Monthly Archives: January 2018

WELCOME TO THE HALLOWED HALL

I would like to open this morning’s article by offering my heartiest congratulations to the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots for winning their respective conference championships. Here’s hoping for a good, close match-up next week. Oh, and by the way, this writer will be pulling for the Eagles!

I now offer a break in the action on this non-football Sunday (the Pro Bowl doesn’t count). I bring you a mid-winter baseball break!

On Wednesday night the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum announced its class of 2018. As a result of the Baseball Writers Association of America’s annual vote, the Hall of Fame will welcome Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Trevor Hoffman, and Vladimir Guerrero this July. These players join Jack Morris and Alan Trammell, who were elected by the Veterans Committee last month.

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Trevor Hoffman was the first closer to reach both the 500 and 600 save plateau.

Trevor Hoffman broke in with the inaugural edition of the Florida Marlins in 1993. He was dealt to the San Diego Padres in June of that first season in exchange for Gary Sheffield. As a Marlins fan I was thrilled about the trade. Sheffield would become a key piece of Florida’s 1997 World Championship, and it looked like they got him for “mere prospects.”

Hoffman would spend the next fifteen seasons in San Diego and become one of the most storied players in Padres history. Trevor would rack up 552 of his 601 career saves in a Padres uniform, including his 500th save in 2007. He would finish his career with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2010 where he notched his 600th career save.

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Vladimir Guerrero will be the first Hall of Fame inductee to be depicted in a Los Angeles Angels cap.

When I wrote last year’s edition of this blog, I touted Tim Raines as the last of a breed from yesteryear. It looked to me at the time that Raines would be the last member of the Montreal Expos to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. I was wrong, well sort of. Vladimir Guerrero broke in with the Montreal Expos late in the 1996 season. Guerrero spent seven years in an Expos uniform before signing on to play with the then Anaheim Angels. Here’s the “sort of” part, Guerrero announced this week that he will be depicted as a member of the Angels on his plaque in Cooperstown. So it looks like Raines will be the final member of the Expos to be enshrined in the Hallowed Hall.

Guerrero would spend six seasons in Southern California before finishing his career as a member of the Texas Rangers in 2010 and the Baltimore Orioles in 2011. Vladimir was a .318 lifetime hitter, he blasted 449 career home runs and drove in 1496 runs.

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Jim Thome finished his storied career with 612 home runs.

Jim Thome enjoyed success in three different markets. He broke in with the Cleveland Indians in 1991, and became a main cog on a team that won American League championships in 1995 and 1997. Thome would hit over 40 home runs three times during his tenure in Cleveland, including a career high 52 in 2002.

Thome signed on with the Philadelphia Phillies before the 2003 season. Thome would only be in the City of Brotherly Love for three years, but he became one of the most popular members of the Phillies. Thome lead the National League with 47 homers in 2003, and followed that up with a 42 home run year in 2004. The Phillies dealt Thome to the White Sox following an injury riddled 2005 campaign.

Thome’s production would pick back up in Chicago following that 2005 season. In his first year with the White Sox, Thome hit 42 homers and knocked in 109 runs. In his three plus years in Chicago, Thome would smack 134 total home runs. Jim would finish his career with stints in both Cleveland and Philadelphia in 2011 and 2012 while also spending time with the Dodgers and Twins. Thome wrapped up his career as a member of the Baltimore Orioles in 2012.

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Chipper Jones spent his entire career with the Atlanta Braves.

Chipper Jones accomplished something that is a rarity in modern professional sports. In an era where money talks and players often chase the dollar bill to other teams, Jones spent his entire 20 year career with the Atlanta Braves.

A member of the 1995 World Championship team in his rookie year, Jones became a fixture in Atlanta. He would finish his career with a batting average of .303, 468 home runs and 1623 RBI. Chipper’s most productive year was as a member of the National League Champions in 1999. Jones hit 45 round-trippers, while driving in 110 runs and hitting .319. In 2008 Jones was the National League Batting Champion when he hit .364.

Although the quartet of Jones, Thome, Guerrero, and Hoffman grabbed this week’s headlines, I believe the Veterans Committee also got it right this year. In my opinion both Jack Morris and Alan Trammell were way overdue for their calls from the Hall.

Congratulations to the Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2018!

