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The Rev Speaks: Lunacy in Lubbock

January 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Close the confessional door, allegiant acolyte.  It’s high time for The Rev to come clean.  What’s that, devoted disciple?  You say there’s a long line of parishioners standing in the transepts waiting to be heard?  Please tell them I’ll be available for spiritual counseling in a few moments.  (Perhaps they could sing a few bars of “Amazing Grace” in the interim.  That’s always been one of my favorite hymns.)  It has been far too long since The Rev last turned God’s microscope upon himself.  Please accept my ardent apologies, boys and girls, for failing to post a new column lo these many months.  In between changing diapers (or, more accurately, cheering on The Better Half as she does it), watching scores of Elmo and Wonder Pets videos, grading exams, and compiling research for a doctoral dissertation, all journalistic endeavors have lain fallow.

It seems as if The Rev picked the wrong time to enjoy a little sabbatical.  These past ten weeks have provided enough examples of athletes behaving badly to keep bloggers and talk shows busy for an eternity.  At first I thought about discussing Tiger’s seemingly endless parade of prurient paramours, or the wholesale redemption of Dirk’s character and basketball career.  It is certainly telling to compare and contrast the two superstars, especially how their choice of girlfriends played a direct role in their respective athletic prowess and reputations.  While Dirk is unmarried, and therefore technically free to fraternize with any vile assortment of lounge lizards, his game away from the court nearly sabotaged his game upon it.  Ever since he wisely jettisoned the Keitha-like Cristal Taylor—only after being thoroughly mocked and humiliated—Dirk’s stats have never been better.  He is putting up some of the best numbers of his career, now that he is finally liberated from paternal and financial worry.  Tiger, on the other hand, is buried deep.  As Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News wisely reminds us, the only way Tiger won’t win more than 18 majors is if he develops a bad back and/or a bad marriage.  In this writer’s humble opinion, the Golden Bear can now sleep peacefully at night.  Tiger will find the going very tough if and when he returns to the PGA Tour.  It’s got to be hard to concentrate on golf when a scorned Swedish model/nanny is nearby, angrily clutching a nine-iron.

The Rev is just not that eager to listen to confessions from either Tiger or Dirk (especially because they have already been punished enough by the relentlessly harsh klieg light of public opinion).  Besides, the Apostle Paul emphatically states that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23).  Therefore, I will spare the dead horse from yet another beating.  It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that no mere human words can trump the enduring truth of Scripture.

No, brothers and sisters, let us instead turn our attention to the vast West Texas plains.  Lubbock to be precise, where the once-impervious pirate ship is rapidly foundering.  Wednesday morning Chief Pirate Mike Leach was hastily forced to walk the plank.  Yes, dear readers, this website is indeed entitled Dallas Sports Fans, but since the Metroplex is filled with passionate Red Raiders, it behooves us all to devote a few paragraphs to Guns Up Nation.  Much has already been written, and much will continue to be written, about this developing situation.  As a result, The Rev isn’t really breaking any news here.  I readily admit to having no inside information about this fiasco (although both my father and older brother at one time walked the bucolic campus of Texas Tech University; I also attended a school whose colors are black and red), so I will try to offer a unique perspective.  Since I am a relative dilettante in all matters Red Raider, I will not concern myself with whether or not Leach actually locked Adam James in an equipment shed; or whether or not James was routinely castigated for lack of effort and a poor attitude; or whether or not Leach’s arrogant refusal to reconcile with the University hastened his departure; or how James’ teammates feel about their former coach; or even how high-powered alums react to this fascinating coup d’etat.   Mistreating a “student athlete,” especially one dealing with the lingering hazardous effects of a concussion, is always unacceptable.  But is this a fire-able offense?  (Yes, I know that Kansas fired Mark “Happy Meal” Mangino for considerably less, but still.  What is it with those Big 12 coaches?)  The Rev can’t help but wonder, however, what would have happened if the player in question had been John Smith from San Marcos, son of a humble electrician.  Would this divisive issue have been handled differently?  Is it not tenable to posit that Mother Mouse Ears (ESPN) coerced AD Gerald Myers’ usually forgiving hand?  Remember, this is the same man who extended a lengthy olive branch to the always-cantankerous and controversial Bob Knight.  More than eight years ago, The General—also, like The Pirate, a proven winner who ran a clean program and graduated his players—was the equivalent of swine flu, cast off by Indiana and regarded as a pariah.  Yet there was Myers, who displayed tremendous audacity in hiring Knight, in the process giving him a second (and third) chance.  Knight, of course, rapidly reincarnated and reinvigorated the then-moribund Tech Basketball program.  Why, then, was Myers so quick to throw Leach overboard, even before hearing all sides of the story?  Did Myers act upon purely speculative information, or is he privy to facts that the rest of are not?  Could Leach’s alleged abuse of a player be viewed in the same way as Knight’s verbal assault of the Tech chancellor in February 2004?  Knight’s testy encounter with Dr. David Smith in the produce section of a Lubbock grocery store was also an explosive event which was plastered on the front page of myriad newspapers across the country.  After days of deliberation, and after Knight was allowed to apologize before the Board of Regents, Myers labeled the incident a “misunderstanding” and fully reinstated Knight.  The General then coached for three-and-a-half more largely successful years afterwards.  Again, I am not one to judge.  If I so much as skin my knee while chasing after my daughter I moan and whine interminably like Peter Griffin.  If I were in James’ shoes I, too, would have seriously questioned Leach’s bellicose actions.

