SB XLIII: Roman Numeral Numbness

Some random wild and crazy thoughts while wondering what’s the line that the Boss will play Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) at the Super Bowl.

Kurt Warner, whose Cardinals face the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII, joins Craig Morton as the only quarterbacks to lead two different teams to the Super Bowl.

Morton was terrible in both his starts, with seven interceptions and less than 200 passing yards total in two games. He lost to the Colts, 16-13, while quarterbacking the Cowboys in Super Bowl V.

Seven years later , Morton threw four interceptions before being replaced by Norris Weese as his former club, Dallas, slashed the Broncos, 27-10, in Super Bowl XII.

Warner fared much better. He threw for 414 yards and two touchdowns and was named MVP in helping the Rams beat the Titans, 23-16, in SB XXXIV.

Two years later the Rams lost to the Patriots, but Warner still passed for 365 yards and scored on a two-yard touchdown run.

Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger resembled Morton more than Warner in his only Super Bowl appearance. Despite a miserable 9-21, two interception performance, Roethlisberger did rush for a touchdown as the Steelers beat the Seahawks, 21-10.

Here are the Super Bowl passing stats for Morton, Warner, and Big Ben:

SB V                      Att.   Comp.    Yds.   TD   Int.
Morton                   26      12          127     1      3

Morton                  15        4            39      0       4

Warner                  45      24         414     2      0

Warner                  44      28         365     1       2

Roethlisberger     21        9         123     0       2

Roman Numeral Numbness

Is it me, or are we advancing beyond comprehension through the annual use of Roman Numerals to designate Super Bowls? Do the math. Hey listen, I took four years of Latin in high school, but I got lost around about XXXIX.

Some Super Bowl Factoids That May Interest Only Me:

Only 13 of the previous 42 Super Bowls have been decided by seven points or less.

But lately, there have been some close games. Six of the last 11 games have been decided by a touchdown or less

And in the last seven years, all four Patriots’ Super Bowls, including the 17-14 loss to the Giants last year, were decided by field goals. The Pats won the other three.

The NFC holds a slight lead over the AFC, 22-20, in Super Bowl titles.

The NFC won 13 straight between SB XIX and SBr XXXI; the AFC has won eight of eleven championships since then.

And finally…..

My multi-petaflop supercomputer crunched the numbers and spit out the result: Cardinals 27, Steelers 24… in overtime.

Free Football: Hoping Super Bowl Works OT

Who are you rooting for Sunday, Cardinals or Steelers?

I’m rooting for overtime.

Actually, I’m rooting for a good Super Bowl game with historic ramifications. Overtime would practically guarantee both.

I have little rooting interest in either the Cardinals or the Steelers. Oh sure, the  Cardinals would be a Cinderella story. It’s like having the St. Louis Browns… or Tampa Bay Rays…win the World Series.

But I don’t know a single person who is an Arizona Cardinals fan.

On the other hand, I know plenty of Steelers fans, some of whom will be on Tampa this Sunday. The Steelers have a tremendous national following. That’s what five Super Bowl rings do for a team.

I’m rooting for a good game, a close game, an exciting game. I’m rooting for overtime.

It’s been 50 seasons since the first, last and only NFL championship game to end in overtime. That game, between the Colts and Giants in 1958, has been called “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”

We’re long overdue for another.

And remember, if Super Bowl XLIII goes into overtime, you heard it here first.

When Cardinals and Steelers Were One

Once upon a time, the Cardinals and the Steelers were the same team. Now they’re Super Bowl combatants.

In 1944, the Chicago Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers were forced to merge because of a shortage of players during World War II.

The team was known as Card-Pitt and they were terrible, finishing 0-10, tying the Brooklyn Tigers for the worst record in the NFL.

Other NFL teams walked all over Card-Pitt so often that they were called the Car-Pitts (carpets).