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MIRACLES OF THE GRIDIRON

“Do you believe in miracles?….Yes!”- Al Michaels

All of us who were around during the 1980 Winter Olympics remember this iconic call by Al Michaels. He proclaimed this as the USA Men’s Hockey team defeated the heavily favored Soviet Union. Although this article is not about hockey, the quote is a perfect lead-in.

For those of you who may have been out of touch with the sports world late last Sunday afternoon, let me fill you in. In the last of the weekend’s divisional playoff games, the Minnesota Vikings hosted the New Orleans Saints.

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Minnesota Vikings’ Stefon Diggs reels in a pass from quarterback Case Keenum on the last play of a stunning 29-24 divisional playoff victory over the New Orleans Saints.

The game seemed like it was going to be uneventful at the end of the first half. The Vikings led the Saints by the score of 17-0 at the break. Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees led a roaring comeback in the second half. The future Hall of Famer threw three touchdown passes including a go-ahead strike to Alvin Kamara with three minutes remaining. The Vikings took back the lead with a field goal with 1:29 remaining. New Orleans responded with a field goal of their own a mere 64 seconds later. This set the stage for a miraculous ending.

The Saints field goal left the Vikings with only 25 seconds on the clock. With New Orleans clinging to a 24-23 lead, everyone in the football world was thinking the same thing. Minnesota quarterback Case Keenum needed to get his offense into field goal range. With ten seconds remaining, and the Vikings on their own 39 yard line, it happened!

Keenum threw a desparate sideline pass to receiver Stefon Diggs. Diggs caught the pass with two Saints’ defenders near him. The New Orleans defenders collided, and one actually missed tackling Diggs. Diggs struggled to stay in bounds, but got himself together and ran untouched into the end zone for the game winning touchdown!

What has come to be known as the Minnesota Miracle, conjured up thoughts of other unlikely events in the annals of the NFL Playoffs.

The first of two such stunning events occurred on January 8, 2000. In a wild card playoff contest between the Buffalo Bills and the Tennessee Titans, the football world witnessed another shocking ending.

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Tennessee Titans’ Frank Wycheck throws a lateral pass to Kevin Dyson on the final play of an AFC wild card playoff game, January 8, 2000.

In a close contest, the Bills had taken a 16-15 lead with sixteen seconds remaining on the clock. The ensuing kickoff return turned out to be legendary.

Following his go-ahead field goal, Buffalo kicker Steve Christie kicked the ball to the Tennessee 24 yard line. Lorenzo Neal fielded the ball and handed off to Frank Wycheck. With the Bills pursuing him, the Titans’ tight end turned return man threw the ball to Kevin Dyson (normally a wide receiver). With most of the Bills kicking team on the tails of Wycheck, Dyson scampered 75 yards for a game winning touchdown! To this day, this unbelievable finish is known as the Music City Miracle.

Perhaps the most famous miraculous play in NFL Playoff history happened in Pittsburgh on December 23, 1972.

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Steelers’ RB Franco Harris grabs a ball deflected by Raiders defender Jack Tatum and teammate Frenchie Fuqua. Harris would take the ball to the end zone for a game winning touchdown.

With 30 seconds remaining in a divisional playoff game, the Steelers trailed the Oakland Raiders by the score of 7-6. Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw attempted to hit John “Frenchie” Fuqua with a pass. The ball deflected off of Fuqua, and Raider defender Jack Tatum in what seemed to be an incomplete pass. Steelers’ running back Franco Harris appeared to come out of nowhere and scooped the ball up before it hit the ground. Harris ran the ball to the end zone to cap a 13-7 Pittsburgh victory!

There is still some controversy surrounding the play that has become known as the “Immaculate Reception.” It has been questioned whether or not the ball actually deflected off of Tatum. The NFL rules at the time mandated that a ball could not be deflected from one offensive player to another. If it is tipped by the defense, in between it is still a live ball. We will never know the actual answer to this. Even in the current era of reviewing replay, there is not enough evidence to overturn the call on the field.

With the conference championship games coming up this afternoon and evening, will there be another miracle?

CHAMPIONS, COACHES, AND ICONIC VOICES

Since last weekend, so much has happened on both the college and professional gridirons.

First and foremost, I would like to offer my sincere congratulations to the football program at the University of Alabama.  I may not agree on how Alabama landed in the National Championship Game, but Nick Saban’s boys took the opportunity and ran with it (or should I say passed with it!).  I would be remiss if I didn’t also congratulate the University of Georgia’s football program.  The Bulldogs won arguably the greatest Rose Bowl Game in its storied history, and came within an overtime drive of winning the National Championship.

