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Sunday, February 1, 2009

The best and worst of Pittsburgh jerseys

By Dave Dameshek

Don't know if you've noticed, but in 2009, a sports fan can purchase the replica jersey of virtually any player from any of our beloved professional sports … including semidefunct ones such as the Arena Football League. If you want the jersey of your team's punter, backup goalie or long reliever from 1982, you can find it. But like watching "Gary Unmarried," just because you can do something doesn't mean it's a good idea. The market is officially oversaturated; there are too many jersey options, and given our economic climate when many of us are stretching to afford even a foam finger, an unwise jersey investment can haunt a fan for countless years (as I'm sure anyone wearing his Cardinals' Matt Leinart jersey can attest). These mistakes can be avoided, though, with a little guidance, gumption and good, old-fashioned grit. So let's roll up our sleeves and get to work -- starting with the fan base that'll be playing a football contest of some sort in Tampa this weekend.

PODCAST
Dave and Jonah Keri discuss the best and worst jerseys for Pittsburgh fans to be seen wearing.

Podcast

Here it is: the definitive list of jerseys for a die-hard black-and-gold sports fan to sport (and not to sport) around "tahn." Before we begin, remember that this is not simply a ranking of Pittsburgh's greatest legends, although the player's on-the-field deeds figure prominently into the calculation. Other considerations include the aesthetic quality of the uniform's color scheme and individual number choice, the era the jersey evokes for local fans and -- maybe most importantly -- how that player's style, attitude and success personify the history of Burgh sports.

The best player jerseys for a Pittsburgh sports fan to own

Mario Lemieux

Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images

Sporting the original 66 is always a smart purchase.

1. Mario Lemieux's Penguins No. 66, black (from the Cup years)*
Irony right at the top: When Penguins general manager Eddie Johnston announced Lemieux as the first pick in the 1984 NHL draft, No. 66 refused to pull on his Pens sweater because of stalled contract negotiations. Now, he has the No. 1 jersey a Pittsburgh fan can pull on. He's not merely the single greatest athlete in the football-centric city's history, he's the best hockey player of all time. Although some misguided souls might debate that last statement, Lemieux is unquestionably the most exciting, clutch, spectacular combination of skill and size the world of puck has ever known. Has there ever been a scarier sight for goaltenders than big, bad No. 66 skating around, over or through two blueliners as he bears down on goal? (That was intended to be rhetorical, but just to be safe, the answer is "no.") Besides all that, he brought the Cup to the banks of the Three Rivers for a couple of years and saved hockey in the Burgh not once, not twice, but three times … a hat trick! And, most improbably, he actually made that angry penguin on his sweater look intimidating.

*Fashion note: Isn't it about time the Pens returned to these sweaters? The two-tone blues are swell and all, so use them as an alternate if you want … but is it any coincidence the Penguins haven't won a Cup since switching from the old jerseys? Forget the Sports Illustrated cover jinx, which has been proven bogus dozens of times. Conversely, the curse of changing uniforms as reigning champs is quite real. Consider this: The Pens won back-to-back Cups in '91 and '92, then saw fit to switch to these awful getups. Result: no more Cups.

2. Jack Lambert's Steelers No. 58, black
The personification of all the Pittsburgh Steelers were, are and ever will be. Too often replaced in national consciousness by names such as Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary, Jack Splat remains the NFL's greatest middle linebacker in the minds of Steelers fans (and the nastiest, dirtiest linebacker everywhere else). What's more, Pittsburghers lived vicariously through Lambert. Remember when he threw the Cowboys' Cliff Harris to the ground after Roy Gerela missed a kick in Super Bowl X? Everyone in Pittsburgh does. With such ornery acts committed in the name of loyalty, he cut the figure of a big brother who always saw to it that the bully would pay a price for messing with you. As for the jersey color, sure, we could've gone with white because the Steelers wore white jerseys in Oakland and versus the Vikings during their run to their first Super Bowl crown, but ultimately, Darth Vader has to wear black, right?

3. Willie Stargell's Pirates No. 8, gold (V-neck)*
The late, great Pops wore many variations of the Pirates' uniform in his 21-year tenure with the club, during which he hit 475 home runs. But it was this gold jersey he and his family wore in Game 7 of the 1979 World Series when he clubbed the seventh-inning home run that delivered the Buccos their last crown. In case you need more convincing, here's what he said at the Burgh's World Series celebration: "Now, when they walk down the street, the people of Pittsburgh can say that we come from a city that has nothing but champions!"

*Fashion note: If you add the flat-top cap the Bucs wore during that era, go ahead and give yourself a star.

4. Hines Ward's Steelers No. 86, white
Why the white? Because it's the jersey he has worn in two Super Bowls. Why Ward rather than so many other deserving Steelers? Because he's the offensive equivalent of Jack Splat. As much as he's loved in Pittsburgh is how hated he is in 31 other NFL towns. And that's meant only in a good way.

5. Roberto Clemente's Pirates No. 21, gray
The cannon attached to his right shoulder blade … the infallible leather attached to his left hand … the free-swinging, hit-everything style at the plate … all were well-known to Forbes Field denizens for almost two decades. But the '71 World Series was his breakout on a national stage. On his way to being named World Series MVP, Clemente hit .414, made big putouts from right and launched a home run in the decisive Game 7 in Baltimore (hence the choice of the gray jersey). All that said, forget the numbers. He was as thrilling a ballplayer as there ever has been. (At least according to those who saw him -- he was before my time.) And it's hard to imagine there's been a better man in any sport.

6. Danny Marino's Central Catholic High Vikings No. 13, blue
We'd be remiss if we didn't pay homage to the great history of Burgh-grown talent. With Tony Dorsett, Stan Musial, Arnie Palmer, Ryan Malone, DeJuan Blair and countless prep pigskin stars, the banks of the Three Rivers are fertile soil for superior athleticism. Nowhere is this truer than at the signal-caller position. While Florida grows oranges and Texas grows steers, Pittsburgh grows Hall of Fame NFL quarterbacks. We've given the nod here to Marino's Central jersey over Joe Montana's Ringgold, Johnny U's St. Justin's, and Broadway Joe's Beaver Falls jerseys because this local kid opted to walk across the street and star for Pitt. In 2009 and beyond, sporting any of these legendary high school jerseys is an educated choice … unless you attend(ed) the rival school of one of the players.

Best of the rest: Any '70s Steeler, Seven's No. 7, Troy Polamalu's No. 43, Ronnie Francis' No. 10 (or No. 9), Tony Dorsett's No. 33 from Pitt, Hugh Green's No. 99, Rod Woodson's No. 26, Greg Lloyd's No. 95, "Cobra" Dave Parker's No. 39, Kent Tekulve's No. 27, Charles Smith's No. 32, Sam Clancy's No. 15, Norm Nixon's No. 10, Michel Dion's No. 29 and Zarley Zalapski's No. 33 (sometimes a name is just too good to rule out). We'll wait on the rest of head coach Mike Tomlin's Steelers for a few days.

And 10 years from now, let's hope we can add Kid Crosby's No. 87 and Geno Malkin's No. 71 … but not yet.


