Monday, March 31, 2014

March 31, 1973: Ken Norton Breaks Ali's Jaw

     On March 31, 1973, in front of more than 12,000 people at the San Diego Sports Arena in California, Ken Norton broke Muhammad Ali's jaw in a bout that saw Norton claim victory by split-decision in 12 rounds. When the bell rang after that first round, the former heavyweight champion of the world came to his corner and informed his trainer Angelo Dundee that he thought it might be broken. There were no signs of visible damage on Ali other than a little bit of blood coming from the corner of his mouth, so he continued to battle until the bitter end. While it was a bitter end for Ali, it was a sweet victory for Norton who would see Ali again.

     Norton, a 28-year-old ex-Marine came into the fight as a 5 to 1 underdog and stunned everyone as he handed "The People's Champion" a stunning defeat. Despite the broken jaw Ali hung in until the end. Although, he was a much different Ali than what the people were used to seeing. In the 11th round Norton looked like he might be tiring. He had never gone more than 10 rounds in his career, and Ali was steadily inflicting damage upon him. However, Norton came out in the 12th and final round trying to knock Ali out. He knew the scorecards would be close to even. With the crowd cheering him on Norton backed Ali into the ropes and unloaded a furious combination as he battled toward victory.

     Nearly six months later Norton and Ali stepped in the ring once again, and Ali avenged the loss. Much like the first fight it too went the distance, but this time it was Ali who earned the split decision. Norton then fought George Foreman in an attempt to win the Heavyweight Title. Foreman destroyed Norton in two rounds to retain his title. In 1976, Ali beat Norton in their third and final meeting. The bout in '76 went 15 rounds before the judges scorecards determined that Ali won by a unanimous decision. It marked the end to a trilogy that began with a broken jaw for who is considered to be one of the greatest boxers of all time. The first fight also made Ken Norton a household name as he earned the victory. Before the fight his biggest purse was $7,500, the Ali  fight earned him $50,000, many more dollars and a lot of recognition was on the way.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

March 31, 1931; Tragedy Strikes Knute Rockne

     On March 31, 1931, Knute Rockne was killed when the plane that was carrying him and seven others exploded while flying through the skies of Bazaar, Kansas. There were no survivors. Rockne was regarded as one of the best football coaches in the history of college football as he led the Notre Dame fighting Irish to a 105-12-5 record from 1918-1930. He was just 43 years of age at the time of his death.

     The fateful trip that took the life of Knute Rockne was a trip to California where he was going to help in the production of the feature film called The Spirit of Notre Dame. He had made a planned stop in Kansas City to visit his two sons. After the visit he boarded the plane that was set to take him on the rest of his trip around 9:15 in the morning, less than two hours later a farmer tending to some cows looked up and seen the plane explode. After the plane came crashing down the farmer rushed to the site of the crash where he realized no one could be saved.

     The President of the United States, Herbert Hoover called Rockne's death a national loss. His funeral held in South Bend, Indiana drew thousands of people, and tens of thousands more tuned in on the radio to listen to the services, a legend had been lost, but his legacy would stand the test of time. That legacy included the innovation of the forward pass, 4 National Championships, and the famed Four Horsemen who had helped lift Rockne and the Irish to the National Title in 1924. His "Win one for the Gipper" speech is one of the most famous speeches that has ever been given in the world of sports. While we reflect on Rockne's journey on earth ended on this day so many years ago, the most important thing is to remember the life that came before that day. It was a life that will never be forgotten.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

March 29, 1982: North Carolina Wears The Crown

     On March 29, 1982, trailing the Georgetown Hoyas by one point with 15 seconds to go in the National Title game, freshman standout Michael Jordan nailed a 18-foot jump shot to put his North Carolina Tar Heels up 63-62. The Tar Heels held onto that lead, and 15 seconds later they were crowned National Champions. The game was one for the ages, as the Hoyas were led by another freshman by the name of Patrick Ewing, while the Tar Heels had James Worthy who matched Ewing dunk for dunk as they battled for the title.

    Besides the stars already named, North Carolina also had Sam Perkins on the floor, and Georgetown had Eric "Sleepy" Floyd on their side. Each and every player on both squads gave it their all, in what was one of, if not the hardest fought battles of that season. Before the game Ewing had been criticized for his lack of defensive play. He proved the naysayers wrong as he knocked down 23 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, and had three steals, and two blocked shots. The coach of the Tar Heels, Dean Smith was even amazed by Ewing's play. Luckily for Smith, he had a few amazing players of his own. Most notably James Worthy who knocked down 28 points on his way to winning the game's MVP award.

     Georgetown led 32-31 at the half. When the teams returned to the floor a seesaw battle ensued that  never had either team leading by more than four points. The Hoyas took the lead for the final time with just 57 ticks left on the clock on a short jumper by Floyd. Dean Smith called a timeout to set up the next play, and told Jordan if he had an open shot to take it. Jordan heard him loud and clear, and with time winding down he found his opening and took the shot that brought North Carolina their second title in men's basketball. Although there was 15 seconds to go, which meant Georgetown had more than enough time to take the lead right back. However, guard Fred Brown thought he saw his teammate Eric Smith in peripheral vision and fired a pass that was intercepted by Worthy. The Tar Heels were champions. It was the first title for the program since 1957. They have returned to the top of the college basketball mountain three more times since that day in 1982.

Worthy's 28 points led the Tar Heels, Jordan knocked down 16, and Sam Perkins had 10 under his belt. On the Georgetown side of the ball, Ewing's 28 led the way, it was followed up by 18 points for Floyd, and another 14 by Eric Smith. You can check out the entire box score here:


Friday, March 28, 2014

March 28, 1944: The Utah Utes Claim The NCAA Crown

     On March 28, 1944, the Utah Utes were named the National Champions after defeating Dartmouth 42-40. In the waning moments of regulation The Big Green of Dartmouth trailed the Utes 36-32, before and Bob Gale and Dick McGuire hit on a pair of field goals to send the contest to into overtime.  In the overtime frame Utah's Arnie Ferren knocked down 4 points before Herb Wilkinson sank an off balance shot to seal the victory. To date, this is the only National Title for the Utah men's basketball program.

     The way that Utah entered the tournament was an unusual one. Initially, the program turned down the invitation, and chose to enter the National Invitational Tournament instead. At the time the NIT was more prestigious than the NCAA tournament. Like the NCAA tournament, the NIT was just an eight team field to decide a champion. Utah drew Kentucky in the first round of the NIT, and were handed a 46-38 loss. Meanwhile, just days before the NCAA tournament was set to take place tragedy struck the Arkansas basketball program. A coach had been killed and two players were seriously injured in a car accident. Arkansas was considered to be a favorite before the accident, but after the horrible set of circumstances hit they decided not to play. This opened the door for the Utes who would exceed all expectations by taking home the crown.

     After the loss to Kentucky in the NIT, a 2 a.m. closed door meeting was held to decide if the Utah squad would jump on a train and head to Kansas City to join the NCAA tournament. Other than the NIT field being more prestigious, another big reason why Utah joined that tournament instead was that they were guaranteed a tour of Manhattan. After knocking off Missouri, and a as heavily favored Iowa State team, the Utes squad jumped back on a train and got to tour the city once again as they were set to face Dartmouth for the National Title. Dartmouth came into the contest as a 7-point underdog. However, as they were led by Arnie Ferren the team took on the nickname "The Blitz Kids." 

     Ferren knocked down 12 points in the win over Missouri, and another six in the victory over Iowa State. He saved his best performance for last which was a 22-point performance in the victory over Dartmouth. Before the game an assistant coach from Utah overheard some Dartmouth players saying that they should play an intrasquad scrimmage so they would at least get their moneys worth. The coach relayed the conversation to his squad, which fueled the fire that was already burning hot. The Utes showed the Big Green that they not only belonged there, they also showed them how a champion celebrates.

