The Jacksonville Jaguars travel to Denver this Sunday to face off against the Denver Broncos in a game that has produced the largest point spread in the history of the NFL. The Broncos are currently favored by 28 points which, sadly, could be generous. The Jaguars are simply and realistically the laughingstock of the league right now. At 0-5, things are looking down. Straight down. The complete opposite is true of the Broncos. Led by the potent passing of QB Peyton Manning, they are 5-0 and are on pace to break pretty much every record. They are far and away the favorites to win the Super Bowl this year. In fact, they may even be the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. History is being made with every snap, and it has been fun to watch. This game against the Jaguars could provide an opportunity for the Broncos to win in a way that is usually reserved for Madden NFL on the “easy” setting. Continue Reading
Losing things is a bummer. There are some items that just seem to wander of more often than others. Keys, remote controls, socks, cellphones, etc. are all examples of things that can go missing, at least temporarily, on a weekly if not daily basis. Then there are more life-altering losses. Losing a wallet or a purse can be a truly miserable experience, especially if they are never found or returned. Losing an unsaved, nearly-complete essay to a crashed computer is just about the worst thing that can happen to a human being. However, there is another thing that when lost provides the owner with a horrible and extremely painful experience; a finger.
Sunday, Arizona Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson lost part of his middle finger during the Cardinals game against the Saints. Apparently the incident occurred when Johnson made a routine tackle on Saints RB Darren Sproles during a punt return. Immediately after the tackle Johnson, feeling a massive amount of pain, ran to the team doctors on the sideline. They took his glove off to examine the source of the pain, and when they did they noticed that part of his middle finger remained in the glove. His bone was exposed, and naturally there was quite a bit of blood. He was taken to a hospital, where he underwent surgery. The bone was filed down, and he was stitched up. Cardinals Head Coach Bruce Arians described the crime scene as a “little tip with stitches.” Gross, Bruce. Gross.
When I first heard about Johnson’s plight, I was immediately reminded of another classic tale of digit-loss in the NFL. Back in 1985 some guy named Ronnie Lott badly injured his pinky finger while making a tackle in a game against the Cowboys. The damage to the finger left it mangled in such a way that parts of his flesh and bones were never found on the turf. Lott played in a few more games to finish out the season with the injury untreated. Immediately following the season doctors proposed that Lott have reconstructive surgery. They planned to take skin and bone grafts from other extremities and recreate a pinky finger. However, Lott refused to go the surgery route because he wouldn’t have been ready for the next season. So to recap, Ronnie Lott had a finger mutilated so badly that it was unrecognizable. In order to not to miss a single game he played a few more weeks in agonizing pain with it simply taped up. Then he opted to just have it removed instead of repaired because, again, missing games was not an option. I don’t care if it was his pinky. That is tough.
We here at TQB Blog wish Rashad Johnson all the best in his recovery. Hopefully he will be back on the field soon. He can now say that he has something in common with Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott which is definitely a good thing. Unfortunately, his finger tip wasn’t the only thing he lost Sunday. The Cardinals lost the game as well and are currently 1-2.
According to several reports this evening, San Diego Chargers QB Philip Rivers is still and is likely to remain Philip Rivers for the remainder of the season and possibly for the rest of his career. The enigmatic 10-year veteran went 14-29 for 195 yards with four touchdowns and an interception in last night’s heartbreaking loss to the Houston Texans in San Diego. Victory seemed to be in firm grasp when the Chargers headed into the 4th quarter with a 21 point lead. In true Philip Rivers fashion, he threw an untimely and costly INT to Texans LB Brian Cushing who was kind enough to return it 18 yards for a TD to tie up the game with about nine minutes left in regulation. The Texans would go on to win with a 41 yard Randy Bullock FG as time expired. Philip Rivers was seen on the sideline making a myriad of strange faces.
It wouldn’t be fair to pin this loss or any other squarely on the shoulders of Mr. Rivers. It takes 53 to tango. It also doesn’t help that he is sacked a lot. Like 222 times in his career. In fact, only seven active QB’s have been sacked more in the past 10 years and Ben Roethlisberger and David Carr are two of them. So, like a lot. Nor does it help that the Charger’s defense has gone through several transitions throughout Rivers’ career, and they have only been decent at their best. However, has there been a QB in the past decade that has made more of a statistical splash without anything to show for it than Rivers? Bueller? Bueller? I don’t think so. He’s a fantasy football stud, but when it matters he’s a reality football dud.
