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Very Superstitious

Sep 12, 2014 -- 5:34pm

This past Sunday felt like Christmas Morning. With the first crack of sunlight that peaked through my bedroom shades, my eyelids sprung open like a jack-in-the-box. The first Sunday of the NFL Season was upon me. After months of anticipation and waiting, the Buffalo Bills season was finally here.

 I ran to the bathroom, going through the motions of brushing my teeth, showering and preparing for the day. There was little time to waste, but I figured taking care of my personal hygiene would benefit not only me throughout the day, but also those who unfortunately found themselves in booths next to me at the bar.

Once the shower wrapped up and I was back in my bedroom, the ritual began. You see, Week 1 of the NFL Season might as well be the most important of NFL Weeks. This is when a die-hard fan’s ritual takes shape. I walked into my closet to pick a Bills jersey to wear….a confused look fell over my face. Which one do I go with? The throwback road CJ Spiller #21 jersey? How about the JP Losman jersey that brought me luck a few years back? (Mind you, that luck was short lived!) With the same blank puzzled look plastered on my face, I decided to go with my late-90’s white Doug Flutie jersey. I figured I can’t go wrong donning the jersey of my all-time favorite player.


When in doubt, go with the jersey of your favorite player

The reason the Week 1 jersey selection is so important, is because it just might set the tempo for the rest of the season. I knew that if the Buffalo Bills won and continued to win, this jersey was going to be worn throughout the winning streak (and not be washed).

Outside of sports, I’m not a very superstitious person. I don’t tap the roof of my car when I drive under a yellow light or stay away from black cats. I have a pretty basic, day-to-day routine. However, once a Mets or Bills game comes on the TV….all bets are out the window.

Superstitions make me feel like I’m somehow spiritually involved with the outcome of the game. Wear the wrong jersey and the cards are stacked (even more) against the Bills chances of winning. Eat more than 12 wings during the game and you might as well bury their grave. When all of my superstitions line up perfectly and Buffalo notches a W, it feels like “WE” notched the W.

Once I put the jersey on, I went through the rest of my pre-game ritual:

 

Clip red Bills lanyard on key ring – 

Listen to comedian/blogger Nick Mendola’s weekly Bills rap – 

Analyze the weekly injury report - 

Drink a pre-game Labatt Blue Light – 

Call my older brother Matthew and go-through weekly injury report - 

Kiss my childhood Jim Kelly doll – 


#Kellytough

Once this was all taken care of, I was ready for game time. I called up some friends and met downtown at a bar. I don’t have many in-game superstitions or rituals. I try to take care of them before the game. During the Bills matchup with the Bears, I watched the game like any true Buffalo fan….drinking Blue Lights, munching on wings and cursing at the screen.

When it was all said and done, the Bills won. I jumped up on the bench of the booth I was sitting in and belted out a glass shattering “Let’s Go Bills!” I had helped the Bills bring home the season opening win. The red lanyard, Doug Flute jersey and peck on the Jim Kelly doll all contributed.

This Sunday when the Bills host the Miami Dolphins, I will go through my trusty 2014 superstition checklist all over again. If Buffalo advances to 2-0, that checklist will come with me to Week 3. And if the Bills lose….well, the pregame ritual will change quite a bit. I will don a new jersey, take the lanyard off my key ring and skip the pregame Labatt.

On second thought, the pre-game beer will stay.

Catch Jeremy Menard on "Between the Lines" on ESPN Ithaca (1160/107.1) & ESPNIthaca.com weekdays from 4-5 PM, alongside Eric Silverman. Follow Jeremy on Twitter @JeremyJMenard.

Pickin' a Driver to Root for

Aug 11, 2014 -- 9:38pm

Sports fandom is a dangerous animal that can rear its head in many ways. It can range from simply wearing the cap of your favorite team at the big game to looking like this guy. It is a force of nature like none other in American society.

I'm a die-hard fan of the New York Mets & Buffalo Bills. I treat each and every game day like a “mini holiday.” I cook a special meal for the game, deck out in my favorite player's jersey and meet up with a bunch of friends & family. I live and die by the success (and more consistently) failure of my teams.

However, there are a lot of sports fan that prefer not to have a dog in the fight. They are instead a fan of “the game.” These types of fans are much more likely to be seen wearing a league insignia on their game day outfit instead of a team logo.

I'm not one of those people. I love all sports and will watch just about anything that's played on a field with a ball, but I love rooting for teams. I love feeling invested in a game. It adds to the suspense that make sports great.

I'll admit that I'm a modest NASCAR fan. The only televised race I sit down and watch each year is the Daytona 500. Also, the last few years, I have made it out to Watkins Glen International for the CHEEZ-IT 355. Beyond those races, my attention to the Sprint Cup standings is limited. However, this year, I wanted to show up at The Glen with the intention of rooting on a specific driver. I love the atmosphere and circle the race on my calendar each year, but I wanted to have a deeper investment this time around.

As I began doing some research to figure out who I'd back, I outlined the different variables that people use when selecting a favorite team or player.

1 – Hometown: It's always fun rooting for the local boy. In regards to NASCAR, the “local” boy is Central New York (Cato) native Regan Smith. He drives the No. 7 Chevrolet Camaro in the Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports. Sunday, he filled in for Tony Stewart, driving the No. 14 SHR Chevy.


Courtesy Nascar.com

2 – Sponsorship: Growing up, whenever NASCAR came on the TV, I always rooted for Bill Elliott, because he drove the No. 94 McDonald's Ford. To a six year old, the Happy Meal is king. Hell, if the Hamburglar was a professional driver, I would have rooted for him too. As I've gotten older, my tastes and preferences have changed. Sorry Jamie McMurray....I've traded in Chicken McNuggets for the King of Beers. Kevin Harvick drives the No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet.

3 – Colors/Detailing: This one is simple....which car looks the coolest? I've always been partial to green. Danica Patrick's #10 GoDaddy.com Chevy is that exact color.


Courtesy Zimbio.com

4 – Popularity: There are two schools of thought on this one. Some people love to jump on the bandwagon of the most popular and successful athletes, while others love the underdog. The popular choice would be to cheer on four-time Sprint Cup Champion Jeff Gordon or Dale Earnhardt Jr, the winner of The Most Popular Driver Award eleven consecutive years. A.J. Allmendinger falls in the category of the underdog. Before winning yesterday, he went 212 Sprint Cup starts without parking in Victory Lane.

5 – Success: Who has won at WGI before? Marcos Ambrose is the king of the road course. He won the 2014 Zippo 200 in the Nationwide Series. He took the checkered flag in the CHEEZ-IT 355 in both 2011 & 2012.


Courtesy nascar.com

6 – Name: What's in a name? Another technique for picking out a favorite athlete is based around a catchy name. Greg Biffle & Joey Logano are just fun to say. However, some people are lucky enough to share their surname with a driver. I am one of those people. Hell, I'm lucky enough to share my last name with his sponsor; Menards home & improvement stores. Paul Menard drives the #27 Chevy for Richard Childress Racing.

NASCAR fans choose their favorite drivers based on a variety of reasons. For me, I've got to go with my family name. “Menard” tops any sponsor, color or hometown. Win or lose, I'll stick by the name.

For the record, Paul finished 32nd. 

Catch Jeremy Menard on "Between the Lines" on ESPN Ithaca (1160/107.1) & ESPNIthaca.com weekdays from 4-5 PM, alongside Eric Silverman. Follow Jeremy on Twitter @JeremyJMenard.

I Like Soccer, But LOVE Patriotism

Jul 02, 2014 -- 10:40am

Well, that was fun while it lasted. Team USA’s run in the 2014 World Cup is officially over. The Americans gave Belgium everything they had in the Round of 16, but ultimately it wasn’t enough.

Seeing The Belgians celebrate their advancement made me sick to my stomach. I threw my hands down in anger. I paced my apartment’s living room and even blurted out some four-letter words.

I’m guilty of getting sucked into World Cup Fever. I’m guilty of jumping on the Jurgen Klinsmann & Team USA bandwagon. One month ago, I was a modest soccer fan. If it was on, I’d watch it. I knew the big names of international soccer….the Messis and the Ronaldos….but no one beyond that. But once Team USA knocked off Ghana and the World Cup dream seemed real, I was hooked (line and sinker). As I slumped back on my couch, I asked myself the following question: Why do I become a soccer fan once every 4 years only to push my fandom behind baseball & football once the Americans are eliminated from World Cup contention?

