Mulligans for the entire sports world
To the esteemed annals of Better Late Than Never -- Case No. 138: The Nineteenth Amendment; Case No. 9,456: America's collective rejection of Hootie & the Blowfish's "Fairweather Johnson" -- add the decision of a prospective St. Louis Rams ownership group to drop talk radio host Rush Limbaugh from its ranks. Originally in league with the Duke of Ditto, the would-be Rams buyers took a good, hard, media-prompted look at the rough sailing ahead -- angry players, grumpy owners, worse PR than Union Carbide, circa 1984 -- and tossed Limbaugh overboard.
In essence, they took a mulligan.
Golf gets a lot of things wrong. Ridiculous pants. Pointless, high-tech gadgetry. The most excruciatingly awkward high-five in the history of competitive athletics. And that's without mentioning John Daly, country artist. But the mulligan? The sport gets that exactly right. Who doesn't need the occasional do-over, a chance to restart and reboot? Come to think of it, why should golfers exclusively have the opportunity to expunge and re-do bad shots, worse decisions and utterly blind foresight?
So, the wannabe Rams owners came to their senses. But they probably should have anticipated the widespread negative reaction Limbaugh would cause. But they're not the only members of the sports world who need a mulligan: Take a look:
The shot: The Daniel Snyder Era (1999-present).
The shank: Never mind the mediocre win-loss records, overpriced free agent flops ($10 million signing bonus for Brandon Lloyd? Really?), coaching chaos, capricious suing of little old ladies, burgundy-on-burgundy uniform disasters and semi-ubiquitous sideline presence of Bizzaro rabbit's foot Tom Cruise. Instead, consider this: a few years back, the Redskins charged $10 admission for training camp.
Mulligan-worthiness: High. As accredited members of the sports media, we've been paid to attend training camp. It still wasn't worth it. (Oh, and neither is anything else the Redskins and their ATM-esque fanbase have shelled out for in the past decade. A $35 million contract for Adam Archuleta? Is that an accounting error?)
Suggested re-do: Have current Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis purchase the Redskins instead of Snyder, then build the club through shrewd drafting and a hands-off front office approach; let Snyder buy the Washington Nationals, a middling team that might benefit from his Steinbrennarian approach.
The shot: Charging Nolan Ryan.
The shank: A 26-year-old batter decides to rumble with a pitcher nearly twice his age after being hit by a pitch. What could possibly go wrong? Um, plenty. In 1993, Ventura went after the 46-year-old Ryan, who corralled Ventura in a humiliating headlock before landing a half-dozen blows to the younger man's noggin. Adding insult to injury, Ventura received a two-game suspension while Ryan was not disciplined for the incident.
Mulligan-worthiness: Very high. Ryan's beatdown remains a staple of televised basebrawl montages -- and was even mentioned in George W. Bush's 2000 campaign memoir, in which the former president states, "Ventura must have been irrational to charge someone as big and tough as Nolan." You think?
Suggested re-do: Take your base. Just. Take. Your. Base.
The shot: The 1925 NFL championship.
The shank: In 89 years of oft-futile existence, the Cardinals have won two championships. One of those is completely tainted. The then-Chicago Cardinals were awarded the 1925 title only after the league disqualified a superior Pottsville team for playing an exhibition game against a team of Notre Dame All-Stars. We will now wait for your exploded head to reform.
Mulligan-worthiness: Moderate. A tainted championship is still a championship -- see the 1972 gold medal-"winning" Soviet men's basketball team -- but winning fair and square tastes far more sweet. Also, a team being less likely to win a championship because they have a collection of former Notre Damers on their schedule seems downright unfathomable.
Suggested re-do: Pottsville hammered the Cardinals 21-7 in their final league game. C'mon, NFL, what's to expunge?
New Orleans Saints
The shot: Mike Ditka. Ricky Williams. Wedding dress. One of these things is not like the others.
The shank: The painful part wasn't that Williams filled out a white gown about as gracefully as Dennis Rodman -- it's that the Saints traded their entire draft, plus first- and third-round picks the following year, to acquire the Heisman Trophy-winning running back.
Mulligan-worthiness: Moderate. Ditka and Williams combined for a disappointing 3-13 season which ended with the coach being fired; on the other hand, the eight picks dealt for Williams ultimately produced LaVar Arrington, D'Wayne Bates, Desmond Clark, Lloyd Harrison, Nate Stimson, Khari Samuel, Billy Miller and the immortal Cade McNown. Perhaps multiple mulligans are in order.
Suggested re-do: Use the Saints' original No. 12 pick in '99 to select pass-rushing phenom Jevon Kearse, then use New Orleans' No. 2 pick in 2000 to take running back Shaun Alexander. Retroactive drafting is almost too easy.
The shot: Carl Lewis sings the national anthem.
The shank: Before a 1993 game between the Bulls and the New Jersey Nets, the track and field legend
sang abused mangled butchered eviscerated disemboweled the "Star-Spangled Banner," at one point pausing to tell the crowd, "I'll make up for it." Sadly, pregame festivities did not include a subsequent long jump competition.
