Thursday, March 25, 2010

18 Hours Until Geelong's First Bounce

I preface this entry with the warning that 99% will probably not care at all about most of what I write about. Don't worry, there's some basketball later. But sometimes you have to do some things for yourself. You know, artistically. So here we go.

Perhaps one of the biggest highlights of my recent jaunt to Israel was a chance encounter with a group of Australian teenagers at our hostel in Jerusalem. No, not that kind of chance encounter. This was a collection of 18-year-old men who hailed from Sydney, and what made the meeting so exciting for me is that it provided a rare opportunity to talk football.

Not this kind of football, or this kind of football. And, uh, certainly not this kind of football.

I'm talking about footy, AFL, Aussie Rules. This kind of football.

I've made mention before of my affection for the Geelong Cats, and I always enjoy the rare chances to talk shop with a native Aussie or any other AFL fan. I'm far from an expert on the game, but in a year or so I've picked up my fair amount of history, and in this case, given that I had just had one of my rare opportunities to use a computer 15 minutes earlier, I actually had the upperhand knowing Western Bulldogs had knocked off St. Kilda in the final of the NAB Cup, a preseason NIT of sorts for the AFL.

Happy to deliver the news we riffed about Gary Ablett and Leo Barry, names that you surely have never heard of before, and both of us compared our own joy over sportsfandom triumphs, in my case Super Bowl XLII, in his Sydney's nail-biting win over West Coast in the 2005 Grand Final, ending a 72-year title drought for the Swannies.

My favorite moment probably came when he asked me if Tom Brady was a huge celebrity in America. I suppose I would have sounded just as silly if I queried about the Australian popularity of Nick Riewoldt.

It wasn't all positive. Sydney has dealt Geelong a heartbreak or two, including one particularly brutal loss in the 2005 Qualifying Final, when the mercurial Nick Davis scored four unanswered goals in the final quarter. But I chose not to bring it up because a) I wasn't watching footy yet when that happened, and b) I was having too much fun just talking footy at all.

I mention this because, as I'm sure you all know, Geelong opens its 2010 campaign tomorrow at the bright and early hour of 4:40 a.m. ET against the Essendon Bombers. Now, surely I would be crazy to wake up early enough to watch this showdown at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, but I never claimed to be sane, and I will be in front of the computer with my navy and white hoops on. If anyone wants to come over to watch the excitement, let me know. There will be beer. And chips.

Surely you're all wondering how you can watch tomorrow. While AFL was dropped from its contract with the premium channel Setanta Sports a year ago,, or as it will be known next month,, is showing several live matches every weekend, while ESPN2 will have a few live matches throughout the summer, as well as a live broadcast of the 2010 Grand Final on September 25th.

My Cats are defending champions, as some of you may recall, after topping St. Kilda in a thrilling Grand Final last fall. They're coming off their second premiership in three years and third straight appearance in the AFL's championship match, but there are many issues the team is sorting through as the season begins. For starters, tomorrow's game will be the 200th in the Geelong career of Joel Corey, a man responsible for one of the biggest plays in Geelong history as you can see above. Other topics concern whether or not the young Tom Hawkins is due to break out and become a start, how the team will manage in its first year without captain Tom Harley, who retired this offseason and the always tense saga of whether or not Ablett, last year's Brownlow Medalist and considered by many to be the best in the game, will leave Geelong for a lucrative offer with upstart Gold Coast, which begins play as the AFL's 17th franchise next year. The potential distraction, as well as the aging roster even has some of the Cats players thinking this will be their last chance before the window of opportunity closes to take another title.

So basically, yeah, there's a lot to talk about. Get excited. If you can't be bothered to watch online, your first chance to see footy on ESPN2 comes in 15 weeks when Geelong faces Hawthorn, who no doubt will be looking for revenge after essentially getting knocked out of the playoff race by the Cats a season ago when Geelong overcame a 35-point deficit to knock off the Hawks.

Get excited.

Oh yeah, basketball. That NCAA Tournament thing starts again today, and while I will be watching, I'll mostly be rooting for Cornell to knock off Kentucky, thereby ensuring that none of my Final Four teams make it to the Elite Eight and clinching my worst bracket ever. To be honest, at this point I'm far more interested with seeing if the Nets can win one more game (they defeated the Kings last night) to stave off the sole position as the worst team in NBA history. I feel that if Kentucky does, in fact lose to Cornell today, John Calipari, who ironically never had a team this bad when he coached the Nets, will probably take it with more grace than Nets CEO Brett Yormark.

Say what you will about how mismanaged the Knicks were under Isiah Thomas, and don't get me wrong, they were about as mismanaged as a professional sports franchise can be, but at least Bert and I weren't given no guff when we donned our own paper bags a few years ago. With your team chasing the title of "Not the worst team of all time" perhaps it might be wise to avoid an acrimonious relationship with your fan base. After all, you never know when they'll start protesting that you have a job.

Stay Classy, New Jersey.

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