The Cafe 101: The 2nd Course

Sports Heaven's most exclusive restaurant is the Cafe 101. As the name suggests there are only 101 tables, each reserved for the greatest to don that number.

Imagine there’s a sports heaven;
It’s easy if you try.
Where sports’ greatest legends
Depart to when they die.

Imagine all the athletes, of past and present day.

Now imagine a Cafe;
It’s not that hard to do.
There’s only 101 tables;
It’s open to a select few.

Imagine all the athletes, hoping to get a seat.

You may say I’m a dreamer;
But I’m not the only one.
Deciding the greatest athletes by number;
Who get to enter the Cafe 101.

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In our first course I took on the challenge of seating tables 7, 30, 59, and 88.  This week I take on two pretty difficult tasks as I have to take on Table #10, a number that is sacred to soccer and #80, a number donned by some of the greatest wide receivers of all time.  If you would like to read my previous Cafe 101 post please use the link above.  So without further ado, let’s look at four more tables at the Cafe 101.

TABLE

PELE

Forward, Brazil National Team, Santos, & New York Cosmos (1956-1977)
3x World Cup Champion, 2x Roca Cup Winner, 1958 FIFA Silver Boot, 1958 FIFA Silver Ball, 1970 FIFA Golden Ball,  FIFA Player of the Century – 1999, UNICEF Football Player of the Century – 1999

I was told that when I went with #10 I was going to have to choose a soccer player.  The #10 is sacred in the sport of soccer but the reason it’s so sacred is the only player to have 3 World Cup medals – Pele.  While my favorite #10 is Fran Tarkenton and a lot of great athletes have worn this number, Table #10 is about “Who is the greatest soccer player of all time?” and in my opinion that is Pele.   Aside from his championship pedigree, his 1281 goals in 1363 games is still a record for most all-time.  In baseball we often talk about the 5-tool baseball player as that rare guy who can do “EVERYTHING”, well Pele was a 5-tool soccer star.  He could dribble, he could pass, he could shoot, he could head, and he could score.  Not only was he named the soccer player of the century; he was named by the Athlete of the Century by Reuters and the International Olympic Committee.  While I thought for awhile about this table, when I think #10 I think Pele and I think most other sports fans do as well.   He is so well-respected that multiple countries around the world have depicted him on their postage stamps.  I’m no expert on the game of soccer and while some may consider Maradona, Zidane, or one day in the future Lionel Messi – I still believe Pele to be the greatest soccer player of all time.

RUNNER-UP: ZINEDINE ZIDANE, Midfielder, Cannes, Bordeaux, Juventus, Real Madrid, & French National Team (1988-2006)

ON THE WAITING LIST:  Ron Santo, Phil Rizzuto, Mookie Blaylock (College), Andre Dawson, Michele Platini, Diego Maradona, Walt Frazier, Guy LaFleur, Wayne Rooney, Zico, Vince Young (College), Dennis Rodman, Maurice Cheeks, Fran Tarkenton, Michelle Akers, Tim Hardaway, Nancy Lieberman, Eli Manning, & Marti Vieria de Silva

TOO SOON TO TELL:  DeSean Jackson, Adam Jones, Santonio Holmes, Vernon Wells, Matt Flynn, Landon Donovan & Lionel Messi

TABLE

JENNIE FINCH

Starting Pitcher, Arizona Wildcats, USA National Team, & Chicago Bandits (1999-2010)
2004 Olympic Gold Medalist, 2008 Olympic Silver Medalist, Most Outstanding Player – 2001 College World Series,  2001 National Player of the Year, 3x All-American,  2001 College World Series National Champion, 2x World Cup Champion, National Pro-Fastpitch Co-Pitcher of the Year – 2005

There are many great athletes who have worn the #27.  Many immediately think of Carlton Fisk or Juan Marichal in baseball.  They think of Scott Niedermayer in hockey and Eddie George or Steve Atwater in football.  There are a lot of current stars in sports who don 27 but I feel like the greatest athlete to have worn 27 is Jennie Finch.  I understand that my knowledge of the sport of softball is limited and she is from my generation but the more I talk to those who follow the sport, watch highlights, and read, I am convinced that Jennie Finch is the greatest all-around softball player in the history of the game.   She’s always been a winner – she won one national championship in college, has two Olympic medals, and won two World Cups.

