Sunday, September 24th, 2017

We’re not just at the halfway point of baseball season, but the halfway point of the sports calendar.

Here are some quick observations about what we’ve learned so far, and based on that, what we can expect the rest of the calendar year, and beyond.
*The New England Patriots have done what NFL owners purposely designed itself to prevent: build a dynasty in a salary cap era.

Bills fans and others can hate the Patriots and blame Spygate, Deflategate and even the Russians’ alleged involvement in the last election on Belichick and Brady, but every NFL fan would gladly trade their colors to enjoy the success they’ve enjoyed.
And it appears that the Pats are following their boss’ Parade Day edict of “No Days Off” and have reloaded and pillaged the Bills (see Stephon Gilmore and Mike Gillislee) and others for the most talent they’ve acquired since their 18-1 season of 2007.
Even if Brady dies during the season, nobody is stopping Jimmy Garoppolo and the Patriots from winning it all this year.

The Cowboys, Falcons, Packers, Bucs, Giants, Eagles, and Seahawks are the teams to watch–all in the NFC, and all but the eventual conference champion looking for someone to blame for not reaching Minneapolis in February–the only time since 1992 anyone wanted to take a winter trip to a place colder than WNY.

*Aaron Judge has now become the most recognizable face in baseball. Gone are the days where Jimmy Fallon put him in glasses in Hyde Park and let him interview Yankee fans and ask them what they thought of him, unbeknownst to them.
He just won the Home Run Derby, which can be a curse. But ratings soared with every 500-plus foot blastoff he sent toward South Beach, and the broadcast, despite its cliché-prone announcers, saw its highest numbers in eight years.
But the game has a way of humbling people. Just ask Kevin Maas, Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Joba Chamberlain, Chris Shelton, Gregg Jeffries, Shane Spencer, Shelly Duncan, and others who made a splash then lost somehow lost their abilities to swim in the bigs.
Don’t be surprised if Judge cools off after the All-Star Break. Rookies don’t win Rookie of the Year and the MVP in the same season.

But it would be pretty cool if he did.
By the way, the last time the Yankees had a team nobody hated was, well, 1996, right? Maybe post-9-11, 2001?

We all remember what happened that year. While a title is unlikely (seems the league and injuries have caught-up with Brian Cashman’s crew), the Yankees do need to find a piece or two at the trade deadline—particularly a starting pitcher under contract. But if they don’t, fans should relax.
They should also relax next year, despite expectations this young club will face for the first time. But they won’t. Fans and haters alike will jump on or rattle the bandwagon.

The Yanks have some significant chunks of payroll coming off the books this winter. Maybe Cashman should re-open the checkbook to bring in some vets to ground a young clubhouse.
Remember the 2000 and 2001 A’s? The fratboys couldn’t reach the ALCS.
Now imagine being a team of kids in the Big Apple.

And one possibly led by someone other than Joe Girardi.

*So the Sabres and Bills have both cleaned house. Well, mostly (wink-wink!). Bills fans are already tempering expectations for 2017 and quarterback-shopping for 2018, while Sabres fans are cautiously optimistic, hoping that not only the Blue-and-Gold receive a boost, but the Amerks do as well, considering the Pegulas are angling for a new arena, and need a reason besides, well, a new arena, to draw people downtown come winter.
It’s funny. The Knighthawks draw. The Red Wings draw. Why can’t the Amerks draw?
There are a lot of factors, but frankly, they’re just bad and boring.

Ex-Amerk, Jason Botterill, is looking to fix that problem as the Sabres new GM and isn’t messing around. To prove that point, he dismissed ex-coach and player development guy, Randy Cunneyworth, a guy Botterill played for in Rochester.
Hockey Hall-of-Famer, and former Sabre, Phil Housley, now has the thankless job of being the target behind the bench for talk show ire, since they believe coaching means little in the NHL. But, they may be right.

So shouldn’t that vitriol be directed at the GM instead?
Best of luck, Botterill. Must be nice to get a pass for being an ambassador of hope. Meanwhile, new Amerks GM Randy Sexton and head coach, former Amerk player, Chris Taylor, will be the sacrificial lambs if players aren’t EZPass’d down I-90.
The difference between Bills fans and Sabres fans? Bills fans know they aren’t doing anything this year. Sabres? They still expect Jack Eichel to be Connor McDavid.
October will be a very, very telling month.

*If Conor McGregor somehow beats Floyd Mayweather on August 26th, it’ll mark the end of boxing as we know it.
Sadly, picking a fighter to root for is a tricky proposition. If you’re a boxing fan, and are pulling for the Sweet Science in this match-up over a sport that went from zero-to-billions in less than two decades, you’d be rooting for one of the sport’s most technical (read: boring) fighters; an illiterate, tax-dodging near half-billionaire, who has also served jail time for beating women. It also trivializes the UFC, even though its more physical, and decisively more popular. But, it won’t catapult boxing, regain interest, or make kids interested.

Mayweather’s victory is expected. Yawn.

Rooting for McGregor is rooting for the “good” guy, the trash-talker who this past week incorporated racial elements into his vignettes. It’s cheering for the guy who won’t let losing shut him up, the upset, and the death of sport that has been on life support since Lennox Lewis knocked-out Mike Tyson. Meanwhile, the UFC is a revolving door of short-lived acts and so-called champions with the shelf-lives of NFL rushing leaders. What the UFC has brilliantly done has provided enough distractions to make fans forget that Ronda Rousey was once the future of the sport. The future is always now in MMA, and fans don’t seem to care. A revolving door of new stars keeps things interesting.
Heavyweight title fights in boxing used to be Super Bowls between Final Fours between NBA and NHL Final(s) between World Series between New Year’s Day bowls. Now, nobody cares. And sorry, as popular as the UFC has become, it hasn’t drawn all eyes to the Philco, closed-circuit TV and Pay-Per-View the way Ali, Frazier, Foreman, Holmes, Tyson, Holyfield, Bowe and Lewis did.

And never will.

Unless McGregor wins.

*Richard Sherman thinks the NFLPA should strike to make the kind of money and benefits athletes in hoops and baseball get.
Great idea. But unless someone can rally nearly 1700 players to save their money, stop buying multiple luxury cars, stop getting arrested, stop knocking-up women and stop going broke at the end of seasons, it won’t happen.

Today’s players don’t care about the generations before them, or the generations to come. They only care about one thing: Right now.