Sunday, March 2, 2003

The Ryan Percentage Index

Give us a subject, and we'll rank it. This week: Great comebacks

By Ryan Ernst
Cincinnati Enquirer

Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis, who rushed for 6,413 yards and played on two Super Bowl championship teams in his first four NFL seasons, is set to try a comeback after sitting out all of last season with knee injuries. Although comebacks of this nature often fail like Darryl Strawberry drug tests, people are always willing to give them a shot.

But which are the best? Which are the worst? Who has returned triumphantly? Who has returned Strawberrily?

Enter the RPI (Ryan Percentage Index), a ranking system based loosely on college basketball's Ratings Percentage Index.

The better-known RPI is based on winning percentage (25 percent), schedule strength (50) and opponent's schedule strength (25). This index will be similarly based, with a certain creative license used to make things interesting. It's all very sophisticated.

So, without further ado, here's a look at some of the best and worst, real and fictional comeback attempts:

The Top 10

Here's what the numbers mean. The first number is overall ranking, followed by the subject. The next number is the Injury/Deficit Rank, then the Accomplishment Rating, and the calculated Ryan Percentage Index. Note: These numbers have a plus/minus margin of error of 0 percent, because they are entirely made-up.

1. Lance Armstrong, 1999-2002,1, 2, .6598

Only a few cyclists of each generation win the Tour de France after a lifetime of training. Armstrong has done it four times, after cancer.

2. Rocky IV, 3, 1, .6577

The referee should have been pistol-whipped for letting this go on at times. Yet the Italian Stallion avenged the death of his friend, won over a hostile Soviet crowd and helped put an end to the Cold War in an absolutely brutal 15th-round knockout. Goosebumps.

3. Bills 41, Oilers 38 (OT), 4, 3, .6529

Buffalo overcame a 35-3 third-quarter deficit to win this 1992 AFC wild-card game. The Bills went on to the Super Bowl. Oilers defensive coordinator Jim Eddy went on to the locker room where he was stripped of his belt and shoelaces. The next day, he was stripped of his duties.

4. Neil Parry, 2003, 2, 6, .6517

This San Jose State football player lost his leg in 2000 after a compound fracture suffered in a game became infected. After 19 surgeries, he plans to play in a game this fall with help from a prosthetic limb.

5. Richard Nixon, 1968, 7, 4, .6510

After first losing a bid for the presidency in 1960 to John F. Kennedy, and then the California gubernatorial race in 1962, the former Whittier College football player became leader of the free world, twice. Of course, great comebacks don't always have happy endings ...

6. Muhammad Ali, 1974, 5, 5, .6452

After a 3 1/2-year layoff and his first two career losses, Ali "shook up the world" again by knocking out champion George Foreman in the eighth round.

7. Ted Williams, 1946, 6, 7, .6433

After taking off three seasons at the height of his powers to serve in World War II, Teddy Ballgame returned to hit .342 with 38 homers and 123 RBI.

8. John Kruk, early '90s, NA, 8, .6390

In response to a question about his alcohol and tobacco use being bad for a professional athlete, the man who once traded his jersey number for two cases of beer replied: "Lady, I'm not an athlete. I'm a ballplayer." Great comeback.

9. George Foreman, 1994, 6, 9, .6389

Ten years after his last professional fight, the former champ climbed the ranks to take advantage of a watered-down weight class, won the title, then re-retired to sell grills before he had to fight Mike Tyson.

10. Grover Cleveland, 1892, 6, 10, .6367

In 1884, Cleveland became the first Democratic president in 28 years. Then, after losing the 1888 election to Benjamin Harrison by a slim margin, this often underrated president ran away with the next election.

The Bottom 10

Again, the numbers don't lie. Here are the RPI's 10 worst comebacks.

291. Mark Spitz, 1992, 289, 291, .0271

Seven gold medals just weren't enough. He had to go and humiliate himself against kids half his age.

292. Teen Wolf Too, 290, 293, .0266

The bad basketball scenes from the original are replaced with even worse boxing scenes. Worse, Jason Bateman replaced Michael J. Fox, which is only a slightly better trade than the one that sent Kobe Bryant to Los Angeles for Vlade Divac.

293. Steve Howe, comebacks 1-6, 291, 300, .0261

Awful, just awful. Comebacks seven and eight however, were great in that "watching-a-train-wreck" sort of way.

294. Michael Jordan, 2005, 292, 296, .0255

It's inevitable and it's going to be ugly. Just ask ...

295. Magic Johnson, 1994 and 1996, 293, 299, .0222

First as a player, then as a coach, but always out of place.

296. Evel Knievel, 1976, 295, 297, .0197

After more than a year off, the daredevil suffered a brain concussion and two broken arms and cost a cameraman an eye when he crashed attempting a jump over a shark tank in the Chicago Amphitheater.

297. Rocky VI, 299, 294, .0175

Word is, Sylvester Stallone has signed on for another installment. Wasn't Rocky V bad enough? Can we please pass legislation to stop this?

298. Tim McCarver, 1991 NLCS, 298, 298, .0143

After publicly criticizing Deion Sanders for his two-sport lifestyle, the announcer found himself in the Atlanta Braves' celebration-filled locker room. After Sanders retaliated by dumping ice-cold water on McCarver, he weakly responded with, "You're a real man, Deion." Nice comeback, sissy.

299. Headbands, 294, 295, .0120

Couldn't these be left in the NBA of the '70s with short shorts and cocaine addictions?

300. Saved by the Bell: The College Years, 296, 300, .0099

Mr. Belding was the straw that stirred the drink. The new gang plotting behind Bob Golic's back was even more awkward than that Zack-Slater fistfight at Bayside.


Huggins: Sweet 16 possible
Women: Saint Louis 69, UC 63

Waugh, Piipari put on Senior Day show
Xavier keeps winning the close ones
West, Boothe win awards

No. 2 Kentucky 74, No. 21 Georgia 66
St. John's 72, No. 6 Duke 71
Maryland's Williams gets No. 500
Hoosiers' tourney starts now
Hoosier fans still rooting for Bob Knight
Arizona wins another Pac-10 title for Olson

Reds 8, Pirates 3
Daugherty: Has Piniella traded away wins for lifestyle?
Haynes hopes to build on '02
Casey's debut a hit despite 0-for-2
Author Wells could face disciplinary action
Vaughn more comfortable as Met this season
Indoor baseball facility a hit in Louisville
Karros starting over with Cubs
Brown and Dreifort back on mound for Dodgers

Bengals' Lewis knows what Jermaine can do
Redskins busiest buyer early in free agency
Ambrose signs with Saints

Week ahead: Aiken eyes upset of Winton Woods
Prep hoops playoffs

Unmatched Woods adds another title
Lickliter holds on in second tour victory

Ducks streak snapped
After smacking Ruiz, Jones ponders future

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