Oh the Humility!

The date was October 19, 2006, with one out in the top of the sixth inning. That was the last period in time a New York Met fan really had something to cheer about.

If you didn’t mind snow cones in the Fall, then Met left fielder Endy Chavez was your guy that evening. Cardinal third baseman Scott Rolen seemingly drove the ball over the left field fence, when a chasing Chavez then mimicked the Michael Jordan “Jump Man” logo, further robbing Rolen of the go-ahead homerun in game 7 of the NLCS. Chavez defined the adjective “clutch.”

I was watching that game at Hofstra University, 20 miles away from Shea Stadium that night, and I swear you could hear the roar of the crowd that far.

Since then, the New York Metropolitans have been about as credible as a diabetes awareness pamphlet featuring Ronald McDonald. Fortunately, in the Mets, I only have one favorite team in the world of sports. Unfortunately, I have been reluctant to acknowledge that fact since Carlos Beltran infamously statued a curveball.

The crowd reaction to Chavez's miraculous catch nearly brought Shea Stadium down a season earlier than scheduled.

The crowd reaction to Chavez’s miraculous catch nearly brought Shea Stadium down a season earlier than scheduled.

And now the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were supposed to put on a June parade this season, fell 3-1 in the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals last night, It had me thinking: Just who are the most humiliated fans in American sports today?

Because if there’s any fan base feeling more shameful about his/her team than the Mets faithful right now, it should be the Cleveland Cavalier fan (Eastern Conference Final breakdown pending).

As if the SI cover jinx wasn’t enough, absent from last week’s issue was four pages of the cover article itself that led me to believe that there really is a disadvantage in being a Cleveland fan. (Did that happen to anyone else?)

Then Cleveland’s All-Star point guard (and I use that tag loosely, because after all, Allen Iverson was an All-Star too), Mo Williams, decided to guarantee a Cavalier victory. As if shooting under 40% from the field wasn’t enough strain on his psyche.

Do you know how many guarantees in sports have been made? Like 1,000 (998 of them in this decade alone). Do you know how many have held up? Three: Joe Namath, Mark Messier and Plaxico Burress. No disrespect to Williams, but guys named Mo aren’t supposed to make guarantees. Guys named Mo remind me of a tavern and a patron named Homer. Outside of Sears Craftsman hand tools, do guarantees do any good for anyone?

If the Cavaliers were to fall short of their NBA title dreams, what would make this elimination more demoralizing than perhaps any other in Cleveland sport history, is that this team had the best chance to make history. They have the league’s best player, and the best home record in an NBA season that has clearly not produced a prototypical title contender. The Celtics took Orlando to 7 games with Brian Scalabrine in the regular rotation!

The Lions will get back to the top of the NFC North sooner than expected.

The Lions will get back to the top of the NFC North sooner than expected.

Here’s a look at a few other teams whose fans are currently dealing with irrefutable stigmas:

Chicago Bears
The team has had success from time to time, but the quarterback situation over the last 20+ years is worthy of having its own Wikipedia page. From Mike Tomczak to Rick Mirer to Rex Grossman: To say you’re going to make a career out of being the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears is comparable to your local Denny’s manager having the same lofty expectations for his newly hired dishwasher.

Detroit Lions
Even before last season, the Lions were already the Ralph Wiggum of the NFL: When they probably didn’t deserve it, and the audience feared it, every season Detroit would get to participate in show-and-tell day (in this case, Thanksgiving). Meanwhile, Bengals fan is home saying, “Remind me why WE don’t get a nationally televised game this year?”

Also embodying futility…
These organizations have long been the butt end or punch line of sportscaster’s jokes: Clippers, Bengals, Pirates, Nationals, Royals, Raiders

If the Cavaliers lose to the Orlando Magic as expected, for one more year, Cleveland fans will just have to accept the fact that the city’s greatest sports moment of the last 30 years was when Pedro Cerrano finally connected with a curve ball in helping the Tribe in a defeat of the Yankees.


