Sunday, September 30, 2007

Classic card of the week

Tommy Vardell, A1 Masters of the Grill series

When “Touchdown Tommy” Vardell was not not scoring touchdowns, he loved to grab several different varieties of A1 steak sauce, and cook himself up some savory stuffed turkey burgers. One time, while grilling up some savory stuffed turkey burgers, Vardell became so intoxicated by the emanating aroma of A1 Steak Sauce, that he went in close for a sniff, and the flames singed the middle of his unibrow, causing him to miss eight games. On his off-days, Tommy Vardell played fullback for the A1 Steak Sauce Team, which consisted of him and Howie Long. Vardell and Long would travel the globe, challenging the teams representing other brands of steak sauce to do-or-die, two-on-two football games without pads. During a particularly heated game in 1992 against the CEO of ShopRite -- whose generic steak sauce had outsold A1 that November -- and his son-in-law, Tommy Vardell “accidentally” decapitated the CEO with a fierce stiff-arm. That improved the A1 Steak Sauce’s record to 8-0, and no one has challenged them since.

Although his love for A1 Steak Sauce went unquestioned, Tommy Vardell was hesitant to pose for this particular photo when he discovered that it would promote a recipe for savory stuffed turkey burgers that called for “1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme leaves,” which went against Vardell’s strong support for the U.S. led boycott against several dried thyme leaf producing nations -- such as Iceland -- that tortured rabbits as a means of generating their product. (Vardell himself used wet thyme leaves for his turkey burgers, which, he claimed, “You can grow yourself if you have the right soil.”) A compromise was reached when the NFL, in combination with A1 Steak Sauce, allowed Tommy Vardell to wear a “F--- Iceland” t-shirt during a post game interview later that season.

Did you know?

Aerosmith’s Joe Perry claims that Tommy Vardell keeps leaving threatening messages on his voice mail.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Classic card of the week

Ruben Rivera, 1997 Fleer

Back of the card, start things off:

Ruben has been called the next Mickey Mantle, and while that may be a stretch, he is still quite the talent.

A stretch? What the hell are you talking about, back of the card? The similarities between Mickey Mantle and Ruben Rivera were endless -- eerie, even -- and thus, impossible to ignore. For example, Mantle was a switch-hitter and Rivera was a right-handed hitter, so they both were familiar with batting right-handed. And that’s not all! Mickey Mantle hit 536 career home runs, while Rivera, at the time of this card, had two home runs through his first 89 at-bats, putting him exactly on pace to reach Mantle’s mark by the year 3011, which was Mantle’s favorite number. Furthermore, both were born on earth – Mantle from Oklahoma, U.S.A., Rivera from Panama. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Oh, and both played outfield for the New York Yankees, with comparable degrees of success. But back of the card, tell us more:

Rivera combines speed, power, and defense, making the biggest impact with his glove after his late-season call-up in ’96.

Unfortunately, that was a misprint, as Rivera made his biggest impact with someone else’s glove, after he stole teammate Derek Jeter’s bat and glove and sold them for some extra cash in 2002. Rivera then combined his defense – “I didn’t do it,” I mean, “I’m sorry” – with his speed when he was run out of the organization after a team vote. Amazingly, Mickey Mantle did almost the same exact thing in 1962, when he swiped teammate Joe Pepitone’s glove and sold it on the street for a pack of Marlboro Reds. When told he could probably get more for his own glove, Mantle replied that he needed it to catch fly balls.

Did you know?
Mickey Mantle’s secretary’s name was Ruben Rivera, and Ruben Rivera’s secretary’s name was Mickey Mantle.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Whisenhunt denies QB controversy, winks repeatedly

Note: This column appears in the 9/27 issue of the Glendale Star, and the 9/28 issue of the Peoria Times

During the halftime show of the Cardinals game this past Sunday, Terry Bradshaw -- always the beacon of intelligence -- said he disagreed with Ken Whisenhunt’s decision to bench Matt Leinart for a drive during the second quarter of the game in favor of Brenda Warner’s husband. Now, it’s not often that I disagree with Bradshaw -- except, of course, for when’s he’s talking -- but in this case, I couldn’t have sided more strongly with Wisenhunt.

