Archives for posts with tag: Red Sox

These are interesting times.  Another weird week is over as the Nationals get swept and then almost pull off a sweep of their own.  One crazy comeback, one walk-off homer and one offensive extravaganza all in one series.  And that was supposed to be the back-burner to the clash of contenders.  Yet after all of the chills, thrills, spills and meetings– the Nats remain five games back in the NL East.  Exactly where they were one week ago. Rinse and repeat.

Meetings and Comebacks- the Nats after getting swept by Boston (not the worst thing given the Red Sox own the best record in the bigs) the team called the famed “players-only meeting”.  We’ve seen these not work out with alarming lack of success, and after trailing last-place Miami 9-0 the next day it appeared as we were only a Jonathan Papelbon choke-hold away from the classic Nats title defense implosion.  Only Trea Turner turned it on with a solo homer in the fourth inning.  You could say that was the genesis of the comeback as that put the team on the board.  And then Turner turned it on again with an RBI grounder in the fifth, a grandslam in the sixth and finally a two-run single in the seventh.  The 14-12 win was the biggest comeback in Washington Nationals history…and if there is an October July 5th will be a date circled on many fans’ calendars.

All Stars- Max Scherzer and Bryce Harper make their sixth appearances in the upcoming midsummer classic while Sean Doolittle gets his second invitation (he made the 2014 game while with Oakland).  Trea Turner could still make the squad as he’s one of five NL players in the “Final Vote”.  Anthony Rendon finishes out of the mix probably because of the early time he missed to injury.

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta and Philadelphia are tied for the NL East lead…and both have a good chance to keep their respective five game cushions over the Nats.  The Braves after losing four of five are home this week to face sub-500 Toronto and an Arizona team that’s dropped seven of ten.  Philadelphia’s on the road but plays four games against the Mets, three at Miami, and a make-up game with the Orioles (three of the bottom five teams in the majors).  The race at the bottom of the division is becoming just as entertaining as the Mets and Marlins are separated by one game.

O’s Woes- an 0-6 week drops the Birds to 24-65, meaning that in order to avoid their first 100-loss campaign in 30 years they’d need to sustain a 39-34 finish.  The Orioles haven’t been five games over .500 since May 26th…of last year.  The “tragic number” counting down their elimination reaches 36…and it doesn’t get any easier with four games against the New York Yankees over the next three days.

Last Week’s Heroes- Mark Reynolds not only hit .625;  the infielder belted a walk-off homer Friday night, notched 10 RBI Saturday and tossed one-third inning of relief Sunday.  Michael A. Taylor goes 7-for-15 at the plate while Trea Turner tallied and 8 RBI game in Thursday’s comeback.  Sean Doolittle notched a save and a win while tossing two scoreless innings while Max Scherzer tallied his first win over a month.

Last Week’s Humbled- Tanner Roark shaved his beard into a Chester A. Arthur getup before going with the full shave…to no avail.  The righthander went 0-2 while allowing 13 runs over 11 innings.  In doing so he dropped to 3-11 on the year…tying his career high for losses in a season.  Nobody was expecting Roark to win 20 games this year, but the fact that the previously reliable starter is floundering is cause for concern as we approach the dog days of summer.  Especially with Stephen Strasburg still on the shelf.

Game to Watch- Thursday the Nats visit the New York Mets, and Max Scherzer takes his 11-5 mark to the mound against Steven Matz (3.31 ERA).  Max currently leads the majors in strikeouts with 177, is tied for fourth with 11 wins and ranks sixth in MLB with a 2.33 ERA.  Must-see TV on Thursday.

Game to Miss- Friday is Tanner Roark’s turn and the Mets have yet to designate a starter.  It’s rough seeing Roark go through the year he’s had so far…and one wonders if, how and when he’ll be able to turn 2018 around.  I’m okay with skipping this baby step back to normalcy…or (heaven forbid) another tough outing.

There are four major steps to winning a World Series (actually a fifth if you take the wildcard route, but why bog ourselves down further?)…and winning the division is perhaps the most arduous.  I’m not saying that winning 3 of 5 or 4 of 7 games against a top-flight ballclub isn’t a challenge; nor is prevailing in a winner-take-all one game wildcard showdown (I thought we weren’t going there).  But to be the best team over 162 games with all its ebbs, flows, peaks, valleys, and sideways lurches takes a certain grit.  The 2012 and 2014 Nationals had that grit…and so does the current edition.  Bring on the playoffs…as they begin the mopping-up segment of the season.

