SportsAttic 100th Anniversary Part Deux (#51-100)

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Yep, our 100th anniversary celebration now continues with the second half of the two-parter of unrelated thoughts, opinions and topics around the world of sports.

No need to delay, let’s jump right in:

51. I got to thinking about Friday Night Lights the other day. I could watch that first pilot episode 100 more times and would get choked up every sitting. Next rainy day dial it up, it may be the best dramatic sports series of all time (skip Season 2, though).

52. Okay, hold off on your responses to #51, I know I can’t lead with such a bold statement without adding in The White Shadow. C’mon, couldn’t we all relate to Salami growing up?

53. You know the Raiders and their facial contortionist head coach, aka Chucky, will win at least one Super Bowl in Vegas. It sucks, but you just know it.

54. When you check your brackets this morning, if you went worse than 12-4 in any of the regions, you no longer have a chance to win your office pool. You know that, right? No chance.

55. Yet I’m still pumping my fist in the air over my upset call with UC Irvine. And yes, as of this morning, I’m officially out of the running in every pool I entered.

56. Would any of us have blamed Iona last night if they just refused to come out for the second half against Carolina? “Nah, we’re good. We just played the best half of our lives, and we have no interest in continuing. Wish the Tarheels luck in the second round.”

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57. When considering the magnificence of Muhammad Ali, we tend to forget just how big a guy he was. We think of George Foreman (Big George) as this mountainous monster, but watch When We Were Kings some time (top 5 Sports Documentary of all time, by the way), and notice how Ali is looking George right in the eye while spinning off the ropes with his rope-a-dope routine during the “Rumble in the Jungle.”

58. I just flew to Houston and was surprised to see all the “2017 World Champions” hats and hoodies on the passengers. I’ve never thought of Houston as much of a baseball city, but they are all in on the ‘Stros in 2019, and I believe with good reason. And I love the Michael Brantley addition in left.

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59. I relish watching Rex Ryan talk on ESPN. Not for the content, but to see those enormous teeth implants of his in action. What a set of choppers! He reminds me of the old Mr. Ed TV series. I wonder if the producers at ESPN have to put peanut butter on the tip of Rex’s nose (the way they did to get Mr. Ed to “talk” in the old days, “Geeee, Willlburrrr…”) to get him started on one of his rants?

60. Extension for Chris Sale? Hmmmm… I had Sale down as the first pitcher in baseball history to throw a slider only to see his entire left arm detach from his body and hurtle through the air toward the plate sometime around August 1 of this year. I guess that’s why they say big contract extensions are a reward for results already posted. Yet the Sawx won’t sign Kimbrel and are going with “hope as a method” with respect to their pen. Yeesh.

61. I’m sorry, but I despise the “jersey exchange” in the NBA and the NFL.

62. And since when did Dwayne Wade get to declare himself a league icon, commanding a celebration retirement tour? He’s an all-time great for sure, and won a few rings (even one without The King at his side), but c’mon already! We didn’t do this for Elvin Hayes when he retired back in the day, and the Big E was at a similar “all-time great” level to D-Wade. I blame social media.

63. However, I do enjoy seeing LeBron lose pretty much every night. It’s the small pleasures…

64. Could you imagine Bob Gibson and Carl Yastrzemski doing a jersey exchange after Game 7 of the 1967 World Series? Two words — hell no.

65. Kobe Bryant won an Oscar? Really?

66. If you could go out for one night on the town and got to pick three wingmen from the history of the world of sports for that one epic bender, who would they be? For me? Babe Ruth, Charles Barkley and Joe Namath. But there’s a long list of alternates.

67. What ever happened to Ahmad Rashad?

68. Is it the jockey or the horse? Was there a professional jockey out there that wouldn’t have won the Triple Crown aboard Secretariat?

69. Is it the running back or the offensive line? For my answer, take a look at O.J. Simpson’s stats with the Bills in the years before they drafted guards Reggie McKenzie and Joe DeLamielleure, and after.

70. I always found it fascinating that the Raiders had two 1000-yard rushers in the ’70’s who were both drafted out of Colgate — Marv Hubbard and Mark van Eeghen. Go figure.

71. Was there a cooler pitcher growing up than Luis Tiant?

72. I never liked George Steinbrenner much, but coming up with “Mr. May” as a nickname for Dave Winfield was priceless.

73. Do I remember correctly that Ted Williams’ family had his body frozen after his death in hopes of bringing him back one day? Is someone working on that? Any updates?

74. As a former little league umpire, I can’t stand the idea of electronic ball and strike calls. The umps are part of the fabric of the game. (And oh by the way, parents can be unmercifully mean when it comes to their little 9-year-old taking a close 3-2 pitch for strike 3. Just sayin’…).

75. Will the people of 100 years from now look back on the NFL as an example of what a barbaric society we are?

76. MLB needs more knuckleballers.

77. My first baseman’s glove in the mid-’70’s was a George Scott autograph model. Always loved Boomer after that. Who did you have?

78. We talk about all the mobile QB’s in today’s NFL, but back in the ’70’s there were some legendary ones extending the play and throwing on the run — Fran Tarkenton comes to mind first, but Roger Staubach was underrated in that regard, and so was Kenny Stabler.

79. Growing up watching NHL games, I always thought the Canadiens’ Yvan Cournoyer had the funniest name in the league. Never to be challenged until Jeff Beukeboom began lacing up his skates years later.

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80. The 1976 U.S. Olympic Boxing Team captured my imagination. In addition to introducing the world to Sugar Ray Leonard, we got Gold from the Spinks Brothers, Howard Davis Jr. and Leo Randolph, Silver from Charles Mooney, and Bronze from heavyweight John Tate. Incredible collection of boxing talent.

81. I’d like to see a computer simulation of Serena Williams playing Martina Navritolova in her heyday. Billie Jean from the late-1960’s gets winner.

82. Ah the simpler days, when my biggest worry was how Willis Reed’s knees were feeling.

83. I’m trying to remember who I hated more back in the ’80’s, Danny Ainge or Bill Laimbeer. Oh, that’s right, it was M.L. Carr.

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84. I’m glad the relief pitcher golf cart is coming back. That should speed up the pace of play…

85. Was there anything better than when you had a birthday as a kid and one of your buddies gave you a batting donut?

86. Speaking of unmistakeable childhood birthday party moments, the elation of finding out that your friend’s mom was taking you all out to a miniature golf course for the celebration was second to none!

87. The Los Angeles T-Birds were my favorite roller derby team as a kid.

88. I miss the old Superstars competition. When it morphed into Battle of the Network Stars, it was all downhill from there. However, a computer simulation pitting the old cast of Dallas versus the original cast of Baywatch might warrant a pay per view purchase.

89. Did Mark “The Bird” Fidrych pitch against Bill “Spaceman” Lee in the late-’70’s? They must have faced off at least a couple of times, right? That would have been cool to see.

90. How about changing the Home Run Derby at this year’s All Star Game to a “pitchers only” competition? Bumgarner-Syndergaard final? I’d be up for that.

91. Have the Warriors reached status as a team that the entire country (outside the Bay Area) will root against yet?

92. Kenny Atkinson should earn strong consideration for NBA Coach of the Year. What he’s done with the Nets is nothing short of incredible.

93. There were some iconic catchers back in the ’70’s, with Munson, Fisk and Bench among the league’s best players. Kid Carter came along in the second half of the decade. Where are those catchers today (Buster Posey may have been the last one)? Such a demanding position. Does a parent let their talented kid strap on the tools of ignorance anymore? I don’t think so.

