Monday, December 29, 2014

NFL Playoff Picture after Week 17



The final playoff standings, going back all the way until the halfway point of the season.

NFC

Ari 7-1     Ari 8-1    Ari 9-1    Ari 9-2    Ari  9-3    Ari 10-3    Ari 11-3    Sea 11-4    Sea 12-4
Det 6-2     Det 7-2    Det 7-3    GB  8-3    GB   9-3    GB  10-3    Det 10-4    Det 11-4    GB  12-4
Phi 6-2     Phi 7-2    Phi 7-3    Phi 8-3    Phi  9-3    Phi  9-4    Dal 10-4    Dal 11-4    Dal 12-4
NO  4-4     NO  4-5    Atl 4-6    Atl 4-7    Atl  5-7    Atl  5-8    NO   6-8    Car 6-8-1   Car  7-8-1
Dal 6-2     Sea 6-3    GB  7-3    Dal 8-3    Sea  8-4    Sea  9-4    Sea 10-4    GB  11-4    Ari 11-5
Sea 5-3     Dal 6-3    Dal 7-3    Sea 7-4    Det  8-4    Det  9-4    GB  10-4    Ari 11-4    Det 11-5
--------    --------   --------   --------   ---------   ---------   ---------   ---------
GB  5-3     GB  6-3    SF  6-4    Det 7-4    Dal  8-4    Dal  9-4    Phi  9-5    Atl  6-9
SF  4-4     SF  5-4    Sea 6-4    SF  7-4    SF   7-5    SF   7-6    Car  5-8-1
Car 3-4-1              NO  4-6    NO  4-7    NO   5-7    NO   5-8    Atl  5-9

Even though Dallas beat Seattle and Seattle beat Green Bay, the NFL tiebreakers require a complete head-to-head sweep, and the Cowboys and Packers did not meet this season. The next tiebreaker is conference record, and Seattle (10-2) beats Green Bay (9-3) and Dallas (8-4). Arizona beat the Lions earlier to claim the 5th spot and the right to play in Carolina.

AFC

NE  6-2     NE  7-2    NE  8-2    NE  9-2    NE   9-3    NE  10-3    NE  11-3    NE  12-3    NE  12-4
Den 6-2     Den 7-2    Den 7-3    Den 8-3    Den  9-3    Den 10-3    Den 11-3    Den 11-4    Den 12-4
Cin 5-2-1   Pit 6-3    Cin 6-3-1  Cin 7-3-1  Cin  8-3-1  Ind  9-4    Ind 10-4    Cin 10-4-1  Pit 11-5
Ind 5-3     Ind 6-3    Ind 6-4    Ind 7-4    Ind  8-4    Cin  8-4-1  Cin  9-4-1  Ind 10-5    Ind 11-5
KC  5-3     KC  6-3    KC  7-3    KC  7-4    SD   8-4    Pit  8-5    Pit  9-5    Pit 10-5    Cin 10-5-1
SD  5-3     Cle 6-3    Mia 6-4    SD  7-4    Mia  7-5    SD   8-5    Bal  9-5    SD   9-6    Bal 10-6
--------    --------   ---------  ---------  ----------  ----------  ----------  ---------   ---------
Buf 5-3     Cin 5-3-1  SD  6-4    Bal 7-4    KC   7-5    Bal  8-5    KC   8-6    Bal  9-6    Hou  9-7
Mia 5-3     SD  5-4    Bal 6-4    Pit 7-4    Buf  7-5    Hou  7-6    SD   8-6    Hou  8-7    KC   9-7
Bal 5-3     Buf 5-4    Pit 6-4    Cle 7-4    Bal  7-5    Mia  7-6    Buf  8-6    KC   8-7    SD   9-7
Pit 5-3     Mia 5-4    Cle 6-4    Mia 6-5    Pit  7-5    KC   7-6    Hou  7-7                Buf  9-7
Cle 5-3     Bal 5-4    Hou 5-5    Buf 6-5    Cle  7-5    Buf  7-6    Mia  7-7
Hou 4-4     Hou 4-5    Buf 5-5    Hou 5-6    Hou  6-6    Cle  7-6    Cle  7-7


New England beat Denver to claim top spot, while Pittsburgh's thumping of Indy notches them the third seed. Buffalo finished just a game out of the playoffs, although they would not have made it even if they had beaten Oakland last weekend.

Looking back to the halfway point, Philly and New Orleans (who met in the playoffs last season) dropped out in favour of Green Bay and Carolina, while the Chiefs and Chargers were replaced by Pittsburgh and Baltimore, a result of the AFC North enjoying a weak schedule against the AFC and NFC South. Seeded playoff proponents note that the unbalanced schedule is equally unfair.

Best,

Sean

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Sunday Ticket Ripoff


Last season, while I was in the midst of my NFL Road Trip, I read a number of articles describing how attending NFL games was generally an unenjoyable experience. According to these writers, it was much better to stay at home and watch all the games on Sunday Ticket, the package provided by DirectTV, instead of enduring the travails of traffic, ticket prices, and drunken fans. This season I decided to test that theory.

