Thursday, April 25, 2013
Caveman with a van: Revisiting Norwood
By Stefan Marolachakis ESPN The Magazine
This week Stefan discusses the highs and lows of being a Bills fan.
Editor’s note: Drummer Stefan Marolachakis is traveling the country in a black van with tinted windows, touring for his band Caveman’s eponymous second album. Every week, Stefan will hunt the nation to gather musicians and athletes to discuss the link between the two clans. This week our caveman talks to Mike Bloch, guitarist of Here We Go Magic and his love for the Buffalo Bills.
I was lucky enough to attend Game 2 of the Knicks-Celtics series this week, and it brought me to emotional heights unseen since the early ‘90s. How appropriate, then, that shortly before tipoff my childhood heroes John Starks and Anthony Mason could be found standing at midcourt in the world’s most famous arena.
Why, you ask, was such hardwood royalty gracing the Garden crowd with their presence during the pregame ceremonies? Well, J.R. Smith was being recognized for having just one day earlier been named Sixth Man of the Year, and Mason and Starks are the two Knicks to have previously received the honor as well.
Mason. Starks. The two names inspire goose bumps in Knicks fans of a certain age. Their toughness is a thing of legend in New York, and to see them effectively pass the baton to J.R. just felt so right. Smith possesses the Starks gene -- that devil-may-care swagger resulting in a certifiably unshakable belief that he will make any shot he takes -- and under the tutelage of coach Mike Woodson he’s been able to turn that mad, frenetic energy into a banner year in New York.
This Knicks team has got to be the most entertaining one since the salad days of the mid-‘90s in which both Starks and Mason played a massive role (though, yes, I am also very partial to the Latrell Sprewell era). This season’s cast of characters produces offensively and shows up defensively in a way this city hasn’t seen in what seems like an epoch. One man with whom I’ve watched a fair share of this Knicks team is my friend Mike Bloch, guitarist in Here We Go Magic, who are performing this weekend at BAM as part of the Crossing Brooklyn Ferry festival. And while Mike is at this point an unabashed Knicks fan, he was a bit more conflicted in his early days, spent in New Jersey as the son of a father with deep Chicago roots, before later relocating to Buffalo.
“As a kid I had a big problem with New York teams, I’ll confess, because I lived in New Jersey and my dad was a big Chicago fan,” he said. Thankfully, he’s come around since then. “I feel like I’m allowed to inherit the Knicks as my team because Buffalo hasn’t had an NBA team since whenever that was, since way before I was there [that would be the Buffalo Braves, who split a while before Mike came to town]. So the Knicks are my basketball team.”
Mike moved up to Buffalo with his family in eighth grade. “You can say what you will about that being Bar Mitzvah age, when a man becomes a man,” he told me. “That was when I first used my own judgment about what team was going to be my team, and that was the first year of those four Bills Super Bowls. I lived in this new town, and the only good thing about that town -- to me, at that time -- was that every single person was into that team. Every single person watches every Bills game.”
As with his new neighbors, the fate of the Bills very much informed daily life for Bloch in his new town. “So I lived those four consecutive years of getting to the Super Bowl and losing," he said. "Four years in a row as soon as I moved. By the fourth time, you just can’t even believe it. I mean, you expect it but you also can’t even believe it. It’s kind of like some weird victory of statistics, in itself, I guess, so it’s a mixed emotion, but it’s just awful. The first one was the most heartbreaking, obviously, because that team was one of the best teams ever. And you can’t say that to anyone because they didn’t win. And that’s what’s unfair about sports. Because they were one of the best teams ever, no doubt about it.”
At this point I mention that Scott Norwood’s notorious missed field goal was actually a long kick, not an easy one as revisionist historians would like to have you think -- a comment for which Mike has a swift retort.
