Friday, November 29, 2013

Oakland Raiders 24 at Dallas Cowboys 31 - November 28, 2013




I visited Dallas exactly two years ago and saw the Cowboys beat Miami 20-19 in what was then known as Cowboys Stadium. Recently AT&T purchased the naming rights, but don't be mistaken that this is another case of a team selling out; the stadium was already covered in corporate signage. Given that it cost $1.3 billion to build, much of it provided by owner Jerry Jones, it is hard to blame him for using the private sector to generate a bit of revenue.



As the stadium lacks any public transport, I stay at nearby hotels to avoid the traffic and parking charges. With Six Flags in the area, there are a lot of accommodation options, and not all of them raise their prices when the Cowboys are in town. I ended up staying just east of TX-360 and walked the 1.5 miles there, passing the Ballpark at Arlington (below) on the way. The shot above is taken from one of the parking lots east of the stadium. Again, this place is huge.



The Cowboys were very kind in offering me a credential, which I had to pick up at media will call. To get there, I walked around the entire venue, but didn't take many pictures as I had been here before. The shot below is taken from the west side. To get full shots from the north or south, you have to walk back a bit or have a wide angle lens.



Upon entry, I did the usual walkaround, which took over an hour because this place is so enormous. There are at least nine seating levels (starting with the field level seats and including all the suite levels and club levels) and I was able to access every one with the credential.



I walked up to the top level for a few shots, including the panorama, which missed the top of the huge scoreboard.





One great feature of the stadium is the number of standing areas. You can buy a party pass and stand for the game, or relax at the Pepsi lounge. Spots are taken up as soon as gates open, so this is not a good option for the solo traveler who wants to explore the stadium.



Fortunately, my credential allowed me into the club section (below) and there was a standing rail here that provided an excellent vantage point along the entire sideline.



I camped out at the 20 yard line on the right side of the Raiders' bench. This turned out to be a great place to stand, as it provided views of the introduction ceremony and the cheerleaders throughout the game.





The national anthem was sung by Mary J. Blige, a singer I have actually heard of, quite a rarity these days as the music world has passed me by.



As an example of my musical ignorance, the Salvation Army's Red Kettle Kick-off was held at halftime with Selena Gomez performing. I have heard of her, but only in the context of dating fellow Canadian Justin Bieber, and did not know that she could sing. In fact, I still do not know if she can sing, because she lip synced the entire show. Binoculars came in handy here, because without using those, it wasn't obvious that she was just mouthing the words. Not that her fans cared; most of the people around me were more interested in her than the actual football game. Which was their mistake.



The Game

This was the second time I would see the Raiders on the trip, after watching Terrelle Pryor lead them against Indianapolis back in Week 1. Since then, Pryor got hurt and Matt Flynn got released, so undrafted Matt McGloin got the start. He is a Penn State grad and had played quite well over the past three games.



Tony Romo started for Dallas, who were wearing their blues at home for the first time since they left the Cotton Bowl in 1971. I personally like the look but there is a superstition associated with those uniforms, in that the Cowboys always lose when they wear them. Given that the Cowboys lose quite often wearing white these days, I'd say the superstition is just that and it might be time for the team to change things up.



Dallas received the kickoff and Terrance Williams (below) ran it out from 8 yards deep. His indiscretion was immediately punished when he fumbled and Greg Jenkins returned the ball for a touchdown. Just 12 seconds in and the Cowboys were down 7-0, the earliest they had conceded a score in their history. Hmm, those blue uniforms are sure unlucky.



The first quarter was messy, with neither team doing much in their few couple of times with the ball. After Dallas' third possession was stopped, they punted and Jenkins called for a fair catch at the 6. Stupid! Let the ball bounce, the likely result is a touchback. Instead the Raiders started there and on the first play, they fumbled the snap and Dallas recovered on the 2. On the next play, DeMarco Murray ran for an easy score to tie the game at 7.



