Fish Food’s Halloween Special

That’s right, sports fans: Halloween week is here! Enjoy it while it lasts, because this is the only time of the year when you can shamelessly watch The Simpsons “Tree House of Horrors” reruns, eat as much candy as you want and/or have an excuse to dress like a Cameron Crazy, Raider or Clipper fan in public.

If you can afford to rent a Chewbacca costume this Halloween ($250+ shipping), by all means!

Most importantly, Halloween (or Autumn in general) reminds us that this is without doubt the best time of the year to be a sports fan. In September, MLB lit the torch on this 3-month long celebration. This included another New York Mets meltdown, coupled with the Tampa Bay Rays birth into prominence as they currently face the Philadelphia Phillies in the Fall Classic. The torch will soon be passed along to the NBA, as the Celtics, Lakers, LeBron, Kobe, Duncan, Nash, Oden and the rest of the league tip-off for the first time in the 2008-09 regular season. I will give a shout out to the NHL, because they just don’t get enough credit. Hockey, like NASCAR, will always be a live spectator sport. Electrifying when you’re there, conversely, our metaphorical lights go out watching it on the tube. Our weekends, of course, are taken care of with America’s place for drama: college and pro football. The plot thickens with each week, especially on the college scene, as every top ten team fights for the right to play in the BCS title game in January.

So with an abundance of black cats, haunted houses, UFO’s, corn maizes, witches (or ex-girlfriends/wives) and candy (the one product you can buy from Wal-Mart not manufactured in China) sure to be going around, we pay tribute to Halloween week and its relation to the world of sports.

Trick-or-Treaters

Marc Bulger, St. Louis Rams: Without question, this starting QB can sling the pigskin with the best of them. You have to wonder, though, what kind of character or leadership qualities this guy displays on a daily basis. Before Scott Linehan was fired as head coach this season, Bulger appeared to be dogging it, and was benched in the process. Then with interim head coach Jim Haslett calling the shots and giving Bulger a second chance at the starting job, we again see the quarterback that once made Kurt Warner expendable. I don’t get this guy, and I would never trust him to lead my team. TRICK!

Brett Favre, New York Jets: On the field, the legendary QB has been the trick-or-treater (highlight reel plays) poster boy his entire career. His team’s fate is often dictated by his play. Off the field, he trick-or-treated the entire Packer organization this off season with his lack of commitment in deciding whether or not he was going to play again. TRICK!

Greg Oden, Portland Trail Blazers: In so many ways, he is one of the more compelling figures to ever enter the league. The true seven-footer has the skill set to become one of the elite players in the league for some time. Oden’s inability to stay healthy has been advertised since he was at Ohio State, but the bigger question mark that often flies under the radar is his character. Not because he’s the kind of guy who encounters run-ins with the law, its because of his decision-making as an adult. The guy just appears to be a little on the eccentric side and could use some guidance. Playing pickup hoops in the YMCA less than a year after a much publicized micro-fracture knee surgery doesn’t exactly scream rational decision-maker, much less having a pulse. But we’ll give him a break, since he looks like he’s been around the block with an AARP card. Maybe the solution to Oden’s inability to think is just playing ball with his teammates everyday. TREAT!

Teams of Philadelphia: The common cliche surrounding the City of Brotherly Love is: “this is a town hungry for a championship!” When was the last time this town won a title? Was it when Rocky beat Mr. T? Wasn’t that like in 1983? Officially, it was the Phillies who last won a title, in 1980, who happen to be in the Fall Classic yet again. The only problem is that they appear to be playing a franchise, in Tampa Bay, on a magic carpet ride of their own. The Eagles were Sports Illustrated’s pick to win the NFC this year, so that alone should tell you they are doomed to even make the playoffs. On the hoops end, the Sixers expectations heading into the season are as lofty as ever having picked up stud forward Elton Brand to go along with a team that surprised everyone by making the playoffs last season. But this is Philadelphia, pholks! The daily pressure to win in this city is without a doubt stronger than in any other sports town. You can’t count on a team dealing with a “win or be threatened” ultimatum from its fan base. It’s why Philly teams usually choke. TRICK!

