Thursday, July 30, 2009

Finally, the Pirates are doing the right thing

It's horrid. It's disappointing. It's the same old thing. It's sad. It's embarrassing.
Of all the emotions that come with the most recent overhauling "effort" of the Pittsburgh Pirates, seemingly the most important statement is this:
As much as it pains me to say it, this strategy taken by the Bucco front office may be the only way for a once-proud franchise to become, well, proud once again.
I'm just as pissed as you are, Pirates fans, and I'd be right next to you if you boycotted this weekend's wonderful baseball series against the Nationals, but think about this: every other time the management has told you they are rebuilding, have they ever just absolutely started over? You know, admitted defeat and cleaned house? Hell, sometimes it doesn't even take losing to begin again (hello, Florida Marlins), but in the case of the Pirates, it makes loads of sense. (New idea for team slogan: Pride. Passion. The Pittsburgh Prospects)
(I'm most upset that I lost my favorite ballpark game with one of the recent trades. See, I used to play this game called "How many pitches will it take Adam LaRoche to strike out?" every time he would bat when I was in attendance [4 was my go-to number; usually he'd dig into a solid 0-2 hole, take a pitch, and then miss an inside curveball by three or four feet], but now he's in Boston with J-Bay, and I've lost my game. Oh well, maybe if the Sox make the playoffs I can take that game national)
They are finally deciding that they've failed (way to go guys, it only took 16 years to figure that one out...sheesh), and MAYBE this is the best way to turn it around.
And yes, they're going to feed you more of the "we're building for the future" junk, but you have to keep believing, because once you're a fan, it's tough to un-fan yourself. (You know who you are, you who claims to "never watch a game again until they pull their heads out of the River and learn how to manage a baseball team," how is that actually working for you? I bet you could tell me the score of their last game [1-0 loss to the Giants in 10 innings, the sixth time the Bucs have been shut out in 20 games, thank you very much])
Anyway, all I'm saying is, yes, it sucks, but they didn't just dump some of the dead weight salary on the team, they dumped all of it. They didn't just dump some of the faces of the team, they dumped all of them.
So, let's get to 2013, when the names will be McCutchen, Alvarez, Jones, Tabata, Milledge, etc.- there's no way the outlook could be as bleak for that team as it is now. That'll be year twenty of the losing seasons streak, a record in futility equaling the magnitude of DiMaggio's 56-gamer. But, if they get to 2013 and better results don't come, then fine, scream and holler just like you've been doing since '92 (you're pretty good at that by now), and until then, have a great time watching games at beautiful PNC Park, "where there will be no making fun of visiting teams here, only your own."
And hey, who knows, maybe this will work. Or maybe it won't and we'll trade everyone to the AL East to continue our tradition of being the farm system for the rest of the league.
Either way, there's always tomorrow's game to not watch.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

New Schedule Previews: Part Three - NFL

This is the final part of my three-part column detailing the best games of the newly released schedules in the NHL, College Football, and now, the NFL. I hope you enjoyed the previews.

All this talk of a full fall sports slate is making me want to skip the rest of summer just so I can watch football all weekend, every weekend. But training camps open in a little over a week, so I guess I can wait until then to start getting excited (who am I kidding, I'm already stoked). Without waiting any longer, here are my picks for the five best games of the 2009-10 NFL schedule.

5. Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers (September 10, 2009)

I'm giving this a spot on the list mostly because it is the Opening Kickoff game featuring the teams most AFC fans wanted to see meet in the playoffs last year: the best record in the AFC during the 2008 regular season (Titans) against the now-Super Bowl Champions (Steelers). Sure, this game has the potential to be great, as many do, but I don't think it really will be. Pittsburgh has won five straight season openers and is great at Heinz Field, cold weather or not. Hometown biases to the curb, the Steelers aren't about to start the season 0-1.

