Thursday, October 30, 2008

Classic card of the week

Tyrone Calico, 2005 Topps

The only thing better than one Tyrone Calico is two Tyrone Calicos. (Three is just too much Tyrone Calico, as you could imagine.) That is why this is probably -- maybe, haven’t quite decided yet, because there are so many to choose from, but probably -- my favorite Tyrone Calico card. This card speaks to me. And this is what it says:

I’m Tyrone Calico, wide receiver for the Tennessee Titans. Don’t believe me? Check the inset. That’s me. Now stop staring at me. I hate you.

Whoa, Tyrone Calico! Why the animosity? Maybe the back of the card can explain:

Tyrone led the Titans in receiving in the 2004 preseason, but then hurt his knee.

The end.

For real though -– Calico pretty much never played after that. The Titans honored the short career of Tyrone Calico by first, a) cutting him, and then, b) never using a wide receiver ever again. Also, the back of the card fails to mention how he hurt his knee. Thankfully, Wikipedia exists:

After a knee injury caused by a horse-collar tackle from Roy Williams, he was cut by the Titans.

Geez. How many freakin’ careers has Roy Williams stalled or straight-up ruined with his horse-collar tackling ways? Terrell Owens. Donovan McNabb. Tyrone Calico…what the heck? Legend has it that while he was filming his United Way commercial where he pushes kids on a swing, Williams yelled “Cut!” and then grabbed three of the kids by the back of their shirts and threw them to the ground, ruining their acting careers. Also, one of them was a girl.

But what else about Tyrone Calico? The back of the card poses a fun trivia question:

What year was the National Football League formed?

My answer was: “2002…by Tyrone Calico.” That was wrong. The real answer is 1920. Maybe you got the answer correct because you saw the cartoon man carrying a flag that reads “1920,” in which case you are extremely perceptive and clever and also literate, so congratulations, you sleuth! And yes, the NFL was formed in 1920, during a classic inauguration ceremony that featured a housewife-slash-cheerleader who looked like Olive Oil holding hands with a fat man smoking a cigar and wearing a mink coat, holding a flag confirming that yes, it was 1920 on that day. Then a team comprised mostly of Irish prisoners played two-hand-touch against 10 agitated goats. And that was how the NFL was born. It made more sense back then. Trust me.

Did you know?
ESPN's Chris Berman sued Roy Williams for $2 billion in 2004 for depriving him of the opportunity to use the phrase "Tyrone 'the Calico Cat'" because of the injury. The case was settled out of court.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cards take road baggage on the road again

Note: This column appears in the 10/30 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 10/31 issue of the Peoria Times

Last Sunday, after the St. Louis Rams were narrowly defeated by the defending Super Bowl champions New England Patriots, the headline for the game recap on was: “Faulk grab lifts Patriots over Rams; St. Louis streak ends” I found this amusing because the “streak” being referred to was the two-game winning streak the Rams had enjoyed under the tutelage of newly anointed head coach Jim Haslett, which is the absolute bare minimum of consecutive wins that can logically be considered a “streak.” Not exactly DiMaggio-esque.

Meanwhile, the Arizona Cardinals are on a streak of their own -- a brutal one-game losing streak. They are also on a one-hundred game (approximation) road-losing streak, which is why this upcoming game on Sunday in St. Louis has to scare you if you’re a Cardinals fan.

As dumb as the aforementioned headline was, the Rams are a vastly different, and much better team than they were during the season’s first few weeks. At rock bottom they were a team that couldn’t score and couldn’t defend. Scott Linehan mysteriously benched Pro-Bowl quarterback Marc Bulger, which was ultimately the point where he lost his team for good, as well as his job. Since then, the Rams have shocked the Redskins and Cowboys, and almost beat the defending AFC Champions (I love saying that) during a game in which they didn’t even have their stud rusher, Steven Jackson. Bulger has regained his form and even has a new receiving threat in the rapidly emerging Donnie Avery. Plus, the team expects to have Jackson back in time for Sunday.

You're right coach, Bulger IS stupid! And why DOES he spell his name with a "C?" Oh, wait...shhhhhh! He's coming...