McGloin took over the second quarter, leading the Raiders on two 12-play drives, each resulting in a 1-yard run by Rashad Jennings. McGloin looked very good, especially on 3rd down, converting on all seven opportunities. But the Raiders made what I consider to be a fatal error. They scored their second TD just after the 2-minute warning. I think they should have run a couple of plays to force Dallas to use a couple of timeouts. Instead, Romo had all 3 left and he ran a perfect two-minute drill, including a 25-yard pass to Dez Bryant (#88 below on another play), taking the Cowboys to the Raiders' 4. Murray took it home from there for his second TD of the afternoon. The Raiders still had the 7-point lead, but the Cowboys had regained some confidence and it showed in the second half.



The Raiders took the ball to start the second half and punted immediately. Dallas took over from their 13 and with Murray struggling, unleashed their secret weapon, Lance Dunbar. On his second carry, he rumbled for 45 yards (below) taking the ball down to the Oakland 25. A few plays later, Romo hit Bryant in the end zone and the game was tied at 21 midway through the quarter.



After three incompletions by McGloin on the ensuing possession, the Cowboys took over and seemed to move the ball at will, taking 7 plays to go 43 yards as the quarter expired. This was good for me, because the play was now directly in front of me, which allowed me to catch Murray running for his 3rd TD of the game, a 7-yarder that made it 28-21 (below).



After both teams went 3-and-out, McGloin started the Raiders' penultimate drive with a 35-yard completion to Andre Holmes, moving the ball to the Dallas 21. Two plays later, McGloin tried to hit Jacoby Ford in the end zone, but the throw was terribly short and Brandon Carr intercepted. The Cowboys then constructed a beautiful 14-play, 79-yard drive that took the clock down to the two-minute warning, at which point Dan Bailey hit a short field goal to make it a 10-point game.

Oakland needed to score a touchdown, recover an onside kick, and kick a field goal to tie the game, all with no time outs. They quickly moved the ball to the Dallas 27, and decided to kick the field goal instead. This infuriated those who had bet the Cowboys to cover the 9.5 point spread, as the final score would now be 31-24 after the abysmal onside kick failed. Apparently this cannot be referred to as a "backdoor" cover as Dallas only took the 10-point lead with a couple of minutes to go, but still, I'm sure the sports books in Vegas heard some choice words when coach Dennis Allen called for the field goal.



The game clock started counting down again from 60 minutes after the game ended, but just in case you didn't follow what happened, I present the below:



A very entertaining game, with another home-team comeback. Tony Romo gets a lot of grief from the press, but he is a solid performer who needs a bit of playoff luck to get the monkey off his back.

Notes

With Thanksgiving over, it is time for Christmas and there were already lighted trees outside after the game. No rest for the holiday-weary I guess.



I finally bought the NFL Helmet set that you can use for standings, which means you will see lots of pictures like this:



Best,

Sean

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Golden State Warriors 99 at Dallas Mavericks 103 - November 27, 2013


I've been writing this blog for nearly 5 years now, and I find that it really helps me keep track of all the places I've been and games I've seen. For example, I forgot that I had been to Dallas back in February for the Mavericks, the first game on a great 3-week road trip. Well, I didn't really forget, I just thought it had been in 2012. With so much that has gone on in my life since then (marriage, leaving Asia, NFL Road Trip) this year has been a blur and things that happened 9 months ago seem to be far longer in the past.



This is my third trip to the Big D since 2011, when I did a Thanksgiving tour, seeing four games in four days. Having seen both NHL and NBA games at American Airlines Center, I didn't really expect to visit them again, but a couple of interesting matchups and very cheap tickets convinced me otherwise. Yesterday it was the Stars and Ducks ($15), today it was the Mavericks and Warriors. I had checked ticket prices beforehand on TicketMaster and there were upper level seats for $25, so that was what I expected to spend. After stopping by Dealey Plaza, I walked over to the arena, getting there quite early. There were few scalpers around, so I went to the box office, where I was surprised by a very long line, with many fans in town for the football game. I heard the guy in front of me mention that he is a Maple Leaf fan, which I found surprising. Turns out he and his friends are from Halifax and they were here for the NFL as well, but they had stopped by to see if they could add an NBA game to their itinerary. Always good to meet fellow Canadians on their own sports road trips.