     Two days after the victory over Dartmouth, a Red Cross Benefit that pitted Utah against St. Johns who had won the NIT Championship. St. Johns had ousted Kentucky out of that tournament. Many considered this game to be what would truly decide the National Title. Once again Utah fought their way to victory, this time by the score of 43-36. That game brought in $35,000 for the Red Cross.  By today's standard that would be more than $450,000.  From their the Utah basketball squad were treated like the Kings of New York. They dined for free at some of the finest restaurants, enjoyed free shows, and had parties held in their honor. They were much more than the Kings of New York, they were Champions.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

March 27, 1990: The New York Rangers Take The Patrick Division Crown

     On March 27, 1990, the New York Rangers ended a 48-year NHL title drought when they clinched the Patrick Division title with a 7-4 victory over the Nordiques in Quebec. The Rangers found themselves trailing 4-2 as they headed into the third period, then rallied with 5 goals in less than 10 minutes as they laid claim to the division crown for the first time since 1942.

     The rally started with a powerplay goal from James Patrick 5 minutes and 27 seconds into the third, as he blasted a 45 foot slapshot past the Nordiques netminder Ron Tugnutt. Less than three minutes later Brian Mullen tied it up with another powerplay goal. Mike Gartner who had been acquired at the trade deadline put the Rangers ahead 5-4 with a goal at the 9:10 mark. The squad from Quebec scored two goals before the Rangers, John Ogrodnick answered back with a goal at the 11:26 mark, then Paul Broten scored the 7th Rangers goal capped things off with a little under 5 minutes to go.

     The division crown that had evaded them for so long was finally theirs. After the game, ex-Rangers
 Michel Petit and Guy Lafleur skated over to the New York bench to congratulate their former teammates. The Rangers coach Roger Neilson, was also congratulated by the coach of the Nordiques, Michel Bergeron who had been fired as the Rangers coach one year before. When Neilson spoke after the game he said "I seen a lot of happy faces in the dressing room after the game tonight." The coach went onto say "We wanted to do it for ourselves and the players came out flying. You can't beat scoring five goals in the the third period."

     Unfortunately for Neilson, and the Rangers, they would be knocked out in the second round of the playoffs. With Neilson at the helm they followed up the division winning season with a second place finish the following season, then returned to the top of the division after a very successful '91-'92 campaign. The next year was a struggle for the Rangers and Neilson was a casualty. He lost his job in January of '93, and the team would end up missing the playoffs. One season later, under new head coach Mike Keenan the Rangers held Lord Stanley's Cup high. It had been 54 years since they had last held the cup.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

March 26, 1974: George Foreman Destroys Ken Norton

On March 26, 1974, it took Big George Foreman just two rounds to successfully defend his heavyweight title against Ken Norton in Caracas, Venezuela. Foreman had taken the title from Smokin Joe Frazier a little over a year before. The fight in Venezuela would become known as the "Caracas Caper" after the Venezuelan government made the decision that they would tax the purses to the tune of 18%. 

     Just 12 hours before the fight was set to take place, Foreman's status was in question. He had an apparent knee injury and was sitting in a hospital waiting to see how bad it was. Luckily, it was not bad at all, and the fight would go on. Fast forward to the moment the bell rang. Foreman came into the fight a 3 to 1 favorite and he made such quick work of his opponent that you would have thought might have he left his car running outside.  

     After an evenly fought first round that saw Foreman come on strong in the moments before the bell rang, he came out like a mad man in the second. Early in the round Foreman rocked Norton with a hard right to the head. As Norton tried to slip away, Foreman realized that he had him right where he wanted and let go a  furious combination that knocked Norton into the ropes. Although, he didn't hit the canvas the referee jumped in and signaled a knockdown, so Norton had to take the mandatory eight count. Just moments later, Foreman rocked Norton again, and again his opponent went flailing into the ropes. After bouncing back to his feet, the ref refrained from making him take the eight count again, and the barrage of punches continued by Foreman. After the initial knockdown, Norton never did regain composure.  His legs were wobbly under him, and Foreman let go another fierce combo that sent him crashing to the canvas. Norton did everything in his power to get to his feet. He stumbled along the ropes in an effort to stand straight up, but it could not be done. With Norton's trainer running in to stop the fight, the ref beat him to the punch and ruled he could not continue. Foreman was still the champ. 

     What followed the fight earned it an infamous nickname as the Venezuelan government backtracked on a deal to waive all takes in order to have the fight take place on their soil. However, the night before they changed their tune, and let those involved know that some taxes would be assessed. It looked like it was an issue that was going to be easily resolved when the management at the Poliedro Arena insisted they would put up a tax bond to cover expenses, but they too came up short on their end of the bargain. It took days to settle the issue. When it was all said and done Norton had to pay nearly $50,000 to the government, while Foreman was stuck paying an estimated $300,000. Norton was able to leave the country on the 29th of March, and Foreman finally headed home on the first of April. Just days after the fight, newspapers all across America dubbed the fight as the "Caracas Caper", it would not only remembered  for the dominant display of raw power by Foreman, it would also be remembered for the political mess that followed.

     Foreman lost the title to Muhammad Ali in October of 1974. The championship reign was put on hiatus for 20 years. In 1994, at the age of 45, Foreman regained the title with a knockout of Michael Moorer, making him the oldest heavyweight champion ever. He was one of the best to put n a pair of gloves in Boxing's Golden Era. 


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

March 25, 1934: Horton Smith Wins The Inaugural Masters

     On March 25, 1934, Horton Smith won the inaugural Masters Tournament held in Augusta, Georgia. Smith, a native of Joplin, Missouri, shot a 284 during the four day tournament that covered 36 holes, which led to a one stroke victory over Craig Wood to take home what would become one of golf's most coveted prizes.

     Since Smith hailed from Joplin, Missouri, the press dubbed him the "Joplin Ghost." He turned pro in 1926 when he was an 18-year-old kid and joined a golf club out of Chicago. In 1929, the PGA tour was born, and Smith with a variety of others were the pioneers who helped lay the groundwork for what it is today. Smith won eight of the first twenty-two events that were held in that first year of the tour. It was by far his most dominant year of play in his career, however, the first ever win at the Masters tournament earned him a spot in sports history that can not be surpassed by no other.

     Even though Smith took home the top prize, Bobby Jones was in large part the center of attention. Jones had come out of retirement to play in this tournament. At that point in his life he was already a legend in the world of golf. He had won 13 Major Championships before retiring in 1930. Following his retirement, Jones began to look for ground around his hometown of Atlanta to build a course where he could spend the latter years of his life. This is how Augusta National was born. The 345 acres where the course would come to be was purchased for $70,000 in 1931 by Jones and his partner Clifford Roberts. By today's standards that would be more the $1 million.

     Long before golf would be played at Augusta an indigo plantation had occupied the grounds before it was converted into a nursery in 1857. When Jones and company came across the land they believed it to be the perfect spot for what they were envisioning. Jones, along with an architect by the name of Alister MacKenzie designed the course, and by 1933 golf began to be played at Augusta. Unfortunately, the architect did not see the day that the first Masters were played, as he passed away just two months before it happened. However, MacKenzie's contributions to golf earned him a spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame. He was very accomplished and had his hand in designing courses on four different continents. While he did not see the day they first Masters tournament was held, he was instrumental in laying the groundwork for what it has become

     Jones did not fare well in the tournament. He finished 13th with a 294. With that said, his brainchild had come to be and it has developed into one of the premier courses in the World of Golf. Jones played in every Masters tournament until 1948, although, he only played as a competitor in the inaugural event. Health issues forced him off the golf course, however, what he did in his glory days, along with bringing Augusta to the forefront also led him to the World Golf Hall of Fame.

     While Jones stole some of the spotlight from Smith in 1934, the same could not be said two years later when he took home the top prize at the Masters once again. He was not just the first time winner of the Masters, he was the first two-time winner also. Once again he found victory by holding onto a one stroke lead. In both of Smith's wins at Augusta the top prize was $1,500, today that would be right around $25,000 today. The top prize today is more than $1 million. The green jacket that Smith was awarded after that 1934 victory sold for nearly $700,000 in September of 2013.Smith is also a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. Each of the men mentioned in the piece were instrumental in helping the sport develop into what it is today. They were pioneers. If you tune into the upcoming Masters be sure to remember that there is a rich history that goes along with the course and it all began On This Day in 1934.

