Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The 1993 Runner-up Jinx

Less than a month after trading Bobby Abreu and many others, the Philadelphia Phillies are just one game out of the wild card lead in the National League. This Saturday, Charlie Weis leads a highly-touted Notre Dame squad into its opener at Georgia Tech. Both teams have hopes of playing for a championship. However, to do so, each must overcome a fearsome obstacle: the 1993 Runner-up Jinx.

In the major American sports, not one runner-up from the 1993 season has made it back to the championship round since then. After Joe Carter took Mitch Williams deep, the Phillies have not gotten close to the World Series again. In fact, they have not reached the postseason at all during that time, to the chagrin of Philly’s title-starved fans. The city’s resistance to championships has even caused an unprecedented decision by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Academy members stripped Tom Hanks of his first Oscar, ruling that no one from Philadelphia could have legitimately won a title.

Notre Dame also finished the 1993 season at number two. The Fighting Irish have not been in the national championship mix since then. Incredibly, they have not even won a bowl game during that time, dropping eight in a row. As a result, Notre Dame lost its luster in comparison to other top programs. Symbolizing this fall in power was the sequel to Rudy, in which Rudy transfers to USC.

Perhaps most emblematic of the 1993 Runner-up Jinx are the Buffalo Bills. The 1993 season was the fourth in a row that Buffalo concluded by losing in the Super Bowl. In the early 90’s, the Bills played second fiddle as reliably as Ed McMahon. They even impacted the 1992 presidential campaign. The word “Bill” was so synonymous with runner-up status, Arkansas governor Clinton refused to reveal his first name until after he had won the election. However, Buffalo has not been a part of the past 12 Super Bowls. Therefore, the NFC representative could no longer be certain of victory.

After losing a classic six-game series to the Chicago Bulls in 1993, the Phoenix Suns have not returned to the NBA finals. The team has been close recently, falling in the conference finals the past two years. Two-time league MVP Steve Nash recently took action to try to take the next step. Noting that the 1993 Suns made it to the finals thanks to a bald MVP (Charles Barkley), Nash decided to shave off his famous hair, sporting a new buzz cut. The move seems to be a desperate ploy to overcome the ’93 Jinx, as Nash is less likely to be compared to Barkley than to Natalie Portman in V For Vendetta.

Another Canadian native with famous hair is mullet icon Barry Melrose, head coach of the 1993 Stanley Cup finalist Los Angeles Kings. As part of the familiar theme, the Kings have not returned to the final round since losing to the Montreal Canadiens that June. That run was the last time they even made the playoffs with Wayne Gretzky before The Great One was traded to St. Louis in 1996. Gretzky’s departure from Los Angeles was reportedly due to his well-publicized feud with Kobe Bryant.

So far, 1993 has refrained from commenting on the jinx. However, a source close to 1993 provided possible insight on the year’s reasons for imposing the hex. He noted, “1992 was an Olympic and presidential election year. 1994 was an Olympic and World Cup year. 1991 was a palindrome, which is a cool thing. 1993 just had the same events you see every year, so it didn’t feel special. But I guarantee you, all those runner-up teams remember 1993 now!”

Certainly the Michigan basketball program realizes the power of the 1993 Runner-up Jinx. The Wolverines fell to North Carolina in a classic NCAA final best remembered for Chris Webber’s infamous time-out. Michigan has not reached the Final Four since then. The program is so desperate to escape the jinx, it has erased all records noting its championship game appearance and has removed the corresponding banner from Crisler Arena. The measures apparently did not fool 1993, which even extended its jinx to keep Webber out of the finals during his NBA career. However, showing that it has a sense of humor, 1993 has allowed the Wolverines to make three finals appearances in the NIT.

Tennis fans are currently enjoying the U.S. Open, but they are aware that the jinx even extended to that event. The 1993 men’s runner-up was Cedric Pilone, who fell in straight sets to Pete Sampras and never returned to the U.S. Open final. Second place on the women’s side was Helena Sukova, who never again played in the championship round at Flushing Meadow. She lost in straight sets to Steffi Graf in the 1993 finals. Sukova is convinced that if the result had been reversed, she would have been the one to win the U.S. Open again in 1995 and 1996, and later marry Andre Agassi.

