January 18, 1983 Athlete of the Century

Future President Dwight Eisenhower played against Thorpe during the 1912 season and said this, in a 1961 speech: “Here and there, there are some people who are supremely endowed. My memory goes back to Jim Thorpe. He never practiced in his life, and he could do anything better than any other football player I ever saw”.

He was born in Oklahoma Indian territory around 1887, to parents of mixed Caucasian and Indian ancestry. According to custom he was named after something that happened, around the time of his birth. Lighting had lit up the trail to the house in which he was born. So it is he was known by the native name, Wa-Tho-Huk. “Bright Path”. He was raised a Catholic, a faith he would practice all his life with the baptismal name, Jacobus Francis Thorpe. He would grow to be the finest all-round athlete of the first half of the 20th century and maybe, for the next 100 years. We remember him as Jim Thorpe.

Thorpe was an indifferent student and ran away from school several times, especially after his twin brother Charlie died of pneumonia, at age 9. His father sent him to the Haskell Institute, an Indian boarding school in Lawrence, Kansas, hoping he wouldn’t run away again.

Two years later, his mother died in childbirth. That was it. After several arguments with his father, he left to take work at a horse ranch. Thorpe returned to his father at 16 and agreed to attend the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

One day in 1907, Thorpe was walking past the school track. Several high jumpers were at practice and he decided to give it a try. With no warm-up and still in street clothes, Thorpe beat them all on his first try with a high jump of 5-feet, 9-inches.

In those days, Glenn Scobey “Pop” Warner, yeah, THAT Pop Warner, coached football at the Indian School.

Reluctant to let his best track & field athlete try a contact sport, Warner relented and let Thorpe carry the ball on two rushing plays. He’d be easily tackled and change his mind thought Warner, but Thorpe ran circles around the defenders. Twice. Flipping the ball to coach Warner, Thorpe quipped, “Nobody is going to tackle Jim“.

Thorpe came to compete in football, baseball, lacrosse and even ballroom dancing, winning the intercollegiate ballroom dancing championship, in 1912. I can’t help but respect that, as someone who moves, like a refrigerator.

Jim Thorpe in 1912

Thorpe came to national attention in 1911, after scoring all four field goals in an upset victory over Harvard, 18-15. In a 1912 victory over Army, Thorpe’s 92-yard touchdown run was called back, due to a teammate’s penalty. He ran it in again on the following play, this time running 97-yards.

He didn’t compete in track & field in 1910 or ’11 but, in the spring of 1912, he started training for the Olympics. At the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, somebody stole his shoes. He scrounged a pair from somewhere including one from a garbage can and won the decathlon, and pentathlon.

It was his first and only decathlon.

Martin Sheridan, champion athlete of the Irish American Athletic Club and five-time Olympic gold medalist told a reporter from the New York World: “Thorpe is the greatest athlete that ever lived. He has me beaten fifty ways. Even when I was in my prime, I could not do what he did today.”

The New York Times wrote in his 1953 obituary, that Thorpe “could run the 100-yard dash in 10 seconds flat; the 220 in 21.8 seconds; the 440 in 51.8 seconds; the 880 in 1:57, the mile in 4:35; the 120-yard high hurdles in 15 seconds; and the 220-yard low hurdles in 24 seconds. He could long jump 23 ft 6 in and high-jump 6 ft 5 in.[7] He could pole vault 11 feet; put the shot 47 ft 9 in; throw the javelin 163 feet; and throw the discus 136 feet“.

In today’s Olympics, we’re all supposed to be excited when professional athletes paid tens of millions of dollars to play basketball, defeat some kids from Croatia.

That wasn’t so in 1912. There were strict amateur rules. Sports teachers, professional athletes and anyone who ever competed against them were strictly forbidden from amateur sports, particularly when someone noticed.

In 1909 and 1910, Thorpe played baseball for the Rocky Mount Railroaders of the Eastern Carolina League. They were the worst team in the league despite the presence of Jim Thorpe, but no matter. The man was paid $2 a game, and $35 a week, to play baseball.

The fact was widely known but, in 1913, the Worcester Telegram published an article, stating that Thorpe had played professional baseball. Other papers picked up the story. Plausible deniability thus denied, Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Secretary James Edward Sullivan, sprang into action.