Card-Pitt held the lead in only two of 10 games that year, and was outscored 328 to 108. Card-Pitt punters averaged just 32.7 yards per kick, an NFL record that still stands today.

Two Fields, Two Coaches

They played home games in Comiskey Park and Forbes Field. Chicago’s Phil Handler and Pittsburgh’s Walt Kiesling, later elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, were co-coaches.

The Cardinals were caught in the middle of a four-year spiral during which time they lost 29 straight games. In 1945, they finished last in the NFL West with a 1-9 record, beating only the Bears.

Three years later, in 1947, the Cardinals beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 28-21, for their first, last and only NFL Championship.

The Steelers went 2-8 in 1945, good for last in the NFL East. They beat the Giants and later in the season shut out the Cardinals, 23-0.

It took the Steelers nearly 30 years to win their first NFL title, when the beat the Minnesota Vikings, 16-6, in Super Bowl IX. The Steelers went on to win four more Super Bowls, tying the Cowboys and 49ers with five Super Bowl rings.

John Updike Now Rests with Rabbit and Ted

John Updike, one of the great American men of letters, has died at age 76.

Updike wrote 61 books in all, perhaps none better than his quartet of  books about Harry “Rabbitt” Angstrom. Updike traces Rabbit’s American middle-class life from his days as a  high school basketball star through a loveless marriage until his final days. Rabbit Run, Rabbit Redux, Rabbit Is Rich and Rabbit At Rest.

Updike’s famous essay on Ted Williams final at-bat — Kid Bids Hub Fans Adieu — is one of the greatest pure examples of sportswriting in 20th Century America. It was published in the New Yorker magazine on October 22, 1960.

From the very first line, “Fenway Park, in Boston, is a lyric little bandbox of a ballpark,” the author beautifully describes the setting and captures the reader’s attention.

Updike describes Williams’ career in Boston, shortened by not one, but two turns of military duty. He talks of Ted’s arrogance, his excellence as a hitter, the comparisons to Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb.

“The affair between Boston and Ted Williams has been no mere summer romance; it has been a marriage, composed of spats, mutual disappointments, and, toward the end, a mellowing hoard of shared memories,” wrote Updike.

And finally, with one out in the eighth inning, Williams comes to the plate for what will surely be his final at-bat in Fenway. Here’s how Updike paints the word picture:

‘It Was in the Books While It Was Still in the Sky”

Jack) Fisher, after his unsettling wait, was wide with the first pitch. He put the second one over, and Williams swung mightily and missed. The crowd grunted, seeing that classic swing, so long and smooth and quick, exposed, naked in its failure. Fisher threw the third time, Williams swung again, and there it was. The ball climbed on a diagonal line into the vast volume of air over center field. From my angle, behind third base, the ball seemed less an object in flight than the tip of a towering, motionless construct, like the Eiffel Tower or the Tappan Zee Bridge. It was in the books while it was still in the sky. (Jackie) Brandt ran back to the deepest corner of the outfield grass; the ball descended beyond his reach and struck in the crotch where the bullpen met the wall, bounced chunkily, and, as far as I could see, vanished.

“Like a feather caught in a vortex, Williams ran around the square of bases at the center of our beseeching screaming. He ran as he always ran out home runs—hurriedly, unsmiling, head down, as if our praise were a storm of rain to get out of. He didn’t tip his cap. Though we thumped, wept, and chanted “We want Ted” for minutes after he hid in the dugout, he did not come back. Our noise for some seconds passed beyond excitement into a kind of immense open anguish, a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortality is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he never had and did not now. Gods do not answer letters.”

Gods do not answer letters. How good is that.

As it turned out, the home run was Ted Williams 521st, and the at-bat his last in the majors. He decided not to accompany the Red Sox to New York for their season-ending series with the Yankees and retired..

John Updike rests now, as do Rabbit and John Updike.

Knick of Time: LeBron Made for New York

LeBron James would be a perfect fit with the New York Knicks.