The worst player jerseys for a Pittsburgh sports fan to own

I don't know what it says about me, but somehow, I have more "worst" than "best" jerseys. And I'm a Pittsburgh fan. Shame the devil if I'd been born in Cleveland.

1. The Pirate Parrot's No. 0, white
Although most sports towns are regularly embarrassed by the off-the-field troubles of their hometown players (hello, Cincy and Dallas), the Steel City has been relatively scandal-free … with just a few exceptions. None was bigger than a mid-'80s drug trial, which focused on the family-friendly Parrot slingin' chach to the Cobra, Yogi's son and a gaggle of other fun-loving Buccos.

Unlike in the case of the man inside the costume, Kevin Koch, there will be no plea bargaining to save you should you wear this foul bird's jersey.

Cliff Stoudt

MPS/NFL/Getty Images

Remember: Friends don't let friends wear Stoudt jerseys.

2. Cliff Stoudt's Steelers No. 18, white
What a cold slap of reality it was for Steelers fans going from Terry Bradshaw to one of Youngstown State's 20 best quarterbacks. Stoudt was the symbol as the Steelers saw the Super '70s give way to the Atrocious '80s. I picked the white jersey because it's the jersey the team was wearing in Shea Stadium in December '83 when Stoudt replaced Bradshaw for good. (I mean bad.) The only question is, should it be Stoudt's Steelers jersey, or his USFL Birmingham Stallions No. 18?

May you receive a helmet sandwich from Donnie Shell and Ryan Clark if you wear either of those jerseys.

3. Barry Bonds' Pirates No. 24, gray
Before Bonds went to San Francisco, where he was accidentally exposed to the blast of a test detonation of a gamma bomb, Bonds proved himself from 1986 to 1992 to be arguably the best hitter of his generation -- with one caveat. At the stroke of midnight every Oct. 1, he turned from Barry Bonds into Barry Williams.

Wait, that's not fair. Some people actually liked "The Brady Bunch." Not so with Bonds. The argument isn't whether he committed a crime. One way or the other, he's guilty of being a creep for the past 20 years. To everyone. But, on the cusp of his and the Pirates' third straight NLCS heartbreaker in '92, he still had a chance to redeem himself. The supposed best defensive left fielder had only to field a hard-hit ball off the bat of Francisco Cabrera and get it to the plate before a one-legged, morbidly obese Sid Bream. He didn't. Then he ran off to the San FranBalco Giants, where he broke records and figured out how to hit in the postseason. The Pirates have never been the same. Then again, the damage he's done to the sport transcends just Pittsburgh. Can you imagine the man who broke one of baseball's biggest records not being in the Hall of Fame? Impossible. All kidding of Mr. Hustle aside, the Hall will get very close to irrelevancy if the game's respective career home run and hit leaders don't end up in there.

Bottom line: Prepare for congressional hearings if you want this jersey.

4. Neil O'Donnell's Steelers No. 14, black
Fine, so he took the Steelers to Super Bowl XXX. But -- to paraphrase the words of Coach Tomlin in the moments after the AFC title game versus the Ravens -- the Steelers don't play just to reach the Super Bowl. O'Donnell's two picks boosted Dallas corner Larry Brown's bank account by millions while simultaneously breaking millions of hearts back in the Burgh. And did he make it up to the Steelers by coming back the following season to finish the job he started? No, he took care of himself by running off to the Meadowlands. How'd that go for ya, Superstar?

If you own this jersey, may you be forced to live in New Jersey, where you will be allowed to watch only the New Jersey Devils (whose garbage, skill-less brand of puck is the main reason the NHL is still in dire straits). Spare me the information that the Pens are playing the zone trap. A cruel, cruel irony. Speaking of the Pens …

5. Marian Hossa's Penguins No. 18, black
The price seemed steep when the Pens pulled the trigger on the trade-deadline deal that brought in Hossa, a world-class winger who could take advantage of Kid Crosby's playmaking ability. Unlike other creeps who at least got more loot by ditching Pittsburgh for other locales, Hossa actually turned down a better deal from GM Ray Shero to chase a Cup with the Wings, a decision that might haunt Kid, Geno and (hopefully) Hossa himself for years to come.

A 10-minute unsportsfanlike conduct penalty if you wear this sweater.

6. Kordell Stewart's Steelers No. 10, black
Sure, he had his positive moments -- let's not forget the trail he blazed as "Slash" -- but he will be best remembered (at least among things we can confirm) for his twin choke jobs in AFC title games. Three terribly timed interceptions versus Denver in the '97 championship, then three more awful picks versus the upstart Patriots in the '01 championship (although, to be fair, the New England defensive backs might have had a little advantage thanks to some pregame video in that one).

I won't repeat the rumors I've heard about what happens to Steelers fans when they wear this jersey.

7. Tim Worley's Steelers No. 38, white
This first-round draft pick separated himself from the rest of the Steelers' draft busts (you got off lucky, Huey Richardson, Jamain Stephens and Aaron Jones) by making a critical fumble in the second half of a 1990 playoff game in Denver, wasting Merril Hoge's 120-yard effort and a potentially huge upset that would've sent head coach Chuck Noll's fellas to Cleveland with the AFC title on the line. And of course, let's not forget he got arrested and tasered by Georgia police in 2008.

Your soul needs tasering if you even think about donning his shirt.

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Outrageous! Play Ball -- Or Else!

By Michael Crowley

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is one of the world's richest men, said to be worth $20 billion. A few years ago, he agreed to buy the Seattle Seahawks football team, on one condition: that local taxpayers pony up millions to help build a new stadium. Plenty of people didn't take to the idea of giving a billionaire a handout. So Allen decided to twist some arms. He reportedly spent $1.7 million to persuade the legislature to schedule a special election on the issue. Then he spent another $3 million on an advertising campaign that hinted the beloved team might leave town if it didn't get the new stadium. Result: Voters agreed to a $300 million stadium subsidy, and Allen pitched in $130 million of his own money. Over seven years, the value of his investment in the team climbed from about $200 million to more than $700 million.
Comstock Images
Comstock Images
That's a pretty sweet deal -- and one that's typical of this form of corporate welfare. Cities and states are spending huge amounts of taxpayer money -- as much as $2 billion per year overall, according to Field of Schemes co-author Neil deMause -- on new ballparks for pro teams. Some of the cities that have shelled out $100 million or more for their pro teams in recent years include San Diego, Cincinnati, Detroit, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Houston and Pittsburgh. Washington, D.C., is throwing in some $400 million to build a stadium for its new baseball team, the Nationals. And taxpayers will foot the $900 million bill for a stadium complex, including a convention center, for the NFL's Indianapolis Colts.

The sales pitch from wealthy owners is galling, and not just because these are the last guys who need a handout. "The problem with [stadium] subsidies is they are falsely sold," says Andrew Zimbalist, a professor at Smith College who specializes in the economics of sports.

Some owners argue that a stadium simply can't be built without a large chunk of public money. Not true. Just look at baseball's San Francisco Giants. Rather than have the taxpayer foot the bill for their new $315 million ballpark, the team borrowed about half the money and raised most of the rest through creative initiatives like selling naming rights to the park, corporate sponsorships, and "licenses" for prime season-ticket seats.

Then there's the claim that building a new stadium will give a city an economic jolt. Almost no economist buys that one. "I have yet to find a single economist who thinks there's any substantial impact from sports facilities," deMause says. In fact, a 1997 study by Andrew Zimbalist and Stanford's Roger Noll found that "no recent facility appears to have earned anything approaching a reasonable return on investment."

Part of the reason, according to economists like Allen Sanderson of the University of Chicago, is that sports teams pull in local fans who would be spending their cash somewhere else in town anyway. Instead of attracting new money, stadium events just move money around that was already headed for the city coffers.

Forget about a job bonanza too. The jobs created by a new stadium are not especially good ones. A few thousand ticket-takers, hot dog salesmen and maintenance workers hardly make for an economic boom.

And even if teams play to a full house, and the fans splurge on stadium food and merchandise, and the game gets televised to a wide audience, it's the owners who rake it in. Cities get nothing from TV deals, and merely collect sales tax on all those other purchases.

As Sanderson told a reporter in 2002: "If you want to inject money into the local economy, it would be better to drop it from a helicopter than invest in a new ballpark."

It's even harder to swallow the subsidy pitch when you're being shaken down at the ticket office already. From 1994 to 2004, average baseball ticket prices were up nearly 50 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars, while football tickets jumped 39 percent and basketball tickets 29 percent. (Anyone who's paid $5 for a hot dog knows it's not just ticket prices that are in the stratosphere.)

The final insult is when owners make a killing by selling newly upgraded teams. A classic example: the Texas Rangers. In the early '90s, the baseball team got a new ballpark -- for $191 million. Two-thirds of that came from the city of Arlington. But the hoped-for retail and business development in the vicinity never materialized, and the area has seen little economic benefit. It was a nifty deal for the team's owners, however, who later sold for a huge profit.

Some cities, though, have summoned the nerve to resist the shakedown artists. Over the past decade, deals that have kept most of the financing private have built stadiums for the Miami Dolphins and the Denver Nuggets. A few cities have offered land, or road upgrades, but that's a smart financial bargain.

So let's start playing fair. It's not like fans are freeloading if they show up at a stadium they didn't pay for. Millions of us are opening our wallets wide for overpriced tickets, sodas and T-shirts. We just resent paying off the mega-rich in order to get a seat at the game.

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Nadal survives Verdasco assault

By Helen Gilbert


Rafael Nadal has overcome Fernando Verdasco in an extraordinary five-set semifinal encounter that lasted five hours and 14 minutes to become the longest match in Australian Open history.

In a touching tribute, the world number one leapt over the net to warmly embrace his compatriot following his 6-7(4) 6-4 7-6(2) 6-7(1) 6-4 victory that ended after 314 minutes at 1.08am – the match lasting three minutes longer than the five hour 11 minute marathon played by Boris Becker and Omar Camporese in 1991.

Astonishingly, Nadal won just one point more than Verdasco in the spine-tingling match – 193 to 192 – and in the end, that single point was the double fault Verdasco served on match point.

The first all-Spanish semifinal in Australian Open history proved to be a heart-stopping affair from the word go. Verdasco may have lost to five-time Grand Slam champion Nadal on all six previous meetings, but tonight he stepped up to the challenge, forcing a tiebreak to decide the first set.

Luck was smiling down on 14th-seeded Verdasco who, leading 5-4, struck a backhand that clipped the net. It spun high into the air and - after what felt like an age - dropped into the court. The piece of good fortune awarded Verdasco two set points, and while he lifted his hand to offer a sincere apology, he went on to claim the set with a winning volley.

Nadal’s fist pumps were coming thick and fast by the middle of the second set. By that stage, Verdasco had won all his service games to love, while the world No.1 was being tested on his. That all changed when Verdasco was made to defend four break points in the eighth game. When Nadal hit a return on the fourth, his string broke and the ball veered out. A look of disbelief crossed Nadal’s face and he looked at his racquet as if to ask ‘why me?’

Arguably, the most scintillating rally of the second set unfolded with Verdasco serving at 4-5. Both men played out of their skins, grinding each other down from the back of the court and hitting balls with increasing ferocity until Nadal blasted a winner down the line. Verdasco could only smile in admiration, and when he hit the next ball long, the second set belonged to Nadal.

Verdasco looked in danger of cracking when Nadal broke to lead 2-0 in the third. After all, he was the No.14 seed making his semifinal Grand Slam debut. But instead of crumbling, the elder of the two Spaniards simply raised his game. Just when you thought the ball could be struck no harder, along he came, whipping up winner after winner with phenomenal pace to break Nadal to love. Another set led to another tiebreak, but Nadal assumed control to take the third.

Come the fourth set, Verdasco received attention for what appeared to be a troublesome calf. It did the trick; he got his legs back and the fourth set tiebreak was his.

A nail-biting fifth set unfolded, and the pressure was on Verdasco’s serve at 4-5. Devastating groundstrokes were unleashed by Nadal, and errors began creeping into Verdasco’s game. Two double faults, the last one on match point, proved to be the Spaniard’s downfall, cruelly dashing his hopes of reaching his maiden Slam final.

Nadal, who has reached the Australian Open final for the first time in his career, will now play three-time Australian Open champion Federer in Sunday night’s eagerly-anticipated decider.

The meeting will be the 19th between the best two players in the world since 2005, with Nadal winning 12 of their previous 18 meetings, including all four times they played in 2008.

Sunday’s final will be their first meeting since their memorable Wimbledon final last year, an epic five-setter than lasted nearly five hours, Nadal winning it 9-7 in the final set.

Quick facts

Verdasco hit 95 winners to Nadal’s 52

The 14th seed had 76 unforced errors; the No.1 seed had only 25

Verdasco served 20 aces to Nadal’s 12

Nadal converted just four of 20 break point opportunities, while Verdasco was 2-for-4 on break point chances

Nadal won 193 points to Verdasco’s 192 for the match

The match lasted 314 minutes, an Australian Open record

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Loan-star Beckham torn over move to AC Milan

David Beckham has revealed he is torn between the "dream" of making his loan move to AC Milan permanent and his contractual obligations to Major League Soccer club Los Angeles Galaxy.

GettyImages

Is David Beckham ready to turn his back on LA Galaxy?

The 33-year-old is supposed to end his short-term loan deal with the Rossoneri in March and return to California, but he has been a huge hit since joining the Italian giants and scored his first goal for the club in the 4-1 win at Bologna at the weekend.

Milan have made no secret of the fact they would like to keep Beckham at the San Siro and it seems like the England international is coming around to the idea.

"To play here is the dream of any player," said Beckham in an interview with Corriere della Sera. "But deciding is not easy; it's a situation that requires time.

"I am under contract and I have a lot of respect for Galaxy. But the possibility to play at Milan is something special. I knew I would have fun but I didn't expect to have so much fun.

"The truth is that the Americans are doing everything to improve the level and reputation of their football. The league in the USA is young. I think 10 years have to go by to achieve results."

