It's the End of the Year As We Know It
And I feel fine!
I'm looking forward to 2013. 2012 to me was a year of some strong ups and downs. On the one hand, I was able to enjoy some awesome times with my son, and we did some special things together, including going to see a Giants playoff game - the first ever playoff game for either of us. I got a new girlfriend, Basia, and I love her and feel blessed by her presence in my life! I got a new car, although the downside to that was it came after a car accident in March. Hell, it ended off by my attending perhaps the single biggest concert that ever existed in my lifetime, with the 12/12/12 concert (see the review posted on the 13th, if you're interested)!
Fiscal Cliffs Looms Near!
All the talk out of Washington lately has been about the "fiscal cliff", which we are just about set to reach as a nation, barring some last-minute deal by the two parties. Both parties blame the other for what appears to be an all-around failure, although polls have shown that a majority of Americans would blame Republicans more than Democrats.
Around the World
Israel - As always, it seems that this nation is always in the news of the world. Israel eased it's blockade of Gaza as it allowed a shipment of gravel intended for use in construction. It was the first such gesture by Israel since Hamas first took power in 2007.
Syria - Rebels here have managed to capture an oil pumping station in the northern province of Raqqa following days of fighting.
France - While the United States is struggling to try and raise taxes on the upper classes, France seems to be having the opposite problem. France's highest court blocked President Francois Hollande's attempt to raise taxes on the wealthiest citizens of the nation to 75%, claiming it was unconstitutional. It was a major part of Holland's platform, and is being viewed in the country as a stinging defeat. Hollande has been struggling with sagging popularity since his term started earlier this year. It was largely a symbolic gesture, and would not have raked in much money, but was intended to send a message. Now, it sends a very different message to the French people, as well as to those of the European Union in general.
United Kingdom - This seems to be the time when leaders the world over are being hospitalized. It's Nelson Mandela in South Africa, and George H. W. Bush in the United States. But in Great Britain, it's Margaret Thatcher. Much like Mandela and Bush, Thatcher was cleared and allowed to leave the hospital after getting a growth removed.
Latin America & Caribbean
Mexico - Officials in Mexico City, Mexico's capital and largest city, Mexico City, have decided to approve prison time for cases involving animal cruelty.
India - While the protesting has abated somewhat from the shocking gang rape that sparked unrest throughout the country, and particularly in New Delhi, the controversy had not yet ended. Awareness about violence against women has swept the country, and now authorities have added murder charges to the gang rape that provoked so much unrest throughout the nation, following the death of the 23-year-old woman. Six people have been arrested in connection to the incident, including the bus driver. The rape victim's body returned to New Delhi on Sunday for cremation.
Philippines - The government has signed into law a controversial reproductive health bill, as government funded contraception and sex education courses will begin in mid-January. There is plenty of opposition in this nation, which has tens of millions of Catholics. But the law seems to have put a decisive end to the debate - at least for now.
Pakistan - Islamist militants killed 41 people in a mass execution in two separate incidents on Sunday, following suggestions that Islamist militants had been defeated and broken. Shi'ites were especially singled out and targeted.
South Africa - I thought that this was interesting, and showed how the situation around the world seems to be similar almost no matter where you go. In this article by Patrick McGroarty ("In South Africa, Consumer-Debt Bubble Forms), we see that banks are beginning to seriously consider severe limitations to loans, as the nation seems on the verge of a financial crisis due to an already overly large, and growing, debt bubble in Africa's largest economy.
Kenya - Now, here's a story that I thought would definitely be worth posting! There are three dj's in Kenya that are fasting for peaceful voting in the nation. For many years, Kenya was seen as a model of stability and peace in a continent that was torn apart by war and strife. But in recent years, violence has become much more common in Kenya, and problems that had seemed to remain outside of it's borders for so long suddenly became relatively commonplace inside of Kenyan borders, as episodes of ethnic violence and disputed elections saw the nation making headlines for the wrong reasons. The fast went from December 19th until December 24th.
The last weekend of regular season play is always madness for the National Football League. Today, of course, was no different.
All of the AFC playoff teams were known heading into Sunday. What was not known, in any of their cases, was the exact seeds. Literally three teams could still clinch the top seed in the AFC going in. Houston would clinch outright with a win, while Denver would clinch with a win and a Houston loss. New England even had an outside shot, if both Denver and Houston lost, and they won.
If New England lost, and Baltimore won, they New England would become the fourth seed, because of the tie break that would go to Baltimore, having beaten the Patriots outright earlier this season. Finally, Cincinnati and Indianapolis were both vying for the fifth seed, often seen as easier, with Indy clinching it outright with a win, or Cincy with a win and an Indy loss.
Whew! Complicated, right? And that's just the AFC!
For the NFC, only four teams had clinched playoff spots, while the 49ers and Seahawks still were fighting for the NFC West title, while the Redskins and Cowboys met in a winner take all showdown for the NFC East spot. in the meantime, both the Redskins and the Cowboys, as well as the Bears, the Vikings, and the Giants, had hopes of qualifying for the playoffs, under various scenarios.
The Falcons already had clinched the NFC's top seed, but the Packers entered the weekend with the second seed, but needed either a win, or a San Fran loss, to clinch it. The 49ers had beaten Green Bay outright during the regular season, so with a win and a Packers loss, they would be the second seed. Whoever lost out in that, would be the third seed, while the NFC East champ would be the fourth seed.
Got all that?
Well, let me start with my Giants. I was mentioning on this blog recently how weird the Giants are. I mean, they are my favorite team, but they are weird.
Case in point, the final weekend of the 2012 Regular Season. After a 6-2 start to the season, the G-Men had lost five of their last seven games, and yet they still had an outside chance of qualifying for the playoffs officially this weekend, with a win and losses by the bears, the Vikings, and the Cowboys. Two of those things happened, but I will focus right now only on the one, most important thing: the Giants won. Boy, did they ever! Manning started off red hot, completing almost all of his passes, and managing to throw a personal best five touchdown passes. The defense played well, and New York dominated the Philadelphia Eagles, 42-7. It may have been their best, most solid all around performance the entire season. But they had some games where they played very well, such as in blowout wins against San Francisco and Green Bay, and those were far better teams.
Yet, the intrigue ended quickly, as the Bears hung on for a victory against the Lions, which immediately ended any hopes that the Giants would sneak into the playoffs. So, it was a bittersweet win.
If you look at history, no Super Bowl winning team has ever seemed to fall flat on their face the next season as the Giants consistently do. They have won the Super Bowl four times, and qualified it five times overall. Despite these undeniable successes, if you look at the following seasons, the results have been less than overwhelming. They have only managed to even qualify for the playoffs once in a year following a Super Bowl appearance, that being in 2008. And that year, the Giants looked like they were in true Super Bowl form early on, racing out to an 11-1 start, only to lose four of their last five games after wide receiver Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg, and seemingly derailed the season. They still managed to be the top seed in the NFC, yet that fourth loss in the five game span was to the Philadelphia Eagles, and the outcome was never really in doubt.
Otherwise, the Giants followed up the 14-2 Super Bowl championship season, in which they were a true juggernaut, with a dismal 0-5 start, en route to an embarrassing and long 6-9 season in 1987. It should be noted, however, that this was a strike season, and that three of those losses were from the replacement (scab) players. Still, thought, the Giants who had won the previous season's Super Bowl only managed a .500 record overall.
New York did enjoy Super Bowl success again not too long after that, starting off 10-0 in 1990 en route to a 13-3 record overall, then squeaking by the dynasty 49ers in the NFC Championship Game before holding off the powerful and favored Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV. But after a thrilling win against the 49ers to open the 1991 season, teasing Giants fans with hopes of a repeat championship season, the Giants had a mediocre rest of the year, finishing 8-8, and not even close to a playoff appearance.
The 2000 New York Giants kind of came out of nowhere. Expectations were not high, yet the team started off 3-0. They stood at 7-4, but were playing sloppy and seemed to be reeling, when head coach Jim Fassel guaranteed a playoff appearance. The G-Men then got red hot, winning out the rest of their regular season games to clinch the top seed in the NFC with a 12-4 record, then beating the Philadelphia Eagles in the divisional round, and crushing the high powered Vikings in a shut out, 41-0, in the NFC Championship Game, before being blown out themselves, 34-7, in Super Bowl XXXV. But the 2001 Giants season never got off the ground. if they had surprised people the season before with their accomplishments, they disappointed the same people with their lack of team accomplishments in 2001, although Michael Strahan did manage to get the all-time sack record.
I already mentioned the 2008 Giants, following the amazing 2007 championship run that saw the Giants become the first NFC team to win three games on the road, beating three consecutive division champs en route to the Super Bowl, where they stunned the previously undefeated New England Patriots, who had been flirting with greatness of a historical level.
Now, another disappointing year after another impressive run last season, that saw the Giants win the division (with a 9-7 record, the same as this year), and then take out the Falcons, the 15-1 defending Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers, the San Francisco 49ers, and finally, in a rematch of the Super Bowl four years earlier, holding off the high octane New England Patriots for another Super Bowl crown. This season, the Giants seemed to flirt with greatness at times, such as against the 49ers, the Packers, the Saints, and this weekend, against the Eagles. But the lapses proved very costly, and the Giants ship ultimately sank, well before the promised land was within sight, and even before reaching the shores of the playoffs.
It will be interesting to see what happens next, and how the Giants will respond next season. But this year, given the high expectations which served, ultimately, as a tease, can only be seen as a disappointment, overall. Last season ended with high fives and celebrations and championship parades in the city and in jersey. This season ended with sober answers to tough questions at the podium, as the team will regroup to focus on next season.
One thing should be noted, however, was that the Giants welcomed students from Sandy Hook for the game, in a very kind gesture.
Sticking with the NFC East (because somebody had to represent this division in the playoffs), the Cowboys, for the second year in a row, found themselves at 8-7 on the final weekend, and heading on the road for a Sunday Night Football game against a division rival in a winner takes all battle. Also, once again, the Cowboys lost that battle, as the Redskins won their seventh game in a row, digging out of a tough 3-6 hole to finish the season as division champs with a 10-6 record. They will host the Seattle Seahawks next weekend, who also managed to win this weekend against the Rams.
So, the Redskins nabbed the one playoff berth that was going to go to the winner of the NFC East, and the Bears victory in Detroit eliminated the G-Men. Yet, it was the Vikings very impressive win over the Packers, who themselves were fighting for the Number 2 seed and a playoff bye, that managed to clinch that final playoff berth. They did it behind the solid running of Adrian Peterson, who fell just nine yards shy of Eric Dickerson's long-standing, single-season rushing record. The win sets up a rematch between the two teams next week, this time at Lambeau Field.
The 49ers won against Arizona, clinching the NFC West and, with Green Bay's loss, the second seed and the playoff bye. Otherwise, the Panthers defeated the Saints, and Tampa Bay defeated Atlanta (and the Falcons suffered some key injuries to starters, making people question the judgment of playing the starters so long in what amounted to a meaningless game for them).
In the AFC, there was also a lot of intrigue, although all six playoff teams were already known. The Houston Texans had seemed to have the top spot in the AFC all locked up throughout the season. But they had played their worst football towards the end of the season, and amazingly, found themselves with the possibility of dropping from the top seed to the third seed on the final weekend. They needed to win at Indianapolis, which itself was trying to secure the fifth seed in the playoffs. The Colts came out on top, and after the Denver Broncos smashed the lowly Kansas City Chiefs to secure home field advantage, and the New England Patriots downed the Dolphins to secure the second seed, the Houston Texans had, shockingly, fallen to number three. They will now host the Bengals, who defeated the Ravens, in a rematch of last year's Wild Card match-up between the two, which the Texans won.
The Ravens, the struggling fourth seed, will host the red hot Colts in the other Wild Card game. In the other AFC Games, the Jets got blasted in Buffalo, the Titan knocked off the Jaguars, the Chargers outlasted the Raiders, and the Steelers ended their season with a win over Cleveland.
The Los Angeles Clippers, a franchise that has long been synonymous with failure, have done something truly unbelievable tonight. For a franchise that had been one of the most consistent losers and underachievers in sports history until just recently (until last season, for the most part), the Clippers defeated the Utah Jazz earlier tonight.
The significance? That extended their win streak to 17 games, and also allowed them to complete a full month of play with a perfect 16-0 record. They became only the third team in NBA history to do that. Only the 1995-96 San Antonio Spurs and the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers had managed to achieve that feat before the Clippers did it this month.
France - Ligue 1
Here are the standing in France Ligue 1 play, following this weekend of play, according to http://sports.yahoo.com/soccer/ligue-1/. There were no games this weekend, and will be none next weekend, either, as the league rests, ready to resume in mid-January.
Novak Djokovic will enter the Australian Open not only as the defending champion, but also as the favorite to win. Rafel Nadal made news by officially withdrawing from the Australian Open.
Finally, I thought that this article was very interesting, in the wake of the Newtown shootings. It is a story on Andy Murray, who many project to emerge as the number one men's player for 2013 (I would not be surprised at all). It is an article by Shane Bacon of Busted Racquet ("Andy Murray, part of 1996 school shooting, offers support for Sandy Hook"), that shows just how much character the star has. Murray was there as a school child in Dublane, Scotland, when there was a horrible shooting that left 16 very young students and a teacher dead. He actually knew the shooter!
Right now, I think, he is still best remembered for breaking into tears and addressing the home crowd at Wimbledon with a shaky voice after losing to Roger Federer in this year's final. But with the gold medal from the Olympic Games (against that same, dastardly Roger Federer), and then following that up with the US Open title, it's not hard to imagine that Murray will very soon be remembered more for his accomplishments, as the legacy of past failures recedes ever further.
Here's the link to the article: