November 27, 1926 The Army Navy Game

As the result of a friendly wager and Navy’s 10-17 loss in the 2018 game, acting SECNAV Thomas Modly announced this week, the planned construction of the Navy’s newest Destroyer. The “USS Jeff Monken” will be named after the 37th head coach, of the United States Army’s football program.

Sometime during the 1893 football season, a navy doctor told Midshipman Joseph Reeves that another kick to the head could result in “instant insanity”, even death.

Reeves commissioned an Annapolis-area shoemaker to build him a leather covering, thus making himself the father of the modern football helmet. Years later, this man of the battleship era became an ardent supporter of naval air power. Today, Admiral “Bull” Reeves is widely known as the “Father of Carrier Aviation”.

The naval academy’s football program is one of the oldest in the country, dating back to 1879.  The canvas jersey of that year is believed to be the first college football uniform.

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The First Army-Navy football game was played at West Point on Nov. 29, 1890, with the Navy squad achieving a 24-0 victory. (Baltimore Sun File Photo)

The Army got into the game the following year, when Navy challenged Army cadets in what was then a relatively new sport. 271 members of the corps of cadets pitched in 52¢ apiece to pay for half of Navy’s travel expenses, for that first game in 1890. That first game was played on November 29, ending in a humiliating loss for the cadets at West Point, 24-0.

The Black Knights had their revenge the following year, defeating Navy at Annapolis, 32-16.  The two teams met some 30 times between 1890 and 1930, before the game became an annual event.

f6a9fada734c536df7c1bc53796bb8f3.jpgThe two met in Chicago on November 27, 1926 in a National Dedication of Soldier Field, as a monument to American servicemen killed in the War to end all Wars.

More than just inter-service “bragging rights” are at stake. Only 17 schools can boast of having winners, of the prestigious Heisman Trophy. Army and Navy, combine for five.

West Point and Annapolis fielded some of the best teams in college football, during the first half of the 20th century. In 1944 and ’45 with the country at war, Army and Navy entered that final game of the season,with perfect records. Army finished both seasons, undefeated.

Fun Fact:  “A 1973 episode of “M*A*S*H” referenced a fictional Army-Navy game that ended 42-36 Navy. To this day, no Army-Navy game has ended with that score. The radio announcer in the episode says the game is the 53rd Army-Navy game. That game was played in 1952; Navy won, 7-0″.  H/T army.mil

Today, size and weight restrictions combine with a five-year military service commitment, while dreams of NFL careers draw some of the best football talent away from the service academies. Since 1963, only four seasons have seen both teams enter the Army-Navy game with winning records. Yet, the game remains a college football institution, receiving radio coverage every year since the late 1920s, and broadcast on national television, since 1945.

The first instant replay in American football history made its debut during the 1963 Army–Navy game.

The Army-Navy game may be the purest such event in all of college sports. These young men play for the love of the game, knowing the next few years will lead not to careers in business or sport, but to the United Sates military.

Army-Navy-702.jpegFive-year post-graduation military service commitments preclude the NFL career aspirations of most Army-Navy game veterans, but not all. Notable exceptions include Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Roger Staubach (Navy, 1965), New York Giants Wide Receiver and Return Specialist Phil McConkey (Navy, 1979), and (then) LA Raiders Running back Napoleon McCallum (Navy, 1985).

President Dwight Eisenhower earned the distinction of being the only future President in history to play the Army-Navy game in 1912, alongside future General of the Army, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and teammate, Omar Bradley.

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The 1912 squad at West Point included Dwight D. Eisenhower (3rd from left) and Omar Bradley (far right)

The only game ever played west of the Mississippi was the Rose Bowl of 1983, earning the DoD Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire’s not-so-coveted “Golden Fleece” award for blowing $100,000 to transport cadets, midshipmen and mascots, to Pasadena.

How I miss those days when government pretended to look out for our money.

With capacities of only 38,000 and 34,000 respectively, Army’s Michie Stadium and Navy’s Navy–Marine Corps Memorial Stadium are far too small, to hold the assembled crowd. Out of 117 games, only six have been played on either campus. Two of those (1942-’43), were due to WWII travel restrictions.

The Army-Navy game was canceled in 1963, part of a 30-day period of mourning, following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  Knowing her husband to be a big fan, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy requested the game go on.  Quarterback Roger Staubach lead his #2 nationally ranked team to a 21-15 Navy victory.

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For most seniors, the “First Classmen” of either academy, the Army-Navy game carries special meaning. Some may go on to play in a bowl game, but for most, this is the last regular season football game, each will ever play. In times of war, they and others like themselves will be among the first to go, in defense of the country.  Some won’t come back alive.

The game is particularly emotional for this reason. Despite intense rivalry, it would be hard to find a duel in all of sports, where the two sides hold the other in higher regard.

