LOS ANGELES — There aren’t two more iconic figures in their respective sports than Derek Jeter and Ray Lewis. Consistent staples in a business overrun by constant changes, where players trade hats and jerseys like children exchange … what do kids trade these days? It’s not baseball cards anymore, is it? Emoji messages? STDs?
Jeter and Lewis are legends, and that’s an understatement. First-ballot Hall of Famers, who five years after their retirement will be rightfully celebrated in Cooperstown and Canton. And the best part about the festivities is there won’t be a debate as to what cap or jersey the two will be recognized in. For this generation of sports fans, you can’t think of the Yankees without the dignitary of the dugout, or the Ravens without the gargantuan of the gridiron, coming to mind. Literal faces of their respective franchises.
Both were taken from their teams and sports fans over the weekend in the form of potential career-ending injuries; Jeter with a broken ankle and Lewis in the form of torn triceps muscles. Jeter, already hobbled in the post season, suffered his injury in extra innings of Game 1 of the ALCS diving for a Jhonny Peralta groundball which proved to be the game-winner for the Tigers. Lewis, who was declared lost for the year on Monday, meanwhile, went to the infirmary doing what he’s always done: chasing down a would-be touchdown maker.
The duo are the last of their breed. Superstar athletes who’ve played their entire career with one franchise and did so at the highest possible level; the championship stratosphere. Jeter was the backbone of five Yankees World Series titles; Lewis was the MVP of Super Bowl XXXV, the Ravens 35-7 victory over the Giants.
While some have said Lewis’ play has slipped in recent years, he’s still been the unquestioned leader of a perennially top-ranked defense, and showed no signs of slowing down this season. He was on a 152-tackle pace at the time of his injury, which would’ve been his highest since 2003.
Jeter had a spectacular 2012 season in leading the Yankees to another AL East division crown. He played in all but 3 games while going to bat the most times in his most career; his 216 hits were his most since 1999. Jeter was 9-for-27 in the postseason at the time of his injury.
On the field, with a combined 35 years of professional experience in two cities, Jeter and Lewis share adjectives that define their playing style: warrior, leader, charismatic, gamer, clutch. They’re quintessential plays are also quick to come to mind: Jeter’s postseason flip against Oakland, diving into the stands against Boston, a home run for his 3,000th hit, the jump throw and his arms raised in victory; Lewis’ pregame dance, the rousing sideline speeches, punishing hits, his Super Bowl interception and playoff sacks of Tom Brady.
Off the field, their lives couldn’t be more different. Jeter’s bachelorhood is the stuff of legends, the idolization of wannabe teens and playboys everywhere (even A-Rod). The New York penthouse apartment, wooing of Hollywood’s biggest stars and of course, the gift basket. Lewis has several children, is big in his South Florida community and preaches in his spare time. His transformation from potential inmate to pillar of faith and inner strength is what personal redemption is all about.
Phenomenal players and better men. The debate will rage in the coming weeks and into their sports offseasons as to what their futures hold. “Should they retire?” is the question you’ll see on NFL and MLB Networks, on ESPN and in magazines and online articles. I told anyone who would listen I thought Peyton Manning should’ve retired this past summer rather than risk further injury to his neck by playing another football season, but the case for Jeter and Lewis are different. Surely, a broken foot will heal and doesn’t affect the shortstop’s ability to hit a baseball, such torn triceps can be repaired and won’t slow the linebacker’s path to the running back.
Do I think they should come back? Both are playing at a high level, so sure, give it one last go. Major League Baseball and the National Football League are better with those two men in them, competing, representing all they have to offer. But don’t drag it out. Announce at the beginning this is it, a la Chipper Jones and let the fans pay their respects throughout the season. Then walk away gracefully. Like icons.
LOS ANGELES — What a difference one week makes. If there’s one thing Bill Parcells was right about, in the National Football League (Ron Jaworski voice), you are what your record is, and what we have is a very balanced league. Six teams are winless, six are undefeated and 20 stand at 1-1. We also have a league on the verge of chaos. Do you remember more games with near brawls, bogus penalties, bad ball spotting, clueless men in stripes, and coaches being more demonstrative than in Week 2? Everyone knew the replacement officials would struggle, but the incompetence was taken to a new level this past weekend. Deion Sanders said it and you can’t argue, it’s like all the kids in science class are picking on the substitute teacher. Oh, and handshake bowl part 2?!
Quick, let’s find out who’s the man before this gets Ron from Queensbridge crazy.
