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Silver or Gold?

Would you rather see your favorite team hoist the Cup or your home country capture Olympic glory? Plus, questions on wedding etiquette, bullying in sports, and New York FANdom in this month's Bake Shop!

Question from a Rangers season ticket holder. Would you rather the Rangers win the Cup (and go to every playoff game) or USA win the gold? I think Sophie’s choice was easier. God, Family, Country. Rangers feel like family when you spend half your nights and 2/3rds of your disposable income watching the team, but I still think USA with the gold. Thoughts?

It’s an interesting time to be asking this question, with the Rangers muddling their way through the NHL’s worst division this season. Let’s take the temperature of the state of the New York Rangers fan base with a glimpse at the recent haps on the team’s Facebook page. Oh, here’s a post about the new “transformed” MSG arena, which was debuted during the Blueshirts’ home opener! That’s nice. I bet the commenters were excit—

“looks like the team needs a transformation ….”

“How about transforming the Rangers, they suck.”

“I hope the Rangers are Transformed by then …”

“yeah the team has to transformed !!!”

“They need to transform the rangers 20 years without a cup”

“Hopefully the Rangers can transform themselves into a winning team!”

I like that last guy’s positive attitude, at least.1 (And hey, they’re looking better in recent games — Carl Hagelin’s return has been a catalyst and there’s no way the team’s near-league-worst shooting percentage is going to last.) Disgruntled fans weighing in on otherwise innocuous social network postings are definitely my crack — which means I spent much of my summer smoking the Buffalo Sabres’ Instagram account. Ooh, and a re-up the other day!

For the gold medal-winning team, the Olympics are at most a seven-game tournament. Stanley Cup champions, meanwhile, play anywhere between 16 and 28 times in the postseason. Your hypothetical means I would be sitting through four full rounds of drama, bad blood, and hilarity. There’d be lead changes not just in games, but throughout a series. You’d be in the building to see the Rangers win the Cup. It doesn’t get much better than that.

And yet … I still think I’d take the Olympics? This is partially because I write about the whole league now, which means I simply can’t have the same maniacal focus on the Rangers that I once did. Have I become the platonic ideal of a completely unbiased and unmoved observer who feels no pangs in her heart? Of course not, and I don’t think I ever will. But part of the deal is that you have to at least act like one while you’re at work, which kinda dampens the highs and the lows. When the Rangers lost to the Devils in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final two years ago I was almost … relieved? Because after they fell, I could just focus on two neutral teams.2

Plus, it’s the Olympics. I love the Olympics!!!! The Games are when everyone everywhere not only spends their hours watching sports about which they know little to nothing — they also become overnight experts. You walk into your office one day and people are debating curling tactics or enlightening the room on the particulars of the biathlon and nobody seems to think this is strange. Such is the power of the Olympics.

As countries spend the next few months finalizing their rosters, there will be an insane amount of hype leading into the Games. Already the Canadians are up in arms about whether P.K. Subban will make the team (he should) and I am up in arms about whether Seth Jones will make the U.S. team (he should). And then there’s the competition — the Canadians are always going to be saddled with the expectations of being the favorites, the Russians will stop at nothing to win on home ice, the Swedes are always a threat, don’t sleep on Slovakia, etc. When I think about how excited I get when an American athlete I’ve never heard of wins gold in an event I hadn’t known existed, I can’t even imagine how I’d feel if Team USA won a gold in hockey.

Now I’m all fired up. America! Bring on the opening ceremony! U! S! A!

I’ve been following the Richie Incognito story with a sort of sickening fascination. Not because it’s surprising (it’s actually incredibly unsurprising) but because it resonates so completely with the side of sports — and specifically football — that drove me away from playing in my teens. This kind of bullying was a core part of my participatory sports existence as a child. My Richie Incognito was named John [Hyphenated Name Redacted], but everyone had them.

So I’m curious: What do you think about the culture of bullying in sports? Did you have any personal experiences with it? And how would you explain it to a teen or preteen who doesn’t understand this story?
—Dan F., Grantland HQ, Los Angeles, California

Initiation, pledge night, Hell Week … I remember visiting friends who called their younger fraternity brothers “goats.” At my high school, the juniors called the sophomores “rhinies” — I’m not even sure if that’s how you spell it; the word was probably hatched specifically to avoid being enshrined in the permanent record — and “the rhinie system” was an accepted part of the school’s historical charm, as if it were a quad or a classroom. I remember being woken up in the middle of the night and forced to crawl around on the common room floor, pausing occasionally to honk my nose and remark “Beep beep, I’m a Jeep!” This was mostly a one-night thing, though, and the boys had it worse: an ongoing underground microeconomy of small “favors” and minor harassments, depending on who the older guy in charge was.

It’s always a little bit unnerving when you grow up and realize that your parents were right. The bully really is the guy in the room who has the most issues him or herself. And when these things become “institutionalized,” it’s the inmates who run the asylum. In the wake of Jonathan Martin’s allegations against Richie Incognito, it’s easy to say that costumes are one thing and picking up balls after practice isn’t that bad. I agree, but it’s not you and me setting the agenda on the margins — it’s the weirdos who want the costumes worn for a week straight including in the shower or who kick the balls away as some rookie bends down to retrieve them who push the envelope here. Think of Ben Affleck and Parker Posey in Dazed and Confused — you want those nut jobs setting precedents?

It was dispiriting to see all the lines like the one from an anonymous personnel man, who told SI: “Instead of being a man and confronting him, [Martin] acted like a coward and told like a kid.” But I get it — they’ve probably participated in this world somewhere along the line; it’s likely they’ve both endured and perpetuated the culture. The demarcations between seniority and authority or fealty and cruelty are even blurrier from the inside. That’s what’s insidious about bullying — it finds weaknesses and exploits them, pitting people against one another who ought to be on the same team. The onus shouldn’t be on Jonathan Martin to prove why he’d finally had enough. Whether it’s in a high school classroom or in an NFL locker room, the person who has some explaining to do is the one who consistently takes everything too far.

Where does the Mike Zaun 1776 video rank in the all time list of New York sports talk radio parodies?
Get lawst,
Joe S.


Every time I watch the Mike Zaun3 1776 YouTube video — and for those of you who haven’t had the distinct pleasure, it’s a startlingly perfect imagining of what Mike Francesa’s show would have been like during the American Revolution — I find a new favorite detail. Like the entire segment that’s just him saying “Wait a second, wait a second, wait a second.” Or the “I wasn’t gonna get into this …” with respect to Thomas Jefferson’s affairs with slaves. I just watched it again, for probably the 46th time, and remembered how much I love the part about King George. IT’S AS SIMPLE AS THAT!

Before I watched the video, I could already tell how spot-on this impression was just by reading the YouTube comments. Seriously, I’ve never seen a more wholly favorable set of remarks. Even the constructive criticism — the label should have been ripped off the Diet Coke, there needed to be more 15-second pregnant pauses — was presented in almost a reverent, apologetic way.

But the whole thing really connected when the real Francesa spent a day discussing the Washington Redskins name shortly after the parody came out.4 From his monologues on American history to his idiotic callers, the entire show was completely indistinguishable from the fake one. You can listen to the segment here.

BONUS: Now there’s a new, longer one, Mike Zaun 1862, in which Francesa discusses the Civil War and responds to Harriet Tubman’s name the way he once did to Al Alburquerque’s.

If a girl tells you she likes you, but she won’t be leaving her boyfriend for you, but she also can’t (her words) give up her relationship with you, does that make you the ever-popular back-up quarterback? All your friends say what a terrible guy her boyfriend is and how good the two of you are together.
—Fritz P.

It does … which means there’s a lot of ways this could pan out. You could dutifully stick around forever and never get the nod (the Steve Bono); wind up with her after some bold romantic gestures — and a conveniently timed injury — but ultimately come to realize she’s a huge bitch (the Tony Romo); or have a movie script–style romance (the Doug Flutie). You could also be in for a life of tumult and constant on-again-off-again-on-again-off-again breakups and reconciliations (the Philadelphia Eagles QB corps, in general). Just, whatever you do? DON’T become the Mark Sanchez.

A couple of weeks back I got a Facebook message from an old high school friend of mine asking for my address to get a save the date for her wedding. I need an effective way to narrow down a list of prospective plus ones. Do I go playoff format? How about a BCS-Style mathematical system? Any advice?
—Greg C.

First of all, a general public service announcement: Before you bring a plus-one to a wedding, make sure you were actually invited with a guest! If the envelope has only your name on it and no “and guest,” then it’s no dice on any sort of bridal BCS poll.5 Don’t take it personally; there’s a very good chance that when the bride and groom first put together their guest list, they generously assigned plus-ones to all of their pals. And there’s an even better chance that once they saw the scale and cost of doing so, they had to make a lot of tough decisions. One or both of them probably cried.

Once you’ve determined that you are in fact authorized to bring someone along, the first thing you need to do is decide just what you’re looking for out of this wedding date. Do you want a partner in crime? An awesome dancer? A dear old friend? A torrid romp? Someone to make someone jealous? Consider the following:

• Depending on the wedding, you may be effectively tied to this person for anywhere between four and, like, 12 hours.

• You may have to sit next to this person on a crowded, cramped school bus at 1 a.m. for upward of 30 minutes as it attempts to navigate five miles of the dusty and unpaved back roads surrounding the venue and get you all back to the hotel in one piece.

• Not only will you have to talk to this person, you’ll have to introduce them to meddlesome adults and judgmental and/or handsy friends throughout the night.

• The fewer people your guest knows at the party, the more aggressively they will cling to you.

• The more people your guest knows at the party, the less likely they are to sleep with you.

For these purposes, a classic playoff format ought to work well, since your snap-judgment gut instincts will be pretty useful. If you have enough candidates, group similar ones into play-in brackets. For each head-to-head matchup, imagine the guest at their finest — pantomiming double Dutch on the dance floor to massive cheers, perhaps, or charming the bride’s usually huffy Grandma Gladys with country club gossip — but also at their drunkest and worst. Repeat until a final winner is found … and then burn any and all evidence of this process lest you wind up facing a situation like this:

Is Ed Snider the Al Davis of the NHL?
—Alex K.

In the wake of the most uncomfortable press conference I’ve seen in some time — “That’s our culture. THAT’S OUR CULTURE!!!!!!” — this analogy checks out completely. The only lingering question: Who was Al Davis’s Ilya Bryzgalov? Please say Jon Gruden.

I’ve been a Colts fan for a long time. All the Colts fans I know have a soft spot for the Giants because 1) Eli feels like our collective adopted little brother, and 2) they beat the Patriots in two very important Super Bowls (first to keep the Colts’ blood rival from having a perfect season and then to defend Indy’s home turf the year Peyton missed). Do Eli fans feel connected to Peyton the way Peyton fans feel connected to Eli, or is this phenomenon one-sided?
Bethany R.

I can’t speak for all Giants fans, but my own feelings sort of mirror the experience of actually being that adopted little brother. At first, I resented Peyton for being the older golden boy (I didn’t realize I felt this way at the time, but subsequent years of therapy have opened my eyes) and was prone to hissing things like “He doesn’t even know how to use a can opener” whenever he was adulated.

Over time, though, I grew to respect the ol’ fella. A marathon viewing session of home videos on YouTube may have been largely responsible for this, in much the same way that looking through family photos during Christmas dinner gives one a newfound sibling camaraderie.

And this was all before the delightful Book of Manning documentary came out, though that only enhanced my warm feelings toward the whole fam. (Look, even Grandma Manning is the best!)

Now I actually feel #blessed to have Peyton around. I want to know everything about him and play pranks on him and hang out with his kids. I read every word of Brian Phillips’s beautiful essay about Manning, and then I read every word of Les Carpenter’s look into his many quirks, and I want to read tens of thousands more. And while he technically can’t beat Tom Brady in the Super Bowl this season, I hope Peyton at least knocks his foil out of the playoffs en route to winning the Super Bowl all the same. Lord knows his dopey little brother’s dumb team isn’t going to do it this time around.

Married off our 3rd daughter in June to a med student with a “IV” at the end of his name. Both Pepperdine grads. Had to be some Matrimonial Moneyball points there. Daughter # 2 getting married in a couple weeks — yes, #3 batted out of order — and I’m responsible for selecting music for the obligatory/insufferable power point showing the happy couple throughout the years.

Lead off with Pitch Perfect mashup of Bruno Mars and Nelly songs? Flash pictures of her — baby through toddler through awkward stages — and him. Don’t argue with me here.

Follow this with “The Middle” (Jimmy Eat World) — high school and college pictures with friends. Under-appreciated song BTW. Crazy bad video.

This is where I’m stuck — need a song to play between careless college years and eternal love. Thought about “Such Great Heights” by The Postal Service but it’s too frantic — and the acoustic versions are too slow. Please help.
—Rich M.

First off, Rich M. is the exact inverse of my own father, who would be all, “Jimmy what now?” and whose soundtrack of my life will consist entirely of Billy Joel songs, not that I’m complaining. (He’d definitely agree about the Postal Service being “too frantic,” though.) Anyway, keep my clueless musical lineage in mind, as well as the fact that I don’t have a good sense of what your daughter is like and what she would most appreciate. That said, here are a few options …

If she’s always wearing neon Wayfarers:Higher Love” by Steve Winwood; “I Wanna Dance (With Somebody Who Loves Me)” by Whitney Houston; “All 4 Love” by Color Me Badd

If she’s kinda spoiled:Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” by the Spin Doctors (this probably applies more to Daughter No. 3)

If her favorite song is “The Thrill” by Wiz Khalifa, but its lyrics are too druggy and you’re looking for a song that basically sounds exactly the same:Safe and Sound” by Capital Cities

If she likes to fancy herself at the center of a rom-com montage:Suddenly I See” by KT Tunstall; “Give a Little Bit” by Supertramp; “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson

If she’s more of an MTV reality show opening-credits kind of girl:Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield

If you want to stick with the turn-of-the-century theme introduced by the Jimmy Eat World selection:Show Me Love” by Robyn; “You Get What You Give” by New Radicals

If you voted for Bill Clinton: Don’t Stop” by Fleetwood Mac (live album version)

If you’re willing to budge on the whole “too frantic” thing: Crazy in Love” by Beyoncé (featuring Jay Z); “Good Feeling” by Flo Rida

This category is just to see if you’re actually paying attention:Nobody Girl” by Ryan Adams6

If she likes songs that are in every commercial: Anything by the Lumineers

If she’s going through a country phase but you’re pretty sure it’s not going to last: Anything by Pat Green

If she’s got soul but she’s not a soldier:All These Things That I’ve Done” by the Killers

If you want to do what professional sports teams do: Set the last minute or so of the slideshow to the instrumental intro of “Where the Streets Have No Name” by U2

If you’re secretly my dad:The River of Dreams” by Billy Joel; “You May Be Right” by Billy Joel; “Just the Way You Are” by Billy Joel; “This Is the Time” by Billy Joel

I also ran this question by my friend JP, who is the proprietor of the Million Dollar Deli music mailing list, and here’s what he had to say:

Jimmy Eat World? Give me a break … here are my recommendations: It’s my life by talk talk. Classic tune with a message that perfectly sums up those difficult years, or go with the No Doubt cover, since you mention Jimmy Eat World. Though if you go with the No Doubt version you may as well play “Promiscuous Girl” by Nelly Furtado. My pick, however, would be for THE THE’s “This is the day” — doesn’t get much better than that, and will buy you enormous street cred.

Greatest trick goal of all time: Hertl’s goal, Michigan’s “lacrosse” goal … or some other goal I haven’t witnessed?
—Christian T.

Maybe this bicycle kick by Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic? I’m beginning to worry that the Tomas Hertl goal was like one of those opening scenes in a Final Destination movie, and everyone who was in the building when it happened is doomed. Rick Nash is still on injured reserve after a hit suffered in that game, Marty Biron retired, and Jacob Biron’s journalism career got put on unfortunate hiatus. Joe Thornton will forever face death by a thousand Jumbo jokes, and Dan Boyle was removed from the ice on a stretcher, though he’s fine now. Even Hertl himself got his bell rung. I’m going to be looking over my shoulder for a while. (Just like Biron that night, heyo!)

My question to you is this: what does the 20s bucket list look like? Basically what are the things that I have to look forward to or don’t want to skip out on now that I’m officially a twenty-something?
—Emmett K.

