This article originally appeared in the February 8, 1983 issue of the Boston Phoenix.
Okay, Bourbob Bondurant, this one’s on you.
Sportswriters are the only journalists who still enjoy themselves. And no wonder. They’re always being asked to name the best this and the greatest that. I’m not a sportswriter, though I have had moments of joy. I was pleased, for example, with Truman’s victory over Dewey. But my opinion is never sought. The other day, the NBA All-Stars were picked, and a bit earlier, the all-time, very bestest and goodest Red Sox team was selected. Neither was done with my input. So I’ll offer my own choices and let those who never solicited my views bemoan their guilt of omission.
In an age of psycho-history, when we now know so much more about the motivation of Santa Anna, the complex id of Hereward the Wake, and the subliminal personality quirks of Count Andrei Ivanovich Osterman, why should we limit our selection of historic jocks by judging on ability alone? I have here some all-star offerings that break through the narrow definition that most sportswriters and fans apply to all-star selections, that definition being one’s ability to play the game in question.
If, for example, I were to pick an all-star football team, I would avoid the obvious choices. You’d not find Hugh McElhenny, Johnny Unitas, Red Grange, Jimmy Brown, or Sid Luckman on my squad. You would find, however, Arrowhead, Deadeye, Deer Slayer, Red Fang, and Red Fox. I have no idea if those guys had any first names, and if those happen to be their first names, then I guess I don’t have any idea if they had any last names. Those names, as listed on the roster, are sufficient. They played for the 1922 Oorang Indians. Their teammates included a running back named Laughing Gas, a guard with a moniker of Wrinkle Meat, an end who used the handle Joe Little Twig, and some gentlemen with the most musical names in pro-sports history—Reginald Attaché, Hippo Broker, Xavier Downwind, and Baptiste Thunder. Trouble was that the Chicago Bears of that year had come up with the likes of Gaylord Stinchcomb, a quarterback, and Bourbob Bondurant, a guard. In a league with 18 teams, the Oorang Indians finished a poor 12th, despite the presence of some legitimate greats like Jim Thorpe, Pete Calac, and Joe Guyon. The Bears made it to second place and lost to the Canton Bulldogs, among them one Fats, one Link, one Duke, and two Dutches.
I would love to have walked to the 50-yard line at the Super Bowl in Pasadena the other day with my roster. “So, you got John Riggins?” I’d have casually asked the Redskins coach, Joe Gibbs. “Yeah,” he would have snarled. “Uh huh,” I would have acknowledged. “Not bad. I told Deadeye and Laughing Gas to hang on him. If they can’t handle him, and if he should break through Hippo too, I’ve got Barrel and Arrowhead on his butt.”
There is no question that Joe Gibbs would have forfeited then and there. And with no shame, I might add. So there’s the key to all-star selections. Pick names easily related to the concept of instant death or names that imply big money and awesome clout exercised in the privacy of a Manhattan men’s club. “Listen, Koniszewski, you sack their quarterback, Gaylord Stinchcomb, and his family immediately diversifies and shuts down all the mines where your relatives work.”