The game is steeped in tradition. As opposites cheer them on, each side takes the field in a spectacle of precision drill, unmatched in any venue outside the military. After the game, teams assemble to sing the almae matres to the assembled students and fans of each institution, ‘On Brave Old Army Team’ and ‘Anchors Aweigh’.

The first such serenade is always performed for those of the losing academy, hence the coveted position of “singing second”, signifying the victor of this, the oldest sports rivalry in service academy history.

Respect and tradition is all well and good, but such rivalries do not come without a share of debauchery. During junior year, selected “Middies” and Cadets attend courses with the opposite military academy. On game day, each is restored in a “prisoner exchange”, returning from their semester in “enemy territory”.

Goats have a long history with all things maritime, having gone to sea since the age of sail and eating all manner of garbage and other undesirable food in exchange for which, she provided companionship, milk and butter. British explorer and naturalist Sir Joseph Bank’s nanny goat was the first creature two-legged or four, to circumnavigate the planet, twice.

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A Navy goat and Army mule meet at the 1924 Army-Navy football game.Credit…U.S. Naval Institute

Navy had multiple mascots during the early years, including a gorilla, two cats, a bulldog, and a carrier pigeon. Legend has it a beloved goat once died aboard a Navy cruise.  Two ensigns cavorted about wearing the skin during half-time, before making their way to the taxidermist.

Navy won that game.  A live goat named “El Cid” (The Chief) appeared at the fourth Army-Navy game, in 1893. Navy won that game too, the third victory of those first four games. Small wonder that Billy goats have been the Navy mascot, since 1904.

The 2016 matchup was attended by “Bill” the Goat #XXXVI and his backup, Bill #XXXVII.
Small wonder too, why Army cadets will go to any length, to kidnap that goat. The first such kidnapping of the modern era, took place in 1953.

The pre-dawn raid of November 5, 1995 resulted in the ‘goatnapping’ of the entire stable, of Navy mascots. The Pentagon was notified, and the goats returned under a joint Army/Navy policy, prohibiting the “kidnapping of cadets, midshipmen or mascots”.

Cadets pulled off the caper in 2002, disguised in Grateful Dead T-shirts. “Operation Good Shepherd” launched in 2007, to kidnap Bill #XXXII, XXXIII, and XXXIV. The whole thing was posted, on You Tube.

Only the Army would mount a military operation, to kidnap a goat.  Only the Navy would contact the Pentagon, to get him back.

The Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot decided in 1899, that Army needed a mascot. Army Mules have a long history going back to George Washington, “Father of the American Mule“.  The first was a white mule, used to haul an ice wagon.   Virginia pack mule “Mr. Jackson” (named for “Stonewall”) became the first “official” mascot, in 1936.

Mr. Jackson served twelve years, the first of seventeen Army mules. Only one, “Buckshot”, was a female.  The “Mule Corps” currently consists of two Percheron crosses:  “Ranger III” and his half-brother “Stryker” and a half-thoroughbred called “Paladin”.

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Senior commanders at the Naval Academy, including the superintendent, Rear Adm. Thomas Lynch, second from left, and the commandant of midshipmen, Capt. Michael Haskins, center, posed in 1991 with the Army mules that midshipmen had abducted from West Point. H/T New york Times

Always the last regular-season game in Division I-A football, the next two Army-Navy games are scheduled in Philadelphia. The game will then move to Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford New Jersey, to mark the twenty-year anniversary of the Islamist terror attacks on the World Trade Center. The 2022 game moves back to Philadelphia, marking the 91st time Army and Navy have played there.

To date, Navy leads Army in the series 60-49-7, with the Black Knights ending Navy’s 14-game winning streak in 2016. The 2019 edition is scheduled for December 14, at Lincoln Financial Field.

navy-angels-uniform-1-1200As the brother, son and grandson of Army veterans going back to the Revolution and beyond, have no doubt who I’ll be rooting for.  ‘Beat Navy’.

October 12, 1968 The Fosbury Flop

“Success is not the absence of failure. It’s the persistence through failure”. Aisha Taylor

“Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” ― Winston Churchill

“Nothing great or small, large or petty…”

Imagine for a moment, you are sixteen. A High School student and quite tall, no longer a boy but not having reached that level of seasoning and experience, to make you a man. Richard Douglas “Dick” Fosbury found himself at this stage in 1963, sixteen years old and not entirely in control of his own 6-foot, 4-inch frame.

Despite his towering height, young Fosbury failed to make the cut, for basketball.  So it was he joined the North Medford High Track & Field team, in Medford Oregon. Fosbury eventually settled on the high jump as his best hope of success.  There was only one problem. By his own description, Dick Fosbury was the worst high jumper in North Medford High.  Possibly the worst, in all of Oregon.

In track & field, the High Jump is an event in which competitors must clear a horizontal bar, without aid and without dislodging the bar. Rules dictate that the jumper must take off from one foot.   There is no rule describing how the jumper, must clear the bar.