As a college pitcher she set an NCAA record with 60 straight wins shattering the previous mark of 50.   Over a four year college career she won 119 games and struck out 1,028 batters including going 32-0 in her junior year.    She had a 1.07 career ERA in college, and a 0.42 career ERA as a member of the USA National Team.  Her pitch was 71 mph (the equivalent of a 98 mph pitch in baseball) and she threw it consistently.  While I could not find an exact number of no-hitters and perfect games she pitched, I do still remember when she threw back-to-back-to-back no-hitters in the 2000 College World Series.   On top of her pitching prowess she was also great hitter,  batting over .300 each year of college and for the Chicago Bandits in 2005.    She even put together a 14-game hitting streak her sophomore year of college.  Yes, I feel pretty confident that Jennie deserves Table #27.

RUNNER-UP (TIE): CARLTON FISK, Catcher, Boston Red Sox & Chicago White Sox (1969, 1971 – 1993) & SCOTT NIEDERMAYER, Defenceman, New Jersey Devils & Anaheim Ducks (1991-2010)

ON THE WAITING LIST:  Scott Niedermayer, Juan Marichal, “Catfish” Hunter, Jeremy Roenick, Vladimir Guerrero, Eddie George, Jack Twyman, Fred McGriff, & Steve Atwater

TOO SOON TO TELL: Ray Rice, Lagarette Blount, Placido Polanco, & Brandon Jacobs

TABLE

JACK HAM

Outside Linebacker, Pittsburgh Steelers (1971-1982)
4x Super Bowl Champion, 8x Pro Bowler, 6x 1st Team All-Pro, 2x 2nd team All-Pro, NFL 1970’s All-Decade Team, NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, Hall of Fame – 1988

I’ve had a number of my readers ask how I decide what four numbers I am going to do for each article.  It’s simple really, I use a Random Number Generator to select one number between 00 and 23, 24 and 48, 49 and 74, and 75 and 99.  When I was given these four numbers I didn’t realize that #59 would be so tough.  I immediately thought of Jack Ham but then I was reminded of London Fletcher – a largely underrated linebacker who has better stats than the much-heralded Ray Lewis with more Super Bowl appearances meanwhile collecting more tackles than any other player between 2000 and 2009.  But when I compared the two, I had to go with Jack Ham who is considered by many to be the greatest outside linebacker the NFL has ever seen.

During his career, Ham had 25 career sacks (unofficially), 32 interceptions, and 21 fumble recoveries.  He was a leader of the famed “Steel Curtain” defense and was known for his speed and ferocious tackling ability.  What he’s most remembered for though is being a highly intelligent football player who rarely missed an assignment or was out of place.  Many players in his time often noted how “you couldn’t trick Jack [Ham]”.  He is one of the greatest defensive players the NFL has ever seen and deserves Table #59.

RUNNER-UP: LONDON FLETCHER, St. Louis Rams, Buffalo Bills, & Washington Redskins (1998 – Present)

ON THE WAITING LIST:  Seth Joyner, Alex Agase, Chad LaRose, & Todd Jones

TOO SOON TO TELL: John Axford, DeMeco Ryans, Aaron Curry, & Felix Hernandez

TABLE

JERRY RICE

Wide Receiver, San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, & Seattle Seahawks (1985 – 2004)
3x Super Bowl Champion, 13x Pro-Bowl Selection, 12x All-Pro Selection, 2x AP Offensive Player of the Year, 3x NFC Offensive Player of the Year, NFL 1980’s All-Decade Team, NFL 1990’s All-Decade Team, Hall of Fame – 2010

There have been a number of great athletes who have worn #80 but this was without a doubt going to Jerry Rice, not only the greatest wide receiver of all-time but to many – he’s the greatest football player of all time.   He holds the record for career receptions with 1,549 (445 ahead of Tony Gonzalez), as well as receiving yards with 22,895 and total non-passing touchdowns with 208.  From 1985 – 1999 he had 1000 yards receiving each season and holds nearly every receiving record of significance.  Jerry Rice is such an obvious choice for this number that there really isn’t much to say here.