Mulligan-worthiness: Astronomical. On one hand, Lewis owns a clutch of gold medals and might be the greatest American track star ever; on the other, how could the Bulls stadium ops crew not be aware of Lewis' previous musical
forays efforts experiments violations of the Geneva accords?
Suggested re-do: Have Roseanne Barr sing the anthem. Or just move the Bulls to the Euroleague.
The shot: Wide Right.
The shank: With a chance to win Super Bowl XXV and give Buffalo its first championship since the AFL-NFL merger -- note to younger readers: yes, there was once a rival pro football league that did not involve stripper cheerleaders and professional wrestling -- Bills kicker Scott Norwood pushed a field goal attempt wide right, sealing a 20-19 victory for the underdog New York Giants.
Mulligan-worthiness: Impossibly worthy. The explosive Bills were a much better team than the Giants -- think St. Louis Rams versus New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXVI -- and Norwood's miss sealed the first of four consecutive Buffalo championship losses. Worse still, Norwood indirectly helped launch the career of actor/director Vincent Gallo, whose film "Buffalo 66" references the kick.
Suggested re-do: Send cyborg back in time to show Norwood footage of Gallo's "The Brown Bunny," about which Roger Ebert once remarked, "the video of my colonoscopy is more entertaining"; watch as a shaken Norwood promptly shanks his kick to the left and through the uprights!
The shot: Red, white and blue promotional giveaway during the 1984 Summer Olympics.
The shank: As a Los Angeles Olympics tie-in called "When the U.S. wins, you win," the fast food giant distributed scratch-off tickets featuring different events; if the United States won a medal in that event, customers would receive a free menu item (burgers for gold medals, fries for silver, soda for bronze). The only flaw? Thanks to a Soviet Bloc boycott, American athletes won and won and won, capturing a whopping (no pun intended) 174 medals, three times the amount of the next-closest nation.
Mulligan-worthiness: High. McDonald's reportedly suffered a significant financial hit, a marketing fiasco memorably mocked on "The Simpsons."
Suggested re-do: Have McDonald's executives offer Moscow the formula for secret sauce in exchange for a promise to not invade Afghanistan, preventing the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow and subsequent Soviet counter-boycott.
The shot: The Bill Belichick experiment.
The shank: No, really. No. Really. Before he became a hoodie-wearing, title-winning, espionage-committing coaching icon in New England, Belichick was a miserable failure in Cleveland, compiling a 36-44 record with a single playoff win while alienating players and fans alike.
Mulligan-worthiness: Low. For Browns fans, Belichick is a bit like a pudgy, prudish former girlfriend who went on to lose 30 pounds and become a tantric sex instructor; that said, Cleveland hasn't won a postseason game since Belichick's 1994 playoff triumph -- a run of ineptitude that figures to continue under the already-floundering leadership of excommunicated Belichick disciple Eric Mangini.
Suggested re-do: Re-hire Belichick as Cleveland coach in 1999, which is exactly what former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar suggested the franchise do before team executives laughed him out of the room.
New York Knicks
The shot: The philosophy of "force basketball."
The shank: Under head coach Pat Riley, the Knicks were one of the most successful NBA teams of the mid-1990s. All it took was devolving a thrilling, artistic, free-flowing sport into unwatchable slop. After directing the 1980s Los Angeles Lakers' high-octane Showtime attack, Riley came to New York and found no Magic Johnson. No James Worthy. No Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Just Patrick Ewing, Anthony Mason's elbows and shoulders, John Starks' tenacity and a bunch of guys who couldn't hit a jump shot if you magnetized the ball. As such, Riley devised a system of bumping, grinding, shoving, hand-checking defense that basically dared referees to call a foul on every single play. This, from the franchise of Bill Bradley and Clyde Fraizer. Ugh. Ugh. A thousand times ugh.
Mulligan-worthiness: Very high. Force basketball was the NBA equivalent of the NHL's neutral zone trap -- a highly effective, massively soporific tactic that nearly killed the sport.
Suggested re-do: Transfer the Knicks to Australian rugby league. Problem solved.
The shot: The Matt Millen epoch.
The shank: The former Lions general manager is possibly -- probably -- the worst team executive in NFL history. Hyperbole? Uh-uh. Consider: a 31-84 record over seven seasons. An 8-60 road mark during the same span. First-round draft flameouts such as Joey Harrington. Calling former player Johnnie Morton a gay slur. Fan protests. Oh, and don't forget that Detroit finished 9-7 the season before Millen arrived, the team's most recent winning campaign.
Mulligan-worthiness: A supernova of heat and light. Karl Marx once said history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. And to think: the German philosopher never saw Millen select Charles Rogers and Mike Williams.
Suggested re-do: Hire former coach Wayne Fontes instead. Is winning every other season -- courtesy of a last-place schedule -- really so bad?