None of this refutes the fact that the Cardinals are the better football team. The Rams’ strength is their offense, and few teams, if any, can match up offensively with the Arizona Cardinals. A unit led by Karlos Dansby and Darnell Dockett is leaps and bounds ahead of anything St. Louis has to offer defensively. Come Sunday morning, I’ll be surprised if the majority of the hundreds of thousands of pre-game “analysts” aren’t picking the Cardinals to win. But Cardinals fans know better.

So we're all picking the Cardinals. Hey wait -- who farted?

This is, after all, a road game. At the risk of beating the dead horse that was the theme of last week’s column, the Cardinals do not win on the road. This is also a divisional matchup that has the potential to drop the Cards to .500, which would leave the rest of the NFC West suddenly breathing down Arizona’s collective neck.

Well, enough. I’m as sick of writing about the Cardinals road woes’ as you are of reading about them, and if a win on Sunday doesn’t exactly exorcise the road demons, it will at least be a start. Winning at Carolina may have been a tall order, although it was a feat that most certainly could have been -- and should have been -- accomplished. Beating the once hapless and now rejuvenated Rams in St. Louis is something a potential playoff team simply has to do.

If the Cardinals don’t do anything stupid this weekend -- like, oh, I don’t know…fake a field goal on 4th-and-14 – my guess is that they pull this one out. In fact, I sense a headline coming: “Rams losing streak continues; Cards’ streak hits one.” A Cards’ win would also, by the way, end of my own personal streak of consecutive columns written about how the Cardinals can’t win on the road. That would be nice.

Monday, October 27, 2008

I can't believe it any more than you can...

...but nevertheless, for anyone interested, I'll be appearing on the Andrew Tallman Show on 1360 AM at around 5 o'clock this afternoon to discuss this post. You can listen online here.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Classic card of the week

Michael Cage, 1990 NBA Hoops

I’d like to begin the 2008-09 NBA season by paying respects to a team that is no longer with us: The Seattle Supersonics. It is appropriate, then, that we present to you the undisputed greatest player ever in Seattle Supersonics' history: Michael Jerome Cage.

My friend Eric sent me this gem months ago, under the subject title: How about some jheri curl action? To that question, I responded, in my head, “Well alright, sure, I guess. I am not certain what that means at this present moment, but allow me to click on this email and possibly discover what it is that Eric is referring to…” Then it was like, splid-OW! Jheri curl action. In my face. All the time. I was happy.

It has been said, “Once you’ve seen one jheri curl, you’ve seen them all.” (-Plato) Michael Cage would beg to differ. In fact, this is probably my favorite of all time. Why? Because it’s the one I’m looking at right now. I’m very fickle when it comes to my jheri curls; one day it’s Melido, the next day it’s Michael Cage. It really depends on what kind of mood I’m in. Today I’m in a “non-mullety, with extra jheri juice” type of mood. I don’t know what else to tell you.

As for basketball, Michael Cage was a rebounding machine. The back of the card elaborates:

Led league in rebounding in 1988, pulling down 30 in final game of season to edge out Charles Oakley.

Something tells me that Oakley is still pissed about that one. Unless, of course, he has simply taken the stance of, “Yeah, okay. But at least I never had a jheri curl.” Touche, Oak Man. But this wouldn’t be a “Classic Card” if we didn’t allow Wikipedia to chime in:

During his career, Cage earned the nicknames “John Shaft” and “Windexman” (as in “cleaning the glass”) for his rebounding prowess and hard work on defense.

I was not aware that fictional detective John Shaft was such a notorious hard worker and rebounder. As for being called Windexman, I had two very lame jokes for that. I will now list them:

-The website fails to mention that Windexman was a double entendre, as it was Windex that gave Cage’s hair that glossy shine.

-Ironically, each time Cage went up for a rebound, the glass would, literally, need to be cleaned. With Windex. Because of his jheri curl juice.

Sorry for everything, Seattle.

Did you know?
Michael Cage's catchphrase after grabbing a particularly fierce rebound was, "Oops, pow, surprise!"

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cards remain reluctant to become road warriors

Note: This column appears in the 10/23 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 10/24 issue of the Peoria Times

I have to admit, I have been curiously amused by what now has become an almost indisputable fact: that Ken Whisenhunt made a crucial mistake a month ago in keeping his team on the east coast for two weeks instead of coming home, which ultimately resulted in a 56-35 loss to the New York Jets.