So why did the powers-that-be at Tech move so quickly (blindly?) to dismiss Leach.  Could it perhaps be the fact that the domineering specter of ESPN was looming overhead?  How soon we all forget last year, when Leach guided the Red Raiders to an astonishing 11-1 record, a Top 10 ranking, and, were it not for a hideously inept sixty minutes against Zero U, a BCS Bowl bid.  This time last year The Pirate was widely hailed as an eccentric genius.  Yet now, at 8-4 and headed to the mediocrity that is the Alamo Bowl, Leach’s impression of Captain Jack Sparrow is viewed as both dangerous and embarrassing.  (Thanks to fellow St. Mark’s grad Scott Tinkham for this insightful HSO.  Looks like he really did learn something at Jersey Shore Duke.)  Every parent who sent their son to play basketball at Texas Tech knew the risks involved with playing for the always-unpredictable Knight.  With Leach, however, the circumstances are quite different since, after all, he had no priors of misbehavior.  However, even the most oblivious parent surely understands the likelihood that egocentric college football coaches might berate and bully their sons on occasion.  Is it far-fetched to assume that Florida’s retired-for-now Urban Meyer or Nick Saban at Alabama (both known to be extremely demanding coaches, yet each wearing rings to prove the method in their madness) never once doubted their players’ manhood or stretched them way beyond their physical threshold?  Granted, if Leach indeed forced James to sit in a sweltering shed, that is a far worse offense than ordering a few extra wind sprints.  Nonetheless, I ask once again: is this truly a fire-able offense for a coach with a heretofore clean ledger?  Is it also a fatuous assumption that had James’ father been a media personality with, say, Versus or Fox Sports Panhandle, that Leach would still be the head ball coach at Texas Tech?  Besides, what does any Division I school crave more than winning games?  Visibility and money.  Playing on ESPN assures both in spades for the Red Raiders.  Unfortunately, now that Tech has fired Leach, their most marketable personality has suddenly vanished.  (No disrespect to Ruffin McNeill, but a betting man would guess that Tech will lose out on many prized recruits without Leach’s intoxicating bottle of rum.  Playing for Tech will now seem like joining The Goonies only after One-Eyed Willie’s mysterious loot has been found.)  Will the Game Day crew be as excited next season to set up shop in Lubbock when the Red Raiders are a boring 1-1 heading into their clash with the Longhorns?

For those too young to remember (myself included), here’s a refresher: Craig James was one of the main reasons (along with the other half of the Pony Express, Eric Dickerson) SMU football was even talked about in the early 80s.  Although James himself was not accused of any wrongdoing when the Mustangs were receiving large sums of money from delusional school boosters, James was a key member of a team (along with WFAA’s intrepid sports reporter Dale Hansen, who isn’t half the reporter that KARK’s Pete Thompson is) that led to the school’s historic Death Penalty (not to be confused with President Obama’s ruinous Death Panel).  And now, here’s James, nearly 30 years later, behind another major football scandal that very well may lead to a death penalty of sorts at Texas Tech.  Without its widely-revered and unabashedly-rarified pirate leader, things may deteriorate for Red Raider football before they improve.  Mutiny on the bounty, indeed.

By the way, for those still doubting the Dallas connection within this column, consider the following hypothetical.  Jerry Jones, in need of a new offensive assistant/QC coach once Wes Phillips is sent packing along with his buttermilk-loving father, reaches out to an innovative Pirate.  Keep in mind, Jerry has always had a soft spot for inveterate swashbuckling svengalis.  Even more intriguing high comedy would be watching Leach “coach up” the massively underachieving orangeblood Roy Williams.  Or perhaps diva Tim Crabtree will demand a trade out of San Francisco to be reunited with his former beloved college coach.  The Dallas Cowboys are never ones to shy away from a soap opera.  Maybe while he’s at it, Leach can even find a unique way to motivate Barbie “Morning Seagull” Carpenter.  Nah, even Jack Sparrow himself would be rendered speechless with that paradox.

Best wishes for a blessed 2010.  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea . . . He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’  Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true’ (Revelation 21.1, 5).

Here ends the lesson.  And all of God’s people say . . . “Amen!”

The Rev Speaks: Fab Forty

October 12, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

This column arrives a little later than usual, but it was an inordinately busy week in the confessional booth.  An eclectic mix of personalities conspired to sabotage any free time I had, all of whom rendered me both nonplussed and depressed.  For starters, one of the paragons of the fashion world committed the sin of lust.  I readily admit that sartorial savvy is one area about which I know very little; however, even a dilettante like The Rev can quickly realize where Ralph Lauren went horribly wrong.  Even though the haunting image of Filippa Hamilton was digitally altered, Mr. Lauren is preaching a most dangerous message.  (Our society’s depraved obsession with outward appearance is one of the myriad reasons why I am scared to death of raising a daughter.)  The fact this picture was photo shopped only makes the situation worse.  In essence, Mr. Lauren is saying it’s not good enough for women to be a skinny size eight.  Stop eating and shrink down to become emaciated, size zero ghouls!  Granted, this country—and especially right here in the Lone Star State, except at the aberration that is NorthPark Center (the “look at me” headquarters of North Dallas Pretty People) where one either dresses like an understudy to a porn “star” or like a member of a gangster’s entourage—wages a battle of attrition against obesity, but clothing companies are fighting back in a most irresponsible way.  You want to know what’s truly sexy, ladies?  Self-esteem and Christ-likeness.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6.13-17).

