Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Top 10 Worst Days In American History

December 7, 1941, 75 years ago: The U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor, in Honolulu, Hawaii, is bombed by Japanese planes. The attack begins at 7:48 AM Hawaii time – 1:48 PM Eastern time. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt predicted the next day that it would, it is a date which lives in infamy.

Yes, that color photograph is real. It is reminiscent of some of the more familiar black-and-white photo of the event, such as this one.
American casualties and losses: 2 battleships totally lost, 2 battleships sunk and recovered, 3 battleships damaged, 1 battleship grounded, 2 other ships sunk, 3 cruisers damaged, 3 destroyers damaged, 3 other ships damaged, 188 aircraft destroyed, 159 aircraft damaged, 2,403 people killed, 1,178 wounded.

To put that in perspective: In 1941, the U.S. had about 130 million people, and we lost 2,400 in Honolulu that day. In 2001, we had about 300 million, and lost 3,000 on 9/11. Proportionately, we lost about twice as many people at Pearl Harbor as we did at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon combined 60 years later.

About 18,000 people were stationed at Pearl Harbor at the time. In 2013, 2,000 to 2,500 survivors were thought to be still alive, according to Eileen Martinez, chief of interpretation for the USS Arizona Memorial. Of the 16,112,566 people who served in the armed forces of the United States of America from December 7, 1941 to August 14, 1945, about 620,000 are estimated to still be alive, 71 to 75 years later -- under 4 percent.


Top 10 Worst Days In American History

These are listed in chronological order.

1. August 27, 1776: Evacuation of New York. Just 54 days after the announcement of the Declaration of Independence, the Battle of Long Island is fought, in what we now call Brooklyn Heights. In terms of number of men fighting -- 20,000 British, 10,000 American -- it is the largest battle of the War of the American Revolution. And John Bull kicked Uncle Sam's ass.

Somehow, using the cover of fog, General George Washington got his men across the East River to Manhattan, in a maneuver that historian David McCullough, in his book 1776, called "American's Dunkirk," referring to the British Army's naval evacuation from France in 1940.

But it's worse than that: The British chase the Continental Army all the way up Manhattan Island, until they cross yet another river, the Hudson, at a location that would come to be called Washington Heights -- and now you know why the bridge that was built there in 1931 is named for Washington.
But they had to escape to New Jersey, abandoning New York, which the British burn -- and now you know why there's almost nothing left in Manhattan from the pre-Independence era. General William Howe had conquered New York. A year later, after beating Washington in the Battle of Brandywine, he would conquer Philadelphia, Britain's momentum only being stopped shortly thereafter at Saratoga, in Upstate New York.

In between, Washington got his men across New Jersey, one step ahead of the Brits, and across more rivers: The Hackensack, the Passaic, the Elizabeth, the Rahway, the Raritan, and, finally, the Delaware, into Pennsylvania. And he knew that his men's enlistments ran out on December 31. If he couldn't get them to re-enlist, the Army would be gone, and the war would be lost. He had hardly any food, hardly any supplies, and an army that was tired, hungry and cold. Indeed, McCullough argues that, while we celebrate the 4th of July as a great day, 1776 was actually the worst year in American history.

Washington needed a victory, desperately. America needed a victory, desperately.

On Christmas Day, December 25, 1776, he put all his river-crossing know-how to work, got his men back across the icy Delaware in the dead of night. The next morning, he marched them down the river, 9 miles to what's now downtown Trenton, and found the Hessian troops the British had hired to guard the city, sleeping off their holiday hangovers and turkey comas, and beat them.

Big George had his victory, he got his re-enlistments, he got another victory at Princeton just after the New Year, and the U.S.A. lived to fight another day.

Oh yeah: Howe's second-in-command that day was Charles Cornwallis. In 1778, Howe would retire from the British Army. On October 19, 1781, Cornwallis surrendered to Washington at Yorktown, Virginia, and that was the decisive battle of the war -- if not the last one, as is commonly believed.

2. August 24, 1814: Burning of Washington. Just 29 years after the Treaty of Paris made official Britain's recognition of America's independence, the 2 countries butted heads again, in what came to be called the War of 1812. And it was totally pointless: Just 10 days after America declared war, Lord Liverpool, the British Prime Minister, made the concessions that would have satisfied our Congress and President James Madison. But, communications being what they were at the time, it took 3 weeks for information to get across the Atlantic Ocean.

It was a disaster for both sides. Within a month, the Americans surrendered Detroit without firing a shot. A year later, American troops invaded Canada, and burned Fort York -- present-day Toronto. In an action that showed how well the British remembered -- like the Alamo, Fredericksburg, the Maine and Pearl Harbor -- they decided, If the Americans want to burn our capital on the continent, we will burn theirs. And they did: Washington, D.C. was put to the torch, including the Capitol Building and the White House. Madison and his wife Dolley had barely fled the capital in time.
Note: It has been suggested that what was officially known as the Executive Mansion from its 1800 completion until Theodore Roosevelt formalized the name in 1901 was nicknamed "The White House" because of the paint used to cover the burn marks on the building's outer shell, which was pretty much all that remained of the structure. But this isn't true: The nickname had already been in place, pretty much from the start.

It would be another 3 weeks before the republic was saved in the Battle of Baltimore, including "The Defense of Fort McHenry" -- the original title of the poem written by Francis Scott Key, who was there, and later became our National Anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Had Baltimore fallen as well, it would have been all over, and, if they had so chosen, the British could have taken us back into their Empire. But that wasn't the United Kingdom's goal. They didn't want to take us back. They just wanted us to beg them for peace, so that we would be able to leave each other alone

By Christmas, the Treaty of Ghent ended the war in stalemate, giving both sides what they really wanted: Peace. Which was victory enough. But, again, it took weeks for the news to get across the ocean. By the time that it did, after January 8, 1815, Andrew Jackson had already stunned the British, despite a 10-to-1 manpower disadvantage, in the Battle of New Orleans.

3. March 6, 1857: Dred Scott Decision. Dred Scott and his wife were slaves, brought into what was then the Wisconsin Territory by their master. Slavery was illegal there, and Scott sued for their right to be declared free.
The only known photograph of Dred Scott

The case of Dred Scott vs. Sandford took 11 years to reach the Supreme Court, and Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote the majority opinion himself:

In the opinion of the court, the legislation and histories of the times, and the language used in the Declaration of Independence, show, that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves, nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people, nor intended to be included in the general words used in that memorable instrument.

In 1776, Thomas Jefferson -- admittedly, a slaveholder himself -- wrote, "We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." In 1857, Roger Taney essentially said, "Fuck you, (N-word)s. Fuck you, too, Tommy Jeff."

He also said that the Northwest Ordinance, the Missouri Compromise, and every other measure enacted by Congress to restrict the spread of slavery was beyond Congress' powers, and therefore unconstitutional. If the American Civil War was not yet inevitable, it was now.

Know their names. The 7 who voted to deny Scott his freedom and citizenship: Roger Taney, James M. Wayne, John Catron, Peter V. Daniel, Samuel Nelson, Robert C. Grier and John A. Campbell. The 2 who voted to grant Scott his freedom and citizenship: John McLean and Benjamin R. Curtis.

Disgusted, Curtis resigned from the Court, the only Justice ever to do so over a matter of principle. He lived on until 1874, outliving all but 1 of the 7. McLean died in office in 1861, just before the outbreak of the war.

Daniel died in 1860, Taney in 1864, Catron in 1865, Wayne in 1867. Campbell resigned from the Supreme Court in 1861, because his home State of Alabama had seceded from the Union, and served in the Confederate Cabinet, and lived until 1889, the last survivor of the 7. Grier retired due to ill health in 1870 and died soon thereafter. Nelson, already beset by the illness that would kill him, retired in 1872, the last remaining member on the Court, and died the next year. (He is buried in Cooperstown, New York, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame.)

On May 26, 1857, 81 days after the decision, the Scotts' current owners sold them, and their new owner, Henry Taylor Blow, freed them. Blow was later elected to Congress from Missouri, and served as an Ambassador. Dred Scott already had tuberculosis, and died on September 17, 1858 -- with some irony, on the anniversary of the day in 1787 that the Continental Congress approved the Constitution. He was probably (slave records were frequently unavailable) 63 years old, had been a free man for 478 days.

He was survived by his wife, Harriet, who lived on until 1876; and 2 daughters. They, at least, lived to see the abolition of slavery, and the departure from the Supreme Court of all 7 people who had affirmed their slave status.

4. April 12, 1861: Attack on Fort Sumter. South Carolina was the 1st State to secede, but the U.S. Army refused the State's demand to give up Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor. So the Confederate Navy attacked.
What it meant was this: There was a group of men who thought it was better to commit treason than to accept that slavery was wrong.

The American Civil War lasted 4 years, and killed 365,000 heroic liberators, and 290,000 traitors. The Union, the North, the good guys, won it. The Confederacy, the South, the bad guys, lost it.

The bigots lost the war. But they won the peace.

5. April 14, 1865: Assassination of Lincoln. Actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth wasn't man enough to actually fight for his cause. But he was petty enough and cowardly enough to sneak up behind a man and shoot him in the back of the head. This he did, to President Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theatre in Washington, during a production of the comedy play Our American Cousin. Lincoln never regained consciousness, and died the next morning. He was 56 years old.

Booth made his escape, but was hunted down by the U.S. Army in Virginia and killed on April 26. He was just short of turning 27.

6. October 24, 1929: Stock Market Crash. Stock prices had been artificially increased by rampant, unregulated speculation. The drop in prices that began on "Black Thursday" continued until October 29, "Black Tuesday," and the Great Depression was underway.
The Depression spread around the world. The rise of fascism in Europe, and the war that resulted, would not have happened without it. There might still have been a conflict large enough to have been called World War II, but it would not have happened so soon, and the alliances may have been very different. After all, Japan was on the same side of World War I as America, Britain, France and Russia. That was not to be the case in World War II. Which brings us back to...

