Archive for the ‘Feature Stories’ Category

Cleveland Guardians’ 2023 Postseason Review

02 Oct

The 2023 baseball season was a major disappointment for the Cleveland Guardians for a couple of reasons:

1) they regressed from 2022, a season in which they won the AL Central crown, won a wild card series and took the mighty New York Yankees to the brink in the divisional round. Instead, they finished 10 games below .500 and in third place in the weakest division in baseball.

2) It marked the end of an era with the retirement of future Hall of Fame manager Terry Francona.


Here is our postseason review, position by position, of the 2023 season and a look at the promise that next season holds:


Front Office/Manager/Coaches


The club’s front office had a dismal record in free agency during the last off-season. Their 2 major acquisitions, catcher Mike Zunino and first baseman /Josh Bell, were utter failures. Zunino was a disaster at the plate and not very good defensively, to the point that he was released. Bell never supplied the power that Mike Chernoff and Chris Antonetti hoped for, and was dealt to Miami at the trade deadline. It was a disappointing finish for Francona but the hand he was dealt, between front office miscues and starting rotation injuries, was too much to overcome. Pitching coach Carl Willis did his usual great job handling the rookie replacement starters, but the bullpen was inconsistent all year long. There was regression among the hitters also, so the status of hitting coach Chris Valaika could be in doubt. Of course, with Francona retiring, the whole coaching staff could be different in 2024 with a new skipper in charge.


Starting Pitchers


Injuries caused the Guardians’ starting rotation to be in flux all season in 2023. Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie and Cal Quantrill all missed significant time and forced the team to insert a trio of rookies into service as starters before they had expected to. Zach Plesac was a major disappointment also and was eventually farmed out. Then at the trade deadline management dealt the last man standing, Aaron Civale, to Tampa and not coincidentally the season cratered into oblivion from that point on. Of the 3 rookies, Tanner Bibee looks to have some bulldog in him and could be a future ace of the staff. Gavin Williams and southpaw Logan Allen both showed promise and will be contenders to stay in the rotation next season. The one problem with the use of the rookies is that their innings were limited, which led to the bullpen being overtaxed. Blown leads by the bullpen were a major factor in many of the club’s losses. Experiments with veterans Noah Syndergaard and Lucas Giolito also failed, with Syndergaard being DFA’d and Giolito not expected back. Hunter Gaddis and Cody Morris came up from AAA Columbus to provide emergency starts, and although they’re still young, neither raised any eyebrows. The return of McKenzie and Quantrill will bolster the rotation next year, but one major story to watch will be what is done with Bieber. With a year left on his contract, will he return or be traded to obtain a much needed power bat?




Cleveland’s bullpen, considered a strength of the team, was an enigma all year. A good example – closer Emanuel Clase led the major leagues in both saves and blown saves. He was probably overused and given proper usage next year he should return to dominant form. The rest of the bullpen was a roller coaster ride. Eighth inning reliever Trevor Stephan was given a new contract, then proceeded to be a major disappointment and one of the clubhouse leaders in surrendering leads in the late innings. Nervous Nellie James Karinchak imploded to the point where he was sent to AAA Columbus for a stretch. The same fate happened to lefty Tim Herrin. Eli Morgan’s season ranged from great outings to terrible ones, and to a lesser degree the same could be said for Enyel De Los Santos and Nick Sandlin. Michael Kelly and Daniel Norris were stopgap players thrust into action to eat up early to middle innings. There were some bright spots in the pen – southpaw Sam Hentges was lights out all year. Xzavion Curry was a Swiss Army knife, providing good long relief as well as quality spot starts. Reynaldo Lopez, a late season waiver acquisition, was a revelation. An impending free agent, the powers that be should focus on trying to bring him back. All in all, a big project of the front office and new manager will be to sort out all the arms in the pen to piece together a relief staff that once again is a strength of the club.




Until rising star Bo Naylor was called up from Columbus, this position was a disaster. Mike Zunino may have been the worst free agent signing ever. He offered nothing defensively or at the plate. Another vet, Cam Gallagher, was a bit better defensively but anemic with the bat. One player on the roster whose value is high is David Fry. Any time you have a guy who can play multiple positions, and one of those positions is behind the plate, you have to value him highly. Fry also provides some pop with the bat. Naylor is obviously the future starter here, and management will need to decide if Fry alone is enough backup (which frees up roster space for another position) or if another catcher has to be added, assuming Gallagher won’t be back.




The Guardians are solid at the corner infield positions with first baseman Josh Naylor and third sacker Jose Ramirez. Naylor is the best clutch hitter and RBI man on the team, while Ramirez, a Cleveland icon, is one of MLB’s top players. Although he went through an up and down year, second baseman Andres Giminez regained his bearings late in the season and was one of the team’s hottest hitters. He needs to carry that momentum into a big year in 2024. Tyler Freeman is a valuable and versatile piece of the roster. He can play anywhere in the infield and has an uncanny ability to provide some offensive punch when he gets his chances to play. Amed Rosario was the starting shortstop until he was dealt to the Dodgers at the deadline, and his questionable defense should mean that this position is upgraded next year, no matter who wins the job. The Guardians’ organization is loaded with top middle infield prospects, and the players who shared the spot after Rosario departed – Gabriel Arias, Brayan Rocchio and Jose Tena – all showed flashes. Arias is great with the glove and his 10 home runs in limited playing time showed that he can provide some power. Rocchio is still raw but he might be the best all around prospect of the group, while Tena made the jump from AA Akron to the big club, so that has to mean the organization is high on him. There are other top gems lurking at the lower levels, but we’ll discuss them in the “future prospects” section.




Cleveland’s starting outfield trio most of the year was Steven Kwan in left, Myles Straw in center and Will Brennan in right. Kwan and Straw are Gold Glove fielders, and Brennan is right behind them with the glove. However, there is a glaring lack of power in the Tribe’s outfield, and that has to be addressed in 2024. Oscar Gonzalez, a postseason hero in 2022, regressed terribly this year and wound up in Columbus. He was the 2023 version of Bobby Bradley, who looked like a great power hitting first base prospect and is now playing somewhere in an independent minor league. Brennan is pretty good with the bat and looks like he could get stronger and increase his power numbers, but until he actually does it might be a better plan to platoon him. Kwan is a fixture and a great leadoff hitter. One option could be to move him to centerfield and use Straw as a bench player and late inning defensive replacement. Decisions will have to be made on a couple of veterans who were picked up in-season and saw lots of playing time. Ramon Laureano would be a good addition to the bench, while left-hand hitting Kole Calhoun is more suited to being strictly a designated hitter and likely won’t be back.


Future Prospects


There are 3 potential future starting pitchers in Cleveland’s pipeline that might debut in 2024 – Daniel Espino, Tanner Burns and Joey Cantillo. Espino has regularly been rated the club’s top prospect, but injuries have derailed his progress. Burns must overcome control issues if he is to succeed. Cantillo, if and when he arrives, would be a much needed lefthand option to the rotation. The up and coming outfielder in the system who might be a power upgrade is George Valera, who will be given every opportunity to advance to the majors from Columbus next spring.  Johnathan Rodriguez is a power bat who has hit consistently at every level of the minors so far. Further down the pipeline of OF prospects are recent top draft picks Chase Delauter and Jaison Chourio. When Civale was traded, the player obtained was lefthand hitting first baseman/DH Kyle Manzardo. He seems destined to be on the 2024 roster also in some capacity. A plethora of middle infielders dot the minor league pipeline. Juan Brito, obtained from Colorado for Nolan Jones in a controversial deal, appears to be a viable major leaguer. Switch-hitting Angel Martinez is only 21 and a rising star, while Jhonkensy Noel might be the future heir apparent to Ramirez at the hot corner. Khalil Watson was obtained from Miami at the deadline and is also considered a possible future star. This year’s top draftee, Ralphy Velazquez, joins Bryan Lavastida as future catching options.