Other notable trick-or-treaters (not including New York sports fan):

NFL: Steven Jackson–St. Louis Rams running back, Reggie Bush–New Orleans Saints running back and Subway Spokesman, Marvin Harrison–Indianapolis Colts Wide Receiver, Terrell Owens–Dallas Cowboys Wide Receiver, Chad Johnson–Cincinnati Bengals Wide Receiver, Mike Martz, San Diego Chargers

NBA: Gilbert Arenas–Washington Wizards Guard,  Jamal Crawford–New York Knicks Guard, Adam Morrison–Charlotte Bobcats Forward, Stephen Jackson–Golden State Warriors Guard, Jermaine O’Neal–Toronto Raptors Center, Rasheed Wallace–Detroit Pistons Center,  Joakim Noah–Chicago Bulls Center, Ron Artest–Houston Rockets Forward, Pat Riley, Denver Nuggets, Dallas Mavericks, Tracy McGrady during the playoffs, LeBron James’ supporting cast.

These two registered trick-or-treaters will be wearing different costumes this halloween.

These two registered trick-or-treaters will be wearing different costumes this halloween.

Scariest (for whatever reason imaginable: nicknames, presence, looks, performance, decision-making, character):

Bill “Big Tuna” Parcells, Bill “Hoody” Belicheck, PacMan Jones, Raider Fan, Lawrence Taylor, Dick Butkus, Jim Brown, Stephen Jackson, Ron Artest, Tank Johnson, The entire interior line group of the 90’s Dallas Cowboys, Al Davis, Isiah Thomas, Andre “Dirty” Waters, Chuck Cecil, Steve Atwater, Christian “Nigerian Nightmare” Okoye, OJ Simpson, Rae Carruth, Lawrence Phillips, Ryan Leaf, Ohio State fan, Bill Romanowski, Larry Allen, New Orleans Saints defense, New York Knicks defense, New York Mets Franchise, Detroit Lions Franchise, Cincinnati Bengals Franchise, Hal McCrae, Jim Bowden, Kellen Winslow Jr., Deacon Jones, Manute Bol, Charles Barkley, Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman, Bruce Smith, Ray Lewis

The New ’69 Mets

A more fitting Hollywood script for the Rays franchise.

The World Series-bound Rays have already turned in another Hollywood script for the franchise.

In 2002, Tampa Bay’s baseball organization introduced themselves through the entertainment industry by telling the true-story of an unlikely 40-year-old pitcher in Disney’s full-length feature film, “The Rookie”, starring Dennis Quaid.

On Sunday night, nearly 10 years to the anniversary of famed rookie Jimmy Morris’s debut, the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays won their first pennant in concluding their own Hollywood-like story that makes the Mickey Mouse-backed film look like a “Mad About You” re-run.

In fact, what the 2008 Rays have been able to accomplish is a big part of what makes sports so popular in the USA: drama and hope. While our country is dealing with its fare share of trouble and showing daily signs of becoming the next crumbling empire, this perennial loser became a champion for the first time. (And they still have another series to play.) Many teams have gone from worst to first, but nobody overcame more odds or did it with more flavor than these Rays. If they can get out of the cellar, so can America’s fortune.

After all, this team one upped biblical legend David, outlasting a pair of sports’ elite Goliaths in the Yankees and Red Sox. Not only did the Rays win the toughest division in baseball, they did so being the hunted, wearing the bullseye-or what have you-for nearly the entire second half of the 2008 season.

While the Rays turned their franchise around through exercising patience with their bevy of young talent, it was perhaps the most talented first round pick, Delmon Young, who they traded in the off season for what turned out to be the real “Big Game James”. Of course I’m referring to starting pitcher in Matt Garza, who tamed the defending World Series champs in yielding just one hit through seven innings pitched and striking out nine.

Congratulations to the Tampa Bay Rays; for I will no longer group you in the same class as the Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Clippers, or Arizona Cardinals.