If you would like to learn more about the history of the Masters check this out:

Monday, March 24, 2014

March 24, 1936: The Longest Battle In NHL History

     On March 24, 1936, the longest game in NHL history was played in Montreal. The game was a first round matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and the defending Stanley Cup Champion Montreal Maroons. Six hours after the game began a 21-year-old rookie by the name of Mud Bruneteau got one past the Montreal goalie Lorne Chabot to win the game. It was just 3 minutes and 30 seconds short of being the equivalent of three hockey games. The goalies were the true story of the night. Chabot turned away 67 shots, while Detroit's goalie Norm Smith turned away 90. The defensive battle was the first step for the Detroit squad who were destined to bring Lord Stanley's Cup to the Motor City for the first time.

     The game started out with fast pace and heavy checking. Both teams had their moments, but both goalies were playing the game of their lives and their defenseman in front of them were making plays when they needed to. By the time the end of regulation rolled around each team had battle valiantly they just could not break through with a goal to decide the contest. As Chabot and Smith kept turning away shot after shot both teams began to run out of gas. The fast pace that marked the first three periods had slowed to a crawl as each club desperately sought a game winning goal as they rolled through not one but six overtime periods. Bruneteau's veteran teammate Hec Kilrea dished off a beautiful pass to him that Chabot had no chance to stop. 116 minutes and 30 seconds after the game began it was put in the record books. Nearly 80 years later it remains on top of the list of longest games ever played in NHL history.

     Unfortunately for the crowd of nearly 10,000 the goal was scored by a man wearing the wrong sweater. The Red Wings would put to bed any thoughts of a repeat by blanking them in two more games and punched their own ticket to the Finals where they met the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Wings toppled the Leafs 3 game to 1 in the best of five series and brought were now Stanley Cup Champions. Hockey's most coveted prize has returned to the city 10 more times since as the franchise has established itself as one of the best in all of hockey.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

March 23, 1994: The Great One Surpasses Gordie Howe In the NHL's All Time Scoring Department

     On March 23, 1994, Wayne Gretzky attained hockey's most coveted record when he scored his 802nd goal to become the all-time goals leader in NHL history. Unfortunately for The Great One, his Los Angeles Kings fell to the Vancouver Canucks 6-3 in front of a home crowd in Inglewood, California. However, it was a night to be remembered as he surpassed the legendary Gordie Howe on the all-time goals scored list.

     #802 was setup by Mart McSorley and came during the second period when he snuck one past the Vancouver goalie Kirk McLean to even things up at 2-2. The crowd of more than 16,000 gave Gretzky a long ovation and chanted his name as they celebrated the milestone. Gretzky finished his career with 894 goals. To date, no other player has yet to reach the 800 goal plateau.

    Gretzky had scored his first goal against the Vancouver Canucks also. It was 15 years before the record setting goal and he had now come full circle. After reaching 802, a ten-minute ceremony was held to honor him. When he spoke after the game he said "I don't think I ever had a moment where I felt like I did at that moment." He truly was The Greatest to ever lace up a pair of skates.

     Today, Gretzky holds or shares 61 different NHL records. The goals record is a record that might just stand the test of time. The same can be said for many of the records that he holds, however, the goals record is the cream of the crop. I don't think it would be a stretch to say "There will never be another one like the one who wore the number 99."

This is a really cool list called 99 Great Moments:

Saturday, March 22, 2014

March 22, 1989: Pete Rozelle Announces His Retirement

     On March 22, 1989, Pete Rozelle announced that he would be retiring from his post as Commissioner of the NFL. Rozelle had been a the helm for wince 1960, and was key in transforming the league into what it is today. Among Rozelle's accomplishments were a successful revenue sharing plan, the AFL/NFL merger, and the transformation of the Super Bowl into a one of the most watched events in all of sports.

     During his press conference the 63-year-old Rozelle broke down and cried three times as he explained why he made the decision. After he spoke with those closest to him, he talked with the owners, then faced the press. With tears in his eyes he said "It's been a great 30 years. I've been fortunate in everything I've done. I want to be able to and do other things." Most of the owners were still stunned by the news as they had only ten minutes between their talk and the official announcement. When Wellington Mara, the owner of the New York Giants spoke about the meeting between the owners and the commish he said "There was absolute quiet. You could hear a pin drop. Then everyone stood and applauded the man who had helped turn the NFL into a true powerhouse in the world of sports.

     Even Al Davis shook his hand after the announcement. Rozelle and Davis had been involved in bitter legal battle after Davis decided to move his Raiders to Los Angeles. But they had settled the lawsuit and made peace between each other. When Davis spoke of the commissioner he said "Pete leaves a legacy. He dominated his profession." The Raiders owner went onto say "There was always an admiration. Even a little bit of love and emotion. Of course, I can't speak for him. It just so happened that we got caught in our Vietnam affair for the last 10 years. But I think it is all behind us now." It seems that the old battle wounds had healed between the two.

     The press conference was an emotional one that saw each member of the press corp stand and applaud after Rozelle was done speaking. The next order of business was who would be the man to replace the commissioner. Rozelle promised to stay in office until his successor was named. A committee was formed and the search began. When the search was over Paul Tagliabue was named the next commissioner of the NFL. 228 days after Rozelle made his announcement, Tagliabue took office. An era had come to an end.

Friday, March 21, 2014

March 21, 1964: The UCLA Bruins Win Their First NCAA Championship.

     On March 21, 1964, with a 98-83 win over the Duke Blue Devils, the UCLA Bruins were crowned National Champions. This was the first National Title for the unbeaten Bruins and the coach who became known as The Wizard of Westwood, John Wooden. It was a sign of things to come for the basketball program as they won the National Title nine more times over the next eleven seasons.

     The game held at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City had 10,864 on hand and a National audience tuned in. The 98 points scored by the Bruins also set an NCAA record for most points scored by a team in the tournament. The previous record was set by Lasalle, who scored 92 in 1954.

     The Bruins were the shortest team in the field with no player taller than 6' 5", however, they were faster than the Blue Devils, and were led by guard Walt Hazzard's ball handling as they outpaced their opponent. The key to the victory came midway through the first half when UCLA found themselves trailing 30-27, they went to a press defense, and went on a 16 point run over the next three minutes and 51 seconds. After that run they were up 43-30. The Blue Devils never did get closer than 10 points after UCLA took control of the ballgame.

     There were a variety of heroes on the Bruins squad: Gail Goodrich scored 27 points, Kenny Washington knocked down 26, Jack Hirsch scored 13, and Hazzard had eleven points to his credit. While Hazzard wasn't at the top of the points scored category, he had directed the show that brought the Bruins a title. He had dished off assist after assist before being fouled out with six minutes and fourteen seconds in the contest. Minutes later Hazzard celebrated with his teammates as a champion.

     This was the beginning of one of the most legendary runs in sports history. The Bruins were just the third unbeaten team to win the National Title. To date, there have been 7 undefeated National Championship teams in basketball. The Wooden led UCLA Bruins own five of the seven spots on that list. It was a run of basketball college basketball dominance that will never be forgotten. Legendary.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

March 20, 1973: Roberto Clemente's Last Triumph

     On March 20, 1973, Roberto Clemente was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. 11 weeks earlier the superstar who had donned the uniform of the Pittsburgh Pirates for 18 seasons had been killed in a plane crash while delivering aid to earthquake survivors in Nicaragua. He was 38-years-old at the time. Clemente was only the second player in the history of the game to be elected to the Hall of Fame before the mandatory 5-year waiting period had been served. The other player was Lou Gehrig.  Clemente's legendary career included a .317 average, exactly 3,000 hits, 12 Gold Glove awards, 15 All Star appearances, 4 National League batting titles, as well as 2 World Series Championship titles.

     Clemente needed 318 (75%) out of the 424 votes cast to join baseball's greatest men. He received 393 votes which was good for 93% of the votes cast. There were 29 writers who voted no, and two writers who did not vote at all. Just thinking about the fact that there were writers who did not believe he deserved the honor is simply astounding. At least 393 of them got it right. It should be noted that most of the votes against Clemente were writers who thought the 5-year waiting period should be served, however the majority saw things differently.

     The day the announcement was made, Clemente's wife Vera was on hand. She was still in a state of shock after losing her husband. She spoke of her three young children Roberto Jr., 7, Luis,6, and Enrique who was 4. The children were at home in Puerto Rico, but would attend Opening Day ceremonies with in Pittsburgh, where they watched their father's number 21 retired, and they also attended the induction ceremony in August. She smiled when she quoted Roberto Jr. saying "Tell the Pirates to save a position for me."