The idea that grown men who play football for a living cannot adequately function after “unnecessarily” being deprived of the comforts of home for an additional week is ludicrous. I also love how labeling this a mistake implies that the Cardinals would have beaten the Jets if they would have just come home first. As if the Cardinals deserve any benefit of the doubt when it comes to winning on the road.

The reason the Cardinals lost to the Jets is not because nobody was around to tuck them in at night the week prior -- it’s because they haven’t yet learned how to win on the road. It’s the same reason they lost to the Redskins earlier this year; the same reason they lost six of eight road games in 2007, ultimately costing themselves a shot at the playoffs.

The end result of this has been an inability to sustain any kind of momentum. What’s interesting now is that the Arizona Cardinals are, quite possibly, at the very peak of their momentum pole. Not only did their last game witness them beating the hated Cowboys in shocking and dramatic fashion, but they’re also coming off a bye week in which they’ve had plenty of time to rest, heal and yes -- enjoy all the comforts of home.

Now that they’re heading back to the east coast to face the Carolina Panthers, I am, as everyone is, intrigued to see how the team responds. Unfortunately, I have a decent guess about how it’s going to turn out.

Let’s do a gambling analogy, shall we? It could be argued that the Cardinals are playing with house money in this game. They stand at 4-2 with a two game lead in a division that appears ready to fold. Wow, I surprised myself with that analogy! In fact, let’s do another one: Take the Panthers. And the points.

No disrespect to the hometown team here, but until the Cardinals prove they can win on the road, I’m not buying into the fact that they will. Sorry.

Maybe they can prove me wrong. (It’s happened before. No, really!) There is no way that Whisenhunt and his staff are treating this game in “house money” style, but I wonder if -- coming off of the most important win of the Whisenhunt Era -- this team won’t fail to notice that this game is the biggest challenge of their season. Because it most certainly is.

The Cardinals, with their immense talent, new stadium, and burgeoning fan base, have already established themselves as the team that nobody wants to face in Glendale. They are 9-2 at home since the beginning of last season. Over that same span, they have won exactly three road games, against the 49ers, Rams, and Bengals, three of the league’s worst teams. The Panthers, on the other hand, are good.

Funny thing is, I think the Cardinals are better. Though I’m not sure they’ll be able to prove it. For Cardinals’ fans sake, I sincerely hope I’m wrong. This team has made major strides towards contender status, and it’s about the time they took it to the next level. Because ultimately, if the Cardinals can’t win on the road, then what’s the point?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Classic card of the week

Wade Boggs, 1999 Fleer

I’m uncertain how many more “classic” baseball cards I’ll be able to squeeze in here before the season is over. And if this is going to be one of the last ones of 2008 -- or, possibly the last -- I wanted to go out with a bang. So with that it mind, I decided to post this amazingly exciting card featuring Wade Boggs putting his batting helmet away. Can you even stand it?!

There are so many exciting things going on here. For example, look at all those bats! All different colors, and lengths, and possibly weights. Which one would YOU choose? It’s so hard to decide. Also, look who is standing next to Wade Boggs -- none other than the Crime Dog himself, Fred McGriff! And he’s just standing there like nothing is going on -- like he’s NOT standing right next to Wade Boggs! And there’s ol’ Boggsie, acting like HE’S not right next to Fred McGriff! I’ll tell ya' -- baseball players are so freakin’ cool. Also, if you look really hard, to the right of Boggs in the background is an unidentified man wearing a button-down shirt and pants…who could it be? Is it “Cheaters” host Joey Greco? Or is it Malcolm Jamaal-Warner? There are a million possibilities. But it’s probably Joey Greco.

The formula for Fleer on this one was a no brainer: 50-year-old Wade Boggs + dark dugout + Crime Dog + miscellaneous possible celebrity + lots of bats = best baseball card ever. This card was worth $8,000 before the stock market crashed last month. Now it is worth $7,500.