Despite the power of the 1993 Runner-up Jinx, the Phillies and Fighting Irish defiantly hold out hope to play in the World Series and BCS national championship game, respectively. It helps to have Ryan Howard or Brady Quinn on your side. However, if the teams fall short, 1993 will mischievously remind Mr. Manuel and Mr. Weis of the classic StarKist Tuna commercials: “Sorry Charlie!”

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Greg Maddux Admits Fear of Snakes

Friday night, The Arizona Diamondbacks outlasted the Los Angeles Dodgers 9-7 in 15 innings after a walk-off home run by Orlando Hudson. Long before the issue was decided, Los Angeles starter Greg Maddux struggled through five innings in which he yielded ten hits. Afterwards, Maddux confirmed why he has had so little success against the Diamondbacks. The future Hall of Famer admitted that he has an intense fear of Snakes.

The no-decision left Maddux’s career record against Arizona at 1-9, including 0-5 at Chase Field. The futility is shocking for someone who has terrorized the rest of the National League for so long. However, none of those other clubs are known as the Snakes. It is no coincidence that all four of Maddux’s Cy Young Awards were won before the Diamondbacks entered the major leagues in 1998. Frustration boiled over for the normally unflappable pitcher last July during a 13-6 rout of his Chicago Cubs by Arizona. After allowing six earned runs in four innings, Maddux screamed to Cubs manager Dusty Baker, “I’ve had it with these motherf***ing Snakes on this motherf***ing field!”

Maddux does not know the cause for his ophidiophobia, the technical term for a fear of Snakes. Perhaps his cerebral nature backfired in this case, as ophidiophobia is a big word and therefore more likely to affect people with a strong vocabulary. His nickname of Mad Dog could also contribute, as Snakes generally bite only when they feel threatened. He might not feel such anxiety against the Diamondbacks if he were called Friendly Puppy. Whatever the origin of his phobia, one aspect is particularly confounding to observers. The most lethal type of Snake, The Big Unit, is no longer in Arizona and was far more poisonous to hitters than to pitchers.

Maddux’s fear of Snakes has extended beyond his struggles against the Diamondbacks. He refuses to watch Denver Broncos games due to the presence of Jake “The Snake” Plummer. Also, Maddux left the Atlanta Braves after the 2003 season because he dreaded another year in the same division as Phillies manager Larry Bowa. An avid golfer, Maddux refuses to be on the course with anyone who plays with King Cobra clubs. However, by remaining in the National League, he has remained safely away from the Baltimore Orioles’ top prospect, Copperhead McPython.

Other clubs will surely try to use Maddux’s fear against him as the Dodgers head down the stretch. He will likely hear constant hissing noises emanating from the opposing dugout when he takes the mound. Also, Indiana Jones will surely appear on the Jumbotron in other ballparks, complaining, “Snakes. Why’d it have to be Snakes?” The National League has caught on that just as a serpent wrought havoc for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the Diamondbacks have done likewise for Maddux in Chase Field. As noted in the Bible, Adam suffered greatly after being banished from the Garden. His ERA skyrocketed, and he suffered a torn elbow ligament – well before Tommy John surgery was available.

Fortunately for Maddux, his next start will be in Dodger Stadium on Wednesday against the Cincinnati Reds. With the Snakes still in Phoenix that night, manager Grady Little expects his pitcher to be back in top form. The Dodger front office is taking no chances, hiring renowned snake wrangler Jules Sylvester to make sure that no intruders get anywhere near Maddux.

Maddux hopes that publicly admitting his fear of Snakes will help him overcome the phobia. In the meantime, he is greatly relieved that he does not have to pitch for the Boston Red Sox. Then he would have to confront something that scares him even more than Snakes: pitching to Javy Lopez.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Denzel Washington-Related Storylines For The NFL Season

Just over two weeks remain until Pittsburgh and Miami kick off the NFL season on September 7. Around the league, undrafted rookies hope to beat the odds and stay on a team’s roster. John David Washington, a running back from Morehouse College, looks to do so with the St. Louis Rams. Unlike the other hopefuls, Washington happens to have an Academy Award-winning father named Denzel. Even without family considerations, Denzel Washington has numerous links to professional football this fall. His film titles are particularly relevant to the NFL, as noted below.

The Bone Collector: New England safety Rodney Harrison returns from injury, determined to claim body parts from receivers.

Courage Under Fire: What new quarterback Steve McNair will need behind the Ravens’ porous offensive line.

