Friday, January 31, 2014

SUPERBOWL CHEATSHEET: Mannings Take Manhattan (or at Least New Jersey)

Don't like sports? Forced to attend a seven hour Super Bowl party with people paying varying levels of attention to each other? You've come to the right place. Here are some trivia bullets to get you through the evening, and maybe even help you accidentally enjoy yourself. I mean, the Chili Peppers are doing halftime, and then auctioning off their special drum kit to benefit Make-A-Wish! Improve your attitude!

  • MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey (basically New York City)
  • New stadium, opened spring of 2010
  • Shared home of the New York Giants and New York Jets (only two teams in the league that share a stadium)
  • It includes a total of four locker rooms: one for the Giants, one for the Jets and two for visiting teams.
  • Between the two NFL teams, concerts, and special events, the stadium was named the top grossing stadium in the world
  • Capacity: 82,500 (90,000 for non-football major events)
  • The first open-air stadium in a cold-weather U.S. city to host the Super Bowl.
  • Before the Jets and Giants agreed to collaborate on this new stadium, the Jets originally planned to build a new stadium on the west side of Manhattan as part of New York City's 2012 Olympic bid.


Seattle Seahawks
  • Team founded in 1976.
  • Seattle held a ‘civic suggestion campaign’ to name team; there were more than 20,000 entries (but only about 1,700 unique names).
  • Original team owner died of a heart attack before the team played its first game.
  • Seahawks were added as an expansion team to the NFC, switched to the AFC after one year, then switched back to the NFC again in 2002. During their AFC years, the Seahawks were in the same division as the Broncos (with the Chargers, Chiefs, and Raiders) and played each other twice every season.
  • Seattle is the only team that has switched conferences.
  • Seattle’s stadium was specifically engineered to be the loudest (open air) stadium in the NFL; December 2013 they broke the ‘crowd noise’ record in the Guinness Book of World Records. During a playoff game touchdown run in 2011, the crowd got so loud that it registered as an earthquake on a nearby seismograph.
  • The Seahawks refer to their very loud, very enthusiastic crowd as “The 12th Man” and raise a flag in their honor in their stadium before every home game.
  • They share their loud, rowdy stadium with Seattle’s MLS soccer team (the Sounders).
  • The Seahawks lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2005 Super Bowl. That was their only prior Super Bowl appearance.
  • Coach Pete Carroll (age 62) coached at powerhouse University of Southern California (USC) from 2000-2009, where he won multiple championships (and then kinda fled in the midst of an NCAA investigation). He also chews a lot of gum.
  • Marshawn Lynch (age 27, #24) was the guy running when the Seahawks fans registered their “earthquake” – now they refer to him as “Beast Mode.” When he was a kid, his mom would give him “power pellets” (Skittles candy). In 2011, fans noticed a trainer giving him Skittles to celebrate a touchdown, and now when he scores, fans give him “rainbow showers” (throw candy at him) in the endzone. Skittles produced limited edition “Seattle Mix” candy in Seahawk colors for Super Bowl week. ESPN did a “Sports Science” experiment to see how Skittles actually affect his performance.
  • Defensive player Richard Sherman (age 25, #25) grew up in Compton, California, graduated from Stanford University with a degree in Communications and has begun graduate studies there, as well. He has the reputation for being very articulate, but also rather mouthy. He once tweeted a picture of himself talking to Tom Brady after the Seahawks beat the Patriots with the caption: “U mad bro?” Whatever, I laughed.
  • Quarterback Russell Wilson (age 25, #3) has been drafted by both major league baseball and the NFL (if he played baseball, he’d be with the Texas Rangers). He won the inaugural Big Ten Championship game with the Wisconsin Badgers in 2011. The Seahawks drafted him as a backup in 2012, but he won the starting job before the season even started. Experts said he was too short to play quarterback in the NFL (he’s 5’11”). He often posts Bible verses on Twitter (@DangeRussWilson) and includes Matthew 6:33 in his Twitter bio.