7. December 7, 1941: Attack on Pearl Harbor. The impact of World War II on sports (just to bring this blog back to its usual topic) was far-reaching, as many of the world's greatest athletes went off to military service, including baseball superstars Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Hank Greenberg and Bob Feller (and, for 1 year, Stan Musial); and Heavyweight Champion Joe Louis.
Some actually saw combat: Feller was a Navy gunner, Yogi Berra was part of the D-Day invasion, and Warren Spahn was decorated for his role in the Battle of the Bulge. Two MLB players, both briefly in the majors in 1939, were killed in action: Elmer Gedeon of the Washington Senators in France, and Harry O'Neill of the Philadelphia Athletics at Iwo Jima.

In addition, some of the world's premier sporting competitions were canceled. There was no Olympics, Summer or Winter, in 1940 and 1944. The World Cup was canceled for 1942, and, because qualifying matches couldn't be played in war-torn Europe, the 1946 World Cup was canceled as well. England canceled Football League play, the FA Cup, Wimbledon and the British Open. The French and Australian Opens were also canceled.

American sports persevered, but, in fear of a Japanese attack getting all the way to the Pacific Coast, the Rose Bowl, scheduled for January 1, 1942 at Pasadena, California, between Oregon State University and Duke University, was canceled. Duke officials offered the use of their stadium in Durham, North Carolina, and the game was rescheduled. Despite Duke being the Number 2-ranked team in the country and playing at home, Oregon State won.

And, despite being set for after V-E Day, baseball canceled the 1945 All-Star Game, as wartime travel restrictions became too severe. It remains the only time the All-Star Game has been canceled, although it was postponed in 1981 due to a strike.

Less well-known is the story of a football game played the day of the attack. At the time, there were NFL teams called the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Giants went into the game 8-2, the Dodgers 6-4. The Giants had clinched the NFL Eastern Division, and a place in the NFL Championship Game against the defending Champion Chicago Bears. Their 2 losses were to the Dodgers and the Chicago Cardinals, by a combined 6 points, so they may have been the best team in the League. But Dodger fans, as their baseball brethren would have been under similar circumstances, were excited over the possibility of beating the Giants twice.

The game was played on December 7, 1941, kicking off at 12:00 noon, as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. Actually, something out of the ordinary was happening: It was Tuffy Leemans Day, honoring two-way back Alphonse Emil Leemans, having his 2nd All-Pro season, following 1938, when he helped the Giants win the NFL Championship. He was presented with a silver tray, a watch, and -- the cloud of war was already over America, even if we weren't yet in it -- $1,500 in defense bonds. (They were not yet called "war bonds." He would later be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the New York Giants Ring of Honor, and his Number 4 was retired by the team.)

The attack began at 1:48 PM, New York time. During the 2nd half, the public address announcer paged Colonel William Donovan to come to the stadium office, to take a phone call from Washington. This was a bit unusual: Ordinarily, a person would only be paged over the PA system if he was a doctor, and there was a medical emergency. As the game went on, other officers were pages. Eventually, an announcement went out that all servicemen at the game had to leave and return to their units, and reporters -- not just sportswriters -- had to call their offices.
The Brooklyn Eagle, December 8, 1941

Similar announcements were made at the other 2 NFL games played that day. At Comiskey Park, the Bears beat the host Cardinals 34-24. And at Griffith Stadium in Washington, in the capital so the number of government officials and military officers present was considerably larger than in New York and Chicago, the host Redskins beat the Philadelphia Eagles 20-14.

When the game in New York ended, in a 21-7 Dodger victory, Dodger fans could not celebrate, and Giant fans didn't care, either, because the announcement was made that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. The NFL Championship Game was played as scheduled, at Wrigley Field in Chicago on December 21, and, despite a 9-9 deadlock in the 3rd quarter, the Bears went on to beat the Giants 37-9.

Not until April 16, 1946 would a Major League Baseball game by played withall wartime conditions removed. For the NFL, not until September 29, 1946.

8A. November 22, 1963: Assassination of Kennedy. "In the final analysis," President John F. Kennedy had said earlier in the year, "our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's futures. And we are all mortal."
Lee Harvey Oswald -- or somebody else, and/or a group of somebody elses -- proved him right in downtown Dallas.
It wasn't immediately clear that things would go downhill. But, eventually, his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, would turn away from his Great Society dream (and JFK's New Frontier dream) and pay more and more attention to fighting in Vietnam. And there would be race riots. And there would be rising crime.

I'm not saying a still-living JFK, presuming he was re-elected in 1964, would have prevented all of it. But I would have liked to have seen him try. Especially since it wouldn't have meant...

8B. November 5, 1968: Election of Nixon. Just a few hundred thousand votes in a few key States would have meant no Tricky Dick in the White HOuse, an earlier end to the Vietnam War, no Kent State, no Killing Fields, no Watergate.
But American liberals abandoned Hubert Humphrey, and stayed home on Election Day. Just as they did to Jimmy Carter in 1980. And Al Gore in 2000. And Hillary Clinton in 2016. When will we ever learn? And where have all the flowers gone?

9. December 12, 2000: Bush v. Gore. Four Justices of the Supreme Court -- John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer -- said that the Florida recount should continue. They weren't trying to insure any particular result, only that we get the correct one, whatever that was.

But five Justices -- William Rehnquist, Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas -- decided to ensure that the only votes in the Presidential election that counted were theirs, and George W. Bush became President instead of Al Gore.
Essentially, those 5 Justices were telling over 100 million people -- the 50,999,897 people who voted for Gore, and the 50,456,002 people who voted for Bush -- that their vote didn't matter. When the Supreme Court is supposed to be the last line of defense for fairness, justice, and the rule of law in America. They spat in the face of human rights and in the face of States' rights (which, you'd think, the conservative Justices would've wanted to uphold, by letting the State of Florida handle its own election).

Rehnquist died in 2005, shortly after O'Connor retired. Scalia died earlier this year. Kennedy and Thomas are still on the Court.

10. September 11, 2001: The 9/11 Attacks. I'm not saying Gore would have prevented them. Maybe he would have. Even if he hadn't, you can be sure he would have made getting Osama bin Laden, and not Saddam Hussein, who had nothing to do with them, his priority.
Many people wish we had the unity we had on September 12, 2001. These same people would have wanted Gore impeached if it had happened on his watch. They can go to Hell.

It remains to be seen whether November 8, 2016, the "election" of Donald Trump, will join these.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Rashaan Salaam, 1974-2016

This "Year of Hell" won't quit. It just took a relatively young Heisman Trophy winner.

Rashaan Iman Salaam was born on October 8, 1974 in San Diego. That was his birth name. It was his father, a running back who played 1 game for the expansion Cincinnati Bengals in 1968, who was a professional athlete who, like Cassius Clay becoming Muhammad Ali, or Lew Alcindor becoming Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, converted to Islam and took an Arabic name: Teddy Washington became Sulton Salaam.

Rashaan attended La Jolla Country Day School in the San Diego suburbs, and, like his father, the University of Colorado, in the Denver suburb of Boulder. In 1994, Colorado went 11-1, thanks to Salaam scoring 24 touchdown and becoming only the 4th college football player to rush for over 2,000 yards in a season, including a school record 362 yards of total offense in a 34-31 win over Texas in Austin.

"He was very coachable," said his head coach, Bill McCartney. "He had a happy heart. I loved being around him. He didn't take himself too seriously, and he always credited those around him, especially his offensive line. What I liked about him is that he had a sparkle in his eye. He was upbeat and positive." High praise indeed from McCartney, a very evangelical Christian, to Salaam, a practicing Muslim.

As big as his performance that season was, Salaam wasn't involved in the team's signature play: Kordell Stewart threw a desperation pass that was caught for a touchdown by Michael Westbrook, beating Michigan in Ann Arbor 27-26. It became known as the Miracle at Michigan.

A loss to Nebraska kept the Buffaloes from winning the Big Eight, let alone the National, Championship, as the Cornhuskers won both. But Salaam was awarded the Heisman Trophy, becoming the 1st Colorado player to receive it.

(The previous closest call was running back Byron "Whizzer" White, runner-up to Clint Frank of Yale in 1937, and also a basketball star. He married the daughter of the school's president, played for Pittsburgh and Detroit, became a Rhodes Scholar, was awarded 2 Bronze Stars as a Navy Lieutenant in World War II, went to law school, worked in the U.S. Department of Justice under his longtime friends John and Robert Kennedy, and served 31 years on the U.S. Supreme Court.)


Salaam declared himself eligible for the NFL Draft a year early, and was taken by the Chicago Bears. At first, it looked like he would join the tradition of great Bear runners: Red Grange, Bronko Nagurski, Willie Galimore, Gale Sayers, Walter Payton. In his rookie season, 1995, he rushed for 1,074 yards and 10 touchdowns. At the age of 21 years and 77 days, he became, and remains, the youngest player to rush for over 1,000 yards in an NFL season. So far, so good.
But things went downhill. He partied hard, and smoked marijuana, perhaps paving the way for the 1998 Heisman winner, Ricky Williams of Texas. He fumbled a lot. He also had injuries. He rushed for only 608 yards in 1996 and 1997 combined.

The Bears cut him. He did not play in the 1998 season. He was signed by the reborn, expansion Cleveland Browns in 1999, but he played just 2 games for the worst team in the League. Despite attempts to catch on with Oakland, Green Bay, San Francisco, Detroit, and the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League, his only pro experience after the '99 Browns was with the Memphis Maniax of the XFL in 2001. His last bid for a pro contract ended in 2004, at age 30, for a total of 33 NFL appearances, 1,684 rushing yards, and 13 touchdowns.

In a 1999 interview for ESPN, he said of marijuana, "It probably had me out there lackadaisical instead of going out there 100 percent. Everybody thinks getting high is cool, you can let it go when you want to let it go. But it's just as potent as cocaine."

