So, you're busy, you're stressed, you just found out the Christmas gift you got your mom is USELESS because she already bought it for HERSELF (and since you bought it online, now you have to figure out how to return it). With everything going on, you aren't interested in trying to keep up with five or six sports leagues, too, right?
But your holiday prep is winding down, and soon you'll be looking for an excuse to turn on a TV, turn off your brain, and enjoy watching others exercise for awhile. Here's a cheatsheet to maximize your enjoyment and minimize awkward holiday party silences between now and the start of 2012.
** NFL FOOTBALL **
The Indianapolis Colts (who finally won a game!) politely decided to play on a Thursday, leaving room for some GOOD games Christmas weekend. The bulk are on SATURDAY (Christmas Eve) starting at 1pm EST. Here are the highlights:
NEW YORK JETS vs NEW YORK GIANTS - SATURDAY 1pm EST (FOX)
It's a scientific fact that the best (funny) Christmas movies take place in Chicago, and the best (tear-jerky) Christmas movies take place in New York. Well, this Christmas both New York teams desperately need to win this game in order to get that shiny lil' playoff spot this year. It will be emotional. It might get ugly. Not, like, bench-clearing-brawl ugly; more like fumble fumble interception dropped pass missed coverage ugly.
But, generally speaking, the two quarterbacks in question (Mark Sanchez and Eli Manning) are popular with the lady fans (just ask Grantland's Sarah Larimer and Katie Baker). So, that's less ugly. This game should be a lot of fun for a neutral observer. However, I'm pulling for the Official Little Brother of the Indianapolis Colts. We need a Manning in the playoffs!!!
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES vs DALLAS COWBOYS - SATURDAY 4pm (FOX)
Another game with serious playoff implications and equally serious choke potential. Again, delightful for the neutral observer.
CHICAGO BEARS vs GREEN BAY PACKERS - SUNDAY 8pm EST (NBC)
First of all, I'd like to send sincere condolences to the Packers for losing the perfect season. It sucks, but at least you didn't lose because you sat your starters; that sort of thing has been known to destroy entire franchises (see: Indianapolis Colts). Deep breath, regroup, you're gonna be fine.
Secondly, I'd like to give an equally sincere shout-out to my guy KYLE ORTON for making me look like a GENIUS! Always knew he could do it. Also, I thought he broke one of the fingers on his throwing hand, like, a week ago? Guess it's no big deal. He may even get the chance to spoil his former team's (and Tim Tebow's) playoff hopes. Ironic.
The Bears/Packers rivalry is always fun, even if one team is mucho superioro. When the Packers start opening the whoooopasssss, you can always try a little game: drink every time they mention how the Bears are missing Jay Cutler; drink again every time they show Jay on the sidelines; drink twice if Jay has a surly expression on his face, and treat yourself to an entire gingerbread house if they catch him smiling.
The rest of the time, just enjoy the delightful adorkableness that is Aaron Rodgers.
** NBA BASKETBALL **
To be honest, I haven't really followed the NBA since the whole Pacers/Pistons throw down several years ago. I've never in my life watched pro-basketball over holiday break, but I likely will this year for a couple of reasons.
1. We weren't expecting a season due to the NBA lockout. The season is actually STARTING on Christmas Day this year (better late than never, I guess). Crazy how the lockout psychology seems to have affected fans this year. The NFL lockout tricked me into watching preseason games for the first time maybe ever, and the NBA one tricked me into thinking these games are important, too. Nice marketing buzz, NBA.
2. Two of my favorite Purdue basketball players (JuJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore) both got drafted by the Boston Celtics, and Christmas Day will be their first real game. I may get a little misty-eyed, like a proud parent to my Baby Boilers. Stupid Celtics tricking me in to liking them. There's a lot of TRICKING going on...
3. My mom digs the singing group Celtic Thunder. I guess someone from Celtic Thunder is doing the National Anthem for the Boston Celtic game, so she wants to watch it just to see that. The 'Celtic' in 'Celtic Thunder' and the 'Celtic' in 'Boston Celtics' are not pronounced the same way and it's BLOWING MY MIND. Also, is it weird to have people not from America singing the Star Spangled Banner?
* BOSTON CELTICS vs NEW YORK KNICKS - 12pm EST (TNT)
* MIAMI HEAT vs DALLAS MAVERICKS - 2:30pm EST (ABC)
* CHICAGO BULLS vs LA LAKERS - 5pm EST (ABC)
** NHL HOCKEY **
I don't claim to be an authority on hockey - in fact, I'm not even sure I know the rules. However, the Winter Classic (played outside, sometimes in the snow) is a very cool event, and if it's on wherever you are, it wouldn't kill you to take a moment to appreciate it.
NEW YORK RANGERS vs PHILADELPHIA FLYERS - Jan 2, 1pm (NBC)
As a side note, it would also be good if you were socially aware of the status of Sidney Crosby. He's the kid who scored the gold medal goal in overtime for Team Canada in the Vancouver Olympics. The rest of the time, he plays for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Read this, and then know that since that was written, Sid returned to the ice, got two goals in his first game back, and now is out again with 'concussion like symptoms' although he hasn't done anything that should cause them. Well, anything other than normal hockey things.
Sid's 24 years old, he's the best hockey player in the world, he's the face of the NHL - and he basically hasn't played in a calendar year. Kind of like Peyton Manning... except that he's 24, not 35. I can't help wondering if we'll be watching an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary on 'what might have been' in a few years. Sadness.
** NCAA FOOTBALL **
Boise State, the 7th ranked team in the nation, wasn't picked for any of the "real" bowl games, so they're stuck playing on Thursday December 22 at 8pm, the SAME TIME AS THE COLTS CRAP MEANINGLESS STUPID EXCUSE FOR A... Blah. I don't know who they're playing, and I don't care. I think they lost two games in two years by a total of 6 points or something like that, and this is their reward.
All I have to say: Keep your eye on quarterback Kellen Moore. He's going into the NFL draft after being largely overshadowed and under-appreciated his entire college career. Sometimes... just sometimes... that is the perfect recipe for a "WHERE DID THIS GUY COME FROM" scenario.
UCLA vs ILLINOIS - December 31st 3:30pm
Both of these teams have already fired their coaches after mediocre seasons. Why are they playing in a bowl game?
WISCONSIN vs OREGON - January 2, 5pm EST (ESPN)
The Rose Bowl! This should actually be an entertaining game. And the Ducks are famous for having killer uniforms.
STANFORD vs OKLAHOMA STATE - January 2, 8:30pm (ESPN)
The Fiesta Bowl! Our last chance to see Andrew Luck before he enters the NFL draft and probably turns my fandom into a tense and nauseous experience for a few months.
Andrew's dad, Oliver Luck, played in the NFL for Houston. Oliver Luck took over for Archie Manning. Archie Manning is Peyton Manning's dad. Dizzy yet? Okay, let's keep going.
A lot of people expected Andrew Luck to skip out on school and go to the NFL draft last year. From what I read, Andrew actually called Peyton Manning and asked him for advice - and apparently Peyton told him to stay in school. Maybe because it was the decision Peyton made back in his day. Maybe it was because of the NFL lockout. Who knows. Either way, now Andrew's looming like a storm cloud over Peyton's scary neck surgery recovery efforts, and every time I watch Stanford I feel like an adulteress.
When Peyton Manning played in his last bowl game for Tennessee, he got blown out of the water by Nebraska. If the same thing happens to Andrew and Stanford in this game, I won't be able to handle to spooky-cosmic-linkage.
(Note to self: Write Santa a new letter, asking him to give me an open mind and thick skin to handle the impending soap opera.)