Anyway, when I finally got to the box office 20 minutes later, I asked for the cheapest single. The clerk said "I think we have one for five dollars." I was a bit confused, I am old and my hearing isn't as good as it once was. He must have said $25 because that was the cheapest I saw online, and no team sells tickets for $5 any more. To test my theory, I handed him $20, expecting him to ask for a fiver as well. Instead, I received a single seat in 318, row J (one row behind where I sat for the third period in last night's Stars' game) and $15 in change. The view from the seat is below:



I had brought binoculars though, so it worked quite well. Again, $5 for an NBA game featuring one of the most exciting teams in the league is unbelievable.

The Game

Both clubs were 9-6 coming in, with Dallas boasting a 7-1 record at home, while the Warriors had won the night before in New Orleans. These back-to-back contests are de rigueur in the NBA and the Warriors were 0-4 in the second half of such games so far. They took a quick 4-2 lead and that was it. The Mavericks used some sharp shooting and a number of Golden State turnovers to take a 17-point lead late in the second quarter, but the Warriors got a couple of 3-pointers from Stephen Curry (below, battling with DeJuan Blair) to make it 55-46 at halftime.



Late in the third quarter, Golden State had drawn within 4 points, but a 9-2 run by the Mavericks, including a 3-pointer by Vince Carter and a buzzer beating runner from promising rookie Shane Larkin (son of Barry), had them up 82-71 at the final break.



The lead again increased to 17 points and it looked like Dallas would win easily, with a 99-82 lead and just five minutes to go. Time to leave, right? Not in the NBA!  Golden State went on a 13-0 run, helped by a Monta Ellis technical foul and a couple of three balls from Klay Thompson and it was 99-95, still with over 2 minutes to go. I took the opportunity to run downstairs and saw Samuel Dalembert dunk to restore the 6-point lead, but Curry responded with a couple of free throws. Without calling timeout, Dallas ran a play and Dirk Nowitzki made a jumper. Dalembert fouled David Lee on the next possession and Lee made his two free throws (above) with 46 seconds left.  Golden State did not foul and allowed Dallas to run the clock down to 23, where Ellis missed a jumper. The Warriors missed a 3, called their final timeout, and missed a couple of more shots and just like that, the game was over.



I find it interesting that the Mavericks took 17-point leads on two occasions, only to let the Warriors climb back within 4 both times before they stemmed the tide. So much of basketball is runs, where a 9-0 dash can take just 5 total possessions. The difference in this game was turnovers, with the Warriors giving it up 18 times compared to just 6 for Dallas. Curry finished with 29 points (a far cry from the 54 he scored in New York in February, another 4-point loss for Golden State) while Nowitzki led Dallas with 22, one of six Mavs to finish in double figures.

It was an enjoyable and entertaining game, and yet more evidence that you should never leave early, even if you paid only $5.

Notes

The Raiders are visiting the Cowboys, making it three straight California teams in Dallas this week. I believe this is just a scheduling coincidence, but it makes a great Thanksgiving sports road trip for those   fans living in California.



Although American Airlines has changed their livery, they haven't updated the model airplanes in the arena yet. I guess I'll have to come back one more time to see that.

Best,

Sean

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Anaheim Ducks 3 at Dallas Stars 6 - November 26, 2013


I hadn't checked the NHL schedule this week to see if Dallas would be home while I was in town for the Cowboys on Thankgiving Day. Having seen them host Toronto a couple of years ago (also at Thanksgiving), I didn't have that much interest. However, I am an addict of sorts when it comes to live sports, so I had a quick glance at the schedule the night before I arrived and was amazed to see that Dallas would host the only NHL game on Tuesday night. With the Pacific-leading Ducks in town, it was a fairly compelling matchup. I had a 6-hour drive from Miami (Oklahoma), which was made a bit longer by horrendous Dallas traffic, but I arrived at my hotel around 4pm. I was staying very close to the Centerport TRE station, which offers return trips to Victory Station next to the American Airlines Center for just $5. After a few minutes of deliberation, I headed into town, unable to rest at the hotel when NHL hockey is just minutes away.



Tickets were available at the box office for just $15, but I tried to find something a bit cheaper. Scalpers were not being honest (surprise!), telling me the game was sold out, so I informed them that they were mistaken and offered to pay $10 for a lower seat. They found this both amusing and annoying, but one guy told me that the stadium would be empty and you could sit anywhere. Taking this into account, I bought the cheapie at the box office (giving the NHL my money unfortunately). It was in the top row, not a bad view actually, equivalent to the press box across the way.



