Roger Goodell, Bud Selig; Brian Wilson/Sergio Romo; Bob Melvin/Curt Young; Randy Moss/Jerry Rice; Kwame Harris
PAUL GALLICO, a great New York sports columnist in the ‘30s, changed professions and became a novelist, at which he was also successful. When he was asked why he got out of sportswriting, he said “February,” because there was neither baseball nor football in that month.
Gallico just didn’t live long enough. Now, the Super Bowl is played in February and pitchers and catchers report to spring training in mid-month.
The Super Bowl has been played either in good weather areas or in domes, though I remember one New Orleans Super Bowl, when the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Minnesota Vikings, at Tulane Stadium, before the Superdome was built. The temperature was in the low ‘40s at game time and probably colder by game’s end. I tried to write in the press box but couldn’t get my fingers to move on my portable typewriter (remember those?). I gave up and went back to the hotel to write my story.
At that, we were fortunate that it didn’t rain, as it had been off-and-on all week. There are no gentle rains in New Orleans. They are all of the torrential, inch-an-hour, variety.
Something like that looms next year when the Super Bowl will be played in the new Giants/Jets open air stadium in New Jersey. At best, it will be as cold as that game I remember in New Orleans. At worst, it will be raining as well. Great conditions for the ultimate game. Congratulations to commissioner Roger Goodell for this one.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig doesn’t deserve any thanks, either, for extending the baseball season so much with the extra playoff games that the regular season has to be started at least two weeks too early to fit in in. Not to mention those insane games in Japan, which count in the regular season. Aaargh.
Despite all this, these are good times in the Bay Area. The 49ers are back in the Super Bowl, the Giants are coming off their second World Series win in three years and the A’s won the AL West last season, despite the best/worst efforts of the dynamic ownership duo of Lew Wolff and John Fisher.
The Giants have kept almost all of the team that won the Series intact. Only Melky Cabrera, who served a 50-game suspension for use of a drug which elevated testosterone levels, will not return. It wasn’t just the suspension but the fact that Cabrera made no attempt to talk to his teammates, cutting himself off from the team. Though he’d been a big contributor early, the Giants were able to pull together for a great stretch run without Cabrera, so it made no sense to bring him back.
Brian Wilson, who had been a big part of the Giants’ first World Series win, is also gone. Sergio Romo pitched brilliantly in his spot down the stretch and in the Series, and Wilson’s future is uncertain after the surgery which sidelined him for the entire season. I won’t miss him. His manufactured image, with the Smith Brothers beard, was tiresome.
The Giants don’t seem to have any serious competition in the NL West. The Dodgers are spending a ton of money, fueled by a huge new local television deal, but their decisions have been questionable. They got only one good player, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, out of their blockbuster deal with the Red Sox, while taking on some awful contracts from the Red Sox.
The A’s face a much tougher battle in the AL West, now that the Anaheim Angels have acquired Josh Hamilton as a free agent. Hamilton has his own drug/alcohol demons but when he’s drug-free, he’s an awesome hitter. And now, he’ll be teamed with Albert Pujols and Mike Trout, the best rookie since Willie Mays.
But, good pitching can still trump good hitting and, as long as the A’s have Curt Young, the best pitching coach I’ve known at working with young pitchers, they’ll have the pitching. It was pitching that won for them over the Angels and Texas Rangers last season.
They also have Bob Melvin, whose managerial contract was extended by general manager Billy Beane. Melvin did a superb job of mixing and matching with an A’s roster that saw many changes during the season. He’ll have the same challenges this year with an outfield that has five candidates for only three spots – Josh Reddick, Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes, Seth Smith and the newly-acquired Chris Young. Crisp has been injury-prone during his career and missed 42 games last season. Cespedes missed 32 games, so the A’s will probably have a need for all five outfielders. And, with the DH, they can always use that to get one of their bats into the lineup.
RANDY MOSS has been the good soldier all season, helping younger receivers and never complaining that he wasn’t playing enough or seeing enough passes when he did. Apparently, he couldn’t resist breaking out of that mold, as he did this week by announcing that he was the greatest receiver in NFL history.
Not quite, Randy. You probably had the most natural ability but Jerry Rice certainly had the better career. (I can’t speak for Don Hutson because I’ve seen him only on grainy films but, judging by the way he dominated his era, he probably belongs in the conversation, too.)
When Moss has played for coaches who drew a sharp disciplinary line, Jim Harbaugh and Bill Belichick, he has been outstanding. He set season record with the Patriots, as Tom Brady’s favorite target.
There have been too many times, though, when Moss was MIA. After starting strong with his first team, the Minnesota Vikings, Moss became such a temperamental problem that the Vikings virtually gave him away, to the Raiders. His Raiders career was marked by injury and, when healthy, a habit of short-arming passes. He was a distraction and a detriment.
His time in New England resurrected his career and reputation but his overall record pales in comparison to Rice, who worked very hard to be the best. The offseason workout routine, started by Roger Craig and adopted by Rice, was so vigorous that no teammates could ever stay with it.
Rice could also be a team leader when it was necessary. The last time the 49ers won the Super Bowl, Deion Sanders was an important part of it. During the season, Sanders kept a low profile but he started acting out during Super Bowl week. Rice took him aside and lectured him on the way 49ers acted and Sanders shut up. The 49ers won their fifth Super Bowl with ease, Rice had a great game and Sanders moved on after that season.