Thorpe wrote a letter, hoping it would help: “I hope I will be partly excused by the fact that I was simply an Indian schoolboy and did not know all about such things. In fact, I did not know that I was doing wrong, because I was doing what I knew several other college men had done, except that they did not use their own names …”

It didn’t. Despite a 30-day rule for such challenges, the AAU retroactively withdrew his amateur status. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) stripped him of his awards, and medals.

Jim Thorpe first signed with the New York Giants in 1913 and played six seasons in the major leagues, between 1913 and 1919. He joined the American Football League Canton Bulldogs in 1915 helping the team to three championships before joining the National Football League where he played, for six years. All the while he would barnstorm around the country with an all-Indian professional basketball team. He was President of the American Football league in 1920 which later became, the NFL.

Jim Thorpe would play professional sports until he was 41. Depression was upon the land on those days and Thorpe struggled to hold down a job. Bouncer. Security Guard. Ditch digger. He briefly joined the Merchant Marine, in 1945. He appeared in several films sometimes sometimes as himself, and sometimes a bit player. He became a chronic alcoholic, married three times and divorced twice, with 8 kids. He was hospitalized with lip cancer in 1950 and admitted, as a charity case.

Jim Thorpe went into heart failure in 1953 while dining with his third wife, Patricia. He was revived and spoke to those around him, but later lost consciousness. Jim Thorpe died at the couple’s home in Lomita, California on March 28, 1953.

Over the years, supporters tried to have his medals restored and Olympic titles, reinstated.

Former teammate and IOC President Avery Brundage would have none of it, saying “ignorance is no excuse.”

In 1981, author Bob Wheeler published Jim Thorpe: World’s Greatest Athlete. Wheeler and his wife Florence Ridlon, herself a PhD and author of several books, may be Thorpe’s greatest supporters.

The couple founded the Jim Thorpe Foundation in 1982 and, that October, the IOC executive committee approved Thorpe’s reinstatement. Sort of.

Jim Thorpe was declared “co-champion” with Ferdinand Bie and Hugo Wieslander, athletes who had always said, that Thorpe had won. On this day in 1983 the IOC presented commemorative medals to two of Thorpe’s children, Gale and Bill. Today, the IOC lists Thorpe as “co-medalist’.

In 1954, the communities of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk of Carbon County Pennsylvania merged to form the borough of Jim Thorpe.

Thorpe’s original medals were at one time in museums but since stolen, and never recovered.

In 2020, a petition called upon the IOC to reinstate Thorpe as the sole winner of the 1912 events. Pictureworks Entertainment, a company producing a film about Thorpe supports the petition as does 1964 gold medalist, Billy Mills.

December 7, 1941 A Game that Never Was

What started that day as an away game, ended, in World War 2

In the age of COVID-19, we’ve all become accustomed to sudden and unexpected changes of plans. The world of College football is no exception.

Millions of college football fans eagerly await the playoffs, just around the corner. Now it appears, some games may not happen. Wisconsin and Minnesota have played every year, for 113 years. For the first time since 1907, the game’s been canceled. If Ohio State misses one more game, the team won’t be eligible to play in the Championships. The Mountain West and C-USA conferences have seen the most cancellations and/or postponements in all of college football, with three apiece.

It must be particularly frustrating for the San Jose State crowd, locked down after the best start, since 1955.

And yet, there’s more than one way to skin the proverbial cat. The San Jose Spartans flew 2,400 miles west to defeat the Rainbow Warriors of Hawaii, 35-24.

In December 1941, the Spartans were scheduled to play three games in the Aloha state. San Jose and the Willamette Bearcats, of Oregon. They were college kids. On the road to enjoy a few days in paradise and to play the game they all loved. What could be better than that?

The two teams departed November 27 aboard the SS Lurline, along with an entourage of fans, dignitaries and coaching staff. Hawaii defeated Willamette 20-6 on Saturday, December 6. The Warriors were scheduled to play San Jose State on December 13. Then the Spartans were to play the Bearcats December 16 before sailing home, on the 19th.

An outing like that was once in a lifetime. Unforgettable. The trip would be that and more, but not for the reason anyone expected.

A great sucker punch came out of the southeast on December 7, 1941. 353 Imperial Japanese warplanes attacked Hickam Air Field and the US Pacific Naval anchorage at Pearl Harbor, lying at peace in the early morning sunshine of a Sunday morning. The sneak attack carried out 79 years ago today destroyed more American lives than any foreign enemy attack on American soil, until the 2001 Islamist terrorist attack, of September 11, 2001.