 

Counter-clockwise, from top left:  Konstantinos Tsiklitiras during the standing high jump competition at the 1912 Summer Olympics, Platt Adams during the same competition, and Gold medal winner Ethel Catherwood of Canada, scissoring over the bar at the 1928 Summer Olympics. Her winning result was 1.59 m (5 ft 2 1⁄2 in). H/T Wikipedia

Since the earliest such events in mid-19th century Scotland, jumpers have employed a number of methods.  There were standing starts and running approaches, both head-on, and diagonal.  Jump techniques included everything from a scissoring of the legs to a “straddle technique” to a belly-down “Western Roll”.

Dick Fosbury tried every one of them and then some, and never cleared five-feet.  Sometimes he’d start his approach with no idea of what came next, and always the same conclusion.  First the collision and then the ignominious descent into the sawdust, with the bar in hot pursuit.  Some would stop to chortle, as one humiliating failure followed another.  He was “The Fosbury Flop”.

And still, Fosbury labored on.

Then came the day this lanky teenager no one ever heard of, revolutionized his sport.  Instead of jumping face forward with the intention of landing on his feet, Fosbury took his leap off the “wrong foot” and hit the bar, backwards.  Coaches criticized his unconventional technique.  One newspaper called him the “World’s Laziest High Jumper.” 

Those who can, Do, those who can’t, Criticize.  Right? The kid beat his own best jump that day, by six inches.

Despite the criticism, Fosbury worked on his technique.  The other kids still stopped to watch, but no one was chortling, any more.

Oregon State University (Corvallis) track & field coach Berny Wagner insisted that Fosbury stick to the old-school Western Roll technique during practice but left him some leeway, during meets.  That debate ended in Fosbury’s sophomore year with a 6-foot, 10-inch jump that destroyed the school record.

Fosbury won the NCAA championship and qualified for the Olympic squad, for the Summer Games of 1968.  Then came the Games themselves, the 1968 Summer Olympics, begun October 12 in Mexico city.

Three men had cleared the bar using the old “straddle” technique when a lanky Civil Engineering student from OSU, took to the mat.  His shoes were mismatched, his technique so outlandish, newspapers said he looked like a two-legged camel.  It was October 20, 1968.

s-l300 (1)80,000 spectators witnessed for the first time, the “wrong foot” ascent. The perfect arch. The body mechanics leaving the jumper’s center of gravity, below the bar. 

At the 2.2 meter mark, only three competitors remained. Fosbury performed the winning leap for the gold medal at 2.24 meters: over 7 & 1/3rd-feet. It was a new Olympic record.

So it was, a gangly kid who once lost a bet he could jump over a chair and broke his hand in the process, came to be the best in the world, at his chosen sport.

Since 1972, the high jump world has adopted the Fosbury Flop, and never looked back.  No one is laughing, anymore.

 

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”  ― Calvin Coolidge

October 6, 1945 Billy Sianis’ Goat

There are different versions of the story, but they all end up with Billy Sianis and his pet goat Murphy being thrown out of the game and casting a curse on the team. “Them Cubs”, he said, “they ain’t gonna win no more”.

For a Red Sox guy, there was nothing sweeter than the 2004 World Series victory, putting to rest the “Curse of the Bambino”.  Babies grew up and had babies of their own during that time. They had grandchildren and great grandchildren and even a few great-greats, and still.  The drought wore on.  For an arid span 86 years, one of the longest World Series championship dry spells in Major League Baseball history.

Yet the suffering of We who love the Red Sox™ pales in comparison, with the 108-year drought afflicting the Chicago Cubs.  And they say it’s the fault of Billy goat.

It was October 6, 1945, game four of the World Series between the Cubbies and the Detroit Tigers, with Chicago home at Wrigley Field.  The atmosphere was festive.  Electric.  The first post-season for America’s pastime, since the most destructive war in human history, bringing with it hopes for the first Cubs World Series victory, since back-to-back championships in 1907/1908

Billy Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago, bought tickets for himself and his pet goat “Murphy”.

Billy Sianis

Anyone who’s ever found himself in the company of a goat understands the problem. Right?  There are different versions of the story, but they all end up with Billy and Murphy being thrown out of the game and casting a curse on the team. “Them Cubs”, he said, “they ain’t gonna win no more”.

Sianis’ family claims that he sent a telegram to team owner Philip Wrigley reading, “You are going to lose this World Series and you are never going to win another World Series again. You are never going to win a World Series again because you insulted my goat.”
Billy Sianis was right. The Cubs were up two games to one at the time, but they went on to lose the series. The Curse of the Billy Goat, had begun.

Billy Sianis himself tried to break the curse, prior to his death in 1970, but no dice.  Nephew Sam brought a goat onto the field in 1984, 1989, 1994 and again in 1998. All to no avail.

