Cafe 101: The 7th 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.

<< 6th COURSE

Well after a long absence highlighted by the postseason push of the NBA and NBA D-League seasons combined with the need to get mock NFL drafts in the hands of all the football fans who read this blog, Cafe 101 is back!  And back in glaring fashion!  Since it’s been awhile you may recall that the premise is that in sports heaven, the Cafe 101 is the most exclusive restaurant with only 101 tables, each table numbered 00 – 99 and reserved for the best athlete to have ever worn that number.  When I went to the random number generator I knew this would be a great article when it gave me #12 but then when the next number I was given was #33?  I knew this post may have the most firepower and debate of any Cafe 101 yet.   Of course these are two numbers that are pretty popular across all of sport and have been worn by the best of the best of the best.  Getting either table will be no easy feat.  Additionally we have some good debate at #63 and #85 so let’s get right to it and see who deserves each table.

TABLE

TOM BRADY

Quarterback, New England Patriots (2000 – Present)

3x Super Bowl Champion, 2x Super Bowl MVP, 5x AFC Champion, 2x NFL MVP, 3x AFC Offensive Player of the Year, 2x NFL Offensive Player of the Year, 7x Pro-Bowler, 2x 1st Team All-Pro, 2nd Team All-Pro (2005), 2009 Comeback Player of the Year, NFL All-Decade Team (2000′s)

Being a fan of Midwestern sports teams (for the most part) and living just two hours from Boston and 30 minutes from Boston’s greatest propaganda machine ESPN I have grown tired of the hype that surrounds Boston sports teams and athletes.  If Boston has a king though, that man is Tom Brady.  Others may argue with my giving him the honor of being the greatest to ever wear #12 and yes you can argue for others like Terry Bradshaw, Thierry Henry, Jim Kelly, Roger Staubach, etc. but let’s just take a moment to look at what Tom Brady has accomplished.

When I was a child (though they lost the Super Bowl when I was 1 and again when I was 11) the New England Patriots were a joke of an NFL franchise.  Even though they had a championship drought unlike any other, the Boston Red Sox instilled more hope in Boston fans than the Patriots ever would.  Then comes along Tom Brady, a 6th round draft pick out of Michigan who nobody ever expected to start but now we all know the story.  It only took him 131 starts to win 100 games (the fastest to 100 of any QB in NFL history).  His .780 winning percentage over the past 13 seasons is the best all time.  He started off his career with 10 consecutive postseason wins (best all-time).  He has gone undefeated at his home field 5 times in his career.  He threw for 50 touchdowns in 2007 which is an NFL record and his regular season records are unreal.

He is tied for the most postseason wins of all time with Joe Montana.  He is tied for most Super Bowl appearances by a starting quarterback with John Elway (5).  And he is just 1 Super Bowl win away from tying Joe Montana & Terry Bradshaw’s record of 4.   In my opinion, with just one more AFC Championship (although a Super Bowl win would cement this) we might have to consider Tom Brady the greatest quarterback of all-time.  There’s no doubt he is already in the top 5.   While I am not a Tom Brady fan, this table is all about the best and Tom Brady is the greatest athlete to ever wear #12 and he deserves this table.

RUNNER-UP: TERRY BRADSHAW, Pittsburgh Steelers (1970-1983)

ON THE WAITING LIST:  Jim Kelly, Thierry Henry, Dwight Howard, Roger Staubach, Kenny Stabler, Bob Griese, Joe Namath, George Yardley, Dick Barnett, John Stockton, Jarome Iginla, Stan Smyl, Simon Gagne, Colt McCoy (College), Aaron Rodgers, Wade Boggs, Steve Alford (College), Oscar Robertson (College), Roberto Alomar, Randall Cunningham, & Andrew Luck (College)

TOO SOON TO TELL: Andrew Luck (NFL), Colt McCoy (NFL), Percy Harvin, Lamarcus Aldridge, Marques Colston, A.J. Pierzynski, Eric Staal, & Darrius Heyward-Bey

TABLE

KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR

Center, Milwaukee Bucks (1969-1975) & Los Angeles Lakers (1975-1989)

6x NBA Champion, 6x NBA MVP, 19x NBA All-Star, 2x NBA Finals MVP, 10x All-NBA 1st Team, 5x All-NBA 2nd Team, 5x NBA All-Defensive 1st Team, 6x NBA All-Defensive 2nd Team, 1970 NBA Rookie of the Year, NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team, 3x NCAA Men’s Basketball Champion at UCLA, 3x NCAA Tournament MVP, Naismith College Player of the Year – 1969, No 33. retired by the Bucks and the Lakers, Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Inductee

Like the #12 there is a lot of debate as to who the best to ever wear the #33 is.  And as with #12, where the debate primarily came down to one sport (football), the debate with #33 mainly comes down to basketball.  While for some this would be a difficult decision for me it was pretty easy to give the go ahead to Kareem for Table #33.  After all I believe that, wait a minute let me make this it’s own line.

In my opinion, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the greatest basketball player in history.

There, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way you can understand why I had to go with Kareem.  When someone is the greatest to ever play their respective sport, you have to give them the nod for the table.   Let’s take a look at what Kareem accomplished.  First off, he won an astonishing 3 NCAA Championships in his 4 years at UCLA and on all three occasions was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.  He was the first ever winner of the Naismith College Player of the Year award in 1969.   Abdul-Jabbar was so dominant in college that the NCAA banned the slam dunk after 1967 and did not bring it back for nearly a decade.  He led the Lakers to 5 NBA Championships (and the Bucks to 1) and was twice named the MVP of the NBA Finals.  He was named NBA MVP a record 6 times and to this day is the NBA’s all-time points leader.  And of course who could forget his trademark “Sky hook” that he could shoot with either hand and was virtually impossible to defend.  While many basketball greats have worn #33, I must tip my hat to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

RUNNER-UP (TIE): HONUS WAGNER, Louisville Colonels/Pittsburgh Pirates (1897- 1917) & LARRY BIRD, Boston Celtics (1979-1992)

WAITING LIST: Patrick Ewing, Tony Dorsett, Scottie Pippen, Sammy Baugh, Patrick Roy, Roger Craig, Brian Jordan, Stacey Nuveman, Alonzo Mourning, Henrik Sedin, Grant Hill & Shaquille O’Neal (College)

TO SOON TO TELL: Cliff Lee, Michael Turner, Nick Swisher, & Justin Morneau

TABLE

GENE UPSHAW

Guard, Oakland Raiders (1967-1981)

2x Super Bowl Champion, 1967 AFL Champion,  6x NFL Pro Bowl Selection, 3x All-AFL, 3x First team All-Pro, 1970s NFL All-Decade Team, Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductee

Gene Upshaw is one of the greatest guards of all-time and he is the only player in NFL history to play in a Super Bowl with the same team in three different decades.  Upshaw was one of the greatest guards to ever play the game and for 14 years was the cornerstone of a great Raiders offensive line.   It was his domination of Hall of Famer (and owner of Table #88 at the Cafe 101) Alan Page in Super Bowl XI that allowed the Raiders to rush for over 260 yards and win their first title.    He shut down the Eagles’ vaunted defensive line in Super Bowl XV to help the Raiders win another championship.  Upshaw was one of the greatest Division II players of all time and the annual lineman of the year award in Division II is named for him.

RUNNER-UP: WILLIE LANIER, Kansas City Chiefs (1967 – 1977)

ON THE WAITING LIST: Dermontti Dawson, Y.A. Tittle, Mike Munchak, Lee Roy Selmon, and Jeff Saturday

TOO SOON TO TELL: Mike Pouncey

TABLE

JACK YOUNGBLOOD

Defensive End, Los Angeles Rams (1971 – 1984)

7x Pro-Bowl Selection, 5x 1st team All-Pro, 3x 2nd team All-Pro, 7x 1st team All-NFC, 2x 2nd Team All-NFC, 1975 NFL Defensive Lineman of the Year, 2x NFC Defensive Player of the Year, 1971 All-Rookie Team, NFL 1970’s All-Decade Team, St. Louis Rams #85 retired, NFL Hall of Fame inductee, College Football Hall of Fame

When it came to table #85, I knew I had to give it to Jack Youngblood.  There are a lot of great receivers in the game today who wear #85, but Youngblood is one of the greatest pass rushers of all time.  In 202 career games, he had 151.5 sacks.  Not only was he a great pro but he was also one of the best players in the history of Florida Gators football.  In his first full season as a starter with the Rams, he amassed 70 tackles in 11 games played.  In 1973, the Rams were the best defense in the NFL and Youngblood led the way with 16.5 sacks.  The following season the Rams still had the best defense in the NFL.  Few recall that in the 1970’s, the NFL championships were almost always between a combination of the Rams, Cowboys, and Vikings.   Youngblood’s stellar play is what allowed the Rams to have the success they did.  What Youngblood will always be remembered though is his toughness.  During the 1979 postseason, Jack Youngblood played the entire playoffs and Super Bowl with a broken left leg.  No doubt that Youngblood is the best to ever wear #85.

RUNNER-UP: NICK BUONICONTI, Boston Patriots & Miami Dolphins (1962 – 1976)

ON THE WAITING LIST: Mark Duper, Chuck Hughes, Chad Ochocinco, & Derrick Mason

TOO SOON TO TELL: Greg Jennings, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Vernon Davis, & Antonio Gates

Agree? Disagree? Tweet us @can_of_corn using the hashtag #Cafe101 to tell us your picks!

Click 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?  Please post below or tweet any questions, comments, or snide remarks to @can_of_corn! Thanks for reading!


 

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Cafe 101: The 6th 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.

<< 5th COURSE

This week I got an interesting group of numbers and had to spend quite a bit of time debating where I was going to go with my first two numbers of the day.  I know there will be complaints about my #29 pick but it’s important to remember that some athletes had more than one jersey number and while they did not get in at one number, they may still make it in another.  Without further ado, the greatest athletes to ever wear 11, 29, 60, & 79.