Rivers has thrown for over 28,000 yards (sure to pass the 30k mark this year), 193 TD’s, and has a completion percentage of 63.5. He is 49th all-time in total games won by starting quarterbacks, and with only six active QB’s ahead of him, he is sure to keep climbing those ranks. Not many people would question his leadership. For all intents and purposes, Rivers has what it takes to be a leader and an effective captain. He seems to be held in high regard by both those who have played with him in the past and those who do so now. There aren’t many bad things said about the guy other than he, at times, seems like kind of a turd. Perhaps it is the market he’s in. Perhaps it’s because he is actually just a decent guy. I cannot say. What I can say is that he may be the individual to have benefited most from the so-called “new NFL”. The move to a pass-happy, QB-protecting system has allowed for players like Rivers to maintain solid stats without actually accomplishing anything extravagant. He is 3-7 in the playoffs, and a couple of those losses were embarrassing upsets. When you add it all up, you have a QB who just can’t seem to win the “big one”. This is what sets him apart from the likes of Drew Brees who has also benefited from the new-look game. Brees, though, has a ring. Tony Romo also comes to mind, but Rivers receives a fraction of the flak that Romo does. Obviously that has a lot to do with the fact that Romo plays for America’s team. The Chargers aren’t even California’s team. However, Rivers has kept his job, and is still regarded as one of the better QB’s in the league. At what point does that change? Does it ever? Should it ever?
Besides politics (any Senator) and journalism (Peter King), I cannot imagine an occupation where one can maintain their job and status for a decade or more without really accomplishing anything. Rivers has outlived coaches and GM’s while doing so. It is apparent that few view Rivers as the problem in San Diego, but shouldn’t more consider him at least part of the common denominator at this point? I know that the history of the NFL is riddled with other examples of this scenario, but Rivers provides the best active example. He also provides the best example in this new era of the game. He seems immune to the pressures of being a QB in the NFL because he is good. However, he has yet to prove that he is good enough. He may never prove that, and he may never have to.
The New York Jets are coming off of a fantastic 6-10 season. If just a few bounces had gone their way last year they surely would’ve made the playoffs, and they would most likely have made a nice little run against weaker teams like the Patriots, Texans and Ravens. Alas, that is not how the cookie crumbled. Instead the season ended abruptly, Mark Sanchez got a head start on growing his hair out, and the bulls of Pamplona had extra time to prepare for the Running of the Rex. The good news for the Jets is that their strong, mature core is returning, and if those bounces go their way this year they could be looking at a solid 3 or 4 wins!
Let’s break down this Jets team by position and highlight some of the battles and storylines coming from this year’s camp.
With their 2nd Round pick the Jets selected West Virginia Mountaineer QB Geno Smith. The Jets were so excited about this kid’s potential that they drafted two other guys before him, and only got him after he slipped out of the first round and every other team had the chance to turn him down first. He is currently engaged in an all-out, no-holds-barred, classic QB camp battle with returning starter Mark Sanchez in which the winner will absolutely be a poor option at starting quarterback. The Jets have been holding prayer services at camp every 15 minutes with the team chaplain just to see if maybe God will help them out a little with this whole QB thing. Unfortunately, God is boycotting the Jets because of their treatment of Tim Tebow last year. So far, Sanchez has the edge in the competition. He had a strong outing in his first preseason game against the Lions when he only threw one pick-6 to a DE on his first pass attempt. Plus, Geno Smith injured his ankle when he tripped over his good ankle, so he missed their second game against the Jaguars. Smith got the start in their third preseason game against the Giants. It was his biggest opportunity yet to show the coaching staff that he isn’t even close to being ready to lead a team in the NFL, but that he may still be a better option than Sanchez. Smith took advantage of the opportunity throwing 3 beautiful INT’s to various Giants, and giving up a ridiculous safety. Now, with all this being said, Sanchez is entering that pivotal 5th season for quarterbacks, and you know what they say about a QB’s 5th season; it is the year that a player is supposed to really show his true colors. This will be the year that we see if Sanchez can hack it in the pros. Everything in his career up to this point was just him getting used to the sights, sounds and speeds of the NFL; shaking off the college cobwebs so to speak. Surely now is the time for him to step up and mature as a leader and a young man. Expect Sanchez to fall short again and again in his sad attempt to run this team for the 5th God-forsaken year in a row. Keep an eye out for Geno Smith to pick up the reigns halfway through the season and somehow find a way to do even worse.
