by West Coast Craig
Mall of America â€“ Itâ€™s over, itâ€™s all over, baseballâ€™s 2009 regular season is now mercifully behind us. The Mets can look to this last series as â€œsomething to build onâ€ for next yearâ€¦like an Indian burial ground. In the meantime, they can work on their golf game tomorrow, or go fishing, whether they like these activities or not, because thatâ€™s just what theyâ€™re supposed to do. The Yanks can do either of these tomorrow as well, since they have to wait around while the teams in the AL Central get their act together. Texas, Florida, and San Francisco all had better records than either the Tigers or Twins, while the Braves wouldâ€™ve forced another tie-breaker. The Twins had to win their last four games just to get to 86 wins and put themselves into this positionâ€¦facing a 20-year-old rookie in their home park. If they lose this game, they donâ€™t deserve to play in this park ever again.
Actually thatâ€™s true, since this is the last season for the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodomeâ€”or the HHH Dome, the Hanky Dome, the Hefty Dome, the Homer Domeâ€”and hopefully all those names get demolished with it. Opened in 1982, itâ€™s already the seventh oldest ballpark in the major leagues, and one of the last of the true civic multi-sport venues, a venue that mustâ€™ve seemed good in theoryâ€”hey, no more playing in the snow!â€”but looked dated even by the time the Twins won their first championship in 1987. Personally, Iâ€™ve never been there, so if anybody has please correct meâ€¦.maybe itâ€™s a nice experience, but watching on TV never did it any favors. Always dank and dark looking, with a bright white fiberglass fabric roof that made it easy to lose fly balls in a sunless sky, the Metrodump also had speakers that were so low that foul pops bounced off them all the time, and a surface so hard routine flares would bounce for ground rule doubles. The roof wasnâ€™t supported by anything more structural than air pressure, and climate changes would cause it to sometimes collapse in on itself, along with the occasional snowstorm. There were lots of great baseball moments hereâ€”that 1991 World Series is probably still the most exciting Iâ€™ve ever seenâ€”but even these are soured by the imagesâ€¦like Kirby Pucket leaping up to take Ron Gantâ€™s home run away late in that game 6 (only to realize it wouldnâ€™t have been a home run because, for some reason, during those years there was an ugly NHL style plexi-glass shield separating the fans from the field; or Torii Hunter bouncing off the plastic baggie wall that covers up the retractable bleachers in right-center…you know, kind of like the ones in your crappy high school gym…and maybe the fans who got to sit up there closest to him, hundreds of feet off the ground, mightâ€™ve gotten a good replay of it on the video board.
All that ends soon, if not Tuesday then next weekend when the Yankees hopefully begin the demolition process themselves. In the meantime, the game canâ€™t be played there tonight because of a slight scheduling conflict.
Tonightâ€™s the night that turncoat Benedict Arnold gets to stick the knife all the way through the collective hearts of his once loyal Green Bayians. A man who took the field no matter the weather, led them to the Super Bowl, made thrilling runs across the gridiron to celebrate after great plays. He has etched his name all over the Green Bay record books, has scored more points for the franchise, 1054, than anyone in their storied history, but tonight heâ€™ll be wearing a Vikings jersey. Grown men will either be burning their old favorite jerseys, or sobbing into them. A villain has risen so profound, so diabolical, so overhyped that a game such as this creates its own media firestorm that feeds on itself and sucks the moisture right out of the air.
Yes, Iâ€™m talking about Ryan Longwell. The crafty kicker played for Green Bay from 1997 to 2005, when a rough 4-12 record led the fans to grow weary of their aging star, and start calling for new blood, like Mason Crosby (and rookie Aaron Rodgers). This was followed by a bitter contract dispute that turned acrimonious in the press and divided the city. Nobody wanted to forget the good times, the 51 extra points he kicked in 2003, the 33 field goals he kicked in 2000, and of course the December 1st, 2002, game against the rival Bears in which he kicked both extra points in the fourth quarter to lead the Pack to a clutch 30-20 win. That’s just the kind of clutch kicker Longwell is. But both Longwell and the Packers had to sit down and take a hard look at their respective futures when his contract came to an end–the Packers wanted him to do more supermarket openings, he wanted them to build a dome for him to kick in–and in the end common ground just couldnâ€™t be found. At the local pub â€œThe Long Hell,â€ owner Wisconsin Walt laments that he had to change the longtime name of his establishment from â€œThe Long Well.â€ â€œLongwell is dead to me!â€ he exclaimsâ€¦but under questioning he admits to still having the old green #8 jersey that used to be proudly displayed on the wall above the bar, now at home in a chest of old favorites he canâ€™t bring himself to take to Goodwill. As much as he hates to admit it, times were better under the old name, as The Long Hell is now a goth cafÃ©.
Apart from picking all winners yesterday, Tyrannosaurus Rex also spoke with fear of the SI Cover Curse.
It got me thinking about the Curse of the Bambino, the Billy Goat Curse, the Curse of Bobby Layne, and of course the most consistent of all in the Madden Curse. You know the Madden Curse: since players began appearing on the cover of the Madden video game in 2000, to a man theyâ€™ve each suffered some terrible season ending injury or total career derailmentâ€”Dorsey Levins (played terribly, released the next year), Eddie George (hampered by injuries), Duante Culpepper (knee injury), Marshall Faulk (injured ankle, never the same), Michael Vick (pre-dog-fighting, he broke his leg the year he was featured), then they tried to mix it up with a defensive player in Ray Lewis (sucked that year, then tore his hamstring), Donovon McNabb claimed not to â€œbelieve in the curse at allâ€ when he was on the cover in 2006 (then promptly got a sports hernia and ended up missing the entire second half of the season), Shaun Alexander (broke his foot three games into 2007), they tried going with a rookie whoâ€™d never been injured at any level in his life in 2008 with Vince Young (injured quadriceps in week five), and last year they decided to not risk any more lives and put a retired person on the cover (unfortunately, Brett Favre unretired, started for a different team than his cover picture, and suffered shoulder fatigue and finished poorly). This year they went with two players, doubling the riskâ€¦and so far only Troy Polamalu has suffered Maddenâ€™s wrath while Lawrence Fitzgerald continues to play on borrowed time. It got me thinking that maybe Fitzgeraldâ€™s safe, and perhaps this isnâ€™t a Madden Curse at all, but actually a Head and Shoulders curse. Those commercials seem to be flooding the airwaves, both television and radio, and they donâ€™t really get more amusing the more times you see themâ€¦partly because thereâ€™s nothing more frustrating than watching a guy who canâ€™t help your team pretend to be getting dressed in a locker room and talking about his pretty hair. Strange that there arenâ€™t other famous athletes still around whoâ€™ve done Head and Shoulders commercials, isnâ€™t it? I sent my crack research team to investigate other possible curses that we may have perhaps been missing all these yearsâ€”itâ€™s possible, isnâ€™t it?â€”and they came up with this. Watch the video, and then see how the athletes came out in the end: