Paying tribute to Johnny Cash
By Brian Murphy
Special to Page 2

Today, dwellers, we drape The Cooler in black, in honor of the Man in Black.

Johnny Cash, we hardly knew ye.

The passing of Cash will not go unnnoticed at The Cooler. We mourn a man who once stared down the possibility that a shiv could get shoved in his kidney by a life-without-parole homicidal maniac. Faced with that possibility, Cash instead went ahead and played three prison gigs. Hey, it cuts down on the number of fans walking out at intermission.

Johnny Cash
The Cooler honors one of the coolest: The Man in Black.
Cash deserves top billing at The Cooler because Cash was that rarest of commodities: a product of American culture that inspires pride, not shame.

If you travel internationally, you spend half your time abroad apologizing for our loud voices, rampant obesity and thinly-disguised imperialism masquerading as fast-food chains.

But an American can stand tall if certain topics are broached. Some products of our nation stand the test of International Shame, and Cash was right there, on par with Billie Holiday, baseball and Woody Allen (pre-Soon Yi).

Cash was honest. Understated. Flat-out cool.

There's a reason that John Cusack's character (Rob) in "High Fidelity" notes that his "all-time favorite book is Johnny Cash's autobiography, Cash: The Autobiography, by Johnny Cash" -- a piece of brilliant movie dialogue that achieves the rare quadruple redundancy.

Johnny Cash could sing a song to make you see the light, even if his dark soul led him to sing while he had half-a-pharmacy coursing through his veins. Cut him a break. Don't all the great ones seek temporary medicinal relief from this trail of tears we call life? Elvis, Cobain, Hendrix -- yo, J.C., you were in good company.

So what does Johnny Cash's death have to do with sports?

Easy question, for two reasons.

One: Over two years ago at The Cooler, we noted that when the Colorado Avalanche won the 2001 Stanley Cup, their postgame locker room interviews rocketed to All-time status. There, amid the champagne and the shouts, was a sound system blasting Cash's "Ring of Fire." I couldn't believe it. "Ring of Fire" in a Stanley Cup championship locker room, just minutes after Game 7? With that, the Avalanche make anybody's all-time list of Coolest Champions Ever.

And two: Johnny Cash would have been a tremendous Oakland Raider.

Now, now. Don't get me wrong. I'm not talking about the 21st-century Raiders, the Raiders of courtrooms, litigation and face-painters. I'm talking about the real Raiders. I'm talking about the Raiders of the 1970s, when life consisted of blue-collar hell-raising, the occasional bar row in a honky-tonk joint at training camp and motorcycle rides at midnight.

What I'm trying to say is, if Johnny Cash were a quarterback, he'd have been Kenny Stabler.

He would have been a character straight out of the pages of Stabler's classic autobiography. "Snake," a tome so raunchy and racy that the only jacket blurb the publisher could rustle up on my paperback copy were these three words of hilarity: "Spicy!" -- Buffalo News.

America is a lesser, duller place without the Man in Black. If you don't believe me, cue up his heartfelt rendition of "Danny Boy" on his last album, "The Man Comes Around." and try, just try not to brush away the tear.

I dare you.

On then, to the Weekend List of Five:

1. Jamal Lewis: The Modern Day Babe Ruth
Wait. This guy called his alltime NFL single-game rushing record?

All we have on Ruth is grainy, Zapruderesque footage of the Sultan probably brushing away a mosquito at Wrigley Field. Historians parse that film and have their knickers in a twist because we think he might have called his home run in the World Series.

Jamal Lewis
Quoth the Raven: 278 and more.
Here, we have a phone call from Lewis to a Browns linebacker saying that if he gets 30 carries, he goes for the all-time rushing record. This is evidence as conclusive as Linda Tripp taping Monica Lewinsky's details of Oval Office chicanery. In fact, since Lewis plays for Baltimore, there's a better-than-even chance that Tripp was taping his call, too.

(We now return you to pop cultural references from the 21st century.)

How do you call a 278-plus yard game? And then deliver?

I love that ESPN.com ran a poll on the "Sunday Standout" performer, and Lewis didn't get 100 percent of the vote after he gained nearly 300 yards. In fact, somewhere around 5 percent of the fans voted for Marc Bulger or Keenan McCardell. These users should have their online voting privileges revoked forever. Somebody sic the Music Downloading Lawyer on them.

Lewis was right about one thing. He said after the game it was "beautiful," and it was. Nothing like a running back slashing and gashing. Yep, slashing and gashing. And you thought it was just coincidence that O.J. Simpson's name was dusted off on SportsCenter last night.

At The Cooler, we miss the day of the Tailback-as-Horse. Nothing better than feeding a guy 30 times and letting him rock and roll -- Marcus Allen, Barry Sanders and Terrell Davis gave us those vibes.

Now, Lewis.