     In August of '73, Mrs. Clemente stood before a crowd in Cooperstown and accepted a replica Hall of Fame plaque on behalf of her late husband. In her acceptance speech she said, "This is Roberto's last triumph. If he could have come here, he would have dedicated it to the people of Puerto Rico, the fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the fans throughout the United States." Even in death he exemplified class.

     Clemente was more than a ballplayer as he had used the resources he had at his disposal to help others. The way he lost his life is a testament to who he was. After his death, the Commissioner's Award was renamed the Roberto Clemente Award. The award is given annually to a player who best exemplifies baseball, sportsmanship and community involvement. The legacy of Roberto Clemente is one that will live forever.  If you ever get the chance to walk through the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, be sure to tip your cap when you get to his plaque. He truly is one of the greatest heroes from baseball's past.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

March 19, 1961: Bob Goalby's 8 Consecutive Birdies Sets A New Mark

     On March 19, 1961, veteran golfer Bob Goalby knocked down a PGA record 8 consecutive birdies at the St. Petersburg Open in Florida. The record setting performance earned Goalby a three stroke advantage over his closest challenger Ted Kroll as he shot 65 in the final round. Over the course of three days Goalby shot a course record for the 72 hole event with a 261. The record for consecutive birdies stood until 2009 when Mark Calcavecchia  drained 9 birdies in a row at the RBC Canadian Open. The previous record of seven birdies in a row had been set in 1954, by Tommy Bolt in San Antonio, then matched twice, before Goalby surpassed it.
     Goalby was a talented athlete throughout his youth. A native of Belleville, Illinois, he attended the University of Illinois where he played in multiple sports which included football, as well as the one which would make him famous, golf. In 1952, after his college days came to an end, Goalby entered the world of professional golf. It took him until 1958 to pick up his first win, from there he became a name that was regularly seen near the top of the scorecard. With that first win of his career included Goalby's name led the way on the scorecard 14 times. Along the way he not only set the birdies record, but he also was a part of a controversial Master's Championship win in 1968.

     On the final day of the Master's in '68, it looked like a playoff was going to have to decide the winner, only to have an error on a scorecard change the course of history. With Goalby locked into a dead heat with Roberto De Vicenzo all who were watching were prepared to see the playoff take place. De Vicenzo's playing partner accidentally marked a 4 on the 17th hole when De Vicenzo had actually shot a 3. Once De Vicenzo signed the scorecard it stood, and he had essentially shorted himself a stroke, and handed over the victory to Goalby. It is one of the crazier stories in golf history, and I'll try to cover it this coming August.

     Long before the gaffe that occurred in the '68 Master's, Goalby was making a name for himself in the World of Golf. When he stepped on the course in St. Petersburg that morning in March of '61 he had no idea that he would set a record that would stand for more than 48 years. After pocketing the winning check, Goalby described his last round by saying "It was unbelievable. After I got the range, I hit everything dead to pin. I just played like hell and used my old Black Maria." What he was referring to was an old putter he picked up from a pawnshop he had nicknamed "Black Mariah", he paid $2 for that putter. That $2 putter was one that helped him make history.

Several men matched Goalby's record before Calcavecchia surpassed him. You can view the list here:

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

March 18, 1972: Larry Miller Sets The ABA Single Game Scoring Record

     On March 18, 1972, Larry Miller of the Carolina Cougars set an ABA record when he scored 67 points in a 139-125 victory over the Memphis Pros on his home court in Greensboro, North Carolina. Just 48 hours earlier, Miller found himself riding the pine after going 11 minutes without scoring against the Nets in New York.  The 6' 4" big man who played his college ball at North Carolina hit on 25 of 40 shots from the floor and converted 17 of 23 free throw attempts.

     Miller, who took home the ACC men's basketball player of the year in '66 and '67, was drafted to play for the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers in '68. He never did play in the NBA as he chose to join the ABA instead. Initially, he was a member of the Los Angeles Stars, then joined the team in Carolina after 21 games during the '69-'70 season. Miller spent nearly 4 seasons with the Cougars, and scored more than 3,000 points while wearing their uniform. Miller joined the San Diego Conquistadors for the '72-'73 season as a part of an expansion draft. After one good year in San Diego, Wilt Chamberlain joined the Conquistadors as a coach and publicly benched the man who owned the single game points record for the league. He played just 7 games in San Diego before Chamberlain and company traded him to the Virginia Squires. After one year in Virginia, he was traded to the Utah Stars who had moved from L.A. in 1970.

     Miller spent nine years on the court as a professional. As a star of the ABA, he did not receive the recognition that he might have gotten if he had joined the NBA instead. However, over those nine years, Miller scored 6,595 points, grabbed 2434 assists, and dished out 1,155 assists. His 67 point performance solidified his spot in the history of the league and in the game as well. Before that record setting performance his previous best was 47 points. He credited his teammates for putting the ball in his hands as he marched his way into sports history.

You can view his career numbers here:

Monday, March 17, 2014

March 17, 1940: Spring Training All Star Game For A Good Cause

     On March 17, 1940, a Spring Training  All Star game was held in Tampa, Florida. The game was a benefit that was being held to support the people of Finland, who had been attacked by the Soviet Union. The event drew a crowd of more than 13,000, and raised more than $20,000 for the Finnish Relief Fund. The Soviet invasion of Finland began in December of '39 and ended just a few days before this game took place. While it was simply an exhibition game, the players gave it their all, and put on a show for each and every soul in the crowd, as the National League prevailed over the American League 2-1.

     While the Finnish flag flew at half mast more than 4,000 miles away in Helsinki, it flew high next to the Old Glory in Florida as the two squads prepared to play. Early that morning a Finnish freighter rolled into port in Tampa. One of the crew members who could read english saw that the game was being held in a newspaper. The captain along with  three other crew members each bought a tickets to show support for their country, while showing solidarity with the United States. It was the first game of baseball these men ever watched and they were in for a treat.

     The pitching was tight, the fielding was spectacular, and it would take until the bottom of the ninth to decide a winner. Five National League hurlers held the American Leaguers to just 5 hits. Those five included: Paul Derringer, Kirby Higbie, Luke Hamlin, Bucky Walters, and Harry Gumbert. Men like Joltin Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams tried to get a hit in vain as the pitchers overmatched them. DiMaggio put the A.L. squad up 1-0 in the second after picking up a walk, before his Yankees teammates Bill Dickey and Frankie Crosetti knocked him in with back-to-back singles. The National League evened things up in the fourth with an RBI off the bat of Giants outfielder Frank Demaree. From there, the pitchers on both sides would lock in and hold their opponents at bay. Then came the ninth.

     Headed into the bottom of the ninth the American League sent Bob Feller to the mound. The future Hall of Famer gave up a leadoff hit to Boston Bees catcher Al Lopez. St. Louis Cardinals centerfielder Terry Moore followed it up with a bunt that he dropped right in front of the plate, catcher Rollie Hemsley pounced on the ball and threw it to first base where Cleveland's Hal Trosky muffed the ball. Seeing the error, Lopez turned it on and rounded second and headed for third before the second baseman Bobby Doerr could retrieve the ball. The next man up was Brooklyn Dodgers second baseman Pete Coscarart, he shot a ball through short, and Lopez came trotting into home. The National League was victorious.

     While this is a story about a ballgame, it is also a story about how people come together when they are needed most. It is an example of the human spirit prevailing even in the darkest of times. The conflict in Finland was one that seen families displaced, lives lost, and that same human spirit being brought to a place where it should not have to go. Unfortunately, war is a part of the human existence, and while we fight, we also stand together. That day in Florida, many men who would never meet those affected in Finland stood proud to support them. Each and every person who went through the turnstiles that day did the same.

You can read about the invasion here:

Sunday, March 16, 2014

March 16, 1961: Boom Boom Geoffrion Become The Second NHLer To Score 50 Goals

     On March 16, 1961, Montreal Canadiens winger Bernie Geoffrion became just the second player in  NHL history to score 50 goals in a season. The man nicknamed "Boom Boom" achieved the historic milestone during a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Montreal. The only other player to score 50 goals was Geoffrion's longtime teammate Maurice "Rocket" Richard who scored 50 goals during the '44-'45 season. Despite having two regular season games left, Geoffrion  was not able to surpass Richard's record, and would have to settle for a matching the mark.