"I had all the talent in the world," he said in a 2012 interview with the Chicago Tribune. "You know: Great body, great genes. But I had no work ethic, and I had no discipline. The better you get, the harder you have to work. The better I got, the lazier I got. Work on your game.

"I didn't realize coming up how much work you had to put in once you got to the NFL. It's a whole different lifestyle. You have to change the way you live. You have to change who you hang out with. You have to totally get focused on your game. You have the athletic ability, but if you don't put the work behind it, nothing will come from it."

After playing in the NFL, he marketed mixed martial arts in China. He continued to be involved with the Colorado football program, and was named the grand marshal of the 2014 Homecoming Parade.
Yesterday, Rashaan Salaam was found dead in a park in Boulder, Colorado, just 2 miles from the University's Folsom Field. He was only 42 years old.

As of this writing, the authorities were saying there was no sign of foul play, and that what may have been a suicide note was found. Perhaps he is yet another victim of football-induced head trauma and resultant brain dysfunction and other physical difficulties.

The last post on his Facebook page, dated November 27, includes a video of Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross, Whitney Houston and Dionne Warwick singing the song "That's What Friends Are For." In the post, Salaam noted he was "feeling joyful," and told people to "keep smiling."

A sign that he wasn't suicidal? Or a plea for help?

It's worth nothing that the original song, a Number 1 hit in 1986, was recorded by Dionne, Stevie, Gladys Knight and Elton John. It's also worth nothing that Whitney, Dionne's cousin, and Luther both died young.


Until yesterday, every Heisman Trophy winner from 1962 onward, and a few before then, was still alive:

1947 Johnny Lujack, Notre Dame (91 years old)
1955 Howard Cassady, Ohio State
1956 Paul Hornung, Notre Dame
1958 Pete Dawkins, Army
1959 Billy Cannon, Louisiana State (Kind of fitting that 2 service academy guys flank a Cannon.)
1960 Joe Bellino, Navy
1962 Terry Baker, Oregon State
1963 Roger Staubach, Navy
1964 John Huarte, Notre Dame
1965 Mike Garrett, Southern California
1966 Steve Spurrier, Florida (Yes, kids, "The Ol' Ball Coach")
1967 Gary Beban, UCLA
1968 O.J. Simpson, Southern California (Yes, kids, that O.J.)
1969 Steve Owens, Oklahoma
1970 Jim Plunkett, Stanford
1971 Pat Sullivan, Auburn
1972 Johnny Rodgers, Nebraska
1973 John Cappelletti, Penn State
1974 and 1975 Archie Griffin, Ohio State (Still the only 2-time winner)
1976 Tony Dorsett, Pittsburgh
1977 Earl Campbell, Texas
1978 Billy Sims, Oklahoma
1979 Charles White, Southern California
1980 George Rogers, South Carolina
1981 Marcus Allen, Southern California
1982 Herschel Walker, Georgia
1983 Mike Rozier, Nebraska
1984 Doug Flutie, Boston College
1985 Bo Jackson, Auburn
1986 Vinny Testaverde, Miami
1987 Tim Brown, Notre Dame
1988 Barry Sanders, Oklahoma State
1989 Andre Ware, Houston
1990 Ty Detmer, Houston
1991 Desmond Howard, Michigan
1992 Gino Torretta, Miami
1993 Charlie Ward, Florida State
1995 Eddie George, Ohio State
1996 Danny Wuerffel, Florida
1997 Charles Woodson, Michigan
1998 Ricky Williams, Texas
1999 Ron Dayne, Wisconsin
2000 Chris Weinke, Florida
2001 Eric Crouch, Nebraska
2002 Carson Palmer, Southern California
2003 Jason White, Oklahoma
2004 Matt Leinart, Southern California
2005 Reggie Bush, Southern California (vacated after a scandal -- the only one)
2006 Troy Smith, Ohio State
2007 Tim Tebow, Florida
2008 Sam Bradford, Oklahoma
2009 Mark Ingram, Alabama
2010 Cam Newton, Auburn
2011 Robert Griffin, Baylor
2012 Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
2013 Jameis Winston, Florida State
2014 Marcus Mariota, Oregon
2015 Derrick Henry, Alabama

The 2016 winner will be announced this coming Saturday. Most likely, a moment of silence will be held at the ceremony, for Salaam, and for Johnny Lattner, the 1953 winner from Notre Dame, who died this past February.

Monday, December 5, 2016

How to Be a New York Basketball Fan In Houston -- 2016-17 Edition

Next Monday, December 12, the Brooklyn Nets visit the Houston Rockets. The New York Knicks visit on Saturday, December 31 -- New Year's Eve.

Before You Go. Most Americans hear "bayou" and think "Louisiana." But Houston is known as, among other things, the Bayou City. It can get hot, it can get humid, and it gets a lot of rain. Why do you think the world's 1st indoor stadium designed for baseball and football was built there? So while the Rockets play indoors, the weather could still be a factor.

The Houston Chronicle is predicting daytime temperatures in the mid-60s, and nighttime temperatures in the mid-50s, plus rain early in the day. You won't be indoors for the entire visit, so dress accordingly, with lighter clothes than you would wear in New York at this time of year, and bring an umbrella.

Houston is in the Central Time Zone, so you’ll be an hour behind New York time. Although Texas is a former Confederate State, you will not need your passport, and you won't need to change your money.

Tickets. The Rockets averaged 17,863 fans per game last season, about 99 percent of capacity. more than a sellout. They are Houston's most successful sports team, and, having won their Division last season, are the hardest local team for which to get tickets.

Seats in the lower level are insanely expensive, running $220 behind the baskets and $125 behind them. Seats in the upper level are $55 between the baskets and $25 behind them.

Getting There. It's 1,629 miles from Times Square in New York to downtown Houston. You’re probably thinking that you should be flying.

The good news: Flying to Houston can be done for as little as $662. Considering how far it is, that is relatively cheap. The bad news: Your flight won't be nonstop: You'll have to change planes in either Dallas or Charlotte to get to Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport. (That's named for the father, not the son.) Bus 102 will get you from the airport to downtown in an hour and 20 minutes.

There are 2 ways to get there by train. One is to change trains in Chicago, and then change to a bus in Longview, Texas. The other is to change trains twice, in Washington and New Orleans, and then stay overnight in New Orleans. No, I'm not making that up. You don't want that -- and don't be fooled by the fact that Houston's Union Station and the Rockets' arena are only 7 blocks apart, because Amtrak uses a different station a mile and a half away, at 902 Washington Avenue. Round-trip fare is $428, almost as much as flying. Maybe we should just forget Amtrak, and move on.

Greyhound has 8 runs a day from Port Authority Bus Terminal to Houston, averaging 42 hours, and requiring you to change buses in Atlanta and New Orleans. It's $302 round-trip, with no drop for advanced purchase. The Houston Greyhound station is at 2121 Main Street, a mile from the arena.

If you actually think it's worth it to drive, get someone to go with you so you’ll have someone to talk to and one of you can drive while the other sleeps. You'll be taking Interstate 78 across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania to Harrisburg, where you'll pick up Interstate 81 and take that through the narrow panhandles of Maryland and West Virginia, down the Appalachian spine of Virginia and into Tennessee, where you'll pick up Interstate 40, stay on that briefly until you reach Interstate 75, and take that until you reach Interstate 59, which will take you into Georgia briefly and then across Alabama and Mississippi, and into Louisiana, where you take Interstate 12 west outside New Orleans. Take that until you reach Interstate 10. Once in Texas, Exit 770 will get you to downtown Houston.

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 3 hours in Pennsylvania, 15 minutes in Maryland, half an hour in West Virginia, 5 and a half hours in Virginia, 3 hours and 45 minutes in Tennessee, half an hour in Georgia, 4 hours in Alabama, 2 hours and 45 minutes in Mississippi, 4 hours and 30 minutes in Louisiana and 2 hours in Texas. Including rest stops, and accounting for traffic, we’re talking about a 40-hour trip.

Once In the City. Houston was founded in 1836 as Allen's Landing, and was renamed for Sam Houston, "the Father of Texas." There are 2.2 million people in the city proper, making it the 4th-largest in America, and 6.3 million in the metropolitan area, making it 5th. But with multiple teams, it's only the 10th-largest market in the NBA, and the 7th-largest in MLB and the NFL.

The sales tax in the State of Texas is 6.25 percent, but in the City of Houston it goes up to 8.25 percent. The city doesn't appear to have a "centerpoint," where the address numbers start at 1, but there is a Main Street, running northeast/southwest.

There is a light rail system, called METRORail, but you probably won't need it to get from a downtown hotel to the arena. One zone is $1.25, and the price rises to $4.50 for 4 zones, so a daypass is a better bargain at $3.00.
Going In. The Toyota Center is in Downtown Houston. The mailing address is 1510 Polk Street, also bounded by Jackson, Bell and La Branch Streets. It's 5 blocks east of Main Street and the light rail, with Bell Street the closest station. If you drive in, parking is $15.
It took 8 years from Rockets owner Les Alexander's demand for a new arena until first tipoff, in which time NBA Commissioner David Stern announced that the Rockets would have to move without a new arena (not that there was anything wrong with their incumbent arena, the Summit, aside from a low number of luxury boxes), and NHL Comissioner Gary Bettman announced that Houston would not get an NHL team. But tip off at a new arena the Rockets did, on October 30, 2003.
It's hosted the Rockets ever since, the WNBA's Houston Comets from 2003 until they folded after the 2007 season, and the Houston Aeros of the American Hockey League (not the old WHA team of the same name) from 2003 until 2013, when their parent club, the Minnesota Wild, moved them to Des Moines, where they became the Iowa Wild. It's also hosted wrestling, Ultimate Fighting, concerts (including by Houston native Beyonce, both with and without the rest of Destiny's Child) and the Latin Grammys.

