March 19, 1956 The Agony of Defeat, a Sports Story

Don’t talk to me about six Super Bowls.   These were the Losing Years.  Before Brady.  Before Belichik.  The “Patsies” of 1985.  The club hadn’t won a division championship, since the old AFL days of the early 1960s.

A few short days ago, I could enjoy a nice cold brew in my favorite sports bar.  As long as I didn’t mind.  There were no sports.  Every set in the place was running Music videos.

Now we can’t even do that as we stand on the sidewalk, looking in.  Every restaurant & watering hole in the place, is shut down.  So, here we are.  At home, hiding from the Wu Flu, without even the distraction of a good game.  The lights have gone out on every event from the Pros to March Madness to the Kentucky Derby while we who would escape the Great House Arrest of 2020, need a little diversion.  A sports story.EPlUJXbU0AEwa2LAs applied to the Wide World of Sport, the term “Blowout” was first used in 1965 to describe a single 40-minute inning in which the St. Louis Cardinals scored seven unearned runs in a 12-2 romp over the Milwaukee Braves.  Over the years, there have been plenty of other games that deserve such a characterization.

– In 1976, the Russian Olympic basketball team humiliated the Japanese men’s team, 129-63.
– The “Fighting Saints” of St. Francis College ended the 1996 baseball season with a run record of 71-1.
– In 1973, the American Thoroughbred racehorse Secretariat crushed the #2 horse Twice a Prince at the Belmont Stakes, by an unprecedented 31 lengths.

The most lopsided college football game ever was played in 1916, when Georgia Tech rushed for 1,650 yards and didn’t allow a single first down by Cumberland College. Final score, 222-to-zip.GA Tech v Cumberland

In 1927, Kansas City’s Haven High School beat Sylvia High 256-0. In a record-setting season of blowouts, the 1901 Michigan Wolverines football team defeated all opponents by a combined score of 550-0.

In 1940 Washington Redskins’ owner George Preston Marshall called the Chicago Bears “crybabies and quitters” after a 7-3 loss, in regular season.  Bears coach George Halas Really knew how to piss a guy, off.  He showed his players the newspaper.  Chicago went on to trounce Washington 73-0 in post-season, in a game so lopsided it had to be finished with practice balls.  ‘Da Bears’ had kicked all the regulation balls into the stands, kicking extra points.

The Chicago Colts of the National League defeated Louisville 36-7 in 1897. The modern Major League Baseball record for margin of victory was set in 2007, when the Texas Rangers defeated the Baltimore Orioles, 30-3. Those 30 runs are a modern-era run record for a nine-inning Major League Baseball game which stands, to this day.Cavs meme

On this day in 1956, the Minnesota Lakers scored one of the most lopsided round ball victories ever over the St. Louis Hawks, 133-75. The blowout was second only to the 1991 Cleveland Cavaliers trouncing of the Miami Heat, 148-80.

In 2009, Dallas’ Christian Covenant High School girls basketball skunked Dallas Academy, 100-0. The victory was widely condemned: Dallas Academy, a school for students with learning disabilities, had a team of eight out of an entire student body population of 20 girls, yet Covenant continued a full-court press with three-point shots well after taking a halftime lead of 59-0. Covenant’s administration called for a forfeit of its own win, calling it “shameful and an embarrassment.”  The coach was fired after he declined to apologize.

Three players have won PGA Tour matches by 16 strokes: J.D. Edgar at the 1919 Canadian Open; Joe Kirkwood, Sr., at the 1924 Corpus Christi Open; and Bobby Locke at the 1948 Chicago Victory National Championship. Tiger Woods has the largest margin of victory in the modern era, with a 15-stroke win at the 2000 U.S. Open.bjoptfzcmaatl9nThe Detroit Red Wings beat the New York Rangers 15-0 in 1944, but some of the worst sports disasters ever, have been in international hockey. The 2007 Slovakia women’s team defeated Bulgaria 82-0 in a 2010 Winter Olympics qualifying tournament.  At the 1998 Asia-Oceania Junior Championships, South Korea skunked Thailand 92-0. South Korean forward Donghwan Song scored 31 goals, all by himself.

For we few die-hard fans who stuck with the New England Patriots during the losing years, the 1986 Super Bowl XX was the worst moment Evah!

Don’t talk to me about six Super Bowls.   These were the Losing Years.  Before Brady.  Before Belichik.  The “Patsies” of 1985.  The club hadn’t won a division championship, since the old AFL days of the early 1960s.il_794xN.1777630928_efmbThe 1985 Patriots opened with some of the finest talent to ever play the game.  All-pro linebackers Andre Tippett and Steve Nelson.  John “Hog” Hannah at Left guard, voted in 1999 the second greatest offensive lineman, in NFL history.   1983 1st-round draft pick Tony Eason, at QB.  There were no fewer than 9 future pro-bowlers, on both sides of the ball.

Despite all of it, the Patsies tripped out of the gate to  a 2-4 record and then that disastrous game 7, with the Buffalo Bills.  Eason was out with a separated shoulder.  In came the veteran, Steve Grogan.

