NEW YORK CITY: THE WORST SPORTS TOWN?
By Brian Marder
Let’s be clear right off the bat: By calling NYC the worst sports town, no one is suggesting that the fans are bad (so don’t shoot! Yet!) Or, that it’s always been a terrible place for sports. But even the most faithful, among the New York sports teams fan base, would be hard-pressed to find a city with teams in all four major sports that are currently, almost uniformly, terrible. While you try to think of other cities to counter this argument – Miami’s teams (post-LeBron) aren’t terrible, just wholly unspectacular; Philadelphia’s teams seem atrocious initially, but then you remember the Eagles and Flyers are consistently pretty good – let’s have a sport-by-sport look!
It starts with the Knicks. It really starts with the Knicks. One of the most storied franchises in basketball history– and still statistically the most valuable franchise – has become the second worst, behind the 76ers. They were once expected to contend for the Finals every year; now, the Knicks are expected to lose every single night. And they usually meet those expectations! This year, the Knicks have endured losing streak after losing streak (currently riding a 14-gamer as of this writing), and there’s at least a chance they won’t crack double digits in wins. Last season was rough too (their 37-45 record was pleasantly surprising in hindsight), but it’s not only a numbers game here. The team is comprised of either bad contracts or bad “locker room” guys and in many cases, both. Young, likely-to-be-fired coach Derek Fisher cannot seem to control said players, and it seems like, simply put, it’s gonna be a while. Brooklyn’s Nets are much better, but let’s be honest: They really aren’t. Ownership spent to win now, that didn’t happen, and now they’re paying for it – in the form of what will likely be long-term mediocrity and low turnover – at least off the court.
Make no mistake: The Yankees missing the playoffs for two straight years – despite above .500 records – signifies something of a downturn. And indeed, with Derek Jeter gone, A-Rod gone, even though he’s coming back, and no decent offseason moves thus far (that Prado-to-the-Marlins deal was an uncharacteristic head-scratcher for the team), there’ll likely be nowhere to go but down. Cashman and Co. aren’t spending like it’s the ‘90s or even ‘00s, so … patience, Yankees fans. Over in Queens, things might be bleaker. The Mets could always come out and surprise in the NL East, but the more likely scenario is that they’re going nowhere, slowly. It summed up the state of the franchise when signing 35-year-old Michael Cuddyer in November was considered a “splash” for the team; seriously, pundits locally and nationwide were actually surprised the Mets did anything! Cuddyer was great last year for the Rockies … in the 49 games he was able to muster. Expect similarly unhelpful stats for the Mets. Otherwise, the roster – and likely the story – remains the same: franchise savior David Wright, new franchise savior Matt Harvey (who will be treated with kid gloves after undergoing Tommy John surgery and not pitching last season), and a bunch of questions. For example, “can the Mets make the playoffs for just the third time this century?”
The Jets are basically the NFL equivalent of the Knicks. The disastrous Mark Sanchez experiment ended a while ago and the Rex Ryan experiment recently ended too, with a 2014 season record of 4-12 and a weekly New York media blitz more formidable than anything the secondary has put together in three years. Now what? The dreaded rebuilding. The Jets have plenty of off-the-field personnel decisions to make, and then there’s the issue of the players. The team should strike relative gold, but they could also get another Sanchez. And the roster – ohhhh, the roster. No one player is a must-re-sign, while so many are must-cuts, probably beginning with the once-great Chris Johnson. Although maybe he fits on the once-great Jets. The Giants, too, are suddenly trending downward following a 6-10 season, which followed a 7-9 season, which followed a 9-7 season, all playoff misses. It’s certainly time for the front office to reevaluate and maybe for Giants fan to hit the panic button. It’s all about Eli, who’s not only the face of the franchise but whose contract expires after next season. His willingness to re-sign AND be reasonable about it are make-or-break factors.
So, yeah, the Rangers are obviously THE bright spot for New York City right now, sports-wise. They’ve made the playoffs all but one season since 2005-’06, they’re coming off a Stanley Cup Finals appearance, and they’re enjoying a very solid current season, too. They don’t boast a Sid Crosby type (though Rick Nash isn’t far off), per se, but they have a well-rounded roster and a die-hard fan base that sticks with them. And then there are the Islanders, who, just when you want to bash ‘em and make a David/Goliath reference … they go and outshine Goliath! The Isles are enjoying one of the best records in hockey thus far at 26-13-1, but there is a caveat and reason to take it all with a grain of salt: The “other” New York hockey team simply hasn’t been good since the early ’00s. Fans will be living on the edge all season, which, in fairness, is actually makes sports fun!