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Month: June 2015

Hawk-ey in Chicago is dynastic

Sitting in my living room last night, feet extended on the chaise — chaaaaaise — with my MacBook perched atop my lap, I watched the Chicago Blackhawks complete the improbable feat of winning their third Stanley Cup championship in six seasons. To say we were witnessing history is a bit clichéd and dramatized, but it’s true. For a team to win so many titles in a short period of time in a salary-cap era is very rare.

Three is a magic number, and not just in a weird Schoolhouse Rock sort of way. In professional sports, when a franchise wins its third championship in a short period of time — and that period of time isn’t clearly defined — the word “dynasty” enters into discussion. But what exactly is a dynasty?

By definition and throughout history, a dynasty is a ruling family, one which has control over its domain for a prolonged period of time. But typically, those dynasties are ones that do not lose control throughout their durations. I’m no history buff, but usually a governing body that loses control will not regain control at a later date. The Ming Dynasty of China ruled for 276 consecutive years. I’d hardly call Grover Cleveland — the only U.S. President to serve two nonconsecutive terms — a dynastic ruler. And even if former Florida governor Jeb Bush wins the 2016 U.S. presidential election, I would not refer to the past three decades as a Bush Dynasty in the history of American culture.

Sports dynasties are a bit different. A team need not win consecutive championships to be considered a dynasty, at least in my opinion. Feel free to disagree. If a team is a perennial championship contender and wins three titles in a small window, that certainly qualifies them for dynastic rule.

Who are the other recent sports dynasties? We’ll keep it in hockey for now. The Los Angeles Kings were 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup champions and have a chance to enter that conversation if they can win again in the next two years. In fact, the last four hockey champions in descending order are the Blackhawks, Kings, Blackhawks, Kings. The Detroit Red Wings won three titles from 1997 through 2002. Led by “The Great One,” Wayne Gretzky, the Edmonton Oilers dominated in the 80s, winning five titles between 1984 and 1990. The Oilers Dynasty was preceded by the New York Islanders Dynasty, which won four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980 through 1983, and the Montreal Canadiens Dynasty which won four consecutive championships from 1976 through 1979. Prior to that, the league was fairly watered down with anywhere from the Original Six teams to 16 teams. It’s hard to be a dynasty with less competition.

In the NBA, the Miami Heat recently had a chance to be a dynasty but, let’s face it, LeBron James is not as good as Michael Jordan. Instead, the San Antonio Spurs added a fifth title to their dynastic reign over the last 15 years. The Los Angeles Lakers won three consecutive titles at the beginning of last decade and also five championships in eleven years. And, of course, the most powerful dynasty since the Lakers in the 80s and the Celtics in the 60s was the Jordan Dynasty of the 1990s, when His Airness won two separate three-peats and six titles in eight years.

In baseball, the San Francisco Giants have won three World Series in the last five years. The Boston Red Sox are a bit more of a stretch, having won three Series titles in a span of ten years — this coming after the Curse of the Bambino allegedly prevented them from winning a title in 86 years. And the New York Yankees won four championships in a five-year span from 1996 to 2000.

The Chicago Cubs, meanwhile… no chance at a dynasty.

In the NFL, dynasties are a little more difficult to come by, because it’s a league full of parity and the only sports league that gives legitimate hope to a team that is awful one season to be able to rebound in short order and be competitive again soon — unless you’re the Cleveland Browns.

The New England Patriots own the most recent dynasty in the NFL, winning three Super Bowls in a four-year span last decade. The Dallas Cowboys won three titles in a four-year span the decade before that. The San Francisco 49ers won three titles in the 1980s and the Pittsburgh Steelers won four Super Bowls from 1975 through 1980.

So, where do the Blackhawks rank in the history of dynasties? Too difficult to even begin to slot them. They’re not as dominant as, say, the Bulls, Lakers, Celtics, Cowboys, and Steelers of their eras. But given that they play in a salary cap era when it’s more difficult to sustain success, I’d say their accomplishments are more impressive than some of the recent baseball dynasties. And even though the Spurs have been so good for so long, I’d say three Stanley Cups in six seasons is more impressive than five NBA championships in 15 years (however, the Spurs did win three titles in five years from 2003 to 2007).