Although the package is generally only available to those with DirectTV, some NYC residents are eligible, as I found out to my initial glee. There are two packages: the basic at $199 and Max at $329. I purchased the basic option with the expectation that I would be able to see every game outside of those played on Thursday, Monday and Sunday nights. Not even close. Of course, since I live in NYC, Jets and Giants games are not available on either package, but that's no biggie as both teams sucked. However, a problem arose when the local Fox or CBS affiliate broadcast a game without either of those two teams, which usually happens during the late game window. In that case, Sunday Ticket will not carry the game. For example, when Denver visited New England a few weeks ago, I was left with a game featuring Oakland. In Week 17, both late games with playoff implications (Detroit at Green Bay and Carolina at Atlanta) were broadcast locally so those with Sunday Ticket got to watch teams playing out the string or resting starters for the playoffs.

That is not the only issue. The Max package includes access to the Red Zone Channel, which I thought that was the only major benefit, but I should have read the fine print. The regular package only allows you to watch Sunday Ticket on one device, so my plans to have three games streaming simultaneously was quickly quashed. Still, there was the Game Mix option where four games could be watched on the same screen. As long as you don't try to maximize that screen. Yes, even that simple feature would cost another $130. So for the first few weeks, I tried to make do with watching four games, each being played in an area the size of an iPhone. That is simply not enjoyable, even though football is the best sport to watch multiple games, with about 10 seconds of action for every minute of real time. For the rest of the season, I picked one game and concentrated on it.

Not all is terrible with Sunday Ticket: when a big play happens in another game, you are presented with a brief description of the play and have the option to click to see the highlight (even for games not available for regular viewing) without missing any of the action in your game. And after the game, all big plays are available. Still, that is not worth the overall price given the limitations.

In sum, out of 256 NFL regular season games, Sunday Ticket allows you to view about 160 of them, for just over $1 a game. The only way this could possibly be worthwhile is if you live out of the TV market of your favourite team (that gets few prime time games). For me it mostly a waste, particularly considering I was at NFL games on six Sundays in 2014. Compared to the NHL Center Ice and MLB.TV packages, Sunday Ticket is just not that good an investment. Think twice if you are considering buying it in 2015.

Best,

Sean

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Bridgeport Sound Tigers 5 at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 0 (AHL) - December 27, 2014


After a quick trip to celebrate the holidays back in Canada, I drove home to NYC on Saturday. Although the trip is only seven hours, I decided to stop in Wilkes-Barre, PA, to see an AHL game. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins play in the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in what must be the longest team/arena combo in pro sports. The arena is surrounded by a huge parking lot which is free and well managed, with several attendants guiding fans to their specific spot. I arrived just as the game was getting under way but had no trouble purchasing the cheapest ticket at $18, in the first row of the upper bowl behind the net. As I made my way around the concourse, I spotted a standing area in one corner and spent the first period there (view below).





I also noticed that the last row in the second deck was empty (above), so I decided to forgo my assigned seat (a rather uncomfortable looking folding chair) and move to section 218, which presented a clear view of the entire ice surface.



This area also is right in front of some banners commemorating those who had played here before moving up to Pittsburgh.





Bridgeport (affiliate of the NY Islanders) was in town, and they have a lot of recognizable names, including Reinhart (Griffin, the 4th overall pick in 2012 and son of Paul, shown above), Courtnall (Justin, son of Geoff), Langkow (Chris, cousin of Daymond), Conacher (former Senator and Sabre Cory) and Sundstrom (Johan, the Islanders 2nd-round pick in 2011, but no relation to the many other Sundstroms who have played in the NHL). Both teams had their primary goaltenders called up before the game, leading to a battle of the backups between David Leggio of Bridgeport (below) and Matt Murray.



The game was less than stellar for the home team, who seemed to be suffering from a bit of a Christmas hangover. Bridgeport scored the only goal of the first on a great one-timer from Kael Mouillierat. The Penguins took a stupid penalty with three seconds left in the first frame, and then another just 50 seconds into the second, and Bridgeport capitalized when Colin McDonald banged home a rebound just as the first penalty expired. The visitors added two more in a 50-second span late  in the period to salt the game away. The third period was completely unremarkable and I left a couple of minutes early, missing another tally from McDonald as the Sound Tigers soundly thrashed the Penguins 5-0, with Leggio picking up his first shutout as a Tiger. If you really care, highlights are here. A pretty dull affair with Sundstrom getting knocked down in a silly attempt at fighting the only thing the home fans had to cheer.



Notes

The parent Penguins were also shutout at home, 3-0 by Washington.

I had seen a playoff game here back in 2003, so this doesn't count as a new venue, even though the name changed.

You can get $10 in free play at the nearby Mohegan Sun Casino with your game ticket. Definitely worth looking around for dropped ducats if you are staying in the city for a day or two.

Best,

Sean

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

NFL Playoff Picture after Week 16


The playoff picture has cleared up considerably, with just two spots left up for grabs among six teams.

