March 8 in sports history: Ali goes down!

In 1971: Joe Frazier handed Muhammed Ali his first professional defeat in a 15 round decision at Madison Square Garden. It was the first of three classic matches between the rivals, and it was the first time in history that a fight featured two undefeated champs (Ali was stripped of his title for refusing to go to Vietnam). It was simply dubbed “The Fight of the Century.” It lived up to its billing, as the two battled into the fifteenth round. Referee Al Mercante later claimed that Ali (who predicted he would knock Frazier out in the sixth) gave away many rounds. Most who watched, however, found that it was hard for Ali to “give away” rounds when he was being mercilessly pounded in the corner by Frazier, who sent Ali to the canvas in the fifteenth. Ali survived the knockout, but Frazier won comfortably on all three cards. The fight was one of the most hyped events in sports history, with over 700 press credentials awarded (and another 500 turned down). There were even some celebrities who couldn’t get good seats, but Frank Sinatra smartly got the best seat in the house, snapping pictures on the ringside apron as a photographer for Life Magazine.

In 2004: The National Hockey League officially erased any doubts about its “The U.S. media only talks about hockey when something bad happens” status with one of its ugliest incidents in years. Wanting revenge for a hit by the Colorado Avalanche’s Steve Moore which knocked out star player Markus Naslund three weeks before, Vancouver Canucks forward Todd Bertuzzi came up to Moore from behind and punched him on the side of the head. Moore was knocked out immediately, and he fell face first to the ice. It didn’t help that all 245 lbs. of Bertuzzi fell right on top of him. It didn’t help any more when three other players piled on top of them. Moore suffered a broken neck, a concussion and severe lacerations on his face. Three days later, Bertuzzi was suspended for the rest of the season (including the playoffs) and would not be reinstated until after the lockout in 2005. The atmosphere in Vancouver’s GM Place was ugly that night, as the Canucks vowed to get even with Moore (who did fight earlier in the game). But, as Rogers Sportsnet announcer Jim Hughson said, “the score settling has gone too far.” Bertuzzi later plead guilty to assault and received probation. Moore has also attempted to sue Bertuzzi for over $15 million in lost wages and damages and has still not played a game since.

New York Yankees

March 5 in Sports History: Wife Swap — Yankees Edition


In 1973: At the start of spring training, A-Rod admitted that he and Jeter don’t get along that much anymore. Blah blah yawn. And this is supposed to be some type of “huge distraction” according to the New York Media Hand Wringers Association. They should look up “spring training distraction” in the Yankee dictionary (if such a thing existed) and they would find the ultimate one took place on the first day at the very same training camp in 1973. You see, it had nothing to do with actual baseball. On this day, it was announced that pitchers Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson were involved in a trade. Some called it the “strangest trade in baseball history.”

It turned out that Peterson and Kekich swapped wives. And their two children they each had (no honey, you won’t need any therapy). Even the two dogs were thrown into the deal. As Kekich said, “we didn’t swap wives, we swapped lives.”

The aftermath was interesting.  Kekich and his new wife, formerly Marilyn Peterson, only lasted a few months. Mike’s career didn’t last much longer, as he was traded to Cleveland where he went 2-7 before being released. Peterson — who was considered a pretty good pitcher — went from 17-13 the year before the “trade” to 8-15 the year after. The marriage between him and the former Susanne Kekich has lasted to this day, however. (Full story)

In 1964: Those of us who don’t work during the day were permanatley given something to watch as NFL Films was created on this day 43 years ago. Ed Sabol, father of current NFL Films president Steve Sabol, sold his Blair Motion Pictures Company to NFL owners. The Sabol’s went from filming 30-minute team highlight videos on 16 mm film (which are still produced today with teams being shown in the same positive light whether they were the 14-2 Chargers or the 2-14 Raiders) to amazing Super Bowl shows (still on 16 mm film) with every player and coach (and mom, unfortunately) wired for sound from every conceivable angle. Steve once told 60 Minutes that only World War II has been filmed more than the NFL. Hey, as long as we can find “Football Follies” somewhere on cable at 2 PM on a Tuesday, we’ll keep tuning in.

NHL General

Feb 26 in Sports History: A good ole fashioned brawl

In 1981: In celebration of the brawl that took place last Thursday in Buffalo between the Sabres and Senators, Sportscolumn presents a video that reminds us how bad Our Dad’s NHL could kick our new My NHL’s pansy ass. The Boston Bruins and Minnesota North Stars didn’t wait to react to some borderline (hell, most outside of Buffalo, including the NHL, thought it was clean) hit on one of their so-called “stars.” All they needed to get going was for the referee to drop the puck to start the game. Seven seconds in, it started with a fight between Bobby Smith of the Stars and Steve Kasper of the Bruins. Then the fun began. By the time it was over, both teams combined for an NHL record 406 penalty minutes (Thursday’s game had 100) and 12 players were ejected.