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Sam Sianis, 1984 AP photo

In 2003, the year of the goat on the Chinese zodiac, a group of Cubs fans brought a goat named “Virgil Homer” to Houston, during the division championship series. They couldn’t get him into Minute Maid Park, so they unfurled a scroll outside and proclaimed the End of the Curse.

That got the Cubbies through the series, but the curse came roaring back in game 6 of the National League championship. It was Cubs 3, Florida Marlins 0 in the 8th inning of game 6.  Chicago was ahead in the series, when lifelong Cubs fan Steve Bartman deflected what should have been an easy catch for Chicago outfielder Moisés Alou.

Alou slammed his glove down in anger and frustration. Pitcher Mark Prior glared at the stands, crying “fan interference”.  The Marlins came back with 8 unanswered runs in the inning. Steve Bartman required a police escort to get out of the field alive.

For fourteen years, Chicago mothers frightened wayward children into behaving, with the name of Steve Bartman.

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In 2008, a Greek Orthodox priest sprinkled holy water around the Cubs dugout. Goat carcasses and parts have appeared at Wrigley Field on multiple occasions, usually draped across a statue of Harry Caray.

The Florida Marlins taunted the Cubs in August 2009, parading a goat in front of the Cub’s dugout between the second and third innings. Cubs’ manager Lou Piniella was not amused, though the Cubs squeaked by with that one, 9-8.

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Five fans set out on foot from Cubs’ Spring Training facility in 2012, accompanied by a goat.  Calling the effort “Crack the Curse”, the group hiked 1,764 miles from Mesa, Arizona to Wrigley Field. The effort raised a lot of money for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, but did nothing to lift the Curse of the Billy Goat.

Red Sox fans are well aware of the infamous choke in game 6 of the ‘86 World Series, resulting in the gag “What does Billy Buckner have in common with Michael Jackson? They both wear one glove for no apparent reason”. With due respect to Mr. Buckner, he was far better than that story would have you believe, there’s something my fellow Sox fans may not know.  The former Cub 1st Baseman was wearing a Chicago batting glove under his mitt.  For “luck”.

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A philanthropic enterprise sprang up in 2011 called “Reverse the Curse”, selling goat milk lip balms, soaps and more, and, according to their website, “[C]ollaborating with an institution that provides technical cooperation for agriculture in the U.S., Dominican Republic and Haiti to develop goat breeding centers, vegetable gardens, and chicken farms for small producers”.

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2015 was once again the Year of the Goat on the Chinese zodiac. That September, five “competitive eaters” consumed a 40-pound goat in 13 minutes and 22 seconds at Chicago’s “Taco in a Bag”. The goat was gone. Surely that would work.

The Cubs made it all the way to the National League Championships, only to be broomed by the New York Mets.

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Mets 2nd baseman Daniel Murphy was NLCS MVP that year, setting a postseason record for consecutive games with a home run. Mets fans quipped that, Murphy may be the Greatest of All Time (G.O.A.T.), but he wasn’t the first.

As the 2017 season drew to a close, the Chicago Cubs found themselves defending World Champions.  That’s right. On October 22, 46 years to the day following the death of Billy Sianis, the Cubbies defeated the LA Dodgers 5–0 to win the 2016 National League pennant.

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The mother of all droughts came to a halt on November 2 in a ten-inning cardiac arrest that had all of us up, Way past midnight.  On a school night, no less.  Personally, I even watched that 17-minute rain delay.  And I’m a Red Sox guy.

So it was, the drought has ended.   Steve Bartman has emerged from Chicago’s most unforgiving doghouse, his way now lit by the 108 diamonds of his very own World Series ring.  Billy Sianis and Murphy may, at long last, rest in peace.  The curse is broken.

 

In reading up for this story, I learned that the 1913/1914 Milwaukee Brewers roster included a nanny goat, named Fatima. No, really. I wouldn’t kid you about a thing like that.

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April 14, 1910 7th Inning Stretch

At 6’2″ and well over 300-pounds, the 27th President was a big man, not at all built for those cramped, wooden, stadium chairs.

On this day in 1910, the Washington Senators squared off with the Philadelphia Athletics in the season opener, played at Griffith Stadium in Washington, DC.  President William Howard Taft, was there for the game.

At 6’2″ and well over 300-pounds, the 27th President was a big man, not at all built for those cramped, wooden, stadium chairs.  Taft grew increasingly uncomfortable over the course of the game.  By the middle of the seventh inning, he couldn’t take it anymore.  Unable to bear it any longer, the President stood up to stretch his aching legs.

president-william-howard-taft-and-his-wife-helen-at-a-baseball-game-D70KA8.jpgAs the story goes, Taft’s fellow spectators noticed the President rising, and followed his lead.  Most had no idea why, but soon the entire section was standing.

The seventh inning stretch, was born.

President Taft was an avid baseball fan, attending no fewer than fourteen games while in office.  The man arrived late in 1909 and the game had to be delayed, not because of his arrival, but because of the applause.