NFC

Ari 7-1     Ari 8-1    Ari 9-1    Ari 9-2    Ari  9-3    Ari 10-3    Ari 11-3    Sea 11-4
Det 6-2     Det 7-2    Det 7-3    GB  8-3    GB   9-3    GB  10-3    Det 10-4    Det 11-4
Phi 6-2     Phi 7-2    Phi 7-3    Phi 8-3    Phi  9-3    Phi  9-4    Dal 10-4    Dal 11-4
NO  4-4     NO  4-5    Atl 4-6    Atl 4-7    Atl  5-7    Atl  5-8    NO   6-8    Car 6-8-1
Dal 6-2     Sea 6-3    GB  7-3    Dal 8-3    Sea  8-4    Sea  9-4    Sea 10-4    GB  11-4
Sea 5-3     Dal 6-3    Dal 7-3    Sea 7-4    Det  8-4    Det  9-4    GB  10-4    Ari 11-4
--------    --------   --------   --------   ---------   ---------   ---------   ---------
GB  5-3     GB  6-3    SF  6-4    Det 7-4    Dal  8-4    Dal  9-4    Phi  9-5    Atl  6-9
SF  4-4     SF  5-4    Sea 6-4    SF  7-4    SF   7-5    SF   7-6    Car  5-8-1
Car 3-4-1              NO  4-6    NO  4-7    NO   5-7    NO   5-8    Atl  5-9

Five teams at 11-4, with Seattle and Detroit taking the division titles due to head-to-head results over the wild card teams. Seattle and Detroit have a better conference record than Dallas, and the Seahawks have a better record than the Lions in common games, the same tiebreaker that gives Green Bay the 5th seed over Arizona. Only Atlanta can make it in at Carolina's expense as they meet in Week 17. Looking back to the halfway point, Philly lost out to the Packers, while New Orleans horrible second half cost them a playoff spot.

AFC

NE  6-2     NE  7-2    NE  8-2    NE  9-2    NE   9-3    NE  10-3    NE  11-3    NE  12-3
Den 6-2     Den 7-2    Den 7-3    Den 8-3    Den  9-3    Den 10-3    Den 11-3    Den 11-4 
Cin 5-2-1   Pit 6-3    Cin 6-3-1  Cin 7-3-1  Cin  8-3-1  Ind  9-4    Ind 10-4    Cin 10-4-1
Ind 5-3     Ind 6-3    Ind 6-4    Ind 7-4    Ind  8-4    Cin  8-4-1  Cin  9-4-1  Ind 10-5
KC  5-3     KC  6-3    KC  7-3    KC  7-4    SD   8-4    Pit  8-5    Pit  9-5    Pit 10-5
SD  5-3     Cle 6-3    Mia 6-4    SD  7-4    Mia  7-5    SD   8-5    Bal  9-5    SD   9-6
--------    --------   ---------  ---------  ----------  ----------  ----------  ---------
Buf 5-3     Cin 5-3-1  SD  6-4    Bal 7-4    KC   7-5    Bal  8-5    KC   8-6    Bal  9-6
Mia 5-3     SD  5-4    Bal 6-4    Pit 7-4    Buf  7-5    Hou  7-6    SD   8-6    Hou  8-7
Bal 5-3     Buf 5-4    Pit 6-4    Cle 7-4    Bal  7-5    Mia  7-6    Buf  8-6    KC   8-7
Pit 5-3     Mia 5-4    Cle 6-4    Mia 6-5    Pit  7-5    KC   7-6    Hou  7-7 
Cle 5-3     Bal 5-4    Hou 5-5    Buf 6-5    Cle  7-5    Buf  7-6    Mia  7-7
Hou 4-4     Hou 4-5    Buf 5-5    Hou 5-6    Hou  6-6    Cle  7-6    Cle  7-7

Mike Nugent's missed field goal against Carolina could cost them the 2nd seed now that they have defeated Denver. San Diego's win in Baltimore gives them the final spot, while Baltimore, who should beat Cleveland, needs the Chargers to lose in Kansas City to get in. Compared to the standings after 8 games Pittsburgh have replaced Kansas City as the only new AFC playoff team in 2014.

Best,

Sean

Monday, December 22, 2014

Buffalo Bills 24 at Oakland Raiders 26 - December 21, 2014


After a thrilling Saturday night game between San Francisco and San Diego, Sharpy and I made our way to Oakland to watch the Bills continue their unlikely playoff quest. The early games were falling Buffalo's way, with Baltimore and Kansas City losing, and we were optimistic as the game kicked off under a bright solstice sky.



We had excellent seats for this one, but it didn't matter as everyone stood from the start of the game to the finish. Thus I didn't get many good pictures. We were in a section populated mostly by Buffalo fans, though those we talked to were all living in the Bay Area now. This was the Bills first visit to Oakland since 2005.



The Raiders were improving having defeated Kansas City and San Francisco in recent weeks, and the Bills were coming off a huge upset over Green Bay before a visit to New England next week. These "gimmes" are known as trap games, but the Bills showed no ill effects early, stopping Oakland on three plays and then scoring on a beautiful 42-yard pass from Kyle Orton (above) to rookie Sammy Watkins (below).



That the was high point of the day, coming about an hour before the low point (the winter solstice that is, the lowest high point of the sun in the sky). Oakland could get nothing moving, going three and-out on their first three possessions, but Buffalo did not take advantage. Orton was intercepted on the Bills second drive and briefly intercepted on their third, but that was overturned after review. The Raiders finally got a first down on their fourth possession when Derek Carr (below) found Kembrell Thompkins for a 13-yard gain, and later on the drive, the two connected for a 50-yard bomb that put the Raiders on the Buffalo 4-yard line. The first play of the second quarter saw Carr toss a short TD pass to James Jones and the game was tied at 7.



After Buffalo went three-and-out, the Raiders began another drive with a handoff to Latavius Murray. He was tackled by Marcell Dareus, who was injured on the play and had to leave the game. That was the turning point as the Raiders soon established a strong running game, taking advantage of the Bills depleted line. Football teams may have 46 players on game day, but one injury is all it takes to turn a strength into a weakness. The only friend the Bills had was the replay official, who again ruled in their favour when Robert Woods fumbled after catching a ball over the middle. The lengthy review ruled the play as an incompletion, but it mattered little as the Bills punted yet again.