You will notice all those empty seats, but I enjoyed being high up with plenty of room all around. In the third period, I moved to a seat behind the Ducks' net, which was a good move, but more on that shortly.



I wanted to see Dallas' new uniforms, which appeared quite ugly when I saw them previewed, but they were wearing their road whites for some reason. These aren't so bad, as you can see with goalie Dan Ellis below. Ellis was making his first start in 10 games as Kari Lehtonen has been seeing the bulk of the workload this year.



The Ducks can't say their uniforms are that great either, quite garish as you can see on Jonas Hiller.



The Game

Anaheim scored first when Emerson Etem converted a goalmouth pass midway at 6:06. It was his 6th of the season, and the Devils immediately inquired as to his availability (6 at 6:06, get it?). For me, it was great to see Etem score as he had played for Medicine Hat when I visited there just last year. That's him lining up next to Ray Whitney, who is a full 20 years older.



The Stars tied it in the second when Antoine Roussel had one bounce off his skate. There was no kicking motion, so "good goal". The Ducks regained the lead when Nick Bonino beat Ellis from a sharp angle with just 35 seconds left in the frame. Several fans decided to depart at that time, and I am sure they regretted their decision when they got home.



Just past the 5-minute mark of the third period, Cody Eakin snapped home a perfect pass from Erik Cole to tie the game. A mere 25 seconds later, Stephane Robidas had shot deflect over Hiller's shoulder, and 28 seconds after that, Ryan Garbutt blew by Cam Fowler and popped one into the top shelf. Three goals in 53 seconds and the Stars suddenly were up 4-2. Another Roussel goal six minutes later made it 5-2 (celebration above) and essentially clinched the game. Dustin Penner added a power play marker for Anaheim, but an empty netter by Alex Chiasson gave us the 6-3 final.



An entertaining game after all and well worth the trip downtown.

Notes

A player to watch is Valeri Nichushkin of Dallas, the 10th overall pick. He didn't appear on the scoresheet but at 18, he is still learning the game, not to mention English. Look for him to be an all-star in a few seasons, he was sneaky fast and good with the puck. Definitely a good reason to follow the Stars as they try to climb back to elite status.

Best,

Sean

Monday, November 25, 2013

San Diego Chargers 41 at Kansas City Chiefs 38 - November 24, 2013


The final quarter of the NFL road trip was supposed to be the one where I avoided the winter weather, but I didn't quite make it as Kansas City endured a bit of a cold snap on the weekend before Thanksgiving. On Saturday, Sporting KC won their semifinal in the coldest ever MLS game, one that I skipped to see the Missouri Mavericks. Sunday afternoon was somewhat warmer, but game time temperature at Arrowhead Stadium was a frigid 24 degrees. I had enough layers to avoid frostbite, but I don't have a true winter coat, which is still in transit from Asia. I must have looked pretty funny with about 5 layers, a scarf, a hoodie, a toque, and a flimsy fall jacket, but it did the trick.



I stayed at a hotel just across from Arrowhead, which allowed me to take the picture above, where the stadium looks more like a huge ark than a football arena. Look at all those cars too; this place has the best setup for tailgating and nearly every car had some sort of grill set up.



In front of the Founder's Plaza entrance stands a statue of Lamar Hunt, who was the owner of the Chiefs, an instrumental part of the AFL, and the man who coined the term Super Bowl. I did not do much of a walk around, but snapped the pic below showing that the ramp is actually quite small, meaning the upper deck is not that far from the field.



I had bought a ticket a couple of days before as I found a very cheap option on StubHub just 7 rows from the field in one end zone. The Chiefs had not responded to my request for a ticket at that time, but they did contact me on Saturday and told me that there would be a ticket at will call. It turned out to be a club seat, which was a godsend given the weather. I ended up entering via the club as there was no line, and wandered around there first.



The entire club area is very spacious and has a lot of good food options, with BBQ brisket looking to be the best. Hail to the Chiefs for providing me this option, which I made good use of in the second half. Below is the view from my seat and a side shot of the nine rows in the club seating area.





I then made my way downstairs and toured the crowded lower concourse. I was able to see the players warming up and grabbed a shot of Phillip Rivers. Love the Chargers' uniforms, even their road whites are quite stylish.



On the south side of the lower concourse, you will find a Hall of Honor that includes busts of all members. The Chiefs have had a storied history and it is very well presented here, although you will have to deal with lots of fans. The highlight is the trophy from Super Bowl IV, the last one with the logos of both the AFL and NFL on it. Interestingly, this one does not have the teams or the game score inscribed.



I then moved around taking pictures from a variety of angles. The stadium is great, with the upper deck quite close to the field, as the club section is relatively small. With each level having different seat colours, it is really eye-catching. Note the scoreboards are oval and differently sized.













With game time approaching, I hurried down to my seat and was quite happy with its location, just next to where the Chiefs were being introduced.



It would be a fool's errand to recap this game on a score-by-score basis. There were 10 touchdowns and 3 field goals, making it the highest scoring contest on the trip, beating the season opener's 76 points. It didn't start like that though, KC's first drive resulted in -3 net yards yet they got a first down (due to a Chargers' penalty), leading to the interesting stat line below.



After that, KC played well, and took a 14-3 lead on this Jamaal Charles run early in the second quarter.



Then the unthinkable happened. First Tamba Hali sprained his ankle, then Justin Houston (below tackling Phillip Rivers) suffered an elbow injury just after the 2 minute warning. These were the club's two top pass rushers, and with both lost for the game, San Diego started to go wild.



They scored a quick touchdown to end the first half when Rivers hit Danny Woodhead with an 11-yard pass with just 16 seconds left to make it 14-10.



At halftime, I moved back to the club to warm up and then enjoyed a crazy second stanza as the teams traded touchdowns the rest of the way. San Diego scored on their first possession to take a 17-14 lead (the second of eight lead changes) but Alex Smith (#11 below) seemed to have a reply every time.



Whenever the Chiefs scored, they celebrated with a horse riding across the field. Poor thing must have been exhausted after the game.



As you would expect, the battle was still undecided in the final minutes. San Diego was up 34-31 as KC took over with 3:51 to go. Smith marched the team down with some pinpoint passing, and culminated the drive by hitting Dwayne Bowe with a bullet that Bowe collected with one hand to give the Chiefs the lead yet again at 38-34. With just 1:22 to go, the Chiefs certainly seemed to be in control, but Rivers had other ideas.



After a couple of incompletions, Rivers hit Antonio Gates (#85 above) with a first down pass and called their second timeout. This was the key play of the game. Two quick passes to Woodhead who got out of bounds both times, and suddenly the Chargers were on the KC 33 with 44 seconds left. A pass interference penalty moved the ball to the 21, but Rivers was sacked on the next play, forcing the Chargers to use their final time out.



On the next play (above), Rivers found Seyi Ajirotutu streaking down the sideline. The ball just eluded Chiefs' defender Sean Smith and Ajirotutu held on in the end zone for his only catch of the game and the winning touchdown with just 24 seconds left. That's the shocking final below and judging from the looks on the frozen faces of the fans, they had no idea what had just happened.



For me, one of the most entertaining games on the trip, but not one of the best. I like to see some defense, and there were also 16 total penalties (I even snapped a pic of a flag being thrown) which always slows things down. Along with the injuries and a few reviews, the game took 3:32, too long for such a cold afternoon.



Notes

Keenan Allen (#13 below, signalling fair catch on a punt return) was the receiving star, grabbing 9 balls for 124 yards, good for 3rd in the league during the week. For the second week in a row, I saw the week's leading passer after Carson Palmer's game in Jacksonville the previous Sunday.



Next Up

There are just seven games left over the final five weeks. This week sees me in Texas for the Cowboys' Thanksgiving tilt against the Raiders before moving south to Houston for the Pats and Texans. I'm also going to San Antonio for the Spurs and AHL Rampage. Updates as always will be posted as soon as possible, assuming the hotel wi-fi is fast enough to upload all these pictures (it wasn't in KC).

Best,

Sean