4. My sleepers have important stretches: Houston Texans (weeks 9 through 13), Kansas City Chiefs (weeks 13 through 17)

I've been quite vocal since the schedules were released that I thought two AFC teams were poised for breakout 2009 campaigns: the Texans and Chiefs. Taking a closer look at each teams' schedule, both teams have a five week stretch that will prove critical to their playoff hopes. From my point of view, if Houston can stay healthy and finish 4-2 in the AFC South they will have a great chance to play deep into January. The big stretch for the Texans is: week 9 - at Indy, week 10 - bye, week 11 - vs. Tennessee, week 12 - vs. Indy, week 13 - at Jacksonville.
For Kansas City, the schedule sets up less favorably, as the AFC West will play the AFC North and NFC East (they play all four NFCE teams in a row from weeks 3 through 6), but they can really capitalize on the second half schedule, where they could legitimately finish 6-2. They might even be able to run the table in the last five, when they host Denver, Buffalo, and Cleveland in weeks 13-15, and then travel to Cincinnati and Denver to finish the season.
Wow, that was quite the word count for two teams that have the potential to combine for 10 wins.

3. Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys (November 1)

This match-up interests me mostly because of what these teams records could be entering November; Seattle could be 4-2, whereas the 'Boys could be 2-4 and Jerry Jones would be wanting to press his Dr. Evil fiery trap door button on Wade Phillips. A healthy Matt Hasselbeck and a new coaching staff will have the Seahawks back to NFC relevance in 2009 (mark it down, 11-12 wins). I think this could be the turning point in the season for both teams as you'll see a desperate Cowboys team trying to save its season and a calm Seattle squad coming into its own. That makes for great football, no doubt.

2. Indianapolis Colts at Arizona Cardinals (September 27)

I wavered between this and my #1 game because of the potential stratospheric amount of points that could be scored, but no matter, this will be a great early-season treat for football fans. Peyton Manning has been called "too old" recently, but, like LaDanian Tomlinson, he's a HOF'er, he'll be fine. Indy's schedule is so soft that, with the reemergence of a running game, they could finish 12-4. Arizona, like Indy, has no problem putting up points, and lacks somewhat on the defensive side of the ball, so contrasting styles be damned, this has "shootout" written all over it.

1. Carolina Panthers at New York Giants (December 27)

Continue to eat leftover Christmas ham and enjoy the best NFL game of the season from the (hopefully snowy) Meadowlands, where the epitome of great American football may, once again, decide the top seed in the NFC. Don't expect another 34-28 showdown, but both teams play fantastic defense and run the ball extremely well. The teams combined for seven touchdowns and over 400 yards rushing in one of the best games of 2008. Don't expect this one to be much different.

Buy another TV, get a cable splitter, and enjoy the best seasons in sports. Thanks for reading.

Monday, July 20, 2009

New Schedule Previews: Part Two - College Football

This is part two of my three-part series about the best match-ups of the wonderful sports season that starts this NHL preview came first, and now I'll follow with college football. NFL - coming soon.

My favorite aspect of watching an entire season of college football is not having to wait until half way through the season to watch legitimately entertaining games (hello, college basketball?). As a fan, you get your money's worth from early September through the regular season and into early January. The 2009 schedule is no different; seemingly every week is packed with meaningful games. All the usual conference powerhouse games are there -LSU/Florida, Penn State/Ohio State, Alabama/Auburn, Texas/Oklahoma, etc. - but I'm much more interested in what games are scheduled out-of-conference. So, in honor of the start of the fall season, here are my picks for the best five non-conference games.

5. Oklahoma at Miami (FL) (October 3)

All kidding aside, who schedules games for Miami? The 'Canes start the season at Florida State, host Georgia Tech, travel to Blacksburg to play Virginia Tech, and welcome Sam Bradford and company to Florida in the most brutal four-game stretch I've ever seen. Miami is much improved under Randy Shannon, but can you see them finishing any better than 2-2 in the first four? I can't, and I can easily see a possible 1-3 start. Look for Oklahoma's offense to roll through Miami (like they did last year in Norman, 51-13) while they anxiously await the arrival of Texas two weeks later.