Beckham, whose wife Victoria and three children are back in the United States, knew the level of competition would be nowhere near as good as Europe when he went to America, and admitted that his time in the MLS has been trying.

"I have to admit that, having played in Europe, at times it has been frustrating to take part in certain games (in America)," he said. "But once in a while, going from state to state, I have also had fun."

Beckham first joined Milan to improve his chances of playing for England again and keep fit during the MLS off-season but his stay in Italy has also made him feel nostalgia for past glories.

"I feel Milan is very similar to Manchester United," he said. "It has that kind of tradition that only great clubs have.

"Milan, just like at United, you breathe a particular atmosphere, whether it's in the training ground, the stadium. And then Milan has that trophy room - this makes you feel special."

Beckham claimed any nerves over his move to Italy were soon dispelled upon his arrival at the club.

"The first day in Milan's changing room I was very nervous, like the first day in school," he said. "But the first true emotion, I felt it when I arrived in December to Milan's training ground, when I put on the Milan jersey.

"My wife was sitting in front of me and when I put the jersey on and it had the Milan logo, I was in ecstasy."

Beckham has not needed any time to make a huge impression in Milan.

Although his move was viewed as a marketing stunt by many in Italy, Milan and many of Serie A's players have been quick to lavish praise on Beckham for his performances on the pitch.

Silvio Berlusconi, the Milan owner, coach Carlo Ancelotti and team-mates like Brazil midfielder Kaka have spoken of their great admiration for Beckham and said they would like him to remain.

The former Real Madrid star has been pleasantly surprised by how quickly he has adapted to Serie A.

"At times you need weeks or even months to understand how a team plays and trains," he said.

"I have to say that many people have done a lot of work to make me feel at home, I have been welcomed with open arms.

"I knew Serie A was very strong tournament tactically. I have learnt a lot from Fabio Capello who coached me at Real Madrid. From him, I learnt organisation and discipline. Now Capello is exporting all of this to the England national team."

His good performances for AC Milan may well open the door for Beckham's return to the national team. Beckham is only a cap away from equalling Bobby Moore's outfield record of 108 appearances for England and he could achieve that feat in next month's international friendly against Spain in Seville.

He will be watched closely by Capello in Wednesday night's game against Genoa with the England coach among those attending the game at the San Siro.

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Van ends up balanced on cliff edge in scene resembling The Italian Job

In a scene straight out of The Italian Job, Daniel Lyons was left hanging in mid-air after his vehicle plunged down the rock face in Colorado
Daniel Lyons was left hanging in mid-air after his vehicle plunged down the rock face in Colorado Photo: WENN

In a scene straight out of The Italian Job, Daniel Lyons was left hanging in mid-air after his vehicle plunged down the rock face and dangled on a precipice 170ft from the ground.

Terrified Daniel, 34, desperately tried to balance the weight of the van to prevent him from plunging to certain death.

But in his confusion he climbed onto the back seat – which was already hanging off the cliff.

Rescue crews arrived at the scene of the accident at the Colorado National Monument and found Daniel cowering in the swaying vehicle.

They managed to manoeuvre him from the van and up the cliff face before he was airlifted to hospital where he received treatment for minor injuries.

Park Superintendent Joan Anzelmo said: "It's truly a miracle. Another few inches or a foot and that car would have continued on to the base of the canyon. No one survives those types of accidents. We're glad he's alive."

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Colin Montgomerie named 2010 European Ryder Cup captain

Colin Montgomerie - Colin Montgomerie named 2010 European Ryder Cup captain
Boss man: Colin Montgomerie will lead Europe at Celtic Manor Photo: PA

The Ryder Cup committee made the announcement on the eve of the Dubai Desert Classic, with Montgomerie beating off competition from Jose Maria Olazabal, Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam to succeed Nick Faldo.

Olazabal, 42, was vice-captain to Faldo in 2008, when Europe were defeated by USA 16½-11½ at Valhalla in Sept.

The Spaniard had been favourite to lead Europe in Wales, with Montgomerie penned in for the role in his native Scotland in 2014.

However, it is understood that Olazabal, a seven-time Ryder Cup player and two-time Masters champion, wants to qualify as a player next year before taking over as captain for the 2012 competition at Medinah in the US.

With three-time captain Bernard Gallacher and Sam Torrance, a successful captain at The Belfry in 2002, throwing their weight behind their fellow Scot, Paul Casey believes Montgomerie is the right man to lead Europe next year.

"I have huge respect for Monty and I think from what I have read and when I have spoken to him, he would love to captain a side where he knows all the players," said Casey.

"We have fantastic players right now. I have now dropped to 23rd in the world, but when I was 21st in the world last week I was only the eighth-best European and that shows how impressive European golf is right now."

The US have not won in Europe since The Belfry in 1993, and will be led by Corey Pavin in Wales.

Pavin, who replaces Paul Azinger, said: "The Ryder Cup is in my blood. It is the greatest event in the world, certainly in golf."

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For Terrible Towels, a Wonderful Legacy

Chris McGrath/Getty Images

More than 500,000 towels could be sold if the Steelers win the Super Bowl.

By JOHN BRANCH

There is one Steelers fan in Pittsburgh ambivalent about the team’s success.

“It’s actually been really hard for me, with the Steelers going to the Super Bowl,” the 38-year-old Elizabeth Cope said. “Because I have to see the Terrible Towels everywhere. It’s great. But it hurts.”

The towels are a swirling reminder of her father, Myron Cope, a longtime Pittsburgh broadcaster credited with creating the Terrible Towel in 1975. Before he died last February at age 79, Elizabeth Cope watched last year’s Super Bowl with him in his hospital room. She draped his coffin with a quilt that a fan had made out of Terrible Towels.

But the great part comes from what each of those towels does for people like Danny Cope, Myron’s son and Elizabeth’s older brother.

Myron Cope left behind something far more personal than a legacy of terrycloth, a battle flag for a city and its team. In 1996, he handed over the trademark to the Terrible Towel to the Allegheny Valley School. It is a network of campuses and group homes across Pennsylvania for people with severe intellectual and developmental disabilities. It receives almost all the profits from sales of the towels.

Danny Cope is one of the roughly 900 people the school serves. He has been a resident since 1982, when he was a teenager. He was diagnosed with severe mental retardation when he was 2. He is now 41.

“He’s never spoken,” Elizabeth Cope said. “Which is kind of funny, because Dad is known for his voice. It’s almost like the Terrible Towel is Danny’s silent voice.”

Hundreds of thousands of the towels — trademarked as “Myron Cope’s the Official Terrible Towel” — are sold every year, for about $7 each. Through the Steelers, who handle the marketing of the towels, the school receives a check every month, usually for tens of thousands of dollars.

A Super Bowl changes everything. The company that produces the towels, McArthur Towel & Sports of Baraboo, Wis., produced 450,000 of them last week, after the Steelers won the A.F.C. championship. The company expects to duplicate that this week before Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals, its president, Gregg McArthur, said.

A Steelers victory would most likely lead to orders of at least 500,000 more for a pair of Super Bowl versions of the Terrible Towel, one with the score against the Cardinals, the other declaring the Steelers as six-time Super Bowl champions.