32.) Oakland Raiders (record: 0-2) (last week: 31) — I really thought I’d be able to go the whole season posting one Lauren Tannehill picture after another, but alas Carson Palmer and the Raiders went and took that away from me. Remember last week when I said I was starting a “Free Fitz” campaign? Well, it might be time to start a “Free DMC” one as well. We’re an equal opportunity platform here.
31.) Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2) (29) — It hurts me to have my man Maurice Jones-Drew so low here, but I’m here to call a spade a spade; or in this case, a bad football team a bad football team. How many different “Free” campaigns can I have in one season. There has to be a limit, right?
30.) Tennessee Titans (0-2) (28) — At what point do the Titans acknowledge they made a mistake benching my brother and put Matty Hasselbeck back out there? As someone texted me today: “maybe he should’ve stayed with baseball.” And that was an Asian chick, so if she notices something then you know it’s a problem. Oh, and if you see Chris Johnson, tell him… eh, I don’t care. Tell him to pick up a book ‘cuz his career might be O-V-A.
29.) Miami Dolphins (1-1) (32) — Oh what the hell, here’s Lauren Tannehill. And damn, Reggie Bush wasn’t kidding when he said he could win the rushing title. I really thought he was joking. Trying to get some laughs on “Hard Knocks” after Chad got the boot. Someone had to pick up the slack since Joe Philbin was boring as shhh.
28.) Cleveland Browns (0-2) (30) — It was nice of Brandon Weeden to throw it to his teammates this week, including Greg Little, who took his benching on my fantasy team to heart and came out and dropped a 5-catch, 57-yard and a touchdown performance. And Trent Richardson said he was going to let his play do the talking and did he ever. That 20-yard TD run where he bounced off like eight dudes was some Mike Alstott jive.
27.) Chiefs (0-2) (21) — So maybe the Chefs aren’t going to win the division like most thought two weeks ago, but Dwayne Bowe sure balled out on Sunday. The problem is perhaps Romeo Sweet Romeo is most likely a better coordinator than a head coach. Like Silvio Dante said, some guys are just meant to be No. 2.
26.) Minnesota Vikings (1-1) (23) — I really hope my buddy Jimmy from home sends me texts after every Vikings game this season, it’ll help their section week-to-week. Here’s his from Sunday: “The good news is the stress of an undefeated season for the Vikings is out. Now we can focus on winning the Super Bowl.” Uh huh, what he said.
25.) Indianapolis Colts (1-1) (25) — Third week in a row I have the Colts slated 25th, and it’s not on purpose, I swear. But you can see Andrew Luck’s improvement over Week 1. His touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne was a thing of beauty.
24.) Buffalo Bills (1-1) (27) — Be honest, raise your hand if you drafted C.J. Spiller and then started him in Week 2. Congrats, you most likely won your fantasy matchup this week, unless you’re my buddy VA, who had Eli Manning, Hakeem Nicks AND Spiller and lost by .59. Oh, I’m 2-0 and in 1st place. Thank you, Matt Ryan.
23.) St. Louis Rams (1-1) (24) — I like this Rams team. Sure, they only won because Josh Morgan is a mental midget and there was literally a better chance of me being named Mr. Olympia than Billy Cundiff did of making that 62-yarder to win it. And is there anything cooler than Jeff Fisher’s ‘stache? Right, a stadium full of booze-filled fans wearing a fake ‘stache to set a Guinness Book World Record.
22.) New York Jets (1-1) (17) — I don’t care about how the Jets played on the field. Let’s soak in the fact that 37-year old (she claims) Eva Longoria acknowledged she’s dating 25-year old Mark Sanchez. Now, Sanchez is statistically a better quarterback than Tim Tebow, but he’s not as electrifying when compiling those statistics. HOWever, there’s one category where Sanchez is clearly superior: boos. Sanchez, very quietly, has some serious Jeter in him. If we could do a side-by-side chart at this point in their careers, I’d be willing to bet while Jeter might have bigger names (Mariah, etc.) Sanchez’s dames are much more striking. Ya know, if you’re into that exotic, barely speaking English kinda thing.
21.) Seattle Seahawks (1-1) (22) — Has a bandwagon gained more passengers, lost 99% of them and then gained them all back quicker than the Seachickens in the last 8 days? They beat what I thought was a pretty good looking Cowboys team rather easily. But playing up in the great North by Northwest is a different beast. Not everyone can handle it. (Looking right you at, Terrell Owens.)