Is Tony Romo An “Elite” NFL Quarterback?

Romo has the ability to makes plays that few other NFL quarterbacks can.

Romo has the ability to make plays that few other NFL quarterbacks can.

On last weekend’s edition of ESPN’s Edge NFL Matchup, Ron Jaworski said that when the Cowboys “get it right”, they are the “most dynamic offense in the National Football League.”

In order to have the most dynamic offense in the National Football League, wouldn’t you need an elite quarterback? Isn’t an explosive offense, such as the Cowboys, always a reflection of it’s signal caller?

I won’t say it’s a no-brain-er, a hands down, a sure bet, or any kind of guarantee, but Tony Romo is an elite NFL quarterback. Here’s five reasons why I’ll take Romo’s side in what is turning into a popular debate.

1. He hasn’t won a big game yet! That didn’t stop us from labeling Peyton Manning an elite quarterback almost instantaneously. Manning orchestrated a dynamic NFL offense for five seasons before finally winning his first playoff game in his fourth try. Romo is 0-2. His first playoff game, ended infamously with that bobbled snap, as we all know. Last season’s loss versus the eventual Super Bowl champion Giants, would have never happened if it wasn’t for Patrick Crayton’s blunders. Romo didn’t play well in that game (18-36, 201 yards, 1 TD, 1 turnover), but the Cowboys did not lose because of Romo (stay tuned). Patrick Crayton’s muffed fumble and key dropped pass collectively took the wind out of the Cowboy sails. If you watched that game, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

2. He’s throws too many interceptions! Not just the interceptions, but he has a tendency to lose fumbles as well. But let’s look at the bigger picture: How many NFL teams throw the ball down field (or throw as much, for that matter) as the Dallas Cowboys? What you have to respect about Romo is that he’s a quarterback who is always looking to make the big play. If you want to play devil’s advocate with that observation and say, “The elite quarterback is one who recognizes the appropriate time to make the big play, and stays poised no matter the situation.” And I get that. I see that Romo is a little jumpy and maybe tries too hard when the opposing defense shows that they are not going to allow 30 points on that Sunday.

3. He’s a celebrity first, quarterback second! Yes, you’re absolutely right. He’s not only the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, but he has emerged as the face of the organization. So naturally, he’s going to have to wear that celebrity cap. Forget about the girlfriends for a second, because we all know we’d be taking advantage of the dating scene like Romo does. But Romo not only looks the part on the field, he speaks well, he’s got an infectious smile, and like all other elite quarterbacks, he’s got the respect of his teammates. He’s going to have to learn from he and his girlfriends media/public transgressions. If he can learn to keep his name associated only with being the quarterback of America’s Team, and not blonde bombshell actress’ boyfriend, then the playoff run will arrive.

4. He’s got great weapons around him! I agree. But that’s never a concrete statement, I don’t care what team you play for. Offensive execution is a two-way street. The quarterback dictates the chemistry, flow and effectiveness of the offense first, then the T.O.’s, Wittens, and Barbers of the world can do their thing. In order to become a successful quarterback in the NFL, you have to have a pocket presence, or an innate ability to move and make throws when the pressure is coming. Romo’s athleticism is head and shoulders above any other starting quarterback in the NFL, and one of his unique strengths is his ability to use his mobility to get the ball to his weapons. There’s no better example of Romo’s pocket talents than in last week’s loss at Arizona. Romo was bullied by the Cardinal front four all game long, yet he still made enough plays, to keep his team in the game and put them in position to win. The only thing that appeared to stop the Cowboys from winning was Romo breaking the pinky finger on his throwing hand in overtime. Last week wasn’t vintage Romo, but he proved he’s one tough S.O.B.