TABLE

MARK MESSIER

Centre, Indianapolis Racers, Cincinnati Stingers, Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers, & Vancouver Canucks (1978 – 2004)
6x Stanley Cup Champion, 15x All-Star, 2x Hart Memorial Trophy Winner, 2x Lester B. Pearson Award Winner, 1983-84 Conn Smythe Trophy Winner, Edmonton Oilers Team Captain, New York Rangers Team Captain,  NHL Hall of Fame – 2007

While I did spend some time thinking about #11 my thoughts always came back to Mark Messier – one of the greatest hockey players of all time.  Mark Messier was a 6x NHL Champion and a 15x All-Star.  Over the course of his 26 year long career that started in the now-defunct WHA Messier scored 1,887 points (2nd most all-time behind Wayne Gretzky) and played 1,756 regular season games (2nd most all-time behind Gordie Howe).  Messier is the only person in North American sports to have captained two separate teams to a championship in their respective sport (Oilers and Rangers).  Not just one of the greatest hockey players of all time, many consider Messier among the best leaders (in any sport) of all-time for what he brought to the ice and his team.  He was the type of player that made everyone around him better and it was obvious that he should get Table #11.

RUNNER-UP: ISIAH THOMAS, Detroit Pistons (1981 – 1994)

ON THE WAITING LIST: Sparky Anderson, Drew Bledsoe, Carl Hubbell, Elvin Hayes, Luis Aparicio, Yao Ming, Larry Fitzgerald, Matt Leinart (College), Bobby Allison, Ned Jarrett, Norm VanBrocklin, Barry Larkin,  Jerry Lucas (College), Phil Simms, Edgar Martinez, Gilbert Perreault, Paul Waner, “Lefty” Gomez, & Bob McAdoo

TOO SOON TO TELL: Alex Smith, Jimmy Rollins, Anthony Gonzalez, C.J. Sapong, & Carlos Tevez

TABLE

ROD CAREW

1st Baseman/2nd Baseman, Minnesota Twins & California Angels (1967-1985)
18x All-Star, 1977 AL MVP, 1967 AL Rookie of the Year, 1972 AL Batting Champion, 1977 Roberto Clemente Award, Hall of Fame – 1991

#29 was a toughie because there were so many ways I could’ve gone with this.   I could’ve chosen one of the greatest goalies of all time, two of the best pitchers to ever throw in the major leagues, or one of the greatest running backs ever.  Instead I chose a player who is one of the all-time great second basemen, a member of the 3,000 hit club and possibly the greatest player in the history of two different Major League franchises.  I know that there will be a lot of debate with this choice (do yourself kindly to remember there are some athletes eligible for multiple jersey numbers) but in my mind Table #29 belongs to Rod Carew.

One of the biggest factors that leads to Rod Carew’s astounding career is his longevity and how long he played at a high level.  His careers with the Twins and Angels were both so impressive that his #29 has been retired by both ball clubs.   Carew burst on to the scene in 1967 wrapping up the Rookie of the Year award and 10 years later he was the AL MVP.  Between his two different teams, he appeared in a staggering 18 MLB All-Star games.   One of my favorite Rod Carew statistics is that in 1972 he batted .318 which was good enough to win him the batting title.  Oddly enough, that was the only year of his career where he did not have a home run.  To this day, Carew is the only player to win a batting title without having hit a homerun.   Carew finished his career with over 3,000 hits, over 1,000 RBIs, and a .328 batting average and was only the 22nd player to be elected into the MLB Hall of Fame on the first ballot.  He holds both the Twins’ and Angels’ records for on-base percentage, holds the Twins’ record for career batting average (and is 2nd in this category for the Angels’).  What I find amazing about all of these things is that Carew’s career could’ve started 3-4 years earlier if not for a commitment to the Marine Corps and probably would have lasted 2-3 years longer if Major League owners had not conspired to force him into retirement in 1985 (not conspiracy theory – it’s been proven and a judge awarded Carew nearly $800,000 in 1995 as a result) and then his numbers may have just been ridiculous – can you say potential 4,000 hit club member?  I gave a lot of thought into who deserved this table but for me, it kept coming back to Rod Carew.

RUNNER-UP: KEN DRYDEN, Goaltender, Montreal Canadiens (1970 – 1979)

ON THE WAITING LIST: Eric Dickerson, Satchel Paige, John Smoltz, & Paul Silas

TOO SOON TO TELL: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, DeMarco Murray, Eric Berry, Roy Helu, LeSean McCoy, Chris Ivory, Ryan Clowe, Michael Bush, & Andre Fleury

TABLE

OTTO GRAHAM

Quarterback, Cleveland Browns (1946-1955)
3x NFL Champion, 4x AAFC Champion, 5x Pro Bowl Selection, 9x All-Pro Selection, 1x Second Team All-Pro Selection, NFL 75th Anniversary Team, NFL 1950’s All-Decade Team, 3x NFL MVP, 1950 Pro Bowl MVP, 2x AAFC MVP, 1955 Hickok Belt Winner, Hall of Fame – 1965.
1946 National Basketball League Champion

While there are not many athletes across sports who wore the #60 this was no easy task.  It came down to Otto Graham, who some NFL historians consider the greatest quarterback of all time, and Chuck Bednarik, the last true two-way player in the NFL.  Both are great but I had to take Otto Graham.  In the AAFC and later in the NFL, Otto Graham took the Browns to the title game in 10 straight seasons, he won 7 of those.   He won every championship in the brief history of the AAFC and then when the Browns joined the NFL, they won it all in the very first season.  His 86.6 QB Rating is among the best all-time.  He finished his career (when football was a running game) with 23, 584 yards passing and 174 passing touchdowns.  His 57-13-1 record as an NFL starter over 6 NFL seasons represents the highest winning percentage (.810) of any quarterback in NFL history.  In addition to his Hall of Fame football career, he also briefly played for the Rochester Royals in the National Basketball League and helped them win the 1946 Championship.   There’s not a doubt in my mind that Graham was the best athlete to ever don #60.