Taft became the first American President to throw out an opening pitch, also on this day, in 1910.  The “opening pitch” ritual was different then, than it is today.  Taft threw the ball from the stands to the pitcher, who then began the game.  Ace pitcher Walter Johnson, who caught the throw, went on to pitch a one-hitter.

William Howard Taft
President William Howard Taft throws the opening pitch from the stands

In addition to being our heaviest Commander-in-Chief, William Howard Taft is the only man to ever serve as President of the United States, and as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  He is one of only two Presidents to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

There are other versions of the seventh-inning stretch.   Fact is, no one is certain where it began.   This is only one version of the story, but its plausible and I like it.  I’m sticking with it.

 

A Trivial Matter
William Howard Taft came back to throw the opening pitch in the 1911 opener and had his VP do the same, in 1912. President Woodrow Wilson continued the tradition, as did the next ten Presidents in a row. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt hit a Washington Post camera with his pitch, in 1940. President Harry S Truman threw out two balls in 1950, one left-handed and the other, right. President Jimmy Carter was the first to skip the tradition, though he did toss the opening pitch for game 7, of the 1979 World Series. President Barack Obama threw out the first pitch in 2010 on the 100th anniversary of President Taft’s toss. To date, President Donald Trump has not followed in the tradition. Search on the term “President Trump, opening pitch”, and MSNBC will give you an unflattering story about the Mueller probe. Never one to miss the political cheap shot, that one.  Not even in a baseball story. Insert deep sigh, Here.

February 24, 1980 Miracle on Ice

In exhibition games, Soviet club teams went 5–3–1 against NHL clubs.  The year before, the Soviet national team routed an NHL All-Star squad 6–0 to win the Challenge Cup.  To all the world, the 1980 USA-USSR match was going to be a David vs Goliath contest.

In the world of sports, there is little to compare with the cakewalk cinch of the Olympic basketball team, sent to represent the United States in 1992.  NBA professionals all, these guys were paid the GDP of developing nations, to play their game.   Professional athletes ranged against amateurs, the “dream team” swept their series to the surprise of precisely nobody, averaging 44 points over opponents like Angola, Lithuania and Croatia.  Yawn.

We didn’t always send professional athletes to the Olympics.  There was a time when Olympic competitors’ amateur status was jealously guarded.  Wa-Tho-Huk, that member of the Sac and Fox Nation better remembered as Jim Thorpe, may be the finest all-round athlete in American history.  Thorpe was stripped of his 1912 gold medals in the decathlon and pentathlon, because he’d accepted small sums to play baseball during college summers.  It was little consolation that the medals were reinstated, in 1983.  By that time, the man had been gone for thirty years.

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On February 24, 1980, the American hockey team defeated Finland to win the gold medal at the winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York.  The victory was almost anti-climactic.  The real drama played out two days earlier, when a collection of American amateurs defeated the mighty Soviet squad.

Canadians dominated Olympic ice hockey in the early days of the event, winning six out of seven gold medals between 1920 and ’52.  Team USA scored a surprise gold at Squaw Valley in 1960, after which the Soviet Union seemed unstoppable, winning gold in 1964, ’68, ’72 and ’76.

download - 2019-02-23T090459.140My fellow children of the cold war will remember.  A favorite complaint of the era was the semi-professional status of Soviet bloc athletes.  Particularly those from East Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Between its first Olympic games in 1952 and the final appearance in 1988, the Soviet Union topped the combined medal count, with 1,204.  Even now, extinct for nearly thirty years, the USSR is second only to the United States, a nation which has been in the game, for over twice as long.

The Soviet Union entered the Lake Placid games as heavy favorites, with a 27-1-1 record since that 1960 upset, outscoring opponents by a combined 175 to 44.  The 1980 team had world class training facilities, having played together for years in a well-developed league.  Vladislav Tretiak was widely regarded as the best goaltender in the world.  Tretiak, defenseman Viacheslav Fetisov and forward Valeri Kharlamov would go on to be enshrined in the International Hockey, Hall of Fame.

In exhibition games, Soviet club teams went 5–3–1 against NHL clubs.  The year before, the Soviet national team routed an NHL All-Star squad 6–0 to win the Challenge Cup.  To all the world, this was going to be a David vs Goliath contest.

University of Minnesota coach Herb Brooks had assembled the youngest team in U.S. history to play in the Olympics, with an average age of only 21.  Left wing Buzz Schneider was the only veteran, returning from the 1976 Olympic squad.  Nine players had played under Coach Brooks.  Another four came from arch-rival Boston University including goalie Jim Craig, and team captain Mike Eruzione.

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Brooks puck

For some players, the hostility of that college rivalry carried over to their Olympic teammates.

The Soviet team had demolished earlier opponents by a combined score of 50-11.  The US squad had squeaked out a series of upsets, 23-8. New York times sports reporter Dave Anderson wrote:

Unless the ice melts, or unless the United States team or another team performs a miracle, as did the American squad in 1960, the Russians are expected to easily win the Olympic gold medal for the sixth time in the last seven tournaments.”