The Jets have had a few issues here and there on their O-Line over the past couple of years. Fortunately, they didn’t totally freak out about it and get rid of everybody. Nick Mangold is back at Center again, and he brought his beard. D’Brickashaw Ferguson is back at Tackle again, and he brought his apostrophe. They added some guy named Willie Colon who has apparently been taken under the wing of veteran leader Vlad Ducasse. Most importantly, though, the biggest obstacle Mark Sanchez ever faced as a pro retired this offseason. Brandon Moore’s butt will never get in his way again. Most analysts are predicting a sharp drop in butt fumbles this year.
The Jets experienced a little bit of addition by subtraction with the loss of Shonn Greene. His inconsistency over the past few years hurt them. Fortunately, their explosive passing game made up for Greene’s shortcomings. Replacing Greene’s anemic 4.2 yards per carry average is Bilal Powell, Mike Goodson, Chris Ivory, Kahlil Bell and John Griffin. If all these guys average just under a yard per carry each, they’ll combine to make up for the loss of Greene’s average. It’s actually a compelling strategy. The latest news out of camp is that the Jets have cut Joe McKnight. It’s a shame too because word was he hadn’t had McDonald’s in like 4 days, and his vomiting spells seemed to be down to only about a half dozen times per practice. Goodson, whose absence over the past couple of weeks has yet to be explained by the team, will show up as soon as someone can find him. Chris Ivory, who is so good that the Saints gradually phased him out of their game plans over the past 3 seasons, has fresh legs despite a nagging and chronic hamstring injury. John Griffin broke his leg a little over a week ago, but that’s why God gave us two of them. Kahlil Bell was signed a few days ago to fill the void left behind by John Griffin’s broken leg. If everything goes as planned, Bilal Powell will be the feature back until the other 8 RB’s on the roster get healthy in time for the playoffs.
The Jets have an outstanding history under Rex Ryan at evaluating the FB position. They spent a 5th round pick a few years ago on Kentucky’s John Conner, a.k.a. The Terminator. He lived up to his nickname, and was officially terminated by the Jets when he was released at the end of last season. However, this year the Jets waited until the 7th round to pick a guy to play the extinct position. Tommy Bohanon out of Wake Forest was the 215th pick in the Draft. Early reports from camp suggest that he isn’t really all that good at football per se, but he does have a good nickname too: T-Bo!
Easily the highlight of this offseason and training camp so far has been the lack of murders committed by Jets TE’s. It has been amazing to watch this squad bond over having not killed anyone in cold blood all spring and summer. On top of that, the Jets made a solid pickup when they added a soldier to their roster in Kellen Winslow. Apparently Kellen has really enjoyed riding his motorcycle to and from practice in Cortland.
The Jets are going to miss Chaz Schilens. It’s as simple as that. His 28 catches played an absolutely pivotal role in the Jets success last season. Frankly, I just don’t see how they expect to fill his role this season. The Lions should be counting their blessings right now because their WR corps got a much-needed talent boost when they somehow swiped Schilens off the free agency market. The good news is that Santonio Holmes may actually play a game or two this season. Coming off of surgery to repair his Liz Frank fracture, Holmes may be headed towards the PUP list which sounds like quite the adorable list. He was quoted last week as saying “I can’t run”, but there is always a need for that receiver who can walk really fast. Stephen Hill, the Jets 2nd round pick from last year, spent the offseason using his hands to do various things so that he could get more used to them. Sanchez has made it clear to Hill that if his throws to him this season make it past the Defensive Line, he expects Hill to catch them. Braylon Edwards was brought back in to give Hill some pointers on catching the ball, but he was released this week after showing too much improvement. Jeremy Kerley will most likely be Sanchez’ favorite target again this season because he can run a 2-yard slant faster than anyone on the team.