The other reason I chose to post this card is because it seems to represent how far Tampa Bay has come. In 1999 they were the Devil Rays, and they featured a balding Wade Boggs and an aging Fred McGriff wasting away finishing off their careers whilst making millions of dollars whilst being like, the worst baseball team ever. Now they are the Rays and they’re in the ALCS and feature a group of young studs that will probably have this franchise on top for the foreseeable future.

But then you look at this card, and you say to yourself, “Boy, those WERE exciting times back then, weren’t they?” Yes, they were. Ol’ Boggsie. Crime Diggy-dog. Greco. Helmet racks. Posing no threat whatsoever to the Yankees…


Did you know?
Fred McGriff was dubbed "the Crime Dog" because he was often confused with a cartoon dog that encouraged children to solve crimes.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Cardinals continue to prove that they’re no joke

Note: This column appears in the 10/16 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 10/17 issue of the Peoria Times

As many of you may have noticed by now, the purpose of this column is less to inform than it is to entertain. Whether or not it is working is up to you to decide, but I can only hope that I haven’t informed anyone of anything.

As for me? I am struggling. For the past two months or so I have been writing about the Arizona Cardinals, and I will continue to do so for the remainder of their season, which hopefully, for Cardinals’ fans, ends later than sooner. But let me tell you something -- for someone who attempts, each week, to add a little dose of humor into a discussion about Cardinals football, this has become quite a challenge.

Why? Because the Cardinals are not funny. (Another reason could be that I am not funny. I will accept both answers.) I was led to believe that this team was comical in its dealings and in its misfortune, but that does not appear to be the case.

For example, there I was late Sunday afternoon, laptop on lap, watching Travis LaBoy unable to limp off the field, as the Cardinals worked on squandering one of the most important victories in franchise history. When Ken Whisenhunt called a timeout before Nick Folk’s kick was blocked, and the result of that flub was overtime, the wheels were turning with column ideas. Maybe I could have someone draw a cartoon picture of Whisenhunt trying to call a timeout seconds before the U.S. hockey team is about to beat Russia! And then, just like that, the Cardinals put the Cowboys away.

What was funny about that? Except, of course, for all the Cowboys fans left stunned in the stadium. Now that was funny. But still.

...H A S N O P I N K Y

It’s not just the games either. The Cardinals’ entire business-like approach makes it near impossible to find the humor. Take Whisenhunt, for example. Had the Cardinals lost on Sunday, there’s no way the head coach would have held an ill-tempered, ill-advised, and thus hilarious post-game press conference, like his predecessor was wont to do. And speaking of press conferences, Raiders’ owner Al Davis gave a doozy of one a few weeks ago, yet we get nothing from the Bidwells. See what I’m working with here?

Now THIS I could work with...

Worse yet, with the insertion and subsequent success of Kurt Warner as starting quarterback, we have been deprived of the various exploits of one Matt Leinart, a column favorite. I tried to Google controversial and funny pictures of Warner, and all that I got were a few picks of him handing out food and supplies to flood victims in his native Iowa. Then I got all inspired and didn’t make a cheap joke for three days. Ugh.

What’s going here? The Cardinals just got finished playing a team that refused to suspend or even discipline its starting defensive back for assaulting his bodyguard at a urinal. The Rams -- last in the league in team defense -- fired their head coach in favor of their defensive coordinator. Even my Giants are bringing the funny -- their star wide receiver was suspended for missing practice because of a “family emergency,” which was later described as taking his son to school. That’s a gold mine of hilarity right there.

Yet the Cardinals bring nothing.

When I moved here about a year and a half ago, I was excited to start writing about the NFL’s laughingstock. Seemed to fit in with my style of not taking anything too seriously. Since then, most of their entertainment value has come on the field, while the rest of business, for the most part, has been conducted professionally and commendably.

This approach keeps leading to wins for the Cardinals, but it’s not helping me out one bit. So until someone gets suspended for taking his daughter to piano lessons -- or at least until somebody gets assaulted at a urinal -- don’t expect much from me.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Classic card of the week

Jake Plummer, 2000 Upper Deck

During this rare time of Arizona Cardinals’ mediocrity, I say we take a step back and remind ourselves that the Cardinals actually used to be very mediocre. It’s difficult to remember this now -- if you have zero long-term memory -- but once upon a time the Cardinals employed a quarterback named Jake “the Snake” Plummer. His nickname was “the Snake” because a) he played in the desert, where snakes live, b) “snake” rhymes with Jake, and every person named Jake who has ever lived has, at some point, been referred to as Jake “the snake,” and c) he was, literally, ¼ snake.