“It was a 47-yard field goal -- but it shouldn’t have come anywhere near that close!" he said. "The Bills blew everybody out that year, in the playoffs they beat every team by, like, 25 points. No one had ever done what they were doing with the no-huddle offense. They had an amazing defense, an amazing running back, this brilliant quarterback who could do no-huddle for the entire game, and four wide receivers who could run their offense. It was crazy. But, you know they lost. Them having been so amazing and still somehow losing to a way inferior team -- they were like eight-point favorites -- somehow sent them straight to hell. Because then they had to play the most disgusting team in the history of sports, the Dallas Cowboys, and lose to them twice.”
His tenure in Buffalo inspired a vitriol for a hodgepodge of ‘90s NFL squads, not just the Cowboys, but Bloch has a very mature take on the evolution of his sports fandom. “That’s what’s beautiful -- and I know most sports fans will think what I’m saying is awful -- you can go through different phases in life and appreciate teams you once hated," he said. "Eli Manning opened my eyes to the possibility that the New York Giants could be a benevolent force in the world, especially when repeatedly matched up against one of the other most disgusting teams of all time: The New England Patriots. The combined forces of the ‘90s Cowboys and Giants all got transferred to the ‘00s Patriots, probably my least favorite team of all time.”
That said, the renaissance in Mike’s New York sports fandom has definitely taken hold and he keeps up with the Knicks as best he can when he’s on the road. At times he has to get pretty inventive. “I have a BlackBerry -- a really crappy one -- so I can’t even watch anything on my phone," he said. "So sometimes I’ll just go to Knicks.com and refresh the score. I actually just watch the numbers go around; you watch the score change and imagine what might be happening. I’ve done that a lot of times on the road in the states.”
I asked Mike to weigh in on the fate of the Knicks this postseason. “I think that beating Boston is going to happen, which is huge," he said. "I think Indiana’s doable too.” Then we got to the prospect of a Knicks-Heat Conference finals. “That’s just going to be a completely pivotal moment in life," he said. "You know that, as a Bills fan, Miami is unacceptable as a sports town. For me the Heat are on the level of the Miami Dolphins, the Dallas Cowboys -- just completely despicable teams. There are few times when things line up this way: absolute evil vs. absolute good.” Mike is a poetic spirit and has no trouble seeing how high the stakes are in sports. Plus, he sees the Knicks as “absolute good,” so I fully buy into his line of thinking. I’ll let him continue.
“Carmelo [Anthony] has finally decided to play basketball and finally decided to act like the amazing player he is," he said. "It’s one of those things: this game is going to determine what the next few years feel like. That’s what it felt like in that first Super Bowl when it was Eli against Tom Brady. You knew that if the Patriots won that game, it just wasn’t going to feel good for a few years. I feel like the Bills having to lose the Super Bowl four times in a row made that whole era feel bad; when I think about it, I can’t think of much good that happened in my life in that time. So if this Conference finals turns out to be Knicks-Heat, that’s going to be one of those moments where it’s decided whether or not I’m going to have a good life for the next few years.”
CAVE DWELLINGS -- Knicks Playoffs Edition
• Before Game 2 of the Knicks-Celtics series, the crowd at MSG was treated to a tasteful rendition of the national anthem on classical guitar by none other than beloved former Yankee Bernie Williams! It goes without saying that Hendrix’s legendary performance of the national anthem casts quite a long shadow, and Bernie’s adult contempo version stood in stark contrast to it -- but the appearance of a New Yorker with some quality playoff experience under his belt, albeit in a different sport, was wholeheartedly welcomed by the crowd in attendance. You can check it out over at the Caveman with a van Tumblr page.
• The hall of heroes seated courtside directly next to the announcers’ table was as follows, in order from right to left: Patrick Ewing, John Starks, Louis CK, Stephen Wright. Then of course, the inimitable Spike Lee was in attendance, along with the one and only Mike D, aka Mike Diamond, aka “Clarence” of the legendary Beastie Boys.
• During a break in the game, the Garden had a segment in which the cameras searched the crowd for celebrity lookalike attendees. The most compelling one was, without question, the man the Garden staff decided looked like Michael McDonald. His salt and pepper beard was without equal.