After that, Oakland began to run the ball with some consistency, getting close to the Red Zone before bogging down, leading to a couple of field goals from Sebastian Janikowski. The Bills replied with one of their own as the half ended with the visitors down 13-10.



Buffalo did nothing on their first two possessions of the second half while Oakland managed two more field goals, running 19 plays over 8 minutes and extending the lead to 19-10. When the fourth quarter began, Orton found Scott Chandler over the middle for a 29-yard score and the Bills were still alive, down 2. They managed a defensive stop and took over on their 14, gaining two first downs but punting on a 4th-and-1 from their own 46 with 8:22 left Given their inability to move the ball, it is hard to second guess the decision to punt, but ultimately it cost them the game. Carr showed poise in calmly leading the offense through a balanced mixture of runs and passes, with the key play a 25-yard dash by Darren McFadden (above) that saw him pushed out of bounds at the 1. The next play saw Carr connect on a pass to Jamize Olawale to make it a two-score game (below). The drive took 5:22 off the clock, giving the Bills little time for a miracle.



On their next possession, Orton overthrew his receiver and Brandian Ross accepted the early Christmas gift, essentially ending the game. Extremely depressed, being either mocked or pitied by the Raiders faithful (it hurts when fans of a 3-12 team pity you) and with red-eye flights to catch, we left at this point, breaking one of my rules. Following the game online, I saw the Bills use their remaining timeouts and the two minute warning to stop the clock, and then Janikowski missed a field goal, keeping Buffalo within 9. A garbage-time touchdown drive later and there was a brief moment of hope, but the onside kick was recovered by Oakland, ending the meaningful portion of the Bills season. Fifteen consecutive years without a playoff berth and without a first-round pick in the upcoming draft, the early season excitement has again reverted to elimination ennui.

Notes

I am 0-6 when watching the Bills and will now accept donations from any opposing fans to attend Bills games that your team needs to win.

Next Up

Other than some games in New York, there's not much to see in the next few months. With Club 122 opening no new venues in 2015 (other than the Islanders in Barclays Center, which doesn't require me to leave town), I'm planning a few international trips instead, including visiting the Barbados in May for some English cricket and a return trip to London in October for the Rugby World Cup.

A January trip to Iceland and Denmark should net at least one hockey game, but it won't be until baseball season that I start to get busy again. I plan to see the Blue Jays in Houston for a 4-game set in May along with several minor league parks, and then see their interleague battles in Washington and New York in June. I also want to revisit Nashville for their new AAA ballpark. A possible CFL  road trip lurks in the background. I'll be posting my tentative 2015 schedule in a few days, so check back to see what is on tap.

Best,

Sean

Sunday, December 21, 2014

San Diego Chargers 38 at San Francisco 49ers 35 (OT) - December 20, 2014




One of the fun parts of being a member of Club 122 is keeping current with all the new stadiums that open on a regular basis. Every year, at least one franchise in the Big 4 sports leagues moves into a shiny new venue, necessitating a trip for myself. Though I am happy to revisit cities and add another venue to my list, local residents sometimes take an opposite stance. These new baubles often see a team shafting its fan base in two ways; using public financing to pay for part of the construction (while retaining all profits afterwards) and then jacking up ticket prices for the inaugural season, or charging fees for personal seat licenses.



There is scant evidence that having a sports team helps the community in any meaningful way, at least financially, as relatively few fans actually travel for sports on a regular basis (many that you see in visiting colours are actually transplants). Civic pride is extremely powerful though, and you will continue to see communities held for ransom as teams threaten to move elsewhere unless they get a new stadium deal. I try not to be cynical regarding the way in which billionaire owners fleece their fans; but after a visit to Levi's Stadium, it is harder than ever.



The stadium was built using a creative financing plan that resulted in no taxes to residents of Santa Clara, the town 50 miles south of San Francisco in which Levi's Stadium sits. Instead, hotel taxes (a despised revenue generation method by sports road trippers) and other methods of raising money were used, which allowed a bill to pass allowing for construction to begin in 2012. The result is a beautiful stadium that serves more as a vehicle for corporate sponsorship than athletic endeavours. The entrances are sponsored (Dignity Health Gate C for example), as are several different club zones, such as the Yahoo Sports Zone and the United Club. You can see the major sponsors atop the upper seating bowl in the picture below.



My biggest complaint is that all the good seats between the 30-yard lines in the lower levels are club seats, which means that they often sit half-empty during games as many corporate types seem disinterested in the product on the field. Speaking to some fans who were season-ticket holders in Candlestick, I learned that the atmosphere here was not nearly as frantic as that in the old place and it is possible that the 49ers will suffer as a result of a decreased home advantage.



Having said that, Levi's Stadium is a huge improvement over Candlestick Park. Public transit options are plentiful. I recommend coming in from the south using VTA bus #60 from Santa Clara, which avoids much of the traffic snarl that affects those coming from the city and is far less crowded than light rail after the game. At $4 round trip, it is a good deal and you will get a seat both ways.



The stadium is surrounded by a screening perimeter, which includes a pregame party with some sports bars selling Bud Light. Inside, access to the seating bowl is controlled via stairways and escalators from large open-air plazas (above). Concourses are wide, and the seating bowl is uniquely designed, with the west side of the stadium containing the SAP Tower, which includes two levels of seats (those in the darker red are in the club sections), three levels of suites, the Press Box, and a rooftop terrace. It is a unique part of the stadium and a smart design that resembles Ford Field in this aspect.



