Allen's career reflections
By Brian Murphy
Special to Page 2

What other way to start a week at The Cooler than with a toast of the Sparkletts to none other than Marcus Allen himself?

Wow, Marcus Allen - into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Marcus Allen
Because of rushes like this, Marcus Allen was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame.
Think of the deep, historic meaning of the enshrinement: Now there are two Hall of Famers who know exactly what happened the night of June 12, 1994 in Brentwood, CA.

What, you wanted a flowery description of his epic touchdown run in Super Bowl XVIII?

Come on. One of the most fascinating aspects of the great Marcus Allen's career was his bizarre, creepy and not-so-tangential relationship with O.J. and Nicole Simpson.

This will always fascinate. Fortunately, since the Canton ceremony is a family affair, Marcus kept everything above-board in his speech. Besides, what a player. Man! Marcus Allen with the pigskin in his hand - like watching Barry Bonds turn on an inside fastball, or like watching Dean Martin attack a hosted bar.

Marcus Allen does not carry the pedigree of a player who would be exalted at The Cooler: He was a Trojan in college, and a Raider as a pro. Ewww. Gross. But he gets much respect here because of the Magic Johnson Effect. That is to say, the feeling one gets after hating a player with all his guts because that player played for your team's bitter rival - only to later, after that player's retirement, come to realize your hatred blurred the true vision of an epic athlete.

It happened with me and Magic. I was a Warriors fan in the '80s while the Lakers had it all: Championships, Magic leading the break and a young Paula Abdul in Spandex. I hated Magic, man. Hated him! Thought he was overrated and a whiner. Only after his retirement, when my bile subsided, did I realize: Christ on a bike, Magic Johnson might be the best all-around basketball player I've ever seen. The very fact that I hated him with all my guts is the same reason I exalted him years later - almost as an apology to a legendary winner.

O.J. Simpson
O.J. Simpson's relationship with Marcus Allen has always been interesting.
It is because of the Magic Johnson Effect that, to this day, I do not buy - do not buy at all - the theory that Michael Jordan is a cut above any player who ever played basketball. It is because of the Magic Johnson Effect that I will never even put Jordan ahead of Magic, and instead say that Jordan and Magic are only two of the greatest players in history, on the same level as Bird, Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar and perhaps Oscar Robertson.

Now, years later, only after he hung up the Trojan red and the Raider black, can I appreciate Marcus Allen for all his glory.

Call it the Marcus Allen Effect.

And call it a fitting way to continue 2003 as the Worst Year in Al Davis' Life: In January, Jon Gruden goes ahead and Grudens him in the Super Bowl . . . six months later, Marcus into the Hall.

Somebody get Al a stiff one, pronto.

On, then, to the Weekend List of Five:

1. Hank Stram: A Salute.

A hearty toast of the Dixie Cup to H. Stram on his big Hall of Fame weekend. Where would we, the purveyors of sports pop culture, be without Hank Stram's miked-up performance in Super Bowl IV? He's the original. The best. When it comes to miked-up coaches, Brian Billick in "Hard Knocks" couldn't carry Hank Stram's soiled jock. Stram, in the blazer, with the 1970 haircut is a classic, like Olivier. Billick, in the sweatsuit, preening to the camera is a charlatan, like Sandler.

Plus, who didn't live for the "Monday Night Football" radio tandem of Jack Buck and Hank Stram? Hope and Crosby; Martin and Lewis; Simon and Garfunkel . . . nobody had it on Buck-Stram. They made it so the ultimate made-for-TV event, "Monday Night Football" was better heard on the radio!

Close your eyes and hear it now: Buck's gravel-voiced play-by-play . . . "Annnd Simms back to pass, looking, has time, fires over the middle to Bavaro, first down, Giants" . . . immediately giving way to Stram's helium-voiced analysis "what Simms saw there was a two-deep zone taking away Mark Ingram's post route, so Bavaro, smart player, just floated into the seam and was a perfect safety valve for Simms, who definitely felt the heat from Dexter Manley on that play, nice execution" . . . and seamlessly, like a choreographed dance, Buck picking up on Stram's last syllable, "Annnnd we're back first and 10 New Yorrrk. . . "

Damn, I miss that. Getting a little misty-eyed, dweller.

Here's to you, Hank.

2. The NFL in Tokyo: So, so wrong.

So let's get this math equation straight:

Take over 150 pituitary cases who pass for NFL camp players. Take about two tons worth of equipment. Put them all on airplanes for a 13-hour flight. Send them to Japan. Have them play in front of a half-empty dome. Then, pack them up and send them back home on another 13-hour flight.

Paul Taglibue
Football in Tokyo may have been the worst idea ever.
What does that add up to?

The answer is twofold: 1) Paul Tagliabue's dream of world empire, and 2) The worst idea in American sports.

To top off the insult, my boy Chief was there, and he reported that Cheap Trick played the halftime show - only to trot out a lip-synch routine he described as worse than a Japanese-to-English dub job for a TV version of a "Godzilla" flick.