Crimson Tide: Former Alabama star Shaun Alexander lights up the NFL again, staying focused despite the power struggle between Denzel and Gene Hackman.

Cry Freedom: Although Dick Vermeil has retired, the Chiefs maintain the freedom to cry during emotional post-game press conferences.

Glory: Pittsburgh looks to repeat as Super Bowl champs, with an injured Ben Roethlisberger being replaced by Matthew Broderick.

He Got Game: What Peyton Manning hopes his friend Tonto will say on Super Sunday: “Peyton busy today. He got game.”

The Hurricane: A year after Katrina, New Orleans returns to the Superdome. Last year was also a reminder of Denzel’s TV days: Saint Elsewhere.

Inside Man: Inside linebacker Brian Urlacher continues to be the man, starring in a Lovie Smith joint.

John Q: The new name of Carolina Panthers coach John Fox. He changes his last name after becoming furious over comments made about him on a Fox telecast.

Malcolm X: Tampa Bay owner Malcolm Glazer becomes excessively hands-on, insisting on taking x-rays of injured players himself.

The Manchurian Candidate: In a puzzling move, new NFL commissioner Roger Goodell requires each team with a coaching vacancy to interview a candidate from Manchuria.

Man On Fire: The name of Chad Johnson’s elaborate new touchdown dance, drawing a 15-yard penalty.

Moe Better Blues: The disappointment John David Washington will feel if the Rams cut him, because Moe Williams is better.

Out Of Time: At season’s end, Brett Favre sees time run out on his Hall of Fame career. Cheesehead-wearing fans will continue to follow him on the golf course.

Philadelphia: The Eagles look to rebound from a season that, like the film, was filled with drama. But it didn’t bring any awards.

Remember The Titans: The arrival of Vince Young reminds NFL fans that Tennessee still has a team.

The Siege: Lions president Matt Millen receives his typical reaction from Detroit fans.

A Soldier’s Story: Kellen Winslow’s career finally gets on track in Cleveland.

Training Day: Each day at training camp, Bill Parcells looks over at Terrell Owens and thinks, “Why me?”

Although he is 51, do not be surprised if Denzel himself attracts attention from NFL scouts. After all, he’s always looked good on film.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Tiger Woods: 1 To 12, By The Numbers

On Sunday at Medinah Country Club outside Chicago, Tiger Woods captured his third PGA Championship. The triumph was Tiger’s second consecutive major title and his twelfth overall. To put the accomplishment into perspective, here is a by-the-numbers guide.

1 Players who have won two PGA Championships on the same course, now that Tiger has done so at Medinah. Since he wins consistently in the Chicago area, the Bears want to know if he can play quarterback.

2 U.S. Open championships for Woods. This is the only major he hasn’t won three times, so clearly he needs to take the tournament more seriously.

3 Bogeys made by Tiger during the entire PGA Championship. For him, PGA stood for “Perfect Golf, Almost.” Or “Phil, Go Away.”

4 Masters titles won by Woods. He has been so Green-friendly, Al Gore wants him to help with his next documentary.

5 Episode number in the Star Wars series of The Empire Strikes Back. Woods provided Luke Donald, his final round playing partner, with a reminder of the film. Tiger’s fourth round dominance proclaimed, “Luke, I am your daddy!”

6 Additional major championships Tiger needs to tie Jack Nicklaus for the most as a professional. Recent history shows that the Golden Bear will be surpassed. George “Papa Bear” Halas was passed by Don Shula, Bear Bryant was overtaken by Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden, and Walter Payton was eclipsed by Emmitt Smith. These developments prove the old adage, “Records are made to be broken – if they’re held by Bears.”

7 Titles, out of 11 major tournaments, won by Woods starting with the 1999 PGA. The 7-11 combo was appropriate, as his scores caused other players to take a Big Gulp.

8 Birdies for Tiger during Saturday’s third round. He was below par so often, some locals thought he played for the Black Hawks.

9 PGA Tour victories for Woods in a sterling 2000. Unlike computers, his fellow golfers really were victims of a Y2K bug.

10 Consecutive majors without a victory for Tiger before he won the 2005 Masters. He married Elin Nordegren during that stretch, so even during a slump he fared better than mere mortals.

11 Hits for the Cincinnati Reds in Sunday’s 5-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. “Red on Sunday” has long been a winning phrase for Tiger.