Denver Broncos
  • Team founded in 1960, never moved to or from any other city.
  • Founded by Bob Howsam, who owned a minor league baseball team. He built his baseball stadium too big (34,000 seater), and needed more revenue to survive the deep debt that resulted. Thus, he started a football team.
  • Howsam had a “name the team” contest, which resulted in the name “Broncos.”
  • During its first season, the team was so financially strapped that the players wore used uniforms featuring hilariously hideous vertically-striped socks. Two years later, the new head coach’s first order of business was to hold a public sock burning ceremony to usher in a new era.
  • Played in six (6) Super Bowls and won two (2) in 1997 & 1998, both with quarterback John Elway (now the Broncos’ Executive Vice President of Football Operations). The 1998 Super Bowl was Elway’s final game.
  • Players tend to celebrate touchdowns by giving the ‘Mile High Salute’ – a military-style gesture given to fans and teammates originally popularized by former Bronco Terrell Davis in the late 1990s.
  • The Broncos nearly made it to the Super Bowl with quarterback Jake Plummer in 2006, when they lost to the Steelers in the AFC Championship game. A few months later, they drafted Jay Cutler.
  • Obligatory Tebowmania bullet: remember the 80 yard touchdown in overtime against the Steelers in the 2011 playoffs? The receiver who caught that Tebow throw (Demaryius Thomas, #88) is still on the team!
  • Earlier this season coach John Fox was hospitalized with heart problems that resulted in aortic heart valve replacement surgery. He was back with the team about a month later and now says he’s never felt better.
  • Receiver Wes Welker (#83) played in two Super Bowls with the New England Patriots (lost both).
  • Defender Champ Bailey (age 35, #24) has been a Bronco (and fan favorite) for 10 years; this is his first Super Bowl. His real first name is Roland. His younger brother Boss Bailey played for the Detroit Lions.
  • December 2013, kicker Matt Prater broke the record for longest field goal in NFL history (64 yards), though some argue he had an advantage, kicking in Denver’s thin, mile-high air.
  • When the Broncos score at home, a white horse (and rider) runs the length of the field in celebration. This real life bronco was born with the name ‘Winter Solstice’ but took the name ‘Thunder’ (the traditional name of the Bronco’s mascot). Thunder trained extensively for the job to get used to the lines on the field. He also leads the team out of the tunnel at the beginning of games.

The Peyton Manning Stuff
(Note: This cheatsheet was created by a crazed Indianapolis Colts fan, NOT an impartial observer. If you want bias-free trivia, ask someone else. Also, the Colts beat BOTH of these teams during the regular season.)
  • Born March 24, 1976 (37 years old) in New Orleans.
  • His father Archie was the quarterback for the New Orleans Saints from 1971-1982.
  • His brother Eli (33 years old) is the adorable quarterback of the New York Giants.
  • Eli heroically won the Super Bowl in Indianapolis during Peyton’s tragic last year with the Colts; now Peyton has the chance to triumph in Eli’s stadium as well.
  • Peyton and Eli’s older brother Cooper (39 years old) was on track to be a pro-caliber receiver, but was forced to quit football in college due to a spine condition. Now he’s a partner at a lucrative energy investment firm. I love him.
  • Peyton married his gorgeous but spotlight-avoiding wife Ashley in 2001. They have two perfect children (~3 year old twins, a boy named Marshall and a girl named Mosley). I'm so glad we got Marshall into a Colts jersey at least once in his beautiful little life.
  • Peyton was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in 1998 (first overall pick) and signed with Denver in 2012.
  • There is a hospital in Indianapolis is named Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital.
  • Peyton missed the entire 2011 season after a messed up disk in his neck caused nerve damage that resulted in numbness and weakness in his throwing arm. After four neck surgeries and a full year of rehabilitation, the Colts released Peyton (and most of their other players and coaches). Because he was released and not traded, Peyton was able to choose which team he wanted to play for. After visiting a few teams, he chose Denver.
  • Between Peyton and Eli, the Manning family has played in five of the last eight Super Bowls; Eli won both of his; Peyton has won one and lost one so far.
  • Papa Archie never made the playoffs but is still a winner.

For the first time in many years, I'll actually be attending a Super Bowl party - for the first half. I'll be watching the second half from an undisclosed location because if Peyton wins, I don't want to cry in public.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

OLYMPICS CHEATSHEET 2014 - Embracing Your Xgames Side

The following is a preview of the 2014 Sochi Olympics that I put together with Beth Pond, author of PODIUM FINISH, a young adult novel detailing the Olympic journey of two friends: one a figure skater, the other a hockey player. I have read it, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially refreshing to see dual points of view structure used for friends instead of resigning it to love interests. Ms. Pond specializes in girl-power sporty books (I've read 2.5 by her now), and she has some great insights into how we build identity through our successes and those times we fall short. I have a feeling we'll be hearing a lot from her in the future.

And now, a sport-by-sport breakdown of your 2014 Winter Olympics!