Team USSR took an early lead of 2-1 in the first period.  Mark Johnson tied the score with one second left, leading Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov to make the goofiest decision, in sports history.  He pulled the best goalie in the world, and replaced him with backup goaltender Vladimir Myshkin.  The move shocked players on both teams.  Years later, Johnson and Fetisov were NHL teammates, and Johnson asked him about the decision.  “Coach Crazy”, was all the Russian said.

Aleksandr Maltsev scored an unanswered goal on a power play, 2:18 into the second period.  At the end of the second, the Soviet Union led, 3-2.

Mark Johnson scored his second goal of the game at 8:39 in the third, in the last seconds of a power play.  For the American team, it was only the third shot on goal in the last 27 minutes. Vasili Pervukhin got in his goalie’s way with ten minutes to play, as Mike Eruzione fired one past Myshkin to put the Americans ahead, 4-3.

usaussr80.0The Soviet attack was relentless, but Craig let nothing past.  Team USSR took 39 shots on goal to the Americans’ 16, but the score held.

In the final moments, the crowd began the countdown.  ABC Sportscaster Al Michaels called the game in a rising crescendo:  “11 seconds, you’ve got 10 seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow, up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles!? YES!!

David had slain Goliath.  Rocky Balboa defeated Captain Ivan Drago.  A hastily assembled bunch of college kids had just beaten the mighty Soviet Union, arguably the finest hockey team, in the world.  Coach Brooks sprinted back to the locker room, and cried.  Pandemonium reigned supreme, as Jim Craig circled the ice, wrapped in an American flag.  ABC sportscaster Jim McKay compared the victory to a Canadian college football team defeating the Superbowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.  In the locker room, players spontaneously broke into a chorus of “God Bless America”.

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The March 3, 1980 Sports Illustrated cover needed no caption. Everyone knew what happened.

In the gold medal round on the 24th, the Americans were behind at the end of the 2nd period, 2-1.  The American team was in the locker room during the second intermission, when coach Brooks bore down.  “If you lose this game, you’ll take it to your f***ing graves”. 

Team USA defeated Finland for the gold medal, 4-2.

In his day, International Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage (1952-1972), was adamant about preserving the amateur status of Olympic athletes. Once he was gone, the floodgates began to open.  Years later, sports reporter Ron Rapoport wrote “The pros are there for a reason… The pro athletes are pre-sold to the public, which means increased viewership.”

The Olympic games would never be the same.

Nineteen years later, Sports Illustrated called the Miracle on Ice “The top sports moment of the entire 20th century”.

The 1992 “Dream Team” crossed a line which can never be retaken, but that can never change the finest moments in sports history.  For those of us who follow Boston sports, that includes the 2004 World Series, the final, heart-stopping two minutes and seventeen seconds of Superbowl LI in 2017, and the Miracle on Ice, of 1980.

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February 10, 1920  The Dirt on Baseball

“Part of every pitcher’s job was to dirty up a new ball the moment it was thrown onto the field… They smeared it with dirt, licorice, and tobacco juice; it was deliberately scuffed, sandpapered, scarred… and as it came over the plate, [the ball] was very hard to see.” – Ken Burns, Baseball

Pitcher Max Surkont once said “Baseball was never meant to be taken seriously — if it were, we would play it with a javelin instead of a ball”.  I’m not sure about javelins, but this much I know.  It’s a lot of fun to watch a home run, hit out of the park.

The New York Yankees hit 267 home runs last year, breaking the single-season record held for twenty-one years, by the Seattle Mariners.  But that’s not always how the game was played. The “Hitless Wonders” of the 1906 Chicago White Sox won the World Series with a .230 club batting average. Manager Fielder Jones said “This should prove that leather is mightier than wood”.  Fielder Allison Jones.  That’s the man’s real name.  If that’s not the greatest baseball name ever, it’s gotta be one of the top ten.

1994UpperDeckAllStar44This was the “dead-ball” era of the Major Leagues, an “inside baseball” style relying on stolen bases, hit-and-run plays and, more than anything, speed.

That’s not to say there were no power hitters. In some ways, a triple may be more difficult than a home run, requiring a runner to cover three bases in the face of a defense, still in possession of the ball. Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Owen “Chief” Wilson set a record  36 triples in 1912. “Wahoo” Sam Crawford hit a career record 309 triples in 18 years in Major League Baseball, playing for the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit tigers from 1899 to 1917. 100 years later, it’s unlikely that either record will ever be broken.

In his 1994 television miniseries “Baseball”, Ken Burns explained that “Part of every pitcher’s job was to dirty up a new ball the moment it was thrown onto the field… They smeared it with dirt, licorice, and tobacco juice; it was deliberately scuffed, sandpapered, scarred… and as it came over the plate, [the ball] was very hard to see.”