4. Georgia at Oklahoma State (September 5)

We know coach Mike Gundy is a man (he's now 42), but his program has seen a huge rise since that rant. The Cowboys hung tough in an awfully competitive Big 12 South, went 9-4, beat then-3rd-ranked Missouri, and then played Texas to the wire before faltering against a rough schedule down the stretch. The 'Boys return their three top playmakers in quarterback Zac Robinson (25 TD passes in 2008), running back Kendall Hunter (1,555 yards and 16 TD's), and wide receiver Dez Bryant (1,480 yards and 19 TD's). Meanwhile, Georgia is a program in prime position to rebuild in '09. The Bulldogs lost Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno to the NFL, but Georgia has always recruited well, so expect those spots to be filled with talent quickly. Unfortunately for Mark Richt, that talent probably won't develop quick enough to succeed in the ultra-tough SEC, and starting the season at Oklahoma State isn't going to help.

3. Oregon at Boise State (September 3), Utah at Oregon (September 19)

These two games take the title of "Most Intriguing" for me, for a few reasons. I'd like to see just how good Oregon is under all that ugliness (secretly, I love UO's uniforms, I love that they're different, I love that they're neon). They have serious athletes on that team (as opposed to lazy athletes, I guess) and I'd love to see how fast they can score 40. However, neither small-conference team is a pushover, as they've demonstrated in year's past. I'm crazy about story lines like Boise and Utah, but I'm just hoping for great games.

2. Southern California at Ohio State (September 12)

I like one other game better, but, on paper, there is no better match-up. USC won't have too much trouble repairing the pieces lost to the NFL in the long term, but expect there to be a definite learning curve which makes this game more evenly-matched, because with a fully experienced roster, USC would stomp on the Buckeyes. However, that isn't the case, and I'm interested to see what Terrelle Pryor can do on such a big stage in his second year. If he has improved his passing (I trust he has), this could be a huge win for OSU and the Big Ten.

1. Alabama at Virginia Tech (September 5)

I love the potential of this game to be a fantastic start to the first Saturday of college football. Both teams are ranked inside the top ten in many preseason polls, and both hope to contend for conference titles and the national championship, so this is a huge statement game for the team who wins. I'd be lying if I said I didn't like the Hokies in this one: they rarely lose at home, and Beamerball works magic in seemingly every meaningful game. Highly entertaining, highly defensive, and a highly wonderful atmosphere (as always) in Blacksburg. Needless to say, I'm high on this game.

Honorable mention: TCU at Clemson (9.26), Auburn at West Virginia (9.19), Florida State at Brigham Young (9.19), USC at Notre Dame (9.17), BYU @ Oklahoma (9.5)

Friday, July 17, 2009

New Schedule Previews: Part One - NHL

This is part one of a three-part column detailing the key games in the 2009 NFL, NHL, and College Football schedules. I'll start in the NHL.

After the 2008-2009 season, which ended with the arguably the most exciting postseason in NHL history, the league may be making a comeback. In honor of what I sincerely hope is a schedule that will result in much more respect for the game I have fallen in love with here in Pittsburgh, here are the top five stories of the 2009 NHL regular season.

5. The Defense Begins: New York Rangers at Pittsburgh Penguins (October 2, 2009)

The defending champs raise the franchise's third Stanley Cup Champion banner to Mellon Arena's rafters when they host the new-look Rangers to open the season. This will be the last opener played at the 49-year-old Igloo, as the Pens will move just down the street to the Consol Energy Center (cool nickname undetermined; my favorite so far is The Fusebox). The Rangers, fresh off their acquisition of often-injured star Marian Gaborik, once again hope to be anything but disappointing. At least their jersey's are sweet.

