One of the regular readers of these rants is also a long-time friend. We went to high school together – – back when I had hair on my head and the Huns were at the gates of Rome. This otherwise gentle soul has an intense and visceral dislike for Terrell Owens and has sent me missives in the past none of which had anything flattering to say about T.O. None of those communiqués in the past even came close to the vitriol in last week’s note as reports of the “love triangle” among T.O., Tony Romo and Jason Whitten flew. It was filled with superlatives the most flattering of which included “dumbest”, “worst” and “most heinous”.
He concluded with the assertion that Terrell Owens had to be the athlete who had squandered the most good will that he once enjoyed with his fans. [Trust me; I have sanitized the actual comment to make it presentable for family reading.] And that got me to thinking… It would be way to difficult to name the single athlete who had gone from the highest esteem to the lowest but if I were to develop a pantheon of such folks, who would be in there?
Let me organize it by sport – – and I’ll start with football since my friend’s “Terrell Owens spewing” is what got this started in the first place.
Of course, T.O. is in the pantheon. He has had difficulties with three different QBs now and he has run afoul of three coaches – Steve Mariucci, Andy Reid and Wade Phillips – all of whom have coached teams to the Super Bowl. [I know Phillips was defensive coordinator with the Bills in the early 90s and I believe he was also defensive coordinator for the Broncos in one of their earlier Super Bowl appearances.] Owens’ apparent narcissism is indeed annoying and seemingly boundless.
One of T.O.’s current running buddies, “Pacman” Jones has to go into the pantheon too. Once viewed as an exciting playmaker, “Pacman” seems now to have descended to the level where people expect him to sign with the Raiders on his way down to an unpleasant existence for the rest of his natural life.
Let me not omit OJ Simpson here. Moreover, perhaps we can put OJ’s memorabilia in the pantheon right next to Rae Carruth’s. Carruth is not nearly as famous as Simpson – because he was not nearly as good a football player – but Carruth must be included here for one single act. He hired someone to kill his pregnant girlfriend; he was at the scene of the “hit”; he watched it go down and then left. How swell. In addition, he gets bonus nincompoop points for hiring someone who didn’t actually succeed in killing the pregnant woman allowing her to call the police and file charges.
Lawrence Phillips has to be here too. In addition to a less-than-laudable history of assaulting women and girlfriends, Phillips assaulted some kids playing pick-up football because he participated in a game and did not win. Problem is that he assaulted them with his automobile – – intentionally. Tom Osborne and Dick Vermeil tried to turn this man-child into a functional adult; neither succeeded.
Even though I am not a dog lover and have never owned a dog in my life, Michael Vick is a despicable person. He is in the pantheon.
Don’t forget the magnificent duo of college QBs who had a ton of hype and less than a shred of personal fortitude to go along with the hype – – Art Schlichter and Todd Marinovich. While we are at it, if I put statuettes of these two over to the side of the pantheon, why not put one of Ryan Leaf right there too?
The last person I want to put in the football grouping would be Maurice Clarett who started off his descent from fame and adoration with the filing of a false insurance claim and got caught doing so. His descent continued to the point of showing up at the Denver Broncos training camp with a bottle of vodka as his training aid. He used to live in a dorm room at Ohio State; now he has a room at the Ohio State Pen. I do not remember what he is in there for, but as I recall carrying a concealed weapon was part of the deal.
I will leave Plaxico Burress out of the pantheon for now – – only to pay a modicum of deference to the concept of due process in the legal system. However, this pantheon is not part of the US legal system and Plaxico can be added at any time should he decide to do something socially offensive like start to go on a PR tour of the morning TV talk shows or schedule an interview with Barbara Walters.
I will also leave out Brett Favre – although I will nominate him for Diva of the Decade if anyone will second that motion. Also on the doorstep but not allowed in are Nate Newton (not famous enough in the first place), Joe Namath (merely a pathetic sot and not an evil person), Ricky Williams (more of a flake than a miscreant) and the duo of Ben Roethlisberger and Kellen Winslow II (who were obviously auditioning for roles in the sequel to the movie Wild Hogs.)
Moving over to baseball, I will restrict myself to recent ne’er-do-wells and not try to dredge up memories of bad folks from the past such as Ty Cobb. Suffice it to say that Cobb was not a wonderful human being and one of his many lowlife achievements was to go into the stands to assault a heckler – – who was handicapped and only had one hand. There are plenty of “modern day” baseball players to populate the pantheon.
How about Roger Clemens and his fall from grace? Not only is he implicated in the steroid controversy, he explained away some of the “evidence against him” by saying it was his wife that was on ‘roids. Then came the Mindy McCready mess. Anyone want to invite Roger to speak at a local high school commencement any time soon?
Barry Bonds is in my pantheon for a couple of reasons. The most important reason is that I am the one who makes the decision regarding who is in and who is out. The second most important reason is that I personally believe that Barry Bonds has been a steroid user and that his use of those substances has caused him to break a bunch of records he would not have broken without them.
Now, since I am thinking about steroids, let me make room for Rafael Palmiero in the pantheon for his finger waving denial to the Congress that he had ever used steroids. As Big Daddy Pollitt says in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,
“There is a whole lot of mendacity out there.”
I need to make room for John Rocker in here. Even though he has a guaranteed right to say the things he said about Mets’ fans, it is so incredibly low-rent to say them that he belongs in this pantheon.
Denny McLain has to have a prominent place in the pantheon. He was the last 30-game winner in MLB back in the late 60s; his career took a detour when it was reported that he and a friend had been part of setting up a bookmaking operation. Post-baseball he has been in and out of jail for things like racketeering, drugs and embezzlement.
Pete Rose is in the pantheon. Anyone who saw Charlie Hustle play baseball from about 1965 to 1985 had to appreciate his grit and his fire and his ability to hit a baseball. Since that time, Pete Rose’s life has not only circled the drain, it has become covered in the sludge at the bottom of the septic tank. If you want an example of “penthouse-to-outhouse” go read a good biography of Peter Edward Rose.
Over to the side of the baseball cluster, we need a separate grouping to commemorate the drug users – not steroids – who squandered talent and myriad chances for rehabilitation. No one could possibly argue that Steve Howe, Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry belong side by side by side there.
Donnie Moore would not have been in the pantheon if all he had done were to commit suicide because he never got over blowing the final game of the ALCS against Boston in the mid-80s. However, Moore in the process of killing himself also shot his wife – who survived the incident – and did all of this in the presence of his teenage kids. Enjoy your stay here in the pantheon, Mr. Moore.
On the doorstep but not allowed inside would be Steve Garvey (philandering is not admirable but not nearly as bad as murder/suicide for example) and Steve Carlton (buying into weird world domination conspiracy theories isn’t good but since he’s a hermit that makes him harmless),
In basketball, I have to set a place for Latrell Sprewell. He choked out his coach – who may or may not be a royal pain in the ass but that does not justify the choking – and then haughtily dismissed a contract offer of $7M a year saying he could not feed his family on that. Since turning down that contract, he has had a boat repossessed, defaulted on a mortgage and has at least one tax lien going for him. Good thing I’m not charging rent on the space in the pantheon; Sprewell probably cannot afford to pay and that might make him choke me out.
Josh Howard will also have a prominent display area. Let me see; Howard admitted to using illegal drugs on a radio show, defied his coach’s order not to go partying during a playoff series that the Mavericks ultimately lost and then disrespected the national anthem. That is behavior that might lead some to believe that Josh Howard is really “The Fourth Stooge”.
Jayson Williams also has to be present here. Even in the most positive light of all, what happened was that he was having a party at his house and was then “playing around” with a shotgun that went off and killed his limo driver. Allegedly, Williams and others there then set about trying to destroy evidence and cover up the circumstances that surrounded the shooting. Nice…
Maybe I need an “Isiah Island” here to make a space for Isiah Thomas and Isiah (JR) Rider. Thomas has been a failure at every venture he has been involved in since retiring as a player; Rider has been accused of domestic violence, kidnapping, drug use and evading arrest amongst other things that I could probably find if I went looking and was not doing this from memory.
Dave Bliss was so heinous in his behavior that he will be the only basketball coach I permit in the pantheon. When one of his players was killed by another of his players, Bliss set out to get his assistants and the rest of the team to paint the dead player as a drug dealer and the shooting as being drug related. He is an evil human being.
On the cusp of getting in – but not quite making it – are Kobe Bryant (see comment on Steve Garvey above), Wilt Chamberlain (sexual promiscuity is not admirable but it is also not heinous), Len Bias (more of a tragic figure than a bad guy) and Billy Packer (who started out as a very good basketball commentator and became an pimple on the ass of basketball viewers every March).
In the “other sports” category, I probably need not explain to you why John Daly, Mike Tyson and Tonya Harding will have places to call their own in the pantheon.
But all this started with that note I got which said in part that Terrell Owens was “the dumbest” player on the planet [phraseology cleaned up once again for family consumption]. I do not think that is right; I do not even think he is the dumbest football player out there. Recall an incident when Gus Frerotte scored a TD for the Redskins and then head-butted a concrete wall, sprained his neck and had to go to the hospital instead of finishing the game. Head butting a concrete wall is dumb anywhere in this universe – – and the next one too.
Finally, I will let an item from Scott Ostler in the SF Chronicle explain why Marion Jones – and the other track stars like her – belong in the pantheon:
“Marion Jones didn’t know there was something fishy in the “flaxseed oil” coach Trevor Graham gave her? That’s like Bonnie saying she thought Clyde was using his ATM card to make all those bank withdrawals.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………