Dear LeBron,

You don’t know me, but you should read what I have to say. Or better yet, what New York basketball fans have to say.

Please come to New York. Come to the Knicks.

Oh, you could be comfortable and stick with Cleveland, a nice team in a rust belt town. You could see if the Lakers or Celtics could get under the cap, perhaps try to continue the winning tradition in San Antonio or Detroit, somewhere like that..

But if you want to live up to the nickname King James, if you really want to be the King, you’ll come to New York.

LeBron, New York is the place to be. To quote Sinatra, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

You’ll have more business opportunities than you can imagine. Your profile will be elevated to another level.

There’s plenty of money here in Manhattan. Salary cap. What salary cap? Isiah Thomas complained about it for years, Donnie Walsh took care of the problem in 15 minutes on a Friday afternoon last November.

Plenty of Room

The Knicks have already made room for you, two years ahead of time.

And if you win a championship in New York, you will be set for life in the most important city in the world.

Lead the Knicks to the promised land, and you’ll never have to buy another meal or a drink in this city.

But don’t ask me, ask the guys that have been there, done that.

Make sure to speak to Walt “Clyde” Frazier, the Captain Willis Reed and Senator Bill Bradley about what it’s like to win an NBA championship in New York.

Ask them to tell you about May 8, 1970, when Willis walked on the court to a deafening ovation and Clyde played the game of his life to help the Knicks beat the Lakers for their first championship.

Those Knicks, and the Knicks that won a second title three years later, are still revered in New York sports lore, still remembered 36 years after those championship runs.

Yeah, talk to those Knicks and their fans who’ve experienced that Garden electricity and the buzz that envelops Madison Square Garden, the world’s most famous arena, during a big game.

New York Loves a Winner

Ask guys like Joe Namath or Mark Messier, who guaranteed victory for their New York teams and then delivered.

Ask Eli Manning, whose Giants won over this city in February with an improbable Super Bowl victory and turned jeers to cheers.

You’re a Yankee fan LeBron. Ask Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera what it was like to wear the pinstripes in the late 90s, when the Yankees owned the world…and more importantly, owned New York.

New York is a sports town, and basketball is the city game. It’s a perfect match.

So LeBron, come to the Knicks and you can have all that. Come here and win a championship and you will be king for life.

King of the biggest, most important city in the world, the center of the universe.

King of New York.

It’s there for the taking, LeBron.

All the best,

The SportsLifer

The Rock Should Be a Lock for Hall of Fame

Now that Rickey Henderson is in the Hall of Fame, voters should focus their attention on another great leadoff hitter and base thief, Tim Raines.

Other than Henderson, the greatest leadoff hitter ever, “Rock” Raines is the best leadoff man in the past quarter century and more.

Another great leadoff hitter, Lou Brock retired in 1979 — the same year Henderson and Raines began their careers. Pete Rose retired in 1984, but that’s another story.

Raines, shown below, numbers are eerily similar to those compiled by the Hall of Famer Brock during his stellar 19-year career.

Lou Brock

BA — .293
HR — 149
RBI — 900
Runs — 1610
Hits — 3023
SB — 938

Tim Raines

BA — .294
HR — 170
RBI — 980
Runs — 1571
Hits — 2605
SB — 808

Raines actually leads Brock in the Triple Crown stats, career batting, home runs and RBIs. Brock had more runs, hits and stolen bases, but also played more games than Raines (2616 to 2502). Significantly Raines drew 1330 walks during his career, nearly 600 more than Brock (761), a key barometer of leadoff hitting success.

Each won a pair of World Series, Brock with the Cardinals in 1964 and 1967; Raines with the Yankees in 1996 and 1998.  Brock had a .391 average and 14 stolen bases in 21 World Series games. Raines had a post-season average of .270

Brock played for three seasons with the Cubs before being traded to the Cardinals for Ernie Broglio, among others. He played his final 16 season in St. Louis.

