Glavine wins the game, Maddux is the ace, Atlanta finally wins, Gordon drives a winner, Vernon Davis executes misdirection play
This is the week that could very well define the career of Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, who is here trying out for the 2014 U.S. World Cup team. But the last week (and Sunday in particular) was a memorable day for Altanta, a city similar to Sacramento, which hasn’t enjoyed a tremendous amount of success in professional sports.
The difference is that Atlanta has had three enduring franchises - Braves, Falcons, Hawks - and more recently, a WNBA franchise (Dream) in its early years - but only one championship: the 1995 World Series Champion Braves. Having spent eight years covering sports there during the 1990’s (1989-97), and among the staffers at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution who chronicled the Braves’ frustrating brilliance during that decade, they dominated my thoughts:
Glavine wins the game
Glavine, the ice man with the wicked changeup. The slight lefty from Boston was groomed in the farm system and endured the Braves futility before John Smoltz, Steve Avery, Maddux and Mark Wohlers were added to the pitching staff, and will forever be remembered for throwing the clinching one-hit, eight-inning Game 6 of the 1995 World Series. For Atlanta, this was Hallelujah, years of frustration ended. Maddux had been knocked around in Game 5 two nights earlier in a blustery evening in Cleveland, and when I approached Glavine while he was seated alone in the middle of the visitors clubhouse, munching on a sandwich, he said he couldn’t want to get the ball for Game 6. “A lot of people think this is the way it should be,” he said quietly, unemotionally, referring to his longevity and earlier struggles with the franchise. Couldn’t agree more.
A former NHL draft pick, Glavine also was a huge Larry Bird fan. When the Celtics great retired in 1992, he wrote the number 33 on the back of his cleats. Interestingly, at the time, he had never met the legend.
Maddux is the ace
Maddux has dominated the sports coverage here the past few days, and despite the fact he attended my rival high school (I attended Clark, Maddux went to Valley) I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the experience. More seriously, watching him win those four consecutive Cy Young awards (1992-95) was an absolute pleasure. Similar to the wiry Glavine, he was close to 6-feet tall and not very physically imposing. He always had a bit of paunch, actually. But as has often been said, he was the professor of his profession, working the corners, changing speeds and location, aware of every hitter’s weaknesses and pitching accordingly. He generously shared his info and insights with his teammates, and schooled those of us journalists who sat at his side.
Atlanta finally wins
The city of Atlanta. The 1996 Olympics were a commercial disaster, and two months later, the Braves reverted to form and blew the World Series against the New York Yankees. But, hey, the city that gave us Dr. Martin Luther King and it will always have 1995.
Gordon drives a winner
Jeff Gordon. You can wince at the noise and the pollution, but you have to love when the old guys win. After winning the Brickyard 400 on Sunday in Indianapolis, Gordon, citing his age and the presence of his children, said that “In my early 40s, Brickyard 400, this is the greatest race I’ve ever won.”
Vernon Davis executes misdirection play
Finally, 49ers tight end Vernon Davis ended his holdout and reported to training camp after missing the mandatory mini-camp. Is anyone surprised? Davis wants his contract reworked, wants to enhance his personal “brand,” but has always been a company man. Of course he was going to give into public (and 49ers) pressure, as well as his own competitive nature. But this is only another example of the ongoing dilemma in pro football. In the other major pro sports, there should be little sympathy for players who sign contracts and then sit out, demanding more lucrative terms and conditions. But the NFL is a different beast, a brutal phenomenon. Players absorb a physical beating that, frankly, cannot be quantified. Check back with them at age 50. The longterm impact of injuries, including concussions, has to continue to be intensely scrutinized and evaluated.