There may be no clear, indisputable king of all dynasties, but it makes for good sports chatter.

In the meantime, Hawks fans, savor the times we live in now because greatness doesn’t last forever, and it could be a long time before the Bears, Bulls, Cubs or White Sox reign atop their respective leagues.

Yeah, man … a Caribbean honeymoon

Antigua 2015 A Caribbean honeymoon on the island of Antigua.

Following a wedding too beautiful for any words to accurately describe, there’s only one destination a newly-minted married couple logically could go for a blissful honeymoon to celebrate its union.

And when Rachel put the kibosh on a trip to Canton, Ohio, for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the wife and I instead headed south for the small island of Antigua, located on the eastern edge of the Caribbean Sea. It’s pronounced an-TEE-ga (not an-TEE-gwa … the “u” is silent) as we would later learn upon arrival.

 

A view of Antigua's Verandah resort's main beach. A view of Antigua’s Verandah resort’s main beach.

YA, MON (the correct way to say, “yeah, man”), this place will do!

We loaded the car and headed to the airport in the wee hours of Memorial Day morning — I didn’t even know there was a 3 a.m. — and departed for a stop in Miami before continuing on to Antigua. The layover in the Sunshine State was nice because it broke up a normally six-plus-hour flight into two nearly-identical shorter trips. The plan was for us to watch a movie together for each flight, but we passed out cold during the first one while operating on just a couple hours of sleep.

Having never been out of the country before, I got to experience my first trip through customs. Long lines, lots of waiting, employees who seemed to want to be anywhere else but there, strange forms and probing questions. It felt like a trip to the DMV.

My first bit of culture shock came after we exited the airport and approached the line of taxicab vans waiting to haul tourists to their various resort destinations.

First, we received a slip of paper that gave us the price of the one-way trip … in East Caribbean dollars, the island’s official currency. One US dollar equals about 2.7 East Caribbean ones, so the astronomical price really catches you off guard the first time you see it — hmm, maybe we should walk to our resort. Thankfully, because their country thrives on the dollars of foreign tourists, they listed US dollars as well.

 

Next, we climbed in the van — driver in the front right of the vehicle — and cruised along on the left side of the road. It really freaks you out the first time you see oncoming traffic in the other lane — you know, the lane you feel you’re supposed to be in. It felt like the wrong side of the road to us, but to the British tourists and Antigua locals, it was normal. We were the American oddballs.

Perhaps what struck me as most odd about the driving in Antigua was the utter disregard for — and lack of — rules of the road. There were hardly any signs on the road and almost no lane markers to be seen, at least not in the less populated areas of the island. The drivers often shade toward the middle of the road and the only rule they abided by was don’t hit the oncoming traffic. Fortunately for us, our drivers succeeded.

I was a little surprised at some of the more run down areas of the island as we drove to our resort. When you think of Antigua, the Caribbean, or any kind of island getaway, for most people the first thing that comes to mind is “fun in the sun.” You get visions of warm air, clear skies, clean water and beautiful beaches. What you don’t expect to see are old, beaten-down shacks, stray animals wandering around, and residents — many of whom have little income and not much to do to fill their days — sitting on chairs on their porches or standing idly beside the road. We Americans often take for granted how good we have it and seem to let the imagery of tropical vacations cloud our view of what life is really like for many of those who live on these islands.

The resort we stayed at was on the east side of the island, a good half hour or so drive from the airport. I’m not going to lie; when we first arrived on site, we weren’t wowed by what we saw. That’s not to say we didn’t think it was beautiful. We must’ve had a different vision in our minds from the pictures we saw on the resort’s website when we booked the honeymoon many months ago. Even now as I take a break from writing this and peruse their website’s pictures, I can tell that they’ve been touched up or doctored a little. I wasn’t unhappy by any means — who could be on their honeymoon in the Caribbean? I’m just reporting an observation I had while there.

 

A look at the outside of our hotel room. A look at the outside of our hotel room.

Housekeeping still was preparing our room upon our arrival, so we decided to walk around and see what we’d be calling our home for nine days. They had tennis courts and a mini-golf course, ping pong and billiards tables, shuffleboard and foosball, two pools, two beaches, boating, a fitness room, a spa, a few bars and four restaurants. Only one of the restaurants was open for lunch at that point, so we sat down on a deck overlooking a bay that leads out to the Atlantic Ocean.

