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Youth movement is taking over New York sports — and it’s great

We are forever looking for signs, because that’s what we’ve been reduced to. We could sit around and X off the calendar until pitchers and catchers report to Yankees camp — that would be 64 days, as of Tuesday — when our next sure thing rises again, or we can look around Everywhere Else, looking, as Rod Stewart once crooned, for a Reason to Believe.

If I gave you time to change my mind …

I’d find a way to leave the past

Behind …

Sunday, we could leave the past behind for a few hours and, most importantly, most valuably, completely ignore the present. In New York City in the dying days of 2018, that is one of the essential requirements of being a sports fan.

And yet, Sunday, in rapid order, a number of astonishing things filled our television screens with hope while simultaneously filling the optimistic chambers of our heart with wonder.

On Channel 5, Saquon Barkley turned in one of the most remarkable halves of football a Giant has ever produced. He left announcers and fans in Washington grappling for adjectives as he single-handedly torched the Redskins time and again, once for a 78-yard touchdown in which he looked like Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson, another for 52 that set the Giants up for a walk-in touchdown.

Barkley looked, as he has at regular intervals this year, like an unstoppable force of nature, capable of running by you or over you, your choice. He wound up with 197 yards in all, 170 on the ground, and in truth he could have named his final numbers if it was necessary. He was so dominant at one point Giants GM Dave Gettleman was spotted in the press box muttering to nobody in particular: “Am I glad I drafted that kid.”

Barkley is 21 years old.

A few hours later, over on Channel 2, after it looked like Sam Darnold’s comeback might’ve lasted for three whole plays, Darnold had come back after re-aggravating his bum foot and was grinding out a cold day in Buffalo; he completed a few short passes and threw a head-scratchingly bad pick and looked an awful lot like the lost kid he was before he got hurt …

Except … BAM: Running for his life on third-and-5 from the Bills’ 7 early in the fourth, he scrambled to his right, reversed field, received a helpful block and then made the hardest throw a quarterback can make look shockingly easy, hitting Robby Anderson for a tying score while running to his left. And then … BOOM: With the Jets trailing by three, under two minutes to go, Darnold found Anderson again, this time dropping in a perfect 37-yard sideline teardrop. Four plays later the Jets scored the winning touchdown and Darnold had his finest moment as a pro, leading his first game-winning drive.

Darnold is 21 years old.

A few hours later, on MSG, the home team wouldn’t get so lucky, the Knicks taking one on the chin from the Hornets, trailing wire-to-wire to lose for the 20th time in 28 games. But as has become a standard option for
watching the Knicks this year, there was the game-within-a-game. And in that one the much-maligned No. 1 pick from 2017, Frank Ntilikina, scored a career-high 18 points on

4-for-4 shooting from 3.

And in the real eye-opener, the top pick from ’18, Kevin Knox — who himself has absorbed a few slings and arrows from the patient-but-not-bottomlessly-so fan base, scored 25 points and grabbed 15 rebounds.

Ntilikina is 20 year old.

Knox is 19. In the entire history of the NBA, only one other teenager has ever gone for as many as 25 and 15 in a game. His name is LeBron James.

So for one day, just past noon to just before midnight, there was an unrelenting glimmer peeping through our eternally gray sky. It is a good time to be young and playing sports in New York. The 19-year-old Czech, Filip Chytil, has had some wonderful moments for the Rangers already. The Islanders just called up 22-year-old Josh Ho-Sang to join 21-year-old Mathew Barzal. Jeff McNeil is 26, but still a baby in baseball years, and Mets fans were suffering from the bends when it seemed possible he might go to Seattle in the Robinson Cano deal.

A few years back, 1911 or so, Damon Runyon famously quoted a kid baseball player named Larry Doyle as he all but squealed, “It’s great to be young and a New York Giant!” A century or so on, it is quite good again to be young and plying your trade here. And equally enjoyable to watch them do what they do. I’d say we deserve that much, wouldn’t you?

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