From 76ers star Allen Iverson “talking about practice” to 49ers coach Mike Singletary declaring he would rather play with 10 men on the field than send a selfish player into his huddle, the sports world has produced some of the greatest rants in modern history.
The latest rundown from ESPN’s SportsCenter led to a discussion among Post-Dispatch sportswriters.
What is the most memorable sports rant you’ve covered?
The Cardinals and Blues are no strangers to eruptions. Neither was our town’s most-recent NFL team. Enough venting sessions have happened on college campuses that the most memorable recent one, former Mizzou football coach Barry Odom’s “dark days” rant after a 2017 loss to Auburn, didn’t even make this list.
We’re not talking about practice.
We’re talking about all-time rants.
(REALLY) MAD MIKE: ‘JUST GIVE THEM OUR GAME PLAN’
By Jim Thomas
It was Wednesday, Sept. 5, first practice day of game week for the St. Louis Rams’ 2001 season opener against Philadelphia. Regardless of the coach or the season, there was always increased tenseness, more intensity, before opening day.
So before radio personality Rob Fischer of KFNS (590 AM) had even completed the question, you knew this was headed for trouble. Fischer noticed running backs Marshall Faulk and Trung Canidate had been used in the backfield together during practice. He asked coach Mike Martz about this unusual formation.
The reaction was borderline volcanic.
“Why don’t you just give them our game plan?” Martz said. “Why don’t you just tell them what we’re doing? You’ve got to be kidding me! Maybe we shouldn’t let you watch practice. You’ve got to be kidding me! I don’t want to comment on what we’re going to do. Are you kidding me? Why would you say that?”
Fischer wasn’t kidding. In fact, he tried to ask a follow-up, but Martz erupted again before the question was finished.
“You’ve got to be kidding me! Why don’t you just give them a telegram?” Martz said. “Anybody else?”
No telegram was needed. More than 50 reporters were gathered that day for Martz’s press conference in the team auditorium at Rams Park, one of them was from the Philadelphia Inquirer. Less than an hour after Martz’s outburst, there was a story about it on The Associated Press wire. Cable television sports outlets quickly followed suit.
This was a time in the NFL when all practices were open to the media but there were certain protocols as to what could be reported. Strategy, play-calling nuances and personnel groupings were off-limits.
“Offensive gurus” were especially sensitive to information leaking out. And Martz, the architect of the “Greatest Show on Turf” — a team with five players (and counting) now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame — was no different.
Why, he’d even had a huge, green awning — that could be raised like a curtain — erected on one side of the practice field so it could block the view of lodgers at a hotel across the street. It was dubbed the “Green Monster” and cost thousands of dollars to install.
On this day in 2001, as a result of Fischer’s question, he threatened to shut down practice to all but a handful of reporters, but quickly relented.
To this day, Scott Linehan of the Rams and Jonathan Hayes of the XFL Battlehawks are the only coaches in the history of pro football in St. Louis to have closed practices on a regular basis.
P.S. The Rams defeated Philadelphia that Sunday in overtime 20-17. Canidate had one carry ... for one yard.
UMP OR ‘RICKEY’ TO BLAME? YOUNEVERKNOW WITH JOAQUIN
By Rick Hummel
Mercurial, unpredictable Cardinals righthander Joaquin Andujar was headed for a 25-win season in 1985 as the Cardinals were headed for a division title, a pennant and a spot in the World Series.
On a sticky mid-August Sunday afternoon, he was in line for his 20th win with many more starts to come. The opponents were the Montreal Expos and the Post-Dispatch commemorated Andujar’s haste to the 20-win mark with a lengthy story about Andujar in its Sunday morning editions.
Andujar must have been an avid reader because well down in the body of the story was a complaint he had that umpires sometimes didn’t give him what he deserved.
That seemed harmless enough until Andujar suffered a 6-5 loss in 10 innings to Montreal. With Tom Hallion calling balls and strikes, Andujar walked six and struck out only one.
