Volume I, Issue II Winter 2002

From the Bleachers
Celebrating Jack Murphy

If you've not heard of Jack Murphy, you may during Super Bowl week. If so, consider yourself lucky.

Murphy was the one-time namesake of San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium — before the city sold the naming rights to make stadium improvements demanded by the NFL to earn the privilege of hosting the current Super Bowl.

More importantly, Murphy was one of the best to ever take up the business of writing about sports. One of Turbula's editors grew up in Dayton, Ohio — reading Ritter Collett in the morning Journal Herald and Si Burick in the afternoon Daily News. You could look them up, as Jack Paar is found of saying — they're both in the writers' wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

And so when we moved from Dayton to San Diego in the late '70s, and ended up reading Murphy each morning in the San Diego Union, well, didn't every city have a columnist like Murphy, Burick and Collett?

It was simply assumed that everyone got to read writers like these three each morning. When Murphy died shortly after our relocation to SoCal, however, it became clear that master wordsmiths are somewhat more rare than we had thought. L.A.'s Jim Murray filled the gap for awhile, but Murphy's books of his collected columns ("Damn You, Al Davis" and "Abe and Me") were needed to tide us over some mornings. Coffee and fresh-squeezed orange juice just weren't the same without Murphy's column. The man was a giant of journalism, along with Max "I Cover the Waterfront" Miller one of the two greatest writers San Diego ever had.

What brings this all up is Super Bowl week in San Diego, as the city dedicated a new statue of Murphy at the stadium he led the effort to build in the mid-'60s.

Not many sportwriters have the clout needed to create a political movement, but Murphy was uniquely connected to San Diego. Not even his good friend Red Smith ever owned New York the way Murph belonged to and owned San Diego. And so it has been a week of remembering Murphy in San Diego — the man who lured the Chargers south from Los Angeles, prompted Major League baseball to give San Diego an expansion team (the Padres), and even helped bring a couple of NBA teams to the city (Rockets and Clippers).

Nick Canepa, Murphy's one-time protégé and eventual successor as lead sports columnist in San Diego, penned a wonderful paean to his former mentor the Tuesday before the Super Bowl — writing of how much Murphy is missed.

And indeed he is. But as mentioned, Turbula's publisher cut his milk teeth on two hall of fame sportswriters, and arrived in San Diego in time to learn to appreciate Murphy — who, it turned out, was good buddies with the above-mentioned Burick from Dayton.

And so Turbula feels we possess the authority to say the following: Murphy's greatest contribution was not in making San Diego a major league sports town — it was in nurturing younger writers.

His most lasting gift?

It's the fact that Canepa, whom Murphy took under his wing, has grown as a writer to the point that he can fill Murphy's shoes, that in Canepa Southern California can again lay claim to one of the top scribes in the business, a writer who matches a passion for sports with a passion for words. A writer in the tradition of Grantland Rice and Jim Murray and Red Smith – and even Si Burick and Ritter Collett.

And, yes, Jack Murphy.

The decline of Monday Night Football

Is Ray Lewis really the best ABC TV could do?

Lewis was the subject of a glowing halftime feature on Monday Night Football on Sept. 30.

By all accounts (even his own) Lewis was involved in the killing of two African-American men on Jan. 31, 2000, following the Baltimore Ravens' victory in Super Bowl XXXV.

While prosecutors never alleged Lewis actually stabbed the victims, he was involved in the fight outside an Atlanta bar in which they died. And, in order to save his own neck, Lewis turned state's evidence midway through his own trial, copping a plea to obstruction of justice and agreeing to testify against the two friends he originally lied to protect.

Being cleared of legal culpability does not lift the moral cloud over Lewis; while he has a legal right to his freedom now that his probation is complete, that hardly makes him the kind of role model deserving of a profile on national prime time TV. Surely there are better role models for a television network to promote to the nation.

So now Ray Lewis is sanitized, his celebrity status restored — while Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar remain as dead as the night Lewis and his friends attacked them.

The classy Jerry Rice

Everything bad that Ray Lewis represents is countered by the ever-classy Jerry Rice. While it's hard to cheer for a team like the Raiders that has elevated thuggery to an aesthetic statement, one can still root for a gentleman like Rice.

Oakland Raiders

Two years after the San Francisco 49ers cut Rice loose to make room under the ego cap for Terrell Owens, Rice shows he remains the greatest receiver in professional football.