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94. I love that Bob Costas’ pinkeye at the Sochi Olympics has become a recurring punchline on Brockmire. For the last time, you’ve gotta watch it!

95. Something about Mills Lane as the third man in the ring made any championship fight all the more enjoyable.

96. Sudden death overtime at an NHL playoff game may be the most exciting experience for any fan to witness in person (assist to Copper Springs Roddy on this one).

97. Remember when the teacher wheeled that dusty, oversized, clunky and outdated  TV into your 5th grade classroom because rain had forced recess indoors? And then she played Brian’s Song? Think back to those kids that didn’t have tears in their eyes when the lights came back on. Those are the ones the government should be keeping an eye on today.

98. The biggest influence on my desire to one day write about sports came from none other than Oscar Madison. The only bright side to a Mets rain delay on Channel 9 back in the day was the Odd Couple rerun they’d play while the tarp was being rolled onto the field.

99. The best one-punch knockout I ever witnessed live was delivered by Laila Ali at Madison Square Garden on an undercard back in 2006. You could hear the snapping sound of a broken nose all the way up in MSG’s Blue Heaven.

100. I’ve never seen a television show quite like After Life. It’s got nothing to do with sports, but is so unique I need to give it a shout out here. Ricky Gervais is a genius methinks.

If you’ve made it to the end, I can’t thank you enough for celebrating 100 SportsAttic posts with all of us out here in Cyberland By The Bay.

I’m looking forward to the next 100!

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SportsAttic Turns 100 With 100 Thoughts on the World of Sports (Part 1: #1-50)

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No, not 100 years.

But we are at our 100th post here at SportsAttic, and that’s cause for celebration. And with the perfect storm of today’s sports calendar upon us (NBA season’s home stretch, March Madness, NFL Free Agency and Draft Prep, MLB Spring Training wrap up), what better time than now for 100 unconnected and random thoughts on the world of sports?

And we’re off:

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  1. Brockmire. If you are a baseball fan and haven’t yet tuned in, you are badly missing out. Best show on television right now (warning on language, content, and general poor taste), I laugh out loud more than once every episode. It’s on IFC (not even sure what that is), but Hulu (also not sure) has Season 1, and I pieced through Season 2 on United’s in flight entertainment programming. Season 3 begins April 3rd. Binge it.
  2. Scott Van Pelt. Best thing about Sports Center and ESPN these days. You east coasters have to wait until midnight for SVP, Stanford Steve, Bad Beats, etc., and it is well worth the wait. Stay up for it. It’s like talking sports over drinks with a lifelong friend. And another that’s likely to invoke laughter of the “out loud” variety.
  3. Noah Syndergaard. Love watching him pitch, but the guy’s a real character, too. Between his role as an extra on Game of Thrones, to riding that horse to Spring Training a couple of years ago, to serving up chin music as a rookie on the first pitch of his first World Series appearance, this guy is the real deal. And again, he’s funny! If you are on Instagram, follow his page. Great stuff coming out with regularity (“I’m here to kick ass and chew bubble gum, and I’m all out of bubble gum”).
  4. Antonio Brown. Because it’s always good to have someone to root against in the NFL.
  5. James Dolan. In case we ever need a reminder of the definition of “douchebag” or “bully”, or should we forget what POS stands for.
  6. You want to revisit your childhood, go open an old shoe box full of baseball cards. That aroma of stale cardboard is like a magic carpet ride back in time.
  7. There is no shade of green greener than the first glimpse of infield grass when you come out of the tunnel to look for your seat at a baseball game.
  8. Is there anything more full of promise than that moment when you complete your brackets for March Madness and imagine your upcoming perfect run through the finals?
  9. Clyde Frazier calling out LeBron James’s indifference this past weekend was one of his greatest moments as a broadcaster.
  10. I miss Carmelo Anthony.
  11. The only thing that would have made Jacob deGrom’s Cy Young season of 2018 even more outstanding would have been if he hadn’t gotten that darn haircut.
  12. Is there a bigger example of a post-career train wreck than Lenny Dykstra?
  13. I’d like to see a computer simulation of Jesse Owens racing Usain Bolt in the 100 yard dash. Throw in Bob Hayes just for fun, too.
  14. Does anyone else wonder if Daniel Snyder has a poster of James Dolan on his bedroom wall?
  15. Dick Vitale is still my favorite March Madness ambassador. His enthusiasm is genuine and good for the soul.
  16. Anyone picking Duke to win the Big Dance this year should have to pay a luxury tax  on their pool admission fee.
  17. I propose a new reality series where NFL owners square off in an Ultimate Fighting round robin format. I’d gladly throw $50 bucks away on Jerry Jones versus John Mara. Double elimination. Let the proceeds go to a fund for retired players dealing with CTE.
  18. How do Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic keep doing it? Is it me or are there more old superstars (hello, Tom Brady) that have been dominating for decades today than ever before in our history? But to have three of them all in men’s tennis, with no heir apparent? Wow.
  19. I wonder about Aaron Judge. It’s hard to be anointed an all-time great after your rookie year. Pitchers adjust, injuries hit. Important year three coming up for him.
  20. Now that it looks like Mike Trout’s an Angel for life, will they ever bring in some pitching? And no, Shohei Ohtani doesn’t count.
  21. How many Home Runs would Barry Bonds have hit without the juice? I’m guessing around 475, but that would only be part of a monstrous stat line that would have included 700+ doubles, 400+ stolen bases, a .320 lifetime average, 3300+ career hits and recognition as one of the greatest defensive left fielders of the day. Yeah, and probably still a first class horse’s ass, but hey, he’d be in the Hall of Fame right now.
  22. Joe Buck’s cameos on Brockmire are priceless and have made me a fan of his (okay, well, almost).
  23. Steph Curry is 31? Doesn’t seem possible.
  24. I don’t follow the NHL much anymore, but I can’t help but wonder if there are any defensemen who patrol the blue line striking terror into opponents the way Scott Stevens used to at the height of the New Jersey Devils dynasty (had to throw the hockey fans a bone).
  25. I sometimes wonder if I’m the only golfer to ever play Augusta, Pine Valley, Pebble Beach, Spyglass, Winged Foot, and Shinnecock, and not break 100 on any of them (there’s the bone for you golfers)?
  26. Will Serena set the record for most majors won? I’d like to see it, because she’s an awe-inspiring athlete and her extended dominance has been nothing short of stunning, but I could do without her shouting at umpires about how she’s a mother. Not for nothing, but there have been mothers playing successfully on the WTA tour for a long time, and not using it as an excuse to throw a tantrum when things didn’t go their way (and for clarity, I like tantrums in tennis, let’s just leave the motherhood part out of it, okay?).
  27. Why hasn’t someone signed Craig Kimbrel? Is he on the downward trajectory part of his career? Yes, it looked like it at the end of last year, but still…seems like an ideal candidate for the Nationals to zoom in on and ensure he’s completely spent.
  28. Manny Machado could go for 45 dings and 150 ribbies this year and no one will notice because he’s in San Diego and the Pads won’t reach 75 wins (maybe ever?). I think that may have been his plan all along.
  29. Bill Walton makes watching Pac 12 hoops so much fun. Another guy who’s just having a blast and taking the viewer with him.
  30. Poor Luke Walton, though. He never had a chance when The King came to town, and now he can look forward to being summarily dismissed at season’s end. Here’s guessing he goes on to a long and successful career when he takes over his next team. Scapegoat, anyone? Anyone?
  31. I wonder when the moment was that Michael Jordan said to himself “screw it, I’m just going to stop pretending and let everyone know what a dick I am.”
  32. Chuck, Kenny, Ernie and Shaq own the months of April, May and June. I, for one, can’t wait.
  33. This whole Charles Oakley-James Dolan feud is tiring (and yes, Dolan is at fault, per usual), but I still don’t retire Oak’s Knicks jersey. Great player, but falls just short of the Garden rafters.
  34. Another show with some terrific NYC sports references is Jordan Peele’s Big Mouth, on Netflix. Yes, it’s a cartoon, and incredibly cringe-worthy at times, but another that will make you laugh out loud in spite of yourself multiple times an episode.
  35. I wonder how many followers Pele would have if he played today and had an Instagram page (actually, maybe he already has a page, or a Twitter handle — have to check).
  36. Is Manny Pacquiao really going to fight Floyd Mayweather Jr. again? Can I just send Showtime the $100 dollars along with a request begging them not to air the fight?
  37. There was a time in the ’90’s when Michael Buffer was my favorite sports personality, bar none. “Let’s get ready to rummmm-blllle!!” But I’m already sick of that car commercial of his.
  38. Is Colin Kaepernick a courageous revolutionary or a brilliant opportunist? I’m not sure, but my experience tells me that these answers usually lie somewhere in the middle.
  39. Yes, I’m rooting to see Tim Tebow in the outfield at Citi Field at some point this season. And when it happens, I hope it’s because he’s earned his opportunity.
  40. Do we have an over/under on the first time Gabe Kapler and Bryce Harper come to blows this season? How about June 1?
  41. Based on what the Dolphins are doing this offseason, it seems to me they may have done Adam Gase a favor when they threw him down the stairs at the end of last season.
  42. Is Ben Roethlisberger really the problem in Pittsburgh? I don’t think so. Asshole? Yes, for sure. But not the problem.
  43. I really hope Seton Hall makes some noise in the tourney this year.
  44. Can you imagine how much hype would surround Damian Lillard if he played outside of Portland? The guy is a stud, and maybe the best point in the league, but the Blazers can’t be taken seriously in a playoff series.
  45. The ’70’s were boxing’s golden age for heavyweights. We had the Ali-Frazier Trilogy; “DOWN GOES FRAZIER” when “Big” George Foreman (another in the list of added first names along with “Millionaire” Bruce Wayne and “Poor” Eli Manning) literally lifted Joe off the canvas with a colossal right hand; Kenny Norton breaking Ali’s jaw; and Ali shocking the world, pole-axing Foreman in The Rumble in the Jungle (“Ali bomaye”). Ali fought each of the other three. So did George. Joe fought Ali and George, as did Norton. Did Joe Frazier and Ken Norton ever square off? Answer at the end.*
  46. I don’t care about the World Baseball Classic. I hope they don’t bring it back, and if MLB quietly just never brought it up again, would anyone notice?
  47. Quick, who’s your Mount Rushmore of sports broadcasters? Mine is Howard Cosell, Marv Albert, John Madden and Vin Scully. (All New York version — Mel Allen — although I only remember him from This Week in Baseball, Bob Murphy, Marv and Pat Summerall — had to work Summerall in somehow, and hey, he played for the Giants).
  48. There will never be a better backcourt than Walt “Clyde” Frazier and Earl “The Pearl” Monroe. Ever. Plus they had Hall of Fame nicknames.
  49. Was anyone else surprised as a kid when they picked up a newspaper and saw that the great Rangers winger, Roger Bear, actually spelled his name Rod Gilbert?
  50. Brockmire. I feel so strongly about Hank Azaria’s show that I’m bookending this post for all of you who may not have taken it seriously yet. And if you aren’t on Instagram, go set up a page simply to follow Brockmire promos. His “around spring training” posts are hysterical — especially the ones about Chicago, Anaheim and Philly.