5565612_origSpitballs lessened the natural friction with a pitcher’s fingers, reducing backspin and causing the ball to drop. Sandpapered, cut or scarred balls tended to “break” to the side of the scuff mark. Balls were rarely replaced in those days.  By the end of a game, the ball was scarred, misshapen and entirely unpredictable.  Major League Baseball outlawed “doctored” pitches on February 10, 1920, though it remained customary to play an entire game with the same ball.

The first ever game to be played “under the lights” was forty years in the past in 1920, but the practice would not be widespread, for another fifteen years.

Late afternoon on August 16, the Cleveland Indians were playing the New York Yankees at the Polo Grounds. Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman took the plate in the top of the 5th, facing “submarine” pitcher Carl Mays.

submarine-425thA submarine pitch is not to be confused with the windmill underhand pitch we see in softball.  Submarine pitchers throw side-arm to under-handed, with upper bodies so low that some scuff their hands on the ground, the ball rising as it approaches the strike zone.

Submarine pitch

It seems Chapman didn’t see it coming. He never moved.  The crack of the ball hitting Ray Chapman’s head was so loud that Mays thought he had hit the end of the bat, fielding the ball and throwing to first for the out. Wally Pipp, the first baseman best known for losing his starting position to Lou Gehrig because of a headache, knew something was wrong. The batter made no effort to run but simply collapsed, slowly dropping to the ground with blood streaming out of his left ear.

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Ray Chapman

29-year-old Ray Chapman had said this was his last year playing ball.  He wanted to spend more time in the family business he had just married into. The man was right.  Raymond Johnson Chapman died 12 hours later, the only player in the history of Major League Baseball, to die from injuries sustained during a game.

The age of one-ball-per-game died with Ray Chapman, and with it the era of the dead ball. The lively ball era, had begun. Batters loved it, but pitchers struggled to come to grips, with all those shiny new balls.

MLB rule #3.01(c) states that “Before the game begins the umpire shall…Receive from the home club a supply of regulation baseballs, the number and make to be certified to the home club by the league president. The umpire shall inspect the baseballs and ensure they are regulation baseballs and that they are properly rubbed so that the gloss is removed. The umpire shall be the sole judge of the fitness of the balls to be used in the game”.

Umpires would “prep” the ball using a mixture of water and dirt from the field, but this resulted in too-soft covers, vulnerable to tampering. Something had to take the shine off the ball without softening the cover.

Philadelphia Athletics third base coach Lena Blackburne took up the challenge in 1938, scouring the riverbanks of New Jersey for just the right mud. Blackburne found his mud hole, describing the stuff as “resembling a cross between chocolate pudding and whipped cold cream”. By his death in the late fifties, Blackburne was selling his “Baseball Rubbing Mud” to every major league ball club in the country, and most minor league teams.

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Philadelphia Athletics coach Lena Blackburne with team owner Cornelius McGillicuddy, better known as “Connie Mack”, Fenway Park

In a world where classified information is kept on personal email servers, there are still some secrets so pinky-swear-double-probation-secret that the truth may Never be known. Among them Facebook “Community Standards” algorithms, the formula for Coca Cola, and the Secret Swamp™, home of Lena Blackburne’s Baseball Rubbing Mud.

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There’s an old joke here on Sunny Cape Cod™, that we have four seasons:  Almost Winter, Winter, Still Winter and Bridge Construction.  As we gaze out on the frozen tundra longing for that first crocus of Spring, one thing is sure. The first pitchers will show up to the first spring training camp, a few short days from now. Every baseball thrown from pre-season to the 2019 World Series, will first be de-glossed with Lena Blackburne’s famous, Baseball Rubbing Mud.

Play Ball!

Go Sox.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

February 7, 138AD The Highest Paid Athlete, in History (It’s Not who you Think)

Crashes were frequent and spectacular, often killing or maiming driver and horse, alike.  Such wrecks were called naufragia, a Latin word translating as”shipwreck”.  As many as forty chariots crashed in one catastrophic wreck, near Delphi.

For we who are New England sports fans, the Smug™ yet lies heavy on the air, following back to back World Championships for the Boston Red Sox, and New England Patriots.  Having worked for the latter organization forty years ago when the team couldn’t get a game on TV, I have to tell you.  This is a lot more fun.

Another banner year
Most will find this graphic braggadocious, if not obnoxious.  A Chicago Cubs fan, will understand.

The winners of Superbowl LII received $112,000 each for winning the Big Game.  Losing players were paid $56,000, apiece.  Not bad for a single day’s work, but it raises an interesting  question.  Who is the highest paid athlete, of all time?

