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Here’s why I love Mets, Cowboys, Jacks & Suns

by Jason Stone


People have sometimes asked me to list my favorite teams. I’ll do it one better. I’ll rank them.

Here are my favorite teams in each sport, with an explanation why.

1. New York Mets (MLB)

The Mets top my list because for some reason they are the only team that still makes me cry as an adult. I am more of a fair weather fan with my other favorite teams (Yeah, I’ll admit it!). But for some reason I follow the Mets from afar no matter how crappy they are — which is most of the time.

I began following the Mets in the late-70s after living in Flushing and visiting there every year. I didn’t really become a big fan until 1983, right as the monster teams were coming. By the time “Doctor K” Dwight Gooden was dominating the world in 1985, I was hooked. And we all know what happened a year later.

I feel the team is on the verge of something special again in the next year or two, but I don’t want to openly jinx it yet. After all, the exhibition games haven’t even started yet.

2. Dallas Cowboys (NFL)

It’s really hard to be a Cowboys fan. Mostly because of the harassment that comes from other people. It’s usually better to keep it on the down low.  But this has been a lifelong love since living outside of Dallas for a good part of my childhood.

They were the first team I was ever exposed to in the late 1970s, and I can’t seem to shake them now — no matter how frustrating the fan experience has become in the Jerry Jones era.

One of my favorite personal moments was being a reporter during Super Bowl XXX when the Cowboys beat the Steelers. I got to be in the locker room as my favorite childhood team celebrated their fifth championship.

Unfortunately I kind of made a deal with the football gods that experiencing that was enough.  Twenty years later I’m kinda wishing I never made that deal.

 

3. NAU Lumberjacks (NCAA — alumni division)

Well, I did drop a lot of money at the place as a student for four years, after all.

Nobody really cares about NAU sports, but for some reason there I am every Saturday in the fall listening to that week’s football game, or picking up whatever midweek basketball game happens to be going on during the winter.

I figure since I actually go out of my way to find NAU content, that must mean they’re high up on my list. I just wish more people cared because it sure is lonely being a fan of a team nobody even knows exists.

 

4. Phoenix Suns (NBA)

I can’t even watch the NBA unless it’s a Suns game. But I’ve invested so much emotional energy over this team — John F-ing Paxson and Robert F-ing Horry’s hip-check into Steve Nash to name two — that I just can’t bail on them yet.

Because of years of near-misses and the above-mentioned bad fortune, they deserve a championship more than any of the teams that I follow.

The 1992-93 season was the peak. Even living 150 miles away in Flagstaff, cars all over the town had windows painted with support for the Suns. I can’t even imagine what it was like in Phoenix that summer.

If there is anything right in this world, the Suns will win it all — someday.

5. ASU Sun Devils (NCAA — non-alumni division)

I began following the Devils’ football and baseball teams when my family moved to Arizona in 1984. That was just in time to catch the 1986 and 1996 Rose Bowl seasons, which were thrilling.

I still think Jake Plummer was ASU’s best player ever, but what do I know. Just seconds away from a national championship in ’96!! Oh, the agony!

As for ASU baseball, I used to love going to those games in high school in what is now former Packard Stadium. I went to most of the home games during the 1990 season. I thought for sure center fielder Mike Kelly was going to be a major league Hall of Famer. I still have never seen a player that good who wasn’t in the majors.

6. Arizona Coyotes (NHL)

I never really followed hockey closely until the Coyotes moved to Phoenix in the mid-1990s. Prior to that I had always lived in places that didn’t have hockey, and before the Internet, you needed a local team to get any kind of regular content in the daily newspapers.

So, I adopted the team that was the Winnipeg Jets, who became the Phoenix Coyotes, and then this season, the Arizona Coyotes.

The Coyotes’ playoff run to the Western Conference Finals three years ago was about as fun of a couple weeks of sports as I’ve ever experienced. Anxiety was high during every game. I would pace up and down aisles at sports bars — and even got to see a couple of the games in person for their famed “White Out.”