The Jets strength will most assuredly be in their Defensive Line play this season. They have shed a lot of old, slow deadweight that bogged them down the past couple of years. To fill the spots left behind they drafted Sheldon Richardson out of Missouri with their second 1st round pick with hopes that he will end up being good or something. With any luck, he’ll end up being as dominant as Kris Jenkins was at Tackle before he too has 3 serious knee injuries in consecutive seasons. Second year Tackle Kenrick Ellis is expected to have a breakout season as long as he stays out of jail and gets over the back injury that he has been sidelined with all offseason. Muhammad Wilkerson is the bright spot on this roster. He is good enough to be traded to another team in 3 years. Finally, word from camp is that new addition Antonio Garay is giving teammates style tips, and is parking his Hello Kitty themed SmartCar right in his locker during practice. Efficient!
The Jets couldn’t wait to release Bart Scott after last season. He was just too much of a leader and positive role model for the younger players. He was getting in Rex Ryan’s way. Fortunately, like the D-Line, the Jets have gotten a lot younger and faster at linebacker too. In fact they got too fast, so they brought back Calvin Pace to keep the average speed down. The start that Quinton Coples was having in Preseason was too good to be true, so he decided to break his foot. This will open the door for Garrett McIntyre to show the world what he is most likely not made of. David Harris is back which would’ve been great news 3 years ago when he was good. Demario Davis, whom Rex Ryan sees “a little Ray Lewis” in, is primed to have a season in which he makes a name for himself. Hopefully, he doesn’t take the Ray Lewis comparisons too seriously, and like kill some people or something. Filling up the remaining LB roster spots are Antwan Barnes, Josh Mauga and Nick Bellore whom some people have actually heard of.
The Jets traded Darrelle Revis. He is gone. Therefore, New York has decided not to utilize any defensive schemes that require cornerbacks this season. This news was not welcomed by Antonio Cromartie, his 12 children, or the 8 women he’s had them with. Dee Milliner, the CB from Alabama whom the Jets drafted with their 1st overall pick this year, has already retired. Aaron Berry’s knee decided it had had enough too. Other than that, the only big news in the secondary is that Kyle Wilson shaved his dreads off. Now it’ll be a lot easier for the refs to read his jersey number when they are calling him for pass interference.
The Jets swapped Landry’s. That is pretty much it.
Veteran Special Teams coach Mike Westhoff retired after last season. He just couldn’t stomach another stupid year. The good news is that the more sensitive players on the roster don’t have to deal with his constant cursing and criticism any longer! Currently, Billy Cundiff and Nick Folk are battling it out in camp to become the guy selected to disappoint the team and its fan base the most this upcoming season. I’m sure the battle for Long Snapper is just as exciting. Robert Malone is returning as the Punter. Last season he punted the ball 84 times. In other words, he just barely beat out Mark Sanchez for the most times a player gave the ball directly to the opposing team. As far as the return game goes, it looks like Kyle Wilson is set to replace Joe McKnight at the only thing he was good at; kickoff returns. And, Jeremy Kerley looks to reprise his role fumbling punts.
Rex Ryan has lost 14 pounds so far this training camp; one symbolic pound for every game the Jets will lose this season.
Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. Don’t sell the skin until you’ve caught the bear. Don’t praise the day before the evening. These are all age-old adages with different origins, yet they suggest one implicit and simple lesson; it ain’t over ‘til it’s over. Notice too that they all begin with “don’t”. As in “do not”. As in “do not be an idiot”. Being stupid in life can end up costing you things, whether it’s money, love, friends, trust or credibility. Keeping your head about you is important. It is part of maturing as an adult and developing as a credible citizen. In the world of sports it can be the difference between winning and losing which is ultimately the point of competition; to draw a line between victory and defeat. It is one thing to fail or fall short of a goal because of an injury or by being outdone by a superior competitor. So long as the preparation was legit, we humans can stomach these brands of loss. However, if the loss or failure derives from one being stupid, that is an entirely different story.