RUNNER-UP: CRIS CARTER, Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, & Miami Dolphins (1987-2002)

ON THE WAITING LIST:  Steve Largent, Henry Ellard, Kellen Winslow, Rick Bryan, Andre Johnson, Isaac Bruce, Nik Antropov, Ronaldinho, & Donald Driver

TOO SOON TO TELL: Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow, Jr., Jimmy Graham, & Victor Cruz

Click photo to enlarge the seating chart for Sports Heaven's most exclusive restaurant

Will your favorite athletes be able to get a table at the Cafe 101? Keep reading to find out!  If you have any questions, comments, or snide remarks please comment below or tweet them to @can_of_corn!

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The Legacy of a Freak

According to reports that came out earlier today, Randy Moss has officially filed his retirement papers with the NFL.  While that does not mean we will never see Randy Moss on an NFL playing field again (his teammate of a month last season could tell you that); it does at least raise the possibility.   This is however, a player that already took a two year sabbatical in Oakland only to come back to the game with the greatest receiving season of all time in 2007, so I personally have a hard time believing he is done.  As a Vikings fan, I would love to see him finish the career the way it started – in purple, in the Metrodome, reviving the career of an aged former Eagles’ quarterback while passing the 15,000 yard and 1000 reception plateau.  I really do believe that Moss would still offer an upgrade at the wide receiver position to at least half of the teams in the NFL.   However, if Moss is indeed retired, what is his legacy?  How can I even begin to describe the player whose talent is indescribable?

Over a 13 year career, Randy Moss wowed fans with his athleticism.

The Viking’s Offensive Coordinator during Randy Moss’s rookie year, Brian Billick, once stated that Moss had a combination of height, speed, hands, and leaping ability that the NFL had never before seen and might never see again.  He went on to say that, “Every field or court he’s ever stepped on to play whatever game he was going to play, he was the best athlete.”   Patriots coach Bill Bellichick has referred to Moss as one of the most intelligent and greatest players that he had ever coached.   There is no doubt that Randy Moss is an incredibly gifted athlete and one of the greatest receivers to ever play the game but how will he be remembered?

I find it next to impossible to accurately describe the athletic capabilities of Randy Moss.  Sure I could throw out his 153 touchdown receptions, 14,858 yards receiving, and his 954 career receptions.  I could talk about his 29 career touchdowns of more than 50 yards or his 64 100 yard games.   I could mention that he has the 5th most touchdowns all-time of any non-quarterback.  I could remind you of his rookie record of 17 receiving touchdowns in 1998 or his all-time single season record of 23 receiving touchdowns in 2007.   But if I really want to describe the physical presence and game-changing ability of Randy Moss, I really need to only write one sentence:

On the two highest scoring offenses in NFL history (1998 Vikings and 2007 Patriots), Randy Moss was the highest scoring player.

I am usually not so good at being that straight to the point but that’s the simplest way to describe Moss’s athletic prowess.   Now in his “retirement” many have raised concern that Randy Moss was “not as great as he could have been”.   I would agree with that assessment.  Jerry Rice was twice the wide receiver Randy Moss is with only half the talent.  However Rice did not change the game quite like Randy did.  If indeed Moss was not at 100% for the majority of his career, than his numbers are even more staggering and an even stronger testament to his incredible ability.

I still remember the first time that I watched “the Freak” play on TV.   It was Week 5 of the 1998 NFL season and my parents let me stay up for Monday Night Football  to watch the Vikings, play against my favorite quarterback, Brett Favre, and the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.   I remember that first possession as Randall Cunningham took the snap and threw the ball deep down the field to Randy Moss and he almost effortlessly reeled it in and ran for a 75 yard touchdown.  I had never seen anything quite like it.

Cris Carter had always been my favorite player growing up, and still is, and while all Carter did, “was catch touchdowns”, I knew that he could not do what this kid Randy had just done.  The 75 yard touchdown pass was called back due to an offensive holding call but it didn’t seem to hurt as Randy Moss would have 5 more receptions in the game for 190 yards and 2 touchdowns leading the Vikings to a perfect 5-0 record.  While many knew that Moss was special at the time, they had no idea he had just changed the entire landscape of the NFL.

