The Week That Was: NYCFC Comes To Flushing Bay

Major League Soccer’s New York City Football Club played to a 2-2 tie with the Columbus Crew at Citi Field Sunday in what was the final regular season game of 2017 before a crowd of just little more than 20,000.

NYCFC David Villa did score a goal that gave his team a 2-1 lead just before halftime but he also missed several golden scoring opportunities including a penalty kick at the 90-minute mark that probably would have given NYCFC the win.

Head coach Patrick Vieira was content to settle for a tie because that meant that NYCFC clinched second place in the MLS Eastern Division and that they get a bye with respect to the first round of the playoffs.     

While many New Yorkers are disappointed that the Yankees did not reach the World Series the best Big Apple sports story of the fall, the so-far undefeated Columbia Lions football team who are now in first place of the Ivy League, can finally get some well-deserved attention.

Columbia hasn’t won an Ivy League football title since 1961 but that really isn’t the story here. My alma mater has been a gridiron joke for most of the last 50 years. If the Lions managed to win a game in a given year it was considered a successful season for them by the Columbia administration. In the 1980s the Columbia Lions set a record which Charlie Brown would envy as they lost 44 games in a row.

The Lions’ previous head coach , Pete Mangurian, was thoroughly incompetent as  evidenced by his three-year 3-27 record from 2012 to 2014. Ironically Mangurian was not fired by the Columbia administration for his pathetic won-loss mark but rather because a number of his players complained that he ignored injuries and was verbally abusive towards them.

Things began to turn around when Columbia hired former University of Pennsylvania head coach Al Bagnoli who was forced to retire by Penn because they wanted to bring in a younger head coach in spite of the many Ivy League titles that he had won.

I asked Bagnoli at his introductory press conference in the spring of 2015 if he could guarantee that the Lions would win a game that year. He refused to issue a Joe Namath-type guarantee and I have to admit that I didn’t think that anything would change for the Lions.

This is one time where I’m glad to be wrong. Bagnoli proved to be a top-notch recruiter and he, along with Columbia Athletics director Peter Pilling, managed to increase the budget for training and facilities for players without lowering the school’s rigorous academic standards.

The Lions still endured losing seasons during the first two years of Bagnoli’s tenure but at least they won a few games and played well in close losses to superior competition.

Most alums would gladly have settled for that given the humiliations of the past but that wasn’t good enough for Bagnoli and his team. The Lions managed upsets against both Penn and Princeton, two teams that had kicked sand in their faces for years. This past Saturday afternoon Columbia went up to Hanover, NH to face undefeated Dartmouth and against all logic they came away with a 22-17 victory.

There are still four games left so beleaguered Columbia fans shouldn’t start celebrating yet. If they do win the Ivy League title Mayor DeBlasio should have a parade for them down the Canyon of Heroes.

Alabama and Penn State should count their lucky stars that they don’t have to face the beasts of the Ivy League this season! 

The biggest winner of the American League playoffs was cable television’s Fox Sports 1. Until three weeks ago FS1 was a little-watched competitor to ESPN. The Yankees went the distance in the ALDS with the Cleveland Indians as well as in the ALCS with the Houston Astros. Most of those games were telecast on Fox Sports 1. It’s safe to say that Fox Sports executives could never have imagined that kind of good luck happening to them in their wildest dreams.

It’s to be seen whether this increased awareness of FS1 will lead to higher ratings for their weekday lineup of shows which include  “First Things First,” “Undisputed,” and “The Herd with Colin Cowherd.”

The Brooklyn Nets’ longshot chance to earn a playoff berth this season suffered a major setback when guard Jeremy Lin suffered a season-ending knee injury during an opening night loss to the Pacers in Indianapolis. Lin has always had issues staying healthy and missed most of last season with leg injuries.

Former St. John’s University men’s basketball head coach Steve Lavin is now enjoying life as a basketball analyst for both CBS and Fox Sports. Lavin was at last Wednesday’s Big East Media Day and he was thankfully his usual candid self. 

The topic of compensating college athletes seems to get thornier every year for the NCAA. Lavin noted that the momentum seems to be shifting in the direction of the players making money. While he doesn’t want to see universities add players onto their payrolls, he does think that a lot of the NCAA restrictions are outdated such as being prohibited to have an alumnus pick up the tab for a meal or allowing an athlete to earn some extra money by signing autographs at a local car dealership.