There are only 68,500 seats here; cynics might claim that less supply means higher prices. To be fair, with the suites only on one side of the field, the upper deck seats are not that bad; the shot below is from the highest point in the seating bowl at the top of section 401.



As you can see, there are no end zone seats on the 400 level. The first row of both the 300 and 400 levels has a railing, but I don't think that it would impact your view. The ideal seats are in the 200 level, which are still close to the field but offer the elevated view that allows you to see the formation and the development of the play below you.



Below are a few more shots from various angles. I really enjoy the way the red seats play off the green field, this is one of the most aesthetically pleasing venues around.













There are a number of sponsor booths along the concourse, including one for the San Jose Sharks, who will play here in February. The one place you'll want to visit is the 49ers Museum at the north end of the facility. Ticket holders are charged a nominal (ha!) fee of $15 to see the history of this proud franchise. I happened to see much of this for free at Candlestick last year, so I deferred my visit to spend more time wandering the concourses.



Food is ridiculously overpriced, steamed buns are $10 for example. I understand much of it is locally sourced, but if that's the case, why is it so costly? Obviously the Bay Area has more than its share of extremely wealthy individuals who don't mind throwing down $8.25 for a hot dog or $12 for a sandwich. I am not one of those people, so I cannot comment on how the food tastes. To be honest, I was kindly given a media credential by the 49ers, so I was able to enjoy the press box meal, which was quite good, as is some of the artwork on display there, such as this collection of Sports Illustrated covers featuring 49ers.



Sharpy was with me on the trip and picked up a club ticket on the secondary market for a very reasonable price, about 1/3 of face value according to those sitting near him. The seats here are padded and much more comfortable than those in the other sections. The club areas are swanky and offer some additional food items not found elsewhere. Note that even within the clubs, there are some areas where only the truly elite can enter. I generally avoid club areas, but recommend it here if you can find an affordable it as it opens up much more of the stadium to you. Below is one of the bars in the Yahoo Sports Zone.



Standing room tickets are the other recommendation ; they are the cheapest alternative at around $50 and you can stand at any drink rail to enjoy the game, keeping in mind that those in front of you might have paid four times as much for the pleasure of sitting down.



Overall, Levi's Stadium is a fitting addition to the world of professional sports venues; generally expensive, catering to a corporate crowd and mostly pricing out serious fans, but offering just enough options for those who don't mind sacrificing a bit of comfort to see the game. A visit is mandatory for any NFL road tripper; do your research and you should be able to enjoy the afternoon here without resorting to a second mortgage.

The Game

The 49ers had been eliminated from the playoff race the previous week, so there was a distinct lack of buzz as the Chargers came to town needing to win to keep their postseason hopes alive. I was rooting for the 49ers as that would help the Bills playoff chances; they had already lost to San Diego in a game I attended back in September (note the betting recommendation). This one tumed out to be a much more entertaining affair, though not necessarily a well-played one.

Things did not start well for the Chargers as the 49ers scored on their first possession when Frank Gore rumbled 52 yards for a touchdown. After each team committed a turnover, the 49ers drove down and scored on an 8-yard pass from Colin Kaepernick to Bruce Ellington to make it 14-0. On the next drive, Rivers was picked off for the second time, this one taken to the house from a suitable 49 yards out by Antoine Bethea and it was suddenly 21-0 for the home team. Game over, right? Not even close.



Each team scored one touchdown before the halftime break, and the Chargers took the ball to start the  second stanza, only to go three-and-out. The 49ers did likewise, and the game hit a bit of a slow spot  until midway through the third quarter when Rivers connected with Antonio Gates for a 1-yard score to cap a 59-yard drive. As the 49ers began their next possession, Gore was penalized for a chop block that led to a third-and-20 situation from their 22. Kaepernick went back to pass and was sacked, fumbling the ball into the end zone, where Corey Liuget recovered it for a touchdown. Yikes, 28-21 suddenly. Not to worry, 49er fans, as Kaepernick showed his wheels on the second play from scrimmage, scampering 90 yards to regain the 14-point lead. It was the second longest QB run in NFL history, with Terrelle Pryor"s 93-yarder from last season the only one superior.



It certainly looked like the Chargers playoff chances were slim, but never count Rivers out and never leave early. Down 35-21 with 8:55 to go. Rivers led the offense on a 9-play drive culminating in a 21-yard TD pass to Gates. The 49ers took over, and needed just a couple of first downs to pretty much clinch the game, but Kaepernick foolishly ran out of bounds on a 3rd down play, losing a yard and stopping the clock with 3:34 to go. That gave Rivers more than enough time to mount an amazing drive. Twice he faced 4th and long, and twice he found receivers for 17-yard gains. At first and goal from the 9, Rivers was sacked, forcing the Chargers to use their final timeout. That allowed them to set up a play that saw Malcolm Floyd wide open in the end zone and the game was tied at 35 with just over 30 seconds left. The 49ers had a few plays but couldn't get close enough for a realistic field goal attempt as Phil Dawson's 60-yard attempt fell laughably short.



