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Closing the book on 2008

My final thoughts on the year that was:

2008 was a year of many highs and lows. I hope I feel differently in a month; right now, I'm just weary, and happy that Rutgers football survived a roller coaster of a 2008. I hope Greg Schiano and his staff can learn from all the mistakes they made this year, and try to avoid repeating a lot of them in the future.

Isn't the spotlight of New York City supposed to give Rutgers an edge? It didn't do much good for Kenny Britt this year. He was continually and comically snubbed for most post-season honors. The national media is obsessed with the SEC and Big XII (fair enough, although the gimmicky offenses in the latter greatly inflate offensive statistics), and the laughably overrated Big Ten. That factor, combined with being overshadowed by Ray Rice in 2007, and by RU's poor start this season, led to a relative dearth of accolades for what was truly a performance for the ages. Is Ryan D'Imperio going to fare any better next year?

The Star-Ledger (as an organization, as what transpired did not involve their sports desk) deserves the majority of the scorn that it has received during the past several months. It would not be a good thing if they go out of business, and I deplore any overzealous attacks from Rutgers fans that have truly crossed a line. Nor does the media have an obligation to provide friendly coverage; the free reign that many of the "amateur" programs receive in the South is utterly deplorable. When a program truly steps out of line, as Washington did under Rick Neuheisel, they deserve any scrutiny they receive. The Ledger has a right to dig around wherever it wants; when two reporters decided to be the hatchet man for a despised political hack, and largely invent a story out of thin air to satisfy one man's personal vendetta, they crossed a line. Rutgers and its athletic department are poorly governed and have no oversight. Any Rutgers fan could have told you that years ago. The sophistic narrative alleging any deliberate wrongdoing or unethical behavior is completely and wholly fictitious. The Ledger's credibility as legitimate news organization is now in the gutter.

Zoffinger, Margolin, Sherman, and Willse are not the only goats of 2008. Every fan of Rutgers football now has an obligation to work for the defeat of New Jersey Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan in the upcoming legislative primary and general elections for his unabashed, strong-armed meddling/blackmail in the ouster of outgoing Athletic Director Bob Mulcahy. I would add to the list any person (William C. Dowling and his likeminded compatriots, angry supports of the sports axed two years ago) who shamelessly tried to capitalize on the phony "controversy" to try and make a power play. They failed, utterly. If these individuals truly are as bitter and as foolish as they come off as being, and have no desire to work towards a better future for Rutgers University, then they deserve to continue being marginalized and ignored.

There are not many Richard McCormick fans at the moment, and for good reason. However, for one final time, I urge football fans to be the better people, and not stoop to the level of their adversaries. McCormick, along with like-minded administrators like Carl Kirschner and Barry Qualls, has a great vision for the future of Rutgers University. Athletics play a role; but even more important is what they have in store on the academic side and for the campus as a whole. The biggest impediment right now is resources. Now, more than ever, Rutgers University needs your support; both individually, and as a lobbying force. There's nothing good that can come from wasting more time on what, frankly, is stupid bullshit. I'm sick of hearing about all of this, and want it go away. I'm sure you do too.

Boy, Mike Rosario and Greg Echenique sure look promising. I wish they had a point guard.

Non-Rutgers thoughts after the jump, sports and otherwise.

For some, no sports memory will ever top Rutgers defeating Louisville in 2006. On this blog, I have made no bones about the fact that, along with Rutgers football, I obsessively follow the New York Giants. The whole sequence of events that unfolded in January and February - Aiming for New England's glass jaw in Week 17, Justin Tuck driving Tony Romo repeatedly into the turf (and watching the blank faces on Terrell Owens and Wade Phillips following that game), conquering Old Man Favre and Lambeau Field when no one believed in them, and then Super Bowl; that was, unquestionably, the greatest sports run that I have ever witnessed, and I don't think that it will ever be possible to top that.

Eli Manning did a fantastic job of coming back from the ledge (and later counseled Mike Teel on the experience) in the playoffs. Everyone remembers his escape and lob downfield to David Tyree during the Super Bowl. However, there was no greater fan moment than watching Plaxico Burress waltz into the endzone uncovered. Oh, Plaxico. At least we had Phoenix. The sheer euphoria following the win, with the parade down the Canyon of Heroes, and Michael Strahan retiring on top, that is a reminder to every fan out there about why we bother with this crap in the first place.

Even if you hate the Star-Ledger, any Giants fan simply must subscribe to Mike Garafolo's blog and read his daily dispatches on the state of Big Blue. In my book, he's the best sportswriter in the tri-state area. As a long term reader, I think that he has come into his own during the past year. He's on a hot streak rivalling the Giants in last year's playoffs, or Rutgers football in the second half of this past season. His colleagues agree, as Garafalo was justly awarded by the Ledger as a co-winner of its award for being the paper's top reporter during the past year.

Who would have ever imagined that the Devils would not only survive the loss of Martin Brodeur, but thrive? These aren't the trap-happy Devils of old. Zach Parise is one of the most gifted players in the game.

It wasn't the greatest year for the Yankees. I supported not dealing Phil Hughes for Johan Santana, but the team quickly grew impatient and is back to their free-spending ways. Well, love them or hate them, at least we should be talking about them again next October. At least they didn't make the possibly catastrophic mistake of not leaving Joba Chamberlain as a starter.

Speaking of Johan, it sure was fun to watch him at times, even though he received far too much scrutiny for events completely out of his control. Bringing Brett Favre to New York didn't work out nearly as well.