RUNNER-UP: CHUCK BEDNARIK, Linebacker/Center, Philadelphia Eagles (1949-1962)

ON THE WAITING LIST: Bill Willis, Walt Kirk, Scott Schoneweis, & Jose Theodore.

TOO SOON TO TELL: D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Jason Demers, & Kevin Poulin

TABLE

HARVEY MARTIN

Defensive End, Dallas Cowboys (1973 – 1983)
Super Bowl XII Champion, Super Bowl XII MVP, 4x Pro Bowler, 1x 1st Team All-Pro, 3x 2nd Team All-Pro, NFL 1970s All-Decade Team, NFL Defensive Player of the Year – 1977

Like #60, not a whole lot of athletes have worn #79 but it has been worn by some great NFL players.  While Bob St. Claire and Roosevelt Brown deserve some consideration – I had to go with Harvey Martin who was perhaps, the best pass rusher of the 1970s.  He was a very large factor in the first Super Bowl Win in Dallas Cowboys history which led to him being the co-MVP of that Super Bowl.   As the cornerstone of the vaunted Doomsday Defense he had 114 sacks in his 11 season career.  He led the Cowboys in sacks in 7 of those seasons.  Table #79 has to go to Harvey Martin in my eyes.

RUNNER-UP: ROOSEVELT BROWN, Offensive Tackle, New York Giants (1953 – 1965)

ON THE WAITING LIST: Bob St. Claire

TOO SOON TO TELL: Andrei Markov

Agree? Disagree? Tweet @can_of_corn with hashtag #Cafe101 to tell us your picks!

Click 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! Courtesy of Devan Dignan+


Cafe 101: The 3rd 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.

<< PREVIOUS POST

As a sports fan, I love the idea of a paradise where all athletes are in their prime.  A place where we can watch Sandy Koufax and Roy Halladay pitch to Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.  A place where Terry Bradshaw can throw the deep ball to Randy Moss and Jerry Rice.  Where Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, and Shaq can all play on the same court.  Where Pele and Lionel Messi can go head to head on the pitch.  So far, Sports Heaven’s most exclusive restaurant has seated 8 (Tables 7, 10, 27, 30, 53, 59, 80, & 88) and today we seat an additional 4.  So without further ado we dive into today’s 4.  Please click the corresponding links above to read previous Cafe 101 posts.

TABLE

AL OLIVER

Outfielder/First Baseman, Pittsburgh Pirates, Texas Rangers, Montreal Expos, San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Dodgers, & Toronto Blue Jays (1968-1985)
1971 World Series Champion, 7x All-Star, 3x Silver Slugger Award Winner, 1982 NL Batting Title

With there being so few athletes who have worn the number 0 (let alone GREAT athletes), this was one of the easiest tables to snare at the Cafe 101.  Of course most people think of Agent Zero, Gilbert Arenas, himself when they see this number and while Arenas has had a solid career I had to take MLB journeyman Al Oliver.

Al Oliver had a great career.  He was the runner-up for the Rookie of the Year award, was a big part of the 1971 world champion Pittsburgh Pirates, and his 1982 batting title shows that he performed over a long period of time.   In 1980, as a member of the Texas Rangers, he set an MLB record with 21 total bases in a doubleheader.  Al Oliver ranks in the top 50 in several MLB categories including hits (2,743), games played (2,368), total bases (4,083), RBIs (1,326), & Extra base hits (825).  Additionally he had a career batting average of .303 and hit 219 home runs in his 18 year career.  There are many who believe he is deserving of induction into the MLB Hall of Fame.  I don’t know about all that but I do believe he is clearly the most deserving of Table #0.

RUNNER-UP: SHAWN MARION, Phoenix Suns, Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors, & Dallas Mavericks (1999-Present)

ON THE WAITING LIST:  Orlando Woolridge & Gilbert Arenas

TOO SOON TO TELL:  Russell Westbrook, Bismack Biyombo, Mike Bibby, & Enes Kanter

TABLE

MAGIC JOHNSON

Point Guard, Los Angeles Lakers (1979-1991, 1996)
5x NBA Champion, 1979 NCAA Champion, 1992 Olympic Gold Medalist, 3x NBA MVP, 12x NBA All-Star, 3x NBA Finals MVP, 9x All-NBA First Team, 2x NBA All-Star Game MVP, Basketball Hall of Fame  – 2002

There are many, many, many great athletes who have worn the #32 and I knew this number would be tough and spark a lot of debate; but this table has to go to Magic Johnson – in my opinion, the greatest point guard of all time.   You could even make an argument that he’s the greatest player of all time.  From his college career at Michigan State to his HIV-shortened NBA career with the Lakers, Magic Johnson was always the consummate professional and a winner at every point of his career.  His 11.2 assists per game average is still an NBA record and his rivalry with Larry Bird that started in college is the stuff of legend.  Some of the greatest athletes of all time have worn 32 and in my eyes, Magic was the greatest of the great.

RUNNER-UP: JIM BROWN, Cleveland Browns (1957 – 1965)

ON THE WAITING LIST:  Sandy Koufax, Bill Walton, Elston Howard, Shaquille O’Neal, Julius Erving, Karl Malone, Franco Harris, Marcus Allen, David Beckham, O.J. Simpson, Christian Laettner (College), Edgerrin James, Kevin McHale, & Jimmer Freddette (College)

TOO SOON TO TELL:  Blake Griffin, Maurice Jones-Drew, Josh Hamilton, & Toby Gerhart

TABLE

JERRY KRAMER

Guard/Kicker, Green Bay Packers (1958-1968)
2x Super Bowl Champion, 5x NFL Champion, 5x 1st Team All-Pro, 1x 2nd Team All-Pro, 3x Pro Bowler, 1960’s All-Decade Team, NFL 50th Anniversary Team

It is absolutely shocking to me that Jerry Kramer is not in the Hall of Fame.  In fact, he is the only member of the NFL’s 50th anniversary team not in the Hall of Fame.   When we’re talking about the #64, for me, it came down to two of the greatest guards in the history of the NFL.  It came down to Jerry Kramer and Randall McDaniel.  For me this was tough because it was about a Viking vs. a Packer and while Randall McDaniel is a Hall of Famer and widely regarded as the most versatile offensive lineman of all time, but I have to admit that Kramer is the better guard.   Jerry Kramer was an integral part of the famed “Packer Sweep” that helped lead the Pack to 5 NFL Championships.   His ability to get around the corner helped win the Packers the first two Super Bowls and is a big part of the reason that Jim Taylor is in the Hall of Fame.  His most notable achievement as a blocker is probably leading the way for Bart Starr to score the winning touchdown in the “Ice Bowl”.

Additionally he spent three years as a kicker for the Packers amassing 117 points.  In the 1962 NFL Title Game against the New York Giants, his three field goals and PAT were the difference in a 16-7 Packers victory.  Kramer has been snubbed by the Hall of Fame but he wasn’t about to get snubbed by me.  Table #64 belongs to him.

RUNNER-UP: RANDALL MCDANIEL, Minnesota Vikings/Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1988-2001)

ON THE WAITING LIST:  George Blanda, Jack “Hacksaw” Reynolds, & Y.A. Tittle

TOO SOON TO TELL: David Baas & Anthony Herrera

TABLE

SERGEI FEDOROV

Centre, Washington Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets,  Anaheim Ducks, Detroit Red Wings, CSKA Moscow, Dinamo Minsk, & Metallurg Magnitogorsk (1986 – Present)
3x Stanley Cup Winner, 3x President’s Trophy Winner, 2x Olympic Medalist, 3x Gold Medalist in World Championships,  6x NHL All-Star, NHL All-Rookie Team – 1991, Hart Memorial Trophy – 1994, 2x Frank J. Selke Trophy Winner, Kharlamov Trophy – 2003, Lester B. Pearson Award – 1994

The #91 debate really came down to some great defensive players in their respective sports.  On one hand we had Pistons & Bulls great Dennis Rodman who is one of the greatest defensive players the NBA has ever seen.  On the other we had Sergei Fedorov one of the best defenders and playoff performers to ever grace the ice.  In the end, I had to give the nod to Feds.  Fedorov is a proven winner who proved to be among the best in the world at every stage of his career.  His 1993-94 season is one of the best seasons anyone has ever put together.  He won the Hart, Selke, and Pearson Trophy all in one season.  That would be the equivalent of winning the MVP Award, Defensive Player of the Year Award, and being voted All-Pro unanimously all in one season in the NFL.  It’s absolutely unbelievable. In 1998 he won the Stanley Cup and the Olympic Silver Medal in the same year.

As great as Feds was during the NHL regular season, he was phenomenal during the playoffs.  He is considered by many the greatest playoff performer of all time.  He holds the record for most points in overtime (27).  He is ranked 13th in playoff points, 12th in playoff shorthanded goals, and 8th in playoff assists, and he was the 3rd player to have 4 consecutive 20+ point Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Yep, the Russian Rocket is more than worthy of Table #91.

RUNNER-UP: DENNIS RODMAN, Detroit Pistons, San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, & Dallas Mavericks (1986-2000)

ON THE WAITING LIST:  Kevin Greene

TOO SOON TO TELL: Tamba Hali, Magnus Paajarvi, John Taveres, Justin Tuck, Marc Savard, Cameron Wake,  & Ryan Kerrigan

Agree? Disagree? Tweet @can_of_corn with hashtag #Cafe101 to tell us your picks!

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!

The Legend of Tarzan & The Magnificent Seven

“It is because of Tarz[an Cooper], there was a [Elgin] Baylor, a Wilt [Chamberlain], a Doctor J, and all the others still to come.” ~ Howie Evans, New Amsterdam News, 1977


It’s Hall of Fame week here in Springfield, Massachusetts.  The autograph seekers are in full force, and the Marriott across the street from where I work has already rolled out the red carpet for the likes of Dennis Rodman and Chris Mullins.  In honor of Hall of Fame Week I found it fitting to provide a story about one of basketball’s all-time greats who 35 years ago this week was enshrined here in Springfield, who you have probably never heard of.

