Savor the Giants’ 27-24 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. Because nothing — not Eli Manning, not your shiny 4-2 record, not the false hope of a Sunday victory over a team from Buffalo — changes this simple fact: The Big Apple is sliding into sports mediocrity.
New York City, the place with America’s largest collective ego and most rambunctious echo chamber, has a lot of things going for it. Its sports scene is no longer one of them.
The bloom is off the rose for the Jets. The Mets are a mess on and off the field. The Giants are a mediocre team trying desperately to impersonate a contender, a feat they accomplished Sunday despite sloppy play and silly play calling.
The Knicks are fun but not yet a real threat, not with the Heat and Mavericks and Bulls out there. And the New Jersey Nets are, well, awful. In either case, both teams play in a league that’s at a standstill. College sports are nearly non-existent here, and what does exist is a crumbling conference few care about.
The New York Yankees are in decline, just like the city’s sports scene. CC Sabathia will surely trigger an escape clause in his contract this winter, meaning the Yanks either pay him even more or watch him go somewhere else. The rest of their starting pitching is a joke; A-Rod and Mark Teixeira both had down years; and Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter are entering the downhill trajectory of their careers.
The best things about New York sports might be when non-New York teams come to town. The ACC could end up playing its conference tournament at the Garden; it still matters when LeBron or Kobe come to town; and the Packers bring their greatness to New York to play the Giants in Week 13.
So yes, indeed, New York: Savor Sunday’s win. Slap yourselves on the back. Pretend Vegas doesn’t know what it’s talking about (The Giants are 25-1 to win it all, making them squarely mediocre). Assume the idea that the best things always happen in the city that never sleeps.
There’s nothing like lying to yourself to keep the illusion alive.
I love New York. Love it. But this city, particularly in terms of its sports culture, has always had an over-inflated view of itself. New York too often takes a little too much pleasure in thinking about much of America — when it thinks about it at all — as flyover country.
Well, Big Apple, it’s time you look down. Maybe even stop for a while. Look around, take in the sights. Because flyover country is now the capital of sports success in America, and a reminder that you’re looking a little sluggish and out of sorts.
The reigning Super Bowl Champions are in Green Bay. The past two college football national champs came from Alabama. The past three men’s college basketball champions (North Carolina, Duke and Connecticut) had to beat teams from Michigan and Indiana to claim the crown.
Detroit is having a sporting renaissance, the reigning NBA champions play in Dallas, and the Rangers will compete in their second consecutive World Series this week.
Flyover country, every last one.
That’s the past and the present, but the future looks just as strong the farther you get from New York. The Rangers and Tigers seem poised to wrest American League dominance away from the Yankees and the Red Sox. Green Bay is the best football team in the country (yep, Vegas thinks so, too). And if and when the NBA returns, the closest New Yorkers will get to championship contenders will be when they go to Miami on vacation.
The days of New York Sports being overwhelmingly relevant — of the Jets continuing to flirt with the Super Bowl, the Yankees treating the AL like its personal playground, the Giants hoisting the Lombardi Trophy — have given way to big-city success in places like Texas, Wisconsin and Missouri.
Even the Giants’ win Sunday, while well-earned, spoke more to their mediocrity than to their stunning potential.
Buffalo made big plays out of nothing, often with the aid of New York’s defense deciding to test the theory that tackling is an important part of stopping the other team from scoring (the theory holds).
Too often, New York’s wide-open receivers dropped balls, the defense vanished and the Bills — a good but not outstanding team — broke off big plays. Thanks to Eli Manning’s nice afternoon (292 yards on 21-of-32 passing), Ahmad Bradshaw’s fine running game (104 yards on 26 carries and three touchdowns) and Corey Webster’s two interceptions, New York held on.
In fact, if not for Webster’s fine play with 4:10 left in the game, the Giants are probably 3-3. He plucked the ball out of the air on a drive that seemed destined to send Buffalo home winners.
“That’s a very good win at home,” head coach Tom Coughlin said afterward.
“A big win,” his quarterback said a few minutes later. “4-2. We feel good.”
They are good.
They’re just not great, and they’re way too close — particularly with games remaining against Green Bay, New England and San Francisco, as well as two against the Cowboys — to being something worse than so-so.
The Giants are not going to be anything beyond a mediocre football team this season, and perhaps for a while after that.
Just like New York City’s sports scene.
You can follow Bill Reiter on Twitter (@foxsportsreiter) or email him at email@example.com.