4. Marian Hossa Returns (II): Chicago Blackhawks at Pittsburgh (December 5), Chicago at Detroit Red Wings (October 8)

Once again, Marian Hossa will return to Pittsburgh as a member of another team, but this time, it won't be the team who's roster is similar to the Soviet teams of decade's past. Think Marian won't get the Jaromir Jagr-booed-every-time-he-touches-the-puck-treatment? Think again. But before he returns to face Crosby and Malkin, he has to play in Detroit, the team he most recently abandoned for another city. I really don't have anything against the guy (seriously), but can't wait to hear what kind of...umm...ovation he gets at the Joe. Chicago, prepare for twelve years of "Bridesmaid" status.

3. More Hockey! February 14, 2010

This is the last day before a 16-day layoff for the Olympics in Vancouver. With all the great talent in the NHL today, this Olympic tournament should be one of the best in recent memory. Canada will obviously be the favorite, but look out for Russia, led by Alexander Ovechkin (Washington) and Evgeni Nabokov (San Jose), and defending gold-medalist Sweden. Team USA's chances of winning gold? 20-to-1 would be my guess. What's the best result of the layoff? The NHL playoffs will run into late June, which will give us Pittsburgh'ers more time to forget we have a baseball team.

2. Another rematch? Detroit/Pittsburgh (at Pittsburgh: January 31, at Detroit: March 22)

The two best teams in hockey (clearly) for the past two years will play a home-and-home in 2010, and it's not a coincidence they played for the Cup in 2008 and 2009. Do you need a refresher? Here you go. And here's another. And another. That's all. Seriously. I'm done.

1. Winter Classic: Philadelphia Flyers at Boston Bruins (January 1, 2010)

The NHL cannot lose with the Classic. It has already become a premier New Years Day event and now, with the game at prestigious Fenway Park in Boston, it can only get bigger as the sport continues to dig itself out of the hole it created with the lost season in 2004-05. Nay-sayers complain that Ovechkin and the Capitals weren't chosen for this game, but I don't think it matters. The only thing the NHL needs now is a big-time television deal. Hello, ESPN? Bring back Gary Thorne (and another - he's just pure gold) and Darren Pang to announce the game and I'll love you forever.

Kick back, have a buddy punch you in the jaw to get into the spirit, and enjoy the most exciting game in sports.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Tom Watson will win the British Open

Tom Watson shot an opening round 65 at Turnberry today, and I'm predicting (more like hoping) that he's going to win the Open Championship.
If Tiger's not going to win (being seven back, it's a long shot, especially when his putter seems to have left its' magic in Florida), I'd love to see a man like Watson hoist the Claret Jug. Wouldn't that just be fantastic? A man who hasn't been truly relevant on Tour in five years to suddenly be in contention on Sunday at the British Open? Wait, haven't we seen this before? (See: Greg Norman, 2008)
His bogey-free first round already has everyone reminiscing about the 1977 "Duel in the Sun" at Turnberry where Watson and Jack Nicklaus wowed an entire golf community with undoubtedly one of the greatest golf tournaments ever.
This is already shaping up to be a tournament with an unbelievable number of subplots: John Daly's comeback (who isn't rooting for the guy?), Tiger's struggles, (hopefully) a weekend wind-storm that raises scoring by at least a few strokes, other senior citizens Mark O'Meara and Mark Calcavecchia only a few shots off the lead, etc. So why not Watson? I'm hoping he can channel the 1970's and provide some drama for golf fans again.
Lastly, and most importantly, I'd like to see Watson win because that would mean he would deny now-leader Miguel-Angel Jimenez a chance to win a major tournament. I really have nothing against the guy as a golfer, but, seriously, he's on the list of "Ugliest People Ever" and to top off his dreadful physique he absolutely tops the "Worst Dressed Golfer" list. Even Daly's ridiculous pants and Ian Poulter's "God Save the Queen" catastrophe don't compare to his ponytail and off-color clothing. (Disclaimer: I couldn't find a good picture of his ugly clothing on Google, and I can only guess the search engine imploded when looking at those pictures, so they just don't show them anymore)
Personally, I'm hoping for some stereotypical British Open weather so significantly less than 50 players finish the tournament under par. That might help Watson more than anything.
Or maybe Tiger will just blow past everyone and win by ten. That's probably more likely.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