12 Strokes by which Woods won his first major, the 1997 Masters. He ended the suspense so early, he received the green jacket after the ninth hole.

Next April, Tiger returns to Augusta National Golf Club in search of his 13th major. Club members forbid the use of the term “rough” by announcers. However, they should relent in the case of Woods. He’s definitely been rough on the other golfers.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

15 Reasons Why The A's Have Dominated The Mariners

Wednesday night, the Oakland A’s completed a three-game sweep with a 4-0 victory over the visiting Seattle Mariners. Remarkably, the triumph was Oakland’s 15th consecutive against Seattle. In honor of the accomplishment, below are 15 reasons why the A’s have dominated the Mariners.

Black Hole: This term is generally used at McAfee Coliseum during Raider games. However, the Black Hole seems to have worked early, sucking up any hope of victory for the Mariners.

Bullpen: Mariners thrive on the water. But they’re out of their element when dealing with a (Huston) Street.

Calendar: As long as it’s not October, the A’s have no problem winning three games in a series.

Early 90’s rappers: During matchups between the two clubs, each team responded to a native of its respective city. The A’s, like Oakland’s MC Hammer, were 2 Legit 2 Quit. Baby Got Back, from Seattle’s Sir Mix-a-Lot, inspired the Mariners to get 12 games back in the AL West.

Frasier: Seattle’s favorite radio psychiatrist is no longer on the air. So while the losing streak continued, the Mariners could not solve their problems with sound advice from Dr. Crane.

Ichiro Suzuki: The Mariners' franchise player must not be team-oriented. Because it doesn’t make sense to say, “There is no ‘I’ in ‘Ichiro.’”

Paytons: Gary was great in Seattle, but he’s in Miami now. Oakland still has Jay in the outfield. He may not be known as The Glove, but he does use one.

Reminder of glory days: The A’s are the first club since the 1974 Atlanta Braves to have a 15-game winning streak against a divisional opponent. 1974 was also the year in which Oakland captured a third consecutive World Series title. The streak against Seattle was the best way to provide a reminder of those days, since GM Billy Beane has been unable to trade for Reggie Jackson and Vida Blue.

Royals’ self-esteem: Oakland begins a road-trip with a double-header in Kansas City on Friday. The A’s wanted the lowly Royals to feel good about themselves by hearing an opponent say for once, “This series has to be tougher than the last one.”

Seahawks: The A’s admire the defending NFC champions. Therefore, they decided to put Seattle sports fans’ entire focus onto the Seahawks by knocking the Mariners from contention.

Star Bucks: No, not the ubiquitous coffee corporation from Seattle. In this case, it’s the superstar money the Mariners are paying third baseman Adrian Beltre, in the midst of his second straight mediocre season. Seattle paid for a venti, but they’re not even getting a grande.

Steroid controversy: The Bay Area gets most of the baseball-related attention on this issue. However, Barry Bonds is across the bay from Oakland, and Jason Giambi, Mark McGwire, and Jose Canseco left town long ago. On the other hand, Seattle has been preoccupied by the scrutiny it will face, since the city’s most famous symbol is a giant needle.

Tennis: The U.S. Open begins on August 28. Oakland has provided attention to the event by going 15-love on Seattle.

Tom Hanks: He starred in Sleepless in Seattle, but he grew up in Oakland. He could update one of his famous quotes to say, “There’s no crying in baseball – except for the Mariners against the A’s.”

Yankees-Red Sox: The AL East rivals begin a five-game series on Friday. The A’s had to do something noteworthy before then, since ESPN will refuse to pay attention to major leaguers outside of Fenway Park the next few days.

Tonight Seattle attempts to reverse its fortunes against the Angels in Anaheim. Maybe Angel Stadium, unlike nearby Disneyland, is not the happiest place on earth. However, the Mariners are thrilled to be there, since it means they’re out of Oakland.

Monday, August 14, 2006

American League To Claim Both Wild Card Spots This October

Instituted after the 1993 season, the wild card represents one of numerous recent departures from tradition for Major League Baseball. It has allowed the Florida Marlins to capture two World Series despite never winning a division championship. This fall, the concept will bring an even greater change. Commissioner Bud Selig has announced that both wild card spots will be claimed by American League clubs.

