Saturday, April 30, 2011

5 things to do in Europe during the NFL lockout:

NFL fan? Like to go down to the pub on a Sunday evening and enjoy watching some football with your American (or British, Spanish, Austrian, etc) buddies? Yeah, me too. I also enjoy watching the games at home on the big screen, courtesy of ESPN America. Or on the PC, with the NFL season pass (something I had gotten along without quite nicely until the Chiefs up and became respectable last season, forcing me to go along for the ride). How did they choose to build upon that success? They locked the damn players out. And now that a judge has put the lockout back in place (after a brief, ultimately unresolved ruling temporarily ended it). Great call, NFL!

I’m too big of a fan to pretend that a lockout, even a lost season, would keep me from watching the games ever again. I’ll be back. But, in the interim, how to fill that void? (I figure, better to prepare now and be pleasantly surprised if they come to a settlement)…

1 – NCAA football. Yeah, it seems obvious, and likely if you’re an American football fan living here in Europe, you’re already plugged into the NCAA games as well. Still, if you’re a pro-first guy like me (though I lean the opposite way when it comes to basketball), sometimes it’s easy to forget how great a college game can be. Set those DVRs and watch ‘em on Sunday evening to complete the NFL illusion!

2 – Flag football (Or touch, tackle, whatever floats your boat). You heard me. Get up off the couch/bar stool and take advantage of the fall weather. A couple of beers, couple of friends, a park, a pigskin ball and you’re ready to go! Just try not to tear anything while you’re out there…
3 – Football. And by that, I mean soccer, naturally. If you’re not already enmeshed in the local (Europe) game, now’s the time to add it to your repertoire. Find a bar showing some Premier League or Bundesliga action and learn to love again… (see our blogs on getting into soccer if you need further assistance).

4 – Pub quiz. Most any Irish pub worth its salt will have a weekly pub quiz. Round up a team and put your brain to work on something that doesn’t involve calculating down and distance! Get those competitive juices flowing in a whole new direction.

5 – Take a language course. Yeah, it’s no fun, and it’s in no way sports related. But you never seem to find the time. Well, now there’s a gap in your schedule, so take advantage and get out for a weekly French/Spanish/Dutch/German/Polish course (preferably not all at the same time).

If those all fail you, there’s always the old standby: beer. Admit it, it’s why you moved to Europe in the first place. Or maybe that’s just me…

Monday, April 11, 2011

Viewing in Europe - live vs. delayed

It’s the ever-present dilemma of the US sports fan living in Europe. Do I make the effort to watch the event live, often destroying sleep patterns and sanity in the process, or do I make the “tape-delayed”/TIVOed sacrifice and try to maintain radio silence long enough to maintain some portion of the live sports thrill? Of course, we’re fantastically spoiled today. To even have access to American sports in Europe, live or otherwise, is a relatively recent phenomenon for most. The internet has made it possible to have it all, with satellite and cable options close behind (or even ahead, in terms of video quality). Ten, twenty years ago, expats living in most European locations would have been hard pressed to catch more than the Super Bowl to get their American sports fix. Still, why apologize for where we’re at now? Things are great, and they’ll likely get even better. But with the North American time differences, the choice will remain…

For some sporting events, it’s easy. NFL regular season games start at 7pm on Sundays (CET). In some ways, that presents a much better option than continually sacrificing family outings in favor of pigskin viewing, as was often the case back in the states. Same goes for college ball on Saturdays. Baseball-wise, there are often good games available on the weekend, Sunday for sure, at similar times. Both of these are less palatable if you are, like my buddy luvbeers, a west coast sports fan, as you’re still going to be starting around 10pm CET at the earliest. Still, it’s doable. The early rounds of the just-ended NCAA basketball tournament were also quite easy to follow. NASCAR races are often run “early” on a Sunday, major golf and tennis tournaments have the same hectic, catch-some and miss-some schedules to deal with that they would if we all lived back home still.

Beyond that, though, it gets a bit tougher. Questions arise. Priorities kick in. Do I stay up to watch regular season MLB games? Probably not. Those keep for the next day just fine. NBA? NHL? The same, for me at least. But then come the playoffs, and the tradeoff gets more difficult. Divisional series, ALCS, World Series… which are worth losing sleep over? What if your local team is in the thick of things? What about the NBA’s “second season”. It’s just not as much fun to watch it the next day, even if you’re able to avoid the score from all of the available sources long enough to watch a game “pure.” Still, there has to be a tradeoff.

Me, I watch a good deal of the “easy” events. And if one of my teams somehow manages to get involved in the thick of things, post-season wise, I will move things around to watch it live (let’s not talk about the Jayhawks right now, though. The wounds are too fresh). Then it becomes about the matchups, and what’s going on in the real world. Rooting for the Giants last season, I ended up watching nearly every minute of the World Series as it unfolded. Made for a tough week, but well worth it. Saw several of their earlier round games as well. On the NBA front, I watched a smattering of games live, and about three games during the Finals. The rest were on delay. I was up to watch all of the NFL playoffs and Super Bowl. That was a no-brainer in my world. I stayed up late for several NCAA bowl games during January and most of the NCAA basketball games during the tournament (though I sure could’ve skipped that god-awful final!). The NHL was strictly a “watch it the next day if at all” proposition for me, as I wasn’t too involved in the later-stage matchups.