     Geoffrion compared his quest for 50 goals to Roger Maris' home run chase, as he too suffered as pressure mounted to break the record. In 1955, Geoffrion beat out Richard for the scoring title after The Rocket was suspended late in the season. The fans in Montreal wanted Geoffrion to more or less concede the title that Richard seemed to have clinched before his suspension. Geoffrion didn't listen to their pleas and surpassed Richard's scoring total on the last day of the season which led to him taking home the Art Ross Trophy. Rather than cheering for Geoffrion's achievement the fans booed, so years later when he was going after the coveted goals record many had not forgotten. As he approached the record setting mark, Geoffrion couldn't sleep at night. When he finally scored his 50th he felt the weight of the world lifted from his shoulders.

     Geoffrion not only took home his second Art Ross Trophy after the 50 goal campaign, he also took home the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league's MVP. Unfortunately, the Canadiens fell to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in six games in the playoffs. Geoffrion was hampered by a knee injury during that playoff run and missed the final two games of the series. However, during his 14 years in Montreal, Geoffrion was a 6 time Stanley Cup Champion, and an 11 time All Star. He hung up his skates after spending the last 2 years of his 16 year career with the New York Rangers. In 1972, Geoffrion was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

     Bernie Geoffrion  is a very interesting figure from hockey's past. He is credited with revolutionizing the
slapshot.  After his playing days ended he became the coach of the New York Rangers only to have health issues force him to resign after 43 games. In '72 he became the head coach of the Atlanta Flames, but once again was forced to resign after 52 games due to health concerns. It was recurring theme in the coaching career for the man who had scored 50 goals for the Canadiens in '61, as he became the coach of his old team in Montreal in 1979. The job was one that he had dreamed about. However, 30 games into his tenure as the Canadiens coach he was forced to resign once again. On March 11, 2006, the Canadiens organization retired Geoffrion's #5, six months earlier he had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. As fate would have it, Geoffrion passed away the same morning that the team was going to raise his number to the rafters. While it is a sad end for the story of Bernie Geoffrion, his life and career will forever be remembered. The fact that a kid will walk into the rink in Montreal, look up and see his number, then perhaps ask his dad who he was, means that his legacy will live on forever.

I couldn't figure out a good place to put Geoffrion's 50 goals summary on the blog, so I uploaded it to my imgur account. You can view it here:

Saturday, March 15, 2014

March 15, 1945: One-Legged War Hero Burt Shepard Tries Out With The Senators

     On March 15, 1945, World War II veteran Bert Shepard tried out with the Washington Senators. The 25-year-old Shepard had lost his right leg just below the knee cap after being shot down while piloting a P-38 over Berlin. After being shot down, German doctors amputated his badly crushed leg to save his life. While he was in a prison camp, a Canadian prisoner carved a wooden leg for him. He would later say the moment that he had that leg he was planning a comeback in baseball. The southpaw did sign on with the Senators as a pitching coach. At the time, the owner of the Senators, Clark Griffith said that he would get the chance to help out the club in any way he could. He did pitch in one game during that '45 season. The one appearance was an impressive one as he went 5 1/3 while giving up three hits and one run. Unfortunately, the Senators fell to the Boston Red Sox 15-4 that day as Shepard came in with his club in a hole that they could not dig out of. While the story of Bert Shepard's major league career on the mound only covered a little more than 5 innings, the story of his life is one to be admired. He was a man who would not let his limitations hold him back, and he served as an inspiration to many other war heroes who had suffered similar injuries.

     The day that changed Shepard's life forever came on May 21, 1944. It was on that day that he was shot down while flying his 34th mission. Shepard could have stayed at the base that day, he had flown on five consecutive days, but he loved to fly, and was one who took pride in his abilities. When he took off from the airbase in Colchester, England he had no idea how his life would be altered. The mission was to strafe trains, trucks, airfields, and storage tanks. The men who were carrying out this mission were excited to know that they were hitting the heart and soul of Germany as they flew over Berlin. Then it happened. As Shepard closed in on his target a shell ripped through his P-38, doing severe damage to his right foot, and his forehead was shattered above his right eye. The head injury would take a plate to repair, while his leg could not be saved. Shepard was lucky to simply be breathing as his plane was 1 of 58 that did not return to England after that mission. I think it would be safe to say that many of those men were not as fortunate.

     After being captured by the German's, Shepard was able to return stateside as a part of a prisoner exchange. It was less than 10 months after his plane was shot down that Shepard sat in the office of the Secretary of War and was asked what he would like to do with his future. Shepard wanted to fly again, but that was not an option, so he then told those in front of him that he wanted to play baseball. Before the war, Shepard played in the lower levels of the Chicago White Sox minor league system, and he believed that he could still play the game he loved. The owner of the Washington Senators heard of his desires to play ball and decided to give him a shot. In the eyes of many it was looked at as a publicity stunt to help put fans in the stands in Washington, in the eyes of Shepard he was just happy to get a shot. He pitched batting practice and impressed hitters before they even knew he had an artificial leg. While he hardly got to pitch for the club during the regular season, he did pitch in several exhibition games. One of those games was against the New York Yankees when Yogi Berra was playing in the Bronx. Berra didn't realize that Shepard had lost his leg when they faced each other and several years later he said to him "It's too bad you lost your leg, because you looked pretty good against us." That is a testament to how well Shepard looked with his prosthetic leg attached.

     Shepard spent the rest of his career in baseball in the minor leagues. He was a player/manager until 1954, then turned his attention to the business world. Before that happened he had several other tryouts with major league ballclubs. While doing research for this I found an article from 1949 that had Shepard saying that he would play for one dollar a year. Now that is love for the game. He was very positive man who took his life in stride. Even today he should be an inspiration for those who have disabilities, as he refused to let his hold him back. Burt Shepard's name might not be on a plaque in Cooperstown, however, I do believe he is a true hero from baseball's past.

Friday, March 14, 2014

March 14, 1967: The First AFL/NFL Draft

     On March 14, 1967, the first common NFL-AFL common draft was held with the Baltimore Colts taking Bubba Smith out of Michigan State with the #1 pick. Smith would go onto have a nine year career in the NFL that included a Super Bowl ring and two Pro Bowl appearances. There were many other notable picks in this draft as the NFL and the AFL had come together to form what would turn into a powerhouse in the World of Sports.

     The Colts landed the #1 pick via trade. They sent quarterback Gary Cuozzo to the Saints for the pick. Cuozzo spent four years backing up Johnny Unitas. After an injury to Unitas led to playing time for the backup QB someone in the newly christened Saints organization thought he should be the guy at the helm of their ship. That trade made Cuozzo the first ever starting quarterback in Saints history. That job didn't last long. In fact, it was one and done in New Orleans for the quarterback. After that inaugural season the Saints dealt him to the Minnesota Vikings. After a four years in Minnesota he was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals where his career came to a close after one season in the Gateway City. Needless to say, the deal the Colts made was a good one as Smith spent the five years with the Colts and helped them achieve the Super Bowl victory in 1970 as well his Pro Bowl appearances in '70 and '71.

     That '67 draft saw its fair share of trades. The Minnesota Vikings were very active when it came to making deals. They had acquired the #2 pick by trading future Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton to the Giants. With that pick they took running back Clint Jones out of Michigan State. After taking another Michigan State product with the eighth pick, the Vikings hit big when they took Notre Dame defensive tackle Alan Page with the 15th pick. Page was an anchor on the defensive line in Minnesota for 12 years. During those 12 years he appeared in 9 Pro Bowls and helped guide the Vikings to four NFC titles. After being put on waivers in 1978, the Chicago Bears claimed him, which is where he spent the last few years of his career The last stop in Alan Page's football career was in Canton, Ohio at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

     There were several other men out of that '67 draft who would find their spot in Canton as well. UCLA quarterback Bob Griese was taken fourth by the Miami Dolphins, the Denver Broncos grabbed Syracuse running back Floyd Little sixth, and the Oakland Raiders grabbed guard Gene Upshaw out if Texas A&M-Kingsville. Now that covers the players who made it to the Hall of Fame that were selected in the first round; the later rounds saw four more future Hall of Famers picked. The first two came out of the second round,  as the Detroit Lions landed Jackson State defensive back Lem Barney with the 34th overall pick and the Kansas City Chiefs picking up a linebacker out of Texas Southern by the name of Willie Lanier with the 50th overall pick. The diamonds in the proverbial rough came much later. In the seventh round the Dallas Cowboys took Fort Valley State tackle Rayfield Wright 182nd overall, then in the ninth round the Houston Oilers picked up Prairie View defensive back Ken Houston 214th overall.