20.) Arizona Cardinals (2-0) (26) — I took some heat on Twitter for not believing in the Cards after their Week 1 win over Seattle. OK, now I’m a believer… for this week. That defense was bumrushing Mr. Handsome like Kim K. at an All-Star Weekend after party but that offense has to show me something. Again, the “Free Fitz” campaign is two more 1-catch, 4-yard weeks away from having T-shirts, a website and corporate sponsor.
19.) Cincinnati Bengals (1-1) (18) — Now that’s the Who Dey team we thought would come out of the gates in Week 1. Andy Dalton remembered he has A.J. Green on his team and the Law Firm was rushing that rock like he got paid to do. What might scare me a tad was giving up 27 points to the Browns and failing to intercept Brandon “All I Seem To Do Is Look Lost And Throw Interceptions Out There and Yes, I Know I’m Old As Dirt” Weeden.
18.) Detroit Lions (1-1) (14) — Yes, I’m aware we’re only two weeks into the season, and now is the time to overreact and all that shine, but let me throw this possibility nugget out there for ya: the Lions are frauds and are very likely to finish behind the Vikings in the NFC North. Just let the marinate for a while and get back to me in a few weeks.
17.) New Orleans Saints (0-2) (11) — I don’t want to say I saw this 0-2 or struggles coming… but I kinda saw this coming. I believe I said on the Rich Eisen Podcast the Saints wouldn’t make the playoffs and are going to desperately miss Sean Payton. Just look at the schedule (Woody Paige voice), at best New Orleans will be 3-6 when they head to Oakland on Nov. 19. Then come games against the 49ers, Falcons and Giants. Don’t believe me, check the stats: since 1990 there’s only a 12% chance of making playoff if you start the year 0-2.
16.) Carolina Panthers (1-1) (19) — I saw a headline somewhere online about Cam Newton that said to the effect, Week 2 was a redemption game for the sophomore QB. Redemption from what? It’s Week 2!!?! This is why I don’t like to overpontificate. However, allow me some self-dap for a moment for drafting Brandon LaFell in my fantasy league; I see you, brah. Keep catching that rock.
15.) Dallas Cowboys (1-1) (8) — What the hell is going on in the NFC East? One week you think someone from this division can win the Super Bowl and the next they couldn’t beat Santa Margarita. I honestly don’t know what’s gonna happen week to week and I sure don’t know what to make of the Cowboys. Tony Romo returned to Seattle and botched more than just the extra-point snap, scoring just 7 points and posting a 74.1 passer rating. But his backwards hat looked really cool!
14.) Chicago Bears (1-1) (6) — I don’t know who laid the biggest stink bomb this week: the Cowboys or Bears but holy Ron Burdandy’s mustache, did two teams look more opposite from week to week that those two? Ya know what, I blame myself for getting caught up in their hype. No two teams suck their fans and pundits in quite like the Bears and Cowboys only to pee down their own legs. Shame on us, America. Oh, and tell me you’ve seen this latest tumblr featuring Jay Cutler. Pure genius.
13.) Tampa Bay Bucs (1-1) (12) — Every season it has to be something, right? Last year, we had the Handshake Bowl and now we have the, what are we even calling this? The Kneel Down Bowl? How great was Tom Coughlin scolding Greg Schiano postgame like he was his son and found his beer/cigar stash in the garage? That said, this Bucs team looks like a playoff team. The only question is if they can stay ahead of the Panthers.
12.) San Diego Chargers (2-0) (16) — Two straight impressive offensive performances against two pretty bad teams. Sounds about right for the Lightning Bolts. But how classy was the retiring of #55? If you haven’t read my column in the initial aftermath of Junior Seau’s passing, you can read it here. We’ll see how striking this team is when Atlanta comes to town this week.
11.) Washington Redskins (1-1) (9) — If Josh Morgan doesn’t go knucklehead and cost the Redskins 15 yards on the final drive, you may not be reading about Washington for a few more paragraphs. Alas, it takes 53 guys to win and lose (not really, but go with it) so here it is at #11. My good friend Robert (Griffin the Third) appeared slightly less video game freakish this week and there’s a good chance he may get sliced in half like The Prestige on one of these runs but until then, I’m not changing the channel when he’s got the ball. Are you?
10.) Philadelphia Eagles (2-0) (20) — Is there a 2-0 team who looks shakier than the Eagles? I mean, it’s not like they’re the first in the 90-plus year history of the NFL to win their first two games by one point each. Oh, they are? Carry on.