What’s your take? What keeps you up at nights in the world of American sports? What would you just as soon sleep through…?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The NBA’s young guns

The NBA regular season is nearly over. Still, it’s worth talking about the year that was before we get into the good stuff. The league is divided. On one side we have the old standbys. The perennial powers. Your Celtics, Lakers, Spurs, Mavericks, even the Heat (and, of course, the Bulls, who seem to straddle the two sides). They’re leading the pack, back in the thick of things. And undoubtedly, two of those teams will meet up in the Finals and take it all. Still, there’s another side to the NBA this season. One which we might not see again for a few years, if the scouts are correct about the dry pipeline in both college and Europe (and/or if prolonged labor negotiations submarine the 2011/12 season). This dominance at the top has somewhat obscured the other big story in basketball’s top league. Namely, the emergence of a plethora of young talent. Talent which should see a changing of the guard within another season or two.

It started last year, with Kevin Durant’s emergence and scoring title. This season, the Oklahoma City star has been eclipsed to some degree (though his recent scoring binge has him back in the MVP discussion) by rebound machine Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves), dance-crazy double-double machine John Wall of the woebegone Washington Wizards, the LA Clippers surprising duo of Eric Gordon and human highlight reel Blake Griffin as well as most of the Memphis Grizzlies. And of course Derrick Rose’s emergence as a true MVP contender for Chicago.

What do they have in common, besides youth? Well, for one thing, they all seem to be on the brink of something big (with the exception of the ‘Wolves and Wizards). KD’s Thunder gave the Lakers all they could handle in last year’s playoffs, and this season he and budding star point guard Russell Westbrook are building on the breakthrough by making a real push for the Western Conference four seed. Their team success is undoubtedly inspiring for the other youngsters making an impact on the statistics, highlight reels and All-Star contests but who have yet to see those translate into Ws. The Clippers have shown a vast improvement since their insipid, slow start, and Griffin’s “over the car” dunk contest winner wasn’t nearly as impressive as the improvement in his overall game since they tipped off in late October (or, indeed, as impressive as many of his in-game dunks have been, although they’re rarely accompanied by actual choruses). The Grizzlies are on a late season surge, a team that no one wants to draw in the first round of the playoffs. And of course the Bulls are running away with the East.

They’re also just plain fun to watch. Griffin’s dunks are the obvious Youtube highlights, but Wall’s dishes have been fun to watch in short clip form, and Love’s impressive knowledge of the area around the rim is quite impressive as well.

So, enjoy the “classics” while you can. Another season or two and the changing of the guard just might be complete!

Monday, April 4, 2011

MLB – the first weekend

Okay, after a weekend of ODing on baseball it’s time to take stock of what we think we’ve learned (and overanalyze what is, to be fair, only about 2% of the season.) The first four days give rise to the following questions:

  • Are the BoSox incredibly overrated? Or is Texas just that good? The Rangers shut down the much-lauded “Greatest Team of All-Time” while lighting up their pitching staff. I don’t think it changes much vis-à-vis Boston, who never plays well in Arlington, but it does point towards another run from the Rangers, even without Cliff Lee.

  • Hope for the downtrodden? Baltimore sweeps the Rays, KC comes within an Alex Gordon foul ball of taking four from the Angels, Pirates and Mariners both win their opening series. Does this portend a genuine run from any of the clubs? The Orioles starters looked solid, which would be a good sign if they didn’t play in the AL East…

  • Will the Dodgers make everyone forget about the McCourts? Taking three of four from the defending champions is a good start.

  • Will the Phillies run away with the NL East? They sure looked solid against Houston. How much better might they be when their starters get some innings under them?

  • Is the Angels bullpen really that bad? After giving up leads and losing (or nearly doing so) in the first three games against the Royals, LA finally got some decent innings out of the pen on Sunday, only to give up the ninth inning tie and lose it in the 13th. So now they’re beat up in addition to pitching poorly. Lucky they had a day off before playing the Rays.

I’m sure there’s more, but maybe we’ll let a whole week slide by before drawing any more conclusions... Enjoy!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Last second Final Four thoughts

So, yeah, the Sweet Sixteen went pretty much to form, eh? All of my predictions came true and I’m ready to look at the remaining four teams, none of which are surprises to me… Okay, then, at least I had one of the brackets called right (thank you, Kentucky).
Why'd I take so long to discuss the games? Just maybe I was a touch despondent about KU’s untimely exit. But, looking back, could you really expect anything else? No 1 OR 2 seeds remaining? WTH? Crazy doesn’t begin to explain tonight’s first game matchup between VCU and Butler, so I won’t even try. I think Butler will take a close one, moving on to face Kentucky in the Final. At which point, I’m going to stick with Kentucky to win it all (admittedly, this is a bit of reverse psychology, as I figure whichever team I select will ultimately lose the game, giving the title to the underdog. Sneaky, no?)

Anyway, looking forward to the games and I can only hope they’re as tightly contested as those amazing Elite Eight games were! Hope you’re staying up late across the continent to watch them with me.