But, instead of taking Hallion to task afterward in the clubhouse, Andujar thought it was better to take this correspondent to task for writing Andujar’s feelings about the men in blue.
Andujar paced back and forth in front of his locker, berating me, and the adjoining players seemed amused for a while and then they got bored with it. Finally, slugger Jack Clark, for whom Andujar had respect and some fear, walked calmly over to Andujar and said, “Joaquin, why don’t you just shut the hell up.”
That was the end of it until the next night in Houston when Andujar approached the reporter and said, “Sorry, Mr. Rickey.”
LOUD LARRY KEEPS ON BURNING
By Dave Matter
Nobody ever accused Larry Smith of hiding his emotions. That was among the most endearing qualities of the former Mizzou football coach, who led the Tigers to consecutive bowl games in 1997-98 before all the momentum he created stalled and screeched to a final stop in 2000.
Smith’s players loved that he wept after their biggest wins. He also, on occasion, could throw a good temper tantrum. On Nov. 14, 2000, Mount Larry erupted.
Mizzou was getting ready to host Kansas State for the season finale. The Tigers were 3-7 and dragging their tails to the finish line. Ever the fighter, Smith had already gone through an especially hard year. By then, he’d been diagnosed with chronic lymphatic leukemia, an illness that would take his life less than eight years later.
On this particular day, the frustration finally boiled over. A writer asked Smith the inevitable question about his job security.
For the next several minutes Smith unloaded.
“You want to look around at this building? You know who put this building together? I didn’t pay for it, but you know who put it together? I did,” Smith said. “You want to go in that press box you sit in now? You know whose idea that was? Mine.”
“I think that in the last seven years, you can look at about every facet of Missouri football, and it’s been us that’s gotten it done. It was our ideas, and we were the people that pushed it. I think we’ve made a heck of a difference here.”
On that point, he was absolutely right. It was through Smith’s sweat and tears that one of the nation’s most downtrodden programs became a team that went toe to toe with the best in the Big 12. But he had enough of the criticism.
“My whole problem has not been with the team, the coaches or anybody like that. It’s been with you guys,” he told a room of about 20 reporters. “You guys have surrounded this program with negativity, total negativity.
“I don’t read all that crap. But I hear about it. The wives hear about it, the players read it, they hear about it. Every one of you — most of you — have tried to bury this program. You’ve tried to bury me and this program.”
Of course, that wasn’t true. Most of us in that room respected Smith greatly. We admired his passion and his decades-long career of turning losers into winners. But this rant was scathing and seemed personal. (For the record, Smith’s wife Cheryl later told me Smith’s tirade was only directed at a couple people in the room whom he felt had taken unnecessary cheap shots at the team. At the time, it felt more like a scorched-earth rage with no parties spared.)
“You’ve tried to be the prognosticator,” he continued. “And you can’t do that, because you don’t know what’s going on. You don’t. You may be a sportswriter, but it’s like me trying to do your job for you. I can’t judge what you’ve done. I don’t try to.
“So, most of our problems have come out (as) what you’ve made them, not what they are. You don’t have any idea what it takes to go out there and take a snap, and you’ve never taken a snap in a college football game.”
“You have no idea what it takes to coach a football team. You have no idea what it takes to play the game of football on the college level. You have no idea. But still, you try to write about it, you try to evaluate it, and you try to judge it. And it’s strictly opinion.
“Who cares about your opinion? Because it’s not right. It’s not founded. It’s not factual.”
Smith coached his last game four days later.
The rant was not Smith’s finest moment, but the fire, the passion, the spirit he unleashed from the lectern that day was also what defined him on his best days.
‘WIND-AIDED’? BRETT SETS THE ROOKIE STRAIGHT
By Jeff Gordon
Hitting .400 for an entire baseball season is nearly impossible. Even back in 1980, when hitters aspired to drive the ball to all fields rather than pull everything into the seats, hitting .400 was almost unthinkable.
