The best part about the Islanders season, which ended in a heartbeat and a heartbreak Thursday, is that it was hard — impossible, even — to find even one member of the rank-and-file fan base who was anything other than utterly smitten by the team.
These are always the most fun seasons, after all — the ones that come out of nowhere, that fall from the sky and present themselves at your feet and all but announce: “This, dear friend, is why you care so much. Because every now and again you get a season like this one.”
And in an odd way, the fact the Islanders’ march ended shy of a Stanley Cup almost purifies the experience; any championship team, of course, is almost impossible to find fault with, but when you can have nothing but a feel-good vibe even without the big trophy? That’s a special season. And a rare one, too. In reverse chronological order from the past 25 years, here are the best of those kinds of years around here (suggestions on additions/omissions are, as always, welcome):
It was easy to joke about how the Islanders were the only people on earth who benefitted by the coronavirus shutdown, because they were trending in a terrible direction and seemed to be minutes away from playing themselves out of the playoffs before everything halted. Then, when play resumed … well, they were terrific. They won three playoff series (yes, I’m counting the play-in round) for the first time since 1984, and they were there — right there — with the Lightning. By the time it ended late Thursday night, it honestly felt that even Rangers fans were happy for the Isles. Though that was surely an optical illusion.
Rare is the time the Yankees can ever fall into this category, but three years ago they were still supposed to be neck-deep in a rebuild … and wound up with two cracks to make it to the World Series. Aaron Judge’s 52 home runs were the engine, but in his final year Joe Girardi also seemed to push every proper button, and the team simply found it within itself to come up big every time it was needed — the AL wild-card game, ALDS Game 3 against the Indians, ALCS Games 3-5 against the Astros. Fun team, fun ride.
There is a caveat here. Though the Mets’ run from July 31 or so through the NLCS sweep of the Cubs is met, even five years later, with approval from 99.7 percent of all Mets fans, there is an equal amount who will always lament the World Series loss to the Royals — a gritty and tested bunch who, player-for-player, had no business beating the Mets, surely not in five. But what came before that … that memory sustains.
After a middling season, the Rangers took a Game 7 at home against the Flyers and came from 3-1 down to beat the Penguins a Game 7 in Pittsburgh and, in so doing, New York became HockeyTown East for a few weeks, with Henrik Lundqvist the benign despot. The Canadiens fell in the conference finals, and there seemed little that could stop the King and his court from their destiny … until a team full of (L.A.) Kings did.
Rex Ryan thought they’d expired in Week 15 when they lost at home to the Falcons, but it wasn’t until the 14-0 Colts opted to mail in the second half the next week that things really took a turn. The Jets beat the Colts scrubs, beat the Bengals in consecutive weeks then won at San Diego before throwing a legit scare into Indy in the AFC Championship game. That one is still a little hard to believe.
Mostly because there was no warning that Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin and friends were about to become the most enjoyable team to watch in the NBA that season. Right up until the Lakers doused them with an ice bucket of water in the Finals, those Nets were a gift that came out of nowhere, giving life to the Meadowlands where precious little had existed before.
The Giants were scuffling along when Jim Fassel made his famous “my chips are on the table!” declaration, and the Giants caught fire, won their last five games, beat the contemptible Eagles then utterly destroyed the Vikings, 41-0, in the last NFC Championship game ever held at Giants Stadium. The Super Bowl … well, that’s best left unsaid.
The gold standard in this category, an 8-seed that entered the playoffs all but shunned by their fans and instead beat the Heat, beat the Hawks, beat the Pacers, turned their coach into a folk hero and turned the Garden into a nightly chorus of glory, replete with the Shakespearean ending of losing Patrick Ewing for the Finals against the Spurs.
Of all the wonderful Tom Seaver tributes that have been written, recorded and posted, the one absolute must is Art Shamsky’s podcast where Art, Jeff Idelson of the Hall of Fame, WFAN’s Bob Heussler and Ron Swoboda all share reminiscences. Find it wherever you download podcasts or at www.artshamsky.com.
There are certain coaches who are a pleasure to watch work. Erik Spoelstra is one of those coaches.
Speaking of the Heat, was I the only one who saw Bam Adebayo’s block of Jayson Tatum the other night and immediately thought of Roy Hibbert’s block of Carmelo Anthony, Game 6, 2013 East semifinals, which was literally the last competitive breath the Knicks have ever taken?
Come on and get here already, “Fargo.” We’ve all waited quite long enough.
Whack Back at Vac
Steve Harris: In regard to Saquon Barkley: Love the guy, hate the pick. Any way you look at the Giants you see the many bad choices they have made. They certainly kept Jerry Reese too long, but Dave Gettleman has not been a big improvement. Jones and Barkley look like studs, but they should since they taken were a 2 and a 6. Gettleman cleaned out the locker room but still hasn’t really improved the team.
Vac: It’s inevitable and human nature that we often judge our teams comparatively. The Jets gave the Giants cover last week. Unless things get better in Chicago today, that luxury isn’t a permanent one.
Bruce Welsch: If the Jets look as bad this Sunday as they did last week, I would be shocked if any fans show up for their next home game.
Vac: Oh, come on. You were thinking the exact same thing!
@alwaysdobetter: While a lifelong Yankee fan, I don’t hate the Mets. The best thing that Steve Cohen can do is hire Buck Showalter in some capacity. Almost like Stick Michael was to the Boss. His advice would be invaluable.
@MikeVacc: I’ve been a Buck Man since Day 1 so you don’t have to go a whole lot of convincing in this precinct.
Joachim Soriano: In this abnormal shortened season two things become evident for the Yankees: 1) Re-sign, first priority, DJ LaMahieu. He is a jewel; 2) Keep Clint Frazier. His bat is unquestioned. His fielding this year? Massive improvement. Do you agree?
Vac: I’d classify those two things as 1 and 1A on the Brian Cashman to-do list.
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