After gaining some composure after the loss, I received a phone call from an old college friend. After answering the call with an emotionless “hello,” he responded back with a monotone “my eyes just shed a patriotic tear.”

His short and simple statement stopped me dead in my tracks. The secret to my fandom was now starring me in the face. I responded back just as emotionless as before, “Me too…I’ll call you back.”

Patriotism is what fuels my World Cup fandom. It is awesome seeing people come together in the name of the good ‘ol U-S of A. I’m extremely proud to call myself an American. My grandfather fought in World War II. An American Flag hangs over my bed. My phone’s ringtone has been known to belt out “Real American.” The stars & stripes always give me goose bumps. I loved seeing similar patriotism from my fellow Americans the last few weeks during the World Cup.


Courtesy globalflare.com

During America’s 4-match run, if you stopped into one of Ithaca’s several watering holes mid-match, the atmosphere was electric!

·         Team USA Chants – Check

·         Red, White & Blue Attire – Check

·         Eyes Glued to the TV – Check

The World Cup brings out the best in sports fandom. For the last few weeks, it really felt like the most important thing in the sports world. Each game was an event!

 I’m a lifelong New York Mets & Buffalo Bills super-fan. I live and die by every game….well over the last few years, die more than live. When I’m at a bar on game day watching the Mets or Bills, I’m generally decked out in authentic attire, rooting obnoxiously from the end of the bar. But, I’m an outlier. Most fans don’t wear their emotions on their sleeves game in and game out. However, during the World Cup that all seems to change. When you’re rooting for Team USA, regardless of your interest or knowledge of soccer, you feel comfortable cheering your brains out, because at the end of the day you’re celebrating the success of our country.

Stand up and be proud of what America accomplished in this year's World Cup. No one and I mean no one, expected Team USA to make it out of "The Group of Death" and into the Round of 16. It was a helluva run. Will this increase national excitement for soccer? Maybe. But it doesn't need to. There is nothing wrong with simply enjoying the ride while it lasted.

I’m going to miss seeing Team USA compete in the World Cup. I like watching soccer, but I LOVE seeing patriotism in motion. I’m proud of how this nation supported Team USA in the World Cup. Everyone who watched a game or brought up soccer at the water cooler deserves a pat on the back. Good on you America!

I hope I don’t have to wait four years to see similar patriotism and fandom in sports. I’m already gearing up for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. In the meantime, I plan on breaking out the Red, White & Blue this weekend for one of my favorite holidays – Fourth of July.

Catch Jeremy Menard on "Between the Lines" on ESPN Ithaca (1160/107.1) & ESPNIthaca.com weekdays from 4-5 PM, alongside Eric Silverman. Follow Jeremy on Twitter @JeremyJMenard.

Dynasties v. Parity

Jun 05, 2014 -- 12:42pm

We are officially in championship season. For the next couple of weeks, on any given day, a game that matters will take place on either a rink or a court. The Stanley Cup Finals kicked off last night, with the LA Kings topping the Blue Shirts in the City of Angels. The NBA Finals get underway tonight in San Antonio. Frankly, my attention will be on the NHL. I could care less about Lebron James & The Big 3’s Quest for the “three-peat.” I’m tired of seeing the same ol’ teams in the NBA battle it out year after year. For a 2nd straight year, the Finals storylines will be focused on Lebron James & the Heat re-writing the championship record books and Tim Duncan’s quest for another ring with the Spurs.

 
Courtesy betvega.com                                                          Courtesy en.wikipedia.org

Do you know what makes the NFL great? Parity. Regardless of how your team fared last season, a hot streak can send your hometown squad into the playoffs. Well, don’t get me wrong, the best teams are generally in the playoffs year after year, but they don’t always hoist the Lombardi Trophy when it’s all said and done. Every team has a chance on any given Sunday. Take a look at the last 5 Super Bowls…there are no repeat winners.