Whenever I do a post like this, I always think of a dozen or so that should have been included after I’ve already published. That’s why I’m doing this one as a two-parter, so that I’ll have a forum for the ones that should have made it in when I think of them in the days to come.

Stay tuned, #51-100 limbering up on deck!

*And for those paying attention and still reading: “He wasn’t sure if he could kick my ass, and I wasn’t sure if I could kick his ass, so we just remained buddies and never fought each other.” — Joe Frazier, on why he and Ken Norton never faced each other in the ring.

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Three Yards and a Cloud of Dust — Gang Green, OBJ’s Dawg Pound and Poor Eli

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If you can’t win a Super Bowl, there’s always the offseason!

That’s right, football fans, Gang Green is at it again, winning the offseason. And I’m learning to live off consolation prizes.

You know, my basketball Knicks have a coach who wins the postgame press conference nightly, even while chiding the press for not recognizing all he’s doing right the way the smart people that matter (Fiz’s friends around the league) do.

And down in Port St. Lucie, our brash, former-agent baseball leader is over-promising left and right about his new (and improved?) 2019 Mets. And hey, you know what? Yup, I’m totally buying into it.

But those were just the warm up bands for the New York Football J-E-T-S, JETS, JETS, JETS!

We just signed the best free agent available, folks.

Le’Veon Bell is coming to Florham Park, legs fresh from a year on the couch protesting the poor contract offerings of his former team. And so what if there weren’t really any other serious suitors or offers out there for Bell’s services (no, I’m not letting that fact rain on my offseason championship parade, dammit), we got him!

That makes two consecutive offseasons where us Jets fans were distracted from the prior season’s last place finish by euphoric offseason news. And now last offseason’s hero, Sam the Man Darnold, meets this year’s model, the stud running back that immediately makes his QB better. Who cares if the D-Line and linebacking corps lack a legitimate pass rusher, or that there’s little reason to think our secondary can cover any slightly above-average receiver, we got Bell!

So let’s add it up. We signed a coach who makes disturbing faces at his welcome presser; kept the GM who’s results in free agency and the draft (ex last year’s savior Darnold) have been disastrous; traded for a road grading guard who was hurt for a significant portion of last season; and oh yeah, the reigning Super Bowl champs are still in our division.

Whatever.

Today, none of that matters, because — one more time — we just signed Le’Veon Bell! Our snake-belly-low expectations have been managed to such extremes since Sexy Rexy last led us to an AFC Championship game (with the Sanchize behind center, no less — Rex Ryan should be enshrined in Canton when we look back on that accomplishment today), that it just… doesn’t… take… that… much.

All together now, J-E…

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What a week for New York football!

You know it is a sports crazed metropolis when two teams coming off absolutely putrid 2018 campaigns can completely kidnap the back pages of the tabloids with franchise-shaking moves coming only hours apart.

Will OBJ’s departure for Cleveland spell addition through subtraction for Big Blue? I honestly don’t have a clue, but I do applaud Dave Gettleman for the power move of sending the star packing because he doesn’t fit the culture the GM desires long-term for one of the league’s most storied franchises.

I was suckered a year ago into believing that the Gints would contend after drafting Saquon Barkley, and couldn’t have been more wrong. And Big Blue was actually worse when Beckham was healthy, than they were after OBJ went down with the latest of his season-ending injuries. So good riddance? Like I said, I’m just not sure.

Because despite all his immature distractions and look-at-me shenanigans, Beckham was a difference-maker. But this team was going to be bad with or without OBJ in 2019, so I’m afraid it will be another year of taking solace in the magnificence of Barkley for Giants fans, while hoping that Gettleman’s long-term vision plays out.