 

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The University of Alabama football team celebrates winning the National Championship.

 

Many would compare the Crimson Tide’s rebound from a 20-7 deficit to the Patriots Super Bowl comeback last year.  A comparison of this year’s Bulldogs can be made to last year’s Falcons.  Two teams that happen to hail from Georgia, who were dominant through most of their schedule both came up a dollar short.

Freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will forever be etched in Alabama lore for his championship winning 41 yard bomb to DeVonta Smith.  Lost in the pass heard around Tuscaloosa, is Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship’s go-ahead 51 yard field goal that gave Georgia the lead.  It was certainly a championship game for the ages.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban has now won six National Championships in his storied career, hat’s off to a true college football legend.  Saban’s accomplishments leads me to my next topic.

As the college kids were finishing their season, the professionals began the quest for the Super Bowl   To me, the biggest story of last week’s Wild Card round was the collapse of the Kansas City Chiefs.

 

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Does Andy Reid’s post-season history measure up to the likes of Bud Grant and Marv Levy?

 

While hosting the sixth seeded Tennessee Titans, the Chiefs led 21-3 at halftime.  With six-and-a-half minutes remaining in the third quarter, the collapse began.  The Titans would score their first touchdown of the game, this would be the first of 19 unanswered points.  The Titans eliminated the Chiefs by the score of 22-21.

Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is no stranger to playoff losses.  Reid did lead the Philadelphia Eagles to Super Bowl 39.  His lone appearance in the NFL championship resulted in a 24-21 loss to the New England Patriots.  Reid has had numerous playoff appearances both in Philadelphia and Kansas City but all of them have ended in disappointment.

Do we dare put Andy Reid in the company of Marv Levy and Bud Grant?

Many of us who grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s remember Bud Grant.  Grant was the head coach of a Minnesota Vikings team that featured Fran Tarkenton as a scrambling quarterback and the “Purple People Eaters” defense.  This edition of the Vikings played outdoors at frigid Metropolitan Stadium, where Grant refused to let his team sit on heated benches.  The Vikings would appear in four of the first eleven Super Bowls and manage to lose all of them.

Those of us who are a little younger might remember the Super Bowl run of the Buffalo Bills in the early to mid 1990’s.  Marv Levy was the head coach of a Bills team that featured Hall of Famers Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, and Bruce Smith.  This edition of the Bills won four straight AFC Championship games.  This squad also managed to lose four consecutive Super Bowls.

So where would you rank Andy Reid?  Both Levy and Grant have gotten to the big show multiple times, and in all fairness Reid’s career isn’t over yet.

 

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The legendary Dick Enberg with his long-time sidekick Merlin Olsen.

 

While I was on hiatus over the holidays, the sports world lost a broadcast icon.  On December 21 Dick Enberg was found dead in his California home.  He was supposed to be on a flight to Boston, and his family was concerned when he didn’t get off the airplane.

Those of us who grew up in the 1970’s remember the game show “Sports Challenge” that aired on Saturday afternoons.  This was how Mr. Enberg entered the broadcast spotlight.  He was the baseball voice of the California Angels, and finished his broadcasting career as the voice of the San Diego Padres.   He was also the long-time voice of UCLA Basketball.  In between, his calming demeanor and velvet voice was heard on national television broadcasting the NFL, Wimbledon, the French Open, countless golf tournaments, NCAA basketball, Major League Baseball’s Game of the Week, and the Olympics.  Enberg also called eight Super Bowls.   His catch phrase “Oh My!” will never be forgotten.

Mr. Enberg was a big literary influence on me.  I tend to hear the smooth tones of his voice as I write, much like I can hear the voice of Vin Scully.  Rest in peace, Mr. Enberg, and thank you.

 

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Keith Jackson was the voice of college football.

 

Yesterday morning, the sports world got some more sad news.  On the heels of the loss of Dick Enberg, we lost Keith Jackson.  Saturday afternoon in the fall meant the high energy tones of Mr. Jackson.  Keith Jackson’s iconic voice dominated the college football airways in an era when ABC Sports was the home of college football (although CBS was network #2).  Mr. Jackson was the original voice on ABC’s Monday Night Football, and was a mainstay on ABC’s Major League Baseball coverage. Like Enberg, Mr. Jackson was also seen during the Olympics.   I can never look at a big play (such as Tua Tagovailoa’s touchdown pass on Monday night) without hearing Jackson proclaiming “Whoa Nellie!”  Rest in peace Mr. Jackson, the sports world will never be the same without you.