Before this season, Allegheny Valley School had received more than $2.5 million from the towels since 1996, said its chief executive officer, Regis Champ. Roughly $1 million of that came during and immediately after the 2005 season, when the Steelers won Super Bowl XL. This season is likely to top that.

“It’s an incredible help for us,” Champ said. “We’re a nonprofit organization, and our primary funding is through Medicaid. While Medicaid is very good to people with disabilities, it is limited in what it will cover.”

Champ said that Myron Cope wanted the money to go not for construction projects, but for individual assistance for residents. Recent purchases include high-end specialized wheelchairs and sensory programs that allow severely disabled residents, including quadriplegics, to perform tasks such as turning on lights or music with a movement of their eyes.

The money has also been spent on adaptive communication devices, computers that give voice to those who cannot speak. Danny Cope has one.

The checks are usually spent as they are received.

“Our needs are daily,” Champ said.

Elizabeth Cope receives none of the proceeds from the Terrible Towel. Her father (whose wife, Mildred, died in 1994) transferred the trademark out of gratitude to the school.

“He came into my office, and he had a pile of papers,” Champ said. “He threw them down on my desk and said, ‘Regis, I’m giving you the Terrible Towel.’ I said, ‘Myron, I have about 10 of them. I’ll take another one, but ...

“He said, ‘No, I’m giving you the rights, and you’ll be able to get all the proceeds from the Terrible Towels.’ I was speechless. I knew that this would be the legacy that outlived Myron.”

The idea for the towels came out of a 1975 meeting Cope had at WTAE, the Steelers’ flagship radio station where he was the voice of the Steelers. Executives wanted a promotional gimmick, something to raise the excitement level during the playoffs.

Pittsburgh’s blue-collar fans were not the pompom types. But towels were far more utilitarian, useful for wiping the seats or protecting against the chill. Cope dubbed them Terrible Towels. On air, he encouraged fans to bring gold or black towels to the first playoff game against the Colts. It seemed too gimmicky, until about half the crowd began waving them at the start of the game. The Steelers won their second consecutive Super Bowl, surrounded by a sea of swirling towels.

Soon they were trademarked and mass-produced. They have been imitated by other franchises, but usually they are handed out for free, and they feel both unoriginal and uninspired by comparison. Even the N.F.L. could not contain itself; it is selling a white “Trophy Towel” to fans of both the Steelers and the Cardinals.

“When I see other towels in other stadiums, I know they probably have no personal story behind them,” Elizabeth Cope said. She said she has “millions” of them at home, and recently donated some framed originals to a Pittsburgh museum. There is one displayed at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Myron Cope was treasured in Pittsburgh for his enthusiasm, nasally voice and quirky exclamations such as “Yoi!” and “Double yoi!” But he knew he would be most remembered for the towel. And he made sure that it would always be more than just something to cheer the Steelers to victory.

When Danny Cope arrived at Allegheny Valley School, Myron Cope told Champ that doctors said he needed 24-hour supervision and would never be able to work.

Danny Cope, who is also autistic, now lives in a supervised group home with four others in a Pittsburgh suburb. He shops and goes to sports events. He has a paying job, packaging pretzels and snacks on an assembly line.

“Myron said that he was thankful for the life his son had,” Champ said.

The connective threads are strong. Many of the Terrible Towels go through a workshop in Chippewa Falls, Wis., similar to the one where Danny Cope works. About 80 employees with severe disabilities help fold, tag and box the shipments, McArthur said.

Come Sunday, when the Terrible Towels are swirling around Raymond James Stadium, they may also be swirling around Danny Cope. His friends like to watch the games, and Cope understands the Terrible Towels mean something exciting is happening.

“But as far as the legacy his father left?” Champ said. “No, I’m afraid Danny doesn’t understand that.”

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Super Bowl Weeks They'd Rather Forget

By Peter Schrager

When you consider the best individual Super Bowl performances of all-time, names like Joe Montana, Timmy Smith, and Doug Williams come to mind. But not everyone has great experiences during Super Bowl week. In fact, for some, it’s a downright awful few days.

Granted, there are a few situations (Raiders center Barret Robbins going AWOL days before Super Bowl XXXVII, for example) we can’t really include on a list like this. But some, we can. Here are the Five players who we’re sure that if they had the chance, would undoubtedly do their Super Bowl weeks a little differently the second time around.

Thurman Thomas

Allen Kee/WireImage.com

5. Thurman Thomas, Super Bowl XXVI, 1992

Though Thomas is an NFL Hall of Famer, he was 0-4 in Super Bowls and is the subject of one of the more infamous and embarrassing big game snafus. As the legend goes, throughout the ’91 season, Thomas would put his helmet on the 40-yard-line during pre-game warm-ups as a superstitious good luck charm. Yet, when he did it prior to the kickoff of Super Bowl XXVI, the helmet was moved for Harry Connick Jr.’s singing of the Star Spangled Banner. A frantic Thomas spent minutes searching for his helmet and missed the first two plays of the game. He’d rush for just 13 yards in a 37-24 loss to the Redskins.

Jerramy Stevens

G. N. Lowrance/WireImage.com

4. Jerramy Stevens, Super Bowl XL, 2006

Days before his Seahawks took on the heavily favored Steelers in the Super Bowl in Detroit, Stevens told reporters, "The story of Jerome Bettis returning to his hometown is heartwarming, but it's going be a sad day when he doesn't walk away with that trophy." Though it was a harmless enough comment, it got Steelers linebacker Joey Porter riled up just enough to bark back, "A guy running in and out on special teams shouldn't be sayin' things like that." The soft-spoken Stevens suddenly became the focus of the rest of Super Bowl week, dropped three crucial passes in the game, and his Seahawks lost 21-10. And yes, in the end, Bettis walked away with "that trophy."

Adrian Awasom

Tom Berg/WireImage.com

3. Adrian Awasom, Super Bowl XLII, 2008

Yes, the Giants won the game. But in this era of 24-hour media scrutiny, handlers, and constant micro-managing, for any player to get a DUI two days before the Super Bowl is absolutely inexcusable. Awasom was sent home prior to the Giants’ upset of the Patriots, did not get to experience the greatest upset in Super Bowl history, and is currently not on an NFL roster. (Insert your own joke about how not Awasom that is here.)

Eugene Robinson

Al Pereira/WireImage.com

2. Eugene Robinson, Super Bowl XXXIII, 1999

On the morning before the Super Bowl, Eugene Robinson was presented the Bart Starr Award by a religious group for his upstanding morals and character. That very evening, the Falcons cornerback was arrested for offering an undercover cop posing as a prostitute $70 for oral sex. Oopsie daisy! He was bailed out of jail just in time to get burned on the first deep pass of the game, a Rod Smith 80-yard touchdown pass from John Elway. The Broncos beat the Falcons 34-19. Eugene Robinson never won another Bart Starr Award.

