Sports Outside the Beltway

Pro Football Hall of Fame Snubs Too Many Greats

Rick Gosselin, a long time Pro Football Hall of Fame voter and 2004 inductee into the Hall as a sportwriter, thinks the current voting process snubs too many great players. He gives several examples, but this set is most impressive:

These players were NFL all-decade selections who went to five Pro Bowls apiece: linebackers Tommy Nobis and Joe Fortunato and cornerback Louis Wright.

These players were NFL all-decade selections who went to four Pro Bowls apiece: defensive tackle Alex Karras and Ed Sprinkle, fullback Alan Ameche and cornerback Jack Butler.

These men were NFL all-decade selections who went to three Pro Bowls apiece: guard Howard Mudd, linebacker Dave Robinson and safety Dick Anderson.

The Hall of Fame selection committee, by the way, picks the all-decade teams. If you’re considered one of the best players of your era, you ought to be considered one of the best players in NFL history.

But not a one of those players has ever been a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. All deserve to be discussed, but all are now in the seniors pool of candidates. Only two come out each year for consideration. It’s too late for most of them to have their Hall of Fame candidacies saved.

That’s quite bizarre, indeed. Several of them should be slam dunk Hall of Famers.


Dallas Cowboy Keith Davis Shot Again

Dallas Cowboys safety Keith Davis has been shot for the second time in three years. He is apparently fine.

Cowboys safety Keith Davis was released from the hospital Tuesday, just two days suffering two gunshot wounds early Sunday morning while driving alongside Interstate 635. Davis is not only healing fast, but is also expected to be ready for all contact once the team begins training camp on July 28 in Oxnard, Calif.

Davis was admitted to Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas early Sunday morning after two shots grazed him in the thigh and the head. However, Davis was not seriously injured and even made light of the incident from his hospital bed. “My head has been leaking, but that’s OK,” Davis said on Sunday. “I’ve got a big head, and my braids still look good. As soon as I realized I got hit, I started applying pressure to the spot. I was a kinesiology major in college. I guess I learned something from all of those courses.”

Davis was driving around 5 a.m. with his girlfriend when he said a gunshot broke the glass of his back window. As Davis tried to speed away, he said that’s when several more shots were fired at his direction. While two shots connected, the Cowboys safety was able to get away from the shooter and got to another highway before he pulled over to his girlfriend drive him to the hospital. “I was just minding my own business driving home, and I didn’t quite make it,” he said. “I’m a victim.”

This marks the second time in three years that Davis has been shot. Nearly a month before the start of the 2003 training camp, Davis was also shot twice, once in the hip and the other in the elbow. But while doctors cleared Davis to fully participate in that camp, he never got the opportunity. Head coach Bill Parcells, who was about to conduct his first camp with the Cowboys, made an example of Davis by releasing him just one day before the first practice in San Antonio.

Thankfully, it appears Davis was indeed an innocent bystander this time. It was true the first time, too, but he had exercised rather poor judgment in his choice of hangouts. One can hardly blame him for being on an Interstate highway.


Braves Hoping for 2nd Half Comeback

While most gave the Braves up for dead after a horrible June, their recent progress is giving fans some hope.

On Sunday, the last day before the All-Star break, Jeff Francoeur wore a T-shirt that proclaimed: “I’m a country music song waiting to happen.” The young right fielder and his Braves teammates don’t want that song to be something like “Out of the Postseason Blues” for the first time in Atlanta since 1990. That’s why the 10-game trip that begins Friday night in San Diego is so important for the Braves, who want to build on momentum they established before the All-Star break.

They were 13 games behind the NL East-leading New York Mets at the break, but only 6 1/2 behind wild-card leader Los Angeles.

“I think we’ve got more of a sense of confidence now than we’ve had all year,” pitcher John Smoltz said Sunday, when Atlanta beat Cincinnati to complete a 7-3 homestand and 10-6 run before the break. “We’re literally a click away from being right in the thick of things.”

That’s pretty remarkable, considering they lost 20 of 23 from May 29 to June 22. They finished that stretch with a 10-game losing streak, three longer than the previous worst in Bobby Cox’s 25-year managerial career. “We need to get a little steadier in everything we need to do, but I think it can be done,” said Cox, who isn’t ready to concede the NL East title, and certainly not a playoff spot. “Nine or 10 games out at the All-Star break, the tendency is to give up. We’re not going to do that.”