So when Kansas City Royals third baseman George Brett made his famous bid that year, he could become, well, a bit irritable under the mounting media scrutiny. So this was a really, really bad time for a rookie sportswriter to push his button with an awkward, poorly timed question.
I can’t be sure of the exact game, but it may have been July 29, 1980, when the Royals edged the Boston Red Sox in a 9-8 thriller. Brett hit an opposite-field homer in that game. He went 4 for 5, scored four runs and lifted his batting average to .382. So maybe that was the night.
Whatever the case, on My Most Memorable Career Night the wind was blowing out to left field. Brett hit an opposite-field homer that barely cleared the wall. From the back of the postgame media scrum came my ill-fated query: “Do you think your homer was wind-aided?”
“WIND-AIDED?” thundered Brett — and it was on. His blistering, profane tirade started at his locker, punctuated with an occasional “blond (expletive)” reference, then continued into the shower area. There was lots of banging, more yelling, then more screaming when he returned to the clubhouse.
To appreciate how much rage Brett could muster on a moment’s notice, just get on Google and type “Brett pine tar McClelland” and watch the madness unfold. My night was like that, minus the physical confrontation.
While Brett’s outburst was ongoing, I shuffled off to fetch quotes from other players on the victory. They wondered who ticked Brett off. I shrugged, like Ralphie in a “Christmas Story” after Flick’s tongue stuck to the flagpole.
Of course, protocol required that I apologize to Brett. Before the next game I tip-toed toward him at the batting cage. “Um, George, I’m sorry that ...”
Brett’s death-ray glare ended the conversation before it started. Needless to say, when Brett’s hemorrhoids problem arose during the ’80 World Series, I let the real sportswriters ask the probing questions.
LA RUSSA HITS THE WALL ON BIG MAC BASHING
By Derrick Goold
In 2005, as part of the ceremonies closing Busch Stadium II, Mark McGwire returned to St. Louis to remove a number from the countdown. This was a few months after his infamous testimony before Congress, and he had not been seen publicly since. At the ballpark that afternoon, McGwire was as forthcoming with answers as you’d expect. The questions did not subside, and once again his unwillingness to directly answer them — from Congress, from the gathered reporters — was becoming the story.
A reporter from ESPN had parachuted in for the day to cover McGwire’s rare appearance and turned to manager Tony La Russa to help fill in the blanks of McGwire’s interview. Outside the Cardinals’ clubhouse, which housed a super team on its way to a second consecutive 100-win season, La Russa stood before the camera and the reporter. When the question came about McGwire’s alleged (later admitted) use of performance-enhancing drugs, La Russa bristled. His agitation grew with each question, and he referred to them as “unfair” and he suggested something along the lines of reporters trying to tarnish a man or an important highlight in baseball history.
I don’t recall the exact words, and that’s part of the point. La Russa’s frustration grew in volume until he called off the interview, stormed away, and knew the camera would follow him. He passed me and a few other witnesses, and in clear view of the ESPN camera swatted the cement wall with his fungo bat so that it splintered apart spectacularly. Great video. McGwire’s staunchest defender had been pushed too far, right?
Sure. Fine. That’s checkers. La Russa was playing three-dimensional chess. La Russa’s gambit with the bat was a deft double-switch. McGwire’s lack of answers was no longer the lead to the story. The spotlight shifted and the glare on the slugger was diminished, replaced by the manager’s made-for-TV theatrics. La Russa managed the message by becoming the louder message. He was genuinely mad, for sure, but he’s Tony La Russa. Even his rants have reasons. Stagecraft can be strategy. Pity that fungo bat sacrificed in the act.
PETE’S POINT: WHAT’S LUCK GOT TO DO WITH IT?
By Ben Frederickson
It was fair to wonder if the wheels were going to fall off the Blues’ quest for their first Stanley Cup after officials missed the illegal hand pass from San Jose forward Timo Meier that set up the Sharks’ game-winning overtime goal in Game 3 of the 2018-19 Western Conference Finals.
A penalty obvious enough that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman later said watching it made his head want to explode could have sent the Blues into meltdown mode. In years past, it probably would have.
But coach Craig Berube set the tone. Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo was waiting to reinforce it when the dressing room doors opened. Teammates stuck to the script.
In a surprise twist, the rant that came to define that series came from the opposing coach.
“It irks me when you use words like that,” San Jose coach Pete DeBoer snapped after his Sharks hand-passed their way to 2-1 series lead.
The word was luck, and DeBoer’s Sharks were swimming in it.
The Sharks had benefited from a five-minute major penalty against Las Vegas forward Cody Eakin in Game 7 of round one. That penalty set up a third-period power play that led to four goals and an overtime win that ended the Golden Knights’ season. Problem was, the hit should have been a two-minute minor instead. Golden Knights owner Bill Foley said a league representative apologized to him for the wrong call after the series ended.
The Sharks caught another break in their second-round Game 7 win against the Colorado Avalanche. A coach’s challenge stuck Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog with an offside penalty during a change at the bench, a rare call that negated what would have been a game-tying second-period goal.
Throw in Meier’s missed hand pass, and San Jose’s good fortune was a juicy story.
DeBoer handled it as poorly as officials handled Sharks games that postseason.
He could have shrugged. He could have laughed. But he snapped.
“This team has played four or five elimination games,” DeBoer whined after his team won Game 3 against the Blues. “Not moments. Games. Twelve to 15 periods of elimination hockey against Vegas, against Colorado in Game 7, so I think it’s a ridiculous statement.”
“You know what?” DeBoer added. “We’ve found a way. And we’ve faced a lot of adversity. We’ve had calls go against us and we’ve had calls go for us, and we’re still standing. For anybody to minimize that, I think is disrespectful to our group and what we’ve done.”
DeBoer’s sensitive paranoia was echoed by his players, and you will never convince me his inability to simply brush off the luck stuff didn’t play a role in the Blues gutting the Sharks in each of the next three games.
BARRY BLASTS ‘MAMA’S BOYS’
By Stu Durando
Barry Hinson was so accustomed to saying crazy stuff that his postgame press conference on Dec. 18, 2013 didn’t strike him as out of the ordinary at the moment. When he awoke the next morning, the then-Southern Illinois-Carbondale basketball coach realized his words were being replayed throughout the country.
I was not present when Hinson lambasted his team after a loss to Murray State but talked to him the following morning after he realized his criticism was going viral.
Hinson called his players “mama’s boys.” He singled out a player for his poor performance. Hinson injected his wife, Angie, into typically colorful remarks.
“I’m struggling with this crew right now,” he said after the game. “They won’t let me coach ’em. Any time I coach somebody they put their head down. We’re soft. We’ve been enabled, for whatever reason. I’ve got a bunch of mama’s boys right now.”
Hinson’s biggest concerns, in hindsight, were that he had ripped into guard Marcus Fillyaw, who eventually transferred, and that people were saying he verbally abused his players. He apologized to Fillyaw and was not penalized by the university.
He didn’t hide from the fallout. He watched video of the press conference early the next morning with his wife and then did interviews to expound and explain. Angie was even active in defending Hinson after he delivered lines like this:
“It’s unbelievable how our starting guards played. And let’s talk about our big guys – two for 11. How can you go two for 11. My wife can score more than two buckets on 11 shots because I know my wife will at least shot-fake one time. But those guys aren’t listening. They’re uncoachable right now.”
And there was this: “There was a sniper in the gym. Didn’t you see that? We had guys falling down. We had a guy snipered at halfcourt. … I thought Navy Seal Team 6 was out there.”
Folks in Carbondale eventually got used to Hinson being colorful. He survived to coach the Salukis until he resigned with the expectation of being fired after the 2018-19 season.