Too soon to tell if trading Odell speeds things up? Yeah, probably, but unlike most observers, I actually liked what the Giants got back from the Browns, and think Peppers will be a meaningful piece in their secondary and for the rebuild.

The bottom line, from someone who likes the Giants, is I’ll enjoy watching Big Blue slightly less without Beckham every Sunday, but despite that, I’ll find the team far more likable now that he’s gone.

But what of Cleveland???

I have to admit I’m actually kind of excited by what could be happening for those long-suffering Dawg Pound fans. If skill positions matter (and they do), it would seem that with Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb and OBJ (not to mention Beckham’s former LSU teammate Jarvis Landry and “reformed” thug Kareem Hunt), the Browns seem prepped to light up the scoreboard for years to come, and with a flair and panache we are unaccustomed to getting from the team with the bland, orange helmets.

That’s not to say that I won’t find myself overtly rooting against the Browns by midseason, once the novelty of Cleveland actually contending wears off and the obnoxious sides of Mayfield and Beckham become so overexposed by a combination of social media and ESPN that I simply can’t take it anymore. But for now?

For now I hope they put the wood to the Steelers twice a year for the next six or seven years, while waging a cool, offense versus defense battle at the top of the AFC North with the Baltimore Ravens (who used to be the Browns, right?). Sign me up — this could be really exciting.

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Okay, what about Poor Eli?

(SportsAttic Note: Did we all somehow miss it when Eli legally changed his first name to “Poor?” Kind of like when Bruce Wayne legally added the moniker “Millionaire” as his first name on the old Batman series?)

Seriously, though, how could Eli feel right now? Not great, right? None of us will ever know for sure, because the guy never changes his expression, but it can’t feel good. I mean, can it?

Let’s take inventory, beginning with a pretty solid baseline for any QB — a guy in your backfield named Saquon Barkley. But Barkley’s greatness notwithstanding, the line is still potentially porous (yes, it was better in the second half of last year than the first, but that was a painfully low bar of comparison), he just waved goodbye to his biggest playmaking, home run threat (adding Golden Tate was a ridiculous attempt to numb the pain of OBJ’s departure in the locker room and the stands), and everybody knows Manning is not part of the long-term plan.

I would counsel Eli to just retire already. But he’s not going to do that, and not just because of the truckload of money the Giants owe him. The dude is an intense competitor, and one of those guys that will keep going out there as long as they let him. Line or no line, OBJ or no OBJ. And let’s face it, there’s no internal competition for the starting job. Right now, he’s the man, and there’s no reason to believe they can compete.

Yeah, yeah, the story line is out there about how the Giants will keep him around and Eli can mentor the Haskins kid from Ohio State, the way Kurt Warner did for Eli back in the leather helmet days. That’s crap. Spare the franchise icon and release or trade him (and by the way, I’m going on record right now saying Haskins is a bust waiting to happen — JaMarcus Russell anyone?).

With Jacksonville and old pal Tom Coughlin off the radar now that they’ve added Nick Foles (anyone else seeing Blake Bortles behind center in 2019 for Big Blue?), how about moving Poor Eli to the Raiders? He can back up Derek Carr and provide leadership and a steady hand when Carr suffers his inevitable injury this year. Antonio Brown will need someone that can get it down the field in Carr’s absence, and Eli can still sling it, so why not?

If this is the Raiders’ last season in Oakland, shouldn’t they do all they can to ensure that the fans have a quality product on the field as they prep their move to Sin City? And I can’t help myself — the idea of Poor Eli and AB in the same huddle both fascinates and scares me a bit. So go for it, Chuckie. Eli calls it a career in the silver and black, providing insurance for the brittle Carr and leading the scout team during the week.

And who knows, if Carr stays standing, maybe Gruden and GM Mike Mayock can move Eli to a playoff contender in need of a QB before the trade deadline? That way Eli gets one final shot at leading a playoff team and an exclamation point on his borderline Hall of Fame career. Stranger things have happened, right?

Anything’s got to be better than what we see taking form in front of Poor Eli’s eyes for 2019 as I sit here typing this. Let him go, Gettleman. He deserves better.

 

It’s March — Time to Cram for Madness

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Anyone else have that recurring dream, the one where you have a final exam coming up in a few hours, but you haven’t attended a single class all semester, have no notes, and aren’t even sure where you go to take the exam?

That’s how I’m feeling today knowing March Madness approaches and I’m badly unprepared.

It’s March 9th, and I woke up realizing that Madness is right around the corner, and I have no clue how to pick this year’s brackets.

Perhaps that’s a good thing? Because there’s been years where I’ve watched tons of games, poured over conference standings, looked for who was emerging healthy and with momentum from their conference tournaments (maybe with a senior point guard for good measure), and I would still lose handily to one of my daughters, whose picks were made on the basis of schools they would, or would not, want to attend.

And there’s just so many darn schools to sift through! As I get older, my sports bandwidth narrows, and sadly I must face the reality that given the choice between a late-season contest of Knicks-Kings (ugh, we lost again), a Mets spring training, split-squad matchup, and Gonzaga-St. Mary’s on the tube, the college hoops tilt finishes a distant third.

But being a sports fan is all about buying into the hype and showing up for the big events, and there is no bigger event than March Madness when it comes to gripping an entire country over a period of a few short weeks.

Cinderella Stories, Dickie V., rooting for Duke or Kansas (or, even better, both) to go down early yet again, all while planning dinner reservations around the Sweet 16 schedule. It makes for a steady diet of sports euphoria played to the hypnotic soundtrack of a basketball thumping off the hardwood.

Really, could there be anything better?

So I’m scrambling. I just watched Georgetown, on the road, hang on to take down a reeling Marquette team as the Big East squads jockey for tournament seeds. As that game bled into the next, I learned that St. John’s (St. John’s??!!) would earn a third seed in the Big East tourney with a win over Xavier tonight.

Who knew? I shake my head, as I thought I had read only a few weeks back that Chris Mullin was on the hot seat, and that his Johnnies were likely to miss The Dance this year.

I’ve always liked the Big East, even if today’s divisions now include teams that don’t  exactly scream out “East” (Xavier and Marquette?) to me. Add in the Big Fella, Patrick Ewing, down in D.C. coaching the Hoyas, and Mullin apparently resurrected, and I’m beginning to feel it a little. Game on!

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And what about The Hall? Looks like New Jersey’s best hoops squad will sneak into The Dance again this year. My favorite March Madness ever was back in ’89, when Seton Hall came within a whistle (that should have been in the ref’s pocket at that stage of the game, for chrissakes!) of taking away the title from favored Michigan.

What a team they had — P.J. screaming himself hoarse from the sideline and Aussie rental Andrew Gaze draining jumpers as the senior-heavy, no-name Pirates absolutely shut down the likes of Duke and other premium programs with a clinic on how to play stifling, man-to-man defense on their way to the finals.

Yeah, I’ll probably go with all three of those Big East contenders in the first bracket I submit this year, knowing full well that I may go 0-3 on those picks. And that’s okay, because is there anything more fun than going over your brackets around midnight on that first Thursday and seeing how you did? Simultaneously celebrating, cursing and second-guessing the decisions of 48 hours prior.