Two weeks ago they were coming off a 6-21 record in June, the worst full month by a Braves team in 71 years. Now, Braves players are doing the math to figure out what it might take to win the wild card.

It would require a collapse by the Mets for anyone else to catch them in the NL East. But the wild card’s a different story. The Braves went to the break on a better run than any of the eight teams ahead of them. The team that wins the wild card could be the one that shores up weaknesses before the trade deadline, or gets overwhelming performances from a player or two in the second half. Or both.

The Braves are looking for bullpen help, first and foremost. The team has about $6 million available to add to payroll, some of that left over from the failed pursuit of a closer last winter. But general manager John Schuerholz never spends just because he can. He’s been on the phone for weeks but has yet to make a trade. “We were more active than people might have assumed we would have been or should have been [during the losing stretch], talking to clubs about moves,” Schuerholz said. “It’s not as if we shut it down. But the reality is, where we are in the standings. We’ll see how things go. “We feel good about the way our team played toward the end of the first half. What we’re trying to do is things we can do to win in ’06, get to the playoffs and win in the playoffs. We’re still going to try to do that.”

It’d sure be nice. I’d hate to have mirror end finishes to the Braves’ remarkable division championship streak, pairing a “Worst to First” 1991 season to a “First to Worst” 2006. That, at least, no longer looks likely.

It would be rather ironic, too, after watching the Marlins (twice) and Mets (once) go from Wild Cards in their own division to the World Series to returning that favor. It’s better to be hot late than consistent all year. I’d certainly trade a couple division titles for another World Series Championship during that run.


Satchel Paige’s 100th Birthday

Today would be Satchel Paige’s 100th birthday. Maybe.

“Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” That’s according to baseball immortal Leroy “Satchel” Paige, born 100 years ago on July 7, 1906. Paige (legend has it) won 2,100 games, 60 in one season, and 55 without giving up a hit. And that was before he was allowed in the majors as a 42-year-old “rookie.”

“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” Paige once remarked. Of course, old Satch was known to have fudged the facts a smidge when it came to longevity. He enjoyed shaving off or adding a year or two to his biography, depending upon his mood and how much publicity it might attract. Satchel’s actual birthday is one of the great mysteries of sport.

He told Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck it was Sept. 18. Wilber Hines, a childhood friend, claimed it was Sept. 12, 1905. In 1980, two years before Satch died, Cool Papa Bell reported that “Satchel is two years older than I am, and I’m 101.” (Bell was 77 at the time.)

But Satch’s mother, Lula, said that he was born in 1904, and that she wrote the birthdates of her 13 children down in the family Bible. The only problem was that her father was reading it under a chinaberry tree one day when the wind blew it out of his hands. The family goat ate it, and the date was lost forever. But the goat, according to Satch, lived to be exactly 27.

July 7 seems to be Paige’s most likely birth date. Teammate Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe (who died last August) insisted Satch was born on July 7, 1900, two years to the date before he was.

In Satch’s autobiography, Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever, he wrote, “I got to Cleveland on July 7, 1948. That was my 42nd birthday.” And in 1954 the Mobile, Ala., Health Department located a birth certificate for a “Leroy Page” dated July 7, 1906. “They’ve been carrying on so long about my age, nobody will believe what I say,” Satch said.

We’ll never know for sure when Satchel Paige was born. But when he threw his first pitch for the Cleveland Indians in 1948 (one year after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier), Satch was an old man by baseball standards. Yet he still went 6-1 to help the Indians win the American League pennant. Paige became the first black player to pitch in the
World Series and the first Negro League player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame (his plaque says he was 42 in 1948). Satch went on to pitch four more seasons.

The man was a character, if nothing else.


Reggie Williams for NFL Commish?

Richard Lapchick hopes the NFL gives serious consideration to former Cincinnati Bengals lineman Reggie Williams to replace Paul Tagliabue as its next commissioner.

Reggie Williams is being considered for the commissioner’s position in the NFL. While I know that he is an out-of-the-box choice, I have known Reggie since the 1980s and hope that he is chosen to succeed Paul Tagliabue. I consider him to be an out-of-the-box candidate because he is not currently an NFL insider, and there has never been an African-American commissioner in any major pro sport. Reggie has been an out-of-the-box person his entire life, battling and overcoming any obstacles in his path. I have no doubt that he can tackle the challenge of taking on the top job in the NFL with the same success.