2013: Seattle Seahawks over Denver Broncos

2012: Baltimore Ravens over San Francisco 49ers

2011: New York Giants over New England Patriots

2010: Green Bay Packers over Pittsburgh Steelers

2009: New Orleans Saints over Indianapolis Colts

Also, it is important to mention that since 2009, no team even has a repeat appearance in the Big Game. Parity keeps things interesting. Sports are all about fan involvement and storylines. New teams & players year after year in championship contests are exciting for everyone. That is why I don’t care that the Heat are going for a third straight title. It’s a tremendous feat, don’t get me wrong, but for a casual NBA fan like myself, it is boring. Sports dynasties are fun for only a select group of people…the fans of the team that just keeps on winning. For everyone else, it just feels repetitive.

That is why my eyes will be fixed on the Stanley Cup Finals and New York Rangers. It has been 20 years since the Blue Shirts have won Sir Stanley’s Cup. They are rallying behind trade deadline acquisition Martin St. Louis, whose mother passed away during the playoff’s second round. Now those are some storylines!

All I want is a fresh face to hoist a championship trophy. The Heat won the NBA Finals the previous two seasons. The Spurs took the title in 2007, but were in the Finals last year. On the ice, the Kings won 2 years ago. Ranger fans are due to see their team take the cup….and sports fans are due to see a new team on top.

Catch Jeremy Menard on "Between the Lines" on ESPN Ithaca (1160/107.1) & ESPNIthaca.com weekdays from 4-5 PM, alongside Eric Silverman. Follow Jeremy on Twitter @JeremyJMenard.

Will Jeff Mathews Stick in the NFL?

May 14, 2014 -- 9:10pm

256 amateur football players had their names called during the 2014 NFL Draft. Their professional careers began the minute their names echoed over the loud speakers at The Radio City Music Hall in NYC. Some players, like South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney had to wait only a handful of minutes before he was taken first overall. Other players were forced to sit, wait and sweat it out a bit longer. Former Cornell Quarterback Jeff Mathews didn’t even hear his named called at all!


        Courtesy of Profootballfocus.com

10 minutes after Mr. Irrelevant (Memphis Free Safety Lonnie Ballentine) was drafted, Mathews received a phone call from the Atlanta Falcons. They liked what they saw of him at both the East West Shrine Game and the Combine….well, enough to sign him as an undrafted rookie free agent. That phone call officially began the professional career of the greatest quarterback in Ivy League history.

Honestly, I was shocked Jeff Mathews was not drafted. A total of 16 signal callers were selected over the course of the 7-round draft. 5 were taken in the sixth round alone! I don’t see how you can rank even 5 quarterbacks higher than Mathews. He has a golden, “make-all-of-the-throws” NFL arm to go along with an Ivy League brain. Despite a pedestrian senior season, he set numerous Cornell and Conference records throughout 2013.

Heading into the draft, the two teams that seemed the most interested in Jeff were the Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots. The Jags were simply looking for someone to become their franchise QB, while the Pats were looking for someone to take the torch from theirs. Jacksonville’s Quarterback Coach, Frank Scelfo, was present at Mathews’ on-campus Pro Day.

Jacksonville and New England might have liked Jeff heading into the Draft, just maybe not enough to pull the trigger on the California native. Both teams drafted quarterbacks in the first 62 picks. Jacksonville selected Central Florida’s Blake Bortles with the third overall pick and the Patriots snagged Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round.


Courtesy of draftbrowns.com

After all of the picks were in, I slouched back in my chair and thought about the draft. I came to the conclusion that not being selected might have been a blessing in disguise for Jeff Mathews. His future was taken out of the hands of an NFL GM and put into his own. Atlanta is an ideal situation for a young developmental quarterback like Jeff. He will enter training camp with little fanfare and therefore, low expectations. Matt Ryan is Atlanta’s franchise quarterback….plain and simple. Before Jeff starts an NFL game (if he ever does), he will spend several games, if not years behind a Pro-Bowler like Ryan. Mathews needs time to not only learn the ATL playbook, but to simply get used to the speed & size of NFL defenses.

I have full faith in Jeff Mathews making Atlanta’s active roster out of training camp. The Falcons are currently carrying three quarterbacks, not including Mathews. Dominique Davis and Sean Renfree have started a combined 1 NFL game.  A strong training camp by Mathews in which he shows off his rocket arm, poise and confidence should have the Falcons coaching staff salivating at the idea of having him hang around. He has a very similar build to Matt Ryan, both standing 6-feet, 4-inches tall. Mathews’ “stand, scan and deliver” style of offense fits in nicely with the current Atlanta playbook.

