlight reel play. As a fan of all sports, I live for moments like those. I want to see the best athletes in the world do the thing they love the most.
Derrick Rose preparing for a shot

With that being said, I am quite upset to receive the news of his injury. Even as someone who supports the Raptors (a conference rival), I hate to see talented athletes go through this type of situation. It leaves all of us fans to wonder, "What if...?", and that is something I cannot get over. For all we know, Derrick Rose could have had numerous MVP caliber seasons during his injuries. He could have even helped his team win a championship or two. 

At the age of 26, there is still much potential for him to flourish in this league for a long time. Given the fact that his season is in jeopardy, I can only expect that he takes his time during his recovery. All I can say is that I hope this is the last of the injury problems for Derrick Rose.