The two premier big men of the era - Joe Lapchick (left) of the Original Celtics facing off against Tarzan Cooper (right) of the Harlem Renaissance

He lived in a time when great centers like Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, and Kareem Abdul-Jabar dominated the realm of professional basketball.  He saw Abdul-Jabar’s Skyhook shot and knew of Chamberlain’s 100 point game against the New York Knicks. Yet anytime Joe Lapchick, basketball’s “original big man” who spent nearly 50 years as a player and coach, was asked who was the greatest center of all, his answer was always the same: “Tarzan Cooper was the greatest center that ever played.”

The great player known as Tarzan Cooper was born Charles Theodore Cooper in Newark, Delaware on August 30, 1907. Although not much is known about his childhood, it is known that his parents, Theodore and Evelyn Cooper, moved the family to Philadelphia while Charles was still a young boy. Charles Cooper grew up in a time when baseball was at the pinnacle of American sports culture, but coincidentally, a new phenomenon was sweeping the nation. James Naismith had developed the game of basketball as an indoor winter sport intended to help athletes maintain their conditioning throughout the year but basketball was not only being played indoors, it was being played in the streets of many cities. And like many youth, the street was where young Cooper learned the game.

As Cooper grew older and developed, it became clear that he not only possessed the skills, but the physicality, that made him a valuable asset to any basketball team. He was a prominent member of the Central High School Basketball team in Philadelphia for the one year he played there. Cooper played basketball in its infancy and the game was much different than it is today. The game was often played in ballrooms, casinos, and church basements, which usually were not heated. The floors were heavily waxed and the court was often enclosed with nets. There was very little uniformity among the balls that were played with and the goals that were used. The game was much more physical and violent. One of the biggest differences was that there was a jump ball after every single score.  Howie Evans of the New York Amsterdam News wrote in 1977 that, Tarzan’s “hands were like giant shovels, and held more than their share of his 215 pounds.”  The style and the rough manner in which the sport was played made a good center very valuable and a large center like Cooper a very rare commodity.

In 1925, at the age of 18, he joined the Philadelphia Panther Pros and began his professional basketball career. The following year, he became a star as a member of the all-black Philadelphia Colored Giants. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, he really was a Philadelphia “giant.” Charles Cooper stood as an imposing force for anyone he matched up against.3 His immense size and dominant play earned him the nickname “Tarzan.” Tarzan played for the Giants from 1926 to 1929 until Robert Douglas, owner of the Harlem Renaissance, saw Tarzan play and knew he had to make Tarzan the heart of his offense.

The Harlem Rens defined the term dynasty in the 1930's. From L to R: Clarence "Fats" Jenkins, Bill Yancy, John "Casey" Holt, "Pappy" Rick, Eyre "Bruiser" Saitch, Charles "Tarzan" Cooper, and "Wee Willie" Smith. Owner Robert Douglas in inset.

For nearly all of the first half of the 20th century, sport – much like society – was segregated. Basketball was no different. Teams like the Philadelphia Giants and New York Renaissance consisted of all black players and predominantly played against other all-black teams while other teams like the Original Celtics and the Buffalo Germans were more recognized and endeared by white basketball fans. When Robert Douglas saw Cooper play, Douglas knew that Cooper was a very special player with unmatchable talent. The next day, Cooper signed with the “Rens” and began his 11-year career with that great team. Douglas also brought in John “Casey” Holt and Bill Yancy. In teaming Cooper, Holt, and Yancy up with four other black greats of the time (Clarence “Fats” Jenkins, James “Pappy” Ricks, Eyre “Bruiser” Saitch, and William “Wee Willie” Smith) the “Magnificent Seven,” as many called the Renaissance team of the 1930s, was born. In Cooper’s first year with the Rens, they earned an impressive 120-20 record (an .857 winning percentage).

During the 1920s and 1930s, due to the need to play in front of large crowds during the Great Depression, the Renaissance was primarily a barnstorming team that traveled throughout the Northeastern, Midwestern, and Southern United States. They played in large cities like Kansas City, Chicago, New York, and Indianapolis, and in several smaller ones like Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Evansville, Indiana, and Fort Wayne, Indiana. Many of the teams they played against were all-white and many of the crowds they played in front of were predominantly white and very hostile. While the teams themselves were segregated, it was not rare for all-black teams to play all-white teams or Jewish teams. Blacks may have been allowed to play on the same court as all-white and Jewish teams, but their experience was hardly the same.