Stanley Wilson

Vic Milton/WireImage.com

1. Stanley Wilson, Super Bowl XXIII, 1989

Already suspended twice by the league for substance abuse earlier in his career, Wilson — a fullback for Cincinnati — was found by his position coach, Jim Anderson, in his hotel bathroom the night before the Super Bowl, high on cocaine. A 1999 Cincinnati Enquirer article described the scene, "The player was sweating and shivering. White powder flecked his nose and upper lip. The devil was back, for good." Wilson was left off the active roster for the game and kicked out of the league forever. The Bengals lost to the 49ers the next evening.

Three Questions with Super Bowl Champion, Ronde Barber

Ronde Barber

Ralph Waclawicz/WireImage.com

Ronde Barber’s had a crazy few months. After starting the season 9-3, his Bucs lost the final four games of the season and missed the playoffs. Monte Kiffin, his longtime defensive coordinator, announced he was leaving to join his son’s staff at the University of Tennessee. And then, two weeks after the season, team ownership fired coach Jon Gruden and GM Bruce Allen, and hired Raheem Morris — a 32-year-old with just two years of NFL position coach experience — as the new head coach of the Bucs. He spoke with us while doing the rounds for Gatorade’s "G" campaign.

What’s being a Super Bowl champion do for a player’s career?

I won a Super Bowl ring (in 2002) in the middle of my career, so it only made me hungrier. I want to win more, and I would have loved to have been playing for another one this year. A lot of great players — NFL legends — never won a Super Bowl, so to say that I’ve done it — reached the pinnacle — is definitely something I value. That Super Bowl victory defines me, both here in the city of Tampa and around the league. My role in that NFC Championship Game in Philly, my role in that Super Bowl over Oakland — those are my career highlights. When I look back on it years from now, those are the moments I’ll remember and cherish most.

Imagine someone just landed here from planet Mars and had never played football before. How would describe Warren Sapp?

Ah, it’s been a few years since I played with Warren, but the best way to define him is to watch him in a film session, breaking down game tape. We watched film as an entire defensive unit — not just with the other guys at your position. So you’ve got 26 guys in a room — an entire defense — and a whole defensive coaching staff, and there’s Warren’s talking the entire — and I mean entire — time. If a guy misses a tackle or misses an assignment on film — and it doesn’t matter who, a rookie, a veteran — Warren just calls him right out in front of everyone in the room and takes him to task for it. And it’s not a polite “C’mon,” it’s more than that. It’s heated. He was always the first guy to open his mouth and spot a mistake. But here’s the thing. He’d come at you, call you out hard, give it to you in front of the entire defense — and you wouldn’t mind. Because you knew all Warren Sapp wanted to do was win. And in a way, Warren being that way in those film sessions — so demanding, so abrasive — made us all want to be better football players. It inspired all of us to strive even harder for perfection. That’s Warren Sapp in a nutshell.

Last season, there was lots of negativity coming out of New York towards your brother Tiki. As he stood there in the Giants locker room after their Super Bowl win, with a microphone in his hand for The Today Show — do you think he had any regrets?

Nope. That’s Tiki. It’s how he approaches life. I know he might have come off as aloof, but that’s just him. His decision to retire might have been shocking for many, but we knew that was coming. He didn’t want to play football anymore. He didn’t want to get beaten up every Sunday. The irony, of course, is that the Giants won the next season without him. But, did he have any regrets? No. Once he’s done with something, he’s done with it. He moves beyond and is on to the next thing.

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Super Bowl Football To Be Slightly Bigger

TAMPA BAY, FL—In an equipment regulation change calculated to increase viewer interest in professional football's championship game, National Football League officials announced Monday that the footballs used in the Super Bowl would be somewhat bigger than their regular-season counterparts. "The length of the ball will be increased from 11 inches to 14, which will make the ball about a yard around at its widest point when inflated to the new pressure of 48 pounds per square inch," the NFL Rules Committee announced Monday. "We believe this will bring a new dimension to both the passing and running games. Good luck." In light of the new football size, coaches for both the Steelers and Cardinals are advising their players to wear gloves, carry the ball with both arms at all times, and lift with their legs and not their backs when recovering fumbles.

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The Ballad Of Brenda And Kurtis The Stock Boy

By Dashiell Bennett

Sports is a cold and cynical world, but its nice to know that uplifting tales of goodness can be found in the abyss. Oh, look... your mom just forwarded you an email from 1999!

For the second time this week, we have gotten the email chain about "Kurtis The Stock Boy and Brenda The Checkout Girl." It's the kind of thing you might read in a "Chicken Soup For The Arena Football Player's Soul" and it's popping up in inboxes and message boards all over the Western world this week. Here's some exceptts::

In a supermarket, Kurtis the stock boy, was busily working when a new voice came over the loud speaker asking for a carry out at register 4. Kurtis was almost finished, and wanted to get some fresh air, and decided to answer the call. As he approached the check-out stand a distant smile caught his eye, the new check-out girl was beautiful. She was an older woman (maybe 26, and he was only 22) and he fell in love.

Let's skip ahead to "KURTIS" and "BRENDA"'s first date, where she explains that she can't go, because she has two kids and the baby sitter canceled.

To which Kurtis simply said, "Well, let's take the kids with us." She tried to explain that taking the children was not an option, but again not taking no for an answer, he pressed. Finally Brenda, brought him inside to meet her children. She had an older daughter Jessie, who was just as cute as a bug, Kurtis thought, then Brenda brought out her son, Zachary in a wheelchair. He was born a paraplegic with Down Syndrome.

Kurtis asked Brenda, "I still don't understand why the kids can't come with us?" Brenda was amazed. Most men would run away from a woman with two kids, especially if one had disabilities - just like her first husband and father of her children had done. Kurtis was not ordinary - - - he had a different mindset.

Are you crying yet? It goes on like this....

When her son needed anything Kurtis would take care of him. When he needed to use the restroom, he picked him up out of his wheelchair, took him and brought him back. The kids loved Kurtis. At the end of the evening, Brenda knew this was the man she was going to marry and spend the rest of her life with.

Those two crazy kids got married and had five more babies of their own. Have you figured out ... the rest of ... the story?

So what happened to Kurtis the stock boy and Brenda the check-out girl? Well, Mr. & Mrs. Kurt Warner now live in Arizona , where he is currently employed as the quarterback of the National Football League Arizona Cardinals and has his Cardinals in the hunt for a possible appearance in the Super Bowl. Is this a surprise ending or could you have guessed that he was not an ordinary person.

OMG I DID NOT SEE THAT COMING! WHAT COULD POSSIBLY MAKE THIS STORY ANY BETTER?

Both Brenda and Kurt are active born-again Christians.

Yes, this email is not without a purpose, but surely it made the rounds before, when Kurt was leading the Rams to two Super Bowls. There's long been talk that his inspiring story will become a movie someday, but the real tragedy is that this cheesy email actually shortchanges the Warners, because almost all the details are incorrect and not as interesting as real life.

This internet legend has already been chronicled by Snopes.com, which breaks down the inaccuracies and points out how the true story is even more sad and inspiring. Brenda was never a checkout girl. She met Kurt when he was still in college and before his career took its unfortunate turn for the worse. (She actually stuck with him, despite his many football failures.) They were together five years before they got married, not one. Her son, Zachary, is actually her oldest child and he doesn't have Down's Syndrome. His birth father dropped him on his head when he was an infant, leading to brain damage and blindness. (The trauma of that incident let to the father leaving Brenda, while she was pregnant with her second child.) Also, left out: the tornado that killed Brenda's parents in 1996; the spider bite that cost Kurt a tryout with the Bears; and Brenda's first career as a freakin' Marine. This family craps perseverance.