It is my belief that the NFL has had five major turning points in the  Super Bowl era:

  1. The AFL’s New York Jets’ upset of the NFL’s Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III which led to the AFL-NFL merger (1969)
  2. Hank Stram introducing the league to Gatorade and having it on the sidelines in the Kansas City Chiefs shocking route of the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV (1970)
  3. Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson of the New York Giants sacking Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann from his blind side on Monday Night Football and ending his career (1985)
  4. Randy Moss’s Week 5  dominating performance at Lambeau Field on Monday Night Football (1998)
  5. The re-introduction of instant replay and the introduction of coach’s challenges into the NFL (1999)

Just to be perfectly clear, I am suggesting that, like many of his acrobatic catches, Randy Moss singlehandedly changed professional football.  In the same way that Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson changed baseball, Wayne Gretzky changed hockey, and Michael Jordan changed basketball – Randy Moss changed the NFL.

First off, I really do believe that the 5th major turning point I mention (re-introduction of instant replay) was due in part to the fact that nobody could believe that a rookie wide receiver was able to leap above three defenders, catch the ball, come down with both feet inbounds, and shake off those same three defenders to run for a touchdown.  I have seen the footage of Moss’s Monday Night Football game against the Packers and his Thanksgiving football game against the Cowboys dozens of times, and 13 years later – I am still amazed.

His greater impact though is that he changed the way the game was played.  Brian Billick and Dennis Green (Vikings Head Coach 1992 – 2001) were two of the best offensive minds in the NFL during the 1990’s and both have mentioned how when it came to Randy Moss they had to forget everything they thought they knew about offense because when it came to Randy Moss, the same rules of offense just did not apply.   After his Week 5 coming out party on national television, teams everywhere were aware of what he could do and they still could not stop him.   Traditional defensive schemes did not seem to work.

Teams would put two, three, even four defenders at times on Moss and he would still find the endzone.  If he had not been playing opposite field from one of the greatest possession receivers of all time, they might have defended the Freak even more.

Following an impressive Week 5 against the Green Bay Packers, Moss would face the Packers again in Week 12 at the Metrodome.  The Packers were able to slow Moss down some but not by much.  The Vikings won 28 – 14 and Randy Moss had 8 receptions for 153 yards and a touchdown.   His statistical line against Green Bay  (who had appeared in the previous two Super Bowls)  in 1998 was better than some wide receivers had for the entire season.

As a result the following season the Green Bay Packers used their first four draft picks on defensive players – a free safety, two cornerbacks, and a defensive tackle.   The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, another divisional opponent, used the majority of their draft picks on the defensive players who would help lead them to a Super Bowl victory a few years later.   Never before had one player so obviously affected the draft choices of another team.

When I look at the NFL today, I see it being commonplace for safeties like Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed to play “over the top” to prevent the big play.  I see the contracts that have been paid to “shut-down” cornerbacks like Nnamdi Asomugha and Darelle Revis.   I assure you that when Asomugha receives the first check of his new contract, he had better send a thank you note to Randy Moss.   Because like Lawrence Taylor made a strong left tackle a necessity, Randy Moss bolstered the importance of safeties and cornerbacks.

The NFL that we watch today is very much a passing league with a lot more deep passing routes than previously seen.  Much like Roger Bannister’s four-minute mile, it took Randy Moss showing the NFL that you could succeed with a pass heavy offense before it really became a trend in the NFL.  Wide receivers like Braylon Edwards, Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, and Reggie Wayne have had success in offenses that were developed as a result of Randy Moss.

Antics like mooning the fans at Green Bay distract many from his athletic accolades

If Randy Moss has indeed retired, he will surely have a press conference.  Knowing him, he will even interview himself.  And over the next few days phrases like “straight cash homey” and mentions of “squirting referees”, “bashing police cars”, “mooning fans”, and “screaming at caterers” are sure to be mentioned when talking about his legacy.   These antics offended many fans and are sure to affect how Moss is remembered.

We will be reminded of how he famously told us all that, “I play when I want to play.”  And the fact of the matter is, right now, nobody’s offering him enough straight cash so he does not want to play.  But when he did play, it was like nothing we have ever seen before.  Offensive gurus had to create new playbooks,  defenses had to create new schemes, and teams had to change their entire drafting strategy.

And at the end of the day – that, more than anything, is the Freak’s legacy.

Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks?  Let me hear ’em!