Most teams had the luxury of staying in hotels in the cities where they were competing; finding a good meal at a restaurant after a hard-played game; or gassing up as they drove through the night to a double-header the next day. These simple luxuries were hardly afforded to the Rens. Because of their color, Cooper and the Rens often had to stay in a larger city where they could get a room even if they were not playing in that city. Then, in some cases, the team had drive up to 400 miles from the hotel where they were staying to where they were playing and then drive back to that same hotel after the game. This was not rare because there were not any hotels close to smaller cities especially, that were willing to rent out rooms to a group of black men. Things were so bad for the Rens, that in the entire state of Illinois (where they played several games) there was only one hotel that was willing to accommodate them.  Many times the Rens drove through the night, sleeping in the bus that Douglas had bought for them.  Cooper recalled in an interview with Sports Illustrated, “It seems like I spent my whole life on the road…. When I look back on my playing days, all I see is that old bus.  It was a rough ride in those days.  Blacks couldn’t stay in most hotels, and sometimes we had to drive 400 miles to find a hotel.”  In addition, promoters would often develop ways to cheat the Rens (and other all-black teams) out of the paychecks that they were promised. Off the court, Cooper and his teammates were made to feel like they were somehow inferior. But on the court, there was no denying the fact that the Magnificent Seven were simply superior.  Cooper observed that, “We beat everybody; the Original Celtics, the Buffalo Germans, everybody.  We were the best.”

The Rens were extremely dominant and became widely known for the speed and the style in which they played the game. They had the ability to work the ball quickly down the court because of their passing game which was a series of quick passes and fast breaks. Very rarely did the Rens actually dribble the ball down the court, and for that matter, the Rens would play entire games where the ball itself barely touched the court. The team was fast and large and had Tarzan Cooper to snatch up every jump ball. Their defense may have been even better than their offense. What made the team special though was their stamina. Opposing teams often exhausted their timeouts because the Rens would wear them out and continue to play the game without stopping the clock. This made it very hard for any team, white or black, to match up with the Renaissance.

It’s important to note the Renaissance and other all-black teams were not only playing against other teams, but they had to fight the crowds and biased officiating as well. In spite of these challenges, the Rens continued to win. In many cases, the Rens were so good that they had to carry the home team and keep the score close just to keep the crowds entertained. Bobby Douglas told Sports Illustrated in 1979, “We were smart enough to keep the score down and make the people think they were seeing a real game.  They didn’t know we were carrying the home team; it was good business to let the locals think they could beat us the next time around.”  They often defeated members of the National Basketball League (NBL) and premier white teams like the Original Celtics, who many still consider the best team of the Depression era.

During the 1932-33 season, the Renaissance posted a record of 127-7 (.948) in which they defeated the Original Celtics in seven out of eight meetings and had an 88-game win streak – a record that has never since been matched in professional basketball.  The most impressive thing about this streak was that all 88 of these consecutive wins came on the road.

During his time with the Rens, Tarzan Cooper led them to victory after victory and won championship after championship. Unfortunately, for most of Cooper’s career, the best the Rens could do was “Colored World Champions” as many did not recognize the dominance that black teams such as the Rens had displayed against white teams. (In 1963, the Harlem Renaissance became one of only three teams, along with the Original Celtics and Buffalo Germans, to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame).  Hall of Fame Coach John Wooden, who matched up against both the Rens and Celtics as a player, observed that, “The Rens were definitely better [than the Original Celtics]. They were as good a team as you would find … as good as anyone.”

 Many did not recognize Cooper’s talents or abilities either. In spite of the fact that he could single-handedly control the tempo of a game and outmatched any center he played against, his exploits on the court were rarely recognized by fans and the media. Few outsiders understood that Tarzan Cooper simply imposed his will on the court. His teammates and opponents of the time though recognized how special Tarzan really was. Cooper’s teammate Eddie Younger routinely said that, “Everybody knows Tarzan Cooper was the greatest of his day.  He scored when necessary but mostly he played ferocious defense and swept the backboards.”

As a member of the Rens, Tarzan Cooper had a personal record of 1303-203 (.865) during his 11-year stint with the team. One hundred and twelve of those wins came for Cooper during the 1938-39 season which was a very special one for the Magnificent Seven. That year, the Harlem Renaissance became the first ever winners of the World Professional Championship defeating the Harlem Globetrotters, New York Yankees basketball team, and the NBL Champion Oshkosh All-Stars. The Renaissance were finally the world champions that they knew they were. In spite of all that, many still did not recognize the accomplishments of an all-black team from Harlem.

As the ’30s came to an end, a new era began in professional basketball. When the United States became involved in World War II, travel restrictions and gas rations brought an end to the era of the barnstorming team and more organized professional basketball leagues began to emerge. As new leagues emerged, it became clear that an all-black team like the Rens was never going to be accepted into the American Basketball League (ABL) or any other major professional league for that matter, much to the disappointment of Robert Douglas, the Magnificent Seven, and their fans.  Original Celtics Center and New York Knicks Head Coach Joe Lapchick lobbied strongly for the inclusion of the Rens and was quoted as saying, “I may lose my job for saying this, but I’d play against the Rens any goddamn day.  To me they’re the best.”

At the end of the 1940s, the Harlem Renaissance were finally accepted into the ABL, but by then, the Magnificent Seven had long disbanded. Many members of premier all-white teams such as the Original Celtics and the Buffalo Germans found work as coaches and/or players in the newly founded leagues but this was hardly the case for the Rens. Even after winning a World Professional Title and defeating the Original Celtics and Oshkosh All-Stars time and time again, many refused to recognize the talent and ability of the Harlem Renaissance.

Cooper spent the end of his career as a Player-Coach with the Washington Bears who he led to a perfect record and his 2nd World Championship.

During his last few years with the Rens, Tarzan would spend the weekends driving from New York to Washington D.C. to play with the Washington Bears. He left the Rens in 1940. In 1943, he served as a player-coach for the Washington Bears. That year, the Bears went 66-0 and defeated the Daytona Bombers and Oshkosh All-Stars. Shortly after winning his second World Professional Title, Tarzan left the game of basketball behind, due to an injury to his Achilles tendon, and went back to Philadelphia to finish his days as a blue collar worker.  Cooper would later say that, “Progress was what finally killed the Rens.  Jobs were opening up for blacks, and we had to think of our futures.  The year after we won the World Championship, I retired and took a job painting houses for $50 a week, year round.”

Such was the fate of Tarzan and many of his teammates. They had devoted their lives to basketball which had left little time for education or to learn a trade. Many would say that this was the reason that members of the Rens and other all-black teams were left to find blue collar jobs. However, many of the white players who the Rens had outplayed during the ’30s were just as uneducated and unskilled, but they were not left to the same fate as the black players. While many white greats of the time like Nat Holman, Joe Lapchick, and Dutch Denhert went on to have successful coaching careers, the game that Tarzan so fondly remembered had forgotten him and many of his black teammates.

In the 1993 FOX Film The Sandlot, “Babe” Ruth (portrayed by Art LaFleur) tells the main character Smalls that, “There are heroes and there are legends. Heroes get remembered but legends never die.”  The tragedy of Tarzan and the Magnificent Seven is that somewhere in, what Bruce Newman referred to as, “the shuffle of history,”heroes were forgotten and legends were laid to rest. Tarzan Cooper spent nearly 20 years of his life excelling in and playing basketball. He won championships and beat the “best teams.” He did it all on the road and in front of hostile and violent crowds. He jumped, he scored, and he rebounded. He helped to set records that have never been broken. For almost two decades Tarzan Cooper gave everything he had and then some, to a game that he loved dearly; but basketball was not nearly as kind to him.

Cooper spent the last 37 years of his life painting houses, working in shipyards and as a bartender. He lived in a run-down house not far from where he grew up. He volunteered as a basketball coach at the Philadelphia YMCA and for nearly 35 years, Cooper felt as if his legacy and contributions had been forgotten. As he grew older, he had a number of health issues. He became arthritic and developed high blood pressure. Cooper continued to work hard and to make a living for himself as he had done his whole life. He coached, he painted, he tended bar, and while others forgot, he always remembered fondly his days as a player. Cooper mentioned in a 1979 interview with Sports Illustrated that, “Sometimes I’d find myself leaning against that ladder, missing those days when we were flying high.  But there was always the road, and I surely never did miss that.  Still, it wasn’t all that bad.  Why, I suppose if I could just run like young fellows out there now, I’d hop right back on that bus and head for the open road.” Cooper loved the game and in his retirement he enjoyed watching, and when he could, going to professional games.

 In 1976 while tending bar, Tarzan Cooper finally got the call. He was going to be inducted in Basketball’s Hall of Fame and his marvelous career and role in developing the game were finally going to be recognized. Thanks primarily to the efforts of former teammate Eddie Younger, Tarzan Cooper became the third black man ever inducted into Basketball’s Hall of Fame in May of 1977. Hundreds of Cooper’s fans, including Rens owner and Coach Robert Douglas, made the journey to Springfield, Massachusetts to finally see Tarzan Cooper where he belonged – recognized as an equal to the other great players of his day.

35 years ago this week, Tarzan Cooper found a permanent home in Springfield, MA

In December of 1980, Tarzan Cooper passed away in the same run-down house in south Philadelphia he had lived in since leaving basketball. He had worked dead-end low paying jobs for the last half of his life. With no wife or children, Tarzan Cooper’s body lay for days before it was discovered. A man who was a pioneer in the game of basketball, a Hall of Famer, the “greatest center that ever played,” was dead for days before anyone even noticed. This is the tragedy of Tarzan Cooper and the Magnificent Seven. On the court they were superior, but off it were treated as inferior. They wrote the pages of basketball history, but have since been lost in its shuffle. Though forgotten, these men were heroes that must be remembered. Though laid to rest, Tarzan Cooper was a legend whose story should never be allowed to die.

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

WORKS CITED:

1 Richard Lapchick, “Smashing Barriers”, Madison Books, 2001.

2  Susan J. Rayl, “Tarzan Cooper”, The African American National Biography, January 1, 2008

3 “Charles T. Cooper”, Basketball Hall of Fame, Accessed December 20, 2009, http://www.hoophall.com/hall-of-famers/tag/charles-t-cooper.

4 Bruce Newman, “The N.y. Rens Traveled a Long Hard Road to Basketball’s Hall of Fame”, Sports Illustrated, October 22, 1979.

5 John Hareas, “Remembering the Rens”, The NBA Encyclopedia, Accessed December 20, 2009, http://www.nba.com/history/encyclopedia_rens_001214.html.

6 Craig This, “The Dayton Rens: The Jackie Robinsons of Professional Basketball”, Accessed December 20, 2009, http://www.daytontriangles.com/9rens.html.

7 “Whatever Happened to Tarzan Cooper?”, Ebony, October, 1975.