News Flash! Favre won't help the Vikings

I was watching SportsCenter a few days ago, and I heard Mike Golic talking about (what else is new?) Brett Favre and the Vikings.
Seemingly every day since then, ESPN has bombarded me with news stories about Favre - every little insignificant story from "Favre talks to Viking trainer about shoulder" to today's "Favre throws for Viking trainer."
First, has anyone thought that maybe Favre and said trainer have been on a series of "man-dates" and that they have talked about his shoulder and played catch in the backyard while shooting another legendary Wrangler Jeans commercial? I'm just saying it's a possibility.
And secondly, even if Favre does come back to the NFL to play for Minnesota, I don't think this vaults the Vikes anywhere near "Super Bowl contender" status, as Golic was arguing. In fact, I would go as far to say that Brett will do the Vikings absolutely no good if he starts the season under center.
Why? Let's put it this way: last year, we were talking about Favre being the savior for a very similar situation (a Jet team that didn't make the playoffs in '07), and how did that turn out? Granted, he would be inheriting Adrian Peterson and a very stingy defense, but a closer look at the stats shows that Minnesota had the same number of touchdown passes as New York in 2008 (22), and were right behind the Jets in total offense (NY - #16, MIN - #17). This is not to mention Favre would be throwing lasers to a less talented group of receivers than what he had last year. He did virtually nothing for the Jets last year, including throwing a few of his patented spine-cringing interceptions late in games down the stretch.
This is not to say I'm not a Brett Favre fan, because I am. I just can't imagine the Vikings being a Super Bowl contender in the NFC, which is loaded with the Giants, Panthers, Eagles, Cowboys, Saints, etc. The best-case scenario for the Vikings would be a 10-6 finish, with a loss in the NFC divisional game, but I'm betting, even with Favre as their quarterback, 8-8 is more likely.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Shower Thoughts - Mooning the Cheesers

I've decided to break my column up into a few different parts: A section called "Dear Mr. Celebrity," where I write letters to famous people, and a section titled "Shower Thoughts," because who hasn't had a great thought in the shower?
What is the appropriate response to seeing a full moon?
I'm not talking about the full moon that comes around once a month, I'm talking about the Randy Moss treatment. You may know what incident I am referring to, January 10, 2005, Vikings at Packers, NFC Playoffs. Daunte Culpepper (people forget just how good he was) hooks up with stud receiver Randy Moss for a touchdown in the 4th quarter to put the game out of reach. Moss celebrates by faking pulling down his pants to the Green Bay crowd in retaliation for the fans treatment of a Viking team bus.
This isn't the topic of conversation, really. I want to focus on what happened after Moss' stunt in the end zone. As you heard, announcer Joe Buck lost his mind (with class) on the air.
(When it happened, I wanted to say something as my awkward-in-serious-conversation-areas family and I sat in silence like nothing happened, but I was waiting for someone to let the air back into the room by slyly chuckling as the rest of us followed with hysterical laughter. Nothing happened. We sat there, ate chips, and changed the subject. Coincidentally, that wasn't the first time I found myself in that situation. See: Wardrobe Malfunction)
So, the first questions I'd like to pose are: did Joe actually feel disgusted by the act? Or did he feel compelled to react in that way because he is a professional sportscaster? I'll let you make your own decision.
Meanwhile, I thought it was hilarious.
I thought Moss was hilarious, I thought color commentator Cris Collinsworth was hilarious, and, most importantly, I thought Buck's call was hilarious. I do think Buck was truly incensed by Moss' actions, but I want to know how the public would have treated him if he had laughed and played along with Randy while doing the no-pants-dance to his crew in the booth. Would talk shows be on his case for not handling the situation properly?
I don't know, but I'd like to, mostly because I don't think I would have been able to hold in my laughter. True, I would have kept my pants on but I would have reacted much differently. I mean, come on, that doesn't happen every day, and I'm sure even the fans thought it was kinda funny (except, of course, that they were now looking at another long offseason of layering jackets and eating wheels of cheese into slices so they could stick them on hats…wait, that’s not how they make them?)
Is there an unwritten rule stating how a professional should react to that?