The one where they ski and then they shoot! Here's a story of one athlete giving up her spot on the Olympic team so that her twin sister could go instead. New medal opportunity this year: The Mixed Relay, where men and women will compete together as a four person team.

One story I'll definitely be watching is Lolo Jones and Lauryn Williams, track stars turned bob sledders. Lolo and Lauryn are set to become only the ninth and tenth Americans to compete in both the summer and winter games. Lolo might have the more memorable name, but Lauryn’s the more decorated; she already has a silver medal from Athens and a gold medal from London.


The Ringers: USA Figure Skating’s best (and arguably only) chance at making the podium in Sochi lies with ice dancing duo Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the reigning world champions, who took home a silver in Vancouver. The gold went to Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. Sochi will likely prove to be an enticing rematch. Davis and White are consistent and incredibly patient. Their “Scheherazade” program has been in their back pocket for the past two years, just waiting for this Olympics. If they win, they'll be the first Americans ever to win Olympic gold in ice dancing.

The Ladies: Gracie Gold won, you guessed it, gold at the Olympic trials. It was her first US title. Newcomer Polina Edmunds, who has never competed internationally at the senior level, came in second. Ashley Wagner, who has done well in past seasons, had a disappointing performance—two falls—and finished fifth. However, she was chosen for the third Olympic spot because of her experience.

It seems controversial, naming Wagner (though she does fit the profile of ice darling, especially now that she has a potential comeback story). But giving her the spot meant that the actual third place finisher, Mirai Nagasu, gets left at home (that video is of her exhibition performance right after she learned Wagner was chosen for the Olympic team instead of her; Grantland explored some of the reasons behind the decision here). But what’s USA Ladies figure skating without a little homemade drama?

The New Team: The Figure Skating Team competition is brand new this year. Each country competing will submit one entry for each discipline – women’s, men’s, pair’s, and ice dancing – so a total of six people on each team. I’m IRRATIONALLY excited about this, and it starts right away on Feb. 6th! Obviously, we’ll have Davis and White, and probably from the women’s side we’ll send Gracie Gold? But then what?

The Men: We have two men’s competitors to choose from. The favorite is probably Jeremy Abbott, a guy who is on the brink of retiring from competition but strikes me as a bit flaky (he was almost disqualified from the Olympic qualifying event because he was skating around the ice instead of taking his starting position – he only got it together because the audience started screaming out the count down like a student section at a basketball game!).

Our other option is a nineteen-year-old, Jason Brown, who apparently has less technical ability than Abbott, but the audiences ADORE him. He did a Riverdance thing that earned him a standing ovation before the program was even over.

The Pairs: Some interesting characters here. There’s Castelli and Shnapir, who owned Boston (their hometown) during the qualifiers. I enjoyed them for several reasons, not the least of which is that he is SIXTEEN (16) inches taller than her, and one of their routines is James Bond inspired! And then there’s Zhang and Bartholomay, who did a nifty “Les Mis” routine, with Zhang pumping her fists ("If she could have high-fived someone right there, she would have!") on the last lift, knowing that they’d just thrown down the performance of a lifetime. Both won me over, lots of personality.

The Dancers: The TV broadcasters for the US Championships said that we are LOADED at Ice Dancer this year. In addition to Davis and White, Team USA is sending two other promising ice dancing pairs: Chock and Bates (Les Mis is hot in skating this year, and the dancers get to use music with lyrics), and the Shibutani siblings (Michael Jackson!).

Team USA definitely has some talent. The US and Russia have always had strong skaters, but we’ve seen much more competition from Japan and Korea in the past two Olympics. It's certainly a likable bunch that will give us a lot to talk about.

I'm pretty stupid about hockey, except that I know there are ten (10) Chicago Blackhawks competing for five (5) different countries. I'll let Pond handle this one on her own (I like to call her "Pond" because it's very Whovian):

Let's talk hockey! After earning the silver in 2010, USA Women’s Hockey is poised to take on Team Canada in the gold medal round yet again. Team Canada has won gold at the past three Olympics, but Team USA’s 21 player roster, which includes 11 Olympic veterans, has a strong chance at disrupting this winning streak. If they do, this will be the first time Team USA has claimed the top spot on the podium since the 1998 Nagano Olympics, the first time women’s hockey was part of the Olympic program. Standout players on Team USA’s roster include: Julie Chu, Jessie Vetter, Megan Duggan, and Gigi Marvin.

Consider hockey veteran Julie Chu (in her 4th Olympics) a potential candidate to carry the American flag into the opening ceremonies.