What’s an acceptable first round result, by the way? I’ve always felt that if you don’t at least go 12-4 in each quadrant that first weekend, you are probably not winning your office pool. And there are other standards and superstitions that I carry into my March bracketology annually that never fail to both perplex me during selection Sunday, and torpedo my results a few days later. Such as:

*You absolutely can’t submit a bracket with all #1 seeds still standing in your Final Four

*If you pick the wrong #1 seed to be an early upset victim and are wrong — you are toast

*Every 8/9 matchup is a coin toss, and whoever emerges victorious is always just good enough to tempt you to pick that second round upset over the region’s #1 — don’t do it

*I will never pick a school coached by John Calipari, Jim Boeheim, Bob Huggins or Rick Pitino (c’mon, you know he’s going to resurface somewhere, someday) to win it all, on general principle, because they are all dicks. We call that the Bobby Knight rule

*Never pick Gonzaga to win it all, because Gonzaga (and Butler and other former-Cinderellas turned hoops factories) will never win the big one (you’re welcome, Zags fans)

*There is no better feeling than to correctly call an upset by a #14 seed, and no worse one than to strongly consider picking that #14, then change your mind at the last second to go with the favorite, only to watch the #14 win by 20

*You will rarely root harder against a team than when your best friend’s alma mater reaches the Final Four

*You will never root harder for a team than when your own perennially disappointing alma mater somehow sneaks into a play-in game (Go Dukes!)

*The degree of embarrassment when listed among the bottom five in your office pool’s cumulative point totals following the first weekend of Madness is akin to another familiar, recurring dream  — the one where you are in a crowded restaurant when you suddenly realize you aren’t wearing pants

Yup, there’s a lot of work to do over the next week or so to prepare me not to embarrass myself in this 2019 edition of March Madness. Sports Illustrated’s foolish decision to move to every other week issues only adds to the urgency for me to find alternate information sources pertaining to college hoops. The pressure to represent is enormous!

The New York Post (my staple for sports info) isn’t thorough in its national college basketball coverage, opting to focus most of their print on the locals (although they do an awesome prep spread the day before March Madness begins). I know there are blogs that offer help, not to mention an increasingly loud social media drumbeat (Twitter is the worst), but in the end, there will be a lot of guesswork and hope, not exactly recipes for coming away with the office kitty.

I mean, c’mon, apparently Tennessee is good this year? Yikes. And what to make of LSU? Will they allow that guilty as hell coach of theirs back on the bench for their first round matchup (here’s betting they will)? Will the Pac 12 underperform again (is Washington or Oregon our best chance out here? What happened to UCLA? I know, I know, I should know this…)?

Regardless, it’s an awesome time of year. The bridge between winter and spring, as baseball games turn real and pro hoops gears up for the “Dubs versus the field” showdown that will play out on TNT into the month of June.

I’ll do my best and submit a few brackets in various pools with a wide range of formats (my personal favorite awards bonus points for the differential between seeds, thus encouraging the selection of upsets).

And as the field thins after the first 10 days I’ll look for this year’s Cinderella, see if I gravitate toward any formerly unheralded freshman who has caught fire at the right time, and find my 2019 bandwagon to ride (preferably one coached by a hero of March’s past, named Patrick or Chris, or whoever it is that coaches Seton Hall these days).

It’s March, bring on the Madness.

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Tom Terrific

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That’s how I’m going to remember Tom Seaver. Celebrating a championship with Jerry Koosman at his side.

Today’s news from the Seaver Family that the 74-year-old Hall of Famer is suffering from dementia and will be retiring from public life was certainly sad. Too young for sure, and made all the more painful as the New York Mets prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their 1969 Miracle Mets World Series title. A championship that would never have been possible if not for Seaver’s 25-7, Cy Young Award season that set the tone that winning time had arrived at Shea Stadium at long last.

He was our ace, The Franchise and Tom Terrific.

The first “official” Mets shirt I ever wore (a stylish, gray number I received for my 6th birthday), bore Seaver’s number 41 on its back. He was our answer to Gibson and Carlton. To Jenkins and Sutton. The high leg kick with the oh so deep follow through, resulting in his signature dirt stain on his uniform pant leg, as his knee scraped the mound pitch after pitch.

Like most of the classic strike out pitchers of the day, Seaver generated his power from those thick legs, driving his perfect mechanics (a Mets staple back in the day — you can see those sound fundamentals when watching old tape of Koosman, Nolan Ryan and Jon Matlack, too), culminating in a perfectly balanced landing, ready to field his position. He was flawless.

We knew his wife Nancy, and we hung on his articulate, postgame insights on Kiner’s Korner. He enjoyed taking his hacks at the plate, too, often helping his own cause with a key base hit, and good for a couple of dingers every year, which were certain to send Mets fans everywhere into delirium. Heck, the guy would even steal a base or two. Not to show off, but because he was a baseball player first. An athlete. And most importantly to Mets fans, he was ours.

He would go on to win another two Cy Youngs (and all Mets fans would argue Fergie Jenkins stole a fourth from him in 1971), make 12 All Star teams, and lead the National League in strikeouts five times.

Seaver set a baseball record for the ages back in 1970, when on April 22nd he concluded a shutout win over the Padres by striking out the final ten batters he faced. That brought his total for the day to 19, tying a record that Kerry Wood and Roger Clemens would one day break.

He was our first Hall of Famer, gaining induction on the first ballot with a whopping 98.8% of the vote, befitting his 311 wins spread out over 20 seasons. The woebegone Mets front office even managed to get one right, when they retired his number 41, placing it alongside Casey Stengel, Gil Hodges and Mrs. Payson above the Citi Field grandstand.

But there are three things I will always remember most about Tom Seaver — the two near-misses and the trade.

Qualls 

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He was soooo close. I was too young to witness this one myself, but every Mets fan worth his salt knows about Seaver’s dance with perfection on July 9th of 1969. The Mets were finally a good club in ’69, but still trailed the first place Cubs by a fair distance at this juncture in the season. Given the laughingstock nature of the Mets history up to that point, it was understandable that no one was ready to take them seriously as contenders. Seaver, the ultimate competitor, was determined to change the Mets’ losing culture.

In front of 59,088 screaming Mets fans, The Franchise faced and retired the first 26 Cubs who took a turn at bat against him that day. Ernie Banks, Ron Santo and Billy Williams all had no chance. Shea Stadium was pulsating with anticipation when rookie Jimmy Qualls pinch hit for the Cubbies with two outs in the ninth. It should have been a mismatch.

Qualls was a .250 hitter, and following his rookie year would only see 12 more major league at bats. But this was his moment, and the kid stroked a soft single into shallow left-center, ruining Seaver’s perfecto. Nancy Seaver had tears in her eyes after Tom concluded the one-hitter for a 4-0 Mets win. Our ace consoled her, reminding her that he’d just pitched a one-hit shutout over the division leader. The standing ovation lasted three full minutes.

And Qualls? It is written that the next time Seaver saw him on the field, he yelled, “Hey, you little shit, you cost me a million bucks!”  The Franchise.

Leron Lee

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What is it about backup outfielders mucking up Tom’s moments?

Nearly three years to the day after Jimmy Qualls had blooped a single that would stick with Mets fans forever, Seaver took another no-hitter into the ninth against San Diego. It was the 4th of July, 1972, and I was enjoying the summer between first and second grade when my dad called me in from outside because something important was happening.

He and my mom were watching the Mets game, and Dad explained to me what a “no-hitter” was. I was instantly enthralled by this new baseball information, particularly since Seaver was the pitcher about to make history. With one out Leron Lee strode to the plate. I knew exactly who Lee was, since I collected baseball cards, and proudly spouted off a slew of statistical information on the Padres outfielder to Mom and Dad as Lee settled into the batter’s box.

