That was the sound of me exhaling this week with the news that Ladainian Tomlinson was retiring.
Granted, Tomlinson's best days have been over for a few years, but few players have scared the s*#t out of me more than him. All of this got me thinking about a favorite topic of mine, the Scares Me to Death guys. As fans of sports, we all have them, the guy on one of the teams your team plays frequently that makes you hold your breath, just praying that he isn't going to shred your team, and your hopes, to pieces. As a Broncos fan, Tomlinson was that guy for me. Here's my list of NFL, NBA and MLB players as well as the guys who are taking the mantle.
NFL: Ladainian Tomlinson
This is a case where one game, early in his career, may have set the tone for the rest of his career.
In Tomlinson's second year and his fourth career game against Denver, he carried 37 times for 220 yards and 3 touchdowns. After that day I took a deep breath every time Tomlinson was on the field against Denver. I watched his carries through the spaces between my fingers with my hands pressed over my eyes, like someone watching a horror film. For his career, Tomlinson played 19 games, rushed for 1,540 yards and 22 touchdowns. After that 220 yard game, Tomlinson only had four more 100-yard games against Denver, but that didn't lessen the fear. In 2006 he had two, 3-TD games against the Broncos. In December of that year, when he was closing in on the single-season touchdown record, there was no doubt he would do it against Denver. He did, with 3 scores. Tomlinson was fast and strong and dynamic and every time he played against Denver, he scared the crap out of me.
Honorable mention: Bo Jackson. Mostly just because he scared everyone, but in five games against Denver, Bo rushed 54 times for 308 yards (5.7 per carry) and scored 5 TD's.
Now: Jamaal Charles.
Charles has played six games vs. Denver and has 492 yards on 81 carries. That's 6.07 a pop, with three TD's. He also has 14 receptions for 119 yards and seems like a threat to score every time the ball is in his hands.
MLB: Chipper Jones (who else?!)
The numbers speak for themselves, .316/.412/.556 48 HR, 156 RBI in 820 ABs.
In the 7th inning or later, Chipper hit .346 against the Mets with 12 HR, 34 RBI and 46 BB in 222 ABs.
Chipper was especially good at delivering the dagger. When leading by one run, he hit .374 with 9 HR and 17 RBI in 99 ABs. When trailing by a run, .341 with 8 HR and 22 RBI in 85 ABs.
The best/worst part of baseball is the "looming" part of a lineup. As innings unfold and rallies are underway, you can count the batters until "that guy" is coming up. It's like seeing the killer coming with the knife, or hiding behind the curtains. Thankfully, like the Halloween sequels, Chipper is finally going away.
Honorable mention: Mike Schmidt.
As a younger baseball fan, Schmidt was the first great opposing player I saw on a regular basis.
His power was terrifying. He hit balls so hard, cows cried for their fallen comrades. In 851 career ABs against New York, Schmidt hit 43 HR with 143 RBI.
Now: Bryce Harper.
This kid is only 19. That means there's a good chance he'll be terrorizing the Mets for the next 15 to 20 years. I'm going to have to eat a lot of roughage for all the crap Harper is going to scare out of me.
NBA: Larry Bird
I was a HUGE Dr.J fan as a kid, so this is pretty obvious. Unfortunately, I can't find splits or game logs for Bird vs the 76ers until 1984, which excludes much of the damage he did against my guys. This rivalry was heated, bitter and nasty. Bird was a ruthless killer who could get you in so many ways, I just cringed every time the ball was in his hands in a big spot. I honestly don't think I've ever hated a pro athlete more than I hated Bird in those days. I was 12-17 years old during the height of the rivalry, so my sports fans emotions were as out of control as my hormones. NBA games weren't on TV every night like they are now, so when Philly and Boston played, it was often the game of the week, making it feel like an even bigger deal. Doc and Bird had their famous fight. There was the back-to-back years of the 76ers and their 3-games-to-1 series leads going to a 7th game. It was just gut wrenching seemingly every time they went at it and Bird was the horrifying slasher stalking my hero every step of the way.
Honorable mention: Sydney Moncrief.
The Bucks were the third man in the ring during the years Boston and Philly were going at it. Moncrief was an extremely gifted player on both ends of the floor. He was the killer you never saw, just lingering, quietly going about his business and then BAM! an axe to the back of the head that makes you scream like little girl.
Now: I'm no longer a diehard fan of the NBA, so I don't really have one.
So there are the guys who scared me to death when they played my teams. Who are yours? Put them in the comment box.