Final philosophical question: If you're Jamal Lewis and Juice calls you to congratulate you, how long do you save that voice-mail on your cell phone? Is there a function on the phone for "Forever?" Truly, a pop-culture keeper.

2. The Sweet Science
Didn't get a chance to see the De La Hoya-Mosley fight. Wait. Let me rephrase that.

Didn't spend 50 bucks to see the De La Hoya-Mosley fight.

Instead, watched TiVo'ed episode of last week's "Sex and the City." Ah, married life.

Shane Mosley-Oscar De La Hoya
Tune in for De La Hoya-Mosley III.
As if the domestic vibes weren't rampant enough, my puppy went 'Iron Mike' on me and bit my ear Saturday night in a raucous play session on the rug. I'm not kidding. Guess he could hear the high-pitched sound of our ESPN ironman Max Kellerman all the way in Northern California, and couldn't control himself. Next, the puppy will begin telling us in a Yellow Lab/Brooklyn lisp that it's "ludicrous" we only feed him three times a day.

But I must stop, before too many puppy stories overrun The Cooler.

Saw where there was some controversy over the decision. Promoter Bob Arum was so outraged, he righteously proclaimed: "This was such a freaking outrage, I'm never, ever going to be a part of this again."

Uh, yeah. Sure, Bob.

You'll never, ever be part of this again -- at least until you get to your office Monday and say on the intercom to your secretary: "Tiffany, get me HBO. Tell 'em it's about De La Hoya-Mosley III."

3. The Wild Card: I'm a Sellout
When Bud Selig and his Band of Knaves instituted the wild-card into the baseball landscape, I went Costas on him.

That's right. Full-on indignation. Howls to the heavens. Costas-esque cries of a paradise lost.

I saw Costas' cries of the Death of the Pennant Race as spot-on.

The Florida Marlins
With no Wild Card, these Fish would be making plans to fish.
That is, until the beloved Giants made last year's World Series as the National League wild-card.

Nothing like a little home-cooking to give a man religion.

Now, I am a Wild-Card Believer.

This year proves more of the same.

Think of it as a populist revival, the meek inheriting October ball.

Were it not for the wild-card, the plucky Florida Marlins would have no chance, toiling 9.5 games behind the Braves.

Were it not for the wild-card and attendant realignment, the heartwarming and low-budget Minnesota Twins would need high-powered binocs to see the A's in the old AL West, nearly 10 games in front.

And were it not for the wild-card and attendant realignment, the Giants would have the third-best record in baseball, and still face missing the playoffs, as they would be looking at a replay of the pained '93 season, finishing just behind the smoking-hot Braves in the old NL West.

Like I said, nothing like a little home cooking to turn the most principled of sports fans into a complete trollop.

I'm so ashamed.

4. The Windy City: I'm Worried
Speaking of the wild card ... that cute little Cubs-White Sox-In-Contention story has, as we hit mid-September, the potential to crush the fair city of broad shoulders in a mere fortnight's time.

Bartolo Colon
Looks like a choke to us.
The Cubs are now two out of the NL Central, and the White Sox, though game warriors at Fenway over the weekend, remain the White Sox.

What has me most worried is the state of the Chicago fan's psyche.

What if the Cubs falter, the White Sox gag and the town is left with an encroaching chill of autumn and the sad, so sad, Bears playing in a spaceship that crash-landed on Soldier Field?

Surely, a town as epic as Chicago deserves a better fate.

I can see old ladies in Wrigleyville flats, blue-hairs who still have Ron Santo's baseball card underneath a fridge magnet, leaning out the window to hang their laundry and saying to the old maid next door: "It's OK. We still have Kordell."

Like I said. Chicago: I'm worried.

5. The Kicker: Should Be Extinct
Martin Gramatica had an extra-point blocked to kill Tampa Bay's chance at victory.

Is this not the final piece of evidence that kickers should be banished from our fine and violent game of football?

Martin Gramatica
Here's to kickers getting the boot.
Imagine a game of huge, swift and fiercely strong men battling for the game's entirety. Now imagine those same gladiators told to vacate center stage while a water-boy plays kickball to decide whether or not they win.

It's like letting the "Ultimate Fighting Championship" get decided at the end by a pair of paperboys who enter the ring and play "Ro-Sham-Bo."

Solution: Soccer is a fine sport, an international sensation and a joy to behold at World Cup time.

Perhaps soccer could play Statue of Liberty to the huddled masses of kickers who will need a place to ply their trade if my No Kicker Rule comes to fruition.

Does not the PAT reek of antiquity? It is as modern as the Edsel, and just as relevant.

You think Johnny Cash would stand for the PAT? Hell, no.

The Man in Black would go for two every time -- just out of principle.

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





THE WATER COOLER

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Murphy: Raising a Tiger

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Murphy: Masters of our domain

Murphy: Somebody has to lose

Murphy: Welcome to Cooler Day!

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Murphy: Here's to Ew





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