Lee had started his career in St. Louis as Lou Brock’s caddy, often complaining about how it seemed Brock only ever got “tired” and turned left field over to Lee on those days when the temperatures soared past 100 degrees and you had Seaver or Ryan on the hill for the opposition.

Seaver fooled Lee with a slider down and away, but Lee got just enough of his bat on it, pushing a single through the middle. End of no-hitter (although I learned shortly thereafter that there was also such a thing as a one-hitter). Seaver would earn that distinction when he induced a game ending double play out of the next hitter. Another close call for our ace, and maybe the biggest moment in the career of Leron Lee.

It turned out that 1972 would be Lee’s best year in the bigs, as he hit .300 with 12 HR’s for the Pads, but it was his at bat against Seaver that earned him headlines the following day. I’ll always remember pulling out the Newark Star-Ledger’s sports section that morning of July 5th, and seeing the headline, “Hey Tom, he hit a good pitch.”

That was Seaver to me as a kid. So much bigger than life that he was even on a first name basis with the newspaper!

The Trade

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The Mets had surprised a lot of folks in 1976 by going 86-76 under new manager Joe Frazier, and entered 1977 with talk of challenging for the division crown. But like the 2018 version of the Mets, the ’77 team quickly disappointed, and soon the only thing worth paying attention to was Seaver.

And unlike previous years when the team would sink to its accustomed also ran slot in the NL East and the summer months would be spent trying to project how many wins and K’s Tom Terrific would finish with by season’s end, in 1977 the unthinkable was making its way into the daily papers.

The Mets were considering trading The Franchise.

My family had returned to New Jersey from California the previous summer, so 1977 was going to be my first full year of being able to watch Mets baseball on Channel 9 every night since the early-’70’s. However only two months into this much-anticipated season, everything changed, and not in a way any of us Mets fans had anticipated or hoped.

I was too young to understand the feud between Seaver and villainous Mets President M. Donald Grant, or the newspaper politics within the New York tabloids that greased the skids for Seaver’s trade. All I knew at the time was that the only reason we had to watch the 1977 New York Mets had just been shipped to Cincinnati on June 10th for the equivalent of three boxes of batting practice baseballs and a dozen cases of scoreboard lightbulbs.

Or so it seemed.

Yeah, we all tried. I mean, we rooted for the blue and orange after all, but never in my life as a Mets fan had I been faced with cheering for a Seaver-less Mets squad. And now here we were. The Dark Ages immediately descended upon us.

The Reds sent us four young “stars” in return for the greatest pitcher in Mets history. Pat Zachry was supposed to be the future ace and Seaver replacement. Big shoes to fill, you might say. He actually showed some early promise, but then one day in a fit of anger after a poor outing, he kicked a dugout step, broke his foot, and was never the same.

Steve Henderson was billed as a future superstar and immediately inserted into the lineup as our starting left fielder. He had an odd batting stance that seemed cool at first, with his left leg jutting out in the direction of first base as he settled into an awkward crouch. “Hendu” hit .300 in his initial spin around the league and even clubbed a few long home runs, but then the league figured out that he couldn’t unscrew out of that weird stance of his with any hope of hitting a breaking ball. Hendu would go on to become a career backup outfielder (which was only appropriate given the connection between Seaver and backup outfielders noted above).

Doug Flynn was a sure handed utility infielder who would be given every opportunity to win the starting second base job. His glove was as good as advertised, but he barely hit his weight, and became a staple of the last place teams the Mets rolled out onto the Shea field for the balance of the ’70’s.

The fourth and final prospect included in the deal was young Dan Norman. He was a stocky, power-hitting outfielder, and came to town touted as the next George Foster. We all anxiously awaited his ascension to the bigs where he would undoubtedly replicate Foster’s prolific power. Unfortunately, despite the annual spring training articles from the Star-Ledger about how this was going to be the year Norman broke through, he never did. It hadn’t occurred to 12-year-old me that if Norman was really the next Foster, the Reds probably wouldn’t have included him in the deal.

(SportsAttic note: of course we all know that the Mets rectified the Norman/Foster comparisons a few years later by signing the “real” George Foster, who would disappoint us  immensely until finally being jettisoned early on in the ’86 championship season.)

Tom Terrific would go on to earn that elusive no-hitter as a Cincinnati Red (just like we all knew he would). And I couldn’t help but root for him as a Red, even celebrating when I would pull a Seaver baseball card out of a pack of Topps, the Tom Terrific smile staring back at me from underneath that unnatural, red Cincy cap. But unfortunately for Seaver, he’d missed the Big Red Machine years, and wouldn’t win another title with the Reds, or anywhere else, before he retired.

He wasn’t done with the Mets either, as we know all too well. We brought The Franchise back in momentous fashion for the 1983 season, as Mets brass tried to distract us fans from another last place squad. Of course, in typical Mets fashion, we lost Seaver again the following spring, the latest in a long line of colossal front office blunders. I don’t have the time, or stomach, to revisit that gaffe right now (just know it was bad, and led to Seaver wearing a White Sox uniform, of all things!).

Seaver closed out his illustrious career with the Red Sox in 1986. It would have been cool if he’d have faced his original club in that classic ’86 World Series, but real life doesn’t work that way, and besides, that was our moment. None of us would have liked to see Tom Terrific on the losing end of one our team’s greatest achievements.

So prayers and best wishes to the Seaver Family as they deal with the inevitability of life and our heroes growing old. The announcement said Tom will continue to spend time in his beloved California vineyard, and like number 41’s career itself, the family handled the message and their sadness with great class and dignity.

Tom Terrific won’t be on the field for the 50th anniversary celebration of the Miracle Mets 1969 title, and that’s too bad. But there would be no celebration at all if not for the pure excellence of The Franchise. We were lucky to have him and the memories of those years are indelible.

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What Has Become Of The Crossover Star?

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SportsDaughter1 and I were discussing O.J. Simpson the other day.

She’s taking a class at USC, and they recently viewed ESPN’s O.J.: Made In America. She was marveling at the fact that once upon a time one of the most controversial and infamous criminals of our time gained fame for running through an airport in a TV commercial.

It was unfathomable to me that anyone in our society today would not have total recall of those famous Hertz commercials of the ’70’s. Juice, wearing street clothes and briefcase in hand, sprinting through airport corridors, hurdling luggage and other random barriers, while deftly avoiding other travelers with the same jukes and moves that helped him become the first running back to ever accumulate 2000 yards rushing in a single season (a 14-game season, no less).

That was the O.J. I identified with as a boy. Before his tragic fall from grace in June of 1994. Before the murders of his ex-wife and her dear friend, and the trial that mesmerized an entire country. A horrific incident that has seemingly placed the greatest halfback I ever saw on the fast track for one of Dante’s lowest circles of The Inferno.

I had O.J.’s poster on my wall growing up, and was beside myself with anticipation when The Towering Inferno came out in 1974, with O.J. as one of the blockbuster’s supporting actors (the star studded cast included a couple of guys named Paul Newman and Steve McQueen I could have cared less about — this was about The Juice, baby).

It got me to thinking why we don’t see those crossover actors today who got their start on the baseball diamond, or hardwood, or between the hash marks. I know, you’ll throw out The Rock, but I don’t count him. I view him as an entertainer first, initially as a pro wrestler, before transforming into the leading man we see today, who just happened to play college football at The U (I do happen to like the Rock, but he doesn’t make the cut in this conversation).