The court is laid out north-to-south -- or, given the actual directions of Houston's street grid northeast-to-southwest. It is 32 feet below street level, because Alexander didn't want fans, having already gotten through Houston's weather, to have to walk upstairs to their seats. (But they'll have to walk upstairs to get out.)

Food. Being a “Wild West” city, you might expect Houston to have Western-themed stands with “real American food” at its ballpark. Being a Southern State, you might also expect to have barbecue. And you would be right on both counts.

Baskets Grill, featuring burgers, chicken and corn dogs, can be found at Sections 113, 125, 403, 408 and 427. H.O.U. B.B.Q. is at 125 and 403. Space City Dogs, featuring customized hot dogs, is at 102 and 114. Bell Street Grill, featuring the Double Dribble Burger, is at 102 and 433. Taqueria Roja, featuring Mexican food, is at is at 125 and 433. TC Wings is at 102 and 433. Copper Canyon Carvery, featuring barbecue, is at 115. And Courtside Creamery, featuring ice cream, is at 124 and 432.

Clutch City Pizza is at 102, 113, 125, 403, 408, 427 and 433, but don't go there: The pizza in question is Papa John's. Not only is it not very good, but the owner won't pay living wages or for his employees' health insurance, and doesn't deserve your money.

Team History Displays. The Rockets have been around since 1971, and have the best history of any of Houston's sports teams, especially now that the 4-time WNBA Champion Comets have folded. At one end, next to the U.S. and Canadian flags, they have banners for each of their back-to-back NBA Championships, 1994 and 1995, plus a banner listing all of their Conference titles (1981, 1986, 1994 and 1995), and another for all of their Division titles (1977, 1986, 1993, 1994 and 2015).
The Rockets have retired 5 numbers, plus a banner with the initials CD, honoring longtime assistant coach and general manager Carroll Dawson. All are in the Basketball Hall of Fame, except for Rudy Tomjanovich, and I can't understand why he isn't, unless the voters don't think he's yet retired as a coach (he's 68, so he could come back), and are thus waiting for that to elect him. Here they are:

* From their 1981 Conference Champions: 45, forward Rudy Tomjanovich; 23, guard Calvin Murphy; and 24, center Moses Malone.

* From their 1986 Conference Champions: 34, center Hakeem Olajuwon. Forward Ralph Sampson, Number 50, is in the Hall of Fame, but the Rockets have not retired his number. But neither is it currently being worn.

* From their 1994 NBA Champions: Tomjanovich, by this point head coach, and Olajuwon.

* From their 1995 NBA Champions: Tomjanovich, Olajuwon, and 22, guard Clyde Drexler. Hakeem the Dream and Clyde the Glide had been teammates on the University of Houston team that made 3 straight NCAA Final Four appearances, 1982 to 1984, but didn't win the title.
The Rockets have announced that they will retire the Number 11 of center Yao Ming on February 2, 2017. has not been given out since he retired, and team owner Les Alexander has dropped hints that it will be retired, possibly after Yao is elected to the Hall. (He will be eligible starting next year.)

Forward Elvin Hayes (who wore 11 and then 44, another University of Houston star), forward Charles Barkley (4, as Hakeem was wearing his usual 34), and center Dikembe Mutombo (55) have also played at least 4 seasons for the Rockets and been elected to the Hall, but have not had their numbers retired.

The Rockets do not have a team Hall of Fame. Hayes, Malone, Olajuwon and Barkley were named to the NBA's 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players in 1996.

The Comets retired the Number 10 of Kim Perrot, who died in 1999 of a brain tumor while still an active player. They also retired the 14 of Cynthia Cooper, but not the 22 of Sheryl Swoopes or the 7 of Tina Thompson. Coop, Swoopes and Tina were named to the WNBA's 15th Anniversary 15 Greatest Players in 2012.

Stuff. The Team Shop is on the north, Polk Street side of the arena. The usual NBA fan gear can be found there. Since this is Texas, you might find cowboy hats, boots or belt buckles with the Rockets logo on them.

In spite of the Rockets' success, there aren't many books about them. (Houston doesn't exactly scream "literary city.") Ron Berman wrote the Rockets' entry in the NBA's On the Hardwood series, and Clayton Geoffreys wrote the biography Hakeem Olajuwon: The Remarkable Story of One of 90s Basketball's Greatest Centers.

Official NBA Finals highlight films were released for their back-to-back titles in 1994 (Clutch City) and 1995 (Double Clutch).

During the Game. A November 13, 2014 article on DailyRotoHelp ranked the NBA teams' fan bases, and listed the Rockets' fans at 16th, on the bottom side of the exact middle. If you were wearing Dallas Cowboy gear to a Houston Texans game, you might be in trouble. But Rockets fans aren't especially hostile to New Yorkers, so safety won't be an issue.

The head coach of the Rockets is Mike D'Antoni, who, as you may remember, was the Knicks' head coach from 2008 to 2012. In between, he coached the Los Angeles Lakers. Before the Knicks, he coached the Denver Nuggets and the Phoenix Suns. So far, his best head coaching performance remains reaching the Western Conference Finals with the Suns in 2005 and '06.

The Rockets hold auditions instead of having a regular National Anthem singer, but, during the 2015 Playoffs, 12-year-old Nicholas Connors brought the house down with his rendition. A group called Clymax produced a theme song for the Rockets, "Blasting Off." Badluck Traffic King produced another, "Red Nation."

The Rockets' mascot is Clutch the Bear. I'm not sure what a bear has to do with rockets, but he's named for the Rockets' 1994 and 1995 titles, when the former "Choke City" became known as "Clutch City." He was named NBA Mascot of the Year in 2013. They have a female dance team called the Rockets Power Dancers, a male dance team called the Launch Crew, a drumline called Sonic Boom, a dunk team called Anti-Gravity, a coed kids' dance team called the Little Dippers, and a coed senior citizens' dance team called the Space City Seniors. No, I'm not making any of that up.
Clutch and Dwight Howard

The Red Rowdies sit behind the north end (Polk Street side) basket in Section 114, and are a fan group in the style of European soccer "ultras." Not hooligans: They are not violent. They are, however, loud, and very well organized.

After the Game. Houston is a comparatively low-crime city, and as long as you behave yourself, the home fans will probably behave themselves, win or lose.

The Grove, at 1611 Lamar Street in park named Discovery Green, calls itself "upscale-casual," which sounds like a contradiction to me. Andalucia serves Spanish food, and Guadalajara serves Mexican; both are at the buildng at 1201 San Jacinto Street. China Garden is at 1602 Leeland Street. All of these are within 3 blocks of the Toyota Center.

Lucky's Pub appears to be the go-to bar for New Yorkers living in the Houston area. It is at 801 St. Emanuel Street at Rusk Street, a 12-minute walk from the United Center, adjacent to BBVA Compass Stadium, the new home of MLS' Houston Dynamo. I've also heard that Twin Peaks is a Giant fans' bar, at 4527 Lomitas Avenue, about 4 miles southwest of downtown, Bus 041; and that Stadia Sports Grill is a Jet fans' bar, at 11200 Broadway Street in Pearland, 16 miles south of downtown, and unreachable by public transportation.

If your visit to Houston is during the European soccer season (which we are now in), and you want to watch your favorite club play, the best place to do so, because of its early opening, is BarMunich, 2616 Louisiana Street at Dennis Street, just south of downtown. Light Rail to McGowen.

Sidelights. Before the Toyota Center, the Rockets played at The Summit, later known as the Compaq Center, from 1975 to 2003. Elvis Presley sang at The Summit on August 28, 1976. It's been converted into the Lakewood Church Central Campus, a megachurch presided over by Dr. Joel Osteen. 3700 Southwest Freeway at Timmons Lane. Number 53 bus.
The arena/church today

Before that, between their 1971 move from San Diego and the 1975 opening of The Summit, they played some home games at the Astrodome, some at the Astrohall, some at the Sam Houston Coliseum, and some at the Hofheinz Pavilion.
Hofheinz Pavilion

In 1965, the Astrodome opened, and was nicknamed "The Eighth Wonder of the World." It sure didn't seem like an exaggeration: The first roofed sports stadium in the world. (Supposedly, the Romans built stadia with canvas roofs, but that's hardly the same thing.) The Astros played there until 1999, and then moved into Enron Field/Minute Maid Park for the 2000 season. The AFL/NFL's Oilers played at the Astrodome from 1968 to 1996, when they moved to Tennessee to become the Titans.

In 2002, the new NFL team, the Houston Texans, began play next-door to the Astrodome, at Reliant Stadium, now named NRG Stadium, which, like Minute Maid Park, has a retractable roof. Suddenly, the mostly-vacant Astrodome seemed, as one writer put it, like a relic of a future that never came to be. (This same writer said the same thing of Shea Stadium and, across Roosevelt Avenue, the surviving structures of the 1964 World's Fair.)

Once, the Astrodome was flashy enough to be the site of movies like The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training and Murder at the World Series. (Both were released in 1977. In the latter, the Astros, who had never yet gotten close to a Pennant, played the Series against the Oakland Athletics, who had just gotten fire-sold by owner Charlie Finley.)
The Astrodome, with NRG Stadium behind it

The Astrodome also hosted the legendary 1968 college basketball game between Number 1 UCLA (with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then still Lew Alcindor) and Number 2 University of Houston (whose Elvin Hayes led them to victory, before UCLA got revenge in that year's Final Four); the 1971 NCAA Final Four, with UCLA defeating Villanova in the Final; and the cheese-tastic 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, the "Battle of the Sexes."
The place was not designed with basketball in mind.

Elvis sang there on February 27, 28 and March 1, 1970 and on March 3, 1974. It hosted Selena's last big concert before her murder in 1995, and when Jennifer Lopez starred in the film Selena, it was used for the re-creation. In 2004, the same year NRG (then Reliant) Stadium hosted the Super Bowl (which was won by... Janet Jackson, I think), the Astrodome was used to film a high school football playoff for the film version of Friday Night Lights; the old Astros division title banners can be clearly seen.

Today, though, the Astrodome seems, like the Republican Party that held a ridiculously bigoted Convention there in 1992, stuck in the past -- and not because they renominated failed President George H.W. Bush. The former Eighth Wonder of the World is now nicknamed the Lonely Landmark, and while it served as a shelter for people displaced from New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, since 2008, when it was hit with numerous code violations, only maintenance workers and security guards have been allowed to enter. The stadium's future is not clear: Some officials are worried that demolishing it would damage the new stadium and other nearby structures.

NRG Stadium was built roughly on the site of Colt Stadium, which was the baseball team's home in their first 3 seasons, 1962, '63 and '64, when they were known as the Houston Colt .45's (spelled with the apostrophe), before moving into the dome and changing the name of the team. Astrohall, built in 1971, was torn down in 2002 to make way for parking for the new stadium (which, after all, was built on Astrodome parking).

The climate-controlled Astrodome was necessary because of not just the heat and the humidity, but because of the mosquitoes. Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers said, "Some of those mosquitoes are twin-engine jobs."

Later, seeing the artificial turf that was laid in the Astrodome for 1966 after the grass died in the first season, due to the skylights in the dome having to be painted due to the players losing the ball in the sun, Koufax said, "I was one of those guys who pitched without a cup. I wouldn't do it on this stuff. And Dick Allen of the Philadelphia Phillies, looking at the first artificial field in baseball history, said, "If a horse can't eat it, I don't want to play on it."

The Astrodome hosted a 1988 match between the national soccer teams of the U.S. and Ecuador, which Ecuador won. NRG Stadium has hosted 2 such matches, a 2008 draw with Mexico and a 2011 win over Panama. The Mexico team has made it a home-away-from-home, playing several matches there. NRG Stadium hosted the NCAA Final Four in 2011 (Connecticut beating Butler), and will do so again in 2016. It will host Super Bowl LI in 2017.

The NRG complex, including the Astrodome, is at 8400 Kirby Drive at Reliant Parkway. Number 700 bus, or Reliant Park station on METRORail.

Minute Maid Park opened in 2000, at 501 Crawford Street, attached to Union Station. The Astros were able to play on God's own grass for the 1st time since 1965, and under God's own sky for the 1st time since 1964. They have now reached the postseason there 4 times: The 2001 National League Division Series, the 2004 NL Championship Series, the 2005 World Series, and the 2015 American League Division Series. Preston Station on METRORail.

The Houston Aeros, with Gordie Howe and his sons Mark and Marty, won the World Hockey Association championships of 1974 and 1975, while playing at the Sam Houston Coliseum, before moving into the Summit in 1975 (where they reached the Finals again in 1976), and folding in 1978. Larry Lund, Ron Grahame, Terry Ruskowski and all 3 Howes were named to the WHA All-Time Team.

Elvis sang there on October 13, 1956, and the Beatles played there on August 19, 1965. It was built in 1937 and demolished in 1998. It replaced Sam Houston Hall, where the 1928 Democratic Convention nominated Governor Alfred E. Smith of New York, who thus became the 1st Catholic nominated for President by a major party. The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts is now on the site. 801 Bagby Street, at Rusk Street, downtown.

With even the minor-league Aeros gone, the closest NHL team to Houston is the Dallas Stars, 242 miles away, although some Houstonians would rather vote for a gay black Democrat than root for a Dallas team. Gary Bettman is still Commissioner, he still prefers the Sun Belt to Canada, the city has a relatively new arena, and Houston would rank 10th in population among NHL markets, so it is still possible that they could get a team.

The Houston Oilers played at Jeppesen Stadium from 1960 to 1964. They won the 1960 AFL Championship Game there, won the 1961 title game on the road, and lost the 1962 title game there -- and, as the Oilers and the Tennessee Titans, haven't gone as far as the rules allowed them to since 1961.

Built in 1942, it became Robertson Stadium, and was the former home of the University of Houston football team and the former home of MLS' Houston Dynamo. The new John O'Quinn Field at TDECU Stadium (named for Texas Dow Employees Credit Union) has been built at the site. 3874 Holman Street at Cullen Blvd., about 4 miles southeast of downtown. Number 52 bus.

The Dynamo and the National Women's Soccer League's Houston Dash have moved to BBVA Compass Stadium, at 2200 Texas Avenue at Dowling Street. Within walking distance of downtown. On January 29, 2013, it hosted its 1st U.S. national team match, a draw with Canada.

The Oilers played the 1965, '66 and '67 seasons at Rice Stadium, home of Rice University. Although built in 1950 and probably already obsolete, it seated a lot more people than did the Astrodome, and so Super Bowl VIII was played there in January 1974, and the Miami Dolphins won it -- and haven't won a Super Bowl since. It has been significantly renovated, and Rice still uses it. University Blvd. at Greenbriar Street, although the mailing address is 6100 S. Main Street, about 5 miles southwest of downtown. Number 700 bus.

Before there were the Astros, or even the Colt .45's, there were the Houston Buffaloes. The Buffs played at Buffalo Stadium, a.k.a. Buff Stadium, for most of their history, from 1928 to 1961, when the Colt .45's made them obsolete.

They were a farm team of the St. Louis Cardinals, and as a result in its last years Buff Stadium was renamed Busch Stadium. The Cardinal teams of the 1930s that would be known as the "Gashouse Gang" came together in Houston, with Dizzy and Daffy Dean, Joe Medwick, Pepper Martin and Enos Slaughter. Later Buff stars included Cleveland Indians 3rd baseman Al Rosen, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Wilmer "Vinegar Bend" Mizell, Negro League legend Willard Brown, Cardinal MVP Ken Boyer, and Phillies shortstop Ruben Amaro Sr.

Wanting to lure in more customers but also to beat the infamous Houston heat, lights were installed in 1930, 5 years before any major league park had them. The Buffs won 8 Texas League Pennants: 1928, 1931, 1940, 1947, 1951, 1954, 1956 and 1957. The stadium was at the southwest corner of Leeland Street & Cullen Blvd., about 2 1/2 miles southeast of downtown. A furniture store is on the site now. Number 20 bus.

There's another notable sports site in Houston: The U.S. Military Entry Processing Station, in the Customs House, where Muhammad Ali, then living and training in Houston, had to report to fulfill his draft obligation. He did report there, on April 28, 1967, and refused to be drafted. (To be fair, they did call his birth name, Cassius Clay, not his legal name, Muhammad Ali.) Ali was convicted of draft evasion and stripped of the Heavyweight Title. He stayed out of prison on appeal, and case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which overturned the conviction.

The Customs House is still standing, and still used in part by the U.S. Department of Defense. 701 San Jacinto Street. Central Station on METRORail.

In addition to the preceding, Elvis sang at Hofheinz Pavilion on November 12, 1971; and June 4 and 5, 1975. He also sang at the City Auditorium on October 8, 1955 and April 21, 1956. It's better known as the venue where R&B singer Johnny Ace mistakenly shot himself before a show on Christmas Day, December 25, 1955. The Jones Hall for the Performing Arts replaced it in 1966. 615 Louisiana Street at Capitol Street, downtown.

Also, early in his career, Elvis sang in Houston at the Paladium Club (8100 S. Main Street, near the Astrocomplex) on November 26, 27 and 28, 1954; Cook's Hoedown (603 Capitol Street, around the corner from Jones Hall) on November 27 and December 28, 1954, and April 24 and August 7, 1955; Magnolia Gardens (12044 Riverside Street, no public transit) on April 24, May 22, June 19 and August 7, 1955; and Eagles Hall at 2204 Louisiana Street on January 1 and March 19, 1955 (2204 Louisiana Street, downtown). All of these have since been demolished.

Elvis sang near the University of Texas campus in Austin, 160 miles to the northwest, at Dessau Hall on March 17, 1955, the Sportscenter on August 25, 1955, the Skyline Club on January 18, 1956, and the Municipal Auditorium on March 28, 1977. And he sang near the Texas A&M campus, 100 miles to the northwest, at the Rodeo Grounds in Bryan on August 23, 1955 and the G. Rolle White Coliseum in College Station on October 3, 1955;

Elvis also sang in South Texas at the City Auditorium in Beaumont, 85 miles to the northeast, on June 20 and 21, 1955 and January 17, 1956; at the football stadium at Conroe High School, 40 miles to the north, on August 24, 1955; in Corpus Christi, 200 miles to the southwest, at the Hoedown Club on July 3, 1955 and the Memorial Coliseum on April 16, 1956; in Galveston, 50 miles to the southeast, at the City Auditorium on January 16, 1956; at the baseball field in Gonzales, 130 miles to the west, on August 26, 1955; at Woodrow Wilson High School in Port Arthur, 90 miles to the east on November 25, 1955; and at Southwest Texas State University (LBJ's alma mater, now "Texas State"), 165 miles to the west, on October 6, 1955.

There are other places that might be considered "South Texas" where he sang, but I'll include them with "West Texas" when I do this for the San Antonio Spurs.

The tallest building in Houston, and in Texas, is the JPMorgan Chase Tower, formerly the Texas Commerce Tower. It was built in 1982 at 600 Travis Street at Texas Avenue, downtown, and stands 1,002 feet tall, rising 75 stories above the concrete over the bayou.

Houston's version of New York's American Museum of Natural History is the Houston Museum of Natural Science, in Hermann Park, at Main Street and Hermann Park Drive. The Sam Houston Monument is a few steps away. The Houston Museum of Fine Arts is at 1001 Bissonnet Street, just 5 blocks away. Both can be reached by the Number 700 bus.

Of course, the name "Houston" is most connected with two things: Its namesake, the legendary Senator, Governor and war hero Sam Houston; and the Johnson Space Center, the NASA control center named after President Lyndon B. Johnson, who, as Senate Majority Leader, wrote the bill creating NASA and the Space Center, because he thought it would bring a lot of jobs and money to Houston (and he was right).

Aside from his Monument, most historic sites relating to Sam are not in the city that bears his name. As for reaching the Johnson Space Center, it's at 1601 NASA Parkway and Saturn Lane. The Number 249 bus goes there, so if you don't have a car, Houston, you won't have a problem.

Although Houston is the post-Presidential home for George H.W. and Barbara Bush, his Presidential Library is at Texas A&M University, 100 miles away in College Station.

The Alley Theatre, downtown at 615 Texas Avenue, opened in 1968, and in 1976 hosted the Vice Presidential debate between Senators Walter Mondale and Bob Dole. This is where Dole named World War I, World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam Wars as "all Democrat wars" -- forgetting that the Republicans wanted America to get into all but World War II, and didn't want that one because they liked the Nazis' anti-union status; and that it was actually the Republicans who got us into Vietnam.

There have been a few TV shows set in Houston, but the only one that lasted was Reba, starring country singer Reba McIntire. But it was filmed in Los Angeles, so if you're a fan, you won't find the house in Houston. Films set in Houston, in addition to the sports-themed ones, include Brewster McCloud (which also used the Astrodome), Logan's Run (which used the Houston Hyatt Regency for some scenes), Telefon (set there but filmed in California), Terms of EndearmentReality Bites, and, perhaps most iconically, Urban Cowboy.


Houston can be hot, but it's a good sports town, and, best of all, it's not Dallas. So there can be a good old time in the hot town tonight.

How to Be a Devils Fan at Madison Square Garden -- 2016-17 Edition

December 23, 1992 -- at least 5 years later than I should have: I attended my 1st live National Hockey League game.

I've been a New Jersey Devils fan from Day One, the day it was announced that the Colorado Rockies (whose name was taken by the expansion baseball team 10 years later) were moving to New Jersey, May 27, 1982 (which would later the anniversary of both "Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!" and "Henrique, it's over!").

However, that 1st game was not at the Brendan Byrne Arena at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford. Nor was it at the as-yet-unthought-of Prudential Center in Newark.

It was at Madison Square Garden in Midtown Manhattan. The Devils were the visiting team. The home team, of course, was the New York Rangers.

The Devils fell behind, 4-1. And won, 5-4. Stéphane Richer, a man who played so well against the Rangers he even scored on them on an episode of Seinfeld, scored twice, including the overtime winner, a laser beam that John Vanbiesbrouck still hasn't seen, nearly 23 years later.

Needless to say, I got out of The Garden real fast. The home fans were not happy customers. Well, to hell with their feelings. They don't care about ours.


This coming Sunday night at 7:00, the New Jersey Devils will again play their arch-rivals, the New York Rangers, at the Rangers' home, Madison Square Garden.

There are certain requirements to being a New Jersey Devils fan:

1. You have to love hockey.

2. You have to love New Jersey, and be ready to defend your home State against all who would insult it.

3. You have to hate the New York Rangers, a.k.a. The Scum.

4. You have to hate the Philadelphia Flyers, a.k.a. The Philth, although giving them a grudging respect is definitely permitted, because, unlike most Ranger fans, Flyer fans do tend to know the game.

With regard to The Scum:

5. You have to remind them that they don't get to talk about "history" when they've won the Stanley Cup just once since Pearl Harbor, while we've won it 3 times since Oklahoma City. They don't get to brag about being an "Original Six" team when 4 of the 6 teams weren't original, and that 8 Cups have been won by "Original Six" teams since they last won it (4 by Detroit, 3 by Chicago, 1 by Boston).

6. You have to explain why Henrik Lundqvist is no "king," and will never be as good a goaltender as Martin Brodeur was.

7. You have to explain why Mark Messier was never as good a Captain, and Brian Leetch was never as good a defenseman, as Scott Stevens was.

8. You have to explain why Claude Lemieux was a real player, while Sean Avery was never anything more than a classless thug.

9. And, eventually, at least once, you have to go into the belly of the beast, Madison Square Garden, and see the Devils play the Rangers.

The Devils go into The Garden on Sunday, December 11; and again the next Sunday, December 18. Those will be our only visits to The Garden this season. The experience could get ugly -- for reasons that have nothing to do with the physical appearance of either The Scum (the Rangers) or the Scummers (Rangers fans).

And, in case you're wondering: I've adopted the terms "The Scum" -- always Capital T, Capital S -- for your team's arch-rivals, and "Scummers" for their fans, from English soccer. If you don't like to see a sports-themed blog with that kind of language in it, too goddamned bad.

Follow these directions, and, most likely, you will get in, see the game, and get out in one piece.

Before You Go. This game is in the same metropolitan area, so the weather will not be noticeably different upon your arrival than when you left your residence. Next Sunday is currently forecast to be in the high 40s in daylight, and the mid-30s at night, with early light rain. You'll need a jacket, but you won't have to bundle up.

Nor will the time zone be any different, although Ranger fans often act like it's still 1994 and they're still a successful club. (It isn't, and they're not.) So "Set your watch back 21 years" is merely a joke. Much like the Rangers themselves.

Tickets. Pretty much since the Rangers' late 1970s revival, they've been averaging 18,200 fans per game, a sellout every night. Since "The Garden Transformed," which is at least the 2nd major renovation of the 1968 Garden (this 2011-13 revamp followed one in 1991-92), capacity has been reduced slightly, to 18,006, and they're still selling out every game. (They are 1 of 13 NHL teams that did so last season.)

Contrast that with the Devils, who averaged 14,969 last season, or 85 percent of capacity. This is a sore spot in the rivalry: Ranger fans love to point out that they sell out every night, while the Devils don't even come close. Well, what would you rather have in your building: 15,000 people with taste, or 18,000 drunken, boorish animals?

At any rate, if you don't already have a ticket for Sunday's game, you're probably out of luck, unless you want to take your chances with StubHub or a scalper.

Seats in the lower level, the 100 sections, are $285 on the sidelines and $175 behind the goals. In the 200 sections, $160 and $140. The former 300 sections are now the 400 sections, going for $118. And the former 400s, the old "Blue Seats," full of the nastiest Ranger fans, are now the 300 sections, going for $130. If you take your chances with a scalper, figure that, whatever price is listed on the ticket, you'll be charged at least double. Law of supply and demand, and all that.

At least you can know that there really isn't a bad seat in the house. Let me rephrase that: There isn't a bad view in the house, and the seats themselves are comfortable -- but those around you might make it a "bad seat." I'd especially advise you, as a visiting fan, to stay out of the uppermost seats: This is hardcore Blueshirt fan territory. If your choice is a seat in the 300s and a seat in the 400s for $50 more, spend the extra half-C-note and be safer.

Getting There. Madison Square Garden is in Midtown Manhattan, between 31st and 33rd Streets, between 7th and 8th Avenues, on top of Pennsylvania Station. The official address for the arena is 4 Pennsylvania Plaza -- if they used a traditional address, it would be either 400 7th Avenue (the main entrance for The Garden is on 7th), or 200 West 32nd Street.

It's 14 road miles from the Prudential Center, and if you were going to drive from pretty much anywhere in New Jersey, you would take the Turnpike to Exit 16E, and take the Lincoln Tunnel in, taking the right, downtown fork as you came out. But there are only 2 types of people who drive in Manhattan: Professionals (taxi drivers, chauffeurs and deliverymen) and people who end up asking themselves, "Why did I do this?" The fact that The Garden is on top of Penn Station makes it all the more sensible to avoid driving, and take public transportation.

If you go in by New Jersey Transit train, it's simple enough: Just ride to New York's Penn Station. If you go in by bus, from Port Authority Bus Terminal to Penn Station and The Garden, it's just 1 one stop on the Subway: Take the A, C or E train from 42nd Street to 34th.

Once In the City. You are, most likely, a native of the New York Tri-State Area. Certainly, if you are a Devils fan, you live in the Tri-State Area. You already know this stuff. If you don't, check the link for my piece on how to go to a Knicks game, and scroll down to "Once In the City."
Going In. The 4th and current version of Madison Square Garden has only one real entrance, and that's on the 7th Avenue side. You'll see giant posters referencing the current Knick and Ranger squads, and historic moments that occurred at The Garden. Besides those involving the home team, these include: The 1st fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier (the 2nd was also held there, but was far less significant because neither man then held the title), Nadia Comaneci performing the 1st perfect 10 in an international gymnastics meet (before doing it again later in the year at the Olympics at the Montreal Forum), and various concerts and political conventions (the Democrats in 1976, 1980 and 1992, the Republicans in 2004).
The Rangers and Knicks moved in when this Garden opened in February 1968. The WNBA's New York Liberty began play here in 1997, and have played here ever since, except for the 2012 and 2013 seasons, when the renovations were done in the other teams' off-seasons, forcing the Libs to play those seasons at the Prudential Center in Newark.

Once your ticket is scanned, you will be directed to a "tower" at one of the "corners" of this completely round arena: Tower A (33rd & 8th), Tower B (33rd & 7th), Tower C (31st & 7th) or Tower D (31st & 8th). These are escalator towers, and will make it easier for you to find your seating section.

Although I am a Devils fan and I hate the Rangers (I'd say I hate their guts, but they are completely gutless), the only things I don't like about The Garden as a structure are these escalator towers (they take too long, going either up or down) and the narrowness of the concourses (about half the width of those at the Prudential Center, and no wider than those at the inadequate Nassau Coliseum and Meadowlands arena were).

The 100 and 200 Levels are now accessed by the Madison Concourse on the building's 6th Floor. The 300 and 400 Levels are accessed by the Garden Concourse on the 10th Floor. The old color system of red seats down below, white in the middle and blue up top is long gone. So is the system that replaced it, of purple seats in the 100 and 200 Levels and aquamarine in the 300 and 400s. They're all purple now. Fortunately, there really isn't a bad view from seat in the house, not even in the 400 Level, and the sound carries spectacularly well.
The rink is laid out east-to-west. The Rangers attack twice toward the west side, the 8th Avenue end. The Garden is 1 of 10 current arenas to house both an NBA team and an NHL team.

Food. Although New York is one of the world's great food cities, The Garden isn't exactly known for great food. Perhaps having so many well-known restaurants and bars around the place is a reason: The Madison Square Garden Corporation might have good relationships with these establishments, and not want to outshine them. Some of these places would go out of business without Knick and Ranger postgame traffic.

There are specialty stands of interest, though. The 10th Floor has Garden Market between Towers B & C (on the 7th Avenue side), and the 6th Floor has one behind Sections 108 and 115.
Also on the 6th Floor, there is Carlos and Gabby's Kosher & Mexican Grill (I don't know whether to say, "Oy vey!" or "iAy caramba!") at 111, and Senzai Sushi at 118. Ice cream is available at 110, and 16 Handles Frozen Yogurt at 115. "Coffee and Deserts" are at 114.

Team History Displays. There used to be a "Madison Square Garden Hall of Fame," with the names listed on the marquee at the main doors on the 7th Avenue side. That was removed a few years ago.

But the Knicks and Rangers still hang banners for their titles and their retired numbers. The Rangers hang banners for their 1928, 1933, 1940 and 1994 Stanley Cups; their 2014 Eastern Conference Championship; their 1992 President's Trophy for finishing 1st overall in the regular season (as Queens native Archie Bunker would say, "Well, whoop dee do!"); and their regular-season Division Championships of 1927, 1932, 1942, 1990, 2012 and 2014.
(Although the Rangers reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 1929, 1937, 1950, 1972 and 1979, these were not "championships" of any kind, and there is no notation for any of them.)

The Rangers have 8 banners honoring retired numbers, although (as with the Yankees) 1 number is retired for 2 different players. Despite being around since 1926, they didn't retire a number until 1979 (Rod Gilbert), and as late as 2004, 78 years into their history, they only had 2 (Eddie Giacomin's was retired in 1989). Over the next 4 years, they had 5 ceremonies for 6 players, including 2 guys who'd debuted for them in the 1950s (and, thankfully, were still alive to enjoy it, and still are as of this writing).

The numbers are: 1, Eddie Giacomin, goaltender 1965-75; 2, Brian Leetch, defenseman 1987-2004; 3, Harry Howell, defenseman 1952-69; 7, Rod Gilbert, right wing 1961-77; 9, Andy Bathgate, center 1954-64, and Adam Graves, left wing 1991-2001; 11, Mark Messier, center 1991-97 and 2000-04; and 35, Mike Richter, goaltender 1990-2003. And, of course, while he only played 3 seasons with the Rangers, and only got as far as the Conference Finals in 1997 (making it a bit silly to claim him as a "Ranger Hall-of-Famer"), the Number 99 of Wayne Gretzky is retired throughout the League, but his number is separate from the others.

Bathgate is an interesting case: The Winnipeg native won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP in 1959, and appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated that year, the 1st Ranger so honored. The article suggested he was, already, the greatest Ranger ever. Yet he didn't get his number retired by the team until 2009, when he was 78 years old. He also won the Stanley Cup -- in 1964, with the Toronto Maple Leafs, mere weeks after the Rangers traded him away. His grandson Andy is currently in the Pittsburgh Penguins' minor-league system.

There are 25 players who played at least 5 seasons with the Rangers who are in the Hockey Hall of Fame, yet only Giacomin, Leetch, Howell, Gilbert, Bathgate, Messier and Richter are honored with retired numbers. (Graves isn't in the Hall yet.)

Frank Boucher was the Captain of the Rangers' 1928 and 1933 Cup wins, and the head coach of their 1940 win. They didn't win the Cup without him being directly involved until 1994. Have they retired his number? Yes -- but for Gilbert; it was 7. Nor have the numbers of his linemates on the "A-Line" (named for the 8th Avenue Subway) been retired Hall-of-Famers and brothers Bill and Frederick "Bun" Cook (5 and 6, respectively) been retired.

Ivan "Ching" Johnson was a Hall-of-Fame defenseman in that era, but Number 3 isn't retired for him. Bryan Hextall (father of 2 NHL players and grandfather of infamous goalie Ron) is in the Hall, and scored the winning goal for the 1940 Cup, but his Number 12 isn't in the rafters. From their 1970s teams, the Rangers could have retired 2 for Brad Park long before Leetch arrived, and 10 could have been hung up for Jean Ratelle.

And, of course, the greatest Ranger of them all, Lester Patrick, their 1st head coach and general manager, could have been honored with the retirement of the Number 16 he wore just once, as an emergency goalie in the 1928 Finals. (Today, that wouldn't be allowed, but with today's 2-goalie rosters and better protection, it wouldn't be necessary).

As I said, there used to be a display on the marquee at the 7th Avenue entrance showing a "Madison Square Garden Hall of Fame." It's gone now. And the Rangers certainly have enough club legends to have a Monument Park-like display someone in The Garden. But they don't. If it wasn't for MSG Network's program MSG Vault showing clips from the 1970s and '80s, a stupid man (of which Ranger fandom has many) could easily believe that the club's history began with Messier's arrival in 1991 -- especially now that chanting "NINE-teen-FOR-ty!" no longer works.

All that history, yet the club honors only one man who (barely) played for them before the Presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower, and only one other who played before that of John F. Kennedy. While Ranger fans like to brag about their history (its length, if not its fleeting glory), the club has done a poor job of recognizing it.
L to R, in the order that their numbers were retired:
Rod Gilbert, Eddie Giacomin, Mike Richter, Mark Messier,
Brian Leetch, Adam Graves, Andy Bathgate and Harry Howell.
February 22, 2009, when Bathgate and Howell had their numbers retired.
Bathgate died this past February 26. The rest are still alive.

Messier, Leetch and Bathgate were named to The Hockey News' 100 Greatest Players in 1998. So were 1928 and 1933 Cup-winners Frank Boucher, Bill Cook and Earl Seibert; 1940 Cup-winner Babe Pratt; 1950s star Bill Gadsby; 1970s stars Brad Park and Phil Esposito; Mike Gartner, who just missed the 1994 Cup; and Wayne Gretzky, who played his last 3 seasons with the Rangers.

Bill Cook, Ching Johnson, and Red Dutton and Normie Himes of the New York Americans were named to the NHL All-Star Team that opposed the host Toronto Maple Leafs in the Ace Bailey Benefit Game in 1934. Frank Boucher, Cecil Dillon, and Americans Sweeney Schriner, Art Chapman and Hap Day (better known as a Maple Leaf) were named to the All-Star team that opposed a combined Canadiens and Maroons team at the Montreal Forum in the Howie Morenz Memorial Game in 1937. Art Coulter, Neil Colville, and Tom Anderson and Harvey "Busher" Jackson of the Americans (like Day, better known as a Leaf) were named to the All-Star team that opposed the Canadiens in the Babe Siebert Memorial Game in 1939.

Grant Warwick, Edgar Laprade and Tony Leswick (better known for scoring the winning goal for Detroit in overtime of Game 7 of the 1954 Finals) were named to the team that opposed the defending Champion Leafs in the 1st official NHL All-Star Game in 1947. Brad Park, Rod Seiling, and the entire "Goal-A-Game Line" (or "GAG Line") of Vic Hadfield, Jean Ratelle and Rod Gilbert were named to Team Canada for the 1972 "Summit Series" with the Soviet Union. And 4 members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team played for the Rangers: Rob McClanahan, Dave Silk, Bill Baker and Mark Pavelich.

In addition to the Knicks' and Rangers' banners, 2 music legends are honored with banners at "The World's Most Famous Arena": Bronx-born, Long Island-raised Billy Joel has a Number 13 banner, for the Garden record 1 straight sellout concerts he played recently (breaking his 2006 record of 12, necessitating a new banner); and another for the most concerts by a single performer. Billy now has this one as well, having played 65 shows. Previously, Elton John held the record of 64, including for the 60th time on his 60th birthday.
The previous banners for the Piano Men.

There aren't, however, banners honoring some other landmark concerts at The Garden, though some of these are mentioned at the entrance: The 1968 opener with Frank Sinatra; the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh headlined by ex-Beatles George Harrison and Ringo Starr, with appearances by Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton; ex-Beatle John Lennon's One to One Concert of 1972 and his surprise guest appearance with Elton John on Thanksgiving night 1974, his last live concert appearances; Elvis Presley on June 9, 10 and 11, 1972; Led Zeppelin's 1973 shows that formed the concert film The Song Remains the Same; and the all-star shows that paid tribute to Dylan in 1992 and Michael Jackson in 2001, and raised funds for charities following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Stuff. There are souvenir stands all over The Garden, including at the front entrance. The Garden's teams also now have the MSG Team Store open a block away at the Manhattan Mall at Herald Square.

I could make a joke about Ranger fans being illiterate. Actually, there are probably more books written about the Rangers than any other hockey team -- given the relative size of Canada, they may have more written about them than the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs. With "the Hockey Maven" himself, Stan Fischler, cranking out books at a Stephen King pace, it's as if there's always a new Ranger book available. Stan's most recent effort, published about a year ago, was in partnership with Rod Gilbert: We Are the Rangers: The Oral History of the New York Rangers. In 2000, slightly jumping the gun, John Halligan published a coffee-table book, New York Rangers: Seventy-Five Years.

There's not much available on specific eras in Ranger history. Colleen Aycock and Mark Scott (not the sportscaster who hosted Home Run Derby in 1960) wrote Tex Rickard: Boxing's Greatest Promoter. George Rickard was from Texas, made his money promoting big prizefights, almost singlehanded got the State of New York to drop its legal ban on boxing, built what became known as "the Old Garden" in 1925 for boxing, allowed the fledgling New York Americans to play hockey there, and, seeing the profits, founded a team that he, through the Garden corporation, would own, a team that was immediately nickname "Tex's Rangers." (And now you know why a hockey team in New York has a Wild West name.)