The President of the United States would address a joint session of Congress the following day requesting a declaration of war, against the Empire of Japan.

Back on the mainland, the families of players stranded in Hawaii, received no word. There were no communications. None could know with certainty, that brothers and sons were alive and well. Hawaii was locked down, under Martial Law.

Meanwhile, the visiting teams were mobilized to perform wartime duties. San Jose state players began working with Federal authorities and the Honolulu police department to round up Japanese, Italian and German citizens, and to enforce wartime blackout orders.

Willamette players were assigned WW1-vintage Springfield rifles and tin hats, and ordered to string barbed wire, on the beaches. Two days later, the Punahou school was taken over by Army engineers. For the next ten days Willamette players stood 24-hour guard, around the school.

If you think you’ve heard the name Punahou it probably involves the school’s most famous alum, future President Barack Obama.

Shirley McKay Hadley, a Willamette student accompanying her father, then serving as state Senator, joked many years later, “They were lucky they didn’t shoot each other.”

Female members of the entourage, were assigned nursing duties.

Spartan Guard Ken Stranger delivered a baby, on December 7.

On December 19, players received two-hours notice. It was time to go. The civilian liner SS President Coolidge had been commandeered to transport gravely wounded service members. This would be the kids’ ride home complete with Naval escort, to protect against Japanese submarine attack.

Seven San Jose players stayed behind and joined the Honolulu police force , for which each was paid $166 a month. Willamette coach Roy “Spec” Keene refused to let any of his players stay behind. None had been able to speak with their parents, first.

Nearly every member of both squads went on to fight for the nation. Willamette Guard Kenneth Bailey was killed over Bari Italy in 1943 and awarded the Purple Heart, posthumously.

Bill McWilliams served 27 years in the United States Air Force, as a fighter bomber pilot. He’s written a book about 12 of these guys, who went on to fight the conflict, of the “Greatest Generation”.

The book came out in 2019 and it’s still in print, if you’re interested.

It looks like one hell of a story.

Andy Rogers played for the Willamette squad that day and went on to serve for the duration of the war, with the 3rd division of the United States Marine Corps. Mr. Rogers is 98 today and lives in Napa Valley, California. The only living member of either traveling squad who would have played that day, in the game that never was.

November 17, 1968 The Heidi Bowl

Sportswriter Jack Clary quipped, “The football fans were indignant when they saw what they had missed. The Heidi audience was peeved at having an ambulatory football score intrude on one of the story’s more touching moments. Short of pre-empting Heidi for a skin flick, NBC could not have managed to alienate more viewers that evening.”


For football fans, November 17, 1968 was shaping up to be one hell of a game.  The second-best team in the world Oakland Raiders if the results of Super Bowl II were any indication, against the future American Football League champion and Super Bowl III winner, New York Jets.

raiders-jets-heidi-bowl

NBC executives were thrilled.  The AFL was only eight years old in 1968 and as yet unproven, compared with the older league. The NFL/AFL merger was still two years in the future. 

This game was expected to keep viewers in their seats, adding to the already large audience anticipated for the 7:00pm presentation of Heidi, a modern remake of the children’s classic story from 1880.

In those days, most pro football games were played in 2½ hours. Network executives scheduled this one, for three.  The contract with Heidi prime sponsor Timex specified a 7:00 start. And so the order went down, to network affiliates.  There will be no delays.

The game didn’t disappoint, In fact it was voted among the ten most memorable games in professional football history in 1997, and the most memorable regular season contest, ever.  The rivalry between the two clubs was intense, a high-scoring game where the lead changed, no fewer than eight times.  

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As early as 6:20, network brass began to worry that the game wouldn’t end on time.  7:00 arrived with a minute & five seconds left to play. The Jets were ahead, 32-29. 

Network and affiliate switchboards began to light up, with fans demanding the game be broadcast in its entirety. Others wanted to know if Heidi would begin, on time.  

NBC Sports executive producer Don “Scotty” Connal and network president Julian Goodman had by this time agreed to “slide the network”, to begin Heidi as soon as Curt Gowdy signed off from the game.

All well and good but by this time, phone switchboards were jammed. Solid.  NBC’s CIrcle-7 phone exchange blew twenty-six fuses, in one hour.  NYPD switchboards, broke down. Broadcast Operations Control (BOC) supervisor Dick Cline nervously watched the clock as Connal frantically redialed, but couldn’t get through.

The television audience watched Oakland running back Charlie Smith return the kickoff from the end zone to the Oakland 22-yard line with 1:01 remaining on the clock. And then the feed was broken.

Heads exploded across the nation as callers reached out to newspapers and television stations, even local police departments, to demand the score.  And Loooord, did they bitch.   Humorist Art Buchwald wrote “Men who wouldn’t get out of their chairs in an earthquake rushed to the phone to scream obscenities [at the network].”

Meanwhile, the Oakland Raiders staged the most amazing come-from-behind rally in the history of sports, scoring two touchdowns in 42 seconds.  Gamblers were apoplectic on learning the news, that the Raiders had beat the 7½ point spread.

The film was just reaching a most tear-jerking moment as Heidi’s paralyzed cousin Clara was taking her first halting steps, as NBC broke in: “SPORTS BULLETIN: RAIDERS DEFEAT JETS 43-32”.

If half the nation hated NBC at that moment, now the other half did, as well. Sportswriter Jack Clary quipped, “The football fans were indignant when they saw what they had missed. The Heidi audience was peeved at having an ambulatory football score intrude on one of the story’s more touching moments. Short of pre-empting Heidi for a skin flick, NBC could not have managed to alienate more viewers that evening.”

The “Heidi Bowl” was prime time news the following night, on all three networks. NBC’s Huntley-Brinkley Report aired the last sixty seconds. ABC Evening News anchor Frank Reynolds read excerpts from the movie, with clips of the Raiders’ two touchdowns cut in. CBS Evening News’ Harry Reasoner announced the “result” of the game: “Heidi married the goat-herder“.

NBC had no option but self-mockery, to redeem itself from the fiasco. One testimonial read “I didn’t get a chance to see it, but I hear it was great”. It was signed by Joe Namath.

A special “Heidi phone” was installed in the BOC, to prevent future such disasters. In 2005, TV Guide listed the Heidi Bowl at #6 of the “100 Most Unexpected TV Moments” in television history.

Actress Jennifer Edwards in the title role of the film, may have the final word in this story: “My gravestone is gonna say, ‘She was a great moment in sports’”.

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November 2, 1985 The Curse of Colonel Sanders

Much has been written of 1930’s Japan and the military officers, who brought the nation to war. How different the 20th century could have been, had those guys picked up baseball, instead.

Baseball as we know it was introduced to the country in 1872. To this day, the game remains the most popular sport in the nation for participants and spectators, alike. In 1907, Tsuneo Matsudaira commented: “the game spread, like a fire in a dry field, in summer, all over the country, and some months afterwards, even in children in primary schools in the country far away from Tōkyō were to be seen playing with bats and balls“.

Oh. Did I neglect to mention? The nation we’re talking about, is Japan.

Professional baseball got off to a rocky start in 1920s Japan and continued to flounder, until 1934. That’s when media bigwig Matsutarō Shōriki pulled off a “goodwill tour” with an all-star American team including Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Connie Mack and Charlie Gehringer. Even Moe Berg was part of that 1934 entourage, the Jewish catcher known as “the brainiest guy in baseball,” who went behind enemy lines during World War 2, to spy on Nazi Germany.

“The [1934] party included future Hall of Famers Earl Averill, Lou Gehrig, Charlie Gehringer, Lefty Gomez, Connie Mack, Foxx and Ruth, along with several other American Leaguers (asked to accompany the tour when the National League forbade its stars from coming along). Even Moe Berg, the big league catcher who would eventually work as a United States government spy, was a member of the ball playing entourage”. H/T baseballhall.org

Much has been written of 1930’s Japan and the military officers, who brought the nation to war. How different the 20th century could have been, had those guys picked up baseball, instead.

The first Japanese professional league was formed in 1936, becoming large enough to split into two leagues in 1950, the Central and Pacific.

Today, the Kansai region of Honshu is the 2nd largest metropolis, in all Japan. That’s where you’ll find the Hanshin Tigers, those perennial underdogs of Nippon Professional Baseball and arch-rival to the Yomiuri Giants of Tokyo, widely regarded as the kings of Japanese baseball.

