Wednesday, May 29, 2013

How Blue-Collar are These Athletes?

The Indiana Pacers and many of their fans have been wearing T-shirts that read "BLUE COLLAR" during the conference finals against the Heat. The phrase aptly describes these Pacers, who are giving Miami tons of headaches with their defense and gritty play.

Seeing all the bright yellow "BLUE COLLAR" shirts got me thinking about the most blue-collar athletes that I've had the opportunity to consistently watch. Even though pro athletes make decidedly white-collar salaries, some of them work hard enough during the daily grind to be called blue-collar. Here are a few of my favorites:

Paul O'Neill
"The Warrior"
O'Neill was hardworking, passionate, and famously unafraid to attack a water cooler. A recent Sports Illustrated cover story about Matt Harvey said that when he was growing up, the Mets phenom's favorite player was O'Neill. Considering Harvey's intensity on the mound, I wasn't surprised at all.

Oh, and I almost forgot -- just like all blue-collar workers, O'Neill was extremely resourceful.


Charles Oakley
The protypical blue-collar basketball player is a defense/rebounding specialist like Oakley. As a kid, I was always amazed that he fought against Charles Barkley, a man with pretty much the same name as him.

Jalen Rose describes Oakley as "dark-alley."



Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups
Blue-collar is a term that pretty much describes the whole Pistons team that won the NBA title in 2004. Big Ben and Mr. Big Shot epitomized the hardworking attitude that many Detroit natives have displayed throughout the city's history. It was great to watch them dismantle the Lakers' Over-the-Hill All-Star team (Shaq, Malone, Payton) in '04. It's just too bad that Detroit is no longer really a blue-collar city. Most of the people remaining there can't afford a shirt, let alone one with a collar.

Jerome Bettis
As with Detroit, no list of blue-collar players would be complete without a representative from Pittsburgh. Almost all pro football players play hurt at some point each season, but some are able to endure more pain. Bettis absorbed a physical pounding by running up the middle almost every week for 13 seasons. He missed just 16 games during a career that saw the Bus steamroll countless defenders. Also, he was a Notre Dame guy, so that gets him extra points here.

Jeff Beukeboom
Beukeboom came to the Rangers with Mark Messier in 1991, and Madison Square Garden fans loved his tough style of play. He anchored the first-line defense with Brian Leetch during the 1994 Rangers' iconic run to the Stanley Cup. Beukeboom was willing to fight against all the baddest guys in the league -- Marty McSorley, Tie Domi, Scott Stevens, and on and on.

Also--BEUKEBOOM! God, what a name! Isn't it fun to say?
Beukeboom definitely had a lunchpail on the bench.
A few years ago, I went to a Rangers game with my drunk buddy Nick who repeatedly screamed "We want Beukeboom!" for all three periods. I'm sure that if Nick had been shouting for any other retired player -- even Messier -- someone would have punched him out. Instead, some of the fans around us laughed and most cheered.

Alex Rodriguez


Just kidding.
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I have two groups of friends, the white-collar guys and the blue-collar guys. I like going to bars with both groups, but each crew is ideal in different situations. I would pick my blue-collar friends to back me in a barfight but want my white-collar friends with me when I pay the check.

Similarly, every good team needs high-priced, white-collar stars. These are the guys that must come through when the money's on the line. On the other hand, the blue-collar athletes mentioned above (besides A-Rod) are the guys you want on your squad when the proverbial s--t hits the fan. During a low-scoring, chippy affair, you need guys like Oakley and Beukeboom if you want to have a fighting chance.

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