We were 60 minutes away from a pair of world championships. All we needed to do was win a pair of Game 7’s. Sixty minutes away from double-booking the fabled “Canyon of Heroes.”
Any New York sports fan worth their salt remembers 1994, remembers the pair of battle-tested warriors trying to bring history home for the greatest sports city in the modern world. Sixty minutes separated Mark Messier and Patrick Ewing from making the New York Rangers and New York Knicks the first pair of Big Apple sports squads to sit on top of the world in the same year.
Hockey was never my sport, but even I couldn’t help but feel a certain sense of pride when I saw Messier lift Lord Stanley’s Cup at center ice in Madison Square Garden. I was eight years old, but the image of Messier’s elated, gap-tooth grin after ending the Rangers 54-year title drought has never left me. It still remains synonymous with New York sports pride. A few days later, my Knicks failed to deliver a second dose of glory, falling to the vaunted Houston Rockets in seven games.
Now, in 2008, my city screams again and they are vulgarity-laced tirades. There are questions about whether or not an illegal handgun cost the Giants a Super Bowl. The Knicks are slowly clawing their way out from the Isiah Thomas years. The tabloids pay strict attention to Stephon Marbury’s contract status, and shrug at the fact that the Knicks are in the thick of the playoff hunt. Joe Torre and David Wells are taking pot shots at each other through autobiographies and radio talk shows. Citi Corp. is burning through mounds of tax payer money to keep the naming rights for Shea Stadium: Part Two. Mets fans are on the verge of bringing bottles of scotch and oxycodone to every home game in 2009.
I remember sitting on my Staten Island stoop after each Yankees World Series win and watching the same six drunks run across the lawn of my house, chugging 40s and smashing lamp posts with baseball bats. Same bat time, same bat channel. Each year – like clockwork.
Every year, at least one team set the city on fire. It didn’t matter if they wore pin stripes or blue shirts, if they were G-Men marching down the field or a quintet of Knicks pounding the hardwood. This city had heroes.
Yet now, New York sports teams are giving me more and more reasons to punish my liver. Every year, the Big Apple gets dragged further and further away from the Messier-Ewing days, rotted the core by names like Plaxico, Shaun Ellis, Isiah Thomas, “Starbury,” Aaron Heilman, David Wells.
This city used to be about winning. Now, like everything else, it’s less about blood, sweat and tears and more about money, celebrity status and self-gratification.
Weeks after the Mets fell apart for the second year in a row, literally bringing me closer to tears than my last two break-ups, Aaron Heilman started demanding more money, claiming he deserved to not only be a starter, but be compensated as such. Here’s a guy who could have been legally executed for sabotaging the 2008 New York Mets, and he’s on his knees asking for the almighty dollar instead of apologizing.
In five years with the Knicks, Isiah Thomas was accused of sexually assaulting a co-worker. He ran the Knicks into the ground, and then to top it all off, he OD’d on sleeping pills and told the media it was his daughter, even when initial police reports listed the victim as a male. You sir, are scum.
In less than a year, Plaxico went from being the reason the G-Men won Super Bowl XLII to the reason Eli had to play Monday-morning quarterback after Super Bowl XLIII. Every kid from the Bronx to Brooklyn wanted to be you last year Plax: Now your next uniform might be orange, and your number won’t be 17.
It makes me physically nauseous. Sports teams used to come into the Garden or Giants Stadium, or one of the two baseball parks, ready to fight tooth-and-nail against any New York team. It didn’t matter what their record or payroll was that year, they knew the legacy these teams had borne across their backs.
Now teams laugh or at least delight in the fact that no less than three of their opponents are caught up in some kind of criminal or media scandal that is sure to distract them.
The Big Apple has been picked clean, shucked apart and tossed into the trash. And considering the “heart and determination” we get from guys like Plax and Marbury, I’m pretty sure that’s where we belong right now.
James Queally can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.