As a life-long Red Sox fan, this story is beginning to sound familiar.

35 years ago today was a time of unbridled joy for delirious Tigers fans, following Hanshin’s 6-2 drubbing of the Seibu Lions to win the ultimate prize, the Japan series pennant of 1985.

Now you may not know this, but Japan is one of the largest markets in the world for Kentucky Fried Chicken, #3 behind the United States and China. Not bad for a fast food outfit that opened its first Japanese franchise, only fifteen years earlier.

The Boston baseball fan is well acquainted with the “Curse of the Bambino”, the 86-year World Series championship drought, second only to the “Curse of the Billy Goat” that denied victory to long-suffering Chicago fans, for 106 years.

Since 1985, Japanese mothers have scared wayward children into acting right, with the curse of Colonel Sanders.

The Hanshin club emerged victorious in 1985, due in large part to the efforts of American slugger, Randy Bass. Delirious after unexpected victory in game one and superstitious as baseball fans the world over, Hanshin supporters gathered at the Ebisu Bridge over the Dōtonbori river in Osaka, to partake in one of the most bizarre spectacles, in modern sports.

Fans would shout out the names of Tigers players and someone who resembled that player, even vaguely, would jump into the river. There being no Caucasians in attendance to represent Mr. Bass, the crowd took hold of a storefront statue of Harlan Sanders, and threw it into the River.

What the hell. They both had beards.

Thus began the curse of Colonel Sanders, a losing streak brought on by the ghost of a man who didn’t appreciate being thrown into a river. Brief rallies in 1992 and again in ’99 brought hope once again to the Hanshin faithful, (gosh, this story sounds Really familiar now), only to have cruel fate, block the way. Repeated efforts were made to retrieve the Colonel from the river, only to be met with failure. The curse, dragged on.

The joy of victory smiled upon the land of Hanshin once again in 2003, when Yomiuri Giants MVP Hideki Matsui was traded to the New York Yankees, clearing the way to a Central League pennant for Hanshin. Even so, final victory remained elusive. The Japan series went to the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks that year, in 7 games.

Celebration turned to tragedy that year, when thousands of Tigers fans jumped into the river. 24-year-old Masaya Shitababa, drowned. The Osaka city council ordered construction of a new bridge over the Dōtonbori beginning in 2004, making further such jumps, next to impossible.

Divers discovered the upper part of Harlan Sanders’ statue on March 10, 2009 and the lower piece, the following day. And yet the Colonel’s other hand and eyeglasses, were nowhere to be found.

Colonel Sanders’ left hand and spectacles remain missing to this day and the KFC where it all started, is closed and gone forever. So it is for long suffering fans of the Hanshin Tigers, the curse of Colonel Sanders, lives on.

“Dangerous! Do not dive into this river. Osaka Regional Development Bureau and Osaka-Minami Police station” sign at the new Ebisubashi bridge H/T Wikipedia

November 1, 1959 Game Face

For NHL hockey, the face mask became standard equipment on this day, in 1959. I’m not sure if goalies are any prettier these days, but they have a lot more teeth.

Stanley Cup

In the Netherlands, modern ice hockey began sometime in the 16th century.  North Americans have played the sport since 1855.   For all that time, flying hockey pucks have collided with the faces of goaltenders.  The results have not have been pretty.

The name of Montreal Canadien goal tender Jacques Plante is engraved five times on Lord Stanley’s cup, once for each of five consecutive championships between 1956, and ‘60.  

For a lifelong Bruins fan, that isn’t easy to say.

Jacques Plante Putting on Mask
Original caption: 11/1/1959-New York, NY- His face and shirt bloodied, Montreal Canadiens goalie Jacques Plante puts on a special plastic mask after being treated for a facial cut received in the opening period of the Rangers-Canadiens hockey game. Plante suffered a severe gash on the left side of his face when he was struck by a shot off the stick of Andy Bathgate of the New York Rangers. After donning the mask, which he had designed himself, Plante returned to the game. November 1, 1959 New York, New York, USA

Plante literally wrote the book on NHL goal tending. He was the first to take the position outside of the crease, making himself the third defenseman. He was the first to take the puck behind the net and the first to bring anything even vaguely resembling stick handling, to the position. Before Plante, a Goalie’s job was pretty much to deflect the puck and let the defenders take it from there.