Playoff Possibilities, Senior Circuit- the Nats will play the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Divisional Series as the Chicago Cubs already have home field locked up.  They lead LA by a game and a half for home field in that series.  The Cubs will play the wildcard winner…currently the New York Mets lead San Francisco by one game for home field for that game, while St Louis is one half game behind the Giants.  Should the three teams tie for the two playoff spots there would be a musical chair situation that would have either the Cardinals or Mets hosting the first game with the other team getting to choose to host the second game or be on the road for game one.  The two winners would then meet for the wildcard. I’m going to need a nap.

Playoff Possibilities, AL Version- the Orioles had a chance to catch Boston for the AL East lead this past week but instead were swept at home by the Red Sox (going 2-8 at home to Boston this year).  They were bedeviled once again by David Ortiz (.333, 8 HR & 19 RBI this year vs BAL) and Mookie Betts (.408, 9 HR & 21 RBI).  If somehow the O’s face the Sox in the playoffs…a little hint: DO NOT PITCH TO EITHER OF THESE MEN.  Roll the ball to the plate if you need to.  The Orioles currently own the second wildcard spot in the AL, one and a half games behind Toronto in the race for home field and one and a half games ahead of Detroit in the race for not going home for the winter.  AL West champ Texas awaits the winner–although Boston could easily slip past the Rangers in the race for home field (they’re tied at 92-64, with TEX holding the tiebreaker of best intra-division record) advantage.  Cleveland’s magic number to win the Central is one.

Last Week’s Heroes- Wilson Ramos hit .409 while Danny Espinosa led the team in runs scored (4), homers (2) and RBI (6).  Tanner Roark despite being tagged with a loss allowed just one run over seven innings in his lone start of the week.

Last Week’s Humbled- the injury bug has turned into a major virus.  Bryce Harper’s thumb, Daniel Murphy’s leg and Stephen Strasburg’s elbow remain under the microscope. While many were already writing off the Nats pitcher for the postseason, they can ill afford to lose either one of their most productive bats for any stretch of October.

Game to Watch- Tuesday Max Scherzer pitches against the organization that drafted him.  The Nats ace’s pursuit of 20 wins remains alive… with there always being the chance of something special each time it’s his turn in the rotation.

Game to Miss- Miami comes to DC for the final weekend of the season…and rookie AJ Cole starts the series opener.  Just as a team assured of a playoff berth sets up its rotation and lineup for the postseason, you should set your viewing habits in rhythm.

The NL East remains technically in doubt…but the Nationals in taking two of three from the New York Mets last week pushed the defending division champs to the precipice of playoff elimination.  The quirky crew from Queens can still qualify for the postseason as a wildcard, but barring a major collapse the Nats are en route to a third division title in five years.  That in conjunction with the current road trip means that several cases of champagne will be on hand as the team goes from Miami to Pittsburgh this week.  With the magic number standing at six…they could conceivably wrap it up in the sunshine state (the Marlins at 74-75 are already out of contention for the division) with a sweep plus a Mets implosion.  Most likely the spraying will occur this upcoming weekend in Pittsburgh.  Is there an Iron City Sparkling Wine?

Dissecting the Division- the Nats lead the Mets by eight games…and the defending division champs bounced back nicely from dropping two of three in DC to sweep Minnesota.  The hot bat on the ballclub belongs to Curtis Granderson…who despite hitting .208 this month is clubbing 6 homers and 13 RBI.  Ageless Bartolo Colon is 2-0 this month with a sub-2 ERA while Seth Lugo has won four straight starts.  Could the division still be up for grabs when the Nats come home next week?

Playoff Positioning- if the postseason began today, the Nats would have home field advantage over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS.  The Chicago Cubs would host the wildcard winner (New York Mets hosting San Francisco).  St. Louis is the only other NL team with a winning record; the Cardinals are one game behind the Giants and two games in back of the Mets.  The American League matchups would have the Orioles hosting Toronto in the Wildcard game with the winner facing Texas…while Cleveland would own home field advantage over Boston in the other Divisional Series.

No Scully Sightings- Sadly, Vin Scully will not be announcing any postseason games this fall-preferring to finish his Dodgers broadcasting career by the Bay in the regular season finale.  Interestingly enough, he was once a prime announcer for the NFL on CBS before losing the #1 job (and pairing with John Madden) to Pat Summerall in 1981.  Vin’s final football game?  The classic 1981 NFC Championship Game (Montana-to-Clark) at Candlestick Park.