So, yeah ... their story is pretty awesome—which is why I just assumed that everyone had already heard it before. But I guess maybe your great aunt just got her first MacBook so you should probably send it along just to be safe.

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Slain Tillman remains an inspiration to Cardinals

by Jim Slater

Slain Tillman remains an inspiration to Cardinals AFP/Getty Images – A statue honoring the late Arizona Cardinals Pat Tillman in Glendale, Arizona. Tillman never lived to …

TAMPA, Florida (AFP) – Pat Tillman never lived to see the Arizona Cardinals reach the Super Bowl, but the defender who gave up a fortune to become a soldier remains an inspiration to his former team.

The Cardinals will try to end a 61-year title drought on Sunday when they face the Pittsburgh Steelers for the National Football League championship, the realization of what had been Tillman's dream.

"I think he's looking down right now and he's really excited for us and he's really ticked off he's not down here getting ready to play in the Super Bowl," Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill said.

Tillman was a safety for Arizona but turned his back on a 3.6 million-dollar National Football League contract following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and enlisted in the US Army.

Joining his brother Kevin in the US Army Rangers to fight in Afghanistan, Tillman was killed in 2004 at age 27 in a friendly fire incident, a tragedy deepened by a cover-up that made it seem he died while fighting the Taliban.

"I remember when Pat made that choice and everything that followed," said Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, who was leading the St. Louis Rams to the 2002 Super Bowl when Tillman was leaving the NFL.

"There's no question he is an inspiration for what he did, what he stood for and his attitude. It's a choice I appreciate and respect and it inspires me very much.

"You think about his situation and the choice he made and I think there are very few in this league that would make the same choice. We're spoiled and pampered to a degree and you live in that world.

"He was living for a bigger purpose and that went way beyond the game and way beyond money."

Tillman's jersey number, 40, has been retired by the team but remains one of its top sellers. A statue of Tillman stands at a memorial plaza outside the Cardinals home stadium. Tillman family members were invited to the Super Bowl.

Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson, whose first NFL season was Tillman's last, became the man Tillman tauight to take his place.

"Pat helped me learn the playbook. He helped me learn the ins and outs of the game, how to practice and learn a lot of things that I didn't know," Wilson said.

"He eventually knew I was going to be the guy who took over his spot and he didn't have any problems with that.

"Pat did a lot for this team and this organization. It took a lot of people to get us to this point. It gives everyone a great sense a pride."

Wilson wants Tillman's character to be remembered by a team that already prides itself on selflessness.

"Not every man is going to make that decision," Wilson. "It speaks volumes to the type of person he was."

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Shaquille O’Neal passes Hakeem Olajuwon on the NBA’s All-time Scoring List


Heading into tonight’s game in Phoenix between the Suns and their long time rivals the San Antonio Spurs, Shaquille O’Neal was trailing the great Hakeem ‘The Dream’ Olajuwon by a mere 5 points on the NBA’s All-time Scoring List. Midway through the first quarter Shaquille O’Neal spun on Tim Duncan and threw down a powerful two-hander for the sole possession of 7th on the All-time list.

Shaq is one of the greatest centers to ever play this game. Some may even say the greatest. But whichever side of that fence you sit on, one thing is for sure and that is Hakeem Olajuwon is a Hall of Fame center who Shaq respected. Hakeem Olajuwon is one of the only centers in the NBA to ever go head to head with Shaq in a series long battle and come out on top. I don’t mean just winning the games, but head to head outperforming Shaq to the point of bringing Shaq down to size. And Shaq’s a large large man. When it comes to Centers Shaq respects the great ones, George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Tim Duncan. So I found it quite fitting that Shaq was putting a post move on one player from that list (Tim Duncan) while scoring to make history passing another great from that list (Hakeem Olajuwon) in the NBA scoring department.

If you want to track Shaq’s progress this season moving up the NBA All-time Scoring Chart, here is the stats heading into tonight’s game against the Spurs:

  1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 38387
  2. Karl Malone 36928
  3. Michael Jordan 32292
  4. Wilt Chamberlain 31419
  5. Moses Malone 27409
  6. Elvin Hayes 27313
  7. Hakeem Olajuwon 26946
  8. Shaquille O’Neal 26941

I’m a tad bit embarrassed to say this but when I think back to all of the great battles between Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon, especially that Houston sweep of the NBA Finals when Shaq was with Orlando, I can’t help but think about that funny Taco Bell commercial they did together. Here it is if you don’t recall:

And even though the head to head matchup between O’Neal and Olajuwon that most people will remember is the Olajuwon waxing of O’Neal to lead the Houston Rockets to a sweep of the NBA finals for the title in 1995, Shaq certainly had his moments against ‘The Dream’ as well. Here is one that comes to mind:


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The 12 Players Who Made The NBA What It Is Today

by KoufaxSpahn

The NBA, and basketball in general, is still a relatively young sport. The NBA has only been around for a little over 60 years, and is always evolving with each passing generation. The 12 players below have impacted the game in ways you can't just find by looking up statistics. It goes beyond that. They were true inovators who left the game better off than when they entered it. For some, their work is not done yet. Here are those 12 players.



George Mikan – At close to 6’10”, Mikan towered over
most in his days. However, he also possessed great
athleticism for his size, which allowed him to dominate
the game like no one before had. He is the main reason
why the lane had to be widened, and began the trend
of building a team around a big man. To this day, that is
still the key to success as a team. Few NBA
championships have been won without a strong center.



Bill Russell – The term defense wins
championships in undoubtedly true, although
perhaps a tad cliché. The way Russell
revolutionized the defensive game though,
few can argue with the strategy. Being the
catalyst of 11 championships in 13 seasons,
he mostly dominated games as the final line
of defense near the rim. No block statistics
were kept during his days, let alone shots
altered, but he was more than that. It was the
way he turned defense into the best offense, often leading fast breaks with his defense instead of seeing how many rows he could swat the ball. Coaching strategy adapted to the Celtics' ideas, and they made GMs everywhere search for the next great big man defender.


Wilt Chamberlain – Video games were not invented until well after Chamberlain
retired from the NBA, but gamers now would still struggle to put up the numbers
Chamberlain did. The Big Dipper became one of the first virtually unstoppable
offensive forces, overpowering every player in his site. Even going against his
rival Russell, Chamberlain still got his. Being his size and athletic put him
decades before his time, and forced the league to catch up or pay the price.



Connie Hawkins
– Before Dr. J, David Thompson or Michael Jordan, Hawkins
brought the high-flying game with a playground twist to the mainstream. After
growing up around New York City and being a Rucker Park legend, he went to
Iowa to start his college career. A point shaving scandal, in which most question
if he was actually involved in, got him thrown out of college and banned from the
NBA. After years of fighting the ruling, he joined the upstart ABA, before playing
a few years in the NBA. Despite not getting to play some of his prime years at the
highest level, the influx on NBA players from the streets of New York City point to
Hawkins as the player who showed he could take the act to the pros.