Secondly, I was forced to address the sin of pride displayed so egregiously by President Barack Obama.  (The Rev’s standard operating procedure never involves discussing politics, but sometimes exceptions are made.)  Granted, it wasn’t Obama’s fault that the fools at The Nobel Foundation awarded him their highest honor, but the leader of the free world certainly didn’t do much in the way of apologizing.  (In fairness, I would have been equally offended had George W. won the prize, especially after a mere nine months in office, 9/11 or not.)  The foundation has in essence insulted truly revolutionary previous winners like Norman Borlaug, a man whose innovations improved the quality of life for untold millions of people.  The Rev does not have a problem with sitting presidents winning this prize, but to be awarded the honor largely on campaign promises yet to be delivered is both careless and naïve.  Remember the telling words of the Book of Proverbs: Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall (16.18).

Thirdly, there was the distressing news from Calgary that former NHL star and probable Hall of Famer Theoren Fleury was sexually abused for years by his youth hockey coach, Graham James.  Sadly, he wasn’t the only teenager victimized by a trusted coach or adviser.  I’ve never played hockey—or any sport, for that matter—but I’ve talked to enough people to understand that the world of youth hockey is about as competitive as it comes.  Parents will spend countless dollars (the equipment is more expensive than baseball, basketball, and football combined) to secure their sons’ spots on elite club teams.  The men in charge of these leagues are made out to be mighty emperors who can do no wrong.  While these coaches might actually teach a handful of these callow teenagers what it takes to become the next Great One, they must not be worshiped and followed blindly.  After all, they are fallen human beings.  You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments (Exodus 20.4-6).

To end the hectic week of sports news, Michael Crabtree at long last came to his senses, realized he wasn’t a magnificent receiver like Michael Irvin, and inked a contract with the 49ers.  This issue has been blogged and debated about ad nauseam, so The Rev won’t waste much space with this now antiquated story.  I wonder how clueless Crabtree must be—did he learn anything while onboard the Leach Pirate Ship in Lubbock?—to hold out until Week 5 of the NFL season and still accept nearly the same terms San Francisco originally offered.  I’ll be careful not to judge since money makes even the most pious man’s knees weak, but I fail to see what you could buy for $40M that you couldn’t for, say, $32M.  Another Maybach or ten?  I hope Crabtree receives better advice at this next level than he did from his myopic agent, Eugene Parker, and his parasitic advisor, Nine-Toed Deion.  (It is not fair to question Fleury’s though process since there’s a big difference in this case: Fleury was an adolescent when he was victimized, and Crabtree is an adult.  He presumably knows better than to trust the counsel of men with cavalier—no, not the U of Virginia variety, Arey—ulterior motives.)  I’ve watched a lot of Texas Tech football in my day, primarily because both my father and older brother have degrees from Guns Up U, and Dallas’ own Crabtree remains one of the best Red Raiders in recent memory (with apologies to Wes Welker and Kliff Kingsbury).  It will be interesting, to say the least, watching his NFL career unfold after such an inauspicious beginning.  As King Solomon writes, Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter, but the advantage of knowledge is this: that wisdom preserves the life of its possessor (Ecclesiastes 7.12).

Speaking of lists . . . because this is supposed to be a sports column, I will now shift my attention to what I call The Fab Forty.  In what is a most difficult exercise, I will now present my top ten favorite (read: not necessarily the best) players from the four major sports in Dallas.  (With no apologies to FC Dallas, but definitely multiple apologies to the Dallas Sidekicks and the amazingly short-lived MISL.  I spent many nights at old Reunion Arena watching the cardiac Kicks battle such classic teams like the Baltimore Blast, Cleveland Crunch, San Diego Sockers, and St. Louis Steamers.  When the best goalie GAA of all-time is a shockingly high 4.03, you know this is soccer as it’s meant to be played: fast and furious, with lots of scoring.  For the record, my favorite Sidekicks are Tatu “Not the Russian pop duo, but rather the guy who takes his kit off every time he scores and throws it into the adoring crowd,” Doc “Indoor Warrior” Lawson, and Krys “Don’t Call Me Leelee” Sobieski.  I still remember their first and only MISL Championship in 1986-87 [Slogan: The Wild Side of Soccer!”] when they defeated the Tacoma Stars four games to three.)  But I digress.

One final disclaimer: I only include players whom I saw play.  For this reason, many legendary names from the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor (i.e. Hayes, Lilly, and Wright) and venerated Rangers (i.e. Jeff Burroughs and Fergie Jenkins) are left out.  Without further ado . . .

DALLAS COWBOYS (years played with team)

1. Troy Aikman, 1989-2000.  Eight Ball.  Three SBs.  Well-spoken and well-groomed analyst on FOX A-Team.  Speaks with Musers every Thursday morning.  Enough said.

2.  Michael Irvin, 1988-1999.  The Playmaker.  Three SBs.  Ultimate competitor.  Audio gold. Discovered Jesse Holley on “4th and Long.”  Acted like an immoral donkey off the field, but very few athletes are saints.

3.  Daryl Johnston, 1989-1999.  The Moose.  Three SBs.  Battering ram.  Sacrificed body.  Vastly improving FOX broadcaster still partial to all things Cow.

4.  Emmitt Smith, 1990-2002.  Three SBs.  Made of steel.  All-time leading rusher in NFL history.  Ridiculous “diamond surrounded by trash” comment knocks him down list, as does his inability to form a sentence when employed by ESPN.

5.  Jay Novacek, 1990-95.  Best TE to play in Irving.  Three SBs.  Never afraid to absorb a hit across the middle of the field.  Shockingly, only 22 TDs as a Cowboy.

6.  Darren Woodson, 1992-2003.  Best SS in franchise history.  Three SBs.  Reliable and loyal leader in the locker room.

7.  Larry Allen, 1994-2005.  Man primarily responsible for keeping Aikman non-concussed.

8.  Jason Witten, 2003-present.  Best TE in the game, soon to be best TE in Cow history.

9.  DeMarcus Ware, 2005-present.  Most intimidating and ferocious Cow pass rusher since Charles Haley.  And fortunately, a little more reserved.  (Can’t link since it’s R-rated, but just Google Haley’s name combined with the book title Boys Will Be Boys and you’ll see.)

10.  Kenny Gant, 1990-94.  I was a sucker for The Shark Dance.

Dishonorable Mention: Barbie Carpenter, Quincy Carter, Dwayne Goodrich, Chad Hutchinson, Eldorado Owens, Rowdy, Rafael Septien, GM Jerry Jones (he fired Jimmy and hired both Campo and Wade).

DALLAS MAVERICKS (years played with team)

1. Rolando Blackman, 1981-1992.  Modeled my FT stroke after his.  Sadly, my percentage was much lower than Ro’s stellar .840 rate.

2.  Dirk Nowitzki, 1998-present.  The Mavs’ version of Jimmy Johnson’s genius “Herschel Walker” trade.  Robert “Tractor” Traylor to Milwaukee.  Dirk to Dallas.  The rest is history.  Ironically, would be involved with another Traylor, but Crystal not as favorable to Mavs this time.

3.  James Donaldson, 1985-1992.  Solid rebounder and stout defender.

4.  Steve Nash, 1998-2004.  Mark Cuban’s biggest mistake.  Now a two-time (although a bit undeserving) MVP.  Best PG in club history.

5.  Mark Aguirre, 1981-89.  Still holds 13 franchise records, including most points in a single season (2,330 in 1983-84).

6.  Derek Harper, 1983-1994, 1996-97.  Despite the blunder of letting time run out against Lakers in 1984 WCSF, Harp remains one of the best ambassadors of the game.

7.  Jason Terry, 2004-present.  Incredibly streaky shooter, but when he’s on he’s virtually unstoppable.

8.  Michael Finley, 1996-2005.  Outstanding captain for many years, but his repeated failures in the clutch ultimately drops him down on this list.

9.  Roy Tarpley, 1986-1991, 1994-95.  Were it not for the nose candy he could’ve been one of the legends in Dallas.  I still vividly remember ignoring my heated game of APB at Balls Hamburgers on Midway/NW Highway to watch Tarp dominate the Kings in his much-ballyhooed (and, sadly, ephemeral) return to the Association in November 1994.

10.  Brad Davis, 1980-1992.  One of the original Mavericks.  Some might say including two white PGs (does “Dancing Queen” Jason Kidd classify?) on one list would be insane.  He redefined short shorts and the porn star mustache.

Dishonorable Mention: Uwe Blab, Coach Quinn Buckner, Ericka Dampier, Josh Howard, Martin Muursepp, Cherokee Parks (he went to Duke, after all), Antoine Rigaudeau (he’s French, after all), Keith Van Horn

DALLAS STARS (years played with team)

1. Mike Modano, 1993-present.  The only remaining Minnesota North Star on the roster.  Best American-born player in NHL history.  The Stars’ Aikman.

2.  Brett Hull, 1998-2001.  Normally one needs to play longer in Dallas before I shower with praise.  The self-proclaimed “Ambassador of Fun” and third-highest goal scorer (741) in NHL history vaults way up this list because of what he did in the third overtime on 19 June 1999.  Sabre fans need to get over it already.  At least you have the Bills to cheer you up . . . oh, wait.  Dallas > Buffalo.

3.  Ed Belfour, 1997-2002.  What Hull was to the offense, Belfour was to the defense.  The Eagle was the second biggest reason the Stars won the Cup ten years ago.

4.  Joe Nieuwendyk, 1995-2002.  This future Hall of Famer was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner in that brilliant 1999 run to the Cup.  He now serves as the Stars’ hopefully prescient GM.

5.  Derian Hatcher, 1993-2003.  Moved south to Dallas from Minneapolis with Modano.  One of the best enforcers/defensemen in franchise history.  The pugnacious captain came up huge on the blue line multiple times in the playoffs, and also responsible for making the ever-mouthy Jeremy Roenick drink through a straw.

6.  Brenden Morrow, 1999-present.  Although injury-prone, the current captain is the undisputed leader in the room.  When he is in the lineup, the Stars are a much better team.

7.  Jere Lehtinen, 1995-present.  Injury-prone as well, Lehts is a three-time Selke winner.  A phenomenally versatile and redoubtable defensive forward.

8. Sergei Zubov, 1996-2009.  Best Russian to ever don a Stars sweater.  Zubie was an awe-inspiring assassin running the point during power plays.

9.  Steve Ott, 2002-present.  First few years in the league he was known only as a fighter.  Has now developed a more well-rounded offensive arsenal (19, 27, 46 last season) to complement his blitzkrieg defense.  The Otter is a poor man’s Lehtinen.

10.  James Neal, 2008-present.  Hasn’t even played the equivalent of a full season in the league (80 games thus far), but this 22-year-old stud is built like a tank (6-3, 206), shoots lefty, and is nearly impossible to knock off the puck.  The future is very bright for Neal, which is why he already cracks the Top 10.  Modano’s heir apparent.

Dishonorable Mention: Sean Avery, Matthew Barnaby, Todd Fedoruk, Mike Lalor, Roman Lyashenko, Janne Niinimaa, Tobias Stephan, Jamie Wright

TEXAS RANGERS (years played with team)

1. Steve Buechele, 1985-1991.  As a child, I always felt sorry that the fans booed #22 so lustily.  Only later did I find out they weren’t booing, but shortening his last name as a sign of respect.  No matter.  The proverbial die was cast.  He was my favorite.  Styled my mullet after his.

2.  Nolan Ryan, 1989-1993.  The Ryan Express finished out his Hall of Fame résumé in Arlington by recording his sixth and seventh no-hitters and his 5,000th strikeout.  Records unlikely ever to be broken.  Also “pwnd” (ask my high school students what that means) Robin Ventura in August 1993, the penultimate month of his career.  Now the Rangers’ president and resident snow monkey expert.

3.  Rusty Greer, 1994-2002.  Played with reckless abandon which, as a result, abridged his career.  Many of the most acrobatic catches in club history came courtesy of the The Red Baron.

4.  Michael Young, 2000-present.  Who would have ever thought that the former Blue Jay spare part (Young was traded with Darwin Cubillan to Texas for Esteban Loaiza in July 2000) would mature into one of the most indispensible Rangers?  The 2009 season was basically wrecked when he went on the DL and missed the last month.

5.  Pudge Rodriguez, 1991-2002, 2009.  Despite the rampant steroid rumors, Pudge is by far the best catcher in franchise history (with no apologies to Geno Petralli and some apologies to Don Slaught), as well as one of the most beloved players to ever wear a Rangers uniform.

6.  Ruben Sierra, 1986-1992, 2000-01, 03.  Besides Pudge and Oddibe McDowell, Ruben was the only Ranger in franchise history to ever have an excellent shot to hit for the cycle in any game and/or an outside shot of winning the Triple Crown in any season.  Was absolutely electrifying to watch.

7.  Pete Incaviglia, 1986-1990.  Inky Power was alive and well for five summers in Arlington.  Perhaps the slowest base runner in franchise history (with apologies to Bill Haselman, Larry Parrish and Mickey Tettleton).

8.  Ian Kinsler, 2006-present.  Everything from his knee-high socks to the all-out hustle screams old school.  I love it.  (Although he needs to stop swinging for the fences every AB.  And staying healthy would help.)

9.  Neftali Feliz, 2009-present.  Yes, he’s only appeared in 20 games for the Rangers. Yes, he’s only 21 years old.  But he’s the undeniable future for this club.  Much like Neal for the Stars, Feliz is the Rangers’ cornerstone.  (Pitching wins the WS.)  Feliz Navidad indeed.

10. Roger Pavlik, 1992-98.  Perhaps the most misunderstood and most unfairly maligned Ranger in history (I’m talking to you, Bryan), Pavlik richly deserved his All-Star appearance in 1996 (although some argue that fellow Ranger Kevin “Little Big League” Elster should have earned the invite).  A truly blessed way to celebrate my final summer of freedom after graduating from St. Mark’s and before leaving for Davidson College.

Dishonorable Mention: Mark Clark, John “Empty Golf Shirt” Hart and his enabler Tom Hicks, Chad Kreuter, Ruben Mateo, Laynce Nix, Chan Ho Park, Sammy Sosa (even W. can make mistakes), Mark “Traitor” Teixeira

Here ends the lesson.  And all of God’s people say . . . “Amen!”

***Happy 30th birthday, Andrew!!***

The Rev Speaks: Ode to Mo

October 2, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

He was a center nonpareil blessed with both a wicked slap shot and devastating accuracy.  He had ridiculously flexible hands that forcefully wrapped around the hockey stick like a hungry boa constrictor squeezing the life out of a helpless rabbit.  (Sorry, PETA people, but this here is a PC-free zone.  Besides, in Genesis 1.26 God rewards mankind with unchecked dominion over all living creatures.  So present your complaints and criticisms to the Creator . . . good luck with that Sisyphean task.  Let me know how it turns out.)  He had redoubtable vision and a lofty hockey IQ, allowing him to assess the entire rink and anticipate plays seconds before they became reality.  Indeed, the physical and mental powers of one Michael Thomas Modano, Jr. were preeminent.  But for all his envied gifts, perhaps the most significant is the most trivial: he had 98 speed.  The naysayers may contend that one’s quickness cannot be measured quantitatively, but these cynics will only prove themselves fools.  These skeptics obviously never played NHLPA Hockey ’93.  Released by Electronic Arts on New Year’s Eve 1992, the wildly popular and revolutionary video game thoroughly redefined the sport of hockey.  A freshman in high school at the time, I was a mere NHL dilettante.  However, with news circulating from Minnesota that the North Stars’ owner was seriously considering relocating the franchise to Dallas, my older brother Chris and I eagerly plunked down two weeks’ allowance to purchase NHLPA Hockey ’93.  We began to feverishly prepare ourselves for the new addition to the Dallas sporting landscape.  We spent hours on school nights developing calluses playing the game.  (Although, as a senior and the BMOC, Chris was rarely home for the prime playing time during weekend nights since he was, you know, dating girls.)  Therefore, I frequently recruited my buddy Reid to join me—we couldn’t drive yet so our social lives were somewhat stunted—and nearly caused the poor Super Nintendo to overheat on several occasions.

Reid’s favorite team was the Chicago Blackhawks, who were quite deadly with Jeremy Roenick and Steve Larmer up front and Chris Chelios and Eric Weinrich manning the defensive blue line, as well as (future Dallas Cup hero) the indomitable Ed Belfour in net.  Meanwhile, I cast my lot with thoroughly mediocre Minnesota in an attempt to study up the team that might be moving to Texas.  While Reid frequently pummeled the hapless North Stars, I was quite proud of the fact that he never made Modano’s head bleed.  (One of the best qualities of the game, now sadly defunct from all current versions, was the violent and strangely intoxicating fisticuffs. In 1996 the cult classic movie Swingers devotes two minutes of Vince Vaughn trying desperately—and hilariously—to make the avatar Wayne Gretzky’s head bleed.  [Owing to the steady stream of strong language I will not link to the movie clip.  Make Google your friend.]  This iconic scene perfectly sums up my heated battles with Reid.  We frequently ended up fighting ourselves as a result.)  Anyway, my strategy was quite simple: win the faceoff and push the heck out of the turbo button on the controller.  If done properly, Modano and his 98 speed were virtually unstoppable.  Sure, I may have lost games 7-2 and 8-4, but #9 always made his presence felt, ensuring that my anemic North Stars would never be shutout.  (I eagerly accept moral victories, much like the naïve buffoon that is Wade Phillips.)  And, most importantly, nobody ever made Modano’s head bleed.  It’s hard to hurt that which you can’t catch on the ice.

As one of only six Americans ever drafted first overall (Brian Lawton, 1983; Bryan Berard, 1995; Rick DiPietro, 2000; Erik Johnson, 2006; Patrick Kane, 2007), Modano clearly had the God-given talent to dominate in the NHL from the start.  Flashback to that idyllic June afternoon in Montreal, when a nervous and baby faced 18-year-old wunderkind from Livonia, Michigan walked onto the dais after North Stars GM Lou Nanne called out his name.  At that moment, Modano certainly did not look like he would eventually mature into a Cup-winning future Hall of Famer.  Looking more like a horrible cross between Vanilla Ice with a mullet and Dolph Lundgren’s Ivan Drago character from Rocky IV, Modano looked like anything but the face of the franchise.  While it would be an insult to compare a hockey savant like Modano to the boxing palooka Drago, Modano unequivocally adhered to one of Drago’s most well-respected monosyllabic mantras: “I must break you.” (Thankfully, Modano did not also live out another of Drago’s stoic threats: “If he dies, he dies.”  Mike, as a perennial Lady Byng candidate, has a little more respect for the game and its players than that.)  In fact, the only injuries Modano (who has only been in one fight, against Rod Brind’Amour) causes are unintentional: he has been breaking ankles with aplomb while he skates gracefully and rapidly up the ice.  As the only remaining North Star on the Dallas Stars’ current roster, Modano, entering his 20th season, is one of hockey’s finest ambassadors.  He was the driving force behind the hockey heyday in North Texas, starting with that first season in Dallas in 1993-94 when he scored his personal best of 50 goals.  In an age when players kowtow at the altar of the Almighty Dollar, Modano is a sweet aberration.  He is one of the rare players who are loyal to team rather than chasing a buck.  (Granted, he’s been paid handsomely these past 19 years.)  There was only one brief moment when Modano even hinted he might leave Dallas: after the 2005 season when, amidst contract negotiations with then Stars GM Doug Armstrong, he visited both Boston and Chicago.  (Interestingly, it was the oft-ridiculed Tom Hicks who at last stepped in and convinced the franchise player to stay in Dallas.  Sadly, this act was the last good thing Liverpool Hicks has done as owner of both the Rangers and Stars.  The next good deed will occur when he sells both teams.  Or hires me in some capacity.)  Ultimately, the Stars resigned him to a below market five-year, $17.25M deal.  After Brenden Morrow was named Captain of the Stars in September 2006, Modano was visibly perturbed for a few days, but he soon accepted the slight change in team structure.  This demotion from Captain to Alternate, coupled with the somewhat prolonged contract negotiation, remain the only instances of Modano displaying what could be defined as “diva” behavior.  (He doesn’t get in trouble off the ice, either.  The only time his name shows up in non-hockey headlines is when he is donating his time and checkbook to charity and/or a lascivious blonde model.  Of course, now that he’s married those “single rich guy” nights are over.)  For 19 seasons Modano has been a true role model.  Professional athletes and ethics usually make for strange bedfellows.  Modano is a much-needed exception to that maxim.

2009-10 is the final year of Modano’s contract and, quite likely, the end of his hockey career.  There are only 82 more regular season games and then Mo will almost assuredly be gone.  He will retire as the all-time leading American scorer (currently with 543 goals and 786 assists), a Stanley Cup champion with seven career hat tricks, a seven-time All-Star, and a 2002 Olympic silver medalist.  (He’s also a movie star, logging a brief cameo in 1992’s guilty pleasure The Mighty Ducks, starring Emilio Estevez.  I couldn’t find a clip for this online, which is probably for the better.)  After this season he may join the Stars’ front office like his good buddy, former Stars co-GM, current “Ambassador of Fun,” and fellow future Hall of Famer Brett Hull.  The Stars open their season Saturday night at the American Airlines Center against the hated Predators (Jordin Tootoo, anyone?).  So come on down and properly fete a living legend.  If you don’t like hockey, I encourage you to pop in an old copy of NHLPA Hockey ‘93 and try to skate fast enough to corral Modano and make his head bleed.  I dare you not to be captivated.  I don’t do bobbleheads (they jumped the shark about a decade ago), but of the three I own (Modano, Dirk Nowitzki sans Crystal Taylor, and CHiPs superstar Frank Poncherello) it says a lot that Modano has remained relatively unscathed from the hyperactive and sometimes explosive clutches of my 20-month-old daughter.  Even she recognizes Modano’s greatness.

To quote 99% of all inane sports commentators, “Mike Modano is a hockey player.”  That he is.  He may be 39 years old, and he may have lost some of his preternatural speed, but Modano remains passionately in love with the game.  (If he’d only return my voicemails I’d be able to provide a quote as proof.)  He definitely exemplifies the message of Jesus in Luke 9.62: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”  Modano, hockey stick in blessed hands, plows passionately and looks back rarely as he careens up the ice, sweater flapping recklessly behind him.  He serves the game of hockey well, and his eyes are always fixed to the net in front of him.  Minnesota native F. Scott Fitzgerald encapsulated the essence of Modano best in his classic The Great Gatsby: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”  Today, nearly 17 years after my brother and I ripped open that cherished copy of NHLPA Hockey ’93, I remain firmly fixed in yesterday. I am no longer a high school freshman with a total inability to charm the ladies (just don’t ask my long-suffering wife), but to me Mike Modano will always be the transcendent blur with incomparable 98 speed and an uncanny talent to be head-bleed proof.  And no, this is not a man-crush.  This is man-respect.

Here ends the lesson.  And all of God’s people say . . . “Amen!”

THE REV SPEAKS – Cowboys Giants Review

September 23, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

THE REV SPEAKS

Matthew R. Fuller

As an ordained Baptist minister I’ve heard my fair share of confessions.  Most are incontrovertibly genuine, with the penitents expressing a deep remorse and a concomitant pledge to turn away from the sins which, without fail, lead to shame, fear, abandonment, and heartache.  Sometimes, however, the mea culpa is more specious than the singing career of Heidi Montag

In these extreme circumstances it takes all of my Christian resolve to refrain from unleashing a thunderous torrent of dog cussing: How dare you defile the house of God with your bleeping mistakes!  Your pathetic excuses are bleeping cowardly!  Get your head out of your butt already! But that’s just me . . .

Which leads us to the embarrassment that occurred in Arlington (and not Dallas, thanks to former Mayor Laura “Madam No” Miller’s childish stonewalling, but don’t get me started) on Sunday night.  What should have been a glorious moment for the Dallas Cowboys was instead turned into a horrifying display of amateur football.  Thanks to the “franchise” quarterback, the grand opening of The Death Star was unequivocally marred.  If Jerry were to ask my advice (and why he doesn’t is beyond me) I’d demand that he pay FOX analyst Troy Aikman whatever he wished to pull a Favre and lace up his cleats just one more time.  (I’d also suggest he fire Wade, a.k.a. Mr. Fix It, immediately.  That’s for another column, however.)  Maybe I’m just sentimental since #8 won three Super Bowl titles during my formative high school years, but at this point any measure, no matter how extreme, should be enacted.  How many times are we devoted and deceived Cowboy fans going to be forced to listen to the mealy-mouthed confessions of one Tony Romo?  After every putrid game he’s delivered the same tired “I promise to protect the ball better” speech.  In Sunday night’s three-INT implosion against the hated Giants he was beyond careless with the pigskin.  He was reckless.  He was feckless.  He was gutless.  (For those who value this stat, Romo’s 29.6 QB Rating was the second-worst of his career after the 22.2 bomb he dropped in December 2007 against the hated Eagles.  The Cowboys would have beaten the Giants by at least a touchdown had Romo only thrown two picks!)  Like all Dallas disciples, I’ve grown extremely tired of Romo’s lip service.  Either you stop throwing the ball to the opposing team at an alarming rate—I don’t mind the occasional turnover that comes in the course of a long season, but there’s a limit to my grace—or stop feeding namby-pamby apologies to the media and the fans.  Call me a hidebound fundamentalist Southern Baptist, but either you sin or you don’t.  (This is a kissing cousin to the Big Bill Parcells theology of it is what it is.)  I am not trying to alarm you, but the Cowboys are a decidedly average 11-10 in their last 21 games.  That’s only ten more wins than the junior college Detroit Lions have posted over the same period of time!  This would be funny if it weren’t so sadly mediocre and true.

Romo still has a very vocal cadre of supporters, and these slimy sycophants are almost as crazy as Pacman Jones at the Joule Hotel.  At least he came out on Monday and held himself accountable for the loss against the Giants. While I admit this Romo reaction is light years better than his illicit Cancun vacation with Jessica “Yoko Ono” Simpson in January 2008, and much improved from his flippant if this is the worst thing that happens to me comment after last season’s win-or-go-home disaster in Philly, Romo could blame himself for the mess that is the Obama Healthcare Plan and I still wouldn’t be satisfied.  Quarterbacking the Cowboys is one of the most glamorous and visible positions in all of sports, along with Shortstopping the Yankees (groan) and Caddying the Tiger (no pictures during his backswing), and Romo treats it like he’s playing Tecmo Bowl on Nintendo.  Whatever.  Then there are the Romo lemmings who are quick to point out that his career has started just like the prototype of all NFL QBs, Peyton Manning (http://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/M/MannPe00.htm).  Except for these salient facts which the lemmings either leave out or forget: Manning played four years at a major-caliber SEC college against many future pro athletes, and he was drafted #1; Romo played at tiny Eastern Illinois against many future rec league athletes and he wasn’t drafted at all; Manning was born with football genes and groomed to be a QB from birth; Romo was born with backward-hat-wearing genes and groomed to be a wannabe golfer from birth.  Again, whatever.

Those laypeople that support Romo are doing him no favors, just as Romo’s own teammates are sabotaging his ability to improve.  In order for a sinful soul to be completely washed clean, the guilty party must be surrounded by a circle of believers who, while offering forgiveness, also buffet him with ample amounts of tough love.  In this case, Romo’s accountability partners and prayer warriors are failing him immensely.  The praise for #9 (and I’ m not talking about the true winner Mike Modano) was effusive from Valley Ranch on Monday and Tuesday (http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/spt/stories/092209dnspocowboysinsider.2cc1f57.html), further complicating the paradox of Romo’s greatness.  Teammates should absolutely stand by each other in times of crisis (and if they don’t they end up in the football hinterlands of Buffalo), but if Romo’s fellow Cowboys truly had his best interests at heart they would sit him (and Terence Newman while we’re at it) down and deliver a come-to-Jesus message: you can be one of the all-time greats if you just learn some discipline.  (Yet another reason Jerry should have hired Norv “Aikman Architect” Turner in 2007, along with the fact that Turner’s electric Chargers are chugging along at 9-0 in December and Wade’s anemic Cowboys are choking along at 3-5 in the coconut-crunching final month.)  Like a group of buddies who stage an intervention for one of their own who is abusing drugs and alcohol, so must Romo’s teammates stage an immediate intervention for the embattled quarterback.  His legacy—and the Cowboys’—depends on it.

There are also those voices who believe that Jason Garrett should “dumb down” the offense in order to make it more Romo-friendly.  This, too, would be a faulty solution.  According to QB Rating (again, for those who value this statistic), Romo’s lofty 94.2 would be third in history (behind Steve Young’s 96.8 and Manning’s 94.9.  Note: in order to qualify, a QB must have 1,500 pass attempts; with 1,363, Romo should easily pass that threshold by October) and makes him the second-best active passer behind Manning.  Should Romo indeed become, as Big Bill constantly preached, just a bus driver, handing off 35 times to his eclectic stable of backs?  As good as Barber, Choice, and Felix Jones are, I’m not sure this is a viable course of action.

A fitting way to color the portrait of one Antonio Ramiro Romo, therefore, is with many brushes, each drawing a patron’s eyes to different sections of the canvas with every look.  Romo is like a work of art by the famed abstract painter Picasso: the sum is clearly greater than the parts.  One week it’s hide-the-women-and-children ugly (http://www.sgallery.net/artnews/data/upimages/2007/08/picasso.jpg) and the next it’s spend-three-hours-in-awe resplendent (http://www.artquotes.net/masters/picasso/picasso_guernica1937.jpg).  In Dallas, however, the only masterpiece that matters is a Super Bowl ring.  (Or at the very least, an NFC Championship ring.  It is naïve to expect more from this heartless bunch.)  Anything less is a complete and utter failure.  While I’m not the ultimate judge, I will say with confidence that Romo’s repeated confessions always ring extraordinarily hollow.  We’re all waiting, Tony.  You’ve repented time and time again, but we have yet to see sustained excellence on the field.  Perhaps we’re expecting too much.  Maybe you just don’t have it between the ears to lead the Cowboys to the promised land.  (My favorite local theory.)  Instead of becoming Romo the Redeemed he’s merely Romo the Recidivist.  The Book of Proverbs (that’s in the Bible, folks) reminds us well: As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly. If Romo throws up many more atrocious games like he did on Sunday night I’ll be throwing up.  And it’d be a travesty to waste the $6 I spent on the cup of Dr Pepper at Cowboys Stadium.

Here ends the lesson.  And all of God’s people say . . . “Amen!”

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