The Animal That’s Still Fit For Vick

Every coach will tell you that he was the founding father of the Wildcat, and they will also tell you that Michael Vick is the posterchild to run it.

Every coach will tell you that he was the founding father of the Wildcat, and they will also tell you that Michael Vick is the posterchild to run it.

One our most respected modern day philosophers, Dr. Cornell West, once wrote:

“To prophesy is not to predict an outcome but rather identify concrete evils.”

The quote could apply to the state of San Francisco 49ers offense for 2009, as the word “evil” could be interpreted as weak, tame, boring, and ultimately, too predictable.

Then there’s the possibility of obtaining a necessary evil. Though we don’t know if he has completely exorcised his dark side yet, we do know he has paid his debt to society.

Michael Vick can give more color to an offense than a Monet portrait. Head coach Mike Singletary never ruled out the prospect of picking up Vick, the best football player the construction industry has to offer.

There are 32 teams in the NFL-at least 20 of which have more talent on offense than the 49ers-and one of them will eventually sign Vick.

You do want to get back to winning Super Bowls, don’t you? The 49ers can play the meat and potatoes/small ball card on offense all they want in 2009, but until they can find an electric threat, they will continue to be an average team.

Rebuilding is for construction workers.

San Francisco is the right town for Vick to start over in (more on that later), and the wildcat offense was designed for a preeminent talent like the former No. 1 overall pick, to inject excitement into an offense.

Does Vick still have jaw-dropping talent?

Does Vick still have jaw-dropping talent?

Here are five plays that could potentially make the 49ers a top ten team in most pundit power rankings (with an emphasis on Vick, but feel free to insert QB Alex Smith into this formation with Arnaz Battle or Michael Robinson somewhere as well):

1. Wildcat dive

By faking the sweep to the slot-man (Rickey Williams) who is already in motion, this was the play that Ronnie Brown wrote history with against in New England early last season. The 49ers could put Vick either behind the center, or in the slot, where Frank Gore could take the snap.

2. Wildcat sweep

The only difference between this and the Wildcat dive, of course, is that the motion man would take the handoff, the left guard pulls as the lead blocker, the tight end seals the edge, and a potential exclamation point afterwards.

3. Wildcat play-action

Fake the sweep to the motion man, read your coverage, and possibly Vernon Davis has snuck past the linebackers and in-between the safeties for a nice gain. If a safety bites, with Davis’s speed, you could be looking at six.

4. Wildcat Counter

The underlying contingency with Michael Vick (besides the obvious) is whether or not his legs have anything left. Even if the 29-year-old is 90% of his old self, this could become his signature play. Because if the Wildcat is about deceiving the defense, than consider the Wildcat Counter a squared, double the cheese version. The man behind the center fakes the sweep to the motion man, jabs right, then commits to the left, where he could have a 2 on 1 with the tight end versus a linebacker or lineman.  When the defense is thinking, “Uh-oh”, this is where Vick is at his best.

5. “I formation,” half back dive

If Vick is not signed by the 49ers, this is a play that you will be get used to. New offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye prefers the traditional style of NFL offense. The I-formation, with a running back possessing a wide pallet of talents such as Frank Gore, is ideal for a team without potential weapons of mass destruction like the 49ers. Gore runs low, he’s slippery, he’s agile, he’s athletic, he has the necessary field vision and he has no problem running into contact. With a fullback leading the way, this is the kind of offense set that could give teams fits-just as long as the passing attack is holding up their end of the bargain.

If there’s one thing the 49ers already have an abundance of, its “gadget” players, or the necessary personnel capable of both running and throwing. Alex Smith ran the Wildcat all the way to an undefeated season in college. Arnaz Battle ran the option as a quarterback at Notre Dame. Michael Robinson was a successful college quarterback at Penn St. Revolve the Wildcat gimmick around Frank Gore and/or potentially Michael Vick, and the 49ers offense would now have more ways to beat you than the average NFL team. Just imagine how wide open Vernon Davis could be, while linebackers have to deal with the improvisational phenomenon that Vick could be in this system.