     445 players were picked during that '67 draft. Eight of them made it to the Hall of Fame. Each of them should hold pride in the fact that they were simply picked by an NFL team. Even if they didn't make it past camp they were good enough to be on the radar of an NFL franchise. On draft day each and every player has a chance of one day being considered one of the greatest to ever play the game. If they don't make it to the hallowed halls in Canton it does not mark them as a failure as many men have strapped on a set of pads and helped their team win many games that are not earmarked as Hall of Famers. They were part of a team and without them that team would be missing a key piece. It does not matter if a player spends his career as a special teams guy or a backup quarterback who wears a headset the majority of the time. The fact that they are where they are makes them a part of an elite bunch of men who have made it to the highest level.

You can view the complete draft list here:

Thursday, March 13, 2014

March 13, 1915: Wilbert Robinson and The Falling Grapefruit

   On March 13, 1915, Brooklyn Dodgers manager Wilbert Robinson was on the receiving end of a grapefruit that was dropped from a low-flying airplane. The plane flown by female aviator Ruth Law was supposed to drop a baseball into the waiting mitt of Robinson, but there was a problem; no one gave her a baseball. Her mechanic came to her with a grapefruit and told her to use it. As his players cleared out around him Law came flying over, Robinson had his mitt up in the air waiting for the baseball, then Law dropped the grapefruit right on target. Or maybe a hair off of the target as it hit Robinson in the chest and knocked him to the ground. Not knowing that it was a grapefruit, a shocked and dazed Robinson felt the liquid upon his face and thought he had been killed.

     With his players busting up laughing around him, Robinson quickly realized that it was not his blood. The man who was affectionately known as Uncle Robbie went from stunned to angry in a matter of minutes. The 52-year-old skipper soon got over it and laughed along with his team about the stunt. 

     This fact was one that I did not truly believe at first. As time marches on some tales become spun into something much bigger than what they actually were. As I looked into it, I not only found out that it was true, but the story of Ruth Law was an intriguing one to say the least. While looking through newspaper archives I ran across an interview with Mrs. Law that was published in the Milwaukee Journal in 1959. She is perhaps the most interesting part of the story to me. As she paved her own path in what was a mans world at the time. The day that she dropped the grapefruit, she hardly knew anything when it come to the world of baseball, she just happened to be in the area doing other stunts. As it turned out that stunt would forever link her to the sport she did not know too much about. 

Here is the interview from the Milwaukee Journal that was mentioned earlier: 
There are many other websites and publications about her life out there as well. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

March 12, 1985: Bird Scores 60

     On March 12, 1985, in front of a sold out crowd at the Lakefront Arena in New Orleans, Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird scored a career high 60 points in a 126-115 win over the Atlanta Hawks. Bird not only scored a career best, he set the franchise record that had been set by Kevin McHale nine days earlier who had put together a 56 point performance. Bird's 60 point performance still stands as the franchise record today.

     Coming into the contest, Bird's excitement level for playing New Orleans was low. He thought it was too hot in the gym, and simply wasn't sure how well he would adjust. Once the ball was tipped he adjusted quite well. The Hawks had scheduled 12 "home" games in New Orleans that season. This was the 10th game of those 12. Most of the games before Bird's legendary night drew less than 4,000 people. This game was packed wall to wall with 10,079 souls. What they witnessed was the performance of a lifetime.

     Atlanta kept the ballgame close throughout. They were led by Dominique Wilkins' 36 points. They just couldn't stop the one man wrecking crew who wore the number 33. Bird hit on 22 of 36 field goal attempts and converted 15 of 16 free throws as he put his name in the record books. With the help of his teammates he scored the last 16 points for the Celtics with his last two points coming on a 17 foot jump shot at the buzzer. Bird's previous best was 53 which he accomplished in 1983. When Bird spoke after the game he was quick to acknowledge his teammates who dished him the ball time after time as he finished the job for them.

      The career of Larry Bird is a tale that will be told for generations to come. The three time NBA Champion and 12 time All Star was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1996. His list of awards and accomplishments is a long one, and on that list there is one 60 point performance that will not be forgotten. To date, only 22 men have etched their name onto that list, and only four of them have accomplished it more than once. It is one of the greatest feats in professional basketball. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

March 11, 1965: 49 Rebounds For Bill Russell

     On March 11, 1965, Bill Russell grabbed 49 rebounds in a 112-100 win over the Detroit Pistons on a  neutral court in Providence, Rhode Island. The mark of 49 rebounds is the third highest total in NBA history. Russell himself had reached the mark in '57, and in '60 he set an NBA record with 51 rebounds in a game. That record fell later that same year when Wilt Chamberlain grabbed 55 in one game, which stands as the record today.

     Russell not only led the way in the rebounds department, he also led the way in the points department with 27. The win for the Celtics tied an NBA record for wins in a season. They would surpass that record with two more wins before going on a championship run. Russell was a guiding force with the Celtics who had not won a championship until he arrived on the scene in 1957. Russell would lead the Celtics to a grand total of 11 Championships in 13 seasons, which is a simply astounding stat.

     In his 13 seasons in Boston, Russell led the team to 11 Championship titles. Along the way he appeared in 12 All Star games, scored 14,522 points, and grabbed 21,620 rebounds. To date, only Wilt Chamberlain stands in front of him on the all time rebound list with 23,924. Russell will forever be remembered as one of the greatest to ever step on a basketball court. He was enshrined into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975.

Check out the all time rebounds list for a single game here:

Monday, March 10, 2014

March 10, 1962: The Phillies Stand Up Against Segregation

     On March 10, 1962, 15 years after Jackie Robinson broke through Major League Baseball's color barrier, the Philadelphia Phillies organization took a stand against racial segregation when they moved from the Jack Tar Harrison Hotel in Clearwater, Florida to the Rocky Point Hotel near Tampa 20 miles away. The hotel that refused service to their Negro ballplayers came under fire by the NAACP who had threatened to picket the Phillies Spring Training games unless a change was made. The organization heard the message loud and clear as they told their players and staff to pack their bags. Some might not realize that in the age of racial unrest the world of sports was a unifier that was instrumental in helping the the civil rights movement go forward.

     The Jack Tar Harrison refused to accommodate Tony Taylor, Ted Savage, Marcellino Lopez, and Ruben Amaro. A total of 29 players, eight club officials, along with Manager Gene Mauch and his seven staff members all packed their bags for the move. In July of that same year the Jack Tar Harrison announced that they would allow Negro ballplayers. The president of the hotel Ed C. Leach made it clear that the hotel would allow the ballplayers as well as convention guests of color. He also made it clear that this did not mean that the hotel would be integrated as far as the public was concerned. It just goes to show that the steps that were taken were baby steps at best. 

     This was not the first time a major league ballclub took a stand against racial segregation. The New York Mets and the St. Louis Cardinals made it be known they would not stand for it either. It was a sign of the times, as well as a sign of things to come. Martin Luther King Jr. once spoke of a dream of a world in which all men are created equal. As men stood together no matter what race or creed the world of sports did help that dream advance. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

March 9, 1948: The NHL Bans Billy Taylor and Don Gallinger For Life

     On March 9, 1948, NHL President Clarence Campbell announced that Billy Taylor from the New York Rangers and Don Gallinger from the Boston Bruins would be banned for life for gambling. Gallinger was just 28-years-old at the time of the suspension while Gallinger was just 22. Both of their playing careers would end that day. They were both reinstated in 1970 well after their days of being able to play professional hockey were over. Taylor did return to the NHL as a scout for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but Gallinger never did return to the league in any capacity.