The decision was made based on a glance at the wild card races in each league. Under existing rules, the Boston Red Sox would not make the playoffs at 68-48 if the season ended today. However, the 61-57 Cincinnati Reds would. To address the situation, the commissioner has decided to award the National League’s wild card spot to the club that finishes second in the AL wild card race. Reportedly, Selig had also considered giving the NL wild card berth to the winner of the Little League World Series. However, late starts for night games would have kept several players up past their bedtimes.

The cross-over team will receive the #2 seed in the NL playoffs. This seeding reflects the fact that only the New York Mets have been truly playoff-worthy in the senior circuit this season. The St. Louis Cardinals have the NL’s second-best record at 62-55, bettered by seven AL clubs. The Cards have suffered two eight-game losing streaks this season and are coming off a three-game sweep by the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates in which they were outscored 17-3. The weekend in Pittsburgh could have gone even worse, but Albert Pujols declined an invitation to go riding with Ben Roethlisberger.

The AL club that participates in the NL playoffs must abide by NL rules. Therefore, that team will not have the luxury of the designated hitter. Fortunately, the pitchers will be batting against National League staffs. Also, at Selig’s request, the AL team must pay tribute to his old Milwaukee Brewers, who shifted from the AL to NL in 1998. Therefore, the AL club will hold sausage races during each home game. As a consolation prize, the top non-division winner in the NL (normally the wild card team) will have an entrant in each sausage race.

Such concessions would be fine with the Red Sox or Minnesota Twins. They are currently second and third in the AL wild card standings, so both are prime candidates to benefit from the commissioner’s decision. Boston and Minnesota each went 16-2 in inter-league play this season. The opportunity to take on more NL opponents would almost be like Christmas in October for those clubs, even though the Red Sox no longer have Jesus in center field. Neither team has a St. Nick, but Twins infielder Nick Punto is batting .312.

Shifting an AL club to the NL playoffs could provide some compelling storylines. If the Chicago White Sox are that team, they could win the AL and NL pennants in consecutive seasons. The media would have a real field day if either the New York Yankees or the Red Sox are part of the NL playoffs. With the Mets otherwise favored in the NL, a Subway Series could take place in the NLCS. Alternatively, the NL pennant could be decided in a rematch of the 1986 World Series. Start times would have to be delayed, so Fox could devote the first hour of coverage entirely to replays of Bill Buckner’s error.

As previous years have shown, records do not necessarily mean anything in the postseason. Playoff series are won by the hottest team at the time. Fortunately for the extra club from the AL, the hottest team is unlikely to be from the National League.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Report: Ricky Bobby Tests Positive For Steroids

With five races remaining before The Chase For the Nextel Cup begins, compelling storylines are abundant in NASCAR. Points leader Jimmie Johnson has not let up since his Daytona 500 victory. Marquee names Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. hope to hold on for one of the coveted ten spots in The Chase. However, the sport’s major storyline this week is one of controversy. A report has surfaced that star driver Ricky Bobby has tested positive for steroids.

The bombshell is just the latest development this summer in the sports world’s involvement with performance-enhancing drugs. The steroid problem has cast a persistent shadow over major league baseball. Tests for sprinter Justin Gatlin and Tour de France winner Floyd Landis revealed an overabundance of testosterone for both athletes. Gatlin and Landis maintain their innocence, and Landis vows to continue his goal of making new excuses until the problem goes away. Asked for comment about those two, Bobby seemed to invite suspicion when he declared, “Nobody’s got more testosterone than me! Just don’t ask me how to spell it.”

The recent controversies have increased skepticism about how clean today’s athletes are. However, Bobby’s reported positive test shows that steroid use has reached a level few would have expected. It is so rampant, it has apparently spread to fictional characters. It is true that steroid rumors swirled around Soviet boxer Ivan Drago in 1985 when he pummeled Apollo Creed to his death. However, testing procedures were woefully inadequate at the time. Now fans will wonder whether other great sports accomplishments on film were legitimate. Hickory High School basketball legend Jimmy Chitwood took a proactive step, angrily denying that his dramatic game winner in Hoosiers was chemically enhanced.

One NASCAR driver, speaking under condition of anonymity, claims that Bobby is well-known as a steroid user. According to the source, Bobby’s bulking-up once led him to be known as Frank the Tank, and he consorted with a notorious supplier known as The Godfather. The driver claims that he has incriminating footage of one of Bobby’s workouts, in which he goes swimming with a syringe in his neck.