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Day Ended With a Kiss

I can, unfortunately, count on one hand the number of adjectives that I use to explain events on a daily basis. "That was amazing/incredible/unbelievable/phenomenal" get the picture. But none of those worn-out and over-used descriptors can do justice to the experience I had on a Tuesday in June when I spent the day with the greatest trophy in sports - The Stanley Cup. So, what I usually do with one word (the closest I've gotten is "special," but even that doesn't come close), I'm going to try to accomplish in, say, a thousand.
I was sure I fully realized the magnitude of the day until I crossed the Fort Pitt Bridge into downtown Pittsburgh around 6:35 a.m. My heart was finishing Stage 7 of the Tour de France and was simultaneously telling me that I had underestimated this moment. I walked through the doors of FSN-Pittsburgh and into the studio, where I was told the Cup would be displayed. There was nothing there yet, so my boss gave me an editing assignment right away: I was to create an hour-long loop tape of the final 3:17 of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals so we could play it all day on the TV's in the studio for the visiting families to watch as they got their picture taken with the Cup. Talk about suspenseful - I was reliving the moments where my Penguins were winning the Stanley Cup just minutes before I would see it in person. I couldn't help but remember Pens radio commentator Mike Lange's words after the clock hit triple zero: "Oh, Lord Stanley, scratch their names on your fabled cup." My sports brain took my real brain back to watching now-USSR-red-clad Marian Hossa catch his breath while the Soviets celebrated on Lady Mellon Arena's ice, and then slowly moved through the roller coaster 2009 season - listening to the opener in Sweden, hitting rock bottom after six unanswered goals against the Leafs, hearing about a coaching change that unfortunately needed to happen, watching TSN online as news broke about huge Pens moves at the trade deadline, listening to Lange announce the first of five straight road wins for a Pens team stuck in 10th place, and finally exhaling after Marc-Andre Fleury's breakaway robbery of Alexander Ovechkin and Rob Scuderi's desperation saves in Game 6 of the Finals. As any sports fan can attest, you feel like you take the journey right alongside your favorite teams, not from a couch hundreds of miles away.
When the video was done and I had come-to, the rest of the interns had arrived and we went to the studio to be briefed on the day's happenings. A blue box had appeared on the studio floor, and it looked more like a rolling coffin or a "suspicious package" that would warrant airport security's time than the traveling sanctuary for Lord Stanley's Cup, but nonetheless, I was already in awe. The history of the Cup is unbelievable - it's the oldest trophy in sports (dating all the way back to 1893, the first year engraved on the cup) - and so are its traditions - each person involved with a Cup-winning team gets a day with the trophy, and if you aren't a person directly involved in the team's success, you don't lift the Cup above your head (I really hope that if someone were to try this, the Cup would either sprout arms and smack the person in the head, or go on the Janet Jackson diet and become too heavy to lift).
As we left the room, a man with a Hockey Hall of Fame crest on his jacket pocket passed us. The man, Mike, who I called the "Cup Bearer" for lack of a better title, is part of a special fraternity of people who are with the trophy threehundredandsixtyfive days a year. These men are to the Stanley Cup what the Secret Service is to the President (I was afraid to ask if he would take a bullet for it, but I think I already knew the answer), and they are about as intense as the First Family's bodyguards, too. When we returned to the room after receiving more instructions, I think I stopped breathing for about the time it took me to write this paragraph.
There it was, resting on the table, light seemingly hitting it from all the magnificent angles, The Stanley Cup. I couldn't say so before that moment, but I am now a believer in love at first sight.