Admittedly, I was still in a bit of culture shock at that point. I’m not someone who understands very well those who speak with accents, so I had trouble comprehending what they were saying. Additionally, some of the employees there seemed less than affable, so I wasn’t prepared for that. It didn’t seem like the most welcoming situation.

 

Antigua's ugly black birds will steal your food if you're not paying careful attention. Antigua’s ugly black birds will steal your food if you’re not paying careful attention.

The food at that particular restaurant was pretty good — after we got used to having birds whiz past our heads and try to grab food off our plates — and over the course of our trip we found ourselves going there frequently for the self-serve soft drinks and nachos, and we ordered ice cream a few times as well. They served a jumbo grilled hot dog there that rivaled the taste of the franks you might get at a ballpark.

After lunch, we finally were able to get into our room, unpack, and get into our Caribbean gear. Finally, it was time to unwind and settle in.

 

A look at our king-size bed (left) and bathroom (right) adorned with some flowers for our honeymoon. A look at our king-size bed (left) and bathroom (right) adorned with some flowers for our honeymoon.

We spent most of our days lounging by one of the two pools at the resort — the main pool and the adult pool. The main pool was bigger with more seating options, was in a Wi-Fi hotspot, and had quick access to the main bar for all sorts of drink concoctions that they served. The adult pool was smaller, but quiet and peaceful because no kids were allowed, and those who went to that pool all were there for one common goal: relaxation.

 

A small waterfall at the quiet, peaceful adult pool. A small waterfall at the quiet, peaceful adult pool.

The first night we were there, we crashed at the main beach with drinks in our hands and watched the sun disappear below the horizon line. Our intent was to check into paradise and check out from the rest of the world for awhile — which we did for the most part, but found some time each day to sit in a hotspot and check Facebook to see what was going on in the wake of our wedding festivities.

 

Cheers to our honeymoon! Lounging on the main beach as dusk approaches. Cheers to our honeymoon! Lounging on the main beach as dusk approaches.

One of the things we learned the hard way was it’s not enough to simply put sunscreen on in the morning and then call it a day. You should always re-apply sunscreen throughout your time in the sun anywhere on Earth, but particularly in the Caribbean, we learned. The first couple days on the island, we walked around looking like Mr. Tomato and Mrs. Cherry.

While lying poolside with a cold drink in hand and reading a book might seem like a great way for rest and relaxation, we knew we wanted to change things up a bit and explore what else Antigua had to offer. So we planned two excursions for our visit: a day of adventure and a night on a boat.

The adventure day took place the fourth day we were there. We got an early start and were picked up by a taxi and taken to our first activity: zip-lining. I had never gone zip-lining before so I didn’t know what to expect. Something about being suspended in a harness dozens to possibly hundreds of feet off the ground never really appealed to me. But I thought I’d give it a try. My wife didn’t have to do too much prodding.

Once again, the language barrier — or, at least the accent discrepancy — became a challenge. For the most part, I was able to understand what our instructor was telling us we needed to do because she demonstrated it visually. But I wasn’t sure what she said about what to do when we had reached the end of the line. So, it wasn’t the height of the rope or the speed at which I might travel that had me a little nervous. It was the possible splat that might result when I reached the tree at the end of the rope.

Fortunately, we weren’t the first in our group of zip-liners, so I was able to see what other people were doing before I had to go. And the first of the nine zip-lines we went on was a short one, so I was able to get a good feel for the ride. Unfortunately, I stopped myself a little short and had to pull my way to the end about five feet. But once the first ride was out of the way, I got the hang of it and it was an exhilarating time the rest of the way.

The most challenging part of the activity wasn’t the zip-lining at all. It was hiking up the hills of the Antigua rainforest in the scorching heat to get from one line to the next.

We got back into the car and headed out for our next destination, but not before we stopped for some “black pineapple,” supposedly the sweetest pineapple in the world.

 

The sweetest pineapple in the world ... Antigua's "black pineapple" The sweetest pineapple in the world … Antigua’s “black pineapple”

After indulging in the admittedly tasty pineapple, we pulled over at what looked like a remote, outdoor rest stop in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. Our driver joked that this was their version of a “fast food” shop. We ate a tasty chicken and rice meal out of a styrofoam container and talked with some other tourists who had joined us. The place looked like a rocking good time, perhaps even a late night hot spot. It even displayed a sign promoting a hardcore reggae band — seems like an oxymoron to me, but what’cha gonna do?