The Wild Wildcard Race– while the Orioles can still win the AL East (they have four games with Boston this week), the Birds have plenty of company scraping for the final two playoff spots in the AL.  Toronto’s one game back…while Seattle and Detroit are two games behind the Blue Jays.  Houston remains in the mix one game behind the Mariners and Tigers while the New York Yankees getting swept by the Sox pushes the pinstripes to the precipice.  Defending World Series champ Kansas City is technically in contention…with a tragic number of nine.

Last Week’s Heroes- Trea Turner bats .462 and scores 8 runs while notching 3 HR and 4 RBI.  Daniel Murphy makes his former team rue the day they let him go by getting a hit in all 19 games played against the New York Mets this year.  Tanner Roark ties a career high with his 15th win of the year…striking out 7 over 7 scoreless innings.  Max Scherzer wins his 17th while striking out 8 over 7 innings of work.

Last Week’s Humbled- Gio Gonzalez lost for the first time since July…but for the second time in three starts the lefthander failed to reach the sixth inning.  Bryce Harper walked 7 times but went 1 for 17 at the plate.  Ryan Zimmerman (.211) is still searching for his swing while Danny Espinosa is hitting .120 in September.  Will the back end of the lineup be able to bounce back by October?

Game to Watch- Tuesday in Miami it’s matching 15-8’s.  Tanner Roark pitches against Jose Fernandez.  While this game won’t be for the division title, it’s the best mound matchup of the week.  And it falls on a non-football night.

Game to Miss- Sunday AJ Cole (1-2) squares off against Pittsburgh rookie Steven Brault (0-3).  Don’t be surprised if both bullpens get emptied as each manager maximizes his 40-man roster.

Nineteen games remain in the 2016 season with the Nationals magic number to clinch the NL East standing at 11.  Multiple pitchers and position players have chances at reaching magic numbers of their own, with Daniel Murphy the first to cross one last week when he passed the 100-RBI mark. Who else has a chance to hit money marks as the season dwindles?  Murphy needs 5 homers to reach 30 (a suddenly warming-up Bryce Harper needs 6) for the year while the 200-hit (25 shy) and 100-run (14 needed) plateaus likely won’t be met by the infielder.  Harper is just two walks shy of reaching 100 for the second straight year.  Anthony Rendon is 3 doubles shy of 40 and 3 homers away from 20 on the season.  Ben Revere (7) and Trea Turner (6) are within shouting distance of 10 steals… and Turner is also 7 steals away from 30 for the year.  Wilson Ramos is currently hitting .302…but the 29-year old is hitting .259 since the All Star Break and .143 in September.  On the pitching side of the equation, Max Scherzer may have seen his dream of 20 wins disappear with Saturday’s no-decision…but Tanner Roark will have chances to match and exceed his career high of 15 wins.  Roark can also pitch 200 innings for the first time in his career .  Unfortunately, Stephen Strasburg’s run at 20 which became his run at 18 may be stuck at 15…as the righthander is on the shelf again with elbow issues.  Mark Melancon has 41 saves this year…and perhaps may see the ball 9 more times to give him a shot at the half-century.  Happy hunting, gentlemen…

 

 

Dissecting the Division…with Potential Playoff Partners- the Nats lead the New York Mets by nine games with 19 remaining in the season.  Don’t discount the defending division champs-despite missing half of their opening day lineup the kids from Queens have won 16 of 21.  Miami may have won three of four after dropping 10 of 11, but the Marlins still stand 14 games back.  The Nats eliminated Atlanta from the division race last Monday; Saturday they eliminated Philadelphia.  At this point the Nats have home-field advantage over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS, while San Francisco would host the New York Mets for the right to play the Chicago Cubs.

AL East Reset- last week the Orioles trailed Boston for the wildcard and Toronto for the division; those two roles have been flip-flopped with the O’s trailing the Red Sox by two games in the AL East while remaining tied with the Blue Jays for the wildcard.  Buck Showalter’s team is 6-6 against both teams with 7 games remaining against each.  By the way, the Sox & Jays have three games remaining and are tied 8-8.  I’m looking forward to a fantastic/frustrating finish.

Last Week’s Heroes- Trea Turner hit .400 with 3 homers and RBI…including a walk-off blast Friday night that was his first walk-off hit of any kind since he was in Little League. Daniel Murphy hit .455…and Anthony Rendon tallied  7 RBI.  Max Scherzer and Anthony Rendon each went 1-0 with no-decisions…as Gio bounced back from his worst start since the All Star Break to toss seven solid innings in the series finale with Philadelphia.

