Ask Gary: Which sports stars have it the hardest

by Gary Shelton on February 6, 2016 · 0 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs, Tampa Bay Lightning, Tampa Bay Rays

(Each week, the readers take over and play Ask Gary. They send in a question, or a couple, on Thursday night or Friday morning and we all talk about the world of sports.  Think of it as a radio show where you don't have to be on hold. Join us and ask a question, make a comment or be funny. Send the questions to

Saturday, 6 a.m.

Of the major professional team sports, which sport's athletes have it the "toughest" in your opinion? (considering the game itself, length of season, specific position, or any other factor you'd like to consider)​. Put another way, which athletes do you admire the most?

Barry McDowell

I'd say they were different. The guys, to me, who have it the toughest are the athletes of the Iditarod. That's grueling stuff.

I think male tennis players have to be in great shape. Before Roger Federer, most of them burned out by age 26 or so. They just have to be so finely tuned. Gymnasts, distance swimmers and runners go at it pretty hard. You never see a fat one of them, do you? A middleweight boxer puts his body through it, too.

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I probably admire quarterbacks most, though. Every player on the field wants a piece of his knee or his shoulder. I covered Dan Marino in his best years, and I've covered a lot of pretenders here in Tampa Bay.

Not long ago, I had a long conversation with Ron Jaworski about how much harder it is to play the position now than in his heyday with combination coverages and blitz packages.

You know who else I have a fondness for? Baseball catchers. I think it's such a demanding position. Believe me, I've tried it. Foul balls nearly beat me to death. I thought I was boxing Ali. So, yeah, a great catcher can be amazing.

If Greg Hardy becomes available, will the Bucs try to sign him?

Scott Myers

I would hope not. There is only one redeeming thing about Hardy; he can rush the passer. But he was constantly late with the Cowboys. He has a bad background.

Yeah, yeah. This week, the Panthers have praised Hardy endlessly, and the impressions that his release was over the protests of his teammates. Still, Carolina went 17-1 without him, which tells you something.

Hardy is “a tremendous football player, but there are some other things you have to consider going forward,” Rivera said this week. “As far as we were concerned, we made a decision that was best for us.”

Still, he's a risk. Put it this way: The Bucs needed a pass rush just as bad last off-season as they do this off-season, and they backed off of Hardy. It was a good decision then. It would be a good one now.

Of course, with a new defensive coordinator (Mike Smith) on board, it could be different. Maybe it was Lovie Smith's squeaky clean image that eventually gave him a thumb's down here. Maybe Mike Smith, or Jason Licht, will think differently.

But I can't believe that Hardy is as attractive this year as he was last year. The Cowboys certainly don't seem to be in love with him anymore. Bottom line? I'd pass. Sometimes, a guy is just too much trouble.

The Lightning has so many foreign players.  I am curious.  How do they, especially the Russians, like American culture and values?   Do they plan on staying in America when they retire, or do most want to go home?  How hard was it for them to adapt to the Tampa Bay area?  How does American hockey compare to what they were used to?

Jim Willson
As you might imagine, some players adjust better than others. A lot of athletes just can't get comfortable and return to Russia in a couple of seasons.
Everything is different. The road signs. The books in the airport. The movies. I've always thought it would be tremendously difficult to be an American baseball player in Japan, for instance. It never shuts off.
Remember Alex Selivanov? He liked it here, and he married Phil Esposito's daughter Carrie. But after Alex could no longer play in the NHL, he wound up in Europe. He's still there.
I think the superstars have an easier time. They make more money, after all. They have a chance to ride out the lingering prejudices that are still in the game. But for a borderline player who has one foot in the big time and one foot out, it can be a chore.
Home is home for all of us. I think the lure of going back is always there. Take Vlad Namestikov, whose father and two uncles played in the NHL. They're all back in Russia now. I don't think it's that they don't like it over here. But ties go to where your relatives and childhood friends live, right?
If it were me, I'd dual-citizenship it. I'd go home a lot, but I'd have a home here, too. Certainly, the money is big enough.
I was put off by the whole NFL relocation battle.  Three wealthy owners falling all over themselves to spend $550 million for the rights to move to L.A.  Why didn't any of these guys put $550 million into their current stadiums, or toward a new one.  Stan Kroenke made demands of his hometown St. Louis, then happily agrees to spend almost two billion on a stadium in L.A.  Anyone who thinks the Glazers won't start pulling this crap around 2021 is dreaming.  I wish Congress would put major restrictions on teams that take taxpayer money.    Your take?
Jim Willson
Jim, all of us should have been turned off by the Rams' money rush. Think of all those faithful St. Louis fans who had no voice in any of this after years of solid support.
There is an easy reason why the owners preferred the L.A. to building their own stadium. It's always preferable to spend someone else's cash. The NFL kicked in a lot of dough to fill the L.A. market.
I agree with your thought about politicians putting restrictions on teams moving after they've soaked a community for all the money they can get.  Remember this: To an NFL owner, we're all an ATM card. When the card is empty, it's time to find a new one.