Jean Van de Velde
The shot: The 18th hole of the 1999 British Open.
The shank: Needing nothing more than to notch a six (a six!) on a par-4 final hole to capture the Claret Jug, Van de Velde could have laid up, hit a short iron onto the green and three-putted (three-putted!) to victory. Instead, he went for the green -- and banged a shot off the grandstand bleachers. One bunker, one water hazard and a triple-bogey 7 later, the soggy-footed Frenchman went home empty-handed.
Mulligan-worthiness: High. Afroman high. High enough for us to compose a brief open letter:
Dear Mr. Van de Velde,
Ten years later, we still have to ask: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?!?!
Page 2, and every other golfer in the world
Suggested re-do: Throw Van de Velde's 2-iron into the water. Add electric eels and sharks.
Green Bay Packers
The shot: Oct. 5, 2009
The shank: Brett Favre in a Minnesota Vikings uniform lighting up Green Bay on national television. Come to think of it, this is less a golf shot sort of shank than the type you find in the yard of a federal prison.
Mulligan-worthiness: So-so. For the Packers, watching Favre play so well had to be about as pleasant as a lit cigarette to the eyeball; nevertheless, Cheeseheads know the ol' gunslinger wouldn't look half as, um, gunslingy behind the Packers' EZ-pass offensive line. Indeed, switch Favre and Aaron Rodgers, and Jared Allen might have broken the single-season sack record in one game without Favre pulling any Michael Strahan-style bootleg shenanigans.
Suggested re-do: During the offseason, send Green Bay executive Ted Thompson down to Favre's Mississippi home to negotiate comeback terms; while Favre dithers, have team operatives continually fertilize and reseed his lawn, the better to ensure that he remains retired.
The city of Seattle
The shot: The Seattle Supersonics. Specifically, caring about them.
The shank: Seattle basketball fans enjoy a 1979 championship, learn to love Gary Payton's mouth, Detlef Schrempf's hair, Shawn Kemp's no-regard-for-human-life dunks and Ray Allen's jumper. Deceitful, craven owners then move the team to Oklahoma City. It's like a Hollywood romantic comedy, only Matthew McConaughey throws Kate Hudson off the sun-kissed rim of the Grand Canyon in the final frame.
Mulligan-worthiness: Very high. Investing fan loyalty into the Sonics is akin to investing your life's savings into a gold-plated pension plan administered by Bernie Madoff.
Suggested re-do: Ignore the Sonics and root for local franchise Microsoft, whose quarterly earnings will never break the city's heart. Even when Windows is a buggy mess.
The shot: Bashing the Houston Texans for passing on Reggie Bush.
The shank: When the Texans used the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft to select defensive end Mario Williams instead of the Heisman Trophy-winning Bush, critics said Houston "took the wrong guy" and likened the choice to the Portland Trail Blazers grabbing Sam Bowie instead of Michael Jordan. Three years later, Williams is a Pro Bowl performer with 32½ career sacks, while the oft-injured Bush has enjoyed less success cradling a football than Kim Kardashian.
Mulligan-worthiness: Moderate. Sportswriters ought to feel embarrassed -- even though empty, no-accountability predictions are our stock and trade -- but so should the NFL talent evaluators who made Matt Leinart and Michael Huff top-10 picks.
Suggested re-do: Bash the New Orleans Saints for selecting Bush with the No. 2 pick, passing on DeAngelo Williams and Joseph Addai.
Boston Red Sox
The shot: 2004 World Series championship.
The shank: By ending an 86-year title drought, the Red Sox proved once and for all there's nothing literary, mystical, magical, meaningful, Sisyphean or special about failing to win baseball games. To the contrary, Boston is now just another big market bandwagon team with spoiled, annoying fans.
Mulligan-worthiness: Mild. Boston backers wouldn't trade the '04 title for a 20-year-old clone of Larry Bird; anyone who had to sit through "Fever Pitch" likely begs to differ.
Suggested re-do: Still beat the New York Yankees in the ALCS -- Alex Rodriguez's base-running purse-slap should never be mulliganized -- but lose to St. Louis in the World Series, ensuring that another generation of Red Sox fans can consider its angst beautiful and unique. The same way goth kids do.
The shot: Hudson explores the area around what would become New York City, searching for a Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean.
The shank: Hudson's voyage leads to the settlement of New York, which leads to beads and smallpox blankets being traded for Manhattan, which leads to Bill the Butcher stabbing people, which leads to a King Kong attack, which leads to the establishment of the New York Yankees, the most insufferable franchise in professional sports.
Mulligan-worthiness: Off the charts. Granted, without the Big Apple there would be no Wall Street, no Statue of Liberty, no MTV's "The City." That said, there also would be no photographs of Alex Rodriguez gazing longingly into a mirror. Mulligan!
Suggested re-do: 1603 -- Henry Hudson lost with all hands in a squall off the coast of North America. Hey, it's the only way to be sure.