By Eric Neel & Jeff Merron
Page 2

The Boz. Leaf. Marinovoch. The XFL.

All are synonymous with "flop." But are they the biggest flops of the past 25 years? ESPN25's latest "Who's No. 1?" show (Tuesday, ESPN, 8 p.m. ET) deals with those who failed the biggest on the big stage.

But who deserves to be on the list? Check the list and vote here for your biggest flops. Page 2's Eric Neel and Jeff Merron checked the list -- and then got into a little heated debate about the topic.

Brian Bosworth
Watch out, here comes Bo Jackson!

Eric: First things first: So what's your top five on this list, Jeff?

I'll go with Bosworth, who I once actually believed was good; Bowie, who I knew was bad, but you have to call him a flop because of where he went in the draft relative to Jordan; Pitino, who I know can coach, but he got caught up in being Pitino; Ryan Leaf, who I really thought was going to be a bigger, stronger Jim McMahon; and Chris Washburn, who wasn't so much a flop as a tragic case.

Jeff: Number one is the XFL. The lowest rating of any prime-time show in history -- that's epic. Two is Bud Selig at the All-Star Game, shrugging his shoulders, throwing up his arms with a confused "What can I do?" look. Talk about symbolism. Three is one of the biggest backfires in sports history: the MLB umpires. Then there's Dennis Miller. Just painful to listen to. And finally, I've got to go with the embarrassment of the 2002 U.S. hoops team.

Eric: I'll tell you who doesn't belong on this list: the Clippers. You have to be up to come down. You have to look good, if only for a moment, in order to flop. The Clips aren't a flop, they're a plagued people wandering the earth looking for relief. You don't poke fun at the Clippers, you say a prayer for them, the way you do with anyone less fortunate than you.

What about the Bills?
Do the Buffalo Bills deserve to be on the list of biggest flops after losing four straight Super Bowls? Page 2's David Schoenfield says no way.

  • ESPN25 home page
  • Jeff: Anna K. doesn't belong, either. A flop? No. A Wimbledon fluke in 1997, then a decent career where she worked her way to No. 8 in the world in 2000. She was ranked No. 1 in the world in doubles. She's made a ton of money. Sure, there were high expectations, but she is, by most of our standards, a pretty big success for a 23-year-old. Isn't she?

    Eric: You're thinking with your hormones, buddy. Twenty-three is ancient in the world of women's tennis. By 23, Andrea Jaeger was knitting scarves in a rocker somewhere. But age isn't the thing that makes Anna a flop; letting her distractions become her full-time gig is what makes Anna a flop. She has talent without drive. That's fine. Lot's of people do. She just shouldn't be making as much coin with that combo as she's managed to make.

    Anna Kournikova
    OK, so Anna's tennis career flopped. Word is the Yankees are considering her for their rotation.

    So riddle me this, Jeff: Who belongs on the list that isn't here? I've got two for starters, both from 1986. The Angels, up 3-1 in the AL Championship Series, and the Red Sox, two strikes away from World Series rings, and in both cases, flop goes the weasel. Those are epic el foldos, collapses with historical resonance, with memorable moments, with mobs of the faithful wailing in the streets.

    Jordan's baseball career? The failure of The National? These aren't even in the same conversation.

    And where is Norman at the '96 Masters? Or Kentucky in the second half versus Georgetown in the 1984 National Semis?

    Jeff: One other team that should have made the list, but didn't, was the late-1980s Mets. What promise -- Doc, David Cone, Darryl, Dykstra, Carter, Kevin Mitchell, Hernandez, etc ... A cocky powerhouse that ruled in 1986 and should have been great for another three or four years, at least.

    Then the drugs and partying and clubhouse drama, and poof -- dreams of a dynasty, gone.

    Remember the scene when Woody Allen sneezes in "Annie Hall," scattering thousands of dollars of cocaine into oblivion? It was something like that. Except in the case of the Mets, the cocaine did the sneezing and scattering.

    Another one I just don't get being on the list, by the way, is the Falcons trading Favre. Bad trade? For sure. But really, who knew? And were the Falcons cocky about it?

    Eric: I see your point about Favre, but (unless you're a Falcons fan, which I haven't been since they let Steve Bartkowski go) you have to take some pleasure out of the what-if twist of the knife that comes from knowing they had a Famer and they let him go, don't you?

    Jeff: Schadenfreude is the great German word for the pleasure we take in seeing others fail. I mean, the signature opening of the "Wide World of Sports," where the ski jumper just tumbles into oblivion -- priceless. (By the way, Vinko Bogataj was the guy, and despite how bad it looked, he only got a concussion.) Tonya Harding's broken lace at the Olympics. That couldn't have been scripted better. Last year's Tigers. No "bad guys" there, but, man, it was something, wasn't it?

    Eric: Exactly, Professor. Schadenfreude. The word of the day.

    It's a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God thing. You laugh at the other guy to mask your fear and nervousness that it could have been you, and your knowledge that it could be you next time.

    XFL
    You can now buy this helmet on eBay for $2.99.

    Except in the case of the XFL; I could never be that stupid.