     Taylor broke into the league at 20 years of age. He showed great promise and was a part of a Stanley Cup Champion with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1942. In September of '46 he was shipped to Detroit where he set the record for most assists in one game with seven. He joined the Gallinger and the Bruins in '48 via trade where he played in 39 games before being sent to the Rangers. He only played 2 games with the Rangers before the suspension that would change his hockey end his NHL career.

     Gallinger was just 17 years old when he broke into the NHL, which made him one of the youngest players in league history. His star was quickly on the rise as he topped 20 goals or more in four out of his five years in the league. Then the star came crashing down as he was caught up in the gambling scandal.

     When the news hit the wires Campbell claimed to have conclusive proof that Taylor was involved with a known criminal and gambler by the name of James Tamer, and that he had placed a bet against the Bruins on February 18th of that same year. Coincidentally he lost the bet, but it still cost him his career. Gallinger had also been associated with Tamer as well, which led to an indefinite suspension with the matter being investigated. Campbell did what he thought was necessary to preserve the integrity of the sport by suspending the both of them.

     This was not the first gambling scandal to hit the world of hockey. In 1946, Babe Pratt of the Toronto Maple Leafs was suspended for gambling. He was reinstated after he had admitted to his mistakes and guaranteed it would not be a mistake that he would make again. Pratt was later inducted into the Hall of Fame. Taylor and Gallinger were not as fortunate. While Taylor chose to not fight the suspension, Gallinger denied any wrongdoing. Although, he did later admit to his indiscretions. For many years Gallinger fought to be reinstated. In his mind he did not feel that a life sentence was deserved for a mistake he had made when he was just 22 years old. When the ban was finally lifted in 1970 it was said that it gave him peace of mind. It is unfortunate that both of these men made the mistakes that they made, but we all are held accountable for our actions. This is a lesson that they learned the hard way.

I dug hard to find more about Billy Taylor without a lot of luck. I did find this short bio on the Hockey Hall of Fame's website:
The bio for Gallinger is much more detailed. However, they are both well worth a read:

Saturday, March 8, 2014

March 8, 1971: Frazier Defeats Ali In The Fight Of Century

     On March 8, 1971, at Madison Garden in New York City, "Smokin Joe" Joe Frazier defeated Muhammad Ali with a 15 round unanimous decision in what was billed "The Fight of the Century." Ali had been stripped of his title three and a half years earlier for his refusal to serve in Vietnam, which led Frazier beating a number of opponents on his way to being named the undisputed heavyweight champion. In the eyes of many Ali was the rightful champion; Frazier proved otherwise. Frazier and Ali would fight two more times with Ali winning both of them. However, when they met for the first time Frazier let him know that he was not going to let go of his title easily. In fact, he refused to let it go on that day in March of '71.

     Along with the 20,000+ that packed Madison Square Garden millions upon millions of people tuned  in worldwide. It was viewed in 39 countries and 12 different languages were spoken ringside. An estimated 300 million people tuned into the event that would live up to its billing. Frazier came into the bout a 6-5 favorite, but that did not deter the confidence of Ali who considered himself the champion all along.

     Ali wasn't the only one who considered himself the champ as newspapers printed stories saying that Frazier was a pretender. He would have to beat Ali to shed that label. With celebrities on hand and police officers there to control the crowd the fight arrived it took on a circus atmosphere. Once the gloves were strapped on and the bell rang the atmosphere would take a backseat to the epic fight that was about to take place.

    Ali dominated the first three rounds with precise combinations, but in the closing seconds of the third round Frazier landed a left hook that snapped Ali's head back. The tide was about to turn. Frazier dominated the fourth round and by the sixth Ali was showing signs of tiring. The man formerly known as Cassius Clay did hold his own with the champ until late in the 11th round when Frazier cornered him and unleashed a fury of punches that nearly sent him to the canvas. He was able to keep on his feet until the bell ran, but damage had been done, and Frazier had clear control of the fight. He would not relinquish that control either.

     As Frazier continued to show the world that he was the rightful champion the fight would reach the 15th and final round. Early in the round, Frazier landed a vicious left hook to Ali's jaw that laid him out across the canvas on his back. It was only the third time in Ali's career that he had been knocked down. Ali regained his footing and was able to get through the round, but there was a clear winner and his name was Joe Frazier. The scorecards looked like this: Referee Arthur Mercante had it scored 8-6-1, Judge Artie Adello scored it 9-6, and the other judge Bill Recht scored it an overwhelmingly 11-4 decision for Frazier. Those that called Frazier a pretender would now have to eat their words as Frazier had showed that he was the true champion.

Watch the fight here:

Friday, March 7, 2014

March 7, 1989: Lanny McDonald Joins The 1,000 Point Club

     On March 7, 1989, in a 9-5 victory over the Winnipeg Jets in Calgary, Flames winger Lanny McDonald became the 23rd player in NHL history to score 1,000 points. The historic marker came just 2 minutes and 46 seconds into the contest when McDonald scored on a wraparound that he snuck past Winnipeg goalie Bob Essensa. McDonald would add another goal to his totals before the game came to an end. McDonald was in his 15th and final year of his career when he reached the 1,000 point plateau. Following his 1,000th point McDonald became the 14th player in league history to score 500 goals. He had one more goal left in his storied career that is remembered in Hockey's Hall of Fame: win the Stanley Cup. He did that on May 25, 1989.

     McDonald came into that '88-'89 season just 12 points shy of 1,000. It took him 68 games to get there. At 36 years of age his career was coming to a close. The Flames had acquired Mark Hunter who was the heir apparent to McDonald. His playing time was cut down with the new kid in town, but he still found ice time. He just wasn't the same prolific scorer that he once was.

      After spending time with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Colorado Rockies, McDonald came to the Flames via trade in 1981. At the time he was 28. He had enjoyed some great years, which included six seasons of 30 or more goals and 5 All Star appearances. In Calgary he set the franchise record for goals in a season when he scored 66 during the '82-'83 campaign and made another All Star appearance.  During that same season McDonald took home the Bill Masterton award for showing his perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. McDonald took home the King Clancy award in '89 for showing leadership.

      The true prize of that '88-'89 season was Lord Stanley's Cup. He knew that his best days were past him, but continued to play in hopes of winning hockey's most coveted prize. After 15 years in the league he knew how hard it was to reach the Finals much less win them. It took him 13 years to get to the Finals for the first time. The first trip came in 1986 when he was a 13 veteran. The Flames fell 4 games to 1 in the series; the hunger to win The Cup would not go away. While his goal totals continued to decline, the veteran leadership that McDonald brought to the Flames was irreplaceable. He would soon realize a lifelong dream.

    The dream came true three years after the disappointing end to a great run. When McDonald and the Flames got another shot at a title they met the Canadiens once again. The Flames won the series in six games, and after many years of dreaming about the day he would hoist The Cup it was in his hands. He was now a champion and his career was complete. His #9 hangs in the rafters in Calgary, and in 1992 McDonald was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame where his tale will be told for generations to come.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

March 6, 1945: Harry O'Neill Makes The Ultimate Sacrifice

     On March 6, 1945, 27-year-old Philadelphia A's catcher Harry O'Neill was killed at Iwo Jima. More than 500 major leaguers served their country during World War II. Two were killed in action. Nearly a year before O'Neill lost his life Washington Senators outfielder Elmer Gedeon became the first casualty of World War II who had major league experience. Like O'Neill, Gedeon's time in the majors was short. He played in just 5 games, recorded 3 hits in 15 at bats, and scored a run. O'Neill saw just one inning of work behind the dish. He never did get an at bat. However, he did serve his country proudly. Both men were 27 years of age when they were killed. We tend to remember the service of the superstar players like Ted Williams, Stan Musial, and Bob Feller, and rightly so, as their service should never be forgotten. The same should be said when it comes to the names Harry O'Neill and Elmer Gedeon. Their service should never be forgotten as they paid the ultimate price in the name of freedom. Today we should all tip our caps to the both of them and to each of the men and women who have paid that price.