 

WELCOME TO THE ULTIMATE IN WIN OR GO HOME

The holidays are behind us, the Christmas decorations are back in storage, and the ball in Times Square is on its annual year-long vacation.  This means that the sports world turns to a very special time of year.

Baseball lays claim to the granddaddy of all post-seasons, and hockey holds the oldest one-of-a-kind trophy on our planet.  While these two traditions are sacred among fans in the United States and Canada, football can lay claim to the most intense system of determining a champion.  One shot, one game,  there is no best-of-seven series format on the gridiron!

The drama of the winner-take-all mentality led off the sports calendar on New Year’s Day with the National Semi-finals in college football.  The NCAA’s latest attempt at actually determining a national champion on the field is known as CFP (or College Football Playoff). The format pits four schools that are ranked at the end of the season competing in a semi-final, single elimination format for the national title.

To this writer it’s just another throwback to hand-picked “Mythical National Champion” of days gone by.  The four schools in this year’s playoff are #1 ranked Clemson (ACC Champions), #2 ranked Oklahoma (Big XII Champion), #3 ranked Georgia  (SEC Champion), and #4 ranked Alabama.  If you notice, Alabama has no conference championship attached to their program this year.  Alabama’s loss to Auburn in their annual “Iron Bowl” game during rivalry weekend cost them an appearance in the SEC Championship Game.  Georgia defeated Auburn to earn the SEC Championship and their place in the College Football Playoff.

Alabama was placed fourth in the rankings following the regular season by those voting in the NCAA polls.  This earned them the  final playoff spot.  Ohio State won the Big 10 Championship and was placed at number 5, USC won the PAC 12 championship and were placed at #8.  How does a team that didn’t even qualify for their conference title game get in ahead of two top-tier conference champions?  Again, college football is still about style points and not about qualifying.

 

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The University of Georgia Bulldogs celebrate after winning one of the greatest Rose Bowls of all time.

 

The Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowls were the settings for the National Semi-finals.  First up on New Year’s Day was the Rose Bowl between Georgia and Oklahoma.  What a show the two teams put on!  In a back and forth contest that couldn’t help but grip anyone who tuned in Georgia defeated Oklahoma 54-48 in double overtime.  In the 50 years or so that I have been watching college football, this year’s Rose Bowl may very well be the greatest one I have ever witnessed.

 

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The University of Alabama Crimson Tide celebrate their victory in the Sugar Bowl.

 

As for the aforementioned NCAA darlings from Alabama, they took on first ranked Clemson in the Sugar Bowl.  The Tide did roll on New Year’s Night, to a 24-6 win.  I can’t help but think how that game would have gone if it was either Ohio State or USC going up against Clemson.  I also can’t help but think how tomorrow night’s National Championship Game would’ve played out without Alabama.  I’ll have more on Alabama and Georgia next week.

 

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The Rams returned to Los Angeles last year, and return to the NFL Playoffs this year.

 

The win or go home begins this weekend in the NFL.  I am happy to see the return of some familiar faces of my youth to the post-season.

First off, those of us who grew up in the 1970’s remember the late Sunday afternoons when the Los Angeles Rams were a mainstay on national TV.  The 1980’s and 90’s took the Rams out of the spotlight, and out of Hollywood.  Yes, the Rams did flourish in the late 1990’s and early to mid 2000’s in St. Louis, but to me it wasn’t the same.  Seeing the current edition of the Rams, playing in the backdrop of the Los Angeles Coliseum (albeit a temporary home) brings me back to the days of Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen and Jack Youngblood.  Glad to see the Los Angeles version of this iconic franchise back on the map.

Secondly, it’s great to see the Jacksonville Jaguars rise from the ashes to return to the AFC playoffs.  I am actually happy for the Buffalo Bills (even though they are bitter rivals of my Dolphins) back in the national spotlight.   The Tennessee Titans also return to the AFC post-season this year.  After years of either the Cowboys or Giants (although I wouldn’t have minded seeing Big Blue back in the post-season) representing the NFC East, it’s even a little refreshing to see the Philadelphia Eagles back in the playoffs.

With all this new blood, could it still be the ho-hum yawn of the Patriots hoisting the Lombardi Trophy?  It’s time to put up or shut up!