The controversy has also brought a cloud of suspicion around Bobby’s longtime friend and racing partner Cal Naughton, Jr. Since the pair is known for doing everything as a team, many assume that Naughton was using banned substances along with Bobby. One insider speculated that Bobby and Naughton’s famous “Shake and Bake” credo refers to the steroids named shakenol and bakeandriol. Reached for comment, Naughton declared, “I ain’t never used steroids.” He continued, “Unless Ricky admits that he did. Then I used ‘em too, since we’re a team.”

Bobby himself claims that a French conspiracy is at work. “It’s like that guy on the bike, Neil Armstrong,” he remarked. “They couldn’t beat ‘em, so they said he was on drugs.” Bobby referenced his heated rivalry with driver Jean Girard and charged that NASCAR was biased in favor of the Frenchman. He commented, “Think about it. The guy in charge of NASCAR is Brian FRANCE. No one would be on my case if Brian America was in charge.”

The positive result is expected to be confirmed at a news conference this afternoon. Bobby continues to deny steroid use, stating, “I live my life according to Baby Jesus. And Baby Jesus never give me no steroids.” Insiders expect confirmation of the positive result to bring an immediate suspension for Bobby. He also could be forced to relinquish last weekend’s box office victory. Additionally, when he is allowed to resume racing, NASCAR will likely reduce his allowable sponsorships to no more than 75.

If those punishments occur, Ricky Bobby will no longer be associated with the Nextel Cup. The only cup that will matter is the one he peed into.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Ten Reasons Why the Dodgers Have Been Bipolar

Heading into a July 28 home contest versus the Washington Nationals, the Los Angeles Dodgers had lost eight consecutive games. That night, the Dodgers rolled to a 13-1 victory to begin what is now a 10-game winning streak. The club has confounded observers by seemingly turning a switch from ineptitude to excellence. Why has the team been bipolar the past few weeks? Here are ten reasons.

Old School: Many Dodgers watched the movie over the All-Star break, and Will Ferrell convinced them that streaking is the way to go. So the club started a losing streak before deciding that a winning streak is more fun. The Dodgers also pay tribute to the movie with their slogan “Think Blue,” in honor of the fallen 90-year-old frat brother.

Wilson Betemit: The infielder was acquired from the Atlanta Braves on July 28 for Danys Baez and Willy Aybar. That night, Los Angeles began its winning streak. Over the same period, Atlanta is 3-7. Years from now, Braves fans may rue the Curse of the Betemo.

Greg Maddux: The future Hall of Famer, taking his second start as a Dodger tonight, was consistently shelled as a Chicago Cub this season. Getting in the turnaround spirit of his new club, he threw six no-hit innings in his first appearance for Los Angeles. General manager Ned Colletti revealed that he actually traded for the Greg Maddux of 1994.

Theme Parks: The Los Angeles area is filled with them, including Disneyland, Magic Mountain, and Universal. In order to draw families, the Dodgers decided to provide their own roller coaster this summer.

Milton Bradley: Los Angeles traded the combustible outfielder to Oakland in the off-season. Without his unpredictability, the club needed to come up with another way to bring wild mood swings to Dodger Stadium.

Shortstops: In addition to current shortstop Rafael Furcal, the Dodgers have a converted shortstop at second base (Julio Lugo) and third (Betemit). They will have another one at first base when the injured Nomar Garciaparra returns. Any good shortstop should display range, so a team filled with them will naturally be all over the place in its performance.

Floyd Landis: On July 27, Landis was basking in the glow of a Tour de France triumph, while the Dodgers had lost eight in a row. The cyclist’s positive drug test was reported that day. Since his fortunes plummeted, the ballclub was due to rise again to maintain the famous Dodger-Landis equilibrium.

A Tale of Two Cities: The classic by Charles Dickens is on many summer reading lists. Most students don’t want to actually read it, so the Dodgers thought they’d summarize what they need to know: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

Starting Rotation: Recently acquired Mark Hendrickson stands 6’9.” So like anyone who’s bipolar, the pitching staff displays the high (Hendrickson) and the Lowe (Derek).

Steve Garvey Bobblehead Night: This was the promotion on the night the Dodgers began their winning streak. Seeing the bobblehead go up and down, the players knew that after having been down they were due to go back up again. Reportedly, the Garvey bobblehead was so life-like, it fathered three children out-of-wedlock.