5. In order to be an elite quarterback, you have to win a Super Bowl! Okay, that’s the best argument against Romo. I’ll start his defense by listing the best quarterbacks in the NFL, for those of us who are visual learners. Here’s my top 10 list, without Romo:

Elite: 1. Peyton Manning 2. Tom Brady 3. Eli Manning 4. Brett Favre 5. Ben Roethlisberger

In the mix: 6. Drew Brees 7. Donavon McNabb 8. Matt Hasselbeck 9. Carson Palmer 10. Philip Rivers

The branded elite quarterbacks all have one thing in common, being that they are Super Bowl champions. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I don’t think Drew Brees or Donovan McNabb don’t belong with the elite. I think they deserve to be mentioned within the cream of the crop. Of course, the big question is, where does Romo fit? I think he would have to be mentioned in the same class as Roethlisberger, Favre, Brees, McNabb, even Eli Manning. If Eli Manning doesn’t win the Super Bowl last season, I’m not sure he would even be in the top 10.

Did I mention that Romo is now out for three games? That can’t bode well for an already struggling Cowboy team. Unless you want to count the playoff mishap (which was one play) against Seattle two seasons ago, the Cowboys never lose games because of Romo. They more often than not lose games because their defense and pass protection cannot be counted on.

Now the Cowboys are going to have to figure out how to win games without Tony Romo.

Most think that Cowboy offensive coordinator Jason Garrett will now focus on the running game, with rookie runner Felix Jones now inactive with a hamstring tear. Thought the Cowboys were sputtering with Romo? Time will tell if it was the franchise quarterback who was keeping the team’s head above water with his playmaking ability.

Just who is HOF worthy?

In the 90's, few players were better at their job than Alomar.

In the 90's, few players were better at their job than Alomar.

Consistency in baseball, for an average of 10 seasons, should be the first and foremost issue in evaluating an player’s hall of fame worth. As a country, we revered Cal Ripken’s consecutive games played streak, yet voters often don’t give respect to guys who played at a high level for countless numbers of years.

Yet, unsurprisingly, there is an unmarked asterisk that goes with that ever important consistency issue: Did he cooperate with the press or not? I don’t think there is any doubt that the athlete’s personality can put him over the top or keep him copped out by the press (see Jim Rice). Politics go much further in life than Democrats and Republicans. That’s America.

Look at Andre “The Hawk” Dawson, for instance. Dawson played at a high level for roughly 20 seasons in the Big Leagues. The 1987 National League MVP earned eight all-star selections and gold gloves apiece. He totaled 438 career home runs and 1591 RBI. But for some reason, Dawson is never considered a shoe-in. Is it because he played in Montreal for so long, then moved to Chicago in Ryan Sandberg’s shadow? Or is it because Dawson put up only above average-and nothing else-numbers each season? Time is running out for “The Hawk”, who was a power hitter during an era when power hitting was at a premium.

If I was a baseball writer with a HOF vote, I would begin to evaluate with this sort of philosophy:
Automatic (*) credentials= 3,000 hits or 500 homeruns, 280 wins for a pitcher

*(There are a few exceptions, and you know who they are!)

In my estimation, an every day player needs at least eight great seasons. To justify a great season, I’ll look for any pair of these stats attained: .300 BA, 90 runs, 30 HR, 40 steals, 90 RBI for consideration. Of course, postseason, or any kind of awards or recognitions (all-star selection, gold glove, on-base percentage) help the cause tremendously in case the verdict is on the fence.

Of course, there’s no exact science in ruling what a great season is. Take Chipper Jones’ 2008 season. He only had 22 HR, 75 RBI and 82 runs. In this era, those numbers are common. But because Jones won the batting title, how could you not characterize his season as HOF worthy? If the HOF was based purely on some sort of formula or statistical system, Jeff Bagwell, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds would be first ballot HOF’ers.

Attempting to vote in a pitcher is much more challenging. After all, he only plays once every five days and you have to take into recognition the teams he played for. Like every day players, postseason accomplishments have to put the border-line guy over the top. I like to say that 15+ wins in a season, unless it was a losing season, automatically scores as a HOF season. Earn 10 of these seasons, and you’re guaranteed in my book.

I spent a great deal of time with a professional baseball team this summer. We had lengthy conversations that included most of the following individuals in both baseball and football.