The 49ers won the overtime coin toss but on their second play, Quinton Patton ran an end around into open space, only to fumble after gaining 20 yards, their third of the evening. The Chargers recovered and after a couple of short passes to move into San Francisco territory, handed off to Ronnie Brown six times in a row to get the ball to the 22-yard line. From there, Nick Novak had no trouble with a 40-yard kick (below, taken from the farthest reaches of the press box) and the Chargers stayed alive with an amazing 38-35 comeback win.



Penalties and turnovers were all the rage in this one as you can see below. Not pretty, but a lot of fun to watch. That is often true for many NFL games - so much can happen that sometimes it is the messier games that are more entertaining. Note that the teams finished just a yard apart in total yards, while their passing and rushing totals were almost exact opposites.



This one had it all, except a favourable outcome for the Bills who were probably watching over in Oakland. The Chargers win made Buffalo's playoff task all the more difficult but in the end, it mattered not as they couldn't even take care of their part of the bargain, but that will be the next recap.

Best,

Sean

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Eastern Washington Eagles 67 at California Golden Bears 78 (NCAA Basketball) - December 19, 2014


I have returned to the Bay Area to retain my membership in Club 122 with a visit to Levi's Stadium today. When the NFL schedule first came out, I immediately circled this weekend, with the 49ers hosting the Chargers on Saturday and the Bills in Oakland on Sunday. With San Francisco a six-hour flight from NYC, two days is too tiring of a trip, so I also took Friday off and flew on Thursday night, giving me another day to find a sporting event in the area. I originally planned to drive to Stockton to see an ECHL game, but upon reviewing the NCAA basketball slate for Friday evening, I discovered that the Cal Bears were hosting Eastern Washington in Berkeley. With tickets just $5 and Berkeley about  30 miles closer than Stockton, I made an executive decision and drove the 50 miles north from Santa Clara. Even leaving at 2 pm saw us (Sharpy has joined me on this trip) hit major rush hour traffic and what should have been a 45-minute jaunt took nearly two hours. In the end, this worked well though as we found street parking with a two-hour limit that expired at 6 pm. Perfect. Leaving the car at 4 pm, we enjoyed a couple of beers at Jupiter, a wonderful brew pub just a couple of blocks away from the venue.



Before that, we did check out Haas Pavilion, home of the Golden Bears. Named for Walter A. Haas, Jr., who once owned the Oakland A's, it was originally built in 1933 and known as Harmon Gym until it was extensively renovated between 1997 and 1999. A new seating bowl was built inside the existing walls, nearly doubling capacity to 11,877. Although the ticket office was not open, we were able to walk around the facility without being kicked out, allowing for some pictures of the empty seating bowl (below). Note the very steep sideline seats, you are right on top of the action here even in row 25.





Wandering around the very narrow, carpeted upper concourses (above), I spotted an old fountain (below) that had been maintained, one of the few signs that the underlying structure was over 80 years old.



Inside the seating bowl, the center seats have chairbacks and ran as high as $70 for this game and will be even more when conference games get underway. As Eastern Washington was in town, there was a special with corner seats just $5. As the place was less than half full, this was the obvious option, as we were able to move to a better seat after the first TV timeout. Note the five rows of gold benches courtside below - this is known as "The Bench", and is a student section, where the band also sits. I love the fact that the this power conference university forgoes revenue opportunities to allow their students to fully enjoy the athletic experience.



Near the end of the game, we moved to a baseline seat, which isn't great because the opposite basket is blocked by the shot clock.



Cal has had several good teams over the years and even won the 1949 NCAA title, but their most famous alumni are Jason Kidd, now coaching in Milwaukee, and Kevin Johnson, now mayoring in Sacramento.



Other than the food (I tried a tasteless bacon-wrapped hot dog that wasn't worth seven cents never mind $7), I was very impressed with Haas Pavilion. They managed to retain a historic building while turning it into a contemporary venue, keeping the interests of the student body in mind as well. Superb place to watch quality college basketball and a must-visit for any fan of the game.

The Game

Eastern Washington were the visitors, coming in with a 8-3 record, while Cal was 9-1, their only loss against Texas at the 2K Classic last month. The Bears have not played too many strong teams, with their win over Syracuse that I partially attended their only top-50 RPI scalp. The player to watch for the Eagles is Venky Jois (below), a junior forward from Australia whose .603 FG percentage was in the top 75 in the nation.



Jois scored 9 points early as the Eagles broke out to a 12-9 lead, and then Tyler Harvey added a couple of treys and a layup to make it 21-14 midway through the half. Cal then turned on the defense and spent the rest of the half on a 23-5 run to take an 11-point lead into the break.



The second half started much the same as the first, with Jois and Harvey combining for 17 points as Eastern Washington climbed back into the contest, trailing just 51-49 with 9:41 to go, but that was as close as they got, as Cal went on a quick 9-0 run to regain the 11-point advantage, and the rest of the match was evenly played as the Golden Bears won easily, 78-67.



Note that Harvey (#1) and Jois combined for 54 of the Eagles 67 points. Basketball is a team game, and the rest of the team will need to get involved if they are to make any noise in the Big Sky this year. Meanwhile, Cal might sneak into the top 25 if they continue to win, but with #5 Wisconsin in town on Monday, it will be a tough task to get there before the new year. Whatever the case, I've become addicted to college hoops, with 351 Division I teams, this is a sports roadtrippers dream. At just over 3 months, the schedule is too short to see more than 50 games in a season (not that I will ever try) so you'd be looking at 7 years to get all these done. I've seen 19 so far, so still a long way to go.