Let’s find out more:

Most professional athletes would prefer to come out strong and not have to worry about coming back from behind.

Case in point: During a game in December of 1992, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls fell behind the Dallas Mavericks by three points late in the second quarter. It was at this point, after a timeout, that Jordan refused to reenter the game. Afterwards, he specified: “Ya’ know, I thought we’d be up by at least 10 heading into halftime. And I didn’t want to have to worry about coming back from behind. It’s so annoying to have to do that.” Another good example is the 2007 Mets, who got off to a strong start and never had to worry about anything ever again.

For Plummer, it doesn’t matter.

Jake Plummer > Michael Jordan

When the Cardinals were trailing in ’99,

Wait, trailing what? A specific game? The division? No? Just trailing in general? Okay, please continue.

Plummer took charge, completing 155 of his pass attempts for 1,630 yards.

I’m sorry -- 155 out of how many pass attempts? 160? Or 850? Because that would really help me get a grasp on how forcefully he was taking charge here. And also, like, could I get a clue as to the context of these statistics? Did he complete 155 passes for 1,630 yards in two games? Because that would be unbelievable. Or maybe it was over the course of 12 games? Because that would also be unbelievable.

He also threw seven of his nine TD passes when trailing.

Again, no context. But I’m beginning to sense a theme here. So I have to ask: Why were the Cardinals always trailing? Hmmm…let me do a little research by inspecting the yearly statistics of one Jake Plummer that are provided directly above this informative little tidbit regarding Jake Plummer’s comebackedness…

Oh, yes…I see. Could it be -- and this is just a wild guess -- that Plummer’s 24 interceptions in 1999 had something to do with the Cardinals’ inability to take a lead? That’s nine touchdowns and 24 interceptions. Nine & 24. Nine touchdowns. Twenty-four interceptions. But hey -- seven of those TDs came while trailing! So there’s that. Also, it’s not specified how successfully any of these “comebacks” were completed, but the 1999 Arizona Cardinals finished 6-10 and lost their last four games.

“Don’t call it a comeback!” Ha, ha! No, seriously. Don’t. Because it’s not.

Did you know?
Jake Plummer was named 1997 Comeback Person of the Year by Time Magazine after he knocked another man unconscious by kicking him in the teeth, and then gave him CPR, almost reviving him.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Why I would like the Cardinals to beat the Cowboys

Note: This column appears in the 10/9 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 10/10 issue of the Peoria Times

There are so, so many reasons why I want the Arizona Cardinals to beat the Dallas Cowboys this Sunday. Of course, that may be a tall order, considering that there appears to be a rather vast talent gap between the two teams, and because -- since this isn’t a playoff game -- the Cowboys are less prone to choke it away. Nevertheless, a man can dream.

But why? Why do I want the Cardinals to win so badly? I mean, I’m not even a Cardinals’ fan. Hmmm…

Because two weeks ago a Cardinals’ wide receiver almost got his head knocked off going across the middle of the endzone for a pass and was taken off the field on a stretcher and later vowed not to change his aggressive style of play whatsoever. And because on that same day, a Cowboys’ wide receiver openly complained that he wasn’t getting enough passes thrown his way, even though he was targeted 20 times during the game. I’d rather have the demolition man than the diva.

That's my quarterback...(sniff, sniff)...he needs to throw me the ball more.

Because you can say what you want about the Bidwells, but you’ll never catch them meddling on the sidelines. In fact, I’m not even sure if they know where the sidelines are. Or what sidelines are, for that matter. So there.

Ha, touchdown! Just like I suggested they do!

Because in the annals of famous NFL anecdotes, “They are who we thought they were!” is much funnier than “How ‘bout them Cowboys?”

Because Matt Leinart was supposed to be Tony Romo.

Because there are so many Cowboys fans living in this area that the Arizona Cardinals’ website made fans who were buying advanced tickets for this game also buy tickets for the December 7th game versus the St. Louis Rams. So if the Cowboys were to lose this week, I would be able to commend the Cardinals for adding insult to injury.