On July 27, the Dodgers were in last place, seven games behind the first place Padres and considered dead by many baseball fans. Today Los Angeles is in second, 1 ½ games back of San Diego and tied for the wild card lead with Cincinnati. A handful of teams have gone the worst-to-first route from one season to the next. The Dodgers want to take that accomplishment to an extreme: doing it within two weeks.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

A Sitcom-Based Guide To College Football's Pre-season Top 15

On Friday, USA Today released the pre-season college football coaches’ poll. As Hayden Fox did throughout much of the 1990’s on Coach, the leaders of the top-ranked programs enter the season with high expectations. The Minnesota State Screaming Eagles did not make it into the poll. However, the top 15 teams all relate to a notable television comedy, as shown below.

15. Michigan: Home Improvement. The Wolverines must play better in Ann Arbor, where they lost three times in 2005. Especially considering the tough road schedule, for which coach Lloyd Carr will need sage advice from partially unseen neighbor Wilson.

14. Georgia: Two And A Half Men. What opponents need, at a minimum, to keep All-America defensive end Quentin Moses from reaching the quarterback. He’s as fixated on sacks as Charlie Sheen is on getting into the sack.

13. Louisville: That 70’s Show. Point totals the Cardinals’ high-powered offense could reach. Especially September 9 against Temple, whose football program has contributed more to comedy than alumnus Bill Cosby.

12. California: Who’s The Boss? Coach Jeff Tedford is uncertain who his starting quarterback will be. On the other hand, running back Marshawn Lynch has made Berkeley as hostile toward opposing defenders as it is for Republicans.

11. Miami: The Wonder Years. Hurricane fans long for the dominant days of 2000 to 2002. When “wonder” did not mean “I wonder if we’ll beat UNC.”

10. Florida State: All in the Family. All-time coaching victories leader Bobby Bowden is aided by son Jeff, FSU’s offensive coordinator. Paying tribute to the series, Seminole fans constantly refer to Jeff as Meathead.

9. LSU: Gimme a Break! Coach Les Miles reacts to a schedule that includes trips to Florida, Auburn, and Tennessee. Why is a guy named Les Miles traveling at all?

8. Florida: Everybody Hates Chris. Actually, that’s an exaggeration of the treatment for quarterback Chris Leak in Gainesville. Until his first interception.

7. West Virginia: Scrubs. What most of the opponents on the Mountaineers’ schedule are. These teams were less successful in 2005 than FEMA.

6. Auburn: Full House. Jordan-Hare Stadium will be packed for showdowns with fellow Top 15 members LSU, Florida, and Georgia. If the Tigers sweep those three, plus the Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa, the town will be renamed Tuberville.

5. Oklahoma: Curb Your Enthusiasm. Sooner fans’ national title hopes were tempered by quarterback Rhett Bomar’s dismissal. Fortunately, the Peterson in the OU backfield is Adrian, not Norm.

3 (tie). USC: A Different World. The Trojans begin life without Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush. The talent drop-off is so steep, they’ve slipped completely out of the top 2.

3 (tie). Notre Dame: The Brady Bunch. Quarterback Brady Quinn may be the first Heisman winner in South Bend since Tim Brown. Fortunately, he’s more accurate with the football than Peter Brady, so he won’t give his sister a grotesquely swollen nose with an errant pass.

2. Texas: Happy Days. Longhorn fans are still ecstatic over the national title. Despite the departure of Vince Young, the follow-up should be better than Joanie Loves Chachi.

1. Ohio State: According To Jim. Coach Jim Tressel looks for his second national championship in Columbus. When it comes to Buckeye coaches, Michigan fans preferred Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper.

An early 1-2 showdown looms on September 9, when Ohio State visits Texas. Like most of the shows noted above, the game will be taped before a live studio audience. Of more than 80,000.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

"The View" Eliminates Gatlin, Landis From Co-Host Consideration

With the recent departure of Star Jones-Reynolds, The View is searching for a new co-host. Fans of the female-oriented talk show are eager to know the next addition to the ensemble. View producers have made it clear that their set is not a place for testosterone. Therefore, sprinter Justin Gatlin and Tour de France winner Floyd Landis have been eliminated from consideration.