Next Up

My Club 122 membership remains active as I am visiting Levi's Stadium today. Check back tomorrow for a recap!

Best,

Sean

Monday, December 15, 2014

NFL Playoff Picture after Week 15


Johnny Manziel had a few good games at Texas A&M. Sorry, this is the NFL. The guy is a talentless and arrogant and will be out of the league shortly. As the Browns are out of the playoffs.

NFC

Ari 7-1     Ari 8-1    Ari 9-1    Ari 9-2    Ari  9-3    Ari 10-3    Ari 11-3
Det 6-2     Det 7-2    Det 7-3    GB  8-3    GB   9-3    GB  10-3    Det 10-4
Phi 6-2     Phi 7-2    Phi 7-3    Phi 8-3    Phi  9-3    Phi  9-4    Dal 10-4
NO  4-4     NO  4-5    Atl 4-6    Atl 4-7    Atl  5-7    Atl  5-8    NO   6-8
Dal 6-2     Sea 6-3    GB  7-3    Dal 8-3    Sea  8-4    Sea  9-4    Sea 10-4
Sea 5-3     Dal 6-3    Dal 7-3    Sea 7-4    Det  8-4    Det  9-4    GB  10-4
--------    --------   --------   --------   ---------   ---------   ---------
GB  5-3     GB  6-3    SF  6-4    Det 7-4    Dal  8-4    Dal  9-4    Phi  9-5
SF  4-4     SF  5-4    Sea 6-4    SF  7-4    SF   7-5    SF   7-6    Car  5-8-1
Car 3-4-1              NO  4-6    NO  4-7    NO   5-7    NO   5-8    Atl  5-9

Dallas returns to the top 6 with their win over Philadelphia, who suddenly find themselves outside of the playoffs. Detroit between Green Bay earlier in the year, and their 8-2 conference record gets them the first-round bye over Dallas, while Green Bay's season-opening loss to Seattle gives them the final seed. The NFC South battle rages on.

AFC

NE  6-2     NE  7-2    NE  8-2    NE  9-2    NE   9-3    NE  10-3    NE  11-3
Den 6-2     Den 7-2    Den 7-3    Den 8-3    Den  9-3    Den 10-3    Den 11-3
Cin 5-2-1   Pit 6-3    Cin 6-3-1  Cin 7-3-1  Cin  8-3-1  Ind  9-4    Ind 10-4
Ind 5-3     Ind 6-3    Ind 6-4    Ind 7-4    Ind  8-4    Cin  8-4-1  Cin  9-4-1
KC  5-3     KC  6-3    KC  7-3    KC  7-4    SD   8-4    Pit  8-5    Pit  9-5
SD  5-3     Cle 6-3    Mia 6-4    SD  7-4    Mia  7-5    SD   8-5    Bal  9-5
--------    --------   ---------  ---------  ----------  ----------  ----------
Buf 5-3     Cin 5-3-1  SD  6-4    Bal 7-4    KC   7-5    Bal  8-5    KC   8-6
Mia 5-3     SD  5-4    Bal 6-4    Pit 7-4    Buf  7-5    Hou  7-6    SD   8-6
Bal 5-3     Buf 5-4    Pit 6-4    Cle 7-4    Bal  7-5    Mia  7-6    Buf  8-6
Pit 5-3     Mia 5-4    Cle 6-4    Mia 6-5    Pit  7-5    KC   7-6    Hou  7-7 
Cle 5-3     Bal 5-4    Hou 5-5    Buf 6-5    Cle  7-5    Buf  7-6    Mia  7-7
Hou 4-4     Hou 4-5    Buf 5-5    Hou 5-6    Hou  6-6    Cle  7-6    Cle  7-7

Baltimore jumps into the playoffs for the first time with their win over Jacksonville. Buffalo's upset over Green Bay keeps them alive, while Houston, Miami, and Cleveland are pretty much done for the year, though mathematically alive.

Best,

Sean

Monday, December 8, 2014

NFL Playoff Picture after Week 14


Cleveland, Buffalo, and San Francisco all probably bowed out of the race this past weekend, but they are still listed because this season, nothing is a given.

NFC

Ari 7-1     Ari 8-1    Ari 9-1    Ari 9-2    Ari  9-3    Ari 10-3
Det 6-2     Det 7-2    Det 7-3    GB  8-3    GB   9-3    GB  10-3
Phi 6-2     Phi 7-2    Phi 7-3    Phi 8-3    Phi  9-3    Phi  9-4   
NO  4-4     NO  4-5    Atl 4-6    Atl 4-7    Atl  5-7    Atl  5-8
Dal 6-2     Sea 6-3    GB  7-3    Dal 8-3    Sea  8-4    Sea  9-4
Sea 5-3     Dal 6-3    Dal 7-3    Sea 7-4    Det  8-4    Det  9-4
--------    --------   --------   --------   ---------   ---------
GB  5-3     GB  6-3    SF  6-4    Det 7-4    Dal  8-4    Dal  9-4
SF  4-4     SF  5-4    Sea 6-4    SF  7-4    SF   7-5    SF   7-6
Car 3-4-1              NO  4-6    NO  4-7    NO   5-7    NO   5-8

No changes to the standings. Cardinals still take the top spot because of a better conference record than Green Bay. Philly takes the NFC East because of their Thanksgiving win over Dallas, who is still out of the playoffs due to their 6-4 conference record, worse than the 7-2 sported by Seattle and Detroit. The Seahawks get the 5th seed based on a better record than the Lions in common games.