    Jeff: I think the XFL's the biggest flop on the list, though. To have a partnership with NBC, to generate extraordinary hoopla, to really garner the interest of sports fans (which McMahon and the XFL actually did), and then to go splat ...

    Eric: Yeah, but did anyone really think it could work? Besides "He Hate Me" and maybe a couple of pole dancers looking for a break as cheerleaders, I mean. Jeff: Those girls deserved better.

    The one who deserves to get slammed is Pete Rose. Where's "My Prison Without Bars" on this list?

    Eric: Flop isn't even strong enough a word for Pete. Sleaze is closer to the mark. Though you're right, he's come a long, long way down from the glory days of Charlie Hustle.

    What about guys like Ben Johnson, or Darryl Strawberry, who reach the heights but take the plunge because of their own stupidity and weakness? Are they flops?

    Jeff: Johnson was just a never-should-have-been. He was a liar and a fraud, which in my book means calling him a flop is doing him a favor. And Darryl? I don't know. He certainly had world-class arrogance and swagger, but now he's just a sad case, a what-might-have-been. I'd put him in a different category. There are some rivalries that flopped, however, and should belong on the list.

    Bud Selig
    What, you mean they ran out of hot dogs?

    Mary Decker vs. Zola Budd in 1984, and Dan and Dave, for example.

    Eric: Track and field rivalries? Don't people have to be paying attention for it to be considered a flop?

    Jeff: Come on, people were paying attention. Dan and Dave were huge.

    Eric: Thanks to Reebok.

    Jeff: Right, and after the big Reebok buildup, Dan didn't even qualify for the Olympics. And Dave, who made it to Barcelona and got the bronze, would have been totally out of it if he hadn't gotten a nice call from the shot put official.

    Eric: I smell scandal. Is that one of our ESPN25 lists?

    Jeff: Unfortunately, no. Let's take this in another direction: Twelve of the 25 flops on the SportsNation list are either football players, coaches, or owners/bad trades. Why do you think there are so many football flops?

    Eric: One, football is the most popular sport in America, so football stories are the ones that stick. Two, there's no way to measure how a guy will measure up until he gets to the pro level. The game is so much faster and the players are so much stronger, it just eats prospects alive.

    Jeff: No way to measure? What about all the college games that the best prospects play, the innumerable pre-draft tryouts, the Google-like supercomputers at the command of every team's braintrust? They're measuring. But clearly there's a long way to go. The combine, the Wonderlic -- they're jokes.

    Speaking of jokes, what are your favorite flops outside of sports?

    I'm old enough to remember both the Bay City Rollers and The Knack being anointed as "the next Beatles."

    Eric: Nice call. You still have a pair of the Bay City Rollers jeans with the plaid down on the cuffs, don't you? Come on, you can fess up, you're among friends here.

    Gerry Faust
    "Damn, that played worked really well in high school!"

    The problem, of course, with pop music flops is that they still cash in, even when they're terrible. Remember Tiffany? And you know the boys in 98 Degrees are going to retire before you and I do.

    I'll tell you the music flop I want to talk about: What the hell happened to Stevie Wonder?

    Seriously, did he lose his mind? Did the ability to distinguish between funk and schlock completely abandon him?

    I put the blame on "I Just Called to Say I Love You," which is to say I blame Gene Wilder for the musical death of Stevie Wonder. Call it six degrees of horribly bad judgment.

    Jeff: Which brings us back to Chris Washburn.

    Eric: Rimshot. He's here all week, folks.

    Jeff: OK, what about movies? I'm going to go with "Bonfire of the Vanities." Tom Wolfe's novel was so great and huge that it took some real hubris to give a movie version a shot. But what a disaster -- you've got Brian DePalma directing Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis and Melanie Griffith, and it's just flat and flavorless. It was an enormous commercial bust, too.

    Eric: "One From The Heart," "Ishtar," "Waterworld," "Matrix Revolutions" ... it's almost too easy to do movies.

    John Goodman's "Babe," "Slapshot 2" ... the list goes on and on.

    Let's close with the rapid-fire stage of the game:

    Flop that gave you the most pleasure?

    Jeff: I gotta go with the Selig All-Star moment.

    Your turn: Flop that gave you the most pain?

    Eric: It's a tie: the 1994 Sonics, a one-seed, collapsing at the hands of the eight-seed Denver Nuggets, and the Dodgers' late-season flop to Atlanta in 1991.

    You?

    Jeff: The Knicks since 1973.

    Eric: If you could reverse one flop, turn one frown upside down, which would you change and why?

    Jeff: I'll take two, too: I'd give Van de Velde a win in the 1998 British Open. And I'd give Greg Norman the 1996 Masters. Both good guys, both just dying out there, on big days, in slow motion.

    Eric: First track and field and now golf? Nice. As long as we've got the biggies covered.

    Jeff: All right, Mr. Mainstream, your turn: If you could deliver a flop like a smackdown, who is the one player, team, or personality you'd most like to see go face down in the mud?

    Eric: Give me Tom Cruise. Give me Tom Cruise in a Steven Spielberg film. Give me Tom Cruise in Howard the Duck II. Please. I beg of you.

    Eric Neel and Jeff Merron are regular contributors to Page 2.