Part of the intrigue around O.J.’s transition to star of silver screen was that he wasn’t just playing O.J. He was an actor. He was portraying a character, even if it was the one-dimensional security officer in The Towering Inferno. He was trying, despite ultimately finding the right level for his modest-at-best thespian skills, when he settled into his simplistic, character actor roles on The Naked Gun series later on in the ’80’s.

So when I think about my Top 10 All-Time Crossover Actors, I want to see risk taking. I want to see them try. None of this Shaq playing a big, lovable guy named Shaq stuff, even if the big fella does happen to be eminently entertaining and likable.

Nope, this list is for those athletes who decided to “go for it.”

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Thus, with apologies to Marion Morrison, the USC gridiron figure of the ’20’s, who went on to a fair amount of Hollywood notoriety after hurting his shoulder and ending his football career prematurely (USC’s coach at the time helped the big kid find a part-time job as a Hollywood prop man in 1927, where he would be discovered and ordered to change his name to John Wayne), here is my personal Top 10 of crossover faves (we will  start at #9, since we are giving the #10 slot on my list to O.J.):

#9 — Alex Karras

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Alex Karras makes my list because his overall body of work, first as a football player, and later as an actor, is flat out cool, and covers so many eras and reincarnations. He was an all-time NFL great with some under appreciated Lions teams of the ’50’s and ’60’s, suffered through a year-long suspension for gambling in 1963, and even did a season in the Monday Night Football booth in 1975. However, Karras nearly fell off this list, because his most noteworthy acting performance was as the Dad on the Webster sitcom of the ’80’s, which was an incredibly snooze-worthy role (others who fell victim to successful but boring roles keeping them off this list would include Merlin Olsen on Father Murphy, Ed Marinaro with Hill Street Blues and Rosey Grier, because I simply missed all of Rosey’s stuff).  Karras sneaks in at #9 thanks to his being cast as Mongo in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles in 1974. If you never watched Blazing Saddles, watch it. Tonight. Nuff said.

#8 — Bob Uecker

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“Ueck” has made a career out of his self-deprecating look back on his playing days as a minimally talented, backup catcher in the bigs. He’s one of these naturally funny men, who goes over big as a Brewers announcer to this day, just as he did as a Miller Lite pitchman back in the ’70’s. But we remember him most fondly as the Indians public address announcer, Harry Doyle (“juuuuuust a bit outside”), in the baseball cult classic, Major League. However, despite the fact that I love Major League as much as any self-respecting baseball fan does, Ueck wouldn’t make this list for that role, which was essentially Uecker playing Bob Uecker. Instead, Ueck gains inclusion at #8 on our list for his role as the Dad and straight man to Christopher Hewitt’s title character in the ’80’s sitcom, Mr. Belvedere. If you are around my age, here’s guessing you also found yourself stranded at home on a Friday night more than once during the high school years, with nothing on the tube but “Belvedere.” And Ueck killed it. The guy can act.

#7 — Fred Dryer

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Building on the theme of stranded at home, alone or with a couple of bored buddies, watching TV on a pre-cable Friday night in the mid- to late-’80’s, do we have any other  fans of the Hunter series out there? Fred Dryer, the good, not great D-lineman of Giants and Rams fame in the ’70’s, seemingly appeared out of nowhere as the no-nonsense cop with the catch phrase “works for me.” The show managed to stick around for eight seasons, despite never boasting strong ratings, or particularly interesting plot lines, sticking to the formulaic norm of the times. Yet for us twenty-somethings killing time and nursing six-packs of Old Milwaukee, there was always Dryer and his co-star, Stepfanie (yes, that’s how she spelled it) Kramer, to hold our attention (google her).

#6 — Bubba Smith

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Another NFL all-time great, the legendary D-lineman of the ’60’s and ’70’s successfully transitioned to the big screen in the 1980’s. Smith and his fellow Hall of Famer, Dick Butkus, first entertained us with their appearance on those iconic Miller Lite ads in the ’70’s, and Bubba parlayed that popularity into the role of Hightower on the always-entertaining Police Academy series of slapstick films. It was interesting to me that Smith, who was borderline frightening as the 6’7 tackling machine for those great Colts teams I grew up disliking, would turn out to be the funny, gentle giant figure of those hysterical flicks. That’s the epitome of “crossing over” and earns him this solid #6.

#5 — Rick Fox

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Hey, it’s my list, so I can include whoever I want, and Rick Fox belongs. The unremarkable NBA forward with the pretty boy looks and Jheri curls unexpectedly popped up on the 1990’s HBO prison drama, Oz. Playing the role of former NBA star Jackson Vahue, Fox does a tremendous job of inspiring the viewer to dislike his character, a complex, but in the final analysis, despicable inmate on one of the cable network’s most underrated series.

#4 — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

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As I compiled this list, Kareem’s inclusion was my toughest debate. Early on I decided to exclude any actors who simply portrayed themselves in a cameo-like appearance (Keith Hernandez on Seinfeld, as an example), or simply played on screen versions of themselves. However, when it comes to Kareem as co-pilot Roger Murdock (“Roger, Roger”) in Airplane!, he simply must be included. Kareem’s reaction when young Joey, visiting the cockpit, tells KAJ his dad says he doesn’t work hard enough on defense and only tries during the playoffs (grabbing the kid by the shirt and telling him to tell his Dad to try and carry Walton and Lanier up and down the court 48 minutes a night — YouTube this one, too) is absolutely priceless. It showed an ability to poke fun at himself that none of us expected from the notoriously humorless center. Had to include him.

#3 — Chuck Connors

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I didn’t even like The Rifleman as a kid, but the fact that Connors had played first base for the Dodgers (he had one AB in 1949) and Cubs (.238 with 2 HR’s and 18 RBI’s in ’51) compelled me to suffer through reruns of the lame western every weekend growing up (I particularly couldn’t stand the kid that played Chuck’s son). Was it just me, or did it seem like every time it was raining on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and I was forced inside, if I tuned to either Channel 5 or 11 hoping to find an F-Troop episode, instead I could be certain to see Chuck’s grimace under that ten-gallon hat of his.

#2 — Joe Namath

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He’s on this list for one movie, and two specific reasons within that movie. First, as a kid late one night in the early 1970’s, I happened to tune into C.C. & Company, and was immediately spellbound by the whole concept of the motorcycle club and its badass brotherhood. When it turned out Namath was one of the crew, I was all in. To this day, I can’t walk through a supermarket without smiling at the memory of the Jets QB strolling the aisles of a local market in full Hells Angels biker gear, pulling sandwich fixings from their packaged containers and making himself a snack, before replacing them back on the shelves. The scene culminates with Namath’s character asking the market’s checkout lady (flashing that “cat who just ate the canary” smirk he was famous for) where he could find the napkins. Awesome stuff. Oh yeah, and he got to pose with Ann-Margaret, too, which made watching it again as a teenager even more enjoyable.

#1 — Jim Brown

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The whole Jim Brown story line is impressive. Easily the best player of his day in the NFL. Dominant. Retires at the height of his success and embarks on a career in Hollywood. But for me, this #1 ranking all comes down to one movie and one role. Brown as Robert Jefferson in 1967’s The Dirty Dozen. It was a long movie, and I caught it late one  night when I was about ten years old, stunned that my Dad didn’t make me to go to bed as the hour grew late. Dad even let me come back out the following night to see the movie’s conclusion (the frequent commercial breaks required it to be aired on Channel 9 in two parts over two nights, each concluding well after midnight). That cast boasted Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin, Donald Sutherland and Telly Savalas, but the one I’ll always remember and identify with was the pro athlete turned actor — Jim Brown.