     Gedeon and O'Neill were two very similar people. They had both excelled at the collegiate level in multiple sports. Gedeon spent his college days at the University of Michigan. He had lettered in baseball, football, and track and field. While track was considered to be his best sport his baseball skills caught the eye of the Washington Senators. In the Summer of '39, Gedeon signed a deal to play for the club. He was promoted to the majors in the final weeks of the season where he got a taste of the big leagues. Following that season he spent a season with the Senators minor league affiliate in Charlotte, North Carolina where he hit .271 in 131 games. It would be his last season as a professional baseball player as he joined the ranks of the military in the Spring of '41.

     Like Gedeon, O'Neill signed a deal to play ball in the Summer of '39 after graduating from college. O'Neill spent his college days at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, He had excelled in baseball, basketball, and football. In June of '39 O'Neill's college baseball coach Ira Plank, whose brother Eddie had forged a Hall of Fame career, put him in contact with the legendary manager  Connie Mack. Mack was impressed with O'Neill's abilities enough to offer him a contract. A month after he signed O'Neill would make his one and only appearance at the major league level. He came in as a late defensive replacement for Frankie Hayes as his A's were being romped to the tune of 16-3 by the Detroit Tigers. Not exactly storybook, but reaching the major league level is something that most players only dream of. Just like Gedeon, O'Neill would spend his next year in the minor leagues before joining the Marine Corps.

     They each lost their lives a few years after joining the service. In February of 1944, Gedeon earned his wings, two months later he was shot down while piloting a B-26 bomber during an attack on enemy construction works. His co-pilot survived, but Gedeon was not as fortunate. He was initially reported missing in action, then in 1945 the British military reported that he had been buried at a cemetery in France. His body was returned to the United States and he was laid to rest at the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. O'Neill had risen to the rank of lieutenant. He was a part of multiple missions before being wounded by shrapnel in July of '44. For that he received a Purple Heart. He returned stateside where he was nursed back to health. In October of '44, he returned to service and continued to fight for his country.

     The Battle of Iwo Jima was one of the bloodiest battles during World War II. The islands that are Iwo Jima had three airfields that the United States sought to control. The battle began on February 19, 1945 and ended on March 26, 1945. Before it was over 6,821 American soldiers had lost their lives. O'Neill was one of those 6,821 men. On that fateful day in early March he was killed by sniper fire. He, like Gedeon did not get to live the lives that brought him well deserved recognition. He was also laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. They did not accomplish the things that an average sports hero accomplishes. However, they are the true heroes and On This Day their lives are remembered.

I just want to add that I do not like to write about someone losing their life. It does happen from time to time, but I do believe that telling the story of their lives is a way to honor them. I truly appreciate all of the men and women who sacrifice their lives to protect our freedoms. I would like to thank each and everyone of them for their service. If you happen to be serving, or have served, Thank You.

If you would like to read more about the life and times of Harry O'Neill check this out:


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

March 5, 1922: Babe Ruth Decides His Contract With A Coin Flip

     On March 5, 1922, New York Yankees slugger Babe Ruth solved a contract dispute with a flip of a coin. Ruth, along with the owners of the club Colonel T.L. Huston and Colonel Jacob Ruppert were involved in what was described as a marathon negotiating session. Shortly before midnight the Bambino offered to flip a coin to decide the issue. If he won the flip he would get what he was demanding; if he lost he would take the Yankees best offer. When Huston flipped the half-dollar piece Ruth called tails and won the toss. He would now be the highest paid player in all of baseball with a salary of $52,000 a season over the next 5 years.

     The contract also included $500 per every home run hit. In '21 Ruth had blasted 59 home runs and had high expectations to continue to park the ball in the seats. They were expectations he would meet. At the time newspapers and fans alike merely speculated as to what Ruth was being paid. What they did know was he was the highest paid man in the game. He was being paid more than the Commissioner of Baseball Kennesaw Mountain Landis as well as the President of the American League Ban Johnson.

     The newspapers of the day speculated that Ruth could be making as much as $100,00 per year as they were kept in the dark when it came to the actual amount. When Huston was asked about Ruth's salary he stated that it would make a railroad president proud. According to the Reading Eagle, their decision to not publish the actual amounts was their fear that it would cause the other stars in baseball run amuck stark mad.

     Ruth had to sit out the first six weeks of that '22 season after being suspended by the Commissioner for participating in a barnstorming tour following the World Series. Despite that fact he still hit 35 dingers and knocked in 99 ribbies. He would continue to bash the baseball for years to come and every penny he earned would be money well spent. By today's standards $52,000 would equate to a little more than $724,000. What a bargain.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

March 4, 1968: Frazier Pummels Mathis

     On March 4, 1968, in front of a capacity crowd in Madison Square Garden, Smokin Joe Frazier knocked a Buster Mathis out in the eleventh round of a battle that would decide who would retain Muhammad Ali's vacated Heavyweight Title. The fight came with great controversy as Ali was considered the true champion, but because of his well documented refusal to serve in Vietnam his title was stripped. A new champion would be crowned, and that new champion's name would be Joe Frazier.

     Frazier and Mathis had went toe-to-toe before. Frazier fell to the big man twice, with one of those bouts coming during the 1964 Olympic trials. An injury forced Mathis to miss those games while Frazier went onto win the Gold Medal for the United States. When Mathis beat Frazier he was tipping the scales at 295 pounds, while Frazier was 100 pounds lighter and still a raw young boxer who was refining his craft. Four years after those Olympic trials Mathis would be meeting a different Joe Frazier. 

     Before the fight began there was a war of words as both Frazier and Mathis believed that they would be crowned the Heavyweight Champ. Mathis acknowledged that Frazier had improved, but believed he had as well. He was weighing in at 243 and was considered to be one of the fastest big men around. Mathis questioned who had Frazier beat. He considered the men that came before him as has beens, and that he would be the first real challenge for the Gold medalist. When Frazier spoke he said he learned a lot since those days as an amateur and he was a much improved boxer. He told reporters "I hope Buster has improved as he will need it. I have never been a predicting fellow, but I'm going in there to win and there will be a change when this is over."  With the war of words in the books the real war was on the horizon.

     Outside of the The Garden dozens of picketers held signs proclaiming Ali as the rightful champion; inside two men prepared for battle. By the end of that battle there would be blood and there would be a new champion. Unbeaten as a pro, Frazier held a 20-0 record with 18 of those wins coming via knockout. Mathis had an equally impressive record at 23-0 with 17 knockouts. As mentioned before mathis came into the fight weighing in at 243; Smokin Joe stood at 204. Frazier would use the lighter weight as an advantage as he wore Mathis down as he beat him into submission. 

     For the first six rounds Mathis held his own. Frazier would walk in on him and Mathis would dance away while throwing jabs. When Frazier cornered him he would cover up, go into a crouch, then come out of it swinging. Then he began to wear down. Slowly but surely, he was covering up less, landing fewer punches, while Frazier began an assault that would lead to a title. By the time the eleventh round rolled around Mathis  had blood pouring from his nose, when Frazier ended it with a short left hook that sent him crashing to the ground. With the referee Arthur Mercante counting him out, Mathis got to his feet, and fell against the turnbuckle as Mercante stopped the fight. Frazier was the Champion.

     Some didn't recognize Frazier's title as the "World Champion" because it was simply recognized by the New York State Athletic Commission which covered New York, Maine, Massachusetts, and Illinois. He would go onto beat Manuel Ramos, Oscar Bonavena, Dave Zyglewicz, and Jerry Quarry before defeating Jimmy Ellis where he not only retained the NYSAC title he also took home the WBA and WBC titles as well and was now the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World. After successfully defending the title against Bob Foster in November of 1970- what was dubbed as the Fight of the Century was set to take place with Frazier taking on Ali. He proved that he was the rightful owner of the title 

     Frazier held that title until George Foreman took it from him in 1973. Along the way he fought Muhammad Ali in a legendary battle that would make history with a 15 round unanimous decision over the former champ. Frazier defended his title two more times before George Foreman took it from him. Frazier fought seven more fights going 3-3-1. Two of those losses came in legendary bouts against Ali and the other loss came with George Foreman as his challenger. In the age of legendary boxers. While every title must eventually be passed on, Frazier proved to be one of the greatest in the age of the legendary boxer. His dominance over Buster Mathis is just one of many tales in a career that boasted a 32-4-1 record. 27 of those 32 wins came by knockout. 

Watch a condensed version here: