BEST COLLEGE ATHLETE 2006 | Rudy Burgess | Arts & Entertainment | Phoenix
Diehard Sun Devil football fans still remember the 2004 season, when then-freshman Rudy Burgess, filling in for ASU's decimated running back corps, pounded and punished Stanford defenders on his way to a 34-carry, 186-yard Herculean performance that left him immobile for two weeks. And after that come-from-behind victory, any casual team follower knows that without the big-game showings of the 180-pound sparkplug in pads, the Devils wouldn't have hoisted the 2004 Sun Bowl or the 2005 Insight Bowl trophies (the ASU quarterback won the MVP trophy in each case). During the 2005 season, the Brooklyn native became the only NCAA Division I-A player to gain more than 600 yards rushing and 600 yards receiving not bad considering the pass-happy Pac-10 and that Burgess came to the desert exclusively to play wide receiver. In 2006, the junior will attempt to become a football novelty, adding the position of cornerback to an already crowded playmaking rsum. As for that elusive bowl game MVP trophy, ASU backers hope Tempe's version of an unappreciated football hero by the name of Rudy earns it during the BCS national championship game.
Arizona Diamondbacks center fielder Eric Byrnes is crazy. That's the first thing any knowledgeable baseball fan or professional ballplayer will tell you. He makes crazy plays in the outfield, he's crazy on the base paths, he has a crazy sense of humor. He just follows his own wacky muse. After all, Byrnsey played for the Oakland Athletics, and the antics of that team are infamous. How could he not be crazy, coming from the A's? Actually, Byrnes paled in comparison to the fruitcake behavior of left-handed pitcher Barry Zito, but on the Diamondbacks (a team of dullards, Luis Gonzalez's penchant as a playa notwithstanding), Byrnes stands out. He's a breath of fresh air. First of all, he's one of the best interviews in baseball; he's always game to dissect his team and teammates on The Best Damn Sports Show, Period. Second, he's a hunk, which is why his face adorns those D-Backs billboards around town, along with fellow good-looking members of the Rainbow Coalition, catcher Johnny Estrada and second baseman Orlando Hudson. Third, he's a hell of a base-stealer, which is something the team had been lacking with Craig Counsell on the disabled list. He entered this season with 40 steals in 46 attempts as a major leaguer. Last we heard, he had stolen 18 bases in 19 attempts, a league-leading percentage. His .280 batting average ain't too shabby, but his all-around Johnny Hustle flair is what makes him special. He's got that swagger that the Diamondbacks so desperately need to attract fans, from the way he runs, to the way he stands in the batter's box, to the way he unbuttons those top three buttons on his uniform jersey. We liked him better when he wasn't playing center field, because then he was always jumping into the stands for foul balls (the wall's way too high for that in center at Chase Field), but he still exudes the cool confidence that makes us want to believe that our boys of summer might possibly contend. Someday, you think?
Come on, he dated Paris Hilton! He quarterbacked the University of Southern California Trojans to one national championship and nearly a second, winning a Heisman Trophy in the process. When everybody thought he'd come out of college to a fat NFL contract a couple of years ago, he opted to stay at USC for his senior season. Though that didn't turn out exactly like he wanted (Texas beat USC to claim the national title), he remained the toast of Hollywood for another year. He was seen at all the posh Tinsel Town parties, at all the glittery L.A. nightclubs. Now he's bought a lavish home in Ahwatukee and signed a contract with the Arizona Cardinals that guarantees him $14 million and could pay him $51 million over six years. He's scheduled to play backup to the aging Kurt Warner in Coach Dennis Green's offense. Yeah, sure! Our prediction is that Warner will last about as long as he did when he was playing ahead of then-super-rookie Eli Manning, and Leinart will be the starter within a few games. In any case, just look at him! At 6-foot-5, he's a raven-haired hunk. He's got a great smile, and he's supposedly a very nice guy. Girls all over the PHX are swooning over the major dude. It will be a treat for the ladies just to see him standing on the sidelines, notepad in hand, in those tight football pants, even if he doesn't play a down. A lecherous female friend of ours says only Raja Bell of the Suns gives Matt a run for his money in the looks department, but our vote goes to Leinart because we've already given Bell, who also works as a model, another award.
We know, we know . . . Steve Nash, National Basketball Association most valuable player over the past two years, has cut his flowing locks. No, he's done more than that he's shaved his pate. Those pictures of Little Stevie Wonder (sorry, that's what sportscasters have taken to calling him) running around on soccer fields this past summer as he off-seasoned in the Big Apple were frightening. Steve, you look like a Nazi skinhead with your scalp shaved. Do us a favor: Before the start of the 2006-07 season, please, please grow your hair back! If you start now, you will be close to where you were at the end of last season. Because, Steve, the ladies love you with hippie hair. We love you with hippie hair. You tried the clean-cut look when you kicked off your career in Phoenix, and look where it got you traded to Dallas, where you had to hang out with that Kraut. Now you're back, and you've won the league's highest honor for the past two years. Who knows, it could be bad luck to show up at U.S. Airways Center with nothing but head stubble. Or you could lose all your strength. Dude, remember Samson! Also, we don't know if anybody's told your Canadian ass, but we're expecting an NBA championship this year, and if this hair thing queers the deal for us, well . . . Canada's not a big enough country to hide you from us.
We almost fell over dead when Edgerrin James signed with the Arizona Cardinals. But there he was holding up his red and white number 32 jersey and grinning at the camera with that grill of gold teeth, dreadlocks hanging around his face. James is among the top running backs in the NFL these days, and we just couldn't see him playing for the lowly Cardinals, but there was no mistaking that metallic grin. He made life so much easier for quarterback Peyton Manning at Indianapolis, where he starred for seven seasons, before signing his four-year, $30 million contract with Arizona. Check out these stats: The four-time All-Pro has rushed for 9,226 yards in his pro career. Once he gains 183 yards for the Cardinals which should happen in his second or third regular-season game he will surpass Earl Campbell as number 20 on the all-time rushing list. To say that James follows the beat of a different drummer would be a freaking understatement! One of his best friends is rapper Trick Daddy. He's installed a huge plasma-screen TV next to his Cardinals locker. In Indianapolis, he had the same arrangement, and his locker became the focal point of the Colts' post-game partying. He's a joker who reads voraciously. Some have called him bipolar, but in a "good way." His nickname ain't Edge for nothing! Naturally, he's not much for the routine that football teams insist upon for their players, often skipping out on voluntary off-season workouts to hang out in his home in Miami, where he hits the nightclub scene with regularity when he's not playing sports with ghetto kids in his nearby hometown of Immokalee next to the Everglades. Last we heard, he was looking for digs in the PHX, and we hope he finds them. If we can keep Edge in town, maybe the Cards can contend.
There's an old saying about teams like the Arizona Cardinals, who for 18 years played in cavernous Sun Devil Stadium in front of thousands of fans disguised as empty seats: The stadium was vast, but for the most part, the team on the field was only half-vast. But hold on to your seats things may be looking up for the local NFL team. With the recent opening of Cardinals Stadium, the new $455 million, 63,400-capacity venue on the west side of town, the future appears to be much brighter. The stadium is state-of-the-art, having recently been named by Business Week as one of the top 10 sports facilities in the world. It's the only stadium in North America to have both a retractable roof and a retractable playing field. The field itself is an engineering marvel: Weighing 18.9 million pounds, it sits in a tray resting on 13 rail tracks and 542 steel wheel assemblies. Since the field is made of natural grass, it remains outside the stadium to get sunlight until the night before a game. Then the wheels start turning (at 11.5 feet per minute) to travel the 741 feet the field will move until it's in position, a process that takes 65 minutes. The roof panels are translucent, which allows plenty of light into the stadium, even when the roof is closed. And perhaps the best thing about the new stadium, as far as Cardinals fans are concerned: It's air-conditioned. Of course, with a new facility also comes a certain amount of economic impact, and Cardinals Stadium is ready for its national close-up. Beginning January 1, the stadium becomes the new home of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, to be followed the very next week by the first-ever Bowl Championship Series title game. Some other key dates: The Rolling Stones will play a concert here this November 8, and Super Bowl XLII will be held at the stadium on February 3, 2008. With a new home, as well as a few key personnel acquisitions in the off-season, there does seem to be cause for optimism for this year's Cardinals. For the first time since the team relocated to Arizona from St. Louis, every home game is sold out. That means that every single Cardinals game this season will be broadcast on local television. For, like, free! Maybe soon there will be a new saying in these parts: Today, Glendale tomorrow, the world!
Since 1997, the folks running Hohokam Stadium have kept the price of the lawn seats at five bucks. Five bucks to watch the Cubbies, for God's sake! Five bucks to watch the ebullient Cubs fans before the Cubs have been able to begin losing any real games, when Cubs fans are still happy-go-lucky drunks rather than the sour drunks, like Mike Royko back in the 1960s, like Mark Grace back in the '90s, like Cubs fans for the whole glorious 1918 season, which itself was unusually short because of World War I. Simply, Cubs fans are the best. (No, we're not from Chicago; don't even much like the place.) And while cities throughout the Valley scramble to make these spring training fields look like the best of the major league fields, the only thing that matters are the fans. Great fans in a dump beat, say, Diamondbacks fans in Chase Field. Hohokam has Cubs fans in spring. 'Nuff said. The only downside of Hohokam, though, is quite serious. Old Style is served there, but it is served in plastic cups, as though one were at a country music festival outside Cedar Rapids. At Wrigley Field, the Old Style comes in wax cups, something longtime aficionados of "Dog Style," as we called it in college, say makes the beer the best in the world. We always just bought the crap because of the price. But if Cubs fans say so, we say so. Get some wax cups, and Hohokam truly will be Heaven on Earth, a garden of love and hope, before the snake of each doomed season must arrive in Eden.


Sluggo's Sports Grill

The Chicago Cubs may be cursed, but that doesn't mean local fans wouldn't want a 'graph from John Mabry or Derrek Lee. Sluggo's is a natural post-practice watering hole for Cactus League players. It's only a mile from the Fitch Park training grounds the Cubs have called their home away from home since 1979. It's also the closest thing to the Wrigley Field clubhouse Phoenix has to offer. Cubs memorabilia hangs on every wall, from jerseys to pennants and team photos. It may be difficult for baseball stars to hide amongst a crowd of devoted sports fans, but regulars at Sluggo's are so used to players popping in for burgers and chili that they don't even bat an eye.
The statuesque ladies of the WNBA are not to be found cruising the nightclubs of Snottsdale en masse. Whether it's because they're clean-living, underpaid, or a little of both, Phoenix Mercury hoopsters tend to fuel up for practices and games at this friendly little cafe in the Safeway shopping center at Seventh Street and McDowell Road. We're not suggesting stalking (it's very wrong, and also these Amazons can kick your ass), but a little broad-daylight appreciation of superior role models goes great with a bagel and schmear, a cheese-steak panini, or a crafted-on-the-premises blackberry lemonade that's just tart enough to build character. The atmosphere is equally wholesome, with smiling staff at the counter and an honest-to-gosh community bulletin board in the back corner. Diana, Cappie and their teammates may be superstars, but they put on their astonishingly long pants one leg at a time, just like the rest of us.
Sorry if this turns out to be the kiss of death for what must be a dream beat for a sports nut like Joe Reaves the national baseball writer for our usually wretched daily rag. We appreciate his knowledge of the game and love of offbeat takes, such as his clever look back at the infamous 1919 Black Sox betting scandal and how it parallels today's steroid crisis. Speaking of drugs, Reaves' piece about the love that pro ballplayers have for greenies (known to the uninitiated as amphetamines) provided quite the jolt for readers. Before he fled the Republic newsroom a few years ago, Reaves was The Man there, writing prolifically and well on sex scandals in the local Catholic diocese and such. That's not surprising, coming from a onetime foreign correspondent (Chicago Tribune) who has two published nonfiction baseball-related books on his rsum. Let's hope that this small tribute doesn't land old Joe back on night cops, where the closest thing to a bat is a billy club.

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