I had no intention of writing about Colin Kaepernick. But after Nike signed the controversial activist-protester to a new advertising campaign, it seems that everyone now has an opinion of the ex-NFL quarterback, and Nike. Including me.
Today, a confluence of unusual events prompted the following thought-question-post:
A few years ago, Paul Harris (the radio personality) and Dennis Phillips (the poker player) took me to a St. Louis Cardinals home baseball game. Paul, who lives in St. Louis, is retiring from talk radio today. He spent 40 years in radio broadcasting. I wish him well. Memories of that experience when the Cardinals beat the Reds stuck with me and prompted my awareness of a few unusual coincidences.
So, why am I writing this post on the topic of greatest sports comebacks?
I’ll get to that in a moment.
Today’s local newspaper lists the odds of (still mathematically-possible) NBA and NHL teams winning this year’s championship. The favorites are to be expected — Golden State Warriors in the NBA and the Tampa Bay Lightning in the NHL. The Las Vegas Golden Knights are the second-rated favorite. However, some really bad sports teams are listed as ridiculous long shots. Some might say they have no chance whatsoever.
Anyone out there want to bet real money on the NBA’s Orlando Magic — currently with a dismal 18-36 record, 14th place in the Eastern Conference? The Magic are 2,000-1 to win the NBA championship. How about the NHL’s Montreal Canadians — with a 22-26 record, currently in last place? The Canadians are 1,500-1 to win the Stanley Cup. Sounds like flushing money down the toilet to me.
The prospect of betting long shots later in the season got me to thinking — what are the most incredible MID-SEASON and/or LATE SEASON comebacks in all of sports history?
Many sports fans can recall surprise teams that ended up winning championships — 1999 St. Louis Rams (after a horrid 4-12 season); 1967 Texas Western (now UTEP, the first team with Black athletes to win college basketball’s championship); 1983 North Carolina State Wolfpack (Jimmy Valvano’s legendary team); and the 1969 New York Mets (from worst to first). However, each of those teams enjoyed a great full season. None were left for dead past the midway point of their respective schedules.
Can you name any team that came completely out of nowhere to win a sports championship? Google search has various lists of so-called “Cinderella” sports teams. But there’s nothing listed about incredible mid-season comebacks that I could find.
Earlier, I mentioned there would be a St. Louis connection and odd coincidence in today’s article. I’ll get to that now.
Based on my recollection of sports history, the best example of a late-season long shot ultimately winning a championship was the 1964 St. Louis Cardinals baseball team. Most of us won’t remember that in late August of 1964, the Cardinals were 11 games behind the first-place Philadelphia Phillies in the National League race (there were no divisions back then, and no wild card teams). As late as mid-September, the Cardinals were still 6.5 games back with only 12 games to play — almost an insurmountable obstacle to overcome. Incredibly, the Cardinals not only won the National League pennant by a single game when the Phillies collapsed in one of the worst meltdowns ever, they also ended the New York Yankees 40-year dynasty by defeating them in the World Series of Baseball.
Which now leads me to the closing odd coincidence of today’s post.
The bat boy for those championship 1964 St. Louis Cardinals was Ed Hill — the long time poker pro who lives here in Las Vegas, who I have known for many years. Ed served as the bat boy for most of the Cardinals’ home games that year. Some of the players Ed picked up bats for included Lou Brock, Tim McCarver, Bob Gibson, Bob Ueker, and Curt Flood (who later became the catalyst for sports free agency).
Oh, and one more thing. Today is Ed Hill’s 64th birthday.
For those who took enough time to blink back in 2001 and missed the XFL’s short-lived, disastrous spring season which was wildly entertaining for all the wrong reasons, the McMahon-NBC mutant was an abomination. It was a twisted hybrid between something labeling itself as “football,” blended with staged-fake wrestling, with a dash of The Jerry Springer Show. It was a shaken and stirred shit stain. Fortunately, McMahon’s XFL suffered a well-deserved humiliation and lasted about as long as a bad case of the chicken pox.
We thought the nightmare was over. But — no.
When I read the XFL plans to relaunch in 2020, I thought this had to be a joke.
This is like the Ford Motor Company bringing back the 1958 Edsel. It’s the roll out of New Coke again. It’s like investing in Sony BetaMax machines. It’s remaking the box office disaster that was Ishtar. It’s the worst idea in the history of sports.
Some people have more money than brains. Some people never learn.
Fact: No one wants to watch this clown’s bullshit football league. Even those who are temporarily pissed at the NFL right now (dwindling numbers by the way, that by next season can probably fit inside a telephone booth) will not become fans of new football teams based cities with bad airports filled with rejects who can’t make it either in the Canadian Football League (CFL) or even get signed to the practice squads of real pro football teams. It’s a goddamned sandlot league. Like the Pottstown Firebirds.