There is no shortage of examples of athletes doing stupid things. Most of the time these rash outbursts have no bearing on the final result of the competition. There are also a lot of examples of athletes or teams losing in stupid ways. But, there is still some room in my heart for compassion in these instances. Humans have a natural relationship with error after all. We all make mistakes. However, there is one special category of stupidity in sports that warrants no compassion because it is entirely avoidable; the early celebration. When this behavior rears its ugly head one of two things can happen; it ends up not being a factor but embarrasses, or it ends up costing everything. The schadenfreude in me loves when the latter happens. It’s humbling and degrading. It mocks arrogance and washes away hubris. The perpetrator and the victim are one in the same. There is nothing worse than losing a competition because of selfishly and narcissistically celebrating too early, This goes for individual or team sports. For this there is absolutely no excuse.
We have seen this happen many times, and no sport seems to be immune. We’ve seen it in cycling, football, soccer, rugby, basketball, racing and politics. Each example reflects an individual enjoying their feats prematurely because they just can’t get over themselves and what they have accomplished. Now, I am not suggesting that they shouldn’t be proud of their assumed victories. It takes hard work to win at anything except the lottery, and the winner earns the right to celebrate. Yet, you can only be called the winner if, you know, you actually win. Wait until you cross the finish line to express yourself. Don’t be stupid. It can be expensive.
Last Saturday night at the X Games in Los Angeles we were treated with the latest example of this type of victory-cancelling stupidity. The event was the Women’s Moto-X motocross race, and the competitor was Australia’s Meghan Rutledge. With a seemingly safe and commanding lead heading into the final lap of the race, Rutledge decided that she simply could not wait to celebrate her inevitable win. As she soared over the final jump, she let go of one handlebar and pumped her fist in the air. In doing so she compromised her balance, and her bike landed too far forward. She dumped the bike going into the final turn, and several other riders passed her on their way to the finish line. Amongst them was rider Vicki Golden who would go on to claim her third consecutive title in the event. To Meghan’s credit she did finish the race. In 4th place. They don’t give out medals for 4th place. Not even at the X Games.
Before I get into this too much, I want to disclose that poor Meghan Rutledge is only 18 years old. She is young. Younger people make more mistakes than older people. It’s science. I also want to disclose that it doesn’t matter how old she is. What she did was stupid at any age. Stupidity is ageless.
After the race, Meghan, who fortunately was not hurt in the crash, was visibly upset. Once she had taken her helmet off, she was seen crying, mascara stains streaming down her face. She knew what had happened, why it happened, and what caused it. She knew she screwed up. In an interview with ESPN she said “I was out there leading. I’m really young. I’ve never led an X Games before, I celebrated a bit too early and made a mistake.” Well, she was right, she was leading an X Games race for the first time, and she did celebrate “a bit too early”. However, that is about where the facts stop. First, she says “I’m really young” like it’s an excuse. Meghan, if you are adept enough to use your age as an excuse for your behavior than you are old enough to know better than to do what you did in the first place. It’s as simple as that. Second, she refers to her early celebration as a mistake. No. Absolutely not. A mistake is forgetting to set your alarm, leaving the garage door open, or leaving your cellphone at home when you go to work. This wasn’t a mistake. It was on purpose, and it served no means other than to boast. It may seem harsh, but she got what she deserved.
The good news for Meghan Rutledge is that is she is indeed young. She has a long career ahead of her, and if she learns this lesson properly now then she will be just fine. I have no doubt that she will have future opportunities to win gold at the X Games. In fact, I will root for her when she comes back. After all, if she didn’t crash and burn on Saturday I would never have heard of her. She is now my favorite female motocross racer by default because she is the only female motocross racer who I am even aware of. Congrats Meghan!
While I watched the video of the incident for the first time, I was immediately reminded of a similar situation that took place a few years ago at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. The event was Snowboard Cross. It consists of four snowboarders racing down an obstacle-strewn course. Whoever crosses the finish line first wins. 2006 marked the first time that this particular event was included in the Games. Snowboarding in any fashion was first introduced to the Olympics in Nagano in 1998, and since then the sport has garnered more and more sanctioned events. 2006 was a chance for those who love the sport to see it reap more international attention and respect, especially in contrast to the other more traditional sports like skiing and figure skating that have dominated the Winter Games throughout their history. Enter Lindsey Jacobellis from Stratton, VT.
