By Jeff Freier on December 24th, 2009 10:33 AM
Christmas is all about comebacks and overcoming adversity against all odds. Ok, it’s really nothing about comebacks and overcoming adversity against all odds but is about love, peace on earth, goodwill toward men, opening presents, then drinking all day long and passing out underneath the tree as an ornament falls and pierces one of your eyeballs, sending you screaming down the street bloody, naked and in horrifying pain. Ah, Christmas. One of the brightest, heartwarming stories of the week, though, is Jonathan Bender’s return to the world of basketball after not playing a game in four years. And on top of it all, he’s been productive. The Knicks, too, are on the comeback trail after starting out at 1-9. Bender’s return after a long absence brings to mind other great comebacks. So, without further ado, here’s a random list of notable returns over the decades (and even centuries).
Gordie Howe retired after the 1971 season, then came back in 1973-’74 to play with his sons, Mark and Marty, lasting six years in the WHA with the Houston Aeros and New England Whalers followed by one last season in the sun in the NHL at the age of 51 with the Hartford Whalers. Jim Bouton wrapped up a nine-year career in the majors in 1970 (with the Yankees, Seattle Pilots and Houston), only to return to pitch five games in ’78 with the Braves as a knuckleballer, squeezing in time as a sports reporter and sitcom star (in Ball Four) in the years in between. Satchel Paige, after a long career in the Negro Leagues and five season in the majors with the Indians and St. Louis Browns, was brought back for one game as a publicity stunt by Charlie Finley at the approximate age of 59 (after not being on the field for 12 years) to pitch for the Kansas City A’s. One of the great actors of our time (or any time really), Craig T. Nelson starred in Poltergeist, All the Right Moves and Coach during the ’80s and ’90s, but then disappeared until his triumphant, should-have-been-award-winning return in Blades of Glory and as the warden in My Name is Earl. And, of course, we can’t leave out the greatest comeback of all – Jesus of Nazareth. I mean he literally rose from the dead for Pete’s sake (it’s not widely known, but before he ascended to heaven he threw three touchdown passes that day leading his team to victory in a must-win thriller).
Here are some of the top New York sports stories of the week. Sure, they might not rank up there with the Greatest Story Ever Told, but not every tale can be the best.
Playoffs? Plaaayyyoffs?! The Giants’ playoff hopes rose, as they gained a game on Green Bay, with their blowout win in Washington, while the Jets blew a golden opportunity to move up and away from the pack with their disappointing loss. Interceptions, missed field goals and penalties added up to a loss for Gang Green. And their great defense just can’t make the big stop at the end. That’s all she wrote for the Jets unless there’s a Christmas miracle in there somewhere. The Giants stomped all over division rival Washington, and now they need two wins and a loss by either Dallas or Green Bay. The odds are against them, but it’s not exactly miracle territory. And they hold the tiebreaker against those two teams.
Surging Knicks: They won on Friday vs. the Clippers, they won on Sunday vs. Charlotte and they won on Tuesday vs. Chicago. They’re doing it with defense, threes and spreading the ball around. It’s a different hero every night. And Mike D’Antoni’s tight rotation is working. Bender has cracked the lineup (though he suffered a mild injury the other night), but Nate Robinson may never play again with all this winning going on. He knows he’s not going to make it onto the court so he props up a cardboard cutout of himself on the bench before the opening tipoff and then goes to work at his part-time job at the Duane Reade on 33rd and 8th to make himself feel useful.
Entitlement: The only one questioning Wade-Gate at the garden with the Rangers is Wade Redden himself, who was clueless for the reasons of his benching. The overpaid defenseman has gone the opposite route as Nate, and has been using a cardboard cutout of himself while out on the ice, which explains his lifeless play the last few seasons. The fans aren’t chanting “We want Wade” but instead “We want Wade to go away.” Chris Drury, on the other hand, has responded the right way and completely turned his game around, as has the whole team. The Rangers are also on the comeback trail, with a four-game winning streak, and they played one of their best games of the year last night. With John Tortorella declaring the end of the entitlement era for the Rangers, does that mean he gets to scratch Glen Sather from his GM duties? Doesn’t the no entitlement thing apply to Sather, too?
Sawchukian: Martin Brodeur broke Terry Sawchuk’s shutout record, with his 104th this week. It would have been more impressive if, in a tribute to the old-time goalie, Brodeur wore the tiny pads that Sawchuk had to wear and also went maskless while attempting the break the record. Brodeur has now shattered just about every goaltending record that exists, which cements his status as one of the best ever. There’s no word yet on whether Sean Avery sent the Devils goalie a congratulatory text (“Hey Fatso . . .”).
Hot Stove: The Yankees struck again, by acquiring Javier Vazquez from the Braves for Melky Cabrera. If this means we’ll never hear John Sterling say “the Melkman!” again, then the trade will be worth it. As for the Mets, making a big splash for the sake of getting onto the back pages is not the way to go, so good for them for taking their time, but they do know that they have plenty of holes to fill, don’t they? There’s no rule that says you have to wait for Jason Bay to make up his mind before you can get some pitching. Or a catcher. Or anything else they may need. Or are they just hibernating for the winter? Maybe Omar Minaya‘s a “warm-weather” GM.
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