He was going to bob. He was going to weave. He was going to add one more chapter to the Greatest Show on Turf.
Yeah, this was going to be fun. Torry Holt was going to catch a pass, and he was going hit a seam, and he was going to change the scoreboard. By golly, he was going to dance.
Then trouble happened.
Then Derrick Brooks happened.
Suddenly, the whole world blew up. Holt's head flew backward, and there was a loud crack, like a lightning bolt hitting a large tree. Holt rumbled to the turf with his rib cage screaming. The star receiver was in pain....
07/31/14 The Heater
Someday, it will just feel like a bad day at the ballpark. Nothing worse than that.
Someday, when the Rays have witnessed enough greatness to count on it coming again, this will seem like just another visit by reality. Someday, on the other side of Hall of Fame careers and golden moments, this will feel like one more chapter in a glorious book. Someday, when the return has blossomed into other players worth cherishing, this may feel like an investment in a better day....
In the middle of the chaos, there is order.
It is here, in the center of it, that a defense begins to make sense. It is here, surrounded by the violence and the madness and the bodies and the brutality, where the counter-argument of the Bucs begins to take form.
It starts with one man, with one job. If Gerald McCoy is sturdy enough, the defense around him has a chance to succeed. If he is not, it does not....
You imagine running backs diving into the pile and never coming out. You imagine quarterbacks falling to their knees in terror. You imagine wide receivers running deep patterns and never coming back to the huddle.
Yeah, those guys must have been something to behold. You could locate their victims by the mushroom clouds.
A Hall of Famer at both defensive tackles. Two more at linebacker. Another at cornerback, and quarterback, and kicker. One at owner. One at coach. In total, that's nine Hall of Famers from the same sideline....
Every year, it's someone.
Every year, some team matters again. Every year, someone is relevant once more. Every year, things work out somewhere.
So why not this team?
And why not this year?
Go ahead. Laugh if you will. It has been a long time since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers mattered. Every year, on the verge of training camp, the Bucs have talked about being good enough for the rest of the league to notice. And in almost every year, disappointment has followed....
The problem with all these wonderful new toys, of course, is that some assembly is required. In the end, they all have to work.
The new Mike Evans action figure? It has to function. The old Josh McCown model? It cannot break. The new Anthony Collins plaything? It has to be built to last.
It is the same with Alterraun Verner, and with Evan Dietrich-Smith, and with Clinton McDonald. With Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and with Mike Jenkins, and with Brandon Myers. When a team makes so many moves in one offseason, it is hard to expect all of them to work out....
With other quarterbacks, you would start off by talking about the way he could throw the ball downfield. You would write poems about that arm.
Jim Kelly could always sling it. Even in Buffalo, Kelly was always cooler than the temperatures. It didn't matter how hard the wind would swirl, and it didn't matter how bitter the cold might be. He could always burrow a football through the elements and find success in the end zone....
07/14/14 The Heater
Andrew Friedman was always the smartest guy in the room. Over the years, that has been no less important to the Rays than, say, third base.
In the worst of times, Friedman was the equalizer. More than pitching, more than prospects. More than defense, more than managing.
For years, this has been a franchise that has thought its way out of the muck. It won when the dollars didn't make sense. It won when the economics left it helpless to stop the attrition that all small market teams face. It won at the rich kids' table. ...
First, you must know how much he loves the game.
Only afterward, you will find how important it is for him to help others play it.
It was early in life when golf claimed the heart of Al Williams. It did not matter how hard it was to play. It did not matter how hard it was to get to play.
There was something magical about the little ball, the way it skittered across a green. Golf demands a set of skills that he loved from the beginning, and it filled him as no other sport did. To the black kid on the bicycle, there was nothing else quite like it....
06/30/14 Lightning Strikes
By this time, Roman Hamrlik was a starter.
By this time, Vinny Lecavalier was a star.
By this time, Steven Stamkos was about to make Barry Melrose look more foolish than anyone in the history of hockey.
Yep, that's the history of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Pretty much, you established what you had in a prospect early. Think of it as the Jiffy-Pop method of stardom. You draft them. You turn them loose. You let them grow-as-they-go....
We want to see what Lovie Smith sees. That's all.
We want to glance into the future and see touchdowns. We want to see big plays. We want to see 10-yard completions on third and 9.
We want to picture Josh McCown, success story.
As a community goes, hey, this one is easy. We are willing to be convinced. We want to see McCown with his fist in the air, celebrating another touchdown. We want to see him dissect the opposition in the final moments of a winnable game. We want to see him pick teams apart with his accuracy, with his efficiency. ...
06/25/14 The Heater
The kid would be here forever. The kid would never leave.
The kid would perch on the top step, and he would tug his cap down to his eyebrows, and he would blow his bubble gum into bubbles the size of his head. The kid would shoot his fist into the air at the nearest triumph, and he would grin that wide grin of his, and he would offer to be Joe Maddon's backup manager anytime Maddon needed it....
06/23/14 World Cup
This match, you could play on the grassy knoll.
This match, you could ask Elvis to officiate.
This match should be attended by the likes of J. Edgar Hoover, and what do you know, he has just the evening gown to wear to it.
No, you aren't going to believe the soccer match that is scheduled for Thursday afternoon between the United States and Germany. In fact, if it ends in a tie — which is always highly probable in soccer, and would send both teams through to the next round of the World Cup — no one is going to believe it. One hundred years from Thursday, there would be many who would raise an eyebrow every time the score is mentioned....
And so a sport waits.
Soon, he will return. Just in time to save a sport again.
Soon, Tiger Woods will walk out of the clubhouse with something to do. Soon, he will be back, and he will be healthy, more or less, and once again golf will be complete. Soon, he will squint into the distance, and he will grip his driver once again, and the sport will revolve around him once more.
He has not played in a long time, and he has not won a significant tournament in a very long time, and yes, his image still needs work. But golf has waited an eternity for Tiger. The sport doesn't just want him. It needs him....
06/18/14 The Heater
Sell pretty much everyone.
Mark down the infielders. Discount the outfielders. Run a blue-light special on the pitchers. Slash the prices on the bullpen. Print coupons. Offer two-for-one deals. Turn Tropicana Field into Crazy Andy's House of Bargains.
Sell vigorously. Sell desperately. Sell furiously.
It is time, before a bad season settles into a bad reality. The dead-last Rays, 17 games under .500 and sinking like a rock in water, lost another game Wednesday afternoon. This time, it was 2-0, and the Rays gave every impression they would not have scored if the game had gone on until a week from Sunday. If then....