9.) Denver Broncos (1-1) (13) — So about Peyton Manning’s arm strength, ball velocity, sharpness and MVP season. In Manning’s defense, he did tell us last week he wasn’t all the way back, and I’m sure he won’t be until about Week 12 or so, which is right around the same time he’ll start to break down because HE HAD FOUR NECK SURGERIES AND MISSED AN ENTIRE SEASON. Can’t hammer that point home enough.
8.) Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1) (15) — Last week I wondered if the Steelers were in for a long year or were better than they let on in Week 1. I think their handling of the Jets proved Black & Yellow should be OK this season. Still not sure who’s running the ball but Mike Wallace doesn’t appear to be feeling the effect of missing training camp, and when James Harrison and Troy Hair God return from injury, things should be back to normal at Heinz Field.
7.) New York Giants (1-1) (10) — After two games, it’s shaping up to be one of those seasons for the G-men. You thought the Romo-coaster was a fun ride. The Bucs game was a pretty good microcosm of Eli Manning’s career. Shitty, shitty, shitty, then awesome and win the game. Ho Hum. And seriously, Tom Coughlin has won 2 Super Bowls and will most likely be a Hall of Famer, but dude is NEVER happy. The homeless guy who calls me “boyyy” every morning begging for dollar bills at least smiles every once in a while. But seriously, falling waaaay behind and having Eli bail you out each week is gonna get old real quick.
6.) New England Patriots (1-1) (3) — Major chink in New England’s armor with this Cardinals loss. And you can’t undervalue the loss of Aaron Hernandez; changes the offense completely. But let’s talk about Wes Welker for a second. Has anything gone right for this guy since he dropped the Super Bowl-clinching catch? He did marry a smoking hot chick, but how long will that last? I love Wes, but maybe his time is up. Maybe Tom Brady really made him a “superstar” or the system did or Randy Moss. But he’s been in New England long enough and should know better how the Patriots do business.
5.) Green Bay Packers (1-1) (7) — Seems like it’s been a while since saw the Packers steal the Bears’ lunch money on Thursday Night Football, but yeah, that’s the team we all expected when the season began. Offensively, they still look a little off, though. I don’t get it. Then, Jermichael Finley’s agent went and said Aaron Rodgers isn’t a leader or something. Great. Way to eff up my fantasy tight end who already can’t catch a cold in a Green Bay winter. And I want what Clay’s been having the first two weeks. Holy schnikes.
4.) Baltimore Ravens (1-1) (1) — We can all agree the Ravens got Roy Jones’d in the ’88 Olympics last week in Philadelphia, which is why I couldn’t drop them further than three spots. They are top-to-bottom one of the handful complete teams in the NFL. However, Joe Flacco, show me some consistency! It’s one thing to call YOURself an elite QB, it’s another to go out and snatch that moniker. Nicknames are given to you, not self-glossed. And Ed Reed did it again. With every pick he climbs my all-time greats list.
3.) Houston Texans (2-0) (5) — Houston will finally get tested this week at Denver, but I still believe they’re a top team. Clearly, BenArian Fosterate is the best running back in the league and Gary Kubiak looks more and more like a gangster whenever I see him. Next time he walks out on the field to berate a replacement official I half expect him to bust out a Tommy Gun and blow them away “Boardwalk Empire” style. Pat Riley thinks your hair has too much product, bro.
2.) Atlanta Falcons (2-0) (4) — I didn’t like how Atlanta took its foot off the gas and let the Broncos back in the game on Monday, but that defensive effort in the first half was impressive. For me, I wondered if that facet of the game could match what Matty Ice and Co. were capable of offensively, and so far, so good. Despite Kansas City’s record, I think they’re a good team, and going on the road and taking them out and then handling their business at home was huge for the Falcons, who many questioned would be able survive in what was looking like a tough NFC South.
1.) San Francisco 49ers (2-0) (2) — That wasn’t just a beatdown of the Lions on Sunday night, that was a dissection. Rich Eisen tweeted it out near the end of the game, and he’s right, it’s time to stop saying the 9ers are winning in spite of Alex Smith. He can make every throw, is elusive with his feet and has an offensive line loaded with 1st Round picks. On top of that, have you seen a coach with bigger absolute crazy eyes than Jim Harbaugh? If you told me he gets in full war paint and howls at the moon each night, I’d believe you. Everything is in play.