The Atlanta Falcons have given him a shot at the NFL. Now all Jeff Mathews needs to do is make the most of it…just like he did at Cornell. A strong showing in training camp could seal his ticket for the season. His first chance to show off his arm comes Friday at Atlanta's rookie minicamp.

Catch Jeremy Menard on "Between the Lines" on ESPN Ithaca (1160/107.1) and ESPNIthaca.com weekdays from 4-5 PM, alongside Eric Silverman. Follow Jeremy on Twitter @JeremyJMenard.

Would you pull a "Marty McFly?"

Apr 09, 2014 -- 5:43pm

The dust has settled. It’s all said and done. The University of Connecticut Huskies Men’s Basketball Team conquered the Big Dance and is officially on top of the College Hoops World. For me, the end of March Madness is much like December 26th, more commonly known as the day after Christmas. Months and months of buildup and planning abruptly come to an end.

I’m not an eat-breath & sleep college basketball fan, so when I prepare my bracket, I really need to prepare it. I always make a point to watch the Conference Tournaments. I buy the glossy hoops magazines at the supermarket that claim to offer “fool proof” bracket tips. I bookmark a million blogs and websites. I make a bracket each year, not to make money, but just to see if I can conquer a piece of paper. Once again, this year, my bracket fell flat on its face.

Who had UConn winning it all? Show of hands. No one? Alright then.

I went with Louisville. To me, that seemed like a safe pick. They won it all last year and were hotter than hell heading into the tourney. Plus, last time I checked, Rick Pitino is their head coach. This year, I went with experience on the floor and within the coaching staff.

Well, it didn’t work out. Kentucky got hot and knocked out the Cardinals in the Sweet 16. Another March Madness down, another bracket busted. I might not have put together the perfect bracket, but I had some fun. Isn’t that what it’s all about at the end of the day? We get so pulled into the idea of making some green off our brackets (I’m looking at you Warren Buffett), but that’s not what it’s all about. It’s about upsets. It’s about the Dayton Flyers. It’s about a #7 seed hoisting the trophy. The bracket is just a tool to track your guesses.

So here’s my point….if you had a chance to pull a “Mary McFly,” would you do it? No, I’m not talking about riding a hover board or taking your Mom to "The Enchantment under the Sea Dance." I’m talking about three words…Grays...Sports...Almanac. A book featured in the 1989 movie Back to the Future Part II. This book featured “complete sports statistics: 1950-2000.” While in the future, Michael J. Fox’s main character, Marty McFly, purchased this book with the intention of placing sure-fire sports bets after using a time machine to return to his home year of 1985. With 50 years of sports scores and stats in hand, Marty exclaimed “I can’t lose!” after purchasing the book. But I ask you…what fun is that?


Marty McFly holding Grays Sports Almanac in Back to the Future Part II.
Courtesy of liveforfilms.com

What fun would March Madness be without uncertainty? Isn’t that what makes it so much fun to follow? If you had access to the sports almanac and each and every score from the tournament, would you create a bracket with this knowledge? Yeah it may be nice to make a few bucks, but at the end of the day, it would take the “Madness” out of March Madness. There wouldn’t be a reason to watch the games if you already knew the outcome. It’d be like pulling back wrapping paper on Christmas morning, already knowing what household appliance is being covered by images of snowmen and Santas.

Whether your favorite team wins or loses, uncertainty is what keeps us glued to the TV. Uncertainty is what keeps us coming back to sports year after year. Everyone should to be part of something that is bigger than them, that they can’t control. For me, it’s sports.

My bracket this year was a mess, but boy was it fun to watch red lines cross out just about every team I picked. It’s not about making money with a bracket; it’s about watching it all unfold. Now I just need to see if Grays publishes an almanac of winning lotto numbers.

Catch Jeremy Menard on "Between the Lines"  on ESPN Ithaca 1160/107.1 and ESPNIthaca.com weekdays from 4-5 PM, alongside Eric Silverman. Follow Jeremy on Twitter @JeremyJMenard.

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