Of course, at the time, I had assumed that Whisenhunt had replaced Leinart for the purpose of lighting a fire under the young QB, who had, up until that point, looked skittish, unsure of himself, generally awful, and, in baseball terms, Farnsworth-y. Granted, Leinart was on the road, facing arguably the NFL’s toughest defense in the Ravens. But hey, these are the games where a young QB has to step up, and I was impressed that Whisenhunt showed the cojones to take the ball away from a guy who may have assumed that he no longer needed to look over his shoulder now that his reign as “face of the franchise” had commenced. In fact, that very well may have been Whisenhunt’s plan, and his way of saying to Leinart, “If you think you can play that badly without immediate repercussions, you can move to Chicago.” But a funny thing happened on the way to teaching a young kid a lesson...

Kurt Warner comes in and immediately starts doing his best Kurt Warner circa 1999 impression, nailing receivers left and right, as if to show Leinart how it’s done, while Leinart stood on the sideline looking as humble as he did on draft day in 2006. And when guys like Anquan Boldin -- who, by the way, just may be the toughest wideout in the league -- started rallying around the ol’ guy, Whisenhunt had no other choice but to give his team the best shot to win. (In case you missed it, they didn’t. But still.)

Now, heading home to face the 3-0 Steelers, the Cardinals have a good old-fashioned quarterback controversy on their hands, even though Whisenhunt himself has said otherwise, claiming that Leinart remains the starting QB, while Warner presents a “package” option when they want to go no-huddle, which, coincidentally, would be a direct result of Leinart failing to produce. Hmmm…

The funny part about this particular QB battle to me is that -- minus Warner’s apparent superior ability to throw the ball better without huddling beforehand -- both Leinart and Warner are essentially the same player. Both have the combined agility of a barrel of paint. Both can look fantastic when things are going well (Warner during Super Bowl XXXIV, Leinart on the cover of “DUB Magazine") and awful when they aren’t (in general, Sundays). The only difference between the two guys rests in their lifestyles -- Warner being the former bag boy who frequents Church, and Leinart being the current frat boy who bags chicks -- and their age, as Leinart is twenty-something and Warner is 80.*

Can you freakin' BELIEVE that old geezer replaced me? I'm horny...

If not necessarily fun to watch, it should be interesting to see where things go from here. Sunday notwithstanding, my guess is that Kurt Warner will, sooner than later, revert to throwing a few lame ducks up for grabs, and dropping the ball immediately at the mere thought of impending contact (lest you forget, he was the starting quarterback of the Giants for a few hours). But then again, Warner could very well remain the Cards’ best chance to win right now. After all, it’s not like Leinart didn’t get a chance on Sunday to redeem himself, although his in-game response to Warner taking his job was, “I see your touchdown pass, and I raise you a three-and-out!”

This wasn’t how the story of 2007 was supposed to unfold, but Whisenhunt seems less interested in sticking to the script than winning football games. How this plays out from here may be decided against Pittsburgh, a team that, hopefully, is still getting advice from their former QB, Terry Bradshaw.