I took my position on the floor, not anywhere mentally close to ready to greet people who would be arriving shortly, but I semi-snapped out of it as I, for the fourth time in an hour, saw Fleury make the save on Nicklas Lidstrom that ensured that 375,000 people would get the chance to participate in a parade on the streets of Pittsburgh. I saw that play almost twenty times in eight hours, and got chills every single time. I'm sure I can expect the same emotion each time I see it for the rest of my life.
Back to reality, once again, where a closer look at Mike found him fully equipped with a scowl and a pair of dark sunglasses, but also with a great knowledge of his commander-in-chief. A visitor was perusing the names on the Cup, when, without hesitation, Mike stood up, walked to the Cup, barely looked at it, pointed in two spots and said "Mario Lemieux, Mario Lemieux."
Unspoken question, answered.
The next seven hours were a huge blur for me, with 1,100 people coming in and out of the studio, each one wanting group/individual/semi-individual/half-group/double-baby/half-body/hugging/kissing pictures with it. We had to remind a group of guys that, sure, they could make out with it, but they should remember that they were kissing a bunch of guy's names. They proceeded anyway, and why wouldn't they? More famous lips have kissed that trophy than maybe any other thing in the world, except maybe Donald Trump's keester.
But after my work was done, and everyone was starting to physically (not mentally) leave, I got a chance to move closer and get my picture taken with Lord Stanley's Cup. Can you believe it? Yes, I realize nearly a billion pictures were taken with the Cup in a matter of hours, but I was trying my best to not ruin the moment. Every "epic failure" scene in a movie was rolling through my head at one time: I'd trip over the platform and knock over the Cup into the back window, the glass and the thirty-five pound metal trophy would somehow shatter and I'd go to jail for life after Mike punched me continually in the esophagus.
As I got within inches, I could see the famous flaws - besides the Cup itself being dented, there was the 1981 misspelling of "Islanders" as "Ilanders" and an uninvolved man's name crossed out with a series of X's, and the lack of a rhyme or reason to the engraving (in 1991 - M. Lemieux, Capt - and in 1992 - Mario Lemieux, Capt.), among many others.
I guess that's part of the lure of the Stanley Cup, it is as imperfect as you expect a hundred-plus year trophy to be and it truly is the player's trophy. The players spend the most time with it (the Cup has been everywhere from strip clubs to the bottoms of swimming pools to the tops of mountains - the most uttered phrase that day was "If the Cup could write a book..."), and it is available for human contact, whereas if you were to go to the Steeler complex, you would see six Lombardi trophies enclosed behind protective glass. The Stanley Cup doesn't have its own private jet or bulletproof glass, it gets wheeled onto the plane with Mike and its cover is a ventriloquist's trunk with a few "Fragile" stickers attached to it.
I got my picture with it quickly, and then contrary to what my history has been with girls, I went in for the kiss. Dry and cool, but still, the best kiss of my life. Quite the spectacular aura surrounds The Stanley Cup. Despite the imperfections, I'll be surprised if I ever think another trophy is as beautiful as this one, all factors included.
My boss reminded me to pick my jaw up off the floor so I didn't trip and basically had to push me out the door so he could go home, but I left the studio feeling upliftingly odd, like something inspiring had flown to my car with me. And as I sat in horrible rush hour traffic that I didn't even bother to notice, I often wondered if the reason for my excitement was that I had actually stolen the Cup and was still in its presence.
I left checking my rear view to make sure the beautiful casket wasn't residing in my back seat; every time I looked I genuinely wondered if it was there.
I left having had the experience of a lifetime, one I wish every hockey fan could get the chance to have, and feeling as though Lord Stanley had scratched his name on my memory forever, and that I'd probably never actually leave that moment.
I left knowing that I desperately needed to find a new adjective.