If you look at Lindsey’s career as a whole it is easy to see why she is considered the greatest female Snowboard Cross rider of all time. I don’t care if it’s a young sport. If you are considered the greatest of all time in anything you are an icon. She has won Gold in the event in some way, shape or form 10 different times over the span of 8 years. She was dominant in the Winter X Games pretty much every time she strapped her board on. Then came the Olympics. The 2006 Games provided Lindsey with an opportunity to prove that the sport she loved and excelled at was on par with all other forms of competition at the Olympics. It does not get any better, and it was her Gold medal to lose.
Surely enough as the Snowboard Cross final went on, Lindsey developed a very comfortable lead over the next closest rider, Tanja Frieden of Switzerland. Victory was in sight and in her grasp. Then she made the decision to accept that victory prior to actuality giving it to her. As she floated over the second to last jump, she bent down and attempted a grossly unnecessary method grab. A trick. A stupid trick. She fell and skidded to a stop. She got up, but had to fight gravity to get over the jump towards the finish line. Meanwhile, Frieden passed her swiftly and crossed the finish line first. Jacobellis received the Silver medal.
I remember being beside myself when I was watching this. I was so angry with her. I couldn’t believe that she would pull such an idiotic and selfish stunt just mere feet away from winning Gold. Not just for her either, that was a Gold medal that the United States of America deserved as much as she did. To make matters worse, she had the gall to lie about it in the aftermath of the race in an effort to hide her stupidity. She claimed she tried the method grab to “maintain stability”. Bull. She eventually gave in and admitted that it was “unnecessary”, and that “Snowboarding is fun; I was having fun.” Yes, because in order to have fun you have to do tricks. Winning isn’t enough. You have to do it with swagger. Apparently only snowboarders had fun at the 2006 Olympics. The bobsledders, figure skaters, and the biathletes were having a miserable time representing their countries while doing the things they love. I couldn’t help but think while I was watching Lindsey’s behavior and reaction that she wasn’t in Turin to represent the USA at all. She was there to represent Lindsey Jacobellis.
Since 2006 Tanja Frieden of Switzerland has owned a Gold medal that she absolutely deserves. Perhaps it should have or could have been worn around the neck of a girl from Vermont, but stupidity got in the way. Freiden didn’t get lucky. Jacobellis got selfish, and she perpetrated what I would say is the most significant and unforgivable incident of early celebration in the history of sports. What she did dwarfs what Meghan Rutledge did in the Moto-X final last Saturday at the X Games. Frankly, the X Games don’t deserve to be mentioned on the same level as the Olympics. However, what happened in 2006 is a sign of what happens when one influences the other; it muddies the waters of premiere competition. Unfortunately, we are in a new age of mentality when it comes to competition, and I think athletes like Jacobellis and Rutledge are the norm. It has become more about tricks and swag then it is about the sport or the game itself. When you combine sheer stupidity with unchecked selfishness and mix it with a lack of respect for competition you get stories like Jacobellis’ and Rutledge’s. But, hey, at least they’re having fun!
Collecting baseball cards is an American tradition that is perhaps only rivaled in meaning by the very sport they document. The trading card goes back to the early days of the game, and was originally just a creative way for businesses, both local and national, to advertise their products. What better way to get an 9 year old hooked on tobacco than by slapping Honus Wagner’s visage on the box?
A few decades later the baseball card became synonymous with the purchase of chewing gum. The Bowman, Leaf and Topps brands we all know today as uniquely trading card companies all began as chewing gum or confectionery companies. They adapted over time to focus on the burgeoning industry that cards were becoming. Like all good things American, baseball cards reached a peak of cool and importance around World War II. It was at that time that there was considerable competition in the business, and producers began to sign players to exclusive contracts for the rights to their images on cards. The baseball card had evolved from its humble beginning as a promotional ploy into its own niche, neo-nostalgic industry.
Of course, the industry was not immune to normal business pressures and turmoil. Over the next several decades it was torn apart, peppered with infighting and lawsuits, monopolized and reborn. It enjoyed its most modern boom in the late 80’s and early 90’s when Upper Deck, Pinnacle and Donruss came on the scene. Today, sales of new cards are anemic, and only Topps and Upper Deck are printing licensed cards, albeit under several brand names.
The baseball card, like the game itself, will never go away. The tradition of collecting them will likely remain in some way, shape or form even if it is vestigial. I assume that history will repeat itself, and they will become popular again at some point to enjoy a new heyday. In the meantime, though, I would like to simply remember my own personal golden era of collecting. We all have one. Whether you’re 20, 30, 40 or 50. You have those cards that for whatever reason you just seem to remember. I had a 1989 Randy Johnson Topps card from when he was with the Expos that was like that. His picture on this card was magnificent. It looked like the photographer caught his reaction to seeing a majestic Bald Eagle in flight. And that mustache! For years I saw Johnson in my head precisely as he was on the front of that card; stoic and profound. I can remember my 1990 George Brett Donruss card. He is about to pulverize some mystery pitcher’s fastball. I can remember looking up Derek Jeter’s 1993 Topps Rookie Card in Beckett and feeling like a millionaire. All of these cards played a role in my understanding of the players themselves. They helped form my opinions of them. They added to their aura and legend in my own mind. They were my pieces of the game. I owned them.
Which brings me to the greatest baseball card ever printed.
In my personal opinion, the card that holds that title is none other than the 1993 Topps (#200) Kirby Puckett Minnesota Twins card. Look at it. Look at it again. If you’re my age you probably don’t need to because you remember it. Card collections swell to hundreds even thousands quickly. I had a billion. But this card; this one was the greatest. It has everything you could ever want on a piece of cardboard. First, it’s Kirby freakin’ Puckett. The legend. One of the greatest to ever play the game. Above that, he did it with class. He was even one of those guys that managed to play his entire career for one team, one city, one fan base because he would have it no other way. He was everything baseball should be that it unfortunately is most certainly not. He was a man playing against boys. Look at the gauntlet style batting gloves he’s wearing on this card. Those are for heroes!
Besides the subject of the card, I would like to now draw your attention to Mr. Puckett’s bat. Do you notice anything… different about it? Of course you do. It is gigantic! It’s not real. Or is it? It can’t be. Is it the angle of camera? Maybe he was really small? No. It wasn’t that. It’s just a really big and awesome bat. The 8 year old version of myself looked at this card over and over again. All I can remember thinking is that I bet he could swing that thing if he really wanted to. Kirby Puckett was strong enough to play a game of baseball with that bat. There was no doubt in my underdeveloped brain. Of course I saw the humor in it too. It was funny then, and it is funny today. Look at his smile. You know as well as I do that he especially was having fun with the experience. I would love to know whose idea it was for Mr. Puckett to pose with that bat. Maybe it was his. I’d like to think it was. It doesn’t matter though. He was sport enough to do it, and I am so glad he did.
Just a few months ago a near-mint Honus Wagner card was sold at auction for $2.1 million. If that doesn’t shed a light on the significance of baseball cards in American history I don’t know what would. Today, you can go on EBay and bid on a 1993 #200 Topps Kirby Puckett card for $0.99. Trading card aficionados would surely disagree with me about the significance of this particular card in the overall scope of baseball card history. I don’t care. To me, that card was Kirby Puckett. To this day when I hear his name I think of that card, I picture his smile, and I see that glorious Louisville Slugger.
Earlier this week, Geno Smith put pen to paper and made his rookie contract with New York Jets official. Smith, the 39th pick overall in this year’s Draft, made undesired waves when he infamously fell out of the 1st Round. He was considered by many experts to be a surefire top 10 pick, but there he was, waiting, twiddling his thumbs when the Jets’ clock started ticking in the 2nd Round. The West Virginia QB will compete with the embattled Mark Sanchez for the starting job in training camp. Even if he manages to win that spot, his career could be off to a challenging start considering the condition of his team. However, other QB’s have fallen in the Draft in previous years and have ended up just fine.