Right now, he’s battling his damaged knees. All that time as a player on the football field led him to his ninth knee surgery on July 3, and recovery from that is not the way he wanted to celebrate the Fourth of July. But nothing seems to be able to stop this man. I know he will be slower, physically, for a while, but the surgery won’t slow down his brain or his guts. If the NFL calls him for a second interview, Williams’ determination and confidence will be apparent to the people in the room, even if he’s on crutches.

For more than two decades, I have watched other people be dazzled by that determination and that confidence. Reggie Williams knows he can do the job. He has always faced skeptics. The kids in Flint, Mich., where he grew up, were tough on him. As kids often do, they teased him unmercifully for a profound loss of hearing, suffered at birth, which made communication difficult for him. He withdrew into his studies and developed his athletic gifts, while he worked on his ability to speak through therapy at The Michigan School for the Deaf in Flint. Bo Schembechler, then the football coach at Michigan, was a skeptic, too. Schembechler didn’t think he was good enough to play in Ann Arbor, and ended Reggie’s dream of playing for the Wolverines. He went on to star in the Ivy League; but near the end of his career at Dartmouth College, some NFL scouts were skeptical he could play pro ball. Chosen in the third round by Cincinnati, Williams played in Super Bowls XVI and XXIII. His 23 fumble recoveries are among the most in NFL history, and his 62.5 sacks are well up on the Bengals’ career list.

Until Williams pushed aside the next set of skeptics and became a member of the Cincinnati City Council, no athlete I know of had ever held public office while he was still an active player.

I first met Williams when we both testified before a Senate sub-committee. Sen. Bill Bradley was attempting to get colleges and universities to publish graduation rates. They do it now as a matter of routine; but in the 1980s, grad rates were a murky — and often scandalous — secret. Most athletes were afraid to speak out about social issues. Arthur Ashe and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were among the very few famous African-American athletes willing to be heard on the subject of academics and athletics, but Williams stood tall in his push for increased academic standards for student-athletes.

It was not a fashionable position to take, but Reggie wanted all young people to be able to reach their full potential. He told the sub-committee that day that if a kid had athletic gifts, he or she needed to be a student first. You could see the admiration in which he was held by the Senators in the chamber. He was an orator, leading people. I thought that day that he could be a Senator himself. Or perhaps a minister leading his flock.


Before he stopped playing, Williams won the Byron “Whizzer” White Award for humanitarian services from the NFL in 1985 and was named the NFL Man of the Year in 1986 and Sports Illustrated’s Co-Sportsman of the Year in 1987. After his playing career, he joined the World League of American Football as the vice president and general manager of the New Jersey Knights — making him, I believe, the first African-American to serve as GM of a professional football team.

He later became part of the NFL’s executive staff and developed the first Youth Education Town (YET) in south central Los Angeles and Compton in connection with the Super Bowl, which became a prototype for future NFL contributions of educational and recreational facilities to Super Bowl host cities.

Currently, Williams is the vice president of Walt Disney Sports Attractions. (Full disclosure: ESPN is also owned by Disney.) When he took that job, Disney brass introduced him as one of only two African-Americans at the vice president level in the entire Disney company. Now, he directs more than 2,000 employees who run an incredible — and inclusive — series of events from one end of the calendar year to the other.


Imagine what he could do if he could take over an enormously successful sports business enterprise such as the NFL. Williams has the world view that could help the NFL positively affect the lives of so many children who face some form of crisis on a daily basis. At its very best, sport can deliver dreams to those children.

I don’t know much about the man but he certainly has an impressive resume. And, certainly, putting a highly qualified black man in that post would send a powerful signal.


Larry Foote in Custody Battle

We had been lacking in any Steeler news for weeks . . . but when it rains, it pours.

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Larry Foote has asked a Michigan court to award him custody of a 10-year-old son he says he did not know existed until nearly two years ago.

Foote, 26, who has homes in Pittsburgh and the Detroit suburb of West Bloomfield Township, made his request in a recent filing in Oakland County Circuit Court. A hearing is scheduled for July 5 before Judge Cheryl Matthews.

Trey-Veion’s mother, Khalila Shanese Hammond of Inkster, said she was surprised when she received the filing. She said she appreciates Foote’s actions on behalf of their son but says the boy is homesick and should not stay with Foote full-time.