*may not be accurate

In my opinion Matt, you are like, the best G.M. ever! How do you do it?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Classic card of the week

Oscar Gamble, 1976 Topps

In 1975, the New York Yankees took a gamble by acquiring Oscar Gamble. This move was a gamble not because Oscar Gamble was a) coming off a serious ACL injury, b) had once threatened to murder the Three Stooges, c) was not good at baseball, or even because he d) once lost $18,000 betting on the 1974 National Skeet Tournament. The move was largely described as a gamble because Oscar Gamble’s last name really was gamble, and thus, seemed to fit the criteria for local tabloid headlines. In reality however, the acquisition of Oscar Gamble posed virtually no inherent risk to the organization, and was actually made with the intention of improving the franchise’s overall image to more accurately reflect the times. During said “times,” many of the players took bong hits before batting practice, and opted to wear those little helmets that ice cream come in on top of their heads for laughs. Conflicted with his teams’ updated persona, new Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner demanded that Gamble “cut those sideburns,” to no avail. Regardless of his clashes with Steinbrenner, Oscar Gamble was a great teammate. He was renown for bringing in Munchkins for birthdays, and for sneaking underage teammates into the most exclusive New York nightclubs by hiding them in his side ‘fro. In 1977, Oscar Gamble met his future wife, Foxy Cleopatra, at a microwave oven convention in upstate New York. They would have three children together named Lady of Rage, Randy Moss, and, of course, Nick.

Did you know?
As a nominee for his supporting role in the film “Horses Don’t Cry,” the Daily News wittily described Oscar Gamble’s shot at an Oscar as “an Oscar Gamble.”

A big shout out to Ryan, for sending this card my way.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Cardinals don’t blow it, world spins off axis

Note: This column appears in the 9/20 issue of the Glendale Star, and the 9/21 issue of the Peoria Times

Color me impressed.

On what was shaping up to be a fairly standard weekend -- Giants are a mess, can’t get stupid “This is our country” song out of my head, the Cardinals are about to blow a game, O.J. arrested -- the Cards went and flipped the whole thing around on me. In fact, I was literally in the process of writing my “Cards are 0-2; Now what?” column while Josh Brown was putting the Seahawks ahead by three in the fourth quarter. Now you can look for that column on EBay right next to the surplus of “Patriots, 2006 AFC Champs” t-shirts.

So yet again, I’m an idiot. However, I will say this: One of the major themes of this prematurely written column was the fact that the Arizona Cardinals were not going to make any strides until they won a game that nobody expected them to win. Guess what? I didn’t expect the Cards to win. And if I’m not nobody, then nobody is.

In fact, just for the heck of it, here’s what I wrote: And how about 2007 being the year that the Cards finally win one of those, “Wow, I never saw that coming!” games. I mean, it’s about freakin’ time. Every team on the rise needs one of those wins. In 2006, the Titans started off 0-4, pulled Vince Young off the bench, and by Week 13, they’re beating the Colts. Everybody took notice. That’s what the Cardinals need. Vince Young.

Now, aside from the unnecessary Matt Leinart dig, that paragraph still holds up. It’s just now that 2007 IS the year that the Cards finally won one of those, “Wow, I never saw that coming!” games. Everybody has taken notice.

Making Sunday’s win all the more special was the fact that it had all the makings of “Bears Game 2.0.” Big lead at home, a couple of uh-oh moments (Rackers missing the 53-yarder before halftime, the Tatupu interception, a few drive-sustaining penalties), and a general uneasy feeling. But by the time the Cards had magically turned a 17-point lead at home into a three-point deficit, the cameras panned to the sidelines, and instead of seeing a confused Denny Green with a look on his face that said, “These pretzels are making me thirsty,” we were treated to the image of a stoic Ken Whisenhunt, who seemed unfazed by the sudden turn of events, and more concerned with winning the game than deciding how he was going to explain this loss.


It is not possible to overstate the importance of this win for the Cardinals. They defeated one of the NFC’s elite teams, not to mention their division rival. They earned the first victory for their rookie head coach. They withstood a furious comeback, and even got a few breaks along the way. Their kicker -- who scored 14 fantasy points for me on Sunday, by the way! -- redeemed himself from a tough 2006, and regained his confidence. Their rushing attack and offensive line looked fantastic, and their run defense looked stellar for the second consecutive week. They got a win when they absolutely needed it, as they’re now faced with a big road test against a tough Baltimore Ravens’ team. Simply put, Sunday’s win was the most important win ever by any team in any sport.