How does the city of San Francisco feel about the idea of signing Vick? It just seems to me that Vick and the city are the right match-just so long as his priorities are in line with the rest of us who are honest and proud about our daily contributions to society.

For all Barry Bonds went through, despite his outwardly surly character, Giants fans supported him. Celebrated sports networks and the professional megaphones tied with it would imply that the fans were the losers during the Barry Bonds saga. But whether or not you were disillusioned or seduced by the home run and its convenient entertainment value, you did what was right, in supporting the individual. That’s what makes the city great. (I’m not saying Bonds wasn’t a habitual steroids user, but after all, the jury is literally still out on the whole thing.)

If there ever was a city and a franchise brave enough (the 49ers did draft Alex Smith No. 1 overall) to take on the responsibility of a Michael Vick acquisition, its San Francisco and its professional football franchise.

Rocket Launch: Out of This World, Out of His Mind

Clemens is taking a page from the Costanza school of dishonesty. "Remember Jerry: It's not a lie...if you believe it," Costanza once declared.

Clemens is taking a page from the Costanza school of dishonesty. "Remember Jerry: It's not a lie...if you believe it," Costanza once declared.

Former All-American athlete Roger Clemens now lives on Sirius; More so than radio hosts Howard Stern, Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, Martha Stewart, or any ESPN Radio personality.

Mr. Clemens, however, doesn’t even have a radio channel dedicated to his persona, much less host his own show. He physically lives on the star known as Sirius.*

Because after listening to the former Cy Young winner continue to deny any involvement with illegal performance enhancing drugs on the radio today, I’m convinced that Clemens is no longer living on this planet.

All fans want is for Clemens to come back down to our planet and give them five minutes of contrition. This isn’t the WWE, dude. So please quit trying to act like you’re Mr. Perfect and we’ll be happy to put all this behind us. An apology will set you free.

(Of course not from perjury charges, but that is a story, and sure conviction for another day.)

But in order to set Clemens free from the lie he is living, we’ll need to get creative. We’ll need someone who resonates like fellow Texan and former legendary pitcher Nolan Ryan to invite Clemens to throw out the first pitch at the next time the Rangers host, say, the A’s.

Mr. Ryan, the emcee, communicating with the sellout crowd via microphone, summons for the conga line of former professional athletes/celebrities who have apologized or come clean about anything.

“What’s this all about, Nolan?” Clemens would ask.

“This is your intervention, Roger,” Mr. Ryan would earnestly say, as a large group would walk out of each dugout including the likes of Jose Canseco, Jason Giambi, Manny, Miguel Tejada, Chuck Knoblauch, Tony Mandarich, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Pete Rose, and local Little Leaguers. A-Rod and Andy Pettitte could join live via satellite on the jumbo tron from wherever they may be playing.

The war of attrition that is the Roger Clemens saga could finally come to an end.

As prone to petulance as Clemens may be, what’s the worst he could do here? Even if he decides to go to fisticuffs with Ryan alone, we all know he will lose (Google Robin Ventura).

The normally docile Texas Ranger crowd will embolden Clemens until he finally takes the mic after a minute of coming to terms with the fact that no neologism, i.e., “misremembered,” will dig him out of this hole. Time to set the record straight. And he would.

The fans would be shooting their guns in the air after Clemens sheds a tear in admitting and lamenting he used performance enhancers. He points to the Little Leaguers in Palmero-ian fashion and barks, “Don’t ever lie to America!”

Imagine the domino effect this could have on professional athletes. Telling the truth could finally become sheik.

“You mean if I tell the truth today, I won’t have to live life with King Kong on my back? Now that sounds logical,” the modern day athlete would begin to say to him or herself.

