Saturday, May 18, 2013

NFL Road Trip 2013 - Redux

A few weeks ago, the NFL released its 2013 schedule. I was flying out to Phnom Penh that afternoon so I put together a very quick NFL road trip plan, which I do every year just for fun. It took about 30 minutes to prepare and wasn't very good, as I realized after I returned to Singapore.

The main flaw was starting in Denver and moving to the West Coast without including a visit to the Arizona Cardinals. That strategy forces a return trip to Phoenix which essentially means criss-crossing the country four times. I knew that there was a better plan, so I resorted to the old standby: the roadtrip matrix. Using a spreadsheet program such as Excel, you enter the dates along the left side and the teams along the top, in roughly the order you would visit them while driving. Then you fill in the matrix when a team has a home game on that date. The entire season is thus visible at a glance. As an example, check out a portion of the full matrix below:

       Den Ind Cin Cle Pit Buf Was Bal Phil NE
5-Sep  Bal         
8-Sep      Oak     Mia Ten NE    
9-Sep                          Phi   
12-Sep                                      NYJ
15-Sep     Mia             Car     Cle SD 
16-Sep         Pit       
19-Sep                                 KC 
22-Sep         GB      Chi     Det Hou      TB

This shows home games for ten cities for the first three weeks of the campaign. For example, Baltimore plays in Denver on September 5th, Indianapolis hosts Oakland on the 8th, and so on. You can quickly see what the possibilities are for a trip that would allow for at least two games per week for those three weeks (one possibility: Denver, Pittsburgh, Washington in Week 1, New England, Buffalo, Cincinnati in Week 2, and Philadelphia and Baltimore in Week 3).

When looking at all 32 teams over 17 weeks though, it becomes a bit more difficult to immediately see a possible route. The next step is then to group geographically proximate locations together, highlighting a series of games that can be seen. For example, you’d want to see the Chiefs and Rams around the same time, the three Florida teams, the two New York teams, the five clubs on the West Coast, etc. When you do this, the path that you would have to take becomes a lot clearer

The Thursday and Monday night games are also key considerations. It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to realize that achieving 32 stadium visits in 17 weeks means two games per week most of the time. Assuming you see a game every Sunday, you’d then need to see either the Thursday or Monday game in 15 out of the 16 weeks (there are no non-Sunday games in the final week). This really limits your choices. It might be nice to see a game in Kansas City on one Sunday and St. Louis the following week, but if that means missing the Monday and Thursday games in between, it really hampers the overall trip. So you are looking for weeks where a team with a night game is close to a team with a Sunday game. You also want to avoid seeing a team on a Sunday if it happens to have a suitable night game later in the year.

Keeping all this in mind, I was able to put together the following trip, beginning with the season opener in Denver and ending in Seattle. Note that this trip is different than the one first posted - I moved St. Louis and Kansas City earlier in the year (better opponents) and then Detroit and Buffalo after New York, with the Miami and Carolina games moved a bit later in the trip to the Southeast.

Thu Sep 5    Baltimore at Denver 6:30
Sun Sep 8    Oakland at Indianapolis 1:00
Mon Sep 9    Philadelphia at Washington 7:10
Thu Sep 12   NY Jets at New England 8:25
Sun Sep 15   Cleveland at Baltimore 1:00
Mon Sep 16   Pittsburgh at Cincinnati 8:40
Thu Sep 19   Kansas City at Philadelphia 8:25
Sun Sep 22   Chicago at Pittsburgh 8:30
Thu Sep 26   San Francisco at St. Louis 7:25
Sun Sep 29   NY Giants at Kansas City 12:00
Thu Oct 3    Buffalo at Cleveland 8:25
Sun Oct 6    Detroit at Green Bay 12:00
Thu Oct 10   NY Giants at Chicago 7:25
Sun Oct 13   Carolina at Minnesota 12:00
Sun Oct 20   New England at NY Jets 1:00
Mon Oct 21   Minnesota at NY Giants 8:40
Sun Oct 27   Dallas at Detroit 1:00 
Sun Nov  3   Kansas City at Buffalo 1:00
Sun Nov 10   Dallas at New Orleans 7:30
Mon Nov 11   Miami at Tampa Bay 8:40
Thu Nov 14   Indianapolis at Tennessee 7:25
Sun Nov 17   Arizona at Jacksonville 1:00
Mon Nov 18   New England at Carolina 8:40
Thu Nov 21   New Orleans at Atlanta 8:25
Sun Nov 24   Carolina at Miami 1:00
Thu Nov 28   Oakland at Dallas 3:30
Sun Dec 1    New England at Houston 3:25
Sun Dec 8    St. Louis at Arizona 1:25
Sun Dec 15   Kansas City at Oakland 1:05
Sun Dec 22   Oakland at San Diego 1:25
Mon Dec 23   Atlanta at San Francisco 5:40
Sun Dec 29   St. Louis at Seattle 1:25