Raines spent most of his career in the obscurity of the Montreal Expos, and later played with the White Sox, Yankees, A’s, Orioles and Marlins.

Stolen Base Kings
Brock, at right, led the National League in stolen bases eight times ((1966-69 and 1971-74) and set the all-time records for steals in a season (118 in 1974) and career (938 total) before those marks were broken by Henderson. Raines led the league in steals from 1981-84, and also won a batting title in 1986, hitting .334. Neither Brock nor Raines ever won an MVP or Gold Glove.

Raines finished eighth in the Hall of Fame balloting this year with 122 votes, down 10 from the support he received last year.  The only non-pitchers to finish ahead of Raines were Henderson, fellow new inductee Jim Rice and Andre Dawson.

Raines is fifth on the all-time stolen base list. Henderson, Brock, Ty Cobb and Billy Hamilton, the four players ahead of him, are all in the Hall of Fame.

The Rock should be a lock with Brock and Rickey already enshrined.

Obama: Recall Those Who Made It Possible

Today, of all days, we are reminded of all those who made Barack Obama’s Presidency possible.

We think of our Founding Fathers, who created this great nation rooted to the belief that “All men are created equal.”

We remember Abraham Lincoln and his Emancipation Proclamation, which abolished slavery and saved the Union.

We think of Rosa Parks, whose act of defiance on a segregated bus spurred the Civil Rights movement.

Or Medger Evers, a civil rights activist, murdered by a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Or James Meredith, the first African-American student to attend the University of Mississippi.

Our thoughts go back to Martin Luther King, who had a dream in the summer of 1963…a dream that came true today.

We think of places like Gettysburg and Selma, Alabama, and Washington, D.C.

We recall Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier in Brooklyn in 1947.

Or Fritz Pollard, one of the first black players and the first black head coach in the National Football League.

We think of the countless thousands of Americans who made today possible.

Americans  today are bursting with pride and hope, eager to turn the page and make this nation great again.

“Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America,” said President Barack H. Obama in his moving inaugural address.

God bless America.

A Sad Sunday

It’s a sad Sunday. In many ways, today’s NFL Conference Championship games mark the end of the NFL season.

Of course, there won’t be any games next Sunday, as we go through the interminable, two-week wait for the Super Bowl where no story angles are left unturned.

And Super Sunday is much different than a regular NFL Sunday. After all, the Super Bowl is much more than a football game.

Super Sunday means millions of onlookers (don’t call them football fans) who don’t know who’s quarterbacking or even who’s playing. Spectators who are more interested in which party to attend, the barrage of commercials and the halftime show.

Years ago, I went to a friend’s wedding at the legendary Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. It was hardly your typical wedding. The booze was flowing, the dance floor was mobbed all night. At one point, a bunch of us commandeered the main stage and began signing. People were coming from other weddings in the hotel to check on our wedding and see what all the noise was about.

The next day, the hostess at breakfast turned to a bunch of us and said: “That wasn’t a wedding, it was a Broadway show.”

That’s what the Super Bowl is — it’s not a football game, it’s a Broadway Show. It’s a carnival, a rock concert, a fiesta, a fashion statement, a gambler’s delight. It’s about celebrities and pre-game shows and post-game shows.

The Super Bowl is more than a football game. Much more.

Impress Your Friends with Football Factoids

Impress your friends, win bets, make money with these 10 NFL tidbits:

The Giants, coming off the best Super Bowl ever, are the only team in the NFL to have beaten the Steelers, Ravens, Eagles and Cardinals this year.

The Cardinals are one of six teams never to have played in a Super Bowl. The Lions, Saints, Jaguars, Texans and Browns are the others.

Now that the Cardinals are playing for the NFC title, only the Texans have never made at least a conference championship game since the Super Bowl began..

The Eagles have never won a Super Bowl. Philadelphia lost Super Bowl XV to the Raiders, 27-10, and Super Bowl XXXIX to the Patriots, 24-21.