NFL – Throwback Thursday: Taking Liberties

28 Sep

The Los Angeles Rams tangle with the Indianapolis Colts this week in the NFL, and we decided to take some liberties with the Throwback Thursday post by featuring a game that was played at the L.A. Coliseum on September 28, 1951. That day the Rams took on an NFL club called the New York Yanks. That New York franchise has a sketchy past, and here’s how it played out. After moving from Boston, the team had 2 less than successful seasons in the Big Apple, and in 1951 was sold to a group of Dallas businessmen who moved it to Dallas. That team failed after a single season, and what was left of the franchise was awarded to a group from Baltimore. They then started the Baltimore Colts franchise.  Even though the NFL doesn’t recognize this team as the ancestors of the current Colt team, we will for the sake of being able to feature this memorable game.

It was the opening week of the ’51 season, and in an era of three yards and a cloud of dust football, it turned out to be a record-setting passing day for one Norm Van Brocklin, the Rams’ quarterback. He torched the Yanks’ secondary for 554 yards and 5 touchdowns on 27 of 41 passing, with the yardage mark a record that still stands today, 72 years later. The Rams won the game 54-14, with a dominant display on both sides of the ball. They racked up 735 yards of offense and the 54 points despite turning the ball over 5 times, three times on interceptions to go with 2 lost fumbles. The Los Angeles club, known as an offensive powerhouse in the 1950s, was relentless with their attack all day. Three of their receivers totaled over 100 yards, with Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch leading the way with 9 catches for 173 yards and 4 TDs. Another future Hall of Famer, Tom Fears, grabbed 7 passes for 162 yards, while a guy named Vitamin Smith added some pep to the attack with 2 receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown. The Rams also had a pair of rushing touchdowns on runs from Dick Hoerner and Deacon Dan Towler to round out the scoring.

The L.A. defense actually pitched a shutout in the game also, as the Yanks’ 2 touchdowns came on a 79 yard punt return by Buddy Young and a 30 yard return of a recovered fumble by Art Tait. New York only amassed 166 yards of total offense, and the 569 yard difference between the 2 teams stood as a record yardage spread until 2009, when Tom Brady and the New England Patriots crushed Tennessee 59-0 and piled up 619 more yards than the Titans. The game turned out to be very indicative of the fortunes of the clubs in the 1951 season, as the Rams would go on to defeat Cleveland for the league title, and the Yanks would win only a single game before being sold to the new Dallas owners prior to the ’52 season.


Van Brocklin’s record day memorialized



NFL – Throwback Thursday: Miami Breaks Through

21 Sep

The game we’re highlighting today on Rayonsports for the Throwback Thursday feature is an old American Football League game that took place on October 16, 1966 between the Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins, who meet on this week’s NFL schedule. 1966 was Miami’s inaugural season in the AFL, and this contest, which was played in week 6 of that year, was significant even though both clubs were league doormats. The Broncos, who never enjoyed a winning season in the 10 year history of the AFL, entered the game at 1-4 while the expansion Dolphins were winless in their first 5 games. Denver’s inept franchise represented Miami’s first real chance of breaking through into the win column, and they were ready for the challenge.

A pair of former Broncos exacted a bit of revenge in the opening quarter for the young Fish. Fullback Billy Joe, a Denver rookie in 1964, took a George Wilson Jr. pass 67 yards to paydirt, followed by a 35 yard field goal from another former Denver standout, Gene Mingo. The Broncos cut the lead to 10-7 on a 5 yard touchdown run by one of the AFL’s early and underrated stars, Abner Haynes. That lead held for the rest of the first half and Miami’s defense took charge in the second. They held Bronco quarterback John McCormick to 90 yards passing on 9 completions in 25 attempts, and intercepted him 4 times. Veteran Tobin Rote replaced McCormick and had no success either as the Dolphins sacked him 4 times.

The Dolphins’ offense, led by the head coach’s son, George Wilson Jr., wasn’t that impressive either, but did manage a short scoring run by halfback Joe Auer in each of the last 2 quarters. The final result was a 24-7 Miami victory, the first in franchise history. The Dolphins would go on to win the following week also, defeating the Houston Oilers, and would manage one more win to finish 3-11 for the year, tied for the basement of the Eastern Division with the Oilers. Denver went 4-10 and finished in their usual spot at the bottom of the Western Division.


Joe Auer takes the handoff from George Wilson Jr.


NFL – Throwback Thursday: Buffalo Stampede

14 Sep

The Buffalo Bills host the Las Vegas Raiders this Sunday as week 2 of the NFL season gets underway, and we’ll feature these 2 clubs for Throwback Thursday this week. Let’s travel back to January 20, 1991, to then Rich Stadium, for the AFC Championship game. Buffalo was attempting to reach the Super Bowl for the first time, while the Raiders, based in Los Angeles then, were looking to spoil that party.

It was never even close to being a contest. Jim Kelly led a drive that ended with a 13 yard touchdown pass to James Lofton to open the scoring, and after a Raider field goal the Bills drove downfield again and scored, this time on a 12 yard run by Thurman Thomas. The defense then got in on the action as linebacker Darryl Talley intercepted a Jay Schroeder pass and returned it 27 yards to the end zone to give his team a 21-3 lead after a quarter. The Bills didn’t let up in the second quarter either. Kenny Davis spelled Thomas at running back and scored twice on short runs, followed by another short Kelly to Lofton TD throw of 8 yards. At some point the beleaguered Raiders called what amounted to a basketball timeout to catch their breath as the vaunted no-huddle K-Gun attack of the Bills overwhelmed them. When the dust settled Buffalo held a commanding 41-3 lead at halftime.

I was in the stadium at that game, and across the field from me some fans were spelling out “Hello Tampa” in the stands. (Where the Super Bowl was to be played the next week) I saw that and immediately thought “Holy s**t, the Bills are going to the Super Bowl!” Later that day at home after the game, they showed earlier clips of workers at Tampa Stadium painting the Bills’ logo in the end zone, at halftime of the game! It was just an incredible experience.


Happy Bills’ fans with a message


Coach Marv Levy called off the dogs somewhat in the second half. The Bills scored only 10 points, on another short Davis run and a Scott Norwood field goal, to account for the final score of 51-3, launching the team to the big game. Kelly wound up throwing for 300 yards and the 2 TDs, while Thomas, although leaving the touchdown runs to Davis, racked up 199 yards of total offense. Lofton’s 2 TDs were among his 5 catches for 133 yards. The beleaguered Shroeder was intercepted 5 times by the Buffalo defense before being replaced by Vince Evans, who threw another pick. Little did the Bills and their fans know that what came next was the ultimate heartbreak of “Wide Right” by Norwood in Super Bowl XXV.


Darryl Talley scores on a pick six


NFL – Throwback Thursday: Ollie Matson Shines

07 Sep

It was a long wait, but the 2023 NFL season is finally upon us, and that also marks the return of our weekly Throwback Thursday feature, in which we travel back in time to highlight a game from the past played between teams who are matched against each other that week on the league slate. For opening week, we chose a matchup of 2 historic franchises, played on October 20, 1957. It pitted the Chicago Cardinals against the Washington Redskins at old Griffith Stadium in Washington. Those teams go head to head on opening day this season, although the Cardinals are based in Arizona and Washington’s club is now known as the Commanders.

Neither of these teams was very good that season, as they finished fourth and last respectively in the Eastern Division standings. The lowly Cardinals, who would only win 3 games all year, did boast one of the league’s most dynamic stars – halfback Ollie Matson. On this day, they rode a dominating performance from their future Hall of Fame back to a rousing 44-14 victory. He wasted no time as he broke off a 56 yard scamper to the end zone to open the scoring. The Cards’ other 2 star offensive weapons on this day, quarterback Lamar McHan and end Woodley Lewis, provided the next points, hooking up on a 39 yard touchdown pass, followed by an 18 yard McHan run to paydirt to put Chicago ahead 21-0. Washington regrouped somewhat and cut the lead to 21-7 when Eddie LeBaron tossed a short TD pass to Ed Podoley, but McHan and Lewis regained the momentum by hooking up for another score. Kicker Pat Summerall, who we all know would go on to become one of the most beloved football broadcasters of all time, added a field goal, and the Cardinals now owned a commanding 31-7 lead at halftime over the future Commanders.

Showing no mercy, McHan struck for the big play again to start the second half scoring when he found Matson open for a 50 yard touchdown. Matson had now showcased his talents as both a runner and receiver. LeBaron engineered another scoring drive for the Redskins before the third quarter ended, but the game was pretty much over by then. In fact, Washington only added to their ineptness when they fumbled on their own goal line in the final quarter. Leo Sugar accepted the gift, recovering the loose ball and traveling the 1 yard into the end zone to finalize the scoring. On a historic note, despite the one-sided nature of the contest, Washington did have a play made from a future Hall of Famer of their own, as McHan’s otherwise perfect game of 8 completions on 13 passes for 182 yards and 3 TDs was spoiled when he threw an interception into the waiting arms of Redskin defensive back Don Shula.

Matson, although today a mostly overlooked star from the NFL’s past, was a much coveted player in his era. In fact, the Cardinals, in 1959, traded him to the Los Angeles Rams for what amounted to 9 players (7 players and 2 top draft picks). That deal was orchestrated by the Rams’ general manager at the time, future NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle.


Ollie Matson (second from left) with his HOF classmates of 1972


NFL – Five Greatest Super Bowl Winning Teams

10 Feb

The last of my daily Super Bowl week features is another “list” post, honoring the 5 teams that I feel are the greatest among the 56 clubs who have won the big game since it’s inception following the 1966 season. In some cases they may not have even been the top team in that particular regular season, but came up huge when it counted the most.



1. 1972 Miami Dolphins – they didn’t have a prolific offense, their smothering defense was nicknamed the “No-Name Defense”, and they won Super Bowl VII by only a 14-7 score, but it’s hard to argue against the only team to complete a season undefeated. They went 17-0 and would regularly beat opponents in lower scoring games by grinding them into oblivion with a powerful rushing attack. They also followed this accomplishment up by winning it all again the next season.



2. 1985 Chicago Bears – a wild group of misfit toys led by the biggest misfit of all, coach Mike Ditka, this team swept through the NFL in ’85 with one of the greatest one-season accomplishments of all time. They had characters like QB Jim McMahon and William “The Refrigerator” Perry, an all-time great in Walter Payton, and recorded a “Super Bowl Shuffle” video before they even qualified for the game. After going 15-1 in the regular season and sweeping through the NFC playoffs with a pair of shutout wins, they dismantled the New England Patriots 46-10 in a Super Bowl XX laugher.



3. 1968 New York Jets – they pulled off the upset of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, winning 16-7 and giving the AFL its’ first victory. It was considered an epic win made even more amazing because Jets’ quarterback Joe Namath guaranteed his team would win, despite being up to 18 point underdogs. This particular Jets’ team may have not even been the best the AFL had to offer, as they upset the more highly rated Oakland Raiders to get to the big game, but they turned out to be just what the young league needed on Super Bowl Sunday that year.



4. 1984 San Francisco 49ers – coach Bill Walsh’s forces finished 15-1 in the regular season and swept through the NFC playoffs but were up against a major challenge in Super Bowl XIX in facing the prolific offense of the Dan Marino-led Miami Dolphins. Led by the always efficient play of quarterback Joe Montana, the Niners trampled Miami’s “Killer Bees” defense, while their own defense kept Marino under pressure all day enroute to a 38-16 win.



5. 2007 New York Giants – talk about huge upsets. The Giants only qualified for the playoffs as an NFC Wild Card team with a 10-6 record, finishing second in their division, while the New England Patriots were chasing history. They finished a perfect 16-0 in the regular season and with 2 playoff wins were looking to wrap up the NFL’s second unblemished year with a win in Super Bowl XLII against a clearly inferior opponent. The Giants, with the help of the amazing “helmet catch” pictured above, pulled off the huge upset, 17-14. They did it again a few years later when they reached the big game with an even worse record (9-7) and knocked off Tom Brady’s club for the second time.


NFL – How The Cleveland Browns Saved Pro Football

09 Feb

This article, from 2019, details my theory as to how the Cleveland Browns, inadvertently, saved pro football in the late 1960s. I’m reposting it as part of my Super Bowl week features, since it has to do with the 2 major Super Bowl upsets won by the AFL during this period.




The beginning of the growth of the National Football League into the popularity monster that it is today goes back to the 1960s and the birth of the AFL/NFL Championship game, orchestrated by the league’s commissioner at the time, Pete Rozelle. A true visionary, he refereed the battle between the old guard NFL owners and the renegade AFL owners, and out of the battle came the merger of the 2 leagues. The agreement spelled out that beginning immediately the rival leagues would hold a common draft of college players, thus ending the bidding war for players that had been going on. Another of the stipulations was that also beginning immediately, the champions of the 2 leagues would play an ultimate title game to decide who was the “world champion”. The merger agreement was made in 1966, but the actual merger itself didn’t begin until 1970. At that time, there were 16 NFL teams and 10 AFL, so 3 of the old guard clubs had to be transferred into the new American Conference. The Pittsburgh Steelers, longtime NFL doormats who perhaps saw an opportunity for more success among the AFL clubs, volunteered to go. Two franchises that had joined the NFL from another league, the old All America Conference, were natural clubs to make the move  – the Baltimore Colts and Cleveland Browns. Browns’ owner Art Modell balked at the idea, however, but eventually agreed when Rozelle promised him that his team could host the inaugural Monday Night Football game in that first merger season of 1970.

It wasn’t Modell’s agreement to shift that saved pro football though. It was the Browns team of the late ’60s that had a hand in moving the game forward, in a very weird way in fact. The Browns were a proud, winning franchise in the NFL since joining the league in 1950, and were regular participants in the playoffs most of the decade of the 1960s. In fact, they were in the NFL title game the last 2 seasons before the leagues joined together in 1970. That’s where their contribution to saving the NFL comes in to play. The NFL had always boasted that they were the superior league, and that the AFL was a “Mickey Mouse” league full of castoff players who couldn’t make it in the older league. When the Green Bay Packers dominated the best the AFL had to offer in the first 2 AFL/NFL Championship games, doubt began to creep in on whether the merger was a good idea. The NFL owners’ “Mickey Mouse” comments were appearing to be true, that is, until Joe Namath’s New York Jets and the Hank Stram-led Kansas City Chiefs won the next 2 title contests in what were considered to be massive upsets. Those games gave the AFL a bit of legitimacy, but were they really that great of upsets? Part of the reason the Colts team that Namath beat, and the Minnesota Vikings squad that the Chiefs dominated were considered powerhouses was because they had manhandled the proud Browns franchise in the NFL title games. The Colts shut the Browns out 37-0, and coach Don Shula’s defense was expected to totally crush what was considered to be an inferior Jets’ team in the Super Bowl. The next season, Bud Grant’s Vikings, with CFL reject Joe Kapp at quarterback, completely demolished the Browns in the title game. The final score was only 27-7 but the Vikings controlled play the entire game on a bitter cold day in Minnesota.