There is only the one west coast trip at the end, so you are looking at just over 21,000 highway miles starting and ending in Denver. There are a couple of tough Sunday/Monday combos, particularly going from the Sunday night game in New Orleans to the one in Tampa on Monday. As well, most of the cold-weather cities would be dealt with in September and October. There are three Thursday-Sunday-Monday trifectas but two of them are in the first two weeks, which helps keep the latter part of the schedule more spaced out for relaxation and less driving.

The trip would last for 118 days and there are several good games on the slate. The Raiders and Chiefs are seen as the road team 3 times, and there is one home-and-home (Jets-Patriots). It is the best trip I've put together in the seven years I've been doing this. Most trips are 24,000 miles or more, so this is the most economical one. In fact, this is so intriguing that I am actually thinking of doing it!

Without getting into details, my personal life will be undergoing some changes and I might have a few free months at the end of the year. Why not complete the holy grail of sports road trips? I've already booked a rental car and am beginning to look at the logistics and overall cost. The final decision will be given in early July.

Update: It's July and I'm going on the trip, but not this one. I altered the schedule a bit and leave for Denver on September 4th on my NFL Stadium Journey!



Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Singapore Slingers 39 at Indonesia Warriors 64 (ASEAN Basketball League) - May 10, 2013

When the ASEAN Basketball League schedule was released back in January, I thought it would be cool to see a game on the road. There are six teams in the league, all based in large cities throughout the region, with the Singapore Slingers my "home" team. Among the other five cities, I've been to Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh, Manila, and Kuala Lumpur, which made Jakarta the logical choice for a roadtrip as it was the only place I had yet to visit. So before the season even started, I booked a weekend trip in May, when the Slingers would be taking on the Indonesia Warriors in the penultimate game of the season. Big mistake.

When the Slingers opened the season here a week later, I went to see them play and was disappointed at the low-quality of basketball. I wasn't expecting NBA-caliber play, but what I saw was just ugly. I shelved any plans about returning to the Singapore Indoor Stadium to see the Slingers, and considered ignoring the game in Jakarta as well. However, the scheduling gods did not see fit to have an Indonesian Super League fixture while I was in Jakarta, and since I am obsessed with counting the number of countries in which I have seen sporting events (now at 19), it was the ABL after all.

The Warriors play at BritAma Arena Sports Mall at Mahaka Square. This is not really a sports venue, rather it is a small shopping mall with a basketball court. Getting there is painful as Jakarta's rush hour traffic is brutal, particularly on the highway. Coupled with a taxi driver who didn't know where he was going (or was ripping me off), I ended up about 30 minutes late, causing me to miss the first quarter and a bit. Turned out the taxi driver was doing me a favour, as when I arrived the score was just 23-16 for the home team - yet the second quarter was nearly half over! Another ugly game was in progress.

The ticket was 100,000 rupiah (about $10) for an unreserved seat behind the basket. But with no ushers and no reserved seating, I just sat at the first available spot facing one of the foul lines. The court has two levels and can hold up to 4,000 fans, but the upper deck was closed off today (you can see the black tarp in the shot below) so the fans were crowded into the lower section.

Barely ten minutes after I sat down it was halftime (Warriors leading 30-16) so I took the opportunity to tour the mall. Most of the stores were closed but there was a full-service supermarket open which had everything that you would expect, including fruits and vegetables. Turns out the neighbourhood is largely residential and there were more people doing their weekend shopping than watching the game!

I returned to my seat for the second half and the Warriors quickly went on a 9-3 run to make it 39-19 and end the suspense. There would be no epic comeback like the Bruins managed over some hapless, unnamed NHL team; instead the rest of the game was just back and forth basketball with the home team eventually winning 64-39. Considering the game is 40 minutes long, the Slingers managed to score less than a point per minute, unheard of in pro basketball. Did I mention it was ugly? Even the scoreboard was acting up, giving the Warriors players a total of 114 points.

After the game I managed to flag a cab down on the street. The return trip was much easier as there was less traffic and the route was direct. Still, if you are ever thinking of seeing a game here, allow a couple of hours to get to the mall from central Jakarta.


The owner of the Warriors, Erick Thohir, also owns a small part of the Philadelphia 76ers and there was a banner from the team. Interestingly, the Golden State Warriors used to play in Philadelphia from 1946-62.

One of the Warriors is Jerick Cañada, who has a great name even though it is pronounced Can-Yada.

Next Up

June and July are going to be quiet months as I prepare for another move, this time back to North America. Details are being worked out, but the good news is that I can finally do some serious sports road tripping. Check back soon for some big news in that regard.



Sunday, May 5, 2013

Europa League Should Be Known as Losers' League

The Champions League final is set and will feature two German sides for the first time as current Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich will take on two-time defending champs Borussia Dortmund. The match will be held on May 25th at Wembley Stadium. Bayern are looking to avenge last year's loss to Chelsea, which took place at their home ground, Allianz Arena.

This year, Chelsea were nowhere to be seen when the knockout stages began, having finished third in their group*. But fear not, the defending champions were still alive in the chase for another continental cup. That's because if you finish third in the CL group stage, you are rewarded with a berth in the knockout stages of the Europa League, UEFA's second-tier cup competition. The Europa League is in much the same format as the Champions League, but featuring clubs that place slightly lower in their domestic tables. In England for example, teams that finish 5th and 6th in the EPL as well as the League Cup winner are invited to the Europa League, which used to be known as the UEFA Cup.

The Europa League completes its group stage with 24 teams still alive. They are then joined by the 8 clubs who finish third in their respective Champions League groups. Naturally these CL washouts are generally better than the Europa League sides and they often go on to dominate the competition. That is exactly what happened this year as the Europa League final will see Chelsea take on Benfica of Portugal, another club who couldn't quite cut it in the Champions League.

What is the point of the Europa League if those slightly weaker teams have to face superior clubs just as the going gets tough. Chelsea have had a terrible year and should not be given a chance for redemption, especially when fellow EPL sides Tottenham** and Newcastle United were still in the running. It is simply not fair to those other clubs who are never going to contend for the Champions League (such as Rubin Kazan of Russia who were the quarterfinal victims of Chelsea) to suddenly have these giants thrust into their midst. The financial advantages already given to these teams aren't enough, now they get a second shot at a European trophy.

It boggles the mind that UEFA allows this to happen. It makes a mockery of the Europa League, ruining the purity of the competition. Interestingly, another London team was the victim of this stupid rule just three years ago. Fulham, a perennial mid-table finisher since their promotion to the EPL in 2001, went on a dream run to the Europa League final, only to be stopped by Atletico Madrid, who were Champions League dropouts. I guess what goes around comes around and now England will benefit from UEFA's Europa League largesse.

Even then, I think this is beyond stupid, and it is time to stop rewarding teams that lose in the Champions League. Instead, let's have a true second-tier competition and give other clubs and their fans a real chance at continental glory.



*Another stupid UEFA rule actually cost Chelsea their deserved 2nd-place finish. Teams that finish tied in group play usually have the tie broken by total goal differential. In this case, Chelsea had scored 6 more than they had allowed while Shakhtar Donetsk was +4. However, the stupid UEFA rule stipulates that ties be broken in head-to-head competition first, ignoring games involving the other two clubs in the group - but if those games matter in the standings, why don't they matter in the tiebreaker?! Anyway, each team won by a goal in their home match, but Chelsea allowed Shakhtar to score 2 goals at Stamford Bridge while they could only muster one on the road. Thus Shakhtar moved on (where they were dispatched by Borussia Dortmund) while Chelsea was given the easier path to a European Cup. UEFA is run by idiots.

**There is some irony here. Chelsea finished 6th in the EPL last season (good for the Europa League), and were only afforded entry into the Champions League as titleholders. This pushed Tottenham, who finished 4th and should have been in the CL, down into the Europa League as there is a maximum of four teams per federation in the Champions League. Now Tottenham are at home while Chelsea are in the Europa League final.