Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Super Bowl 50: Notes from the Inside

Five Years ago, in Dallas, TX, I witnessed one of the more exciting Super Bowls in recent history firsthand. The Packers took down Pittsburgh, and I was there to see it.

Three Years ago, in East Rutherford New Jersey, I witnessed one of the most boring Super Bowls in recent history firsthand. The Seahawks were winners from the get go, and they spent all four quarters mercilessly hitting the Broncos down. And I was there to see it.

Two days ago...in Santa Clara, California...yep, you're damn right I was there.

As usual, I'll detail my journey from my hotel in Milpitas to the game, and how everything went from the perspective of a lowly blogger in the 200 level.

My companion for this Super Bowl was my friend Evan, who I knew through the age old excuse of "our dads work together". Evan and I began the morning taking a shuttle out to the TLA stop. The TLA, which is a very cool little train system in the San Jose area, was smooth, and dropped us off with more than enough room to get to the stadium. Only problem is we got there a tiny bit before 11:00 AM, which means the gates technically weren't open yet, so we had no choice but to slam ourselves into a throng of determined fans.

Speaking of fans, if you were to measure from just the crowd waiting to go through security alone, you would think that the Broncos to Panthers ratio was pretty even. Where I was, there was an even amount of orange-navy and blue-silver. I, however, not one to join some bandwagon for a single game, took the historian approach- I wore an old Mitchell & Ness 1969 Bart Starr jersey. Like with my Strahan jersey at the '13 Bowl, I was approached with one or two 'you're at the wrong Super Bowl' messages. To which I'd cheekily respond "No, I'm a year early", or "Actually I'm 49 years late".

One guy, working for the stadium, was commenting on people's wardrobe as they went in, be it Broncos or Panthers. Once he got to me, his jubilance turned to confusion very quickly. "Oh, and here's a Broncos fan, go Broncos, oh, and here's the Packers...PACKERS?...I mean..." It cracked me and Evan up.

Once we got past security, we made our way around the stadium to the Tailgate Party (How we got in I'll never tell), which was pretty nice. Seal was the main entertainment, which...baffled all of us. At least he was pretty cool, and still performed well.

The Tailgate Party was a nice diversion, but we finally got to our seats about an hour before start-time, which, as they told us, was 3 PM. Our seats were in the corner of the Broncos' end zone, up a level. Prime position, given the circumstances. We sat, waiting, watching the people enter, watching more and more Broncos fans fill the seats, watching the roars grow louder and louder whenever a Broncos player appeared on the 'tron.

Inside the stadium, they'd momentarily cut to two CBS people, whose sole purpose was to repeat information that was already well-known throughout the game, like what had happened in each quarter, or what to do during the halftime show, which was a point that was already pretty hammered-in. It got to the point where, at their 3rd or 4th appearance, I was already shouting "GO AWAY!"

Speaking of the halftime show, the entire audience would be involved in a huge stunt where two huge-stadium-wide pictures would be shown. There was a video which, step-by-tantalizing-step, detailed the entire process of taking a poster-board card out of the package, holding it up at one point, putting it down, and putting it back up on the other side at the end. It was so dumbed down, with a video of an example audience cheerily taking party, that by the end someone in the audience sarcastically yelled "SHOW IT AGAIN, THAT WAS HYSTERICAL!"

Eventually we got to the National Anthem, which Lady Gaga absolutely rocked, and the unveiling of 50 years of Super Bowl MVPs. Surprisingly, the man whose number I was wearing, Bart Starr, was one of the few not in the building. There were boos at the arrival of Tom Brady, and cheers at Eli's arrival, save for a few people in my section. "What?", one said, "I'm from Philly." "So am I, but even I still think he's okay," I replied.

Eventually the game began, with both fan bases loudly making their cases known. There were several "KEEP! POUNDING!" chants from the audience going, and several chants from Broncos fans as well, more of them probably, because they dominated most of the audience. You could tell, because whenever the Broncos got a point, or the Panthers got a penalty, the audience would erupt in applause. This was a Denver-led crowd, of people that didn't travel as far and stayed together, and thereby helped decide the outcome of the game.