So even though the Colts and Vikings had very successful seasons on their way to those Super Bowls, it was their dominance of the Browns that established them as heavy favorites against their supposedly weaker AFL competition. Realistically, though, the Cleveland franchise was in the beginning stages of a gradual decline at that point. Jim Brown, considered the greatest player of all time, had long since retired. LeRoy Kelly had replaced him and was a very good back, a future Hall of Famer in fact, but he wasn’t Jim Brown. More importantly, the quarterback who had guided the Browns to the 1964 title, Frank Ryan, was also gone, forced to retire due to injuries. His replacement, Bill Nelsen, was a gamer who played through injuries and was enough of a leader to get his club into the playoffs, but he wasn’t an elite signal caller. The Browns’ offensive line was aging at the time also, and their defense was a mixture of aging players and  inexperienced rookies and young players. So, in a strange way, credit is due to the Browns for making the Colts and Vikings appear to be unbeatable behemoths, who would easily crush, as Vince Lombardi’s Packers had, their AFL opponents. What those Baltimore and Minnesota clubs didn’t realize was that the AFL was already in its’ ninth and tenth years of existence, and the Jets and Chiefs had been built into true championship contenders.



Browns’ QB Bill Nelsen (Getty Images)




NFL – Five Worst Super Bowl Halftime Shows

08 Feb

To balance our list of the 5 greatest Super Bowl halftime shows, we present what we consider the 5 worst of them. Of course this is subjective, some people might consider our worst as their favorites. In our mind, however, these were, in Charles Barkley’s words…just  turrible.



1. The Weeknd (Super Bowl LV) – I have no idea who The Weeknd is nor do I listen to his music, but this show was downright weird. It began with a choir dressed in white with masks and glowing red eyes, and also had the star singing and dancing through a confusing labyrinth with dancers in red blazers wearing bandages on their faces and heads. I guess this was a nod to one of his albums, but I didn’t get it and neither did a lot of critics, as it was widely panned.



2. Up With People (Super Bowl X) – Up With People was a cringy singing and dancing ensemble from the 1960s that put on a show with happy, smiling people trying to convey an upbeat mood in a decade that saw political assassinations, the Civil Rights movement and Anti-Vietnam War protests. They actually were brought in by the NFL in numerous Super Bowls, but this was one where they were the headline and only act. It was January of 1976 and their show was a tribute to the country’s Bicentennial.



3. Katy Perry (Super Bowl XLIX) – ah, yes, the magical appearance of Katy and the character who stole the show, Left Shark. Ms. Perry performed her act flanked by a pair of dancing sharks, and Left Shark’s weird dance moves created a stir and launched memes on the internet. Missy Elliott and Lenny Kravitz also made appearances.




4. Jessica Simpson/Various (Super Bowl XXXVIII) – It was dubbed The Super Bowl Of Sleaze. I guess Jessica was the headliner of this show, but the top moment, of course, was Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction, exposing a breast while she danced with Justin Timberlake. Nelly and P. Diddy also appeared, as did Kid Rock. His appearance would put this one on my worst list alone without any of the other controversy. A little known story of this game, which wasn’t on the broadcast or reported widely, was that just before the second half began, a guy ran onto the field disguised as a referee, stripped down and performed a lewd dance wearing just a thong before being tackled and arrested.



5. Anita Bryant (Super Bowl V) – apologies to the Southeast Missouri State marching band who also appeared in this one. The headliner was the homophobic Bryant, whose anti-gay stance was widely known. She hadn’t taken on that crusade at this point, but the former beauty queen’s performance was lackluster. Also putting this year’s show on the worst list – another of frequent early year appearances by Up With People.


NFL – Five Greatest Super Bowl Halftime Shows

07 Feb

The Super Bowl halftime shows over the 57 years of the game have changed drastically. From the old style marching bands of the first game to today’s Jay Z produced extravaganzas, some have been classics and some complete duds. Here are my 5 favorites, to be followed tomorrow by the 5 that I consider the worst.



1. U2 (Super Bowl XXXVI) – performing at the half of the first Super Bowl played after 9/11, the Irish rockers paid tribute to the victims of that attack. They opened the show with Beautiful Day, which was a hit single at the time but also seemed like a re-awakening to happier times. They played 2 other songs while the names of the 9/11 victims were projected around the stadium. This deserves the top spot on my list for the poignancy of the band’s tribute.