On this day in 1959, Jacques Plante decided he’d had enough. It was three minutes into a game with the New York Rangers when he took a puck to the nose on a shot fired by Andy Bathgate. The puck broke his nose, opening a wound requiring seven stitches to close.  When Plante returned to the ice, he was wearing a fiberglass mask.

Coach Toe Blake was furious. He had allowed the mask during practice, but this was regulation.  Nobody wore a mask.  Coaches believed they cut the goaltender’s field of vision, and, besides.  These were supposed to be the “fearless” guys, who jumped in front of the puck.

Easy for him to say.  It wasn’t his face.  Plante was adamant, and Blake wasn’t about to bench the best goalie in the NHL. There would be one more game when Plante played without the mask, the only game the Canadiens lost in that series, and that was the end of it.  

For Jacques Plante, the mask had now become standard equipment.

In 1966, Life Magazine published an image of Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Terry Sawchuk, “a face only a hockey puck could love“. “Re-created here, by a professional make-up artist and a doctor” read the accompanying article, “are some of the more than 400 stitches he had earned during 16 years in the National Hockey League. Terry Sawchuk’s face was bashed over and over, but not all at one time. His wounds healed. The scars weren’t easily seen – except for a few of them. The re-creation of his injuries was done to help show the extent of his injuries over a span of years”.

During a 1968-’69 season playoff game against the Boston Bruins, a puck fired by Phil Esposito hit Plante in the forehead, knocking him out, cold.  He later said that the mask had saved his life.  He’s probably right.

Gerry Cheevers, who played for the 1970-’72 Bruins, famously had his mask marked up with stitches. That started when a puck hit him in the face during practice. When Bruins coach Harry Sinden followed Cheevers to the dressing room, he found the goalie enjoying a beer and smoking a cigarette. Sinden sent Cheevers back out on the ice and John Forestall, the team trainer, painted stitches on his mask. Every time Cheevers was hit after that, he would have new stitches painted on. The mask became one of the most recognizable symbols of the era, and now hangs on the wall of his grandson’s bedroom.

Gerry Cheevers
Gerry Cheevers

Jacques Plante wasn’t the first NHL goaltender to wear a face mask.  Montreal Maroons’ Clint Benedict wore a crude leather mask in 1929, to protect a broken nose.

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Montreal Maroon’s goaltender Clint Benedict, 1930

It was Plante who introduced the face mask as everyday equipment, now a mandatory fixture for all goaltenders.

I’m not sure if NHL goalies are any prettier these days, but I bet they have a lot more teeth.

August 6, 2011 Tell me a Story

In delivering his tribute to his father, Steve Sabol explained the company’s operating philosophy. “Tell me a fact”, he said, “and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth, and I’ll believe. But tell me a story, and it will live in my heart forever”.

Edwin Milton “Ed” Sabol returned from World War 2 and took a job selling topcoats. He was good at it and provided his family a decent standard of living, but his heart wasn’t in it.  What Sabol liked more than anything else, was to watch his son Steve play high school football.

Sabol would take a motion picture camera, a wedding gift, and film Steve’s games. He found that he had a knack for it, and founded a small film production company called Blair Motion Pictures, named after his daughter, Blair.

Sabol successfully bid for the rights to film the 1962 NFL championship game between the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants. The game was played in cold so severe that camera operators suffered frostbite, and a wind so strong  it blew the ball off the tee three times, before opening kickoff.  Despite all that, Sabol’s work on the game was impressive.

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The league’s 14 owners rejected commissioner Pete Rozelle’s proposal to buy out the filmmaker, instead giving him $20,000 apiece in seed money to shoot all NFL games and produce a highlight reel for each club.

Thus was born the storybook production company, called NFL Films.  The production style was unmistakable: the “tight to the spiral” shot of the ball leaving the quarterback’s hand, the on-the-field close-ups and slow motion shots, all of it “mic’d up” in a way that let you hear every hit, every sound, as if you yourself were personally, on the field.

With the orchestral score and the stentorian tones of John Facenda’s narration, “the voice of God”: “They call it pro football. They play it under the autumn moon, in the heat of a Texas afternoon.”  NFL Films became “the greatest in-house P.R. machine in pro sports history” according to Salon.com television critic Matt Zoller Seitz. “An outfit that could make even a tedious stalemate seem as momentous as the battle for the Alamo.”