Roberto Alomar: I’m not sure why this is debatable. Spitting in the umpire’s face is embedded in every spectator’s memory, but that shouldn’t completely negate the suggestion that he was the best second baseman of the 90’s. Hands down, I think. Again, that’s an entire decade at the highest level as a middle infielder. All-star games, gold gloves, championships; there’s no denying Alomar’s resume. Character, on the other hand, wasn’t his strong suit. But the playing credentials are just too good to leave him out. In his prime, he might have been the best defensive second baseman ever.

Bert “Be Home” Blyleven: The Chris Berman-issued nickname probably wouldn’t make it to his plack, but because he played in small markets his entire career, Blyleven was never a household name anyways. In 22 big league seasons, Blyleven won 15 or more games 10 times, totaling 287 career wins. Don’t fault the man, fault the system: Blyleven’s best seasons were in small markets such as Minnesota and Pittsburgh. As writers, we should grant HOF recognition to a guy that to successfully pitched in the big leagues for over 20 seasons. Think about how lofty of an accomplishment that really is.

Fred McGriff: The nickname itself, “Crimedog”, is HOF worthy. But he falls short on my automatic qualifier formula. But McGriff is still a guy that can really have voters pulling their hair out. Like Dawson, reserved with the media, but hardly reserved with his bat for a significant period of time.

Curt Schilling: The first thing that comes to my mind when I hear or read his name is: One of the best big-game/postseason pitchers ever. The post-season numbers are nothing short of remarkable. Schilling was a champion in both leagues and a World Series MVP with Arizona. The bloody sock performance against the Yankees will go down in history as one of the most important in the history of baseball. His regular season totals don’t blow you away, but again, his postseason reputation will put him over the top. (Not to mention he is the posterchild under the category of “Media Darling”.)

Mike Mussina: Despite the fact that Mussina never pitched in a pitcher-friendly ballpark, as of 2008, he has managed to total 270 wins. And if there is any merit to the idea that you’re only as good as your last season as an athlete, then the 39 year-old hit his pinnacle season in 2008, notching his first 20-win season. Hard to believe that a guy like Mussina, who has pitched at an above average big league level for most of his 18 year career, never hit that golden 20 win mark. Meanwhile, his hall of fame worth is arguable most likely because the Cy Young award continues to elude him and he pitched most of his career in front of an all-star heavy Yankee lineup. Though Mussina will never be viewed as a household name himself, he is within shouting distance, or two to three more seasons, of reaching the 300 win milestone.

Orel Hershiser: I find Heshiser to be as borderline a player as they come-in any sport. Before Manny was LA’s preeminent baseball star, Hershiser was arguably the last Dodger player that provided the franchise with a Hollywood-like swagger. It seemed like the Dodgers were just missing some excitement after Hershiser and Kirk Gibson carried the Dodgers to a the World Series victory in 1988. Hershiser had one of the greatest seasons ever for a starting pitcher in 1988; winning the CY Young, a gold glove, World Series MVP, and setting a record of 59 consecutive scoreless innings pitched. Was one of the elite pitchers of the ’80’s.

John Smoltz: He’s more of a question mark because his career stats are somewhat misleading. He’s one of the only pitchers in the history of the game who was just as dominant in closing a game as he was starting it. He still is recognized as one of the best pitchers of his generation. One of the best big-game/postseason pitchers of his generation as well. A champion and Cy Young Award winner. Arguably the face of the Atlanta Braves franchise.

Jeff Kent: We don’t typically associate his name with the second base position. After all, he never won any awards for his defensive play. But nevertheless, he put up the numbers needed-for any position-let alone a second baseman, to earn HOF recognition. Raked in two handfuls of 100+ RBI seasons with the Giants, where his career began to flourish, winning the MVP in 2000. Another guy who’s lack of character leaves a sour taste in the mouth of a voter. Like Alomar, played second base for a long time. Unlike Alomar, was not known for his glove.

Bo Jackson: Ugh. I got nothin’ here. Nevermind.

NFL

Ricky Watters: Consistency and durablity were the trademarks of his career, evident in ranking 24th all-time in total yards from scrimmage. Arguably a transcending back in the pass-heavy modern-day West Coast system. Watters managed to rush for 1,000+ yards a season seven times throughout his 10-year career despite never playing under any other system. Scored over 100 touchdowns (regular and postseason combined) while earning the rare repuation as an every-down back who could run, catch and block. A championship-winning back with the San Francisco 49ers, tying a Super Bowl record by scoring three touchdowns in a rout over the San Diego Chargers. Also set an NFL postseason record with five rushing touchdowns in a divisional playoff victory over the New York Giants in 1994. Watters is part of an exclusive club, joining Walter Payton, Marshall Faulk, Marcus Allen, Thurman Thomas, Warrick Dunn, and Tiki Barber as the only running backs to accrue a combination of over 10,000 rushing yards and 4,000 receiving yards for a career.

You decide: Corey Dillon, Tiki Barber, Curtis Martin, Roger Craig, Edgerrin James, Jerome Bettis

Just Live, Baby!

Fish Food Buzz

Darth Raider’s Worst Nightmare

There hasn’t-and never will be-a more appropriate time to sell your loyalty as a Raider fan on EBAY. If a Chicago Cub fan can do it, then why not Raider fan? Raider fan may not have to wait 100+ years to win a championship, but family genes suggest that the Dark Side’s Emperor (Al) will live to see his age reach triple digits. According to Jim Rome, Al Davis’ mother lived well past her 100th birthday.

The belly of the beast will always belong to Al Davis!

The belly of the beast will always belong to Al Davis!

Roberto Clemente over Lou Gehrig?

I was listening to Chris Russo’s “Mag Dog Unleashed” show on XM the other day. Apparently, there has been talk about Major League Baseball retiring the No. 21, in honor of Roberto Clemente, the legendary outfielder and humanitarian.

It’s not that I want to undermine anything Clemente did. I was not alive when he played, but I have read enough and seen enough to understand the impact he made on and off the field. But it was Russo’s side-kick/update talent who countered MLB’s proposition by substituting Lou Gehrig for the honor. The two emphasized the fact that Gehrig played with ALS, or in other words, on his death bed. In fact, in 1938 (the year before he was officially diagnosed) Gehrig hit .295, with 29 home runs and 114 RBI’s. Again, he was dying. And of course, who could forget, the Iron Horse’s speech in Yankee Stadium? “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth…” Great work by Mad Dog and his team. Or in Mad Dog fashion, “Good job by you!”

A League of His Own

In this, his third season, Jay Cutler is beginning to look like an all-pro/franchise quarterback. After his recently reported comments relating to Hall of Fame quarterback and unofficial Mayor of Denver John Elway, he has undoubtedly earned early accolades for “All Interview Team.”

Cutler boasted to Sporting News Magazine that his throwing arm is the strongest in the NFL right now, but further describing his limb is also “hands down” stronger than Elway’s.

I love watching Cutler throw the ball, and his progression into the league’s elite has been impressive to watch, but when are some guys going to learn to shut up? This wasn’t the most obnoxious or selfish quote we have ever seen out of an athlete, in fact, it was entertaining and thought provoking to say the least. But what Cutler did was send the wrong message. Not just the nation-wide media, but everyone in Denver has to be talking about this right now. There are just some guys, in some cities, you leave alone.

There’s a fine line between being confident and thinking/speaking rationally. Here’s what Cutler should have said: “Throwing the deep ball, from end zone to end zone, hands down, I have the best arm. Hands down better than Elway’s, too. (Insert politically corrective statement now.) Now, if you talk about hitting a receiver on a slant, button hook, or deep in route, Elway and Favre could probably beat me on their best day. But even that would be a scene between the three of us. That’s the kind of quarterback competition you dream about as a kid growing up.”

Speak like that, and you could become the official Mayor of Denver someday. Or even spokesman for Coors Banquet Beer.