On December 13, 2017 Forbes Magazine answers as follows:

“The Highest-Paid Athletes of All-Time”

1. Michael Jordan Career earnings: $1.85 billion (2017 dollars)
2. Tiger Woods: $1.7 billion
3. Arnold Palmer: $1.4 billion
4. Jack Nicklaus Career earnings: $1.2 billion
5. Michael Schumacher: $1 billion
6. Phil Mickelson: $815 million
7. (tie) Kobe Bryant: $800 million
7. (tie) David Beckham: $800 million
9. Floyd Mayweather: $785 million
10. Shaquille O’Neal: $735 million

Seems Forbes missed one guy who earned nearly half-again, as the top ten.  Combined.

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The earliest chariots came around some 4,000 years ago, with the invention of the spoke-wheel. As a weapon of war, the use of these open, two-wheeled carriages came to a peak in 1300BC, around the Battle of Kadesh. Chariots lost their military importance as horses were bred to become bigger and stronger, able to carry a rider in the control position. The vehicle was gone as a weapon of war by the 1st century AD, but chariot races remained popular in Byzantine times, until the 6th century.

Chariot_spreadChariots go back to the earliest days of the Roman Republic, coming down from the ancient Greeks, by way of the Etruscan empire. The mythical abduction of the Sabine women was carried out, while the Sabine men watched a chariot race. While Romans never used them as weapons of war, chariots were used in triumphal processions, pulled by teams of horses, dogs, tigers and even ostriches.

It was the racetrack, the circus,  where the sport of chariot racing put the Fanatic in fans.  None greater, than the Circus Maximus.

What the Greeks saw as an opportunity for talented amateurs to rise within their chosen sport, the Romans regarded as entertainment.  A class of professional drivers, rose to meet the demand.  There were four teams or “factions” (factiones), distinguished by the color of their outfit:  Red, Blue, Green and White.

666a2787d4e5f542a91e5218309cc586Modern sport has seen its share of fan passion rising to violence, but the worst “soccer hooligan” fades to docility, compared with the crowd come to watch the chariot races.  In the year 69, Emperor Vitellius had commoners put to death for talking trash about the Blue faction.  Ten years later, a fan threw himself on the funeral pyre, of his favorite driver.  The week-long outbreak of violence known as the Nika Riots of 532 cost the lives of some 30,000 spectators.  It all started, over a chariot race.

Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, home of Super Bowl LIII, has a rated capacity of 71,000 spectators, expandable to 75,000.  The Circus Maximus measured 2,037-feet long by 387-feet wide and seated as many as a quarter-million.  Come race day, the city was all but deserted.

Twelve chariots would enter each race, three from each faction.  Golden-tipped dolphins were tipped over, to count the laps.  Each race ran seven.

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A raised median called a spina ran down the center, adorned with stone statuary and obelisks.  Ganging up to drive opposing handlers into the stone median or the stands, whipping opponents and even hauling them out of their chariots  was not only permitted, it was encouraged.

Tales of poisoned horses and drivers were not unheard of.  Lead tablets and amulets were inscribed with curses, spiked through with nails and thrown from the stands.  One such curse reads:

I call upon you, oh demon, whoever you are, to ask that from this hour, from this day, from this moment, you torture and kill the horses of the green and white factions and that you kill and crush completely the drivers Calrice, Felix, Primulus, and Romanus, and that you leave not a breath in their bodies.

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Racing chariots were as light as possible and extremely flimsy, to increase speed.  With no suspension, even a bump could throw a driver into the path of oncoming teams.  Clogs were built into lattice floors, to hold the driver’s feet.  Teams of two (biga), three (triga) and four (quadriga) horses were common, but teams as large as six were not unheard of.  Though it was rare, ten-horse teams were known to take the field.

While Greek drivers held the reins in their hands, Roman charioteers wrapped them around the waist.  Unsurprisingly, any driver thrown out would be dragged to death or trampled, unless able to cut himself free.

Crashes were frequent and spectacular, often killing or maiming driver and horse, alike.  Such wrecks were called naufragia, a Latin word translating as”shipwreck”.  As many as forty chariots crashed in one catastrophic wreck, near Delphi.

Roman Chariot Race

It is often said to “Beware the old man in a land where men die young“.  The Roman countryside was dotted with the graves of twenty-year old chariot drivers.  Yet, on this day in 138, the Spanish driver Gaius Appuleius Diocles was only midway through a 24-year career, spanning 4,257 races.     He won 1,462 of them and placed in another 1,438.

Diocles wasn’t the “winningest” driver in Rome, though he did own an extremely rare ducenarius, a horse which had won at least 200 races.  Flavius Scorpus scored 2,048 victories before being killed in a wreck at the age of twenty-seven.   Pompeius Muscosus won 3,559.  Diocles was the master of the “come from behind” victory.  Crowds loved it.  In his 24 years, Diocles went from White to Green to Red factions amassing an impressive 35,863,120 sesterces, over the course of a long career.

It was enough to keep the entire city of Rome in grain for a year, equivalent to $15 Billion, today.  Not bad for a guy whose name indicates he probably started out a slave, freed by a guy named Gaius Appuleius.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.