It was a trying year to be a Nets fan, with the team largely jettisoning its core outside of Vince Carter. New addition Devin Harris is breaking out, but this very young team still struggles at home and is focusing a bit too much on 2010 at the moment. Can they stop the silly talk about Brooklyn and just move to Newark already? That was a pipe dream even before the credit market collapsed. Speaking of which, I sure I'm not the only one here hoping that the taxpayer boondoggle known as Xanadu/Mt. Zoffinger comes to a painful and humiliating end.

The financial meltdown dominated the headlines this year like no other issue. It's not an oversimplification to say that it was all about greed; greed blinded everyone into believing that they were invincible and that established, basic principles about risk didn't apply to them. They had beaten the system.

TARP and other attempts to stem the bleeding were largely ineffective, and completely lacking in oversight. They also essentially gutted moral hazard; the message being, get too big to fail, because then there will be no choice but to bail you out. And you know what, there isn't really a choice. We're not facing the Great Depression. However, we are facing something like the Panic of 1873 (which took decades to recover from), or Japan's recent economic crisis (which started in the early 90s, and they've only recently begun to dug themselves out of). It's obvious that the nation's top economic planners are closely following the latter, as "ghost banks" developed that weren't dead, but not really alive either. They were too worried about staying viable to take on any risk at all, and the credit markets completely froze up. Credit for the economy is analogous to gasoline for an automobile; you simply need it to function on any level.

Everyone is taking a hit. Wealth is useful for making a splash and cutting through red tape and hurdles. The financial industry in the New York/New Jersey area generates an awful lot of tax revenue. It sure would have been nice to have more assistance in funding the Rutgers Stadium expansion. It's not easy for the middle class, with rising costs (education is a real killer) squeezing the bottom line from all sides, and it's not easy out there for the youth who are just starting out (ahem). The working class and poor have it worst of all; their traditional safety nets are feeling heavy strain, as local charities and food banks are being stretched to the brink by record levels of demand.

I fear that the pain is going to be relatively long-term, and the worst may be yet to come. Things aren't pleasant for any sector; "recession proof" industries such as sports, entertainment, and even vice are going to get hit relatively hard. There's no bubble that cannot be popped eventually. Newspapers around the country are hurting as much as any industry; outside of national broadsheets and a few popular local tabloids in large metropolitan markets, the physical paper medium itself may not exist in five-ten years. Everything will be online.

I see things playing out like this: there will be some innovation at the top, with elite freelancers continuing to carve out niches on the internet; e.g., Huffington Post, Politico. Blogging and other other grassroots forms of reporting will continue to grow in popularity. There will be a fair amount of valuable content, which will end up getting cannibalized by the first group; and a large amount of the clutter and nonsense that journalism idealists fear and dread. A lot of the survivors of the coming upheaval will drastically cut overhead, forcing mass buyouts, outsourcing a lot of content, and leaving the rest to interns, freelancers, and anyone else they can justify not giving health insurance. Finally, I envision a rise in "pseudo-journalism", which essentially will be public relations materials guised as independent reporting, with tight controls on all aspects of stories.

That's scary for a lot of people, and I certainly see all the drawbacks. I think my generation is a bit more transient though. We never expected to stay at one company for our entire lives, we never expected security a any point. We don't "accept" this per se, but we're resigned to it. That's the kind of life style that we've been conditioned towards for the past two decades.

Wall Street and War are two good topics to keep you up at night. However, by far the worst individual moment of the year was when I discovered that the esteemed writer David Foster Wallace, long suffering from clinical depression, decided to take his own life. If you're not familiar with his work, you should be. He was an enormously gifted person, probably the voice of his generation. Do yourself a favor in 2009, and make a resolution to visit a local library and check out some of his works. As hard as this loss was to deal with, there's still an unprecedented level of joy in his writing, and you're really depriving yourself if you haven't experienced it. What a terrible, unparalleled loss.
It's hard not to be a pessimist when, in the past year, the bad news just seemed to keep coming and coming. Sports and entertainment are supposed to be an escape, enjoyable diversions. Well, those plans got a cold dose of reality last year, when the Writers Guild of America strike disrupted the network television season. I think it did irreparable damage to network television in particular. A lot of vulnerable shows were dealt a fatal blow by the strike, and NBC's resulting moves to drastically cut costs are creating a landscape that younger viewers (read: me) are rapidly losing interest in. A funny thing happened on the way though; even with the sudden and rapid decline of HBO, we're living in a golden age of cable television, spurred on by risk-taking channels such as FX and AMC.

WGA/AMPTP sparring created a void that was, strangely enough, filled by the presidential primaries. What were expected to be sleepy coronations of Hillary Clinton and John McCain quickly became rife with enough intrigue and drama to, combined with the whole "horse race" aspect, largely qualify as a sport. We all followed the twists and turns, including the endless well of comedy generated by Ron Paul and Mike Gravel supporters. The primaries ended far too soon; with the GOP unable to resist its urges for a coronation, Mrs. Clinton unwilling to take the fight for the nomination to the convention floor. The rEVOLution promised blood in the streets in St. Paul, and they failed to even deliver on that! The general election was a relative bore in comparison, and portions of it were actively unengaging. Ultimately, it ended with a whimper when the housing bubble burst, taking Fannie, Freddie, Lehman, AIG, and McCain with it. And when that drama ended, us plebians were expected to watch unmitigated crud like Knight Rider? Pass.

When I started typing this entry, I wasn't expecting for everything to be so overwhelmingly negative. Huh. Here's hoping for better in the coming year.