As a Jets fan, I will most assuredly be writing more about Mr. Smith in the near future. There will come a day when I am calling for him to start, and then I will be one of the first to call for him to be replaced by that ginger kid from Alabama with the cute sister. This is the life of a Jets fan; woe are we…
What is most interesting to me about Geno’s contract is who helped him negotiate it. Smith was one of the first athletes to select rapper Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Sports as their agency. The LA-based firm has recently delved into the world of professional athletics, breaking from their previous business appetite which was strictly music-oriented. Besides Geno Smith, they have also bagged proven stars Victor Cruz, Robinson Cano and Kevin Durant, showing they intend on being relevant across the sports spectrum. Now, I would think that such a strategic and all-encompassing approach would suggest that Jay-Z and his partners plan on making a lot of money. Good for them. This is America after all, and capitalism is king. However, something else happened this week that made me scratch my head. Jay-Z pulled a move that is usually employed by anti-capitalists or disenfranchised consumers, not by moguls and entrepreneurs like him. He has decided to participate in a boycott. Not just any boycott mind you. Rather he is boycotting the entire State of Florida.
The reason for this boycott is, of course, political. Jay-Z is among those that feel the State’s controversial Stand Your Ground Law paved the way for the recent acquittal of George Zimmerman in the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Fuel was added to the fire of this argument by President Obama in his remarks following the verdict. The President mentioned his own dissatisfaction with the law, and has cited it as a reason to push for more gun control legislation. Jay-Z, whose relationship with the President is well-documented, is not the only celebrity lauding Obama and participating in this boycott. He is being joined by fellow stars such as Usher, Justin Timberlake, Madonna, and Stevie Wonder. All of whom claim they will not accept any invitations to perform in the State until the law is revoked.
I could write books on the hypocrisy we see in the lives of these celebrities, but this is neither the place nor the time. However, from a sports and business perspective I find it especially odd, and perhaps hubristic, that Jay-Z would stage this public “boycott” while he is currently getting his feet wet in the professional sports industry; an industry that is very comfortable in Florida. Does he plan on extending his boycott to sporting events in Florida? Will he refuse to sign athletes that play for teams located in the State? What happens when his next big star gets a contract offer from the Miami Heat or the Tampa Bay Bucs?
If Jay-Z was a man of his word and felt genuine about this cause du jour, a boycott of Florida would be complete. He would do all in his power to keep his money out of the State’s pocket, and keep the State’s money out of his. That can’t happen if Geno Smith is playing against the Dolphins at Pro Player Joe Robbie Dolphin Land Shark Sun Life Stadium, right? Is he not then making money directly off of events being held in Florida? I understand it’s different than one of his own concerts. I also understand that Jay-Z is going to be making his money off of Geno Smith no matter where he plays in a Jets uniform. That is the nature of NFL contracts. It just seems that boycotting your own concerts is, well, weak. And, it becomes even weaker when you look at the menu of business activity the man already has in the State. Will he ask that his latest album be removed from store shelves in Orlando? How about taking Rocawear clothing off the racks in Jacksonville? I doubt it.
This boycott is a stunt plain and simple. I am not naïve enough to think Jay-Z would or even should consider boycotting Florida beyond his concert schedule. However, he may learn quickly that the sport world is different than the music world. Politics go hand in hand with music. Take a look at the latest Rolling Stone cover for instance. Music is innately expressive. Professional sports, whether we like it or not, are a business above anything else. There is little room for expression on the gridiron or in the front office, and the American sports fan prefers their competition to be politics-free. Team owners, although political at times, are businessmen first and foremost. They are usually wise enough to check their religious and political affiliations at the door when they are representing their franchise as most business owners do in other industries. Jay-Z has taken the opposite route. Perhaps he is simply used to it from his music background. However, who is to say that some team owners won’t refuse to sign his players so as to avoid any collateral PR damage? What if Miami-Dade County pressures Micky Arison, the owner of the Heat, to avoid signing any players represented by Roc Nation because Jay-Z is boycotting concerts at American Airlines Arena, a municipally-owned complex? I’m not saying that any of this is probable. I am saying that a true businessman, especially one entering a new industry, would be wise to not burn any bridges, and this boycott is much more likely to create enemies than friends.