Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Oscar Gamble, 1949-2018

At the official level, baseball has always had a problem with gambling. So if your name is Gamble, and you want to play baseball, you'd better be good. And it would help to be known for something in particular.

Oscar Gamble was both.

Oscar Charles Gamble was born on December 20, 1949 in Ramer, Alabama, near the State Capital of Montgomery. The outfielder was discovered playing semi-pro ball in Montgomery by Negro Leagues legend Buck O'Neil, by then a scout for the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs drafted him in 1968.

He made his major league debut on August 27, 1969, only 19 years old. Batting 8th, playing center field, and wearing Number 20, he drew a walk off Tony Cloninger in the 2nd inning, popped to 3rd base in the 5th, singled to right in the 7th, and grounded to 2nd in the 9th. Despite a home run by Ron Santo and a hit each by Ernie Banks and Billy Williams, the Cubs lost to the Cincinnati Reds, 6-3 at Wrigley Field.
It was 1969. Baseball was behind the times.
No mustache yet. No Afro, either.
Even sideburns were still rare for ballplayers.

After the 1969 season, he was part of a trade package to the Philadelphia Phillies, with former All-Star Johnny Callison going the other way. It was with the Phillies that he began wearing Number 23. It was also in the Phunky city of Philadelphia that he began to look like a Seventies player.
Mustache: Check. Sideburns: Check.
Afro: Workin' on it. Powder-blue road uniform: Check.
Welcome to the 1970s.

On October 1, 1970, he singled Tim McCarver home in the bottom of the 10th inning, giving the Phils a 2-1 win over the Montreal Expos in the last game played in the 62-season history of Connie Mack Stadium (formerly Shibe Park), as the fans ran onto the field before McCarver even crossed the plate, and they tore the old ballpark apart. He did not, however, play in the Veterans Stadium opener on April 10, 1971.
Oscar and his wife, Juanita, in 1972.
Clearly, she was his inspiration.

After the 1972 season, the Phillies traded him to the Cleveland Indians. It was there that Oscar developed what became baseball's most memorable Afro, a hairstyle more frequently seen in the NBA and especially the ABA. It got to the point where he could barely get a cap or a batting helmet on over it.
No, I wasn't kidding.

The Indians didn't care, because he could play all 3 outfield positions, and he'd found his power stroke. In 3 seasons playing his home games in Cleveland Municipal Stadium, often known as "Cavernous Cleveland Stadium," where the foul poles were only 320 feet away but straightaway left and right were 380 feet, he hit 20 home runs in 1973, 19 in 1974, and 15 in 1975.
Right on.

The Yankees knew they were going back into the original Yankee Stadium after a 2-year renovation that forced them to groundshare with the Mets at Shea Stadium, so they took a chance that Gamble's lefthanded swing would be perfect for the "short porch" in right field, soon revealed to be 310 feet to the pole and 353 to the right-center power alley. On November 22, 1975 -- just 11 days after getting Mickey Rivers and Ed Figueroa from the California Angels and Willie Randolph from the Pittsburgh Pirates, they sent starting pitcher Pat Dobson to the Indians for Gamble.
The famous 1976 Topps "Traded" card.
Note the bad airbrushing on the cap and the jersey.

When Oscar reported to Spring Training in Fort Lauderdale in March 1976, he faced a dilemma. Team owner George Steinbrenner had a rule against long hair. He told Oscar he wasn't opposed to an Afro, as long as it was short and neat.

So he sent Oscar to the barber the team used down there. He was an old white man, who admitted that he'd never cut a black man's hair before. But it had been more than a decade after the Civil Rights Act, so he couldn't well refuse, especially since the Yankees likely would have taken all their business away from him if he had. He got Oscar down to where he met George's standards.
Result.

He only batted .232 for the Yankees in 1976, but he did hit 17 home runs with 57 RBIs. He became quite popular in New York, for his power, for his batting stance (an extreme crouch that Rivers also used, with better effect for average than for power), and for his personality. Broadcasting, Phil Rizzuto called him "The Big O," a nickname that had already been given to basketball star Oscar Robertson and singers Roy Orbison and Otis Redding. He had an RBI in the American League Championship Series, helping the Yankees win the Pennant. But he went just 1-for-8 in the Reds' 4-game sweep of the Yankees in the World Series.

The signing of Reggie Jackson in the off-season made Oscar expendable. And they needed a shortstop, badly. On April 5, 1977, the Yankees sent him to the Chicago White Sox with LaMarr Hoyt (who ended up winning the 1983 AL Cy Young Award) and Robert Polinsky (who never made the major leagues), for Bucky Dent, made expendable at Comiskey Park by the emergence of Alan Bannister.

1977 was, for a while, a great season for Chicago baseball. Both teams were in 1st place at the All-Star Break, the only time that's ever happened. But the Cubs then tailed off, and finished 81-81. The White Sox hung on longer, with horrible uniforms and an attack that got them nicknamed the South Side Hit Men.

Team owner Bill Veeck, well, took a gamble: He knew he wouldn't be able to afford to keep all those guys as free agency took hold in baseball, so he essentially traded for "rent-a-players" who could win it for him that year.

Oscar, now wearing Number 17, led the team with 31 home runs, and also had 83 RBIs. His OPS+ was 162, meaning he was 62 percent better at producing runs than the average player. Richie Zisk hit 30 homers and led the team with 101 RBIs. Eric Soderholm hit 25 homers, Chet Lemon 19, Jim Spencer and Lamar Johnson 18 each. Jorge Orta only had 11, but had 84 RBIs. Ralph Garr, who had won the National League batting title with the Atlanta Braves, only hit 10 homers, but batted .300. And Comiskey was a pitcher's park.
"Well, the South Side of Chicago is the baddest part of town."
-- Jim Croce

But the White Sox couldn't hold their lead in the AL Western Division, either. They slumped, and in early August, they got swept and overtaken by the Kansas City Royals. The problem was that they didn't have the pitching: They had 4 guys make at least 25 starts, and none of them had an ERA below 4.10. They had 6 making at least 13 starts, and 3 of those had an ERA above 4.80. They went 90-72, but only finished 3rd behind the Royals and Angels.

Veeck couldn't sign most of them to new contracts. Rising star Brian Downing was traded to the Angels. Zisk signed with the Texas Rangers, Spencer with the Yankees, Gamble with the San Diego Padres. Of the guys I mentioned, only Lemon was still there when Veeck sold the team in 1980.

To look at the 1978 Padres -- not easy, given their awful uniforms -- it seems like they were destined for a big season: Future Hall-of-Famers Gaylord Perry, Rollie Fingers, Dave Winfield and Ozzie Smith. All-Stars Mickey Lolich, Gene Tenace, Randy Jones, Gene Richards and Oscar Gamble.
The problem was, most of them were washed-up (like Lolich and Tenace), not yet developed (like Smith), or had a down year (like Jones and Gamble). They only went 84-78, well behind the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Padres chose to trade Oscar to the Rangers after the season. He recovered his stroke, and on July 30, 1979, they traded him, pitchers Ray Fontenot and Gene Nelson (neither ever amounted to anything), and Amos Lewis (who never reached the majors) to the Yankees for Rivers for 4 players who never made the majors -- including, interestingly enough, the now-flopped Polinsky.

In mainly a pinch-hitting role, Oscar hit a career-high .358 in 1979, with 19 homers and 64 RBIs in just 274 at-bats. He continued to show some pop, and helped the Yankees win the AL East in 1980 and another Pennant in 1981.

In the decisive Game 5 of the strike-forced 1981 AL Eastern Division Series with the Milwaukee Brewers at Yankee Stadium, Reggie and Oscar hit tremendous back-to-back home runs, and the Yankees went on to sweep the Oakland Athletics in the ALCS. But the subsequent 6-game loss to the Dodgers, in which he went 2-for-6 with an RBI in 3 games, was the closest that Oscar would ever come to a World Series win.

After that, the Dynasty fell apart. Steinbrenner continued his managerial musical chairs. The organization was a mess, and was no longer winning enough to overlook it. Oscar was quoted as saying, "They don't think it be like it is, but it do."

It's not clear whether he said this in his 1st or 2nd run with the Yankees, but it may have inspired another New York athlete, Micheal Ray Richardson, to say of the Knicks, "The ship be sinking." When asked, "How low can it sink?" he answered, "The sky's the limit."

Having a glut of outfielders, the Yankees let his contract run out after the 1983 season, re-signed him early in the 1984 season, and then let him go again. He returned to the White Sox for 70 games in 1985, and that was it. He finished his career with a .265 batting average, a 127 OPS+, and an even 200 home runs.

*

Oscar returned to Montgomery, where he became a player agent, and ran a dance club, Oscar Gamble's Players Club. He was always invited back to Old-Timers' Day at Yankee Stadium, and usually came. He also served as an instructor at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, both for Spring Training and Yankee fantasy camps. Some people noted with sadness that his famous hair was gone.
Sic transit gloria mundi.

He was married to the similarly once-spectacularly-coiffed Juanita, and they had 2 sons, one who played in the Phillies' organization, and one who played in college.

Oscar Gamble developed cancer of the jaw, and died today, January 31, 2018. He was 68 years old.

"Everybody remembers the hair," Reggie Jackson said today, "but what you need to know was that he was a sweet, decent man, without a single ounce of malice in his heart, one who came through the door every day with a smile on his face."

"One of the best teammates probably any of us ever had," said Goose Gossage. "As good a teammate as they come."

Hall of Fame players giving Hall of Fame praise to Oscar Gamble, a Hall of Fame person.
UPDATE: His final resting place is not publicly known.

January 31, 1988: Doug Williams Writes an Answer

January 31, 1988, 30 years ago: Super Bowl XXII is played at what was then known as Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego. Fans were expecting a quarterback to put on a big show.

A quarterback did put on a big show. But not the quarterback that most people were expecting.

They were expecting it to be John Elway. The Stanford University alumnus had put up big numbers with the Denver Broncos, and in the 1986 AFC Championship Game, he led them on a 98-yard drive to a tying touchdown in the last 2 minutes of regulation, not merely on the Cleveland Browns but in the direction of the bleachers at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, which gained fame (or infamy, depending on how you view it) that season as "The Dawg Pound." The Broncos won the game in overtime on a field goal by Rich Karlis.

Then they lost Super Bowl XXI to the New York Giants. They got back to the AFC Championship Game for the 1987 season, and again faced the Browns, this time at Mile High Stadium in Denver. A late fumble by Earnest Byner sealed a 38-33 win for the Broncos, who again rode Elway's powerful right arm to victory, much more than their famed "Orange Crush" defense.

Now, they were in another Super Bowl, against the Washington Redskins. They had previously lost Super Bowl XII to the Dallas Cowboys, 10 years earlier, so Rocky Mountain fans were hoping the 3rd time would be the charm.

The Redskins had appeared in 6 NFL Championship Games in 10 years from 1936 to 1945, winning in 1937 and 1942. But after World War II, they went into a long decline. They emerged from it in the late 1960s, and won the 1972 NFC Championship, losing Super Bowl VII to the Miami Dolphins.

They went into a transition period, then hired Joe Gibbs to coach the team. With a tough defense, a receiving corps known as the Fun Bunch, and the most famous offensive line in football history, known as The Hogs, they exorcised some of their ghosts, beating their arch-rivals, the Dallas Cowboys, in the 1982 NFC Championship Game, then beating the Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII, for their 1st World Championship in 40 years. They lost Super Bowl XVIII to the Los Angeles Raiders, but remained one of the NFL's best teams, and advanced to Super Bowl XXII.

The Redskins' quarterback was Doug Williams. A student of coach Eddie Robinson at mostly-black Grambling State University in northern Louisiana, he finished 4th in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1977. He had gotten the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the 1979 NFC Championship Game, and into the Playoffs again in 1981. His offensive coordinator there? Joe Gibbs, who was then hired away by the Redskins.

But a salary dispute led Williams to leave the team, and he signed with the Oklahoma Outlaws of the United States Football League. Things did not go well for him: The Outlaws were a bad team, the USFL folded, and his wife Janice died of a brain tumor.

But Gibbs remembered. He signed a few former USFL players, including Williams, running back Kelvin Bryant of the Philadelphia Stars, and receivers Gary Clark of the Jacksonville Bulls and Ricky Sanders of the Houston Gamblers. They were all big reasons why the 'Skins got back to the Roman numeral game.

Still, the Broncos went in favored by 3 points. Was it because they were a team playing on natural grass, as this game was? No, because the Redskins were, too. Was it because, as an AFC West team, they had regularly played there, against the San Diego Chargers? I doubt it. Was it because they had more fans, and thus more of them likely to show up? Unlikely, as the Redskins also had a pretty big fan base. Was it due to experience? I don't think so: While most of the Broncos had appeared in the previous Super Bowl, the Redskins still had a lot of the players from Super Bowls XVII and XVIII. (Joe Theismann was their quarterback then, since forced into retirement by the Giants' Lawrence Taylor breaking his leg.)

No, the main reason for the short but noticeable spread was the quarterbacks. Elway was viewed as a better quarterback. Certainly, he was more talented, with the stronger arm. And he was awarded the NFL's Most Valuable Player award after the regular season. But that didn't necessarily mean he was better. After all, he had been outplayed by Phil Simms of the Giants the year before.

In contrast, Williams was not only in his 1st Super Bowl, but he was going to be the 1st black quarterback to start in the Super Bowl -- which he came within 10 points of doing 8 years earlier with Tampa Bay.

*

This should not have taken until 1988 to occur. And, now that it had, it shouldn't have been a big deal. It had been 51 years and change since Jesse Owens shattered the Nazi myth of Aryan supremacy at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin; nearly 50 years since Joe Louis wrecked unwilling symbol of Aryan supremacy Max Schmeling in 2 minutes at Yankee Stadium; 41 seasons since Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, Marion Motley and Bill Willis reintegrated pro football; 40 years and change since Jackie Robinson reintegrated Major League Baseball.

It had been 39 years and change since Larry Doby became the 1st black man to play on a World Series winner, and the 1st to hit a home run in World Series play; 37 years and change since Earl Lloyd, Charles Cooper and Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton integrated the NBA; 34 years since Willie Thrower and George Taliaferro became the 1st black quarterbacks in the NFL; 33 years and change since Brown v. Board; 32 years since the Montgomery Bus Boycott; and 30 years since Willie O'Ree became the 1st black player in the NHL (there had previously been a Canadian player of Chinese descent).

It had been nearly 26 years since Baker v. Carr mandated "one man, one vote"; 24 years and change since Martin Luther King electrified the March On Washington; 23 years and change since the Civil Rights Act of 1964; 22 years and change since the Voting Rights Act of 1965; 21 years and change since Bill Russell became the 1st black head coach of a true major league team (the NFL could hardly have been called "major league" in 1920, when Fritz Pollard was both head coach and quarterback of the Akron Pros).

It had been 19 years and change since Marlin Briscoe became the 1st black quarterback to start in pro football, followed within days by the protest of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City; 13 years since Frank Robinson was hired as the 1st black manager in MLB; and 11 years since Bill Lucas was hired as the 1st black general manager in MLB.

Still, there was a perception that black men shouldn't be quarterbacks. They could play on defense, or as running backs, or as receivers, but not in a "thinking position" like quarterback. As if any other position on the field didn't require a man to be able to think clearly about what he had to do, and how to do it. And, since the aforementioned Fritz Pollard, there hadn't been a black head coach in the NFL. Art Shell would break that barrier with the Los Angeles Raiders in 1989.

*

This was compounded by something that Jimmy Snyder, an analyst for CBS' NFL studio show, The NFL Today, had just said. "Jimmy the Greek" made his name on prejudice, but not against his own ethnic group or religion.

In 1948, already an established bookmaker, he bet $10,000 on Harry Truman to win a full term as President. His reasoning? Not that the power of incumbency helped, or that people remembered how Truman handled the end of World War II, or that he was handling the Cold War well, or that he was likable, or that he was a poor boy made good, or that people still didn't trust the Republican Party after the Great Depression. No, Jimmy bet on Truman because his opponent, Thomas E. Dewey, had a mustache, and "American women don't trust men with a mustache." (Clark Gable, William Powell, Cesar Romero and Vincent Price, couldn't be reached for comment.)

Jimmy got 17-1 odds. When Truman won, Jimmy won $170,000 -- about $1.74 million in today's money.

He invested his winnings in the energy sector, but it didn't work. So, in 1956, already in the American West, he went to Las Vegas, and established a sports betting line. He became well-known enough with this that he was hired for The NFL Today when it began in 1975. As sports betting was illegal outside of Nevada, he couldn't mention gambling, but he could predict results and scores, a backhanded way of saying, "Team A will win, and Team B will (or will not) cover the point spread." He became a national star in his late 50s.

But he went off the rails in the 1987 season. First, he predicted that the season finale, Super Bowl XXII (the game I'm talking about) would result in the Raiders beating the St. Louis Cardinals. No, Jimmy was not getting his sports mixed up: At the time, there was also a football team named the St. Louis Cardinals. But, in a season cut to 15 games due to a players' strike, they went 7-8, missed the Playoffs, and announced their move to Arizona. The Raiders, meanwhile, expected by most to bounce back from an uncharacteristic 8-8 in 1986, crashed to 5-10.

That should have wrecked Jimmy's reputation as a prognosticator. But it is mostly forgotten now, because of an interview he gave at the legendary (but now defunct) Duke Zeibert's restaurant in Washington on January 15, 1988, 16 days before the Super Bowl. (He wouldn't be covering it for CBS, anyway, because ABC had the broadcast rights.)

Ed Hotaling, a reporter for WRC-Channel 4, the NBC affiliate in Washington, was interviewing people in the legendary (but now defunct) Farragut North watering hole, long popular with politicians and sports fans. The subject was Martin Luther King's birthday, how they felt about Dr. King and his achievements, and what they thought the next step in civil rights progress should be.

Naturally, Jimmy's thoughts turned to his area of expertise, sports. No problem there. But then, probably already having done some drinking, he went into history and genetics, and it sealed his doom:

The black is a better athlete to begin with, because he's been bred to be that way. Because of his high thighs and big thighs that goes up into his back. And they can jump higher and run faster because of their bigger thighs. And he's bred to be the better athlete because this goes back all the way to the Civil War, when, during the slave trading, the big, the owner, the slave owner would, would, would, would breed his big black to his big woman so that he could have uh, a big, a big, a big black kid, see. That's where it all started!

I can't objectively say that it got worse, but he did violate the 1st Rule of Being In a Hole: Don't dig. He also said of black men, "If they take coaching, as I think everyone wants them to, there is not going to be anything left for the white people."

The remarks, as we said in those pre-social media days, hit the papers the next day, and before the Sun was down, Jimmy the Greek was fired. He would later sue CBS for age discrimination (he was 69), defamation and breach of contract. The suit went to trial, and he lost. He later admitted, "What a foolish thing to say."

Jimmy died in 1996. In 2009, ESPN aired a 30 for 30 documentary about him. Irv Cross, an NFL Today correspondent after a career as a Pro Bowl cornerback with the Philadelphia Eagles, said he, as a black man, didn't consider Jimmy to be racist. Frank Deford, writing for Sports Illustrated at the time of the firing, said that Jimmy had a habit of trying to sound more educated than he really was, and that this time, it got him in trouble.

(It's also worth noting that the host of The NFL Today was Brent Musberger, who, as a print journalist in 1968, skewered Smith and Carlos. Nearly half a century later, not only is he unrepentant for that, but, through his comments on Colin Kaepernick, he's shown he hasn't learned anything.)

*

So, with that context, the question of what Williams was thinking, and how he would perform, was on people's minds, perhaps more than it should have been.

Michael Wilbon, then with The Washington Post, and since 2001 the co-host of Pardon the Interruption on ESPN, wrote down some of the questions Williams was asked:
"Doug, do you feel like Jackie Robinson?"
"Doug, would you have been able to handle all of this, especially the black thing, if you had made the Super Bowl a few years back, say, when you were 25?"
"Doug, has there been much progress in this country since 1970, when the schools you grew up in were finally integrated?"
"Doug, do you feel because of the black quarterback issue, that the whole country is looking at you and saying, 'Well, what are you going to do?'"
"Doug, would it be easier if you were the second black quarterback to play in the Super Bowl?"
"Doug, why haven't you used being the first black quarterback as a personal forum for yourself?"
"Doug, will America be pulling for the Redskins, or rooting against them because of you?"
"Doug, what were your reactions to what Jimmy the Greek said?"
"Doug, have you been contacted by the Rev. Jesse Jackson or any other black civil rights leaders?"
"Doug, are you upset about all the questions about your being the first black quarterback in the Super Bowl?"
Wilbon wrote, "Actually, the craziest question of all could have been put to Mark May, a Redskins offensive lineman, who was asked, "How does it feel to block for the first black quarterback in the Super Bowl?" (May, also black, started for the Hogs in all 4 Super Bowls they played in, and is now an ESPN teammate of Wilbon's, a studio analyst for college football.)

Wilbon added, "And that was followed closely by a newspaper person from Colorado asking me, "How does it feel to be a black writer covering the first black quarterback in the Super Bowl?"

Williams was calm throughout, never losing his temper or his patience. This would be matched by how he performed in the game.

However, at no time did anyone ever say to Williams, "How long have you been a black quarterback?" That was a myth that sprouted up in the days after the game, but no one said it.

His answer to that question depended on who was telling the story. The one I like best is, "It wouldn't make any difference if I were white. I don't think the football cares."

The night before the game, Williams had to have a root canal on an abscessed tooth. He was pronounced fit to start the game anyway.

*

The game began. The Redskins won the coin toss, but went 3-and-out on their 1st possession, and punted. On the Broncos' 1st play from scrimmage, Elway threw a 56-yard pass to Ricky Nattiel. The game was not 2 minutes old, and Denver had a 7-0 lead. At the time, it was the earliest score in Super Bowl history.

The Broncos forced the Redskins to punt. On the ensuing possession, Elway handed off to running back Steve Sewell, and then took off. Sewell threw an option pass, and Elway caught it. It was not the 1st time he had done this (he scored a touchdown on an option pass the preceding season), but it did make him the 1st quarterback to catch a pass in a Super Bowl. The Redskins managed to stop the Broncos at the 6-yard line, but Rich Karlis kicked a field goal, and it was 10-0 Broncos.

No team had ever overcome a deficit of 10 or more points to win any of the preceding 21 Super Bowls. Not until Super Bowl LI would a team overcome one of more than 10 points.

The Redskins were forced to punt again. Elway smelled blood, and a 17-0 1st quarter lead would have sealed the game. But Alvin Walton managed to turn Elway's scrambling ability against him, and sacked him for an 18-yard loss, pushing the Broncos out of Karlis' range.

It didn't seem to matter: Last in the 1st quarter, Williams twisted his leg trying to pass. The photo in Sports Illustrated showed Williams screaming in pain. He had to leave the game, and Jay Schroeder could do no better. The 1st quarter ended Denver 10, Washington 0.

*

But I will never forget the next 2 pages in SI, with the headline, "AND THE ROUT WAS ON." What followed was the most shocking quarter of play in the NFL's 1st 100 years.

Williams went back into the game with 14:17 left in the half. On his 1st play back in, he threw to Ricky Sanders, who took it in, 80 yards. 10-7 Denver. On ABC, Dan Dierdorf, the Hall of Fame former offensive tackle for the Cardinals, said as they went to commercial, "If you wanted to see a good game, boy, did we need this!"

The Redskins forced the Broncos to punt, and got to the Denver 27. It was 3rd-and-1. The Broncos expected a run. Instead, Williams threw into the end zone, and Gary Clark made a diving catch. Just like that, it was Washington 14, Denver 10. After 15 minutes of not being able to do anything right, while the Broncos did enough to get the job done, the tables had completely turned.

The Broncos got close enough for a 43-yard field goal attempt. It should have been easy for Karlis. Although it would only have closed the gap to 14-13, it would have been an emotional lift, and made it a game again. But he missed. The Redskins got the ball, and ran 2 plays: a 16-yard pass from Williams to Clark for a 1st down, and a 58-yard run by Timmy Smith -- a rookie making his 1st NFL start -- for a touchdown. 21-10 Washington.

The Broncos couldn't mount a drive. Williams threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to Sanders. 28-10 Washington. It made Sanders the 1st player to catch 2 touchdowns in a single Super Bowl quarter.

Elway seemed to get his act back in gear, marching the Broncos into Redskin territory. But he was intercepted by Barry Wilburn on the Washington 21. Smith ran for 43 yards. Williams connected with Sanders twice more, to get to the Denver 7. And then, in their single-back, two-tight-end setup that had worked so well earlier in the decade, when the single back was John Riggins and the 2 tight ends were Don Warren and Clint Didier, Williams passed to Didier to make it Washington 35, Denver 10.

There was 1:04 left in the half. In 13 minutes and 13 seconds, Doug Williams had led 5 touchdown drives.

Williams had thrown 11 passes, completing 9 of them, for 228 yards, and 4 touchdowns. Sanders' catchers had accounted for 4 of those completions, 168 of those yards, and 2 of those touchdowns. Smith rushed for 122 yards and a touchdown. As a team, the Redskins gained 356 yards in 18 offensive plays, and scored 35 points, while holding the opposition scoreless.

In a single quarter.

How many times had the Broncos allowed 35 points in an entire game that season? One, and it was during the strike, with replacement players, in a 40-10 loss to the Houston Oilers.

*

For those of us stunned by that 2nd quarter -- not even the entire quarter, just 13 minutes -- the 2nd half is a blur. There was no scoring in the 3rd quarter, and only 1 score in the 4th, a 68-yard Redskin drive that ended with Smith scoring from 4 yards out to make the final score: Washington Redskins 42, Denver Broncos 10.
Smith finished with 204 yards. This remains a Super Bowl record, 30 years later. He held out for more money for the next season, reported to training camp overweight, and was cut after the season. He last played in the NFL in 1990, failed in a comeback with the CFL in 1994, and finished his career with 602 yards -- 806 if you count Super Bowl XXII. He later served 2 years in prison for conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

Sanders had 193 receiving yards, a record that would be broken the next year by Jerry Rice. He had 235 all-purpose yards, a record since broken. The Broncos' leading rusher was Gene Lang, with just 38 yards.

Elway went 14-of-38 for 257 yards and a touchdown. Those aren't bad numbers, but 3 interceptions is. He would lose a 3rd Super Bowl 2 years later, before finally winning 2, Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII, before calling it a career in 1999.

Williams answered the question of whether a black quarterback could win a Super Bowl.

*

Since then, the record of black quarterbacks in the Super Bowl is mixed. There would not be another for 12 years, until Steve McNair got the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV, and they lost to the St. Louis Rams. Donovan McNabb got the Eagles into Super Bowl XXXIX, but they lost to the New England Patriots -- although, given what we now know about the Pats, you can put an asterisk on that.

Colin Kaepernick got the San Francisco 49ers into Super Bowl XLVII, but they lost to the Baltimore Ravens. Russell Wilson got the Seattle Seahawks into Super Bowls XLVIII and XLIX, clobbering the Broncos in the former, and losing to the Patriots in the other. (Another asterisk.) Cam Newton got the Carolina Panthers into Super Bowl 50, but lost to the Broncos.

So black starting quarterbacks are 2-5 in Super Bowls. There has yet to be a Super Bowl in which both starters are black.

Super Bowl XLI, in 2007, had black head coaches opposing each other, guaranteeing that, for the 1st time, a black coach would win a Super Bowl. Tony Dungy's Indianapolis Colts beat Lovie Smith's Chicago Bears. Mike Tomlin won Super Bowl XLIII with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Doug Williams entered the 1988 NFL season as the Redskins' starter, as well he should have. But he suffered knee and back injuries, had to have his appendix taken out, and was replaced as starter by Mark Rypien, who led the 'Skins to win Super Bowl XXVI in 1992 -- the last Washington team to win a World Championship, unless you count D.C. United in soccer. (UPDATE: The Washington Capitals won the 2018 Stanley Cup.)

After failing a tryout with the Raiders, Williams retired as a player in 1990, at age 35. He went into coaching, taking the helms of 2 high school programs in his native Louisiana, where his Northeast High School reached the Playoffs, where they knocked out Isidore Newman of New Orleans, quarterbacked by Peyton Manning.

Williams then served as an assistant coach at the U.S. Naval Academy, and as a scout with the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars. In 1997, the historically black Morehouse College in Atlanta -- Dr. King's alma mater -- named him head coach. When Eddie Robinson finally accepted that he could no longer properly guide Grambling State after 57 seasons, Williams was appointed as his successor.

After 6 seasons, including 3 Conference Championships, he returned to the NFL, to work in the Buccaneers' front office. In 2011, Grambling hired him back, and he won 2 more Conference Championships. The Redskins then hired him for their front office, where he is now senior vice president of player personnel -- essentially, their chief scout.
He and his wife, Raunda, have 8 children, including Doug Jr., a.k.a. D.J., who played under him at Grambling, and Adrian, who played basketball at an Ivy League school, Brown University.

He's been elected to the College Football Hall of Fame, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Ring of Honor, and the Washington Redskins Ring of Fame. Now 62 years old, I wonder if the voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame might elect him for his role as a pioneer.

Monday, January 29, 2018

It's 2030 and...

It's 2030, and...

* The Wall has finally been dedicated. Not at the border of the U.S. and Mexico, which became unnecessary after Imperator Donald nuked Mexico. No, it's at the border of the U.S. and Canada. Imperatora Ivanka dedicates it, and officially makes a liar out of President John F. Kennedy: "We have never needed to put a wall up to keep our people in."

But JFK remained right with the statement he made right before that in West Berlin in 1963: "Freedom has many difficulties, and democracy is not perfect, but... " That was why Imperator Donald, then still "President Donald Trump," fired Robert Mueller in March 2018.

When voters, against all obstacles, voted to have a Democratic Congress in November 2018, Trump, rather than allow himself to be impeached and removed when the new Congress convened in January 2019, suspended the Constitution of the United States, declared himself Imperator (the one time he listened to his wife Melania, who said it sounded more authoritative than its English equivalent, "Emperor"), and federalized every State's National Guard and State Police.

"What have you got to lose?" he said when he ran in 2016. We all found out.

Then came August 19, 2020. Some call it Black Wednesday, others call it the Night of the Long Knives. A week before what was supposed to be the Republican Convention -- since there would be no election, it was essentially just a celebration of the Imperator -- Ivanka finally realized that her father was not mentally fit to rule.

So she had her father quietly smothered with his pillow, had her stepmother Melania deported back to Slovenia, declared her half-brother Baron and her half-sister Tiffany bastards and out of the line of succession, and had her brothers Donald Jr. and Eric killed, as "liabilities." At least, in that, she was honest.

For 10 years, now, America has been on its own. In all fairness, the killings that happened between November 2018 and August 2020 did stop. But the imprisonments and the deportations have continued.

So have the "self-deportations." Whereas, in 2015, black people made up 12.6 percent of the U.S. population, now, in 2030, they make up less than 8 percent. Hispanics made up 17.1 percent, but that number has been cut in half, to, again, less than 8 percent. There were 1.4 million Muslims living in America in 2015; in 2030, there are believed to be less than 200,000.

* The 100th Anniversary of the Great Depression has nearly been matched: The economy is in shambles. Pretty much anybody who can avoid paying taxes does. As part of the nation's 250th Anniversary celebrations in 2026, Imperatora Ivanka "purchased" the tax-haven Cayman Islands from the United Kingdom of England and East Belfast.

I put "purchased" in quotation marks because she told King Charles III and Prime Minister Boris Johnson that she would let President Vladimir Putin of Russia do whatever he wanted in their country if they didn't agree. With "Brexit" fully implemented, England out of the European Union, Scotland and Wales out of the UK and back in the EU, Ireland reunited (except for pro-Unionist East Belfast), and the Imperatora in charge of NATO and within her authority to deny England any help, they realized it was an offer they couldn't refuse, and didn't.

* The Imperatora seems not to have figured out that, with the middle class having shrunk significantly, and the poor bearing most of the burden of taxation, having the poor population shrink is a bad idea. Yet with 81-year-old Wayne LaPierre, former pitchman for the National Rifle Association, as her Minister of Internal Security, guns are everywhere, and poor people, regardless of race, are clogging the emergency rooms and funeral parlors.

A prominent online columnist called it the "Kill 'em all, let God sort 'em out" philosophy. Shortly thereafter, he began to feel ill. Within a month, he was dead of polonium poisoning, a.k.a. "The New Russian Flu."

Only the rich can fly now, aboard the reborn Trump Airlines, which bought out all other airlines. Amtrak was disbanded in 2022, and so Greyhound is more clogged than ever. Basically, if you don't have a car, you're not going anywhere.

* Awards shows are still in place, but with strict censorship on films, TV shows and music, no one but the government's biggest fans wants to watch them.

* What's sports like? Well, the Yankees still haven't won the World Series, or even a Pennant, since 2009. Gleyber Torres is 34 years old, and sitting on the bench for the Virginia Beach Blue Jays. There are still people saying he will break through one of these days, and that Yankee general manager Brian Cashman still should never have traded him.

(The Jays left Toronto after it became clear that Major League Baseball would contract them if they didn't get out of "socialist Canada.")

The World Series is won by the Texas Rangers, after superstar catcher Gary Sanchez hits 3 home runs in Game 6 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Sanchez has starred for the Rangers since July 31, 2019, when Cashman traded him there for 5 players who never reached the major leagues.

Giancarlo Stanton retired due to injury after the 2024 season, stuck on 399 career home runs, having never won a Pennant.

John Moynihan, son of Tom Brady, was last season's NFL Rookie of the Year, as he led the New England Patriots to win Super Bowl LXIV. His total gives the Patriots, and the Brady family, a total of 14 Super Bowl wins.

It's a lot easier for the Patriots to win now, because there are only 16 teams left in the NFL. Several teams, including the New York Jets, had to fold, because they were unable to field full teams. Due to the concussions and other injuries that football players sustain, far fewer parents are willing to let their kids try out for football.

The Canadian Hockey League folded in 2028, unable to support itself with just the Canada-based teams that were kicked out of the NHL in 2024.

Major League Soccer folded in 2027, following America's failure to qualify for 3 straight World Cups, and being denied the right to host any part of the 2026 World Cup following Imperator Donald's nuking of Mexico.

* An attempt to break Chelsea Clinton out of prison fails. Malia and Sasha Obama are under house arrest.

* There are still people who say that 89-year-old Bernie Sanders will beat Ivanka in 2032. They don't seem to be aware that there won't be an election.

*

You say this can't happen? Admittedly, it's a very bleak scenario.

But isn't what has already happened bad enough?

*

Assuming the preceding does not come to pass...

Days until the U.S. national soccer team plays again: Unknown. They did play last night, a weak 0-0 draw with Bosnia in the Los Angeles suburbs. But no further matches have been scheduled. They were supposed to play at the World Cup in June. Alas... 

Days until The Arsenal play again: 1, tomorrow afternoon at 2:45 PM our time, away to Swansea City of Wales. Having beaten West London club Chelsea in the Semifinal of the League Cup, sold liability Alexis Sanchez, and purchased Henrikh Mkhitaryan (HEN-rick MICK-ih-TAIR-ee-an), it now appears that they are about to purchase Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as well.

Days until the New Jersey Devils next play a local rival: 3, on Thursday night, against the Philadelphia Flyers, at the Prudential Center. They played the Flyers in Philadelphia today, and lost. They next play the New York Islanders on Saturday, February 24, at home. They won't play the New York Rangers again until the last week of the regular season, on Tuesday, April 3, at the Prudential Center.

Days until the next Winter Olympics begins in Pyeongchang, Korea: 11, on Friday, February 9. Under 2 weeks.

Days until the next North London Derby: 12, on Saturday, February 10, at 7:30 AM our time, at Wembley Stadium in West London, where Spurs are playing their "home games" until the new stadium they're building on the site of White Hart Lane opens the following August

Days until the New York Red Bulls play again: 40. They open at home against the Portland Timbers on March 10. Under 6 weeks.

Days until Opening Day of the 2018 Major League Baseball season: 59on Thursday night, March 29, as the Yankees open away to the Toronto Blue Jays. Under 9 weeks. The Yankees still don't have a 2nd baseman or a 3rd baseman who can both play those positions and hit major league pitching well.

Days until the Yankees' 2018 home opener: 63, on Monday afternoon, April 2, against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series begins: 71, on Tuesday, April 10, at Fenway Park.

Days until the Red Bulls next play a "derby": 96on Saturday afternoon, May 5, home to New York City FC. Their 1st game against the Philadelphia Union will be on Saturday night, May 26, at Red Bull Arena in Harrison. Their 1st game against the New England Revolution will be on Saturday night, June 2, at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. Their 1st game against D.C. United, and their 1st game ever at the new Audi Field, will be on Wednesday night, July 25.

Days until the next World Cup kicks off in Russia: 136, on June 14. Under 4 months. But the U.S. team won't be playing. At least now, Donald Trump doesn't have to choose, and can root for his favorite country, the host nation, Russia.

Days until the 2018 trading deadline, after which we won't have to fear Yankee general manager Brian Cashman trading any proven good players for "prospects": 183, on Tuesday, July 31. A little over 5 months.

Days until September 2018 roster call-ups, when we can finally start to expect seeing most of these wonderful "prospects" that Yankee general manager Brian Cashman wanted: 215. A little over 6 months.

Days until Rutgers University plays football again: 215, on Saturday, September 1, home to Texas State University. 

Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: Unknown. The 2018 schedule hasn't been released yet. But the season opener is usually on the 1st Friday in September. that would be September 7, which is 221 days from now.

Days until the next Congressional election, when we can elect a Democratic Congress that can impeach and remove Donald Trump from the Presidency: 252on November 6. A little over 8 months.

Days until the next Rutgers-Penn State game: 263, on Saturday, November 17, at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving high school football game: 268, on Thursday, November 22. A little under 9 months.

Days until the Baseball Hall of Fame vote is announced, electing Mariano Rivera: 330, on January 23, 2019. Just under a year, or a little under 12 months.

Days until the next Women's World Cup kicks off: 446, on June 7, 2019, in France. A little under a year and a half, or a little over 15 months. The U.S. team, as 3-time and defending Champions, has, as usual, a better chance than the men's team would have had in 2018 anyway.

Days until my 50th Birthday, at which point I can join AARP and get discounts for travel and game tickets: 640, on December 18, 2019.

Days until the Baseball Hall of Fame vote is announced, electing Derek Jeter: 675on January 22, 2020. A little under 2 years, or a little under 24 months.

Days until the next Summer Olympics begins in Tokyo, Japan: 859on July 24, 2020. A little under 2 1/2 years, or a little under 30 months.

Days until the next Presidential election, when we can dump the Trump-Pence regime and elect a real Administration: 961on November 3, 2020. Under 3 years, or a little over 32 months.

Days until Liberation Day: 1,039at noon on January 20, 2021. Under 3 years, or under 36 months. Note that this is liberation from the Republican Party, not just from Donald Trump. Having Mike Pence as President wouldn't be better, just differently bad, mixing theocracy with plutocracy, rather than mixing kleptocracy with plutocracy.

Days until the next World Cup for which the American team will be eligible is scheduled to kick off: 1,709, on November 21, 2022, in Qatar. Under 5 years, or about 58 months. The charges of corruption against Qatar may yet mean that they will lose the tournament, in which case it will be moved to a nation where it would not be too hot to play it in June and July.

Top 10 Athletes From Kansas

January 29, 1861: Kansas is admitted to the Union as the 34th State.

Top 10 Athletes From Kansas

From here on out, "KCK" means "Kansas City, Kansas." Residents of the area use that for the Kansas version, and "KCMO" when they mean "Kansas City, Missouri."

Honorable Mention to Dean Smith of Emporia. As a player, he helped the University of Kansas win the 1952 National Championship, but went right into coaching. He coached the University of North Carolina for 36 years, winning the Atlantic Coast Conference 17 times in the regular season, 13 times in the ACC Tournament, and both 7 times. He reached 11 Final Fours, and won the National Championship in 1982 and 1993, the NIT in 1971, and the Olympic Gold Medal coaching the U.S. team in Montreal in 1976.

He won more games than any college basketball coach before him, 879, and after retiring with another Final Four berth in 1997, Sports Illustrated named him Sportsman of the Year. North Carolina's arena, the Dean E. Smith Student Activities Center (a.k.a. the Dean Dome), was named for him not just while he was still alive, but while he was still coaching. He is in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Somewhat Honorable Mention to Adolph Rupp of Halstead. Like Dean, he learned his basketball from University of Kansas coach Forrest "Phog" Allen (who I made an Honorable Mention for his home State, Missouri). He played on Kansas' 1922 and 1923 National Championship teams, and was just getting warmed up: It was his 876 coaching wins that was the all-time record until Dean surpassed it.

At the University of Kentucky, "the Baron of the Bluegrass" won the Southeastern Conference Championship 28 times in the regular season, 13 times in the SEC Tournament, and all 13 times, he'd also won it in the regular season. He got the Wildcats to 6 Final Fours, and won 4 National Championships: 1948, 1949, 1951 and 1958.

"Somewhat Honorable" because, whether intentionally or not, he became a symbol of the white South's refusal to integrate, as his all-white team faced Texas-El Paso (then Texas Western) with an all-black stating five in the 1966 NCAA Final, and lost. But he did integrate before his mandated (by State law) retirement, and is rightly in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Honorable Mention to Harold E. "Bud" Foster of Newton. He coached the University of Wisconsin to 3 titles in the league now known as the Big Ten, and won the 1941 National Championship. He is in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Honorable Mention to Paul Endacott of Lawrence. The best player on that Kansas team that won the 1922 and 1923 National Championships, his Number 12 was retired, and he's in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Honorable Mention to Ernest Schmidt of Nashville. He is in the Basketball Hall of Fame for starring for what's now named Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg (no H), Kansas in the 1930s, winning 47 straight games.

Honorable Mention to Dean Kelley and Allen Kelley of Dearing. Both guards, the brothers were members of the University of Kansas team that won the 1952 National Championship. Dean was a member of the U.S. team that won the Gold Medal at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, and Allen of the U.S. team that won the Gold Medal at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, and was collectively elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Honorable Mention to Charles Wilbur "Bullet Joe" Rogan of KCK. Negro League records are woefully incomplete, but his pitching helped the Kansas City Monarchs win Negro League Pennants in 1923, 1924, 1925, 1929 and 1937 -- including as player-manager in 1929. He is in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Honorable Mention to Steve Little of Overland Park. In 1977, playing for the University of Arkansas, he kicked a 67-yard field goal, tying the record set just 2 weeks earlier by Russell Erxleben of Texas.

Honorable Mention to Joe Williams of Wichita. In 1978, playing for Wichita State, he kicked a 67-yard field goal to tie the NCAA record. He never played in the NFL, but the other 2 who kicked a 67-yarder should have been so lucky: Both flopped in the NFL, Erxleben is now in prison for securities fraud for the 2nd time, and Little was paralyzed in a 1980 car crash and died in 1999.

Honorable Mention to Jim Bausch of Wichita. At the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, he won the Gold Medal in the decathlon, and received the James E. Sullivan Memorial Award as the nation's outstanding amateur athlete.

Honorable Mention to Glenn Cunningham of Elkhart. He won the 1933 Sullivan Award. In 1934, he set a world record in the mile run: 4 minutes, 6.8 seconds, helping to popularize the idea that it could be done in under 4 minutes. Although his record stood for 2 years, it would not be until 1954 that the 1st sub-4 mile would be achieved. His only Olympic Medal was Silver, in the 1,500 meters in Berlin in 1936.

Honorable Mention to Jackie Stiles of KCK. In the 2000-01 season, playing at the school now known as Missouri State University, she became the 1st women's college basketball player to score over 1,000 points in a season. She was thus awarded the Honda-Broderick Cup as the outstanding female collegiate athlete of the schoolyear.

She was a WNBA All-Star as a rookie with the 2001 Portland Fire, and is now back at Missouri State, as head coach.

Honorable Mention to Yankee World Series Winners from Kansas: Ralph Houk of Lawrence (backup catcher 1947, 1952 and 1953; coach 1958; manager 1961 and 1962), Mike Torrez of Topeka (1977) and Paul Lindblad of Chanute (1978, also won with the 1973 Oakland Athletics).

Now, the Top 10:

10. Joe Tinker of KCK. The shortstop is one of the most dubious elections to the Baseball Hall of Fame, elected with his double-play partners, 2nd baseman Johnny Evers and 1st baseman Frank Chance, in the only multiple entry in Cooperstown history.

However, he did succeed Honus Wagner as the best shortstop in baseball, helping win 5 Pennants for Chicago: The National League with the Cubs in 1906, 1907, 1908 and 1910; and the Federal League with the Whales in 1915.

9. Jim Ryun of Wichita. In 1966, he set the world record for the mile run: 3 minutes, 51.3 seconds. That year, he won the James E. Sullivan Memorial Award as the outstanding amateur athlete in America, and Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year award. A year later, he lowered the record to 3:51.1, and continued to hold the record until 1975. He also held the world record for 1,500 meters from 1967 to 1974. However, his only Olympic Medal was a Silver in the 1,500 at Mexico City in 1968.

8. Jess Willard of St. Clere. He was 6-foot-6 1/2 and about 270 pounds. Certainly, a heavyweight. Had he fought Jack Johnson before April 5, 1915, he surely would not have beaten him to become Heavyweight Champion of the World. But, by that point, Johnson was 37, and tired of running from American law, and ready to give up, and "The Pottawatomie Giant" fulfilled the dream of American racists, becoming "The Great White Hope."

World War I meant that he had only 1 official title defense before Jack Dempsey destroyed him in Toledo on the 4th of July 1919. And he probably wouldn't have been able to handle any of the great heavyweights who followed Dempsey, either. Nevertheless, he was the Heavyweight Champ for 4 years, and was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

7. William Roy "Link" Lyman of McDonald. A 2-way tackle, standing 6-foot-2 and weighing 233 pounds, he was a huge University of Nebraska lineman long before that was cool. To put it another way: He was about the same size as Bronko Nagurski, but reached the NFL a few years earlier.

A 5-time All-Pro, he helped the Canton Bulldogs win 3 straight NFL Championships, in 1922, 1923 and 1924. He also played for the Chicago Bears, along with Nagurski and Red Grange, and won another Championship in 1933.

At the time of his retirement, his 286 games played was a record -- and he played nearly every minute of all of those games. He later served as an assistant coach at Nebraska, and was an early inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

6. Maurice Greene of KCK. At the 1999 World Championships of Track & Field, he set a new record for the 100 meters: 9.79 seconds, cleanly matching the drug-aided time of Ben Johnson at the 1988 Olympics. At the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, he won Gold Medals in the 100 meters (making him the unofficial "Fastest Man Alive" and anchoring the 4x100-meter relay. He won a Silver Medal in the relay and a Bronze Medal in the 100 at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. For 20 years now, he has held the world record in the 60-meter dash.

5. Lynette Woodard of Wichita. The all-time leading scorer in the history of women's college basketball, she was the 1st female basketball player at the University of Kansas to get her number retired, 31. She won the 1980-81 Honda-Broderick Cup.

She had no WNBA at that point in her career, and the U.S. boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. But she was a member of the team that won the 1984 Gold Medal in Los Angeles. Still with no U.S. league to play in, she played in Italy, until nepotism worked in her favor: A cousin of their former star Geese Ausbie, in 1986 she became the 1st woman to play for the Harlem Globetrotters.

She played for them until 1993, then began playing in Japan. When the WNBA was founded in 1997, despite being nearly 38 years old, she signed with the Cleveland Rockers, and played for the Detroit Shock in 1998. She is now a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and the head coach of the women's basketball team at Winthrop University in the Charlotte suburb of Rock Hill, South Carolina.

4. Mike McCormack of KCK. An 8-time All-Pro, he won NFL Championships with the Cleveland Browns in 1954 and 1955. His coach, Paul Brown, said, "I consider McCormack the finest offensive tackle who ever played pro football." He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Browns Ring of Honor.

He went into coaching, and although he failed as a head coach in Philadelphia in Baltimore, he helped the Washington Redskins win the 1972 NFC Championship. He was named the 1st general manager of the Carolina Panthers, and in just 5 years of work -- 2 seasons on the field -- he got the expansion team into the NFC Championship Game. He lived long enough to see a statue of him dedicated outside the Panthers' Bank of America Stadium.

3. John Riggins of Centralia. He wasn't pretty. He wasn't graceful. He wasn't tactful. He was just a great fullback. He helped the University of Kansas win the 1968 Big Eight Championship, then played 5 seasons for the Jets, and 4 for the Washington Redskins.

Then he held out for the entire 1980 season, and returned, saying, "I'm bored, I'm broke, and I'm back." Good thing he did, because, 2 years later, he was named Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XVII, the Redskins' 1st NFL Championship in 40 years.

He only played in 1 Pro Bowl, in 1975, but in 1983, he set an NFL record with 24 rushing touchdowns, and won the Bert Bell Award as NFL MVP, helping the Redskins get into Super Bowl XVIII, although they lost. He rushed for 11,352 yards and 104 touchdowns. He was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Redskins Ring of Fame, and the NFL's 1980s All-Decade Team.

But he's not the best running back from Kansas. This guy might've been the best running back from anywhere:

2. Barry Sanders of Wichita. Red Grange played his last game in 1934, Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch his in 1957, Frank Gifford in 1964, and Gale Sayers in 1971. I can watch film of these twisting, turning, seemingly impossible-to-catch running backs, and marvel at their feats, but I was not contemporary to their feats.

In contrast, I saw Barry Sanders' entire career as it unfolded, and I'm not sure he was human. What Bill Cosby -- back when we still liked and admired him -- said of Sayers, I say of Sanders: He seemed to be an amoeba, splitting in two when a tackler went after him, and coming back together to finish his run.

He was only 5-foot-8, but he won the 1988 Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma State University. In 2008, ESPN named ranked him 2nd only to Grange on their list of the Top 25 College Football Players of All Time. He played 10 seasons with the Detroit Lions, and made the Pro Bowl in all of them. He was NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1989, and MVP in 1991 and 1997. He rushed for 15,269 yards and 99 touchdowns, and added 352 receptions for 2,921 yards and 10 touchdowns.

And then, in 1999, just 1,457 yards short of Walter Payton's all-time record, and about to turn 31 so he was in his prime and could've broken the record that year, he retired. Maybe it was the right decision: We've seen so many players suffer from arthritis due to the constant pounding their bodies took, and from dementia from blows to the head, including the aforementioned Sayers.

The Lions retired his Number 20 (a joint ceremony with Lem Barney and Barry's fellow Heisman Trophy winner, Billy Sims of arch-rival Oklahoma). He was named to the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame -- making him the shortest player in Canton -- and the NFL's 1990s All-Decade Team. In 1999, The Sporting News listed him 12th on their list of the 100 Greatest Football Players. In 2010, the NFL Network ranked him 17th on their list of the 100 Greatest Players.

1. Walter Johnson of Humboldt. Although he went to high school in Fullerton, Orange County, California, the family was 14 when it left Kansas, so, clearly, he learned to play baseball in that State on the Great Plains. And he's on the short list for the title of Greatest Pitcher Who Ever Lived.
This photo has been colorized. As far as I know,
no originally-color photo of the Big Train exists.

As Lawrence Ritter and Donald Honig put it in their 1981 book The 100 Greatest Players In Baseball History, "He had only one pitch, a fastball -- but what a fastball!" He used it to build statistics that simply don't look real, and to build a reputation such that, in a 1916 game, Ray Chapman of the Cleveland Indians, doomed to become the only MLB player to die as a result of an on-field injury, walked away from an at-bat. The umpire told him he had 1 strike left, and he said, "Take it. I don't want it."

"The Big Train" debuted in 1907, and won 417 games, 2nd-most behind Cy Young, and the most in American League history. And he did this for the Washington Senators, who, even in his day, were known as "First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League." He had a 2.17 career ERA, a 147 ERA+ -- so his greatness wasn't just a result of the Dead Ball Era -- and a 1.061 WHIP.

He had 3,508 strikeouts. Not only did that stand as a record from 1921, when he surpassed the 2,803 of Cy Young, until 1983, when Nolan Ryan surpassed him, but, from July 22, 1923, when he surpassed the 3,000-strikeout barrier, until July 17, 1974, when Bob Gibson also did, he was the only member of the 3,000 Strikeouts Club. While his strikeout record has now been surpassed by 8 pitchers, his record of 110 shutouts has never been approached. (Grover Cleveland Alexander is next-best with 90.)

He led the AL in wins 6 times, ERA 5 times, and strikeouts 12 times. He led the League in all 3 -- the Pitching Triple Crown -- in 1913, 1918 and 1924. In 1913, he went 36-7, with a 1.14 ERA -- an ERA+ of 259, meaning he was 159 percent better at preventing earned runs than the average pitcher that season. He pitched a no-hitter in 1920. It took until 1924 for the Senators to win a Pennant, and, after losing 2 games in the Series, he came on in relief in Game 7 and was the winning pitcher. He won another Pennant with the Senators in 1925.

His last game was on September 30, 1927. It was the game in which Babe Ruth set a new record with his 60th home run of the season. Oddly, Johnson came on as a pinch-hitter. He was a decent hitter by pitchers' standards, batting .235 with 24 home runs and 255 RBIs in 21 seasons.

In 1936, he was 1 of the 1st 5 players elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Sadly, his wife Hazel died of heatstroke in 1930, and he died of a brain tumor in 1946, only 59 years old. A monument to him was erected outside the Senators' Griffith Stadium, and moved to Walter Johnson High School when it was established in 1956 in the suburb of Bethesda, Maryland, where Johnson lived. A statue of him stands outside Nationals Park in Washington.

In 1999, The Sporting News ranked him 4th on their list of the 100 Greatest Players, 1st among pitchers, and trailing only Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Ty Cobb among all players. That same year, 82 years after he threw his last professional pitch, he was still familiar enough to fans for them to vote him onto the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.

Washington Post baseball columnist Thomas Boswell said it best: "We live in a disposable society. But we don't dispose of Babe Ruth. We don't dispose of Walter Johnson. We view these men as friends, and as contemporaries though they are dead."