Okay, fine. I guess it IS possible to overstate the importance of Sunday’s win. Nevertheless, if the Arizona Cardinals are going to turn 2007 into “the year” – and now, I actually believe they can – then everybody can turn to Sunday’s win as the starting point.

But hey, no matter what happens the rest of the season, nobody can steal this win away from the Cards. Not even O.J.

Wait, whose country is it again? I forget.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Classic card of the week

Scott Karl, 1999 Upper Deck

Me: Hey Scott Karl, can you sign my Scott Karl card featuring Scott Karl signing a Scott Karl card?
Scott Karl: What? You trying to be funny or something buddy? Cause I’ll kick your f*&^%$ ass.
Me: Whoa, slow down Scott Karl! Nobody’s trying to be funny here. I’m just looking for an autograph from one of my all-time favorite players.
Scott Karl: Oh yeah? Well, what do you know about Scott Karl? Let’s see how big of a fan you really are…
Me: Okay, well…I know you like pointy Oakley sunglasses.
Scott Karl: True, true. Go on.
Me: Okay, I know that you pitched -- and won! -- the first game the Brewers played as a National League team since 1965, a 6-4 victory over the powerhouse Expos on Opening Day in 1998.
Scott Karl: Ya’ heard! Tell me more.
Me: I know that on that day, you “scattered seven hits over 6.1 innings,” which is a lot of scattering.
Scott Karl: I like to scatter, yes. How did you know?
Me: I know that if having an ERA in the 4’s is wrong, then you don’t want to be right.
Scott Karl: What the fff-
Me: I know that you blast Limp Bizkit in your Jeep, I know that you weigh 206 lbs, and that, on several occasions, you’ve shoved smaller men for “looking at your girl the wrong way.” I know that you initiate approximately 48 high-fives a week, for reasons ranging from seeing a big pair of boobs, to getting a good batch of nachos at TGI Fridays. I know that you get defensive when other people manipulate your name to make it sound dirty, and that the Brewers suck. I know that you’re going to sign my Scott Karl card, because by 2001, not many people are going to be asking you to sign their Scott Karl card.
Scott Karl: Whatever dude. Gimmie a pen.
Me: You have one already.
Scott Karl: Do you want me to capitalize “Assface?”
Me: That would be great.

Did you know?
Scott Karl played the bad guy in a late 90's movie called, "Grounds Rule Double," which was about a dyslexic orphan named Billy Grounds trying to make it to the big leagues.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

On finding Bigfoot, and losing my hearing

Note: This column appears in the 9/13 issue of the Glendale Star, and 9/14 issue of the Peoria Times

By the time you read this, the Arizona Cardinals will have won or lost their season-opening game against the 49ers. Because my deadline is Monday, I cannot expound upon that result. Instead I’ve decided to stick to my lifelong journalistic rule: If your deadline prevents you from writing about the team you halfheartedly cover, do the next best thing -- write about Monster Trucks.

This past Saturday night, the University of Phoenix Stadium hosted the Monster Truck Thunder Drags event. My wife -- Monster Truck enthusiast that she is -- decided to come with me. Also, I am joking about her being a Monster Truck enthusiast. Neither of us had ever attended such an affair. I’m not saying that New Jersey didn’t have Monster Trucks, but if they did, nobody ever told us.

I feel like I should begin the recap of our experience appropriately. Ahem…Saturday, Saturday, SATURDAY night we attended our first ever Monster Truck rally. I didn’t really know how to handle myself during such an event, so I immediately purchased a $10 beer and sat down.

The night began with an emotional video tribute to the original Bigfoot -- no, he’s not dead, just in the shop -- and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. (Wait, did I say “eye?” I meant cup.) This night however, was going to feature the latest installment of Bigfoot -- Bigfoot 16 -- thus further extending the lineage of the “first family of Monster Trucks.” The Bigfoots are like the Mannings of Motor sports, and every son is Peyton.