The first bit of the game did have a ton of really fun games. The Broncos sacked Cam Newton, he fumbled the ball, and the Broncos leapt into the end zone to grab the ball and score a touchdown. The Panthers scored their first (and eventually only) touchdown with a gigantic leap over the blockers into the end zone. Newton had a lot of huge throws, and the Denver Defense had a lot of great plays, smacking Cam around whenever they could.

Unlike the 2013 Bowl, one team stayed in control for most of it, but there was still intrigue and question, for most of the game, as to whether or not they'd stay in front. The Broncos started out ahead, but the Panthers came charging, not stopping until the end, and powering through some tough situations.

It was really exciting to watch, because both teams had some nice power plays, some great drives. It wasn't a blowout, it was a fair fight that ended because one guy was on top from the beginning.

I should probably talk about halftime, because I don't know how it came out on TV, but from Levis Stadium it was pretty damn cool. It helps that I'm a big Coldplay fan (I know), and that Chris Martin was more energetic than he's been since Gwyneth broke up with him, but also the big image that we helped create was pretty cool, too.

Once Bruno Mars showed up and did Uptown Funk the audience erupted and sang along in a big way. But then Beyonce popped up, and the day was hers. The tron stopped broadcasting for us when she went on, as if to say "just look at her for yourselves, dammit!" And yeah, even if I'm not a big fan of this Formation number, she was pretty awesome.

The very last part, when Beyonce, Bruno and Coldplay united to sing 'Up and Up' as kids ran around the field and the audience held up a picture reading "Love is Everywhere" or something, gave me chills. I don't care who you are- it was this big, colorful awesome moment that everybody must have eaten up, regardless of whether or not you like Coldplay.

The rest of the game was more of the same. The Broncos held onto the lead, the Panthers tried but fell apart. My section ended up starting a 'Fly Eagles Fly' chant out of desperation. And Cam Newton chose not to go for a fumble that eventually decided the outcome of the game.

Eventually the Broncos were deemed victorious, and Peyton Manning became the first quarterback to take two different teams to a Super Bowl and win. It was nice to see him win one more time, and even if I'd gone in rooting for Carolina, I could respect a Denver win simply for Peyton, and for the fans that had been waiting since the 90's. He hinted that he'd be mulling it over, but I'm pretty sure Peyton Manning's going to retire. He has to. He was already a Hall of Famer before he put on a Broncos uniform.

Evan and I stayed for the trophy ceremony, and we watched as most of the stadium booed Roger Goodell. We realized that we'd just witnessed a pretty awesome Super Bowl, 50 or no. And then we left to catch the TLA.

And that was how my Super Bowl went.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Nostalgic Box Break: 1999 Ultra (Part Three)

Two thirds gone. One third left. This box has been really fun so far, as it's always pretty nice to see a product in peak form, and the very late 90's were the peak years of Ultra. Last eight packs coming up.

 Pack 17- Man, those futuristic rookie card designs sure do stand out...

 AJ Hinch's reaction when he realized he had to manage the Diamondbacks a few years ago.
(Thankfully he's in a much better place right now.)

 Matt Williams, already mowing 'em down in Arizona, and Bobby Abreu, in one of his first few seasons as a Phillie.

 Carlos Baerga, who never really did anything out of an Indians uniform, looks stoic as a Met. And Jeff Bagwell hits another one out.

 Pack 18- Lots of very odd positions here.

 Edgar Martinez, world's greatest DH, squats in the batter's box, because...well, he's Edgar. He's allowed.

 Before Rafael Palmeiro took steroids, this card was not gold.

 Shawn Green, immediately before his trade to LA that would make him a hard-hitting superstar, and a The Book On insert of Chipper Jones.

 Maybe it's me, but Jay Powell's glove looks huge here.


 Both ends of the age spectrum. Alex Rodriguez, already ruling the league in his early 20's, and Rickey Henderson, still stealing bases at age 40.

 Two of the greatest third basemen of all time? And they both played in the same decade? Man, gotta love baseball.

 Two reminders of the 1997 ALCS. Man, the Yankees were close that year, but the Indians were a better squad. They should have won a World Series that decade.

 Pack 20- The horizontals take over!

 A bit blurry, but two hitting 90's stars, Bernie Williams and Todd Helton. I think Helton has a better HOF case than Bernie though.

 People tend to forget how powerful Mike Mussina was as an Oriole. This card cements it. He just looks beastly warming up.

 Pack 21- Some team heroes in this one.