NFL Films won 112 Sports Emmys. While the company’s $50 million earnings are small compared with the $18 billion in revenue the NFL earns from television alone, the real value of NFL Films is how it promotes the sport. Many credit NFL Films as a key reason that the National Football League has become the most watched professional sports league in the United States.

Ed Sabol was inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame on this day in 2011. Steve was suffering inoperable brain cancer at the time, a condition which would take his life the following September.   In delivering his tribute to his father, Steve Sabol explained the company’s operating philosophy. “Tell me a fact”, he said, “and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth, and I’ll believe. But tell me a story, and it will live in my heart forever”.

July 17, 1914 The Miracle Braves

The Braves didn’t even have a home field that year, in the unlikely event they made the playoffs.

OIP (2)Boston was a two-team town in 1914, when the American League Red Sox hired 6’2″, 200-pound left handed rookie George Herman “Babe” Ruth from the Baltimore Orioles.

The American League hadn’t yet adopted the designated hitter rule, that wouldn’t happen until 1973. The Red Sox started Ruth as pitcher, but it was his bat that made him one of the best. Unlike most power hitters, Babe Ruth maintained his high batting average, ending his career with a .342 lifetime average.

Four years later, Red Sox owner and theatrical producer Harry Frazee sold the “bambino” to the arch-rival New York Yankees, to finance production of a Broadway musical.

Thus began an 86-year season of misery for We who love the Red Sox™, an interminable World Series drought we call the “Curse of the Bambino”.  Little babies grew up and had babies of their own.  They had grandbabies and great grandbabies and even a few great-greats and still, the drought wore on.   To this day, Boston-area mothers invoke the Curse of the Bambino to scare wayward children into acting right.

But that must be a story for another day.1914nl

In 1914 the National League Boston Braves were in dead last place on July 4.  Bottom of the barrel with a record of 26 wins and 40 losses, 11½ games behind the first place Giants.

For eleven years in a row and this one was shaping up to be no exception, the view in 1914 was shaping up to be one from the cellar.

The Braves didn’t even have a home field in the unlikely event they made the playoffs that year.  The club had abandoned its 43-year home at South End Grounds, that August. In post-season, the Boston Braves were reduced to the humiliating reality of renting Fenway Park from their cross-town rival, Boston Red Sox.

One of the most remarkable turnarounds in sports history started on this day with a three game road trip to Redland Field, in Cincinnati.  The Braves won three consecutive games with 1-0, 6-2 and 3-2 victories over the Reds.

The Braves played 37 games through the end of regular season, winning all but two.

The World Series match-up against the Philadelphia Athletics was a David vs. Goliath story, the 1914 A’s recipients of four American League pennants over the last 5 years and finishing regular season 8½ games ahead of the second place, Boston Red Sox.

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Game one in Philadelphia was a Boston Romp, ending with a 7-1 victory. Game two was a cliff hanger, the score tied at zero going into the 9th inning. Infielder Charlie Deal found himself on second when A’s center fielder Amos Strunk lost the ball in the sun.  Deal scored the game’s only run on Les Mann’s two-out single to center field.

Game 3 in Boston was the real thriller. The score was tied at two at the end of regulation play, with the Athletics scoring two runs in the top of the 10th. Boston came back with two runs in the bottom of the inning, and won the game in the 12th when A’s second baseman Donnie Bush threw a wild ball past third, with outfielder and pinch runner Les Mann scoring the winning run from second.

It was two outs in the 5th inning when Braves shortstop Johnny Evers hit a two-run single to center field, putting Boston ahead 3-1 in game 4. The A’s never responded.

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Fenway Park, game 3 of the 1914 World Series, October 12, 1914.

The “Miracle Braves” had emerged from dead-last to defeat the defending World Champion Philadelphia Athletics in the first four-game sweep in World Series history.

In 2011, a descendant of Johnny Evers consigned his ancestor’s 1914 World Series ring to auction, raising an intriguing question.

OIP (1)Today we take team-issued Championship rings for granted, but the practice isn’t believed to have begun until years later. Prior to that and dating well back in the previous century, World Series winners were rewarded with team-issued pins.