7. USA men’s soccer team (other division)

This is a weird one, I know. Not to sound non-patriotic but I don’t generally care if any USA teams or athletes win anything in the Olympics or whatever. I figure, we dominate everything anyway, what does it really matter if we win another.

It’s different with the U.S. men’s soccer team, though. They are still the ultimate underdogs. (I mean, U.S. fans are typically out-numbered even in home games!) Plus, every four years there is a team to root for in the World Cup, which is probably my favorite non-annual sporting event.


Best of the Rest

Arizona Cardinals (NFL)

It’s much easier to be a Cardinals fan since they moved out of the NFC East more than 10 years ago. It was an unbelievable month in January 2009 when it appeared for about 51 seconds that the Cardinals were going to win the Super Bowl. It still seems weird that they were THAT close. I have seen most of this team’s games since they moved to Arizona in 1988, so it’s hard not to like them.

Texas Rangers (MLB)

I don’t follow them on a day-to-day basis, but from the late-70s until the early-90s they were my favorite team, alongside the Mets. This was back in the days when you could have a favorite in both the American and National leagues.


Teams I Used To Like

Dallas Mavericks (NBA)

Before moving to Phoenix, I was a big Mavericks fan during their first three or four seasons in the league. Of course, they were the worst team in the NBA during that time, so I never got to enjoy them winning anything. And since I became a big Suns fan, they became the enemy quickly.

New York Yankees (MLB)

I liked the Yankees for exactly one year. During the 1981 season, I attended my first game at Yankee Stadium, which just so happened to be the first game after the infamous players’ strike that year. Between 1977 and 1981, the Yankees played the Dodgers three times in the World Series, and because I identified with the East Coast more at the time, I sided with the Yankees. Of course, the one time I root for the Yankees is the one time they don’t win.

Phoenix Giants/Firebirds (MiLB)

Yeah, I actually had a favorite minor-league team back in the day.  The Giants (later named the Firebirds) were the AAA affiliate for the San Francisco Giants and they played their games at Phoenix Municipal Stadium when the first pitch temperature was usually around 107 degrees. The best part of those games: the nachos! I can still taste them 30 years later.

Apollo opens playoffs with home win

Rarely does a non-scoring play in the first half change a football game.

But Glendale Apollo got that one play in Friday’s Division II first-round home game against Phoenix Horizon.

Moments after scoring a game-tying touchdown in the final seconds of the half, Apollo’s Josh Turner put such a ferocious hit on Horizon’s kick returner, it caused his mouthpiece to fly 10 yards behind him.

Apollo celebrated as it ran into the locker room, and turned that excitement into a 24-20 win.

“That certainly helped our momentum,” Apollo coach Zack Threadgill said. “We’ve never covered a kick better than that.”

It may go down as the most talked-about kickoff coverage play in school history, but it didn’t totally diminish other big plays Apollo (10-1) made in order to advance to next week’s second round.

With the game tied at 7, Braxton Nickerson picked off a pass and returned it inside the Horizon 20. A Rodrigo Hernandez field goal gave Apollo a 10-7 lead.

After Horizon (8-3) missed a field goal attempt of its own on the ensuing possession, Apollo put the pressure on with a quick four-play, 80-yard drive.

Nico Bayless, who rushed for 100 yards and two touchdowns, scored his first one on a 19-yard run to put Apollo up 17-7.

Horizon hung around with an 11-play scoring drive that ate up almost five minutes. Charlie Quinn’s 1-yard plunge cut the score to 17-14 with a little more than 5 minutes left in the game.

But Bayless became a workhorse, carrying the ball 10 times on an 11-play scoring drive that ate up almost all of the remaining time, and gave Apollo a 24-14 lead.

Horizon scored on a 50-yard Hail Mary pass on the final play.

Apollo will now try to avenge last year’s playoff loss as it travels to Oro Valley Ironwood Ridge.

“We’ve got some kids who are experienced with the bus ride down there so hopefully it helps us,” Threadgill said.

Millennium dominates Willow Canyon

The playoffs started a week early for Goodyear Millennium and Surprise Willow Canyon.

The winner of Friday night’s Division II game knew it would likely be heading to next week’s playoffs. But Willow Canyon’s home crowd only saw one team ready for the playoffs, and it wasn’t theirs.

Millennium avenged last year’s season-ending loss to Willow Canyon — which kept it out of the playoffs — with a convincing 27-7 win that wasn’t even that close.

“I’m so proud of the team,” Millennium coach George Martinez said. “We told the team that this was their first playoff game. Last year they beat us, but I knew we had to get payback somehow.”

Millennium (7-3) thought it may have wrapped up a playoff spot last week in another game in Surprise. But a late 21-7 lead at Valley Vista turned into a heartbreaking loss. However, there was no doubt about Millennium’s return trip to Surprise.

633436With a dominating defense and a ball-control offense, Millennium jumped out to a 19-0 first-half lead and didn’t allow Willow Canyon’s offense to get untracked all night.

At one point in the fourth quarter, Willow Canyon (5-5) still had minus-7 total yards and only two first downs. It wasn’t until trickery on fourth down — a double pass — that got Willow Canyon out of negative territory.

Martinez credited the game plan of defensive coordinator Jason Randels.

“The kids love playing for this guy,” Martinez said.

Millennium was able to hold talented running back Antony Thompson in check all night. The senior came into the game with 1,322 rushing yards and 20 total touchdowns, but was able to amass only 64 yards rushing in this game — 50 of which came after Millennium was already up by 27 points.

Willow Canyon quarterback Tristan Madden was sacked seven times in the game, including three by junior linebacker Dwayne Gaither.


Published at azcentral.com • Oct 26, 2012

Defense comes up big in Cactus win

 

Glendale Cactus has been riding its defense all season long. That didn’t change Friday night in a big Division III win at high-scoring Peoria Sunrise Mountain.

Sunrise Mountain was able to move the ball all night, but when it mattered most, Cactus’ defense came up big in a 49-28 win.

Cactus (7-2) held Sunrise Mountain to nearly half its season average and never gave up a lead it took just before halftime.

“To hold them to 28 points is a hell of a job,” Cactus coach Larry Fetkenhier said. “They’ve scored a lot of points against everybody.”

Cactus was able to score more in this one as it capitalized on some key Sunrise Mountain mistakes.

One play after Sunrise Mountain fumbled on its first snap of the second half, Cactus’ Jaylon James took a run in 22 yards for a touchdown to give Cactus a 27-14 lead.

Sunrise Mountain answered with a 13-play scoring drive to stay within a touchdown. But Cactus kept some distance as David Neel returned the ensuing kickoff 65 yards for a touchdown and a 35-21 lead after a 2-point conversion.

Sunrise Mountain was able to mount another long drive to get back within a touchdown at 35-28, but Cactus’ defense gave up no more.

First, Cactus forced a fumble and turned it into James’ third rushing touchdown. Then on Sunrise Mountain’s next possession, two drive-killing sacks gave the ball back to Cactus.

Cactus ultimately had to punt, but Sunrise Mountain muffed it, setting up Cactus deep in Sunrise Mountain territory.

James’ fourth touchdown two plays later iced the victory and made the game look like more of a blowout than it was.

Sunrise Mountain (7-2) outgained Cactus by about 200 yards, but that was no comfort to Sunrise Mountain coach James Carter.

“We can’t have turnovers against a good team,” Carter said. “And we had too many missed tackles.”

Cactus’ defense stepped up big at the end despite playing most of the game without talented defensive back Anthony Alcala.

Alcala was ejected in the first half for throwing a punch at a Sunrise Mountain player in a tackle pile. He will have to sit out next week’s big game against Peoria Liberty.