- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 13, 2004

A moment of silence, please, for Ray Charles, perhaps the only person to sing the national anthem (or “America the Beautiful”) at the Super Bowl and the World Series the same year (2001).

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And let’s not forget his appearance at Wrestlemania II (1986).

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Charles also performed the anthem at the Sugar Ray Leonard-Roberto Duran rematch in 1981 — the famous “no mas” fight. As Leonard recalled in an interview with ABC Sports, “What people don’t realize, and I don’t say this to many people, but what also assured me I would beat Duran was when Ray Charles sang the national anthem. My name is Ray Charles Leonard. My mother named me after Ray Charles. I had never met him. But when I met him the night of my rematch with Duran, that was like [claps his hands]: This is my show, this is my thing. Because when Ray Charles sang the national anthem, it was incredible, awesome. I mean, people started crying, it was so beautiful.”

ABC Sports: “You’re standing there right next to Ray Charles as he’s singing, and you’re practically hugging him while he’s singing, and there was this glow around you.”

Leonard: “Yes, it was a glow. I had a glow because he was singing, I was bouncing up and down, and I was becoming energized, just pumped up. I said [under my breath to Duran] ‘This is America, man, and you’re in the wrong place now, big guy.’ I looked over at Duran’s corner, and he was not all there. He was saying something [to himself like], ‘Oh, I’m in trouble now.’ I saw it in his face.”

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Something I didn’t know until I was researching the previous item: Ray Charles was born Ray Charles Robinson, but he dropped the Robinson so he wouldn’t be confused with boxing champ Sugar Ray Robinson.

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So Ray Leonard’s first two names are Ray Charles, and Ray Charles was originally Ray Robinson. Gotta love that.

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Speaking of the sweet science, Sports Illustrated’s special section on sports in Nebraska last week mentioned a pug from Omaha named Bruce “Mouse” Strauss, who “claims to have been knocked out. … on six continents.” Naturally, I had to find out more about this guy, so I went to my new favorite sports Web site, boxrec.com, which furnished me with his complete ring record.

I’m not sure about the six continents business, but Straus, a super-welterweight whose career ran from 1976 to 1989, did get KO’d in Trinidad and Tobago (by Eddie Marcelle), South Africa (by Charlie Weir), Italy (by Juan Jose Gimenez), Cameroon (by Jean-Marie Emebe), the Fiji Islands (by Sakaria Ve), France (by Helier Custos) and Peru (by Fernando Castro) — plus the U.S., of course (by many) and Canada (thrice). His “best” year might have been 1983, when he got knocked out six times in seven bouts (the other ending in a draw).

Still, he finished with a winning record, 76-53-5, and had 54 KOs himself. His three most noteworthy opponents were future champions Bobby Czyz, Marlon Starling and Mike McCallum, all of whom put him down for the count inside of four rounds.

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The day after “Mouse” got beaten by Czyz in Totowa, N.J., he KO’d Nick Miller in Grand Island, Neb., on July 18, 1980. (Which makes you wonder if Czyz really hit him that hard, or if it was one of those “courtesy” knockouts.)

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Anybody seen the movie about Straus that came out in 1997, “The Mouse”? (I haven’t.) One review describes it as “the true story of. … “a ‘shamster’ professional boxer whose specialty is holding up for three rounds against superior opponents in order to get paid.” John Savage stars in the title role. There’s also a cameo by Rip Torn and appearances by real-life fighters Ray “Boom-Boom” Mancini and Vinny Pazienza.

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Straus sounds like quite the character. “I’ve seen him drink a beer that a fan offered him during the fight,” a sparring partner once said.

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Glad to see the Yankees have reinstated Cracker Jack at concession stands. Otherwise, we would have had to change the lyrics to:

Take me out to the ball game,

Take me out with the crowd.

Buy me some peanuts and Crunch ‘n Munch,

I don’t care if I lose my lunch.

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Omitted from the homages to Ronald Reagan — at least, the ones I saw — was the obscure detail that as a guard at Eureka College, he lined up against future Pro Football Hall of Famer George Musso. Musso, a two-way terror for the Chicago Bears, played his college ball at Millikin in Decatur, Ill. (where the Bears were born as the Decatur Staleys).

FYI: Musso has the unique distinction of going up against two future presidents. In 1935, when he was with the Bears, he exchanged forearms with Michigan center Gerald Ford in the College All-Star Game.

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Ronald Reagan, Ray Charles. … a lot of famous folks leaving our midst the past few days. Rosey Brown’s another — though, being an offensive tackle, he wasn’t quite as renowned as the other two. The interesting thing about Rosey, Charlottesville, Va., born and bred, is that he graduated from Morgan State at 20 and didn’t turn 21 until halfway through his 1953 rookie season with the New York Giants. And yet, he wound up in the Hall, which would seem to rebut the NFL’s argument that kids like Maurice Clarett and Mike Williams are too young for the Really Rough Stuff.

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News item: Cowboys receiver Antonio Bryant reportedly has an altercation with coach Bill Parcells during practice and is ejected by club security.

Comment: He must not have been the primary receiver on any of Parcells’ “Jap plays.”

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Fearless prediction: Patriots backup quarterback Rohan Davey, who tore up NFL Europe this year en route to the MVP award, will be a hot commodity when his contract expires after this season. And the Pats, who have so much invested in Tom Brady, won’t be able to keep him.

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Guess we won’t have the NHL’s Southeast Division to kick around anymore.

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Heck, if they don’t get this labor dispute settled, we won’t have anything in the NHL to kick around anymore.

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Speaking of which — the Southeast Division, that is — John Tortorella, coach of the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, is remembered fondly in southwestern Virginia. As my friend Robert informed me in an e-mail, Tortorella’s first job behind the bench was with the Virginia Lancers of the Atlantic Coast Hockey League, a team he’d played for before blowing out his knee and seeking Alternative Employment.

Oilman Henry Brabham, the Lancers’ owner, gave him his start in coaching. And after Tampa Bay won the Cup, Tortorella expressed his appreciation on ABC’s national telecast.

“It just made me feel so good that he said that,” Brabham told Randy King of the Roanoke Times. “John reminds me of me. I was so tickled [about] the one game in which he went into the locker room after the second period [Game[ThSp]5, which Calgary won] and kicked the [darn] trash cans over. … like he used to down here. They said [on TV] that he just raised pure hell with all of ‘em. And I’m sitting here saying, ‘That’s my boy!’”

Brabham, interestingly enough, has ties to the last two American-born coaches to lead a team to the Stanley Cup — Mike Keenan (Rangers, 1994) being the other. “I was part-owner of the team when [Keenan] played here in the mid-1970s [in Salem],” he said.

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At least, I think the Lightning won the Stanley Cup. The Tampa Tribune apparently has some doubts.

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Did you read about this? The Tribune wrote two editorials before Game 7 — one for a win, the other for a loss — and then ran the wrong one. That’s kind of like the Dodgers warming up two relievers in the last inning of the 1951 National League playoff (which they did) and then deciding to send in Ralph Branca.

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And finally, has major league baseball suddenly gone on a Rice diet? Three of the top eight picks in the amateur draft, including the Orioles’ selection, Wade Townsend, are pitchers for the Owls.

It wasn’t until much later that somebody went the Atkins route. (That would be in the seventh round, when the Cubs drafted North Carolina high school hurler Mitchell Atkins.)

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Where’s Bernie Carbo when you really need him?

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