Will Johnny Manziel ever be a regular starting NFL quarterback?

Cecil DeBald

He's trying as hard as possible not to be, isn't he? Hey, I loved Manziel in college. I thought he had the "it'' factor. And I thought he would care enough about the game to be decent.

Instead, Manziel has been a train wreck. Did you read that his own father now fears for his future?

Hey, it doesn't bother me that the guy likes a beer. He's of age. But he seems to like nothing more than the next party, and on the field, he's been mediocre. Leave it up to me, and I'd prefer Tim Tebow. At least he shows up.

Read an article that said the only tape of Super Bowl One is owned by a guy and the NFL won't buy it from him or allow him to sell it. They could probably get it for less than a million, which is chump change to them and a piece of NFL history for sure.

Cecil DeBald

I've read articles on that, too. And you know what it feels like. Suppose Abraham Zapruder had held onto his video recording of the Kennedy Assassination. And now, all these years later, a relative wanted to sell it but wasn't allowed.

That's sort of where we are with Super Bowl I. A guy named Terry Haupt wanted a million bucks for it -- which strikes me as a money grab. The NFL offered $30,000, which sounds cheap even considering how millionaires squeeze nickels. And fans are caught between the two sides.

There is plenty of room for negotiation. I'm not sure I'd pay a million, either, when you consider it's missing part of the third quarter. But how about half of that with half going to support the fight against domestic violence. That's $250,000 for Haupt and $250,000 for charity. Everyone wins. Right?

Given the pending start of spring training, what do you think will be the biggest pleasant surprise for the Rays by Opening Day.

Cecil DeBald

I hope it's Brad Miller at shortstop. If he can be as good as Asdrubal Cabrera was last year, this team has a shot.

If it's not Miller, how about Corey Dickerson in left. I'm like everyone else. I'm skeptical that Dickerson can put up the same numbers in Florida as he did in the thin air of Colorado.

The Rays could use someone to emerge as a set-up man. Could it be Xavier Cedeno? If he can own the eighth inning, then Brad Boxberger has a chance to have a solid year as a closer.

Have the NFL rules become so complicated that it's almost impossible for an NFL referee to do a competent job anymore? Even what constitutes a "catch" is now subject to debate.

Howard Powders

When instant replay first began, I thought it demonstrated how good officiating was. I don't think that way anymore.

These days, officials seem tentative, unsure. There are more officials' huddles than I can ever remember. There are more thrown flags that are picked up than ever before. It's as if the refs are working with someone looking over their shoulders.

The worst of these are the catch rules. Put it this way: there are cornerbacks who will go to their graves swearing they never interfered with anyone. There are tackles who insist they don't hold. But you know, at least a cornerback and a tackle know what their fouls are supposed to be.

A wide receiver these days has no clue. It's a fairly simple exercise, but it seems like the refs are down to guesswork. Take Hall of Famer Cris Carter. He either caught 1,101 passes or 23. You guess.

Hey, I know what a good pass looks like. I know what a good tackle looks like. But a catch? We all hold our breath for the replay.

To me, this all started with the Bert Emanuel non-catch when the Bucs lost to the Rams. Emanuel made a catch that we've all seen a thousand times. And then it wasn't.

Calvin Johnson. Dez Bryant. The list goes on. When the competitors of a sport don't know the rule, you've got trouble.

Bad rule. Bad officials. You take your pick.

How do the Rays look to be this year? We have all our starting pitchers ready for opening day don’t we? Any bats? 
Nick Houllis
I think a lot of the Rays success will depend on their health. Last year, they just weren't good enough to overcome the disabled list. The bullpen was worn out early, and the starters didn't eat up enough innings.
There is talent in the pitching staff, but is there a true stopper? And can the set-up man be good enough?
The bats are promising. The team won't hit enough home runs,but they have a chance to be better than most Rays' lineups. Still, the Rays will have to prove they can challenge with the Red Sox and Blue Jays.



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