2. Rolling Stones (Super Bowl XL) – they were actually panned by critics, but I’ve always been a Stones’ fan so the old, stodgy critics can go back to watching Lawrence Welk reruns. Performing on a stage in the shape of their iconic tongue logo, they played the standard 3 songs and of course, 2 of them were censored by the NFL for lyrics the league deemed offensive.



3. Prince (Super Bowl XLI) – the eclectic guitar genius put on an amazing show, on a stage in the form of his “love” logo. He was accompanied by the Florida A & M marching band on a couple of songs, giving the performance a touch of a football atmosphere. The coup de gras was the final song, as he played his iconic hit Purple Rain in the pouring rain of Miami’s Dolphins Stadium.



4. Hip Hop Halftime (Super Bowl LVI) – I am the world’s least qualified expert on rap music, but this was an all-star extravaganza featuring old school hip hop artists Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige and Kendrick Lamar with a guest cameo appearance from an upside-down 50 Cent. The show was critically acclaimed as a nostalgic look back for Millennials and even won a Grammy.



5. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (Super Bowl XLII) – the late rock star and his band were chosen for the halftime show after the NFL was turned by their first choice, The Eagles. They delivered a memorable, rocking show featuring 4 of their hits as they kicked off their 2008 world tour in style. The performance earned them a Grammy nomination, but they didn’t win.



NFL – Five Greatest Super Bowl Quarterbacks

06 Feb

It’s officially Super Bowl week! Rayonsports hasn’t posted during the week leading up to the big game in years, since 2019 in fact, but we’re revisiting that tradition this year. “List” posts are always my favorite, and there’ll be a few of those, starting with today, as I compile my list of the five greatest Super Bowl quarterbacks of all time. It’s subject to debate, of course, but I believe I’m right. Some honorable mentions go to Joe Namath, who pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the game’s history, Eli Manning, who won 2 titles and took down Tom Brady’s previously unbeaten Patriots in one of them, Jim Plunkett, once considered a bust but who revived his career with the Raiders and won a pair also, Roger Staubach, who appeared in 4 Super Bowl games and won 2, and Steve Young, who came out from under Joe Montana’s shadow with a record-breaking performance in his one title win. Here are my five:



1. Tom Brady – I really don’t like this guy, who recently announced he’s retiring (again), but there’s no denying he’s the greatest of all time, and even more so as the best Super Bowl QB of all time. Ten appearances in the title game, and 7 wins leave no doubt that his record of excellence will never be matched.



2. Joe Montana – Joe Cool deserves the next spot on the list as he won 4 Super Bowls in 4 tries with a spotless record. He was the game’s MVP 3 times and completed 68% of his passes for 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions, for a 127.8 average passer rating while doing it. He was also the catalyst in all his wins, while Brady needed field goals, an epic meltdown by Atlanta’s defense and Seattle’s boneheaded play calling at the goal line to win some of his, so there’s a valid argument that Montana could be in the top position.



3. Bart Starr – the leader of Vince Lombardi’s 1960s Green Bay Packer dynasty is always overlooked, but he rates highly on my list. He guided the Packers to wins in the first 2 Super Bowls and was MVP both times. He also carried the weight of the entire NFL on his shoulders in those years, especially the first one, as the older league needed to actually show they were dominant as they claimed. Starr delivered a pair of one-sided victories with surgeon-like efficiency.



4. Terry Bradshaw – he started his career questionably and was even benched a couple of times, and a lot of people say his Pittsburgh Steelers won their 4 Super Bowls because of their Steel Curtain defense, but the fact is they won at least the last 2 due to Bradshaw’s passing ability. He won the game’s MVP award in those 2, and threw for 9 TDs with an average 112.8 rating. He was intercepted 4 times, but 3 of those came in his final title game and he was still voted MVP.



5. John Elway – He deserves to be on the list for persistence alone. One of the greatest signal callers of the 1980s and ’90s, he picked up the reputation for not being able to win the “big one”. After 3 crushing, embarrassing defeats, he won his last 2 Super Bowls and retired after the second one, going out on top as few top athletes ever do.