 

Rock out to hardcore reggae! Rock out to hardcore reggae!

Back on the road, we headed for a beach where we climbed aboard a speed boat and got a ride out to a small island where we hopped in a kayak for a 30-minute tour. We paddled our way through the mostly-calm water, stopping a few times to look at underwater creatures like jellyfish, starfish, and this weird, cigar-looking thing whose head and butt looked the same — our tour guide told everyone we’d be wise not to hold it anywhere near our face, just to be safe. I had no reason to go against that advice.

The third part of our excursion included the underwater surface exploration known as snorkeling. This, like zip-lining, was a brand new experience for me. I’m not really the world’s strongest swimmer, but I felt that with a life vest on I could at least get it done. The wife and I got a brief tutorial on what we needed to do before taking the plunge into the water — which felt exhilarating after a hot day of hiking and rowing. When I first jumped in, though, I had trouble with the proper breathing exercises and had to rip my mask off to control it. But I put it back on and got the hang of it and was able to see what rested on the shallow ocean floor.

I cannot believe what lies beneath the surface! There is a whole other world down there and I’m amazed at God’s beautiful and abundant creations. I saw many different shapes and colors of fish and saw what I thought resembled Dory from the movie Finding Nemo — but I’m not sure if that type of fish is indigenous to the Caribbean region.

When we returned to our hotel room that day, as soon as I climbed into bed, I was out like a light. Apparently — so says Rachel — she had time to watch a movie and stay up for a couple hours after I passed out. Let me tell you, this is a rarity. Usually it’s the other way around.

The very next day, we went on our second and final excursion, a short sunset cruise on the west side of the island, the coast bordering the Caribbean Sea. The late afternoon and early evening were beautiful and the ride was quite enjoyable. Although there were clouds in the sky when the sun went down, obstructing what would have been a perfect sunset, it still was picturesque.

 

The sun approaching the horizon line over the Caribbean Sea. The sun approaching the horizon line over the Caribbean Sea. Simply a majestic sight to witness in person but also capture on camera! Simply a majestic sight to witness in person but also capture on camera!

The sunset cruise marked the middle of our honeymoon. We had already done so much and yet we had a whole half a vacation remaining. By this point, we really got into reading by the pool. Between the two of us, we had read five books — finishing each within a day or two. We made a trip to the airport to get some cash — there were about three ATMs on the entire island — and got our first dose of the East Caribbean dollar. We also dined at two of their fancier restaurants and Rachel made an appointment at the spa — definitely not my thing, thus, we were apart from one another for the first and only extended period of time throughout the duration of our trip.

By Monday morning, our eighth day on the island, we started to feel Antigua fatigue-a. We were enjoying every bit of our fun in the sun and the romance of our first days of marriage, but the redundancy of the trips to the pool and eating the same meals for breakfast and dinner at the same restaurant finally started to wear on us. I think it’s quite common for those who go on long vacations to reach a point where they say: “It’s time to go home.” And we had reached that point.

Despite this feeling, we decided to make the most of our final couple days there and we enjoyed every last minute of it. By the time we packed up our belongings and headed to the airport two days later, we were rested, relaxed, and dark tan. The flights home were enjoyable as we watched a couple movies together on our iPad, but we were excited and relieved to get home to our new house and begin our “everyday life” together.

Rachel and I bounced back and forth throughout the duration of the trip about how we would rate the resort at which we stayed, but I don’t think either of us could have given the entire honeymoon any less than a Perfect 10. Memories are etched in stone based on the whole, not the sum of the individual parts. We may have had birds stealing food off our plates, we may have gotten burned in the hot Caribbean sun, I may have kicked Rachel’s butt at ping pong. But born out of all those individual experiences are great stories and lasting memories.

I know I gathered plenty of good memories to last a lifetime.

 

One of my favorite memories from the honeymoon ... a beautiful wife watching a beautiful sunset. One of my favorite memories from the honeymoon … a beautiful wife watching a beautiful sunset.