AFC

NE  6-2     NE  7-2    NE  8-2    NE  9-2    NE   9-3    NE  10-3
Den 6-2     Den 7-2    Den 7-3    Den 8-3    Den  9-3    Den 10-3
Cin 5-2-1   Pit 6-3    Cin 6-3-1  Cin 7-3-1  Cin  8-3-1  Ind  9-4
Ind 5-3     Ind 6-3    Ind 6-4    Ind 7-4    Ind  8-4    Cin  8-4-1
KC  5-3     KC  6-3    KC  7-3    KC  7-4    SD   8-4    Pit  8-5
SD  5-3     Cle 6-3    Mia 6-4    SD  7-4    Mia  7-5    SD   8-5
--------    --------   ---------  ---------  ----------  ----------
Buf 5-3     Cin 5-3-1  SD  6-4    Bal 7-4    KC   7-5    Bal  8-5
Mia 5-3     SD  5-4    Bal 6-4    Pit 7-4    Buf  7-5    Hou  7-6
Bal 5-3     Buf 5-4    Pit 6-4    Cle 7-4    Bal  7-5    Mia  7-6
Pit 5-3     Mia 5-4    Cle 6-4    Mia 6-5    Pit  7-5    KC   7-6
Cle 5-3     Bal 5-4    Hou 5-5    Buf 6-5    Cle  7-5    Buf  7-6
Hou 4-4     Hou 4-5    Buf 5-5    Hou 5-6    Hou  6-6    Cle  7-6

Indy jumps Cincy into third, while Pittsburgh moves up from 10th to 5th. The Steelers have a better divisional record than Baltimore (3-2 to 2-3), and a better conference record than San Diego (7-3 to 6-4), while the Chargers take the final spot due to their win in Baltimore in Week 13.

Best,

Sean

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Weekend at Yale


I visited New Haven back in September and saw one of the great upsets in college football this season when the Yale Bulldogs knocked off Army. With a weekend free in December, I decided to revisit, this time scheduling the trip around a Yale hockey game. It was a miserable time to travel though, as a nearly constant downpour soaked the city Friday and Saturday. Without a car, I was pretty much trapped at the hotel, but the Bulldogs had a couple of contests that kept me entertained.



Yale plays their hockey at Ingalls Rink, one of the most interesting venues in all of college sports. Designed by architect Eero Saarinen, it is a cool looking building during the day. Unfortunately, 1 arrived at night in a downpour and didn't bother taking a picture. Check out the Stadium Journey link above for a good shot.



Inside, the unique design continues, with the outer concourse rising up as you move towards center ice. Note the banners, including the really big one commemorating the Bulldogs 2013 national title.



Make sure to head downstairs as well, where there are small displays on the history of the building and Yale Hockey, as well as some vending machines should the rather dull concession offerings fail to tempt your taste buds.



The game featured RPI (in red above) visiting Yale in an ECAC battle, and frankly I don't remember too much about it. Yale won 5-2 in a game highlighted by some great goaltending from Alex Lyon (actually letting one in in the shot above), but the overall play was pretty choppy. I've seen a couple of college games now and the skill level isn't as good as major junior in Canada, but that is to be expected given that those leagues are the primary feeders to the pros. The best part about college hockey is that games last just around two hours, meaning a 7 pm start finishes at 9, leaving you the rest of the evening to find something to eat and perhaps drink (I liked Box 63 about 15 minutes southwest of the rink).



A brief respite from the rain on Saturday morning allowed me to visit the British Museum of Art, one of two excellent galleries on campus, both of which offer free admission. I also visited Louis' Lunch, a small restaurant that claims to have served the first hamburger. It does a booming business with tourists from around the world stopping in to try this unique version served between two slices of white bread rather than a bun. Worth a shot, but expect your meat to be cooked rare and don't bother looking for ketchup or mustard, only cheese, tomato, and onion are allowed as condiments.



As I left the restaurant, it started raining again, so rather than tour the campus, I decided to pay a visit to John J Lee Amphitheater, where the women's basketball team was hosting Boston Terriers in a battle of canine mascots.



I had never seen a women's NCAA game from start to finish and at $5, it was a better option than getting drenched. The gym is really old school, with hard wooden seats and a set of benches closer to the court. You can also stand on the upper level behind the basket, a great view. I hope to return for men's basketball.





With few fans in attendance, the sounds of the game rang throughout the gymnasium, which became irritating after a while, particularly the squeaky shoes and substitution buzzer. Yale led by 7 at halftime but the Terriers fought back to take a 54-51 lead with 3 minutes to go. After Yale tied the game at 56, captain Sarah Halejian (below) took over, scoring on a three-point play and following that with a jumper to make it 61-56 with a minute to go. Boston resorted to fouling and Halejian made 4 of 6 to finish with a game-high 19 points as Yale came away with the 66-59 win.



Unfortunately, the referees thought they were on ESPN, whistling 38 fouls in 40 minutes of action, some of which were just plain stupid calls. I really want to like basketball, but games where the officials dominate make it so difficult.



The attendance was announced as 160, a generous estimate. I doubt I will see any more NCAA women's basketball, it just isn't that compelling. What makes the game exciting is the athleticism (speed, dunks, blocks) and the women's game lacks in all three areas, particularly at this level.

Best,

Sean