Each of the trucks was then introduced to the crowd. There was “Obsession” (not a fan -- I don’t like my Monster Trucks sounding like cologne), “Raminator” (more like it), which was not to be confused with “Ramunition,” and many others. One of the crowd favorites was “Jurassic Attack,” which featured one of the only female Monster Truck drivers on the circuit. Her truck looked like a turquoise Triceratops, and proved that you can drive a skull-crushing, remorseless machine, yet be fashion-conscious at the same time, which was nice. The announcer mentioned that each of the vehicles was “injected on alcohol,” which was a coincidence, because so was I.

The Monster Trucks raced each other around the track, while the crowd cheered on in delight. I should also mention that nobody informed my wife and I that earplugs would have been a good idea, so we spent the entire next Sunday yelling to each other from two feet away: “I SAID, ‘WHERE ARE THE FRITOS?’” Anyway, one of the better matchups featured Ramunition going head-to-head with Raminator. I don’t remember who won, but there was a surprising lack of ramming. Of course, it was all for naught as a confident Bigfoot destroyed the competition with grace and precision. And by “grace” I mean that he kicked the living crap out of everyone and everything in his way.

In the middle of it all, the crowd was informed that a local truck from Glendale was about to perform some feats of magnificence. The truck revved its engine, stalled, and then eventually had to be removed by a bulldozer. Apparently, the truck’s drive shaft broke. I hate when that happens.

The highlight of the evening was the Monster Truck freestyle, where each of the trucks took their turn rolling over stacks of cars, and then doing donuts in the dirt. That was, oh what’s the phrase I’m looking for?…bonkers. And yet again, Bigfoot stole the show. Ya’ know, Bigfoot may not be as flashy as the other trucks, but he definitely handles his business. If I learned anything from this event – and I learned a lot -- it’s that Bigfoot is not to be messed with.

Oh, and earplugs. Gotta have earplugs.

Stupid drive shaft...

Bigfoot 16: Not as powerful as Bigfoot 8, but with more torque than Bigfoot 12

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Classic card of the week

Brad Fullmer, 1998 Upper Deck

Many people were skeptical when the brain trust over at Upper Deck said, “Hey, ya’ know what? We should combine our ‘Retro’ series with our ‘Futurama’ series! It’ll be fantastic, and make perfect sense!” On the surface, it seemed as though the combination of these two time periods would cause chaos, and possibly death. But when the public was treated to this breathtaking photo of a black-and-white Brad Fullmer taking a hack inside of some kind of linear time capsule, well, score one for Upper Deck! I mean, they nailed it. By combining the allure of the past with the potential of the future, Upper Deck created a card that looked exactly like one from the 1940’s, and also forewarned the national public of the impending dominance of both Brad Fullmer and the Montreal Expos in general. In essence, this card screams, “Hey, remember the old days? Weren’t they awesome?! And how about Brad Fullmer and those Montreal Expos? I say both are World Series champions by 2005, the latest!” Even more amazing than all of this, is the fact that Fullmer himself once tried to travel back in time to 1993, so he could avoid getting drafted by the Montreal Expos. His time machine however, was flawed – faulty crystals – and Fullmer never made it back to see his father for the last time (oh yeah, he wanted to do that too). But luckily for Fullmer, in 2000 (i.e., the future!) his new and improved linear time capsule landed on planet Toronto, with the Blue Jays, where he immediately discovered a futuristic substance called steroids, and boosted his home run total to 32 (up from nine in 1999) and RBI total to 104 (from 47). And thus ended the happiest of time travel-related stories, as both Brad Fullmer and the Montreal Expos –- separately, yet gloriously –- went on to achieve massive success in the futurama. But in a retro kind of way, ya’ know?

Did you know?
In March of 2007, Upper Deck unveiled their latest creation: throwback jerseys for robots.