I find it interesting that included on my list are six football players but only two NBAers and two baseball players. That the guys who are hidden under helmets and the least identifiable to fans are the most likely to succeed in the world of crossover success is probably worth examining at some time. But for now, it’s just a fun trip back in time, when the knowledge that a former pro athlete was part of the cast made for a reason to pay extra attention.

Yup, sports.

 

 

 

Spring Training Optimism Arrives!

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Sun’s out, guns out!

After spending a couple of days this week slogging around our Nation’s Capital in a snowing, sleeting mess, only to return to the great state of California and find temps in the low-30’s waiting for me, I am so ready for Grapefruit League and Cactus League games to begin!

There really is nothing better than Spring Training Baseball.

Palm trees, cactus, rookies with absurdly high uniform numbers, and the welcome sound of hardball smacking into the leather of a catcher’s mitt. Sign me up, after a winter of embarrassingly bad New York football teams bled into a historically bad, no-effort tank job from the perennially terrible  Knickerbockers. All that losing has primed me for the 2019 baseball season, and not a minute too soon.

With the wonderful news that the Mets took their spring opener over the Braves today, the season has officially launched. Shortly thereafter, I received news that the Yankees had also won their opener, and the parallel rooting interest I (and many other bitter Mets fans) take into each and every baseball season also kicked off anew —  a passionate desire to see the Bronx Bombers lose (yes, even in the preseason).

Building on that surge of adrenaline, I figured it was time to launch a Spring Training post–

To honor the optimism of every team thinking they have a chance (okay, maybe not every team, but come Opening Day, every team will share a tie for first place for at least one day).

To give me the chance to get my photo of Big Klu in his sleeveless uni into a post (it’s been burning a hole in my pocket since I downloaded it a few months back).

To provide me a forum to air grievances brewing throughout the winter months that are unrelated to unconscionable Hall of Fame injustices.

So without further ado (I always hate when banquet hosts use that phrase to intro the next speaker), Let’s Play Ball!

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*Newest Mets phenom Pete (don’t call me Peter) Alonso homered to deep center in his first spring AB earlier today. If he and Tim Tebow were to hit fifth and sixth and receive regular playing time in New York this season, between the two of them they’d fan over 500 times. Yet somehow I’m perfectly okay with that thought. That is the optimism of February baseball.

*If I was a Padres fan (are there such things?) would I be fired up about the Manny Machado signing? My guess is that the 35 and 100 he puts up this year will do about as much for the Pads as those similar stats did for the O’s these past few years. Well played, Manny. You got paid and managed to find one of the few places you could go, loaf without consequence, and never feel an ounce of pressure from the home crowd (okay, “crowd” may be a bit of an exaggeration).

*Does anyone else find it interesting that the Giants’ spring training stadium in Scottsdale lies right off of Drink Water Street? Also on Drink Water Street, directly across from the stadium? The local hospital’s stroke unit. Hmmm…

*Has Bryce Harper really earned the right to be called a superstar? His MVP year in 2015 was his only truly outstanding statistical year. His Nats teams never won a single playoff series. And he’s going to get north of $300 million from somebody (my guess is the Giants). How psyched must Mike Trout be about that?

*However, in fairness, Harper did give me one of my all-time favorite quotes, when he responded to a question from a reporter with, “that’s a clown question, bro.” Yeah, give him the $325 over 10.

*Will Ichiro get his 5000th hit (counting Japanese stats) on his 50th birthday? He’s probably the best hitter on the tanking Mariners roster heading into 2019. Every year for the past few years I’ve thought he retired, but then there he is, slapping another single the other way.

*I still say Patrick Corbin will be this year’s biggest bust. Too bad he’s not in pinstripes.

*I remain furious with the Indians over their pitiful postseason showing last season (particularly since they were my dark horse pick to win it all — the team with the best regular season record never wins, right?). Is anyone in the AL Central capable of challenging Cleveland’s coasting ass this year? Oh well, I suppose we pencil them in for an ALDS loss to the Astros again this October? Yawn.

*Do I go in on a partial season ticket plan for the A’s, and thus seal their fate as a 90-loss squad this season? Or do I resist the weekly pleas from their pleasant and persistent ticket sales reps, and give Oakland a chance to nab the second wild card again? Decisions, decisions.

*The Yankees won 100 games last year, and right up until Gary Sanchez just missed the dinger in what would be the final AB of their season-ending Game 4 loss to the soon-to-be champs Red Sox, I expected the Bombers to figure out a way to advance. And now they seem like an even stronger team heading into 2019. Shit.

*Daniel Murphy quietly signed on in Colorado during the offseason. If he stays healthy he will hit .375 with 60 doubles and 135 RBI’s this year. Ah, the magic of Coors Field.

*The Cubs and Dodgers seem to be everyone’s front runners in the National League. Lots of talent on both clubs for sure, but it already feels like another year where the NL plays junior varsity to the Astros, Sawx, Bombers and the rest of the varsity AL.

*If I had to pick one team to threaten the Cubs and Dodgers this year in the NL, it would be the Cardinals. They will love Paul Goldschmidt in St. Louis.

*The Braves should have done more this offseason (Josh Donaldson seems washed up to me), and I expect them to come back to the pack in the tough NL East…

*Paving the way for the New York Baseball Mets to win the division with 91 wins.

*The Phils’ Gabe Kapler remains my choice as first manager to get canned this year. Over/Under of Memorial Day? I’m taking the under.

*I’m not interested in a timer for pitchers or a DH in the NL (all pitchers should hit, dammit). I’m already sick of the whining about collusion from the Players Association, and those who cry out calling for a computerized balls and strikes system are simply misguided zealots.

*Will the Red Sox really let Craig Kimbrel go unsigned and enter the season in defense of their title with no established closer?

*Very little written over the winter in the NY papers about how potent the combination of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton will be, compared to this time a year ago. I’m afraid that means we could be in for a year that rivals Mantle/Maris in ’61. Just sayin’.

*If Shohei Ohtani hits .280 with 25 dingers and 80 ribbies this year, to go along with an .800 OPS (while not throwing a single pitch as his arm heals up), will we consider his season a success or failure?

*Will every MLB team use an “opener” at least once this season? Did we even know what an “opener” was a year ago at this time?

*Will Tim Tebow get his first taste of major league pitching this year? Hell yeah, he will (I mean, heck yeah — sorry, Timmy).

*If you had to pick one big-name manager that won’t make it through the entire season, despite having a team capable of winning it all, would you go with Joe Maddon, Aaron Boone, Terry Francona or Dave Roberts?

*I’m taking Maddon, but if he were a bigger name, I’d have to go with Mickey Callaway. Nothing like being the manager inherited by the new, aggressive GM, who’s first order of business is to publicly proclaim you the team to beat in the NL East, huh Mick? Hope you have another fast start planned.

*Preseason predictions (just for fun, so put down your keyboard, Chief Redbird — I mean, c’mon, Harper isn’t even signed, let alone Kimbrel and Keuchel, and you just know there will be some roster-altering injuries in the next 30 days):

AL East: Yanks

AL Central: White Sox (with Harper hitting third, protected by Jose Abreu? Hmmmm…)

AL West: Astros

AL Wild Cards: Red Sox, A’s

NL East: Mets

NL Central: Cardinals

NL West: Dodgers

NL Wild Cards: Brewers, Braves

AL Champ: Yanks

NL Champ: Mets

Subway Series Winner: Do you really have to ask?

Play Ball!

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