Sliding really fast down hill! Luge = feet first, Skeleton = face first.

Luge is another sport pioneering a new team concept this Olympics. With several of these new Olympic events, there seems to be an emphasis on adding a team dymanic to sports that have historically been highly individualized - and on getting men and women competing together in these events, as well. This setup gives athletes an opportunity to work together as a team, and it also means more chances for more medals. Curious to see how these new events will be received, but love that they're giving it a try.

Take it Pond!

The Ladies: With Lindsey Vonn sitting out these Games to recover from knee surgery, Team USA will be looking to Olympic veteran Julia Mancuso and 18-year-old up-and-comer Mikaela Shiffrin to makes their mark on the slopes for the good ol' red, white, and blue. It’s definitely disappointing that Vonn won’t be competing, but hopefully she’ll have a speedy recovery.

Some other women to keep an eye on: six-time National Champion aerialist Emily Cook had a strong 2013 season and is definitely one to root for in Sochi, her third Olympic games. Also, New Hampshire native and reigning Olympic gold medalist Hannah Kearney will hopefully clinch a second gold in Sochi. Since the Vancouver Olympics, Kearney has won 32 World Cup moguls races.

The Men: The infamous Bode Miller is back and supposedly leaner than ever. Also expect to see some great runs from Ted Ligety, the 2006 Olympic combined champion, who is a favorite to medal in the slalom this year.

The Ladies: Once again, I'm out of my depths (and speed skating is her favorite), so I turn the floor over completely to Pond:

One person I’d watch is 30-year-old Michigan Native, Jessica Smith. After finishing in 6th at the 2010 Olympic Trials, one spot away from qualifying for the Olympic team, she dominated the 2014 Olympic trials, claiming first place finishes and Olympic berths in all three short track distances. She was “fire on ice” at the Olympic Trials, and I really hope she finds success in Sochi.

Right behind her is teammate Emily Scott, who gained national attention in 2013 after a USA Today story reported that the athlete had filed for food stamps. Thanks to crowdfunding, Scott raised over $48,000 to date and was able to quit her part-time job in order to focus solely on preparing for the Olympics. I think Scott, Smith, and the third member of Team USA women’s short track 2010 Olympian Aly Dudek, are all on track to shine at these games. US Speedskating was recently rocked by a coaching scandal that left the athletes very divided, but I don’t think these three women have ever skated better.

The Men: Look for strong individual performances from two-time bronze medalist J.R. Celski and first-time Olympian Eddy Alvarez. The men won silver in the relay in 2010. Whether or not they will be able to repeat this remains to be seen, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I think they have what it takes to make it onto the podium. One thing is certain though: Team USA’s biggest competition in the relay will come from the Canadians and the Koreans.

Note: Look for Apolo Ohno in the commentator's booth.

This year the Winter Olympics have fully embraced their innate Xgames element with several new events. Xgames athletes are awesome; you get the impression they’re always rooting for each other to do something cool. Makes for an awesome atmosphere. Check out the new Xgames additions: ski slopestyle, ski halfpipe, and even MORE snowboarding events.

For snowboarding we’ll likely be seeing a lot of familiar faces shredding in Sochi. Shaun White clinched an Olympic berth in the Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle. On the women’s side 2002 gold medalist Kelly Clark, punched her ticket to Sochi with her recent Grand Prix win.

And for the first time, they’re adding women’s ski jumping, pioneered by American Lindsey Van.

You can find a full schedule of events from NBC here.
A million thanks to Beth Pond for her insight and expertise. Check out her new novel PODIUM FINISH, and go Team USA!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

CHEATSHEET: Football is Somehow Almost Over

You're not a sports fan? That's cool, you've come to the right place. We'll give you just enough information to survive a playoff party, decide who to cheer for, when to be excited, and when to be outraged. Really, that's all we need to know in any given life situation.

The Super Bowl is Sunday, Feb 2, 2014.
The halftime show is locked in (Bruno Mars - and the CHILI PEPPERS!!!).
The location is set (New York City - er, at least the New Jersey-exposed-to-the-winter-elements section of it).

All we need now are the teams (much like a girl in her twenties who has her dream wedding all planned and just needs a willing guy).

But ENOUGH parentheticals! Cue the dating-game music and let's meet our championship contenders!


