Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder and Jets coach Rex Ryan have decided to call a truce in their war of words.
It was more like a skirmish. Or a bit of pre-preseason one-upmanship, accompanied by lots of smiling. Ryan said the AFC East goes through New England. Crowder, feeling disrespected as the defending AFC East champion, retorted that the Jets are nothing but “OTA champions,” referring to meaningless practice sessions.
Ryan shot back that he doesn’t even know who Crowder is but that “If I was younger, I’d probably handle him myself.”
Crowder’s response: “Oh, Lord have mercy. If he wants to be prepared, shouldn’t he know the starting middle linebackers of his division rivals? Or if he really wants to get retro, my daddy or my uncle could have handled him.”
Somehow, these exchanges became a hot topic, even though they weren’t particularly incendiary or erudite. Oh, Lord have mercy. If this is what qualifies as newsworthy trash talk, my, how our sports stars have fallen.
It’s June, a long way from the heart of the NFL season. Give them time. But why haven’t we heard any provocative talk during the NBA Finals between the Magic and Lakers or during the Stanley Cup Finals series between Detroit and Pittsburgh?
Sure, actions speak louder than words. But words can serve a useful purpose in sports. These athletes need to study their predecessors if they want to learn how to get under an opponent’s skin.
Trash talk goes way back. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle: Give it up for the Greeks. Call them intellectuals or call them philosopher jocks — they would have made mincemeat out of Charles Barkley, Shannon Sharpe, Gary Payton or Warren Sapp.
Genghis Khan was a master instigator. He also put his Mongols where his mouth was. Reggie Jackson had the same sort of confidence when he talked of “the magnitude of me” and called himself “the straw that stirs the drink.”
Creative insults? Athletes should watch Archie Bunker in All in the Family.
Politicians can be instructive, whether it’s our local leaders bashing Cuba or Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton delivering campaign zingers. Rod Blagojevich fancied himself a true trash talker, but he turned out to be just trash.
Different sports produce different types of chatter. Baseball had great baiters in Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb but tends to be more civil.
Who is on your list? Here are the three most formidable trash talkers, in my opinion:
Michael Jordan sought to distract opponents into a one-on-one competition. He once told rookie Dikembe Mutombo that he would make a free throw with his eyes closed.
“This one’s for you, baby,” Jordan said, squeezing his eyes shut and swishing the shot. “Welcome to the NBA.”
Larry Bird took pleasure in demoralizing his opponents. The “hick from French Lick” never missed when he was shooting from the mouth.
Muhammad Ali was the greatest. He once “injured a stone, hospitalized a brick. I’m so mean I make medicine sick.” He saw George Foreman shadow boxing, “and the shadow won.”
He infuriated Joe Frazier and Sonny Liston, saying Liston needed talking and boxing lessons, “and since he’s going to fight me, falling lessons.”