Last Week’s Humbled- Wilson Ramos hit .118, Ryan Zimmerman hit .100…while Jayson Werth and Danny Espinosa also bat under .200 for the week.  Stephen Strasburg’s return ended early…and now the righthander’s 2016 is in doubt.  He missed out on the 2012 playoffs…and it would be another cruel twist of fate if Stras is on the shelf again this October.

Game to Watch- Tanner Roark has been on fire since the end of May…posting a 10-4 mark with an ERA of 2.94.  He tosses the series finale against the Mets Wednesday…and whether the Nats are looking for a series sweep, win or salvage Roark starts the getaway day game that begins at 4:05.

Game to Miss- They’re pitching Matt Latos in his first Major League start since June up against the Redskins on Monday Night Football?  I’m tuning in to see if a defense that ranked 28th last year can contain Pittsburgh’s high-flying offense.  I’m watching to see who emerges as the primary ballcarrier in the runningback rotation.  I’m going to try to count the amount of Steeler fans in the Fed Ex Field stands.

The final regular season benchmark is cleared this evening as Labor Day issues the end of white pants wearing for the 2016 season…and shuts down the pools.  Even though tomorrow is going to be even nicer outside.

The Nationals find themselves 8.5 games ahead of the hard-charging New York Mets after dropping two of three at Citi Field.  Will they supercharge their offense for the finishing kick?

Schedule Shakeout- over the final 26 games of the season, the Nats play 17 at home…and 20 against teams with losing records.  For clarification, the slumping Marlins (one game under .500) count towards that total while the 67-67 Pirates do not.  The Mets?  Of their 25 games remaining 22 are against clubs with losing marks…the exception being their upcoming trip to DC.  So the magic number of 18 may take a while to whittle down to single digits.

Playoff Positioning- “if the season ended today” can finally be used without strange looks from everybody.  The Nats would host the Los Angeles Dodgers (who get Clayton Kershaw back this week) in the Division Series while the Chicago Cubs would await the Wildcard winner of St Louis at San Francisco.

The Wild East- the AL East remains the most hotly contested division in baseball, with the New York Yankees still inexplicably hanging around.  Don’t they know it’s “2017 or bust!”?  The Orioles inch closer to Toronto after taking two of three from the Pinstripes…and are now three games behind the Blue Jays and two games behind Boston for the #1 Wildcard.  Two other teams are in the mix for the final playoff spot in the AL- Detroit is tied with the Birds at 72-64 while Houston is just two games back.  And then there are the Yankees 3.5 games off the pace.  Don’t they have to schedule a parade for Mark Teixeira or something?

Last Week’s Heroes- in a six-game stretch where the team scored just 15 runs, the pitching staff came up huge.  Gio Gonzalez, Max Scherzer, Tanner Roark and A.J. Cole each won games while allowing a combined 6 runs over 32 innings pitched.  Gonzalez is especially hot having won 7 of his last 9 decisions.

Last Week’s Humbled- averaging 2.5 runs per game is no way to people confidence in your offense.  The bats also went 0-8 with runners in scoring position Sunday.  Daniel Murphy after using his former team like his personal piñata (.423 with 7 HR and 21 RBI in his first 13 games against them) went 3-11 with one run scored over the weekend.  They may finally be on to him…

Game to Watch- Wednesday Stephen Strasburg returns to the rotation… bringing his 15-4 mark to the mound in a matchup with Atlanta’s Mike Foltynewicz (8-5, 4.31 ERA).  Will we get the flamethrower that started the season 13-0, or the guy who lost 4 of his last 6 decisions?

Game to Miss- poor Gio Gonzalez.  The lefty pitches on the first Sunday of the NFL season… and against Philadelphia’s Adam Morgan (1-9, 6.21 ERA) no less.  No word if the Phillies will be bringing up minor league catcher Fog E. Botum for the game.

 

It’s finally here.  The Washington-Baltimore Parkway showdown.  Ben’s Chili Bowl vs. Old Bay.  Port City Optimal Wit vs. Natty Bo.  West Wing vs. The Wire.  Sonny vs. Johnny U.  You know the drill.  The upstart Nationals face the establishment Orioles (who rightfully still have more than a few fans on the left bank of the Potomac) in what just one week ago looked like it was going to be a duel of division leaders.  Bring on your area angst. 