Inexplicably, Jerry supported Tim Brown’s ridiculous claim that Bill Callahan completely changed the Raiders game plan just two days before they played in- and lost – their last Super Bowl. If that game plan was changed, it was no doubt because Al Davis did it. But that doesn’t change the fact that Rice had a great career. Moss isn’t in the same category.
SUPER BOWL MEMORIES: At this time of year, I’m frequently asked how many Super Bowls I’ve attended. The answer is 10, which always surprises my questioners.
Certainly, I could have gone to several more. It was my decision not to. The Super Bowl is not one of my favorite events because of my professional vanity. I always wanted readers to remember my columns, whether they agreed or disagreed, and too often at Super Bowls, I had the feeling that whatever I was writing would be the same as about 2,000 other writers.
It was somewhat different when the 49ers were involved because I always knew assistant coaches, players or front office sources who could give me special information. It’s no coincidence that the last three Super Bowls I attended were the last three in which the 49ers were involved. That streak will be broken this week. I’m now a free lance writer, which means I’d have to pay my expenses. No thanks.
I couldn’t even write on the first Super Bowl I covered, the second one, matching the Oakland Raiders and Green Bay Packers. That was my first year of covering the Raiders but The Chronicle had locked out workers in a contract dispute. Sports editor Art Rosenbaum told me to go down to the game – I was traveling with the Raiders – in case we went back to work but that didn’t happen. After the game, I went to a party with players, the only time I ever did that. The players were not much younger than I was and one, George Blanda, was older.
The ones I enjoyed the most were the ones when my wife was with me. Nancy and our son, Scott, then only 6 ½, came with me to Los Angeles for the first Super Bowl the Raiders won. They also came to the one at Stanford, which I enjoyed because I never had to leave home.
The 1990 game in New Orleans was probably the most enjoyable because Nancy and I were staying in the media headquarters hotel opposite the Superdome and close to all the good parties. One night we were having dinner in a Bourbon Street restaurant when a bunch of Broncos fans, one clothed apparently only in a barrel, rolled by. I commented to the waiter that it was a wild scene and he said, “Oh, this is tame compared to Mardi Gras.” I made a mental note never to go there for Mardi Gras.
The 1995 game was also fun because we stayed over another two days and got around the Miami area and up to Palm Beach. Because the sports editor had delayed so long in assigning me to the game, I couldn’t get flights out until Tuesday, so The Chronicle paid my expenses for that extra time. Sweet retribution for a petty gesture.
HOPES FOR the Warriors success in the postseason – they seem likely to be in the playoffs – have to be tempered by the fact that two key players, Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry, are always one play away from going down.
Bogut finally came back from his long rehabilitation in Toronto and had a strong game, gathering 12 rebounds and blocking four shots. It was a reminder of how Bill Russell transformed the Boston Celtics. (You remember Russell. He was the guy who was identified as Morgan Freeman at the Presidential Inauguration.) The Celtics were a run-and-gun team that was weak defensively, much like Don Nelson’s playoff teams with the Warriors, but when Russell blocked the middle, guards Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman could gamble on steals, knowing Russell could pick up their man if he got through. Bogut is certainly no Russell – nobody in the current NBA is – but he gives the Warriors that strong inside presence they have lacked for so long.
But, the Warriors have to be very cautious with Bogut, so they’re only playing him in every other game now.
Curry is just as fragile, it seems. He injured his ankle again the other night, stepping on the foot of another player. He’s a special talent with his shooting and playmaking, but the Warriors never know when he could go down again.
Putting together this year’s roster, first year GM Bob Myers gave coach Mark Jackson (whom I mistakenly referred to as Hue last week) a backup for Curry with Jarrett Jack, who played superbly in Tuesday night’s win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. But, the Warriors will need both Curry and Bogut in the lineup to do any serious damage in the playoffs.
DRUGS: One of the themes I hear repeatedly from those who are opposed to those who have used steroids (or human growth hormones) in baseball, that they are injecting themselves with substances that have been ruled illegal by the Federal government.
Well, I’m sorry, but I don’t accept the Feds judgment on this. Whether it’s a Democratic or Republican government, they have a totally unrealistic attitude. For instance, marijuana is illegal but cigarettes are not. Which do you think does the most damage? They’ve put a number of drugs on the illegal list. What has that accomplished? It’s raised the drug prices so high that it’s created a drug cartel in Mexico. Apparently, nobody in Washington has read about what happened in the Prohibition era.
And, please, can we drop the reference to “recreational drugs.” They’re hardly that to the black community which has seen two generations of young men virtually destroyed because of their dependence on these drugs. They weren’t very recreational, either, for the pro athletes in the ‘70s and ‘80s who ruined promising careers with their drug addiction.
I would like to see sports drug-free. I would also like to see the Federal government drop this “war on drugs” which was lost long ago. Unfortunately, I don’t believe I’ll get my wish on either.
THE LATEST unhappy turn in the Kwame Harris saga came last week when he was accused of violence against his partner.
Once, Harris seemed poised for a great career, when he was drafted in the first round by the 49ers. He seemed to have everything he needed to be an outstanding offensive tackle, with his size, strength, athletic ability and intelligence. But he lacked the quick feet that are essential in pass blocking, a weakness that might have been noticed by 49ers GM Terry Donahue if he had been spending more time on the job. That weakness made him a liability with the 49ers and the Raiders, who signed him when he was released by the 49ers.
While he was still with the 49ers, he was a guest on the 49ers preview show, then on Channel 2, at a time when I was, too. As he came onto the stage, a video was playing that showed him missing a block. I cringed, thinking, “Why didn’t they have one that showed him making the block?”
Of course, they may not have had one.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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