Because when Pacman Jones is on “America’s Team,” bad things happen to America. See: recent economic crisis.

Because this will be the first game in NFL history that features four running backs with dreadlocks, and Edgerrin James started that whole trend.

Because if the Cardinals are going to win this game, they’re going to have to win a shootout, and that is something I would very much like to see.

Because, as far as I know, Kurt Warner’s wife will not be sitting in a luxury box wearing a pink #13 jersey and simultaneously promoting her new country album, and I appreciate that, because when I am watching football, I like to watch football.

Because the Cowboys were supposed to make it to Glendale last year, but had a change of plans, and now that they’re finally here, it’d be really neat to watch them lose anyway.

Oh, and because I’m a Giant’s fan, and a Cardinals’ win would like, really help me out. And hey, I realize that, in the eyes of Cardinals’ fans, this makes me no different than any of the thousands of Cowboys fans who will be invading the Stadium on Sunday. But what can I say -- we all have our agendas here. I say we come together for at least one day, for the common good of humanity.

With that said,

Go. Cards.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Classic card of the week

Alvaro Espinoza, 1990 Donruss

This week marks the beginning of baseball’s postseason. Noticeably absent from this years’ playoffs are the New York Yankees. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be heard from this October. Because I have a blog.

In honor of my favorite team, I proudly present to you: Yankee legend Alvaro Espinoza. (Mr. Espinoza was unable to attend the pregame ceremonies during the final game at Yankee Stadium because he had a dentist appointment. And also because he was not invited.)

Let me tell you something about Alvaro Espinoza: Every single time a Yankee fan of my generation starts talking to another Yankee fan of my generation about how big of a Yankee fan they are, and that they were a Yankee fan before the Yankees started winning all those World Series, the very first name that comes up when these two people start reminiscing about the leaner years is Alvaro Espinoza. I don’t know what this means -- it’s just a fact of life. (And also extremely annoying.)

Anyhoo, since Derek Jeter took over as shortstop in late 1995, the idea that players other than Derek Jeter once played shortstop for the New York Yankees seems odd, and in Alvaro Espinoza’s case, somewhat comical. But aside from their ethnicity and physical stature and overall production, Espinoza and Jeter weren’t all that different. For example, as you can see from the above card, both players exhibited that classic inside-out swing, the only difference being that Alvaro Espinoza’s swing was 80 mph slower than Jeter’s, and that Espinoza was apparently as happy as a clam to weakly groundout to the pitcher, whereas Jeter would be typically disappointed with such a result.

But what else with regards to Alvaro Espinoza?

Took over as Yankees’ regular SS in ’89 after not even being included on their 40-man roster in spring training…

I am unsure if this is a result of Alvaro Espinoza’s subsequent solid play and/or stick-to-itiveness, or the fact that the Yankees burned through eight shortstops before settling on one that wasn’t a complete and total embarrassment to the entire organization.

Became an immediate sensation with his fielding, bunting, and timely hitting, finishing season with 23 sacrifices (2nd in maj. lgs.)

Some sample back-page headlines from the 1989 Daily News included: Hundreds flock to Stadium to watch fielding, bunting sensation and Led by Espinoza, Yanks sacrifice bunt their way to fifth place.

Of course, the career of Alvaro Espinoza wasn’t without its dramatic milestones. For more on this, please check the “Milestone” section of his Wikipedia page. Or, just read below:

Espinoza joins Ruppert Jones, Ricky Lee Nelson, Dave Kingman, Jose Canseco, and Kevin Millar as the only players in MLB history to hit a fair ball that got stuck in a stadium obstruction.

In the hierarchy of milestones, hitting a ball that randomly gets stuck in something falls somewhere in between Cal Ripken’s consecutive games played streak, and the 500 home run club. Regardless, such an achievement really hits home for me, as my two proudest days in life were the day I graduated from college, and that time I got a tennis ball stuck in cockatoo’s nest during a game of home run derby.

Did you know?
In 1992, Alvaro Espinoza -- one of a handful of players to wear glasses and eye black -- consolidated the two into a product called “Glass black,” which was simply a pair of glasses with black permanent marker drawn at the bottom of each lens.