The Nationals enter this week’s two-city, four-game showdown eight and a half games ahead of the pack in the NL East while the Orioles are staring up the standings at Boston and Toronto.  Two and a half games separate the three teams and with the Red Sox pitching taking personal days from time to time the order of the three teams could very well change by the end of this sentence.  Both the Blue Jays and Sox boast run differentials (TOR +95, BOS +116) far superior to the Orioles (+18).  With the Birds’ lack of solid starting pitching (26th in ERA and that is with Chris Tillman factored in) is it only a matter of time before they fade?

Comparing the two teams 123 games into the season, the Nats have actually scored more runs (600 to 579) than the O’s despite hitting .255 to the Birds’ .262.  Pitching shows more separation, with the Nationals ERA ranking 2nd for starters, relievers and overall.  The Orioles?  Twenty-sixth for starters, 6th for relievers and 21st overall.  Thank goodness for Orioles Magic.

Sayonara Saturn- while driving home from the Nationals’ 8-5 loss to Atlanta August 12th, my Saturn Ion suddenly lost the “hitch in its giddyup”.  After 13+ years and 240,000 miles the vehicle finally met its end on Fairfax Drive in Arlington.  Thankfully I was able to push the vehicle the necessary 3/10 of a mile with help from a few bros getting out of Ballston bars at the time.  Evidently the motor is a very important and crucial part of driving.  And unfortunately even if said motor was reconstructed the mechanic notified me, “Your car has a lot of other issues too.”  Akin to telling the heart patient that there isn’t just ventricle damage, but they’re missing one kidney and the liver is where one of their lungs should be.  Sadly my Moody Blues CD “To Our Children’s Children’s Children” remains stuck in the CD player.

Last Week’s Heroes- all Bryce Harper needed was five games off…the cleanup hitter cleaning up by hitting .407 with 2 HR and 10 RBI.  Anthony Rendon hit .370 while scoring 7 runs and driving in 3.  Ryan Zimmerman comes off the DL to go 4-8 with a home run.  Rookie Reynaldo Lopez posts the best start of the rotation by striking out 11 over 7 innings.  Mark Melancon tallies 3 saves in 3 opportunities.

Last Week’s Humbled-  Ben Revere hit .182 while Danny Espinosa hit .136 with 10 strikeouts.  Both present great defensive value but the lineup can’t simply give away outs.  With Zimmerman healthy and Daniel Murphy moving back to second base, Trea Turner (still a sparkplug atop the order) gets pushed to centerfield or shortstop.  Despite his error Sunday, Turner looks to be a centerfield fit for this season.  Stephen Strasburg had a rough hiccup last Wednesday, coughing up 9 earned runs over an inning and two thirds.  Do we view that as an isolated incident or part of a bigger picture this August (1-3, 10.19 ERA)?

Game to Watch- Thursday in DC the series finale pits Max Scherzer (13-7, 3.05 ERA) against Chris Tillman (15-5, 3.76).  While both have staggered as of late (Scherzer has a 6.97 ERA over his last two starts while Tillman over his last five outings is 1-3 with a 6.66 ERA), I’m thinking both revert to form on the big stage.

Game to Miss- after all of this inter-city angst, I’ll be exhaling Friday evening when Colorado comes to town. Gio Gonzalez (8-9, 4.30 ERA) pitches against Rockies rookie Jeff Hoffman (0-1, 13.50) who will be making his second career start.  Your perfect opportunity to enjoy one last summer Friday night at Tony & Joes on the Georgetown Waterfront.

Previously appearing on Preston’s Perspective’s Blogspot Site in 2009…

 

The donning of the jacket. The acceptance speech. The cheers…there’s nothing quite like a Hall of Fame Enshrinement. And this summer Jim Ed Rice received his rightful moment– and took his appropriate place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I know many in the Boston era have voiced the famed “what if”?  What if Rice hadn’t attended Nebraska to play wide receiver and become an All-American safety/punt returner? What if the Red Sox had been able to sign their number one pick? But it just wasn’t meant to be and Jim Rice as a Boston Red Sox is merely the flight of fantasy.

Although he did not play in the Game of the Century (freshmen were ineligible in 1971), Rice watched and learned from one of the most electrifying players ever in college football–and when 1972 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers graduated, Rice took over the punt return duties with flair–although he didn’t outrun tacklers, the South Carolina born mack truck bulled through them. A position switch to strong safety after his sophomore season gave the born hitter his stage.