Clemens wouldn’t get paid to tell Charlie Gibson on TV at an hour when no youngsters were watching. He wouldn’t tell any crusading journalist, either. He would be doing it for free, where it should be done: on the field, on the stage, in front of everybody who spent all those years marveling at his high level of play. That’s why we’ll forgive him, because he was fun to watch. He entertained us. It’s a fair trade.

Does all this sound like a fairy tale? I know, Goldie Locks couldn’t have written a better script. But there’s nothing wrong with fantasizing the start of what could be the Steroid Era’s happy ending.

*Footnote: He chose to live on the brightest star in our galaxy because not only is it the brightest, and therefore, easier to find, but because property tax was cheaper. He wanted to move to the moon after he retired, but then President and respected “Texan” George W. Bush told him that America indeed owned it.

Last Call For An Old No. 1

Go down the line of all 32 NFL franchises and try to find more than one handful of teams who are sitting comfortably with the state of their quarterback situation headed into the 2009 regular season.

Shaky, isn’t it?

Shaky like that paint mixer in a Home Depot, especially for you football fans in the Bay Area. Some of you look at that hypnotic vibrating cylinder and can’t help but be reminded of the quagmire that is the inside the noggin owned by certain decision makers at your local pro football teams. Did they drink or sniff the paint during adolescence? Or did their mothers just shake them as infants because they wouldn’t stop the crying? Maybe even a nicotine craving of genetics past came rearing, and craving its way through during the heat of the draft, somehow interrupting the decision making process.

After all, Lombardi had the advantage to be able to just light up a heater indoors, focus, pick up the phone, and say: “Give me Paul Hornung in Green or give me Johnnie Walker in Red.”

Bay Area quarterbacking: What in the hell is goin' on out here?

Bay Area quarterbacking: What in the hell is goin' on out here?

Ahh, then inside the peaceful snow globe, we see the state of Wisconsin, and the Green Bay Packer faithful. They are tipping their cheese caps in deference to the 49ers for selecting Alex Smith over Aaron Rodgers with the first pick of the 2005 NFL Draft.

Rodgers, the Bay Area college product with a lifelong affinity for the 49ers, nearly threw for as many yards last season (4,000+) as Smith has thrown (4,500+) in his career.

Take a deep breath. I know you just went from seeing shakes to feeling shivers.

But 49er fans, before you go and pencil in Shaun Hill as the projected starter (or backup for your fantasy football team), understand that you have a reason to exercise optimism, 100% humility free, when it comes to the 2009 model of Alex Smith. Smith, now appropriately labeled as a bust, is playing on borrowed (and still very expensive) 49er/NFL time. For the time being, however, the term “bust” is still just a tag, a label. The branding iron is hot, but the cattle is not contained just yet.

More importantly, 49ers fans, you deserve to unashamedly cheer your franchise quarterback on. Because, technically, and financially, he is still a cornerstone for one more season. And Smith is not Ryan Leaf. We all want him to do well. We’re just not sure he has (or ever had) the tools in his bag to lead the 49ers to the kind of greatness that comes with being a No. 1 overall pick.

When you’re getting your Spring cleaning done this year, don’t do to your $75 No. 11 replica jersey what you did with the No. 18 Elvis Grbac one, and throw it into the goodwill drop box. You, the jersey, and Mr. Smith deserve one more season of 49er Fridays at the office together.

Let's kick it!

If there ever was a problem YO I'll solve it! Check out the hook while my DJ revolves it!

I’m not ready to buy Smith’s jersey at Ross Dress For Less for $19.99 just yet (I’m still enjoying the Akili Smith one).

Speaking of shopping, if it helps, think of Smith as that entire Vanilla Ice album (To the Extreme) you overpaid for 20 years ago, off the momentum of one hit single, “Ice, Ice, Baby”. Now take that No. 1 single, which in 2009 could still very easily climb to the top of your MP3’s playlist, just so long as it is backed up by worthy songs from other talent (Crabtree, Gore, Davis, Bruce).

If Smith can resurrect flashes of the upside he once showed, the 49ers will compete for an NFC West title once again.