All because Tags thinks his NFL can be a global titan, the equivalent of Manchester United. Sorry, pal. To those who wonder why American forces invaded Iraq, I plead with them to turn their anger to an equally just argument: Why must the NFL invade Japan every August?

What, we're planning on mining all that ready-for-the-NFL talent in the Land of the Rising Sun, where the average cat goes about 5-foot-5, 110 pounds? Meanwhile, Tags flies back from Japan to New York to an air-conditioned, wood-paneled office and a lunchtime appointment at the Downtown Athletic Club for a 2-hour massage and steam.

The Jets and Bucs return to two-a-days and a dorm bed.

So, so wrong.

3. Gruden in Japan: Comedy.
How does one say "Chuckie-San" in Japanese?

If there's one way to hilariously mess with the legend of Jon Gruden and the Early Wake-Up Call, it's to fly his team from Florida to Japan for what amounts to a 48-hour stay.

Yeah, Gru. You got your little wake-up-at-3:17 a.m.-routine down pat? Try flying FOURTEEN time zones and keeping up the legend, champ. I wish I could have heard Gruden's initial call from his room down to the front desk at the Tokyo Hilton.

Gruden: "Yeah, I need a wake-up call for 3:17 a.m., Florida time."

Front Desk: "Ah, yes, sir. Very good. That would be 5:17 p.m. Japan time."

Gruden; "Yeah, so?"

Front Desk: "Ah, yes, sir. Very good. It is currently 5:15 p.m. Japan time."

Gruden: "Wait, I don't get it."

Front Desk: "Ah, yes, sir. Very good. You have two minutes of sleep, we call you then."

Jon Gruden
Jon Gruden had much more fun winning last year's Super Bowl than asking for a wake-up call in Tokyo.
Gruden: "Wait, make it for 3:17 a.m., Japan time, then."

Front Desk: "Ah, yes, sir. Very good. Then we wake you at 1:17 p.m., Florida time, previous day."

Gruden: "Wait, what? Previous day. Holy guacamole. I can't sleep till 1:17 p.m., much less for two days. That'd ruin my legend with all the sportswriters looking for an angle. Why can't you wake me up at 3:17 a.m.?"

Front Desk: "Ah, yes, sir. Very good. You have one minute of sleep, we call you then."

Hope Tags isn't looking for a Christmas card from Gru anytime this winter.

4. A Couple of Complaints, If I May.

It is with a hearty dose of mixed emotions that I welcome back the NFL, dweller.

As has been documented for years at The Cooler, I have no time for August football on TV. I do, however, understand that it is a harbinger of an always-fun autumn, around the corner: Heavy personal wagers on point spreads, all-day-long beer-binges in the comfort of your own living room, and the chance to ogle at Lisa Guerrero's skin-tight blouses.

Just can't shake the melancholy that comes when the beloved sport of baseball gets so thoroughly blown out by football in the American sports consciousness. Even watching ball highlights at halftime of a freaking exhibition from Japan, the sport seemed tiny in the face of the NFL behemoth. So, football season means we true baseball fans play Barry Goldwater to the NFL's Lyndon Johnson. Sad.

And another beef, apropos of nothing: It's Aug. 4, and already I have Warren Sapp Fatigue.

5. A's-Yanks: A Classic Look.
Red Sox fans may circle me and stone me to death for this one, but it looks to me right now that the Yankees' best, toughest and most feared rivals right now are not a classic old team playing in an atmospheric old yard in Beantown. Nay, dweller. The Yanks' best, toughest and most feared rivals right now are a bunch of dudes in white shoes playing in a faceless relic from the Nixon era, a multi-purpose concrete bowl.

A's-Yanks - get into it.

It struck me this weekend. I thought the Oakland Coliseum's expiration date on cool atmosphere came in the 1974 AFC playoffs, when John Madden wore Sans-a-Belts and Kenny Stabler tossed a prayer to Clarence Davis. Back then, the Coliseum was it, man. A multi-purpose concrete bowl? The wave of the future, surely! Ballgames, football games and Journey concerts. Who could beat it?

But decade after decade passed on, and the Coliseum became as cool as a Members Only jacket.

Who would have thought that in the year 2003, when civilization was supposed to go the way of the Jetsons, the Coliseum would throb with life and atmosphere once again?

The small-budget A's pulled two out of their nether regions in the bottom of the 9th this weekend on the big-budget Yanks, and the intensity will surely simmer come October again, too. The poor kids, getting over on the rich kids? The guys in the Pinto drove by and egged the guys in the Benz. What is this, a John Hughes flick? The A's as Jon Cryer's "Duckie" and the Yanks as James Spader's "Steff"?

Wait. I just gave life to Cryer's impossible-to-watch turn in "Pretty in Pink." Moreover, I just gave life to the impossible-to-watch "Pretty in Pink."

You don't have to tell me twice, dweller. I know when to end a column.

Brian Murphy of the San Francisco Chronicle writes the "Weekend Water Cooler" every Monday for Page 2.



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