 Two extremely 1998 figures. The Book on insert of Juan Gonzalez, still a Texas standout, and a futuristic surfboard of Kerry Wood, who had an OUTSTANDING rookie season in 1998.

 Derek Jeter, my once and future favorite player of all time. Robin Ventura's sliding next to him, and they'd combine their efforts for a World Series attempt in 2003.

 Of course, here's the closest thing they have to a modern diety on the South Side, Frank Thomas.

 Pack 22- Winding down but still some cards pop.

 I bet you forgot both of these guys played for these teams. Either way, Dean Palmer seems pretty happy about it.

 Trevor Hoffman's rushing to work, equipment in hand. Meanwhile, here's one of the few good rookies in the set with Eric Chavez.

 Freddy Garcia auditions for Cliffhanger 2.

 Pack 23- Another nice insert here, as well as some more cool shots. It still looks new and the box is nearly over.

 Rico Brogna reaching for a helmet. Such a cool shot.

 Raul Mondesi, right before being traded to Toronto and essentially whittling down the rest of his career. Also, Kerry Wood nabs a Season Crowns insert.

 This guy was intimidating even as he bled in front of you. Remind me why he's not a Hall of Famer yet?

 Pack 24- The last hurrah. We do get one last rare insert here though.

 ...you know.
 Two hard-hitting Hall of Famers. Gwynn's is a really cool Gold Medallion. Frank's is the box's last futuristic surfboard.

Our big insert is a World Premiere one of Richard Hidalgo, who was just starting out in Houston in '98. Not the greatest subject, but still a very cool design, and it's incredibly shiny.

So that was 1999 Ultra. Wasn't that fun?

I might get back to some actual posting, and hopefully I'll nab some 2016 Topps soon.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

A PSA Against Driving An ATV Instead of Running Bases, by Greg Olson

Oh, hi kids. I'm Greg Olson.

Now, way back in the day I used to be backup catcher for the Atlanta Braves. Great job, best years of my life, wouldn't have traded it for the world. However, one day I got too cocky, kids. I took a risk, and wound up making a fool of myself. And I'm here, wounds mended, to tell you about it.

You see, back in the 90's I was a quadder. Loved my ATV. Drove it in the winter, in the summer, at spring training. Anywhere I could, really. Aside from being a catcher, I loved ATVing. It was as much of a passion for me as catching fastballs from Greg Maddux.

So one day, I'm driving my ATV around the field before warmups, and I get an idea. You see, I was never the best base-runner. I was slower than a tortoise on quaaludes, kids. And that's why I didn't get the starting gig, because Javy Lopez could run a little faster than me, you know, pre-steroids.

So I thought 'what if I show Javy, and just take my ATV and instead of running the bases, I drive across in record time. Nobody'll say anything. Hell, nobody'll even notice. It'll go fine.

However, kids, ol' Uncle Greg made a very massive oversights in that plan. For instance, he forgot how easy it is for an umpire to notice a medium-sized ATV rolling toward second base.

But what really did me in...Chipper was up, and I was on first. I had the ATV ready to go and everything. I was just waiting for the hit. Sure enough, Chip hits it right toward Mickey Morandini at second. And I'm running toward Mickey. He's headed for the base, and so am I. So I hit the gas hard.

I hit him head on, kids. Mickey Morandini damn near concussed thanks to my ATVing.

They had to cart him off the field and bring in some backup. Meanwhile, Bobby Cox comes over to me and goes 'what in the Sam Hill d'you think you're doing? Driving an ATV on a damned baseball team. You should be ashamed of yourself, Greg. Ya really should.'

I'm just paraphrasing there, I think.

Long story short, Bobby threw me out of the game, and the umps put in a ban that ended up shortening my MLB career a bit. I was disgraced, and ashamed.

And that's why I'm talking to you kids. Also, because they took away my ATV, and I need the money so I can get another one. But mostly the first thing. Yeah...talking to kids. Teachin' em not to ride ATVs on the bases, because you might seriously injure a decent second baseman.

Remember, kids. Stay in school, study hard...and keep your ATVs of the ball field.

Now, scooters on the other hand...yeah, do whatever you want...