Oh, and Boston won the game 5-1. I don’t even remember who won Thursday’s game.


Feb 22 in Sports History: The Miracle on Ice

In 1998: Players on the United States Olympic hockey team celebrated their failure to reach the medal round and their 1-4 record with a trashing of their hotel rooms that would’ve made The Who jealous. Despite an “investigation,” it was never revealed which players were responsible for over a thousand dollars worth of damage at the Nagano, Japan Olympics.

But thankfully, February 22, 1980 was a date in sports history that put USA Hockey in a little bit better light. Between 5 P.M. and 8 P.M on a Friday evening in Lake Placid, NY, a group of college kids from the United States pulled off the greatest sports moment of the 20th Century (according to Sports Illustrated). Facing the almighty Soviet Union in the first game of the men’s ice hockey medal round, the Americans won 4-3. The Russians were an unstoppable locomotive in international competition. They came into the 1980 games having won four consecutive gold medals, destroying every NHL team in its wake in a series of exhibitions, and for good measure, toying with U.S coach Herb Brooks’ very same amateurs in a pre-Olympic tune-up the week before the games with a 10-3 drubbing at Madison Square Garden.

But on this day, the Americans would surprise everybody. The Russians came out clicking, scoring two goals in the first, but a strange thing happened: the Americans wouldn’t go away. Trailing 2-1 in the closing seconds of the first period, the USSR defensemen eased up for a spilt second before the horn sounded, allowing American Mark Johnson to race in and beat uber-goalie Vladislav Tretiak to tie the score 2-2. Then, Soviet coach Viktor Tihkinov made probably the dumbest move in sports history: he decided to replace Tretiak, who was considered the finest goalie in the world at the time. Still, the Russians led 3-2 going into the final period. Only the goaltending of Jim Craig kept the Americans close.

In the third period, the Americans did what they had done in four of their first five Olympic contests: they overcame a deficit to win. Around the eight minute mark, they finally went on the power play and tied the score on another Mark Johnson goal. Then, with exactly ten minutes to go, team captain Mike Eruzione got the puck at the blue line and (while ABC announcer Ken Dryden was babbling over the great Al Michaels), flipped a shot that beat the Russian goaltender to give Team U.S.A their first lead of the game. The scene that followed gave every American goosebumps: Eruzione danced down the ice as the entire team stormed off the bench to celebrate with him (most who were watching–albeit on tape delay–did too).

Team U.S.A held on the final ten minutes, and their victory was punctuated by the greatest call ever, by Al Michaels: “Do you believe in Miracles? YES!!”

The Miracle On Ice, of course, was surrounded by the politics of the Cold War. Was it was beating those “commie bastards” in something, anything that made people feel good? Was it the fact that the Russians didn’t actually play anywhere near to their standards in the final half of the game (yes folks, the Russians played poorly, watch the tape…)? Or was it just a fine exhibition of perseverance and dedication with an unwavering belief by a group of kids who didn’t know any better? Whether it was one or all three, it didn’t matter because it just made people feel good.

It should always be remembered that this game didn’t give the Americans any medal. They had to beat Finland two days later to wrap up the gold. Of course, as an athletic contest, it was the greatest moment in our sporting history. But, this victory took on so much more meaning to the American people that it will never be forgotten throughout our history.

P.S. Apologies that the cliche and hyperbole filter wasn’t working due to rust. But there’s something about this game that you just can’t help but let it go.

College Basketball

Jan 30 in Sports History: UCLA Bruins start streaking

John Wooden

In 1971: UCLA’s basketball team looked to rebound from a tough loss at Notre Dame the week before with a little tune-up against UC Santa Barbara before conference play began. The loss to the Irish ended a 45-game winning streak for the Bruins. Led by Sidney Wicks, UCLA dispatched UCSB 74-61. Then they decided to get serious and win 87 more consecutive games (and three championships). Ironically, the Bruins’ streak would come to an end again at the hands the Irish in South Bend 155 weeks later. Even more ironically (according to a site called, referee Rich Weiler worked both Notre Dame games. The Bruins’ 88-game winning streak (it could’ve been 133 if Catholics decided not to build a lovely campus in Indiana) will forever be untouched in college basketball.

In 1996: In the only Super Bowl where a player from the opposing team should’ve been given the MVP award, Steelers quarterback Neil O’Donnell “led” the Dallas Cowboys to their third title in five years with two horrendous interceptions in a 27-17 victory in Super Bowl XXX at Arizona’s Sun Devil Stadium. Brown was just sorta standing there, minding his own business and not covering anybody on either play. But O’Donnell insisted on landing him a huge free agent contract by giving Brown the MVP award. Even worse, O’Donnell questioned “which direction” the Steelers were headed that offseason when he landed an even bigger contract with the soon-to-be 1-15 Jets. Karma did the best it could, as Brown only played 14 games the next two years after getting all that money from the Raiders while O’Donnell fizzled out, became a journeyman backup and was not allowed anywhere near the ball during Super Bowl XXXIV with the Titans.

MLB General

Jan 23 in Sports History: Jackie Robinson elected to HOF

In 1962: Dodgers second baseman Jackie Robinson was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. In an ironic twist, Cleveland pitcher Bob Feller was also elected. Feller, who is an outspoken critic of baseball’s controversies to this day, openly questioned that Robinson even belonged in the major leagues. When Robinson was breaking in, Feller said, “He’s all tied up in the shoulders and can’t hit an inside pitch to save his neck. If he were a white man, I doubt if they would even consider him big league material.” Feller was, however, very much in favor of integrating baseball. He was just dead wrong on Robinson, who obviously showed that he belonged in baseball. Feller is spouting off even today. As the oldest living hall of famer, he is still railing against the likes of Pete Rose and Barry Bonds getting into the hall, once called Jim Thome a “journeyman first baseman” and said that Latin players “don’t know the rules of the game.”

In 2000: The St. Louis Rams defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 11-6 in the NFC Championship game. In a matchup of contrasting styles, Tampa’s defense shut down St. Louis’ “Greatest Show on Turf” for much of the day. Trailing 6-5 in the fourth quarter (still sounds weird), Rams’ quarterback Kurt Warner hit seldom-used wideout Ricky Proehl for a 30-yard touchdown. It was the Rams first Super Bowl appearance since 1979, as they were set to play the Tennessee Titans, who defeated Jacksonville earlier in the day. It was the first Super Bowl matchup of two franchises that had relocated.


Jan 22 in Sports History: Down goes Frazier!

In 1973: Heavyweight champion Joe Frazier lost the first fight of his professional career when he was knocked out by George Foreman in Kingston, Jamaica. It was also the first fight ever televised by a fledgling cable network called HBO. The fight is mostly remembered for commentator Howard Cosell’s stunned call, “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!” Frazier went down six times at the hands of Foreman in two rounds. Some boxing experts believe that Cosell’s famous call is what Frazier is unfortunately most remembered for. Frazier, it should be known, handed Muhammad Ali his first career defeat in 1971 and would go on to a career record of 32-4-1 with 27 knockouts.

You can watch the entire fight below but unfortunately the announcing is in German.

In 1984: In what had to be the lamest Super Bowl ever played, the Los Angeles Raiders defeated the Washington Redskins 38-9 in XVIII. It sucked on so many levels. First, the game was held in the party stronghold of Tampa, Florida at the old Sombrero. Second, Barry Manilow sang the national anthem. And of course, the game was awful, as the Raiders ran to a 21-3 halftime lead on a blocked punt for a touchdown. Then, the Redskins’ Joe Theismann threw the worst pass in NFL history. He tossed a little swing pass only to realize in horror that the closest receiver, Jack Squirek, was wearing silver and black. Squirek was so alone he could’ve done the Worm into the end zone. In the second half, Marcus Allen ran roughshod over the ‘Skins on the way to a then-record 191 yard performance, including a signature 74-yarder in which he changed direction about 236 times. No word if he celebrated by nailing another famous player’s wife.

In 2006: Kobe Bryant of the L.A. Lakers scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors. It was the second-highest total ever scored in an NBA game behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 in 1962. Bryant had 26 in the first half, then exploded for 27 in the third and 28 in the fourth quarter. He “only” took 46 shots (he was also 18-20 from the foul line). Bryant’s performance did help the “lethargic” (his words) Lakers rally from an 18-point deficit to win the game 122-104. While it never touched Wilt’s performance 44 years ago (Chamberlain wasn’t able to chuck up threes every 5 seconds), it should be noted that Bryant scored 1.9 points per minute played to Wilt’s 1.6 because Bryant spent six minutes on the bench.

New York Jets

Jan 12 in Sports History: Broadway Joe’s Guarantee

In 1969: It might have been the most important victory in football history. It was the new, long-haired upstart vs. the old, crew-cut establishment. It was young, brash Joe Namath vs. the veteran, stoic Johnny Unitas (who, according to Abe Simpson, had “a haircut you could set your watch to”). The New York Jets, a 19-point underdog, faced the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III at the Orange Bowl in Miami. At a banquet a few days before the game, Namath grew tired of the press claiming how bad the Colts were going to make the Jets look. During a speech, someone mentioned it again, and Namath stopped and told him that the Jets would win, and he guaranteed it.

