The baseball game I watched last night in which Derek Holland thoroughly shut down the St. Louis Cardinals’ offense bore little resemblance to the baseball game I watched 24 hours earlier in which Albert Pujols filleted the Texas Rangers’ pitching staff. Holland stood head and shoulders above his competition the same as Pujols did, yet completely differently. Two different skill sets on expert display, both altering the trajectory of the World Series, at least until somebody else comes along tonight and becomes the reason either the Rangers or Cardinals appear unstoppable.
If Saturday night’s game, starring one of the all-time greats, and Sunday night’s game, starring a pitcher who didn’t make it past the fifth inning in his three previous postseason starts, seemed to have little to do with each other, at least they were technically the same sport: baseball in two of its many intriguing stripes. And thanks to Holland, we are guaranteed two more chances at seeing what else our pastime of choice can give us before it gives us nothing but Jose Reyes speculation and recrimination.
Sunday afternoon, conveniently scheduled to fill the void between World Series contests — and perhaps serving to reorient me to Life After Baseball — I enjoyed the rare opportunity to sample another professional sport up close and in person. I returned to the Meadowlands and revisited football. My thoughtful friend Sharon was kind enough to invite me to see the Jets take on the Chargers in shiny, relatively new MetLife Stadium…which I think is the first time I’ve used that name since the rights to it were assigned in August. I’m guessing I’m the fifth or sixth person who is not paid to call it MetLife Stadium who has ever called it MetLife Stadium.
Not a bad name as these things go, but also a little clunky in that it’s superfluous. The Meadowlands is the Meadowlands.
Lots of fun out there in the Meadowlands, what with it not being freezing (as it was on my one other pigskin sojourn to East Rutherford) and the Jets not losing. You get that much and you’re doing good. Everything else is an excuse to invoke George Carlin.
Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game.
Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle.
In the 21st century, praise the ghost of Pete Rozelle for massive video screens that allow you to watch the game in the stadium on TV when watching the game on the field is too challenging. Like the Jets, it took me more than a half to get my act together. My instinct was to follow the quarterback after the ball was snapped, forgetting he often hands the ball to somebody else. Thus, like Mark Sanchez, I kept missing plays. But look — it’s on TV! Got my sights adjusted by the second half, but when things were going on far away from the end zone where we sat, I learned to rely at least partially on the screens. I felt I was cheating, but I more or less knew what was going on.
Baseball is played on a diamond, in a park. The baseball park!
Football is played on a gridiron, in a stadium, sometimes called Soldier Field or War Memorial Stadium.
From the outside, MetLife Stadium is a grim corporate affair. On the inside, it’s an efficient conference room with seating for close to 80,000. For football, it seems plenty ideal. I notice all the seats are steel gray or light steel gray, presumably so they won’t clash with Jet green or Giant blue given how it has to host two different teams (one of them that is eternally battling perceptions that it’s a stranger in a strange state). On my 2009 hello/goodbye to Giants Stadium, I noticed how badly bleached the red seats had gotten over 34 years. These look like they’ll weather the elements better.
Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life.
Football begins in the fall, when everything’s dying.
It was surprisingly warm in the Meadowlands Sunday. At the same juncture of the ’09 season, it was shockingly frigid. A Nor’easter had blown through the region and left behind the notorious Hawk to torment us. Despite Sharon and I being layered against nature then, we vamoosed early (showing just what kind of football fans we are, maybe, when you get right down to it). Yesterday the big problem was the glare from the warm October sun. Or as one hard-to-satisfy patron behind us moaned, “It’s like fucking July out here.” And he did moan it.
In football you wear a helmet.
In baseball you wear a cap.
In football, mostly you wear a jersey to the game, way more than you wear a uniform top to a baseball game. That’s quite a financial let alone personal commitment. No wonder NAMATH 12 still dots the stands. We know he’s guaranteed to win the big game. SANCHEZ 6 and REVIS 24 led the current roster in representation Sunday, though every notable erstwhile Jet from KLECKO 73 through TESTAVERDE 16 to COTCHERY 89 made an appearance. Strangest sighting: O’DONNELL 14. Saddest: FAVRE 4.
Football is concerned with downs — what down is it?
Baseball is concerned with ups — who’s up?
If the Jets generated the kind of attack that made a ton of first downs, it wouldn’t have been annoying only to the pockets of StubHub-enabled Chargers fans in attendance. PA announcer: “THAT’S A JETS…” Crowd: “FIRST DOWN!” Got old quick, except I began to miss it when I began to miss the Jets making first downs. When “FIRST DOWN!” reappeared during a crucial drive in the fourth quarter, it was actually quite a rush…on the field and in the stands.
In football you receive a penalty.
In baseball you make an error.
In baseball, the error occurs and play continues. In football, certainly in the Jets-Chargers game, there was one penalty that resulted in three different decisions on where to place the ball before anybody could touch the ball again.
In football the specialist comes in to kick.
In baseball the specialist comes in to relieve somebody.