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Nostalgic Box Break: 1999 Ultra (Part Two)

Well, as it's the season, I haven't been as consistent as I would have liked on the blog, as there's not a ton to blog about other than the last few remaining free agents nabbing teams and such. At least I have these old boxes to post the results of. Today, we nab Part 2 of 3 of the box of Fleer Ultra 1999. Lots of fun, cool photography in this set, so we'll get back into the next 8 packs.

 Pack 9- Already you can see UD's poster boy, though surprisingly not Fleer's this year, from the rafters.

 Two great horizontals. Kevin Brown's is cropped a bit wide for me, like the photo's been chopped in half. Boggs' is wonderful, as are most of his cards as a Tampa Bay Devil Ray.

 Of course, Greg Maddux is our highlight, for being ultra-cool and awesome. And for the photo being the exact right moment in the windup.

 Three more huge 1999 stars. Craig Biggio ready to field, Sammy Sosa waiting for the call, and Ken Griffey Jr. at BP, carrying his checklist-surfboard

 Pack 10- Lots of very 90's people here.

 Juan-Gone and Grace were rounding out their tenures with their most notable teams. Gary Sheffield was juuust getting used to life in LA.

 Jamie Moyer was hitting 40, and also just becoming one of the best players in Seattle with his amazing age-defying pitching stuff. Johnny Damon was still mowing 'em down as a Royal.

 Pack 11- Very Met-heavy, this one.
 Charles Johnson landed in LA as one of the guys touted to replace Mike Piazza behind the plate. He didn't last long.

 One of my favorite photos in the set. Just Butch Huskey toweling off, looking really pissed.

 Double-Piazza Action. This was his first full season in Queens, and he quickly became one of the biggest stars in New York, and the case for his Cooperstown membership grew.

 Two great hitters who will probably never make the Hall of Fame. Giambi had some strong seasons in Oakland, and El Grande Gato hit well wherever he played.

 Pack 12- Lots of little oddities in this one, guys in unfamiliar uniforms.

 RANDY JOHNSON AS AN ASTRO. Not something you see everyday.
Meanwhile, Cal Ripken was still a standout in Baltimore in 1999.

 Hideo Nomo only played for the Mets briefly, but he's Hideo Nomo. He's pretty awesome. This Gold Medallion shot makes him look even awesomer.

 Pack 13- More than halfway through, and the box still has a lot of charm left.

 Remember Quinton McCracken? Wow.

 Robby Alomar's a landmark 2nd-baseman, and because of that I'll let it slide that he should have been pictured as a Cleveland Indian this card. Thankfully Jim Edmonds had one more year of being an Angel left before turning to the dark side.

 Pack 14- Lots going on here. Man, Fleer could really make a good product back in the day.

 Man, Ray Durham looks really excited.

 Not too many cards exist of Kenny Rogers as an Oakland A, but I love this one. He's wielding a bat and having fun, backwards-cap and all. Just so much character.

 Here's our Gold Medallion of Miggy Tejada, as well as a cool reminder of how nice the 90's Angels uniforms were.

 Of course I'm showing Orel. He's one of those guys I just started collecting out of admiration. Plus, he's a Giant here. Very rare sight.

 Pack 15- Ton of fun stars in this one.

 First, here's some cool shots of pitchers. Darryl Kile, focused as hell, and Bartolo Colon taking a breather. How the heck is Barty still playing 17 years after this card?

 Two Borderline HOFers. Vizzy has more of a chance though, as he's one of the best defensive players of the 90's. Larry of course also has a case as a hitting machine.

 Olerud's a sentimental favorite. He's not a Hall of Famer, but he's a fun little 90's player who played on some great teams ('93 Jays, '00 Mets, '01 Mariners, etc)

 And of course, here's Fred McGriff. Because it wouldn't be Mint Condition without him.

 Pack 16- Some great photography and a pretty rare insert.

 I love this card. The hell is Dustin Hermanson laughing at??

 Also, here's John Wettleland having a serious conversation with I-Rod.

 Our SUPER-AWESOME INSERT is a Thunderclap insert of NOMAR Garciaparra. When I said he was all over card products in 1999, I was not kicking.
 Here's the UD poster boy, Ken Griffey Jr, making another outstanding catch in center.

And here's the big rookie from 1998, Magglio Ordonez, looking cool.

I'll post Part 3 sometime before Friday, because Friday I'll be going out of town. For something pretty big that has to do with something pretty obvious going on next weekend.