The game was very even statistically. The Jets only outgained the Colts by 13 yards. The difference was five Colts turnovers (four interceptions). The Jets jumped out to a 13-0 lead in the third quarter behind Namath and the running of Matt Snell, who had 121 yards and a touchdown. Namath was efficient, going 17 for 28 for 206 yards. Actually, Unitas only played in the second half, subbing for NFL MVP Earl Morrall, who had thrown three interceptions. The Colts did not score until there was 3:19 remaining, but the game was out of hand. In fact, Namath, who was named MVP, did not have to throw a single pass in the fourth quarter.

The Jets 16-7 victory, the first for the AFL in the Super Bowl, was monumental. Of course, it proved that the AFL was a quality football league that could compete with the NFL (the 14-point dog Chiefs proved it against next year by walloping the Vikings), but it also led to the merger of the two leagues in 1970, which is the beginning of the multi-kagillion dollar Empire/World Ruler/Big Brother it is today. Not only that, but if the Jets were to fail like everyone thought they would, it could have ended the AFL. Commissioner Pete Rozelle was considering at the time of scrapping the AFL-NFL format due to the blowouts in the first two Super Bowls and just letting NFL teams play in the Super Bowl. The Jets, thankfully, changed all that.

Denver Broncos

Jan 11 in Sports History: The Drive

In 1987: A hilarious thing happened to the Cleveland Browns on their way to Super Bowl XXI: John Elway. Old Municipal Stadium (that’s the Mistake by the Lake to you and me) was at Armageddon decibels when Brian Brennan hauled in a 48-yard touchdown pass from Bernie Kosar to tale a 20-13 lead over the Denver Broncos with 5:43 to play in the AFC Championship game. When Denver mishandled the kickoff at the two yard line, it didn’t get much quieter. Elway stepped in, however, and marched the Broncos 98 yards, converting three third downs (including a 3rd and 18) and barely escaping Cleveland’s constant pressure. The Drive, as it would forever be known, ended with an Elway bullet that found Mark Jackson in the end zone to tie the score. Still, the Browns felt confident, as they had won three overtime games already that season (including one against the Jets a week earlier in the playoffs). The Broncos won the coin toss though, and the barefooted Rich Karlis booted a 33-yard field goal minutes later for a 23-20 victory that sent the Broncos to Pasadena, the Browns to the front nine and Elway to the Hall of Fame (or at least put him on a fast track). A friend I had from Cleveland swore to me that he was at the game and most of the crowd stuck around and cheered the team for an hour after the game. I never believed him, because if it were me, I would’ve been too busy alternating between pounding alcohol and a cinder block against my skull as to kill the memories. Of course, the laughs doubled the following year…(remember Cleveland, it got better the following year)

In 1998: Ok. It would only be fair to include another Broncos victory in an AFC Championship game that happened on the same day 11 years later. Once again, Elway went on the road and broke the hearts of the home crowd, this time beating the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-21 at Three Rivers Stadium to go to Super Bowl XXXII in San Diego. Elway had help though, this time from Steelers’ quarterback Kordell Stewart, who began showing his true postseason mettle (more like metal in the space where his brain was believed to have occupied) by throwing three interceptions (two in the Broncos end zone) and losing a fumble, and Steelers’ coach Bill Cowher (who kept relying on Stewart instead of a strong Jerome Bettis). Elway was good enough to lead the Broncos to a 10-point halftime lead which Pittsburgh could never recover from. It would be Denver’s fifth Super Bowl appearance.

Boston Red Sox

Jan 5 in Sports History: Ruth sold to the Yankees

In 1920 This was the day that the Boston Red Sox and their fans were given an 86-year excuse for losing pennants and World Series’ in unbelievable fashion. Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold George Herman Ruth to the New York Yankees for $125,000 in cash. Some believe it was so Frazee could finance a Broadway play called “No No Nanette,” others believe it was because The Babe had become absolutely insufferable as a superstar for the Red Sox, and the huge amount of money at that time was too good to pass up (Frazee had intended to buy other players with the money, not finance the play, but was entangled with legal problems with the American League). Either way, the fortunes of two franchises completely reversed. Boston, which had won four titles in eight years, did not win for another 86, The Yankees, meanwhile, won 26 during that time.

In 1927: Public hearings began on the most forgotten scandal in sports history. Baseball hall of famers Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker, two of the greatest players of all time, were implicated in an alleged fixing of a game in 1919. Former Tigers’ pitcher Dutch Leonard made accusations that Speaker and Cobb, along with “Smokey” Joe Wood (another hall of fame pitcher), wrote letters to him that Cobb and Speaker planned to throw a Tigers-Athletics game at the end of the 1919 season. At first, Cobb and Wood admitted to the letters (Speaker denied everything) but claimed it was a horse racing bet and that Leonard was angry that Cobb (who was also a manager by then) had sent him to the minor leagues. Cobb and Speaker were to privately resign their managerial posts and accept a lifetime ban. In the end, however, Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis cleared all players because Leonard was unable to convince him (or the public) that the players actually threw the game.