“The also needs to be an NCAA bank where athletes can obtain funds based on financial needs for everyday life situations that could be used by male and female  athletes who compete in all sports,” he added.

St. John’s Red Storm women’s basketball point guard Tamesha Alexander was one of the players who trekked to Madison Square Garden for Big East Media Day. Alexander, who is a senior studying business, said that she was drawn to St. John’s because the surrounding neighborhood reminded her of her Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood.

National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman, who grew up in Forest Hills, was inducted into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame on Monday night. That television industry magazine traditionally honors a different sports executive every year since sports are a major economic driver.

Like all major sports commissioners Bettman has taken his share of criticism but he has to be congratulated for working hard to break the insular culture of the hockey business. He has worked tirelessly to make the sports accessible to all sports fans and not just hockey diehards as evidenced by the outdoor Winter Classic. He has been welcoming all media who want to cover his sport at league events such as the Stanley Cup Final, the NHL All-Star Game, the NHL Draft, and the aforementioned Winter Classic which will be held this New Year’s Day at Citi Field.

“Entertainment Tonight” co-anchor Kevin Frazier, who used to do the same duties for ESPN’s “Sportscenter,” attended the Broadcasting & Cable gala and he told me that he was not happy with politics rearing its head in sports and particularly at his old employer, ESPN. “Most people tune into sports to forget the problems of the world. At ‘Entertainment Tonight’ we try to put up a wall around politics.”

Just by becoming the first African-American male to win the US Open in 1968 when it was played back then at Forest Hills Stadium, Arthur Ashe’s place in history would be cemented forever. Fortunately, Ashe didn’t see it that way and was always determined to help mankind in any way that he could.

One of his pet projects before he died in1993 from AIDS was to create the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health whose dual missions are to educate people about preventable and treatable diseases and to encourage high school students to seek out careers in the health profession.

The AAIUH celebrated its 25th anniversary Sportsball fund-raising dinner last week. NY1’s Cheryl Wills who grew up in Far Rockaway co-hosted the ceremonies with WNBC news anchor David Ushery.

Wills pointed out how Arthur Ashe was proud to be an activist and the odds are that he would have been supporting the NFL players who have decided to kneel during the playing of the National Anthem.

One of the attendees at the AAIUH dinner was former Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. I asked him what has been occupying his time now. “I have been busy with my foundation which is trying to fight youth hunger in my home state of Pennsylvania. I hope to expand its work to New York soon.”

Revis was released by the Jets at the end of last season. The consensus was that he had lost a few steps trying to cover wide receivers and that he no longer relished tackling. That may account for why no NFL team signed him or even invited him to training camp this past summer. I asked Darrelle if he misses the game. “I still follow the Jets. And by the way, I can still play,” he said.

I have to give the Islanders credit for the best sports feel-good story of the past week. The team invited an eight-year old big fan of the team, Brandon Bloom, who is battling Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma to a morning practice where he skated with them as well as taking part in  meetings and even sharing meals with the players. It’s easy to overlook how sports teams can really brighten the lives of so many.

There has been a lot of talk about people who have “cut the cord” and have canceled their cable television contracts. Yes, these days free over-the-air broadcast television now offers more choices particularly when it comes to watching favorite shows of yesteryear thanks to CBS’s Decades channel and Tribune Broadcasting’s Antenna TV.

The main reason for the cord-cutting phenomena has been the proliferation of streaming services as Hulu, Amazon, Netflix, CBS All Access, and many others. Roku has been a pioneer in computerized streaming and placing that technology into your television.

The company’s newest device is the Roku Ultra which is designed for smart television sets. You can surf the web on your TV screen; get plenty of viewing options; as well as listen to radio stations from around the world and while enjoying superb audio fidelity. Since the Roku Ultra has a list price of around $100 many cable companies are now facing consumer resistance to raising rates which they never had to previously worry about.

Speaking of streaming services, Sarah Silverman, who has perfected cringe comedy in much the way that Larry David of HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” has, launched a new weekly show titled “I Love You, America” on Hulu. New episodes air Thursday evenings.

The Grammy Awards return to New York City after being ensconced in LA for years. It’s a big milestone as the Grammys will be turning 60 years old. CBS will air “Grammy’s Greatest Stories: A 60th Anniversary Special on Friday, November 24. Expect to see a lot of archival clips. The Grammys are run by the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences whose president is Bayside native Neil Portnow.

About the Author

Get connected with us on Social Media