Testosterone has brought tremendous scrutiny to both athletes. Gatlin announced that he had tested positive for “testosterone or its precursors” following an April 22 race. Gatlin, the 100-meter Olympic gold medalist in 2004, claimed that he never knowingly used any banned substances, and he plans to vigorously challenge the results. He could face a lifetime ban and be stripped of his world record, shared with Asafa Powell with a time of 9.77 seconds. Coincidentally, The View has inspired millions of men to emulate Gatlin’s performance on the track. When women sit down to watch the show, their husbands sprint out of the room at record speed.

A drug test for Landis revealed an “A” sample with an illegally high ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone after Stage 17 of the Tour. The results of the “B” sample are expected on Saturday. Stage 17 was the defining leg of Landis’s victory, as he jumped from 11th place to third, just 30 seconds behind the leader. Like Gatlin, he professes his innocence and claims that his seemingly unbelievable Stage 17 performance had nothing to do with illegal substances. Landis insists that his dominance resulted because he raced on a motorcycle that day. Amazingly, no Tour officials noticed.

The scandals cast a further shadow on two sports in which doping issues have been far too common. Track and cycling are widely viewed as havens for cheaters. The governing bodies of both sports are eager to eliminate these types of controversies. Then they can concentrate on the actual competitions and go back to being ignored by Americans.

In the meantime, representatives for each man shrewdly opted to make their athletes available for The View. In doing so, they hoped to convince the public that they could not possibly have an overabundance of testosterone. To further support this PR strategy, Gatlin and Landis have refused all offers to appear in beer commercials, and each man has cancelled his subscription to Maxim. Additionally, both men have consistently remarked during interviews how much they adored The Devil Wears Prada.

However, producers from The View were fully aware of the results and refused to play along with their plan. A spokeswoman for the show remarked, “We absolutely forbid testosterone on The View, so Justin Gatlin and Floyd Landis are not welcome here.” An observer added, “You tell ‘em, girl!” The announcement came on the heels of Mel Gibson’s decision to take himself out of the co-host sweepstakes. Reportedly, Gibson had believed that the show was called The Jew.

Representatives for Gatlin and Landis were disappointed by the show’s decision. One associate even called the stance hypocritical. “If they’re so anti-testosterone,” he asked, “why did they hire Rosie O’Donnell?” He added that Barbara Walters should not be above suspicion, since talking with a lisp is a common side effect of testosterone use.

The View will proceed in its search without Gatlin and Landis. However, the two men still have an opportunity to show that they are not driven by testosterone. They can plead their cases as guests on Oprah. She welcomes all athletes, as long as their physical activities do not include couch-jumping.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

One Year In The Books!

Today represents the one-year anniversary of Jack’s Sports Humor. It is cause for celebration, so feel free to raise a glass before reading the rest of this entry. In honor of the festive occasion, a mariachi band is crowded around my computer as I type today’s column.

The magic all started last August 1 with a simple limerick:

There was a great rider named Lance
Who crushed all his rivals in France
He won’t try for eight
But he will celebrate
As Sheryl Crow takes off his pants

Indeed, August 1 is a day for historic entries. On that date in 1944, Anne Frank made the final entry in her diary. Miss Frank gave the world a powerful, heart-breaking work treasured by millions around the world. However, I can honestly say that my blog is far more informed about the sports world than her diary was, and I try to provide more laughs than that depressing “hiding from the Nazis” theme.

The above limerick – written before Lance Armstrong and Sheryl Crow parted ways – shows that much can change in a year’s time. Last August 1, Bill Cowher and Mack Brown couldn’t win the big one. Chicago was 88 years removed from its last World Series championship. And George Mason was that creepy kid you remembered from high school because of his body odor.

Through it all, I have faithfully written about sports issues from an absurd point of view. I promise more of the same in year two, dedicating myself to beating the dreaded sophomore jinx. If any of my columns are not up to snuff, I pledge to respond like any self-respecting athlete would. I’ll blame my failure on a referees’ conspiracy.

I am very thankful to all of you who have visited this site on a regular basis. I would love to attract more readers, so please forward my URL to other sports fans with a sense of humor. I won’t beg, since you can’t see me anyway, so dropping to my knees and pleading would just be silly. Plus it would scare off the mariachi band. But you get the point.

Thanks for reading, and come back soon! Oh, and before I forget, happy 227th birthday to Francis Scott Key.