A GRIP ON SPORTS
Even the nickname scared me. “The Fearsome Foursome.” The NFL's first front four that became media stars. The Rams' defensive line in the 1960s. The guys who really got me excited about pro football. And now only one of them is left. Read on.
• The news broke late last night that former Ram defensive end Deacon Jones had died. Who, you might ask if you are under the age of, oh, say 40. The answer I'll give is simple: Ever hear the term “sack?” Well, Deacon Jones invented it. Yep, a term that's used almost every day in football was invented not by some league official or sportswriter or fan. Jones (at right in the picture) came up with it to describe what he did to quarterbacks. He put them in a sack and took them to the ground. If Jones had been just an average player, that accomplishment would have been enough to get him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But he also may have been, as his old coach George Allen said, the “greatest defensive end of modern football.” All I know is he looms large in my memory bank. When we used to play pickup football on the dirt field at St. Rita's elementary, everyone wanted to be Deacon Jones (or, if someone had called him first, maybe Merlin Olsen, the defensive tackle next to Jones on the Rams' line). I wore a pad on my right arm when playing Pop Warner because Deacon Jones wore a pad on his right arm. When I heard somewhere Deacon Jones used to put a piece of wood underneath it so when he clubbed someone it hurt more, I tried to stick a ruler under mine. Got caught. And got yelled at by my Pop Warner coach. But if Deacon Jones did it, why couldn't I? Now he's gone, along with Olsen and Lamar Lundy. Only Rosey Grier, the guy who played defensive tackle with a ferocious intensity yet did needle point on an afternoon talk show, still remains. It's a sad truth of life. All the athletic heroes of your childhood slowly – but surely – disappear. Each one's passing brings up a memory or two, causes a twinge of nostalgia, and then they are gone, never to be replaced. Like anyone who was around here in the 1990s, I admired Ken Griffey Jr., and the way he played centerfield for the M's. But no matter how much better a player he was, there is no way Griffey could take the place of Al Kaline or Brooks Robinson or Johnny Bench in my memory banks. They were the heroes of my youth, a role Griffey fills for my son. It's inevitable that some day he'll feel the same twinges I am feeling now. It's that inevitability that weighs so heavy this morning. Another icon of my childhood, another imaginary companion during youthful games, has passed on. It's enough to make you feel a bit old.
• There is a generation of kids out there right now who are building the same sort of relationship with LeBron James, who has carried the Miami Heat back to the NBA finals once again. Didn't watch it last night – you know why – but what happened was what I expected. James is the best player in the NBA and, for one game at least, the best player can lift a team to victory. Now we'll find out if he's good enough to beat five guys playing as one, which is the perfect description of the Spurs, in a seven-game series.
• WSU: It may be early June, but there is plenty of Washington State – and Pac-12 – news to pass along. In Pullman, basketball assistant coach Jeff Hironaka (pictured) is leaving town, headed to Portland State where he'll be in a position to coach once again. Christian Caple had the news first in this blog post and added this short story in the paper. Before last season Hironaka, who came to WSU when Ken Bone took over as head coach, was moved into a non-coaching position to make room for Ray Lopes, a well-respected recruiter, on the staff. At Portland State, Hironaka, who, in the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit has morphed from someone I used to cover into a friend, will be able to get back in the gym and coach players again. It's what he wanted. … The Pac-12 announced a major initiative concerning football player safety yesterday, though commissioner Larry Scott was a bit short on details of a plan to limit hitting at practice. That will come later, Scott said. And before the league reaches agreement with DirectTV to carry its network, that's for sure. … The conference also released a report on the officiating controversy at the Pac-12 tournament last year, a long document I took the time to read yesterday. Bud Withers catches the essence of it in this story but I wanted to pass along one aspect of it I thought was odd. The report doesn't refer to Arizona coach Sean Miller by name. It uses the term Head Coach (caps included) throughout the report. Weird. … ESPN.com's Pac-12 blog identifies the Cougar who is on the spot this season … Only two Pac-12 schools will move on to Super Regionals after the Oregon Ducks once again laid an egg. The Ducks have spent more money than Croesus the past five years trying to buy baseball success but have yet to make it to Omaha.
• Mariners: Didn't realize it until yesterday, but the Chicago White Sox are playing worse right now than even the M's. That showed last night as Seattle, behind Safeco Joe, took a 4-2 win over the Sox, who have lost seven consecutive games. … Raul Ibanez (pictured) saw 12 pitches in one at-bat before pounding the 13th into the seats for a key two-run home run. … Guess what? Franklin Gutierrez's rehab assignment is done. What's the punchline? There isn't one. Except maybe this. He's still not healthy and will probably need another rehab assignment in a week or so. … Want change with the M's? Want to see Eric Wedge or Jack Zduriencik let go? Larry Stone understands, but thinks there are other changes needed first. … Tom Wilhelmsen got a save last night (his 13th) but he's still trying to work out some issues.
• Seahawks: Another OTA on Monday and another day without Marshawn Lynch. Remember they are optional workouts. … A key offensive lineman is still trying to get his knee healthy. … Matt Flynn is trying to fit in on the Raiders while the guy who wants to replace him as the Hawks' backup quarterback, Brady Quinn, tries to do the same thing in Seattle. … There's a battle for one of the linebacker spots.
• That's it for this fine, fine Tuesday. Once again we will be on the Patchin, Lukens and Osso radio show for three hours starting at 3 p.m. You can listen here. Until then …