- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Everybody’s making like Joe Namath these days. Hardly a month goes by that some sports figure doesn’t guarantee a victory. Over the weekend it was Rasheed Wallace, the Pistons’ high maintenance forward, promising his team would win Game 2 last night against the Pacers. “Put it on the front page, put it on the back page,” he said (under the impression, apparently, that All the World’s a Tabloid).

Most players who’d just been held to four points — as Wallace was in the opener, a 78-74 Indiana win — would have left such predictions to others. But ‘Sheed probably figured his bold declaration would divert attention from the Real Story of the series so far: His virtual no-show in a game that was eminently winnable for Detroit. When you come up small, his words seemed to say, it’s important to talk even louder, just so folks will know you’re still around.

Just last month — perhaps you missed it — Los Angeles Galaxy coach Sigi Schmid guaranteed his club would win its home opener against the New England Revolution … as if the fate of the soccer world hinged on the outcome. And after the Denver Nuggets dropped three straight in January, coach Jeff Bzdelik promised his team would win the next one … at home against the mighty Chicago Bulls.

Given time to think about it, Bzdelik confessed, “I made a knee-jerk, idiotic response after an emotional game [that Denver lost to Minnesota].”

I’ll drink to that.

If there’s anything lamer than a basketball player guaranteeing a victory after a four-point performance, it’s a coach guaranteeing a victory anytime. About the only time Schmid or Bzdelik set foot on the field/court is to argue an official’s call, and yet here they were, leading the woofing. There oughta be rules governing these guarantees, if you ask me, and rule No.1 should be: If you’re not an active participant, keep your guarantees to yourself.

It all started, of course, with Namath, who spiced up Super Bowl week back in January 1969 by telling the Miami Touchdown Club, “We’re going to win this game. I guarantee it!” And darned if the Jets, 19-point underdogs to the Colts, didn’t. Then there was Rangers captain Mark Messier making a similar pronouncement before Game 6 of the 1994 Eastern Conference finals against the Devils. He, too, came through in a big way, getting a hat trick as New York tied the series and went on to capture the Stanley Cup.

It’s one thing, though, when your marquee player issues such a proclamation. That’s what marquee players are supposed to do — lead. It’s another when Simeon Rice, just another star in the Tampa Bay Bucs’ defensive galaxy, vows his team will beat the Carolina Panthers in a crucial matchup last season. The Bucs, you may recall, didn’t beat the Panthers that day. In fact, Carolina drove the length of the field in the closing minutes — against Rice and Co. — to pull it out. What made it even better, however, was Rice’s follow-up guarantee afterward: “We’ll be back in the playoffs.” That proved to be erroneous as well. Tampa Bay finished 7-9 and home for the holidays.

Even when a guarantee works out, a fellow can look like a fool. In the days leading up to the Chiefs-Bengals game last year, Cincinnati receiver Chad Johnson made the improbable prediction that Kansas City, then 9-0, would get its first whuppin’. To the amazement of all, the Bengals knocked off the Chiefs, 24-19, but the hero turned out to be Cincy’s other wideout, Peter Warrick, who broke two long touchdowns. Johnson was in the locker room, getting intravenous fluids for cramps, when Warrick scored on a 68-yard punt return in the fourth quarter to put the Bengals ahead.

And let’s not forget: A guarantee can leave you open to a counter-guarantee. Jerry Glanville and his mouthy Atlanta Falcons were talking serious trash prior to a game against the Bears in 1990, pledging to go into Soldier Field and take Mike Ditka’s team apart. Hearing this, Chicago cornerback Lemuel Stinson made a guarantee of his own: Not only would the Bears prevail, but he would personally intercept two passes.

The Bears prevailed, 30-24. Stinson intercepted two passes.

And yet the guarantees continue. At his first press conference as Redskins coach, Steve Spurrier noted Dan Snyder’s three years of frustration against Dallas and said, “When we beat the Cowboys, we’re going to give Dan the game ball.” When we beat the Cowboys … Spurrier eked out one victory over Dallas in four tries, and in his last attempt got hammered 27-0 at FedEx Field, one of the lowest points of his mercifully brief tenure.

At least the Stockton Ports put their money where their mouth was. A few seasons back, the minor league club had a pitcher, Phil Kendall, in a terrible slump; he’d dropped 11 straight decisions. So somebody in promotions dreamed up a Phil Kendall Guaranteed Win Night. Alas, the Lancaster JetHawks had other ideas, rallying for a 5-2 victory — which meant the Ports had to give each of the 1,754 fans in attendance a free ticket to a future doubleheader.

Seems only fair — for subjecting them to yet another “guarantee” gone wrong.

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