In both sports these days, everything is sponsored to within an inch of its MetLife. Some kid runs on the field to retrieve the kicking tee and we learn he’s sponsored. The only special team that wasn’t sponsored was the Flight Crew cheerleaders, and based on the video screen closeups, I can’t imagine Hooters isn’t about ink a deal.
Football has hitting, clipping, spearing, piling on, personal fouls, late hitting and unnecessary roughness.
Baseball has the sacrifice.
Though when you get patted down at the entrance to the football stadium, you do seem to sacrifice quite a bit of your dignity.
Football is played in any kind of weather: rain, snow, sleet, hail, fog…
In baseball, if it rains, we don’t go out to play.
I notice the Meadowlands…I mean MetLife Stadium doesn’t allow you to bring in an umbrella. One wasn’t needed yesterday, but what’s that all about? So we can all feel like we’re in the trenches with the linemen? Give me my couch and my own video screen against such restrictions. But no problem yesterday. I’m hypersensitive to climactic swings. Give me no fewer than 60 degrees every Sunday.
Baseball has the seventh-inning stretch.
Football has the two-minute warning.
Football has a six-day stretch during which there’s no football. It doesn’t need myriad TV timeouts or any other excessive stoppages…though it’s loaded with them. Yet we did stand for probably the last eight elapsed minutes of the game without anybody telling us to. It was easily the most exciting football game to which I’ve ever been, and I’ve been to five, including a USFL exhibition match between the Tampa Bay Bandits and the Oklahoma Outlaws (or as the tickets referred to them, the “Oaklahoma Outlaws”).
For those interminable intervals between football games, let alone baseball seasons, I heartily recommend a newly published oral history exploring my favorite era of Jets football, Sack Exchange, written by Greg Prato. It features many fond reminiscences of Shea Stadium by those who played there, worked there and screamed there in the late ’70s and early ’80s, back when the Mets vacated it for fall but didn’t leave it empty. As the book’s fantastically representative Jets fan, Johnny “Bubba” Caruso, puts it, “Shea was broken down and dirty, peeling paint, musky and smelly — but it was beautiful and we loved it.”
Baseball has no time limit: we don’t know when it’s gonna end — might have extra innings.
Football is rigidly timed, and it will end even if we’ve got to go to sudden death.
And halftime is only 15 minutes, just enough time to stand in line to use the spiritual descendants of what Leon Hess dreamed of when he schlepped the Jets out of Shea Stadium (such clean bathrooms!) and then maybe grab a couple of beverages to bring back to the seats. I might have wandered and explored a little more the way I do in ballparks, but the clock was ticking. I can miss a random middle inning in a baseball park. With the gridiron awaiting, I didn’t want to mess up my clock management.
In baseball, during the game, in the stands, there’s kind of a picnic feeling; emotions may run high or low, but there’s not too much unpleasantness.
In football, during the game in the stands, you can be sure that at least twenty-seven times you’re capable of taking the life of a fellow human being.
The “fucking July” guy was a pretty unhappy individual. First mistake the Jets made: “Same old Jets.” First ball Plaxico Burress didn’t catch: “They should send him back to jail.” Second ball Plaxico Burress didn’t catch: “He should’ve shot himself.” As a Jet touchdown was being called back for a penalty: “You can all sit down.” What a mope. But except for some witless taunting of the Chargers fans (which mainly consisted of “you suck!” and “your team sucks!”), our section wasn’t an altogether misanthropic enclave. More high-fiving to, from and with those to our left and in our immediate foreground than I’ve experienced at most Mets games (even the good ones) in recent years. I get the frustration attached to a Jets game that isn’t going well — there are only 16 games in a year and it’s been 43 years since Namath made his guarantee pay off — but there could be just a little more graciousness allowed in winning. The Chargers fans…we get it, they suck.
But bonus points to whoever started the “Fuuhhck Fran-CEEHHSS-a!” clap-clap, clap-clap-clap chant after Darrelle Revis’s gamechanging interception.
And finally, the objectives of the two games are completely different:
In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line.
In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! — I hope I’ll be safe at home!
Arriving safe at home on Long Island from a football game in the Meadowlands is a chore when you rely on NJTransit to get you back to Penn Station. In theory, the logistics work fine: get on one train, then transfer to another train that deposits you in the state where you’d think a team that calls itself the New York Jets would play. But the same bureaucrats who order you patted up and down when you walk in don’t know how to direct the throng on its way out. There was some funny business with a rope (which Sharon skillfully ducked under) that threatened to prevent us from boarding the first leg of our trip and an insane goal-line stand against hundreds of us as we attempted to break the plane of the platform for the second leg. I can’t say I disagreed with the “JERSEY SUCKS!” chant that went up at Secaucus, though I was charmed that an organic “J-E-T-S!” served to momentarily alleviate the building tension (which reminds me: does Fireman Ed actually extinguish flames or just shout them into ashes?).
Anyway, the trains eventually ran and we all presumably got where we were going, which in my case, was back to viewing the World Series. Football presented a nice interlude, and will no doubt continue to until the offseason grows so endless that I’ll be sure that at least twenty-seven times I’m capable of taking the life of a fellow human being.