There baaack! The Super Bowl Losers' Curse cannot touch Captain-Coach Jim Harbaugh. My feelings for Jim Harbaugh are well documented in this space. He had a super-human season for my Indianapolis Colts during my impressionable youth. In fact, this year's playoffs QBs span about 20 years of my life (Jim Harbaugh circa 1994 took us to Peyton Manning in 1998 took us to Andrew Luck in the now). And, of course, Harbaugh was Andrew Luck's coach at Stanford. Everything comes full circle. YAY!

Every time I turn on my TV, I see Colin Kaepernick's beats. They're playing the hell out of that commercial, and with good reason, as it shows cold-as-ice Kaep getting off the bus surrounded by an angry Seattle-colored mob, which might be exactly what happens this weekend (tho, I always assumed Seattle people were too chill to mob?). Kaep is one of the league's rising stars, though some might say he's regressed this season (he was my fantasy QB, and I did indeed bench him one or twice in favor of Alex Smith for cripes sake). But it's hard to argue with him making the final four twice in two attempts. We should all be so regressive.

By the way - sometime in the 1990s THIS APPARENTLY HAPPENED(?!?)


Russell Wilson has been in the NFL for two seasons now, and he's five-feet-ten of adorable. Spent some college minutes as a Wisconsin Badger, got drafted by the Texas Rangers baseball team, but entered the NFL draft as something of a long-shot (given his shortness). He lists one of his key NFL heroes as Drew Brees (another "short" quarterback), which makes him alright in my book. He was drafted by the Seahawks last year to backup high-dollar free-agent Matt Flynn - and then won the starting job outright before the season even started. Vintage Disney stuff. And here he is, one game away from the Super Bowl.

Defensive player Richard Sherman is one of the approximately two million Stanford players in the NFL at the moment. Harbaugh was his coach, but now...

Coach Pete Carroll was an NFL failure. He coached the New England Patriots several years ago, such that Sports Guy Bill Simmons nicknamed him "Coach Fredo" (GODFATHER joke). Pete went to USC, reinvented himself as a perennial winner, started a blood feud with Jim Harbaugh when they were both coaching college teams, and then fled NCAA allegations by accepting the job in Seattle (where his team has since enjoyed a series of drug test suspensions). Word on the street is that Coach Pete and Captain Harbaugh truly despise each other - which makes this game (the THIRD time these teams have played this season) all the more fun.

Substance allegations aside, I adore watching the Seahawks. I like how their brightly colored uniforms look in the rain. I like the silhouette and noise level of their stadium (which doubles as a soccer stadium that ALWAYS sells out). Seattle has some of the BEST sports fans in the world. If it were up to me, they'd be hosting an Olympics immediately.


Hello, nemesis. Tom Brady is one game away from the Super Bowl AGAIN. For the SIXTH (6th) time. He's married to the highest paid super model in the world. His house in California has a mote. He does ads for Uggs. There is nothing new here.

Except that, due to injuries and incarcerations, the Patriots are now a running team instead of a throwing team. That sneaked up on people. And it seems as though the league now goes out of its way to make him look hilarious. There are some truly amazing Tom Brady GIFs out there. (Note: As I was drafting this post, news broke that Tommy missed practice because he was sickly. Now I feel terrible, hope it wasn't something contagious that will spread to the entire team...?)

Don't forget about the Belichick - the Hoodie - the evil genius behind it all. Remember the hoodie code: When he wears the blue one, he's vulnerable. The red one, and the Pats have basically already lost. But the gray one - in the gray one he's damn near invincible. With all the stats people out there, I do NOT understand why this is even an issue, but he busted the blue hoodie out for the Colts last weekend. Or perhaps it was just hubris (yeah, Coach Chuck, I'll beat you even with the BLUE hoodie!).

I hate the Patriots in that way that I want them to lose, but I don't want them to go away forever. Ours is a Megamind/MetroMan relationship. When Brady/Belichick ceases to be a thing, I'll be nostalgic. I've missed a lot of games this season, and struggled to get into the story lines. We took a long vacation to foreign places, we sold our house, did a lot of apartment hunting, etc. I feel like I BARELY know what's going on. The end of the Manning/Brady era is coming, and I want to soak all the goodness out of it, but...


As I said in the beginning, my alliances are well documented, and I'm a Peyton girl through and through. I care too much. I've spent all week building a pillow fort behind my couch from which to watch this game. Just thinking about it makes me feel like this.


New England Patriots at Denver Broncos
Sunday, January 19th - 3pm EST (CBS)

San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks
Sunday, January 19th - 6:30pm EST (FOX)

Winners meet in the Super Bowl
Sunday, February 2nd - ~6pm EST (FOX)