Eric Whitehead's book The Patricks: Hockey's Royal Family, published back in 1980 but available on, will tell you about Lester, and his sons Lynn and Murray (a.k.a. Muzz), who played or him on the Rangers' teams of the 1930s and '40s, including the 1940 Cup. It will also tell you how, even before the Rangers' founding in 1926, Lester and his brother Frank practically invented professional hockey as we know it (as a business, not just a game).

And for the 20th Anniversary of the one that will have to last a lifetime (technically, it already has: 1940 to 2014 is 74 years), John Kreiser of and then-GM Neil Smith wrote The Wait Is Over: The New York Rangers and the 1994 Stanley Cup.

For Ranger videos, a DVD package of the 1994 Finals shouldn't be too hard to find. But that's about it. There was no 75th Anniversary team history DVD in 2001 (though that was the dawn of the DVD era), nor for the 80th in 2006. Maybe there will be one for the 90th in the 2015-16 season. Nor is there an official Greatest Games package from the NHL. That may be just as well, since about 6 of the 10 would probably be from 1994.

During the Game. A November 19, 2014 article on The Hockey News' website ranked the NHL teams' fan bases, and listed the Rangers' fans 11th, 5th among U.S.-based teams behind Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Minnesota: "Expensive to watch games at MSG, which doesn't fill up above capacity." (Most arenas don't.)

As for what kind of fans they are? Don't say I didn't warn you: A New York Rangers home game is one of the few occasions in North American sports where even a fan of a non-rival team, should he be willing to wear visiting team gear, can legitimately wonder if his safety is in question. Indeed, the worst example of fan violence I have ever seen (if not the worst actual fighting) took place during a Rangers-Devils game at The Garden -- and it happened just 1 row in front of me.

There were 4 men from the Czech Republic, each wearing the jersey of a different Czech player then on the Ranger roster: Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, Michal Rozsival and Petr Prucha. They were visibly drunk even when they arrived. For nearly 2 full periods, they were drinking further, and yelling in Czech. At least one of them did have a grasp of English, the one on the aisle, clearly the leader. In situations like that, there's always a leader, one who's clearly first among equal jackasses. They didn't give me an especially hard time, mainly because I was ignoring them. Being a Polish-American of my size, with some sense of Eastern Europeans and some sense, I wasn't going to take on 4 big Czechs who were already 17 sheets to the wind.

But a couple across the aisle from them, also wearing Ranger shirts, stood up and objected to their drunken, obnoxious behavior. The wife was on the aisle, and the leader got up and pushed her down. That's right: He pushed a woman. Wearing the jersey of the same team that he was wearing. Ladies and gentlemen, a New York Ranger fan. The husband was no dope: Instead of taking on this Bohemian brute (or, perhaps, a Moravian miscreant) himself, he signaled to security, and the Czechs were ejected. (The wife was okay.)

The date was January 22, 2006, and the Rangers won, 3-1, as the Devils really didn't even show up. And I paid $130 for a $70 seat. You know what? Being able to tell this story about the depravity of Ranger fans "eating their own" is worth more to me than the win would have been.

"But, Mike," you might say, "those guys weren't New Yorkers. You said it yourself: They were there to cheer on the Czech players, not the Rangers. Real Ranger fans aren't like that." Oh no? I've seen most of the NHL's teams, and their fans, at the Prudential Center. The only teams whose fans I've seen stir up trouble are the Rangers and the Flyers -- and the Flyers, only once, and it was settled quickly.

Ranger fans are animals. Absolute animals. How can these people, the majority of them also Yankee Fans, be such great people from April through October, and be such bastards from October through April? I'd hate to see what happens if one of these Yankee/Ranger fans ever made it to Fenway Park. Considering that all bullies are truly cowards, I suspect that none would dare go alone.
Do these halfwits think they look like the band KISS?
They look more like rejects from the Joker's gang.

Historically, John Amirante has sung the National Anthem at Ranger games. But the Ranger fans usually shout through the entire thing, showing great disrespect for country and or singer. Did I mention that these people are animals?

Just as the Knicks, in their early 1970s glory days, once had Dancing Harry at The Garden, the Rangers, for the last few years, have had Dancin' Larry. When the sound system plays "Strike It Up" by Black Box (with the uncredited Martha Wash singing lead), Larry Goodman, a middle-aged bald man, gets out of his seat in Section 407 (the former Blue Seats) and starts dancing like a madman. In a 2010 interview, he claimed to have been a season-ticketholder since 1988 and only missed 5 home games in that span. He claimed to have been doing this at games since 1996 and that, "The fans depend on me." (Gee, they haven't won the Cup since he started dancing. The Curse of Dancin' Larry?)

The Rangers' goal song was written especially for them: It is "Slap Shot" by Bad Apple. The most familiar Ranger fan chant is, of course, "Let's go, Rangers!" They may also chant, "Hen-REEK!" for goalie Henrik Lundqvist, although they have yet to figure out that one does not become a "king" until he wears a crown. One good thing about Martin Brodeur no longer being on the Devils is that their derisive "Mar...tee!" chant is gone, even though it's obvious to any objective observer that "MAR-ty's-BET-ter!" And their suggestion that Brodeur was "fat" as always stupid: What does it say about your team that a "fat" goalie is better than your thin one?

At the end of the game, if the Rangers win, the players will gather at center ice and raise their sticks to salute the crowd. If they lose, well, good.

After the Game. New York's reputation as a high-crime city hasn't been true in years. But that may not matter much at a Ranger game. As you are directed to one of the escalator towers at the corners, a process that will take a while, your wisest move is to observe the advice of the legendary football coach Paul Brown: "When you win, say little; and when you lose, say less." Or, as Kenny Rogers put it, "You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table. There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done."

In other words, if the Devils win, accept your victory, get out, and don't taunt the animals; if the Rangers win, take your verbal (if slurred and incoherent) abuse, don't respond, and get out; and if they get physical, find security and report it. Never, under any circumstances, fight back, because you are hopelessly outnumbered. Let security handle it.

If this were a Knick game, there are dozens of bars around The Garden that are popular among postgamers that you could check out. But it's a Ranger game: If you live in New Jersey, get downstairs into Penn Station and get on the next available train to your area. If you came into The City by bus, get back to Port Authority. Do not fool around with this: You did what you came to do (see the Devils play the Rangers at The Garden), now get the hell out of Dodge.

If you're visiting New York during the European soccer season, as we are now in, there are many places where you can watch your favorite team. The best "football pub" in The City, and, indeed, in the country, is The Football Factory, downstairs at Legends NYC, at 6 West 33rd Street, across from the Empire State Building, and 2 blocks east from The Garden. B, D, F, N, Q or R train to 34th Street-Herald Square.

Sidelights. This is where I discuss other sports-related sites in the metropolitan area in question, and then move on to tourist attractions that have no (or little) connection to sports. Since most people reading this will be from the Tri-State Area, I'll limit it to just The Garden.

There is a Madison Square, where 23rd Street, 5th Avenue & Broadway all come together. The 1st 2 buildings to be named Madison Square Garden went up across from it, in 1879 and 1891, respectively, at 26th & Madison.
The 1879 Garden

These Gardens hosted concerts, circuses, Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show, the Westminster Kennel Club, and similar exhibitions. The 2nd Garden hosted the 1924 Democratic Convention that went to 103 ballots (a 2/3rds majority as needed to win the nomination) before finally selecting Ambassador John W. Davis for President. He lost badly to Calvin Coolidge.
The 1891 Garden

The New York Life Insurance Company held the mortgage on the 2nd Garden, and in 1925 decided it wanted the land for its headquarters, which still stands on the site. The official address is 51 Madison Avenue.

But Tex Rickard, who ran the boxing promotions at The Garden, had made so much money (mainly off promoting fights of Heavyweight Champion Jack Dempsey, that he could afford to build a new Garden all by himself. He did so, at 49th Street & 8th Avenue. This building, now usually referred to as "the old Garden," became "the Mecca of Basketball" and "the Mecca of Boxing."
The 1925 Garden

From 1935 until its closing in 1968, it became famous for its basketball doubleheaders, both collegiate and professional. It hosted what we would now call the NCAA Final Four in 1943 (Wyoming over Georgetown), 1944 (Utah over Dartmouth), 1945 (Oklahoma A&M, which became Oklahoma State in 1958, over New York University), 1946 (Oklahoma State over North Carolina), 1947 (Holy Cross over Oklahoma), 1948 (Kentucky over Baylor) and 1950 (City College over Bradley).

But in 1951, the college basketball point-shaving scandal hit, and all the schools that used the old Garden as a secondary home court -- NYU, CCNY, St. John's, Long Island University and Fordham -- were hit. (Only St. John's would survive as a legitimate program, and still use the new Garden as a home court for games where ticket demand exceeded an on-campus facility.) The NIT suffered, and, while it's still held at the new Garden today, it was so degraded in the eyes of the public that the NCAA Champion became viewed as the National Champion. The Final Four has only been held in the Tri-State Area once since, in 1996 at the Meadowlands (Kentucky over Syracuse), and unless MetLife Stadium or Citi Field gets a dome, it will never happen here again.

The old Garden was torn down shortly after the new Garden opened, and a skyscraper called Worldwide Plaza is on the site now. Underneath, the 50th Street station on the Subway's C & E lines has a mural depicting events at the old Garden.


Every Devils fan should see his team play The Enemy on enemy soil at least once. But it is not for the faint of heart. Go to the game, see the game, behave yourself, and get out.

And remember: Never, ever mix it up with the Ranger fans. As I've said in my post about being a Yankee Fan going to Fenway Park, it's better to be an uninjured coward than a hospitalized tough guy.