By Paul Katcher
Special to Page 3

'Everybody Loves Raymond'
It's the final curtain call for "Everybody Loves Raymond," ending in its ninth season.
As the sun sets on the popular sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond," whose lead character is a sports writer, Page 3 began thinking about sports-related characters who've graced the small screen over the years. Check out our list which includes memorable boxers, weekend golfers and baseball hurlers who, while mostly failures, have savored a moment or two in the sun.

Here are the 10 best...

10. Carmine "The Big Ragoo" Ragusa, "Laverne & Shirley" — boxer
The streets of Milwaukee are littered with rough-and-tumble men who dream of becoming big shots in the ring. That's why it's always nice to have something to fall back on, like tap dancing.

There was rarely an episode when Carmine, a former Golden Gloves champion, wasn't belting out a song or shuffling his feet at The Pizza Bowl, leaving viewers to wonder: "He's supposed to be the toughest guy in town?"

Then Squiggy would walk in and we'd understand.

9. George Jefferson, "The Jeffersons" — boxer
No, sports was not the main focus of this character, but George was a boxer in the Navy, and those ring skills provided the back-up when he mouthed off to some of the toughest cats in the hood: Tom Willis, Mr. Bentley, Ralph the doorman .... real street thugs like that.

He was a feisty, little dry cleaner, all right. Stripping off his jacket, putting up his dukes, to stand up for his wacky principles and defend himself when someone might ask a question like: How lazy does one have to be to require a live-in maid for a two-bedroom apartment?

Momma jokes were off limits, of course. Unless, ironically, they involved his wife, too:

Mother Jefferson: I don't have to stay here and be insulted!
Weezie: That's right, Mother Jefferson, you can go anywhere and be insulted!

Mario Lopez as A.C. Slater
A.C. Slater, Bayside High's popular wrestler always had school spirit and the girls.
8. A.C. Slater, "Saved By the Bell" — wrestler
Known for keeping the beat as the drummer in the band Zack Attack, Albert Clifford Slater delivered the beat-downs when he donned a singlet and hit the mat for Bayside High School. (Beat Valley!)

In the pilot episode of "Saved By The Bell: The College Years," the cast goes through some firsts. Zack doesn't get the girl, Screech actually gets a date, and Slater, a former state champion, spends more time on his back then an auto mechanic (which is the joke they threw in the Rated G script).

Not sure if he can cut it in the big time, Slater contemplates leaving school, but asks Screech to keep it a secret. Which he does not, under serious physical threat:

Zack: What about Slater?
Screech: Nothing. He made me promise I wouldn't tell you. Go ahead, torture me, I wouldn't tell you even if you poured molten lava down my pants!
Zack: You're about two seconds away from a noogie.
Screech: OK, OK, I give! Slater's getting his butt kicked in wrestling and he wants to quit the team.

In the end, Slater regained his confidence and stuck with the team. Today he can be found on Hollywood Squares.

7. Ralph Kramden, "The Honeymooners"— bowler/wanna-be golfer
Like Fred Flintstone, the animated character based on him, Ralph was great bowler, which was the premise of one of the most memorable of the 39 Honeymooners episodes: "Oh My Aching Back."

To get out of visiting Alice's mother, Ralph claims he needs to rest for the next morning's Gotham Bus Company physical examination. Instead of staying home, under wife's orders, he leads his bowling team to victory and throws out his back in the process. His plans to mask the injury don't exactly work out.

And in "The Golfer," Ralph's big mouth gets him into a bind. After bragging his talents on the links, Ralph's boss asks him to be part of an important match. That leaves upstairs buddy Ed Norton only a few days to teach him the game from scratch. Simple stuff like addressing the ball.

Hellooooo, ball!

Later, there was this exchange:

Ralph: How do you know so much about golf?
Ed: In the game of golf, you have to knock the ball into holes. I have been working in the sewer for 16 years. If that doesn't qualify me as an expert on holes, I give up.

6. Tony Banta, "Taxi" — boxer
Actor Tony Danza's own boxing career helped him land the role of Banta, a champion-in-waiting who was never able to hit the big time. And he fit right in; the entire garage was filled with drivers with one eye on the road and the other on greener pastures.

In one poignant scene, Banta explains to Bobby why he keeps the dream alive: that because without it, he's just a cab driver. And a lousy one at that.

Alex, a taxi lifer, overhears the conversation, but isn't offended, saying, "Oh, that's OK, Tony. I'm really not a cab driver. I'm just waiting for something better to come along. Ya know, like death."

5. Oscar Madison, "The Odd Couple" — sports writer
He may not have been the New York Herald's finest writer, but he was certainly its messiest. If Madison Avenue had been named after him, it would be littered with hot dog wrappers, mustard-stained t-shirts and cigar butts.

As a recognized media member, Oscar hob-nobbed with the sports stars of the day, some of whom appeared as themselves on the show: Howard Cosell, Bubba Smith and Deacon Jones among them.