Terrell's numbers may be gaudier, but the Raiders are a more potent offensive team. And Owens doesn't have a Tim Brown to share receptions with, either (not that he would).

And while one could say that the 40-year-old Rice now has the experience to survive on his wiles, it doesn't appear he's lost much speed to the years. When the man gets open in the flat, good luck catching him.

So as Owens pouts his way through another statistic-laden season of team disappointment, Rice and the Raiders appear poised to make another run on the playoffs.

The spirit of MNF – on radio

Those who've noticed that Ray Lewis is the least of Monday Night Football's current problems — who miss the old days of Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford and Don Meredith — might want to check out the radio broadcasts of MNF.

Howard Cosell and Marv Alpert
With all their money, why were Howard Cosell (left) and Marv Albert unable to purchase decent toupees?

Marv Alpert is as close to Cosell's manic genius as we've got in sports today — a man who not only knows more about sports than even the most hardcore junkies, but isn't afraid to let us know he knows it. And Boomer Esiason provides a Dandy Don-like foil to Alpert's Cosell.

During a boring Eagles-Giants game the last week of October, Esiason was mocking Alpert's scarf, the halftime guest, and generally acting like an idiot. Given the lowly caliber of the game, the lunacy was wonderful.

But as with Cosell, Alpert knows how to keep control when the game demands it — how to put the focus back on the field.

While the TV crew of Al Michaels and John Madden are both among the best sportscasters in the nation, they don't have much chemistry between them — not nearly as good as Madden had with Pat Summerall all those years. The brief experiment with comedian Dennis Miller was clever, but never provided the sense of a grand Event that the old crew had.

Cosell and Meredith simply had an air of show biz about them — that the party was wherever they were.

Alpert has that same sense of braggadocio about him, which is why here at Turbula's offices we tend to turn the TV sound down and pipe in the radio broadcast instead.

If only we could get Esiasion to poke at Alpert's toupee like Meredith did with Cosell's ...

Brouhaha at Augusta
Woman golfer

We at Turbula count ourselves in the feminist camp. Perhaps even hard-core feminist. Those of us of the double-X chromosome variety were even out there burning our bras with the best of 'em. But for the life of us, we don't understand this Augusta National Golf Club business.

In comparison to single moms who are working two minimum-wage jobs in order to put pasta and beans on the table daily, moms who are greatly worried because the public schools are not teaching their kids how to read or what the capital of Nebraska is, moms who can't find affordable day care and whose kids may be arriving home after school to an empty apartment and a TV the whole women at Augusta thing seems, well, silly.

It makes us wonder if the overpaid suburbanites who run both the national media and the mainstream feminist organizations haven't perhaps lost sight of what's important ...

Father's Day every day

Being stationed in San Diego, Turbula is plenty tired of Matt Williams' bat. First with the Giants, of late with the Diamondbacks, Williams has spent far too many afternoons helping his teams beat the hometown Padres.

Matt Williams

But it still got our attention — and in a good way — when Williams recently nixed a trade to the Colorado Rockies so he could stay close to his children, of whom he has full custody.

Sure, he might have gone to court and gotten permission to move the children to Denver. Uprooted them, put them in new schools, denied them regular visits with their mother.

Now in the twilight of his career, Williams may have ended it by alienating management of the Diamondbacks, who wanted to move him to gain the younger Larry Walker.

But Williams doesn't seem to care as much about prolonging his career as he does protecting his children from the vicissitudes of adult life.

"I'm a dad first and a baseball player second, and I can only hope that the public can empathize with my decision," he said. "Baseball is what I do, not who I am."

No, Matt, baseball is not who you are. Who you are is a classy guy — and Arizona fans ought to appreciate how special you are.

Sportstalk for those with brains

If you've not checked out Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornhiser on ESPN, you're missing out on perhaps the only sports talk show worth watching or listening to. That's mostly because there are no callers on their "Pardon the Interruption" — it's just the two Washington Post columnists going back and forth in a tightly timed series of discussion/arguments.

Turbula is admittedly old-school — Red Smith and Grannie Rice remain particular favorites in our pantheon of sports writers — but Wilbon and Kornhiser have the same passion for the game coupled to a love of words that earlier generations had. There's no dumbing down on their show, no obsequious cowing to sports stars.

Instead, we get clever turns of phrase coupled to bold statements. Love or hate their positions, you can't but come away thinking that Kornhiser and Wilbon are something quite special.

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