This was the second such ring known to exist, the first issued to shortstop Walter James Vincent “Rabbit” Maranville, also of the 1914 Boston Braves.  It may be that Evers and Maranville had the rings made for themselves, or maybe players were offered a choice of rewards. Perhaps rings were offered to all players but only at their own expense, causing most to pass on the opportunity.

Perhaps these two rings are merely the only two known to have survived.  Be that as it may, at least a few players had begun to associate rings with championships, long before their first official issue, in 1922.

A notorious cheapskate, A’s owner Connie Mack gave his star pitcher Chief Bender the week off before the series, with orders to personally scout the Braves roster.  Instead, the man took a vacation. When later asked to explain himself, Bender replied: “Why should I check out a bunch of bush league hitters?” The following season, Bender and fellow pitcher “Gettysburg” Eddie Plank jumped ship to join the rival Federal League. Mack unloaded most of his other “high-priced” talent. Within two seasons, the Philadelphia Athletics had amassed the worst losing record in modern baseball history.

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In 1949, American poet and self-styled “incurable fan” Ogden Nash penned a poem for the January 1949 issue of SPORT Magazine.  It’s called

“Line-Up for Yesterday: An ABC of Baseball Immortals”. 

Hat tip, Wikipedia

Letter Player Verse
A Grover Cleveland Alexander A is for AlexThe great Alexander;

More Goose eggs he pitched

Than a popular gander.

B Roger Bresnahan B is for BresnahanBack of the plate;

The Cubs were his love,

and McGraw his hate.

C Ty Cobb C is for CobbWho grew spikes and not corn,

And made all the basemen

Wish they weren’t born.

D Jay “Dizzy” Dean D is for Dean,The grammatical Diz,

When they asked, Who’s the tops?

Said correctly, I is.

E Johnny Evers E is for Evers,His jaw in advance;

Never afraid

To Tinker with Chance.

F Frankie “Fordham” Frisch F is for FordhamAnd Frankie and Frisch;

I wish he were back

With the Giants, I wish.

G Lou Gehrig G is for Gehrig,The Pride of the Stadium;

His record pure gold,

His courage, pure radium.

H Rogers Hornsby H is for Hornsby;When pitching to Rog,

The pitcher would pitch,

Then the pitcher would dodge.

I Nash, the author I is for Me,Not a hard-hitting man,

But an outstanding all-time

Incurable fan.

J Walter Johnson J is for JohnsonThe Big Train in his prime

Was so fast he could throw

Three strikes at a time.

K Willie Keeler K is for Keeler,As fresh as green paint,

The fastest and mostest

To hit where they ain’t.

L Nap Lajoie L is for LajoieWhom Clevelanders love,

Napoleon himself,

With glue in his glove.

M Christy Mathewson M is for Matty,Who carried a charm

In the form of an extra

brain in his arm.

N Louis “Bobo” Newsom N is for Newsom,Bobo’s favorite kin.

You ask how he’s here,

He talked himself in.

O Mel Ott O is for OttOf the restless right foot.

When he leaned on the pellet,

The pellet stayed put.

P Eddie Plank P is for Plank,The arm of the A’s;

When he tangled with Matty

Games lasted for days.

Q Connie Mack Q is for Don QuixoteCornelius Mack;

Neither Yankees nor years

Can halt his attack.

R Babe Ruth R is for Ruth.To tell you the truth,

There’s just no more to be said,

Just R is for Ruth.

S Tris Speaker S is for Speaker,Swift center-field tender,

When the ball saw him coming,

It yelled, “I surrender.”

T Bill Terry T is for TerryThe Giant from Memphis

Whose .400 average

You can’t overemphis.

U Carl Hubbell U would be ‘Ubbellif Carl were a cockney;

We say Hubbell and Baseball

Like Football and Rockne.

V Charles “Dazzy” Vance V is for VanceThe Dodger’s very own Dazzy;

None of his rivals

Could throw as fast as he.

W Honus Wagner W is for Wagner,The bowlegged beauty;

Short was closed to all traffic

With Honus on duty.

X Jimmie Foxx X is the firstof two x’s in Foxx

Who was right behind Ruth

with his powerful soxx.

Y Cy Young Y is for YoungThe magnificent Cy;

People batted against him,

But I never knew why.

Z Zenith Z is for ZenithThe summit of fame.

These men are up there.

These men are the game.

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.

First Army Navy Game
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.

Eisenhower_Football
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.

kennedy-army-navy-game.jpg

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’.