“It’s not going to happen,” Hammond said. “I’m going to fight him.”

Strange story, really. But most of the stories coming out of Pittsburgh these days are strange. I’m not sure what to make of all of this, seeing as how the Steelers have remained largely trouble free until this year. At least Foote isn’t getting arrested, like some other Steelers teammates.


Big Ben Not Ready to Talk


It’s been more than two weeks since Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had emergency after he smashed his face into a car during a motorcycle accident.

And Big Ben’s agent, Ryan Tollner, says it will be a few more weeks before Roethlisberger speaks publicly about the accident.

Tollner told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that Roethlisberger has had requests from “every major media outlet, not just sports” to talk about the accident, but he’s not ready to do that.

Perfectly understandable, I think. I’m about his age, and I don’t think I’d be ready yet either.

Also, the article states that his face is looking pretty good, which is encouraging. I’d hate to have to get used to another face.


Quote of the Day, Ben Roethlisberger Edition

From a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette chat transcript to a sports writer on staff:

“matt1996: I heard in an extrodinary move of team unity Coach Cowher has graciously agreed to donate his jaw to Ben’s recovery. Can you confirm that?”

Now that WOULD be a sacrifice.



Bill Cowher’s Last Year?

Wow, the somewhat boring Steelers beat (involving the team quietly locking up most of their free agents) suddenly got more interesting

There is a growing feeling inside the Steelers organization that Bill Cowher may coach one more season or, at most two, and then retire to the $2.5 million home he and his wife bought in Raleigh, N.C., this year.

That sentiment was underscored yesterday with Cowher’s answer to a question about whether this might be his final season coaching the Steelers.

“I’m just taking it year to year,” he said, reiterating words he first spoke at the NFL meetings in March.

If he leaves, that would be a blow to the organization. He’s been a Pittsburgh institution (Cowher power, anyone?) for years. However, I can’t say he hasn’t earned it. Being a head coach in the NFL is a hard job, and if anyone has earned a break in this profession, its Bill Cowher.

That answer conflicts with one he gave two years ago in March just before negotiations began that extended his contract through the 2007 season.

“I have a seventh-grader,” he said then, “and I know for at least the next five years, if not longer, I plan on coaching.”

His youngest daughter, Lindsay, reportedly left Fox Chapel High School to enroll as a sophomore in the fall in a school near Raleigh, where she will play basketball.

Of course, that was two years ago. The man has achieved everything a pro coach can. If he leaves now, the team is in pretty good shape, with a lot of players doing well. Still, its hard to imagine the Steelers without their big-jawed coach pacing the sidelines.

Art Rooney II, the Steelers President, disagrees with the rumor mill:

“I hate to speculate about things like that, but I would say I would be surprised if this were his last year. I’m sure he’s given it some thought at some point about how long he wants to coach. He’s at the 15-year mark and that’s a long time in this league.”

While the rumors sound interesting, I definately agree with Rooney on this one – I think its more likely Cowher stays than goes. Stranger things have happened, though.

Both him and his wife have ties to the Raliegh area, having both gone to NC State. I have to say, though, that if Cowher moves back to the Raliegh area, this man is going to feel the heat every time his football squad under achieves. After all, an unemployed Super Bowl winning alumni coach who retired to get away from the stress of pro football is living just down the road, and that’s going to start the rumor mill around Chuck Amato more than anything else. I could see Cowher deciding that maybe the college game at a mid level school is something worth considering, if the chance arises.


Mario Williams and his Toes

Mario Williams sidelined with toe injury.

HOUSTON (June 7, 2006) — Houston Texans No. 1 draft pick Mario Williams will be sidelined for the rest of the week after having the toenails on both of his big toes removed.

Williams, a 6-foot-7, 292-pound defensive end, had the procedure done on June 5 after struggling with infections because of problems with his toenails.

Houston has been going through organized team workouts for the past month and had their first day of minicamp on June 7.

“They were bothering him throughout the camp,” said Texans coach Gary Kubiak. “So instead of trying to fight it, they removed them. We’re giving him a few days off to make sure it heals properly.”

Kubiak said Williams would probably return to practice on June 9.

I love strange stories like this. Removing both of your toenails sounds painful. Let’s hope the number 1 overall draft pick doesn’t have a chronic toe injury problem that sidelines his career.

Or at least, that they can keep yanking the toenails out. Ewwww.


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