Super Bowl XXLIII certainty: The NFC will have an entrant that has never won a Super Bowl. Never ever.

The Ravens won the only Super Bowl they played, beating the Giants, 34-7, in Super Bowl XXXV.

The Steelers are tied with the Cowboys and 49ers for most Super Bowl championships — five.

A Philadelphia-Pittsburgh all-Pennsylvania Super Bowl would mark only the third occasion where two teams from the same state faced off for the NFL’s ultimate prize. Giants-Bills in Super Bowl XXV and 49ers-Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX were the others.

A Philadelphia win in the Super Bowl would give the NFC East 12 championships, twice as many as any other division.

No team has ever played a Super Bowl at home. Next year’s game is scheduled for Dolphin Stadium in Miami.

Losing Is in the Cards

The Arizona Cardinals are the oldest professional football club in the USA, but they’ve never won a Super Bowl. In fact, they’ve never even been to a Super Bowl.

To put this in context, the Cardinals going to the Super Bowl is kinda like the Tampa Bay Rays going to the World Series or the Los Angeles Clippers winning the NBA title. Perennial losers finally becoming winners.

The Cards have a long history of losing — 89 years, 2 championships.

The Cardinals were formed in 1898 as the Morgan Athletic Club in Chicago, and were later known as the Racine Normals and Racine Cardinals when they began wearing dark red uniforms.

As the Chicago Cardinals, they were a charter member of the APFA, or American Professional Football Association (later the National Football League) in 1920, along with the Decatur Staleys, who became the Chicago Bears in 1922. The Green Bay Packers. joined the league  for the 1921 season.

Chicago to St. Louis to Arizona
The Cardinals moved to St. Louis in 1960 and to Phoenix before the 1988 season. The team was renamed the Arizona Cardinals in 1994. The losing continued.

Tenants of Comiskey Park, home of the Chicago White Sox, the Cardinals won the NFL championship by default with an 11-2-1 record in 1925,. The Pottsville Maroons had the best record in the league that year, but had their franchise revoked for violating the territorial rights of the Frankford Yellow Jackets.

In the next 20 years, the Cardinals registered just two winning records. Charles Bidwell purchased the team in 1932, and the Cards have been owned by the Bidwell family ever since.

The Chicago Cardinals hit rock bottom in the early 40s when they lost 29 straight games, including winless 0-10 campaigns in 1943 and 1944 and a 1-9 record in 1945.

That would stand for the NFL’s longest losing streak in history but for the fact that the Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers merged in 1944 due to wartime shortages. That team was know as Card-Pitt or the Carpets.

Cards Beat Eagles for 1947 Title
Following World War II, the Cards rebounded and won their last NFL championship in 1947 when they beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 28-21, above.

Chicago’s “Million-Dollar Backfield” of quarterback Paul Christman, halfbacks Charley Trippi and Elmer Angsman and fullback Pat Hurder rushed for a combined 282 yards in the title game. Angsman scored on a pair of 70-yard runs, and Trippi had a 44-yard touchdown run and a 75-yard punt return.

The Cardinals advanced to the championship game the following year, but lost to the Eagles, 7-0, in a rematch played in a snowstorm in Philadelphia. They haven’t been back since.

After compiling a total of 33 victories in the 50s, the Cardinals moved to St. Louis in 1960. During the teams 28-year stay in St. Louis, the Cards made the playoffs just three times — in 1974, 1975 and 1982 — never hosting or winning a playoff game.

Entering this season, the Arizona Cardinals had one playoff appearance, in 1998, when they beat the then division rival Dallas Cowboys, 20-7,  at Texas Stadium.

Which brings us to the 2008 season, where the Cardinals won NFC West Division, beat the Atlanta Falcons, 30-24 at home, and then ambushed the Carolina Panthers, 33-13. on the road last week.

Is winning finally in the Cards?