Who could forget how Rice took the NFL by storm in 1975 with fellow rookie Fred Lynn? As ironic as this sounds, Lynn was also a Red Sox draft pick (he played both football and baseball at USC)–could you imagine the two playing side by side at Fenway instead of Foxboro? Manning the two safety positions in the Patriots defense the duo was dubbed the “Gold Dust Twins”— while Lynn played free safety like an all-star centerfielder (truth be told Lynn probably had better HOF credentials until his infamous 1981 holdout caused the Pats to trade him to the Los Angeles Rams-where he was never the same at Anaheim Stadium) Rice punished tight ends, running backs and wide receivers alike. He was titled the “most-feared hitter of his generation in the American Conference”…and was an instrumental part of the Patriots rise to dominance in the late 70’s.

Rice’s fumble causing hit of Ken Stabler in the 1976 AFC Divisional Playoff game held off a Raiders rally made possible when “Sugar Bear” Hamilton was whistled for roughing the passer a few plays earlier on the drive. Stabler and Oakland coach John Madden (who resigned after the year to become an executive for Greyhound–go figure)both maintain Stabler was tucking the ball away as Rice applied the hit…to no avail.

After disposing of the injury-ravaged Pittsburgh Steelers (Rocky Bleier’s broken toe and Franco Harris’ bruised ribs prevented the 1,000 yard rushers from taking the field) the Pats completed their miracle run by upsetting Minnesota in Super Bowl XI. Rice’s late-game interception return for a touchdown is a fixture of NFL Films…and for those taking a closer look one can see a cast on Rice’s wrist. Forgotten by most is that Rice broke his wrist in the Pats’ final regular season game- and instead of taking the postseason off, played with a heavily buffered and taped cast at risk of the rest of his career. One can only surmise they wouldn’t allow that in baseball.

Fresh off a Celtics NBA Championship (and Stanley Cups from the Bruins earlier in the decade), the Hub was soon dubbed the “City of Champions”. Rice threw out the first pitch at Fenway Park the following April–and told Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk “they were next”.

We all know what happened next–the Red Sox responded by winning the 1977 World Series…fans can recount the rest of the championship lineup in their sleep–starting with an outfield based on speed and defense– Dwight Evans, Rick Miller and Andre Dawson (picked up in the steal of the century for Juan Beniquez and Bob Stanley the previous winter) all won gold gloves…power on the corners with 3b Butch Hobson and 1b Cecil Cooper (thankfully wiser heads prevailed and he wasn’t dealt for George Scott and Bernie Carbo in the offseason)… the middle infield of Denny Doyle and Rick Burleson…and veteran Carl Yastrzemski in his final season playing DH (Yaz’s decision to retire on top may have hampered his Hall of Fame chances–instead of DHing into his early forties and finishing with 3000+ hits and 400+ homers, Captain Carl left the game with 366 homers and 2,724 hits that made him wait until his final year of eligibility for Cooperstown in 1998).

The Patriots dynasty would be short-lived; holdouts by Leon Gray and John Hannah would torpedo the 1977 campaign; 1978 would be marred by Rice’s brief switch to wide receiver…put to rest when he knocked Oakland receiver Jack Tatum unconscious in a preseason game–ending the Raider safety’s career with a massive concussion. Rice caught some heat for not visiting Tatum in the hospital, sending wide receiver Darryl Stingley instead. Pats fans recall that was the year coach Chuck Fairbanks almost left the team to for the University of Colorado.  Rice made one of his best defensive plays ever— as the Nebraska alum took the ex-Oklahoma coach aside and told Fairbanks the folly of a move to a school that had no prayer in the Big Eight.

A return to the Super Bowl after the 1980 season would bring heartbreak; Steve Grogan’s late interception by Herman Edwards sealing the Patriots loss to Philadelphia. While trips to the Pro Bowl and the playoffs would await Rice during the latter part of his career–his dream of one final shot at the title would come short in 1986–as the Patriots were routed by Chicago in Super Bowl XX (although Rice’s return of a Walter Payton fumble for a touchdown on the game’s first drive gave fans hope). Three injury marred seasons robbed Rice of much of his greatness that had been celebrated and he finally called it quits during the summer of 1989.

Rice’s trip to Canton was rather intriguing–as a safety he was more of a run-stopper than an interception-collector…in fact when he played with Fred Lynn he never had more INT’s than his teammate.Stat compilers that had taken over the process kept Rice at bay for years until cooler heads finally prevailed this past winter.

The waiting ends and the celebration begins…although one still wonders what may have happened had he chosen the diamond instead of the gridiron–Lynn too, for that matter. But that’s for another day…like what would have happened had Butch Hobson stayed at Alabama and played QB for Bear Bryant.