Spencer Haywood
– Challenging the system is always a gamble, but for
Haywood, it was something he felt like he had to do. He felt he had the right to
play professional basketball without putting in all four years in college, so he
challenged the system. The result? Added pro seasons for just about every
NBA star in the past decade. He also later paved the way for those wanting to j
jump straight from high school to a professional league.


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
– Back when Abdul-Jabbar was Alcindor, he
dominated the college game like no other before him. Dunking was banned
to try and level the playing field, so he developed one of the deadliest shots
of all time: the sky hook. That shot became his signature move, but he was
so much more than that. He was really the first national recruit who everyone
knew about even in high school. Once he got to the NBA, his way of adapting
his game accordingly allowed him to play one of the longest careers in the
league’s history. He might not have been as great as Russell on defense or
Chamberlain on offense, but he was a hybrid of the two who was a force for
two decades.


Magic Johnson
– Bill Russell and Dave Cowens were the two prominent
centers for the most successful team in the NBA before Magic entered the
league. So, when this point guard came into the NBA with the same size as
them, everyone knew this guy had the potential to change the league forever.
He never disappointed, being the first player who could literally play all five
positions. He’s still arguably had the best court vision ever for a player, and
was the catalyst of the Showtime Lakers.



Larry Bird
– Much like Magic, the two of them really could go together. Arriving
in 1979, together they saved the NBA from fading into obscurity. Bird never
possessed the athletic ability of the elite players, but his basketball sense made
him one of the best players to ever play the game. His shooting skills took off
with the recently added 3-point line, and his love for the game brought fans back
to the game they were ready to abandon.



Michael Jordan
– Out of the more obvious selections on this list, Jordan
barely needs an introduction. However, you can’t gloss over all his Airness
did for the game. Perhaps the best testament to how much he meant to
the game: more than a decade after his final shot as a Chicago Bull,
Jordan is still one of the first people thought of when the NBA is
mentioned. The void he left right after retirement hurt the NBA more than
any other great. He became the NBA’s first global superstar, marketed
everywhere by the likes of Nike and Gatorade. On the court, he is arguably
the best player to ever lace them up. He also showed his ability to adapt
his game from high-flying in his early years to developing a turnaround
jumper. His great defensive play was icing on the cake.

Dražen Petrović – Since basketball became an Olympic sport, Americans
were never truly challenged. Sure, NBA began to gain interest each year
overseas, and the former Soviet Union could put some decent teams
together, but actually play in the NBA? Get real. Although not the first,
Petrović was a rising NBA star before tragedy hit and he passed away in a
car accident. The impact of the Croatian directly impacted those European
stars in the NBA now growing up (Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Tony Parker,
Peja Stojakovic to name only a few). He never was able to see just how
much the NBA could change in a generation, but you have to imagine this
was exactly the vision he had.


Kevin Garnett – It was the mid-1990s, and Michael Jordan was just making
his first comeback. The Minnesota Timberwolves took a gamble on the first
guy to come straight out of high school in twenty years. If Garnett had been a
bust, the idea would have most likely been dismissed and high schoolers
wouldn’t opt for prom-to-pros. After a slight learning curve, Garnett became
the cornerstone of the Timberwolves. His impact does not start and end with
his high school jump. At 6’11” (or 6’12” as he has said before), he refused to
be relegated to the block. His versatility instantly caused mismatches on
offense, and gave him advantages of defense. To play in the NBA now, you
must have some range to go along with your height.

Yao Ming – Just as Dražen Petrović paved the way for Europeans to have
success in the NBA, Yao is arguably the most influential player in the NBA
today. What he has done on the court is only a fraction of what he has done for
the game. China in general has more than a billion people, and when you start
counting up other Asian countries, a whole new world has someone who looks
like them playing the game they love. Also like Petrović, perhaps we won’t see
the full affects of Yao for another 10-15 years, when those kids who grew up
watching Houston Rockets games at odd hours have the confidence in
knowing that they too CAN play in the NBA.

Second team (to add for discussion/debate): Bob Cousy, Allen Iverson, Julius Erving, Ken Sailors, Elgin Baylor, Shaquille O'Neal, Earl Monroe, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Bob Pettit, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Lebron James

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Torre unapologetic about new book criticizing former players

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Don't expect an apology, A-Rod. Joe Torre is standing by everything he says in his new book.

"I really don't think there's anything in the book at all that'd I'd apologize for. I feel badly if people are taking it the wrong way. I'm not going to say I'm insensitive to it," Torre said Friday night.

"I think that's what makes me who I am, because I have sensitivity. But I think I was very sensitive in writing the book."

Torre spoke about the book, The Yankee Years, outside the CNN building after appearing on the "Larry King Live" show.

The former Yankees — and now Los Angeles Dodgers — manager was asked about former New York pitcher David Wells' comment that Torre was a "punk" for writing about things that happened in the "sanctity" of the clubhouse.

"I have a feeling that Boomer hasn't read the book yet, and after Boomer reads the book, hopefully he'll get a different perspective," Torre told The Associated Press.

Torre said the excerpts that have surfaced from the book, mostly critical comments about Alex Rodriguez, Kevin Brown and Wells, among others, need to be considered in the context of the entire book.

"A little information comes out and you've got to deal with five pages or whatever it was in a 500-page book," Torre said. "I'm sort of used to it. You don't like people to get the wrong idea, and I certainly feel good about the way the book turned out.

"It wasn't anything we did behind anybody's back. It really wasn't anything serious. I'm proud of the book and I hope people take time to read it so they'll understand it."

Talking about the dynamics of his relationship with players, Torre said, "Not necessarily seeing eye-to-eye doesn't mean that you dislike somebody or that you can't work with them. I think what's unique about the game is the fact that they are professionals and they do good things."

Earlier, Torre told King that he's shocked by the uproar the book has caused. Torre said the book, due out Tuesday, is merely an honest account of his time managing the high-profile club.

"It was a great 12 years in New York," Torre said later. "Sometimes you win four World Series the first five years, people think it's a piece of cake.

"I was just letting people know what goes into the decision-making, and I think I did that without violating any confidences."

The book takes some nasty swings at several of his former players and gives a candid account of Torre's acrimonious split with the team. Some of the most scathing comments involve Rodriguez, whom Torre accused of changing the clubhouse culture and of being too concerned about records.

"It changed the personality somewhat, but it doesn't mean you can't win," Torre told King.

According to the book, co-authored by Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci, some of A-Rod's teammates referred to him as "A-Fraud." Torre said the two haven't spoken since Torre turned down the Yankees' one-year contract offer following the 2007 season.

"I've had best wishes through people, I've texted him on occasion, but I haven't talked to Alex since I left," Torre said. "I don't think there's anything in this book that's going to make Alex angry."

Torre said in the book that "The difference between Kevin Brown and David Wells is that both make your life miserable, but David Wells meant to."

After the King show, Torre said, "I think I had more disagreements with Boomer (Wells) than any other player. But my job was to deal with it, his job was to deal with it."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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