Don't let the crusty Mets cap fool ya, though, Oscar had a heart of gold, always willing to offer a friend a drink:

Kramer of 'Seinfeld'
Kramer shows off his nine-iron to Jerry on "Seinfeld."
Oscar: You want brown juice or green juice?
Felix: What's the difference?
Oscar: Three weeks.

4. Cosmo Kramer/George Costanza, "Seinfeld" — jacks of all trades
Last year, we recapped the Top Seinfeld Sports Moments — perhaps the only list ever written where there wasn't a debate over No. 1 — and these guys were all over the piece.

How much did sports play a role in their characters? Well, how much time have you got?

George was the Yankees' assistant to the traveling secretary, the guy who persuaded the Bombers to wear cotton uniforms, got George Steinbrenner his daily fix of calzones, bowled over Bette Midler in a softball game, tried to get himself fired in order to become the Mets' general manager, affectionately called Houston Astros execs a bunch of "bastards," provided hitting advice to Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter, and enjoyed a peculiar game of "frolf" (a mix of frisbee and golf).

Kramer, not to be outdone, was a ball "boy" at the U.S. Open, promised a sick kid two Paul O'Neill home runs, hit a golf ball into a whale's blow hole, painted a letter on his bare chest to support the D-E-V-I-L-S, went high-and-tight to a plate-crowding Joe Pepitone at fantasy camp, decked Mickey Mantle in an ensuing fracas, played the ponies, preferred Canadian football over the NFL, and convinced a softball teammate to dump a bucket of Gatorade on Marty Benson, the owner of the comedy club they were playing for. (The Gatorade, mixed with cold weather, gave Benson fatal pneumonia.)

Al Bundy
Polk High's "Touchdown Bundy" remembers the good ole days on "Married ... With Children."
3. Al Bundy, "Married ... With Children" — Polk high school football star
Ask anyone to name the greatest athletes in the history of high school sports and you'll hear some familiar names: Lew Alcindor, Jim Ryun, Emmitt Smith and, yes, Al Bundy.

"Touchdown Bundy" to be exact. The finest fullback in the land, MVP of Polk's city championship team, and ball carrier of four scores in the title game.

He would go on to be Shoe Salesman of the Year in 1968, a faithful consumer of Aurora White toilet-paper and viewer of his favorite television show, "Psycho Dad."

With credentials like that, is it any wonder his No. 33 Panthers jersey is readily available online and can be spotted at Halloween parties near you?

2. Charlie Brown, "Peanuts" — incompetent placekicker/pitcher
He made a name for himself in newspapers — debuting with the rest of the Peanuts gang in 1950 — but there isn't anyone in America who didn't root for Chuck on TV whenever he lined up to kick a football or took the mound for his baseball team. Each and every time ... good grief! ... that dastardly Lucy would swipe away the pigskin, or Charlie would give up a rocket base hit that knocked him off the mound. (Except for the time he developed "Little Leaguer's Elbow," and Linus had to step in.)

But you know what they say about good things coming to those who wait. In a 1981 TV special titled, "It's Magic, Charlie Brown," our favorite blockhead is made invisible by Snoopy, and he finally kicks a ball from under Lucy's hold. Laces out, of course.

Chuck's finest moment, however, came in a March 30, 1993, strip. In his final at-bat of the season, 43 years into his baseball career, Charlie Brown crushed his first home run. And a game-winner at that.

Not just a participant, Charlie was also a fan, and his favorite player was Joe Shlabotnik, who was demoted to the minors after hitting .004 over an entire season.

Sam Malone's jersey
Everybody knew his name. Former Red Sox pitcher Sam Malone ran the best bar in town.
1. Sam Malone, "Cheers" — Red Sox relief pitcher
They called him "Mayday" during his days coming out of the pen, sporting No. 16 (as did Jim Lonborg, the real-life subject of a picture that hangs at Cheers) and often a hangover. Instead of putting out fires, though, he burned down the whole street, and his career lasted just five seasons. His thirst for booze waned, his thirst for women did not, and ol' Sammy ran the best damn bar in television history (with apologies to the Regal Beagle).

In an especially memorable sports-related episode titled "Bar Wars," Wade Boggs drops by for an autograph session, as a goodwill gesture from their rivals at Gary's Old Towne Tavern. The Cheers gang is not buying it, and that leads to this initial exchange:

Boggs: Hi, I'm Wade Boggs.
Norm: Yeah, pal, and I'm Babe Ruth.
Cliff: And I'm Dizzy Dean.
Woody: I'm Woody Boyd.

Honorable mentions:
Ken Reeves — "The White Shadow," coach
Hayden Fox — "Coach," er, coach
Mark Cooper — "Hanging With Mr. Cooper," coach
Drederick Tatum — "The Simpsons," boxer
George Owens— "Mr. Belvedere," sports writer

Paul Katcher is a freelance writer based in New York City. He welcomes questions, comments and web links at pkatcher@mindspring.com.