Grogan was the “old man” at this point and all but put out to pasture, but the man went on to win the next six games.  Grogan went down with a broken leg in game 13 but it was enough.  Eason came back with a near-perfect performance in post-season victories in the Wild Card and Divisional Championships as the 13-5 Patriots turned south to “Squish the Fish”.

Miami fans were beside themselves, with joy.  The high flying Dolphins of Dan Marino would get to smash the lowly Patriots, for the AFC Championship.   Armed with T-shirts and foam fingers the Patriots Faithful knew it wasn’t going to be that way.    “We’re going to take the Orange Bowl apart … brick by brick!’’patsies006-ZXKJ$largeThat they did, the game was a Dolphins Disaster. New England controlled the ball for a full 40 minutes of smashmouth football, running 59 times for a whopping 255 yards and 10 out of 12 pass completions. The Fish was duly Squished in a 31-14 trouncing in their own home field.

Coach Raymond Berry and the Cinderella New England Patriots, were headed to Super Bowl XX.

berry-da-bearsThere we were with our “Berry da Bears” t-shirts.  Delirious with Joy we could do no wrong, as New England took the earliest lead in Super Bowl history with a field goal at 1:19.

After that, the room got quiet. REAL quiet.  New England was held to negative 19 yards in the first half.  Game MVP went to a defensive end with the painfully perfect name of Richard Dent, as “Da Bears” set or tied Super Bowl records for sacks (7), fewest rushing yards allowed (also 7) and final score, a positively humiliating, 46-10.

It was the worst beating in Super Bowl history, until the Denver Broncos took us out of our misery with a 55-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, in Super Bowl XXIV.

February 27, 1992 Young Tom

The youngest golfer ever to play in one of the majors (the Masters, US & British Opens and the PGA Championship), was the appropriately named “Young” Tom Morris, Jr., a Scot who played in the 1865 British Open at 14 years and four months.

On this day in 1992, 16-year-old Tiger Woods became the youngest PGA golfer in 35 years, going on to become the first $100 million man on the Professional Tour.

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“Young Tom” Morris

The youngest in thirty-five years that is, but not the youngest ever.  Andy Zhang made the US Open in 2012 at the ripe old age of fourteen years, six months, but even he wasn’t the youngest.

The youngest golfer ever to play in one of the majors (the Masters, US & British Opens and the PGA Championship), was the appropriately named “Young” Tom Morris, Jr., a Scot who played in the 1865 British Open at 14 years and four months.

Morris withdrew from that year’s tournament, at about the time General Lee met General Grant at a place called Appomattox.  Young Tom went on to win the British Open three years later, winning the equivalent of $12 for the feat. Ironically, the victory came at the expense of his father “Old” Tom Morris, Greens Keeper and club pro at the famous ‘Old Course’ at St. Andrews.

Young Tom followed that first Open Championship in 1868 with three more:  in 1869, 1870 and 1872. His record stands to this day, the only player ever to win four consecutive Open Golf Championships.   (There was no championship in 1871).

The 18th Green of the Old Course at St. Andrews has changed little, since 1891.

Young Tom went on to win three more Open tournaments, the first of only two teenagers in history to win any of the majors.  In 1864, Young Tom attended a tournament with his father at the King James VI Golf Club.  With days to go before his 13th birthday, he was too young to compete in either the professional or amateur sections.  Local organizers set up a two-man tournament between himself and a local youth champion.  A large gallery followed the two young golf stars throughout their match.  Those who did so were rewarded by seeing young Tom win the match, with a score sufficient to have won the professional tournament.a-golf-match-involving-willie-park-old-tom-morris-and-young-tom-morris-g3b8fhThe Father/Son team tee’d off in match against the brothers Willie and Mungo Park on September 11, 1875. With two holes to go, Young Tom received a telegram with upsetting news. His wife Margaret had gone into a difficult labor. The Morrises finished those last two holes winning the match, and hurried home by ship across the Firth of Forth and up the coast. Too late. Tom Morris Jr. got home to find that his young wife and newborn baby, had both died in childbirth.

Weeks later, Young Tom played a marathon tournament in wretched weather, leaving him in a weakened state and bleeding from his lungs. He died at the “Home of Golf” and place of his birth, St. Andrews, a short twenty-four years before.  It was Christmas day.

In 2016, the historical drama “Tommy’s Honour” opened the 2016 Edinburgh International Film Festival, based on “Tommy’s Honor:  The Story of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, Golf’s Founding Father and Son” by Kevin Cook, one of five books voted 2007 “Book of the Year”, by Sports Illustrated.

Journalist and film critic Ross Miller wrote in The National newspaper of Scotland, calling the film “emotional, inspiring and deeply heartfelt.  You don’t have to be a golf fan” Miller wrote, ” to be taken in by this engrossing, quietly passionate film that not only brings something new to the sports biopic table but also serves as a poignant, often heartbreaking portrait of paternal love and pursuing your passion with everything you have.

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.

athleteofthecentury

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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