Sorry, but I’m unable to appropriately answer this because I just finished reading this pitch7 for Toy Story 4, in which the all-growns-up former kid Andy is now roughly your age, and it’s the only thing on my mind. “Since Toy Story grows with its audience and the last one was for college students,” writer Kaleb Horton explains, “Toy Story 4 caters to 25 year olds who are probably bombing adulthood.”

Emerging adulthood, in this case, means worsening alcoholism, a crippling but detached sense of nostalgia, and a twin bed at mom’s house. And yet! It also means getting second and third chances, having time on your side, and the melancholy comforts of Randy Newman. So things aren’t all bad.

My actual advice to all you whippersnappers turning the big 2-0: Don’t get complacent — it’s easy to find a job or a girlfriend or boyfriend that’s OK, and it’s easy to get used to your routines and your roles. It’s even easier to mistake all this for fulfillment. But up until your twenties you’re forced to make changes all the time: new teachers, new dorms, new classes, etc. You go to middle school for three years, then high school for four, then college for four … and then, suddenly, you go out into the world and there’s no delineation of time anymore, and one day you find yourself wondering where the last six years just went.

Other than your teens, this is the best time in your life to take silly risks and/or make huge mistakes. They won’t torpedo you, I promise. Date weird people! Say yes to vacations you can’t afford! Your future children will bankrupt you anyway,8 so you might as well.

As someone originally from the NYC area, I was raised to love the Giants, Rangers, and Yankees. Truly old school New York. Then it hit me you root for the Mets! Met fans are usually grouped with the low life that are Jet fans and Islander fans. How did I miss the signs? I feel like the guy in the last scene of The Crying Game. I am so disappointed and disillusioned. What is the scoop and where did it all go wrong?
—Brad S.

It all went wrong when I started listening to WFAN. (Think of all the motley stories in the world that begin with those sad words!) (Also, sorry this has become a WFAN mailbag. It’s not hard to push me down that path.) I wasn’t that into baseball growing up; my clearest memories are of watching Lenny Dykstra as a Phillie, not a Met. But I loved everything else, listened to WFAN nonstop, and ultimately became a Mets fan by osmosis. Bob Murphy yelling “BERNARD GILKEY!” and “REY ORDONEZ!” was pretty hard to ignore. So were the Mike Piazza trade and the Best Infield Ever and the late ’90s wild-card races and Bobby Valentine in a fake mustache, though luckily, I did see that last one on TV. Needless to say, I’m particularly bummed out that as of next season WFAN will no longer be the Mets’ flagship station. It’s going to feel so, so wrong not to hear “Let’s go Mets! F! A! N! (Da da da!)”

As a hockey fan living in Portland, OR, the only live hockey I see is the Winterhawks. Every game I attend, I’m always left thinking about the variety of jerseys that fans wore to the game. The stands look like a crazy quilt of hockey past and present. Some fans wear jerseys of former Winterhawks who now play in the NHL or actual Winterhawks jerseys, but at least 50 percent are random jerseys that say more about where the person is from than who they are supporting. I went to a game last year and was surprised to see more Senators jerseys than Red Wings jerseys. That same game had the obligatory guy in a ND Fighting Sioux jersey. Have you been to any arenas where this kind of jersey collage is the norm? Or does it just happen because the Northwest USA has no NHL?
—Tiffany M.

This is one of the best things about hockey fans, and it’s not just limited to the Pacific Northwest. (That obligatory guy in the North Dakota sweater? He’s in all hockey arenas, at all times.)9 Even at NHL games, you’ll see the ghosts of players and franchises past — there’s always a smattering of California Golden Seals sweaters on display at San Jose Sharks games, just as there are always some guys who tracked down Logan Couture’s old game-worn jersey from junior on eBay and now sleep in the thing. Junior hockey and college hockey are two of the best places to really see the phenomenon, though — at the NCAA Frozen Four, you’re basically a social outcast if you’re NOT wearing a super inside-baseball hockey sweater. Hockey fans are like indie music nerds when it comes down to it, and our precious minor league jerseys are their ironic concert tees.

Also, since you mentioned the Portland Winterhawks, I’m contractually obligated to put this video of Seth Jones’s game-winning goal against the Montreal Canadiens in this space.

Get this kid on the Olympic team! U! S! A!

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Katie Baker is a staff writer at Grantland.

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