Whether we like it or not, despite its awful rules and terrible owners, and in spite of the major television networks milking the public’s patience with way too many commercials and talking heads, the NFL remains the 800-pound Godzilla of American sports. Other than the American Football League (AFL) so brillilantly created and managed by Dallas’ Lamar Hunt, which merged with the NFL in 1970, every attempt since then to tap into America’s love affair with football has been a total disaster:
—– [1974-1975] Ever heard of the World Football League (WFL)? Remember the Hawaii Rainbows and the Shreveport Steamer? This league signed lots of NFL stars, then ran out of money. Then, the broke NFL players had to crawl back to the real football league. Most were never the same again. Calvin Hill, Larry Czonka, Paul Warfield, John Gilliam, and so many others who jumped leagues never did much after they left their iconic teams in the NFL.
—– [1983-1985] Remember this bomb of a sports league killed off by someone who’s now famous? The United States Football League (USFL) was ruined when New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump took over control in the second year and switched games to the Fall to go up directly against the NFL. Some businessman. He got slaughtered and bankrupted the entire league. Here’s a short walk down memory lane:
—– [2009-2012] The short-lived United Football League (UFL), which at one point in 2011 had FOUR teams, lasted just three, mostly invisible years. It even had a team based in Las Vegas called the Outlaws. I watched one of the UFL games on television with like 2,220 people in the stands. It looked like a high school game, without the bands. It was morbidly fascinating to watch.
—–  The XFL was a laughingstock. They lost billions. Remember “He Hate Me?” Cringeworthy. In their second nationally-televised game from the Los Angeles Coliseum, the live feed went black. NBC went to a test pattern nationwide because of a local power failure. Apparently, a generator truck supplying the power for the entire broadcast parked outside the stadium powered down and wouldn’t restart because someone working at the XFL FORGOT TO PUT GAS IN THE TANK. True story. Here’s a short trailer of this mess of a football league:
Now, the same huckster who ran the XFL into the ground the first time is back for more punishment. On second thought — perhaps this WILL BE fun to watch……fun to watch as in like a dumpster fire. The saddest thing is — lots of D-grade players will view the XFL as a real opportunity and will jump on this tinker-toy train running off a cliff, and likely be hurt.
Listen, no one wants to watch a bunch of nobodies wearing weird-colored uniforms playing football in third-rate stadiums in the middle of June.
I’ve attended hundreds of sporting events at the college and pro level. This means I’ve witnessed the customary pre-game rendition of the national anthem more times than I can count in dozens of cities and stadiums all over the country.
I find it puzzling to see those who vehemently criticize pro football players for taking a knee being labeled as “disrespectful.” The protestors are “disrespecting the flag” is a popular accusation that’s been raised all over social media. The president has even jumped into the melee, and typically as has been his doing, he’s made the issue far more incendiary for the country he presumably governs.
However, based on my experiences observing the national anthem played at games, of all major sports, there does seem to be quite a bit of hypocrisy going on. I’ve seen countless numbers of fans — of all ages, in different parts of the country, both male and female — talking out loud during the anthem. I’ve seen countless numbers of fans texting on cellphones during the anthem. I’ve seen countless numbers of fans eating during the anthem. I’ve seen countless numbers of fans drinking beer during the anthem. Fact is, lots of sports fans behave like spoiled oafs. To me, that’s disrespect.
Meanwhile, concession stands don’t stop serving food, even though it’s just two minutes of music. Fans don’t stop streaming into the stadium taking their seats just prior to kickoff. Life pretty much goes on normally off-the-field while the players on-the-field — EVEN THOSE PLAYERS ENGAGED PROTEST — observe a respectful moment of silence while “The Star Spangled Banner” gets played. Mind you, these pro athletes kneeling on the sidelines aren’t walking around, laughing amongst themselves, talking out loud, or eating or drinking. Their decision to kneel illustrates a very different kind of “stand,” and a courageous one at that. Seems pretty respectful to me.
Since when is kneeling, staying silent, and pondering a calm moment of reflection during the national anthem considered “disrespectful,” while thousands of half-wasted fans wearing faux-team jerseys guzzle down another brew and blabber in conversation over the sound of trumpets? Explain that to me, please.
And then, there are the real hypocrites of this debate. Millions of flakey so-called patriots watch these games at home, sprawled out on their sofas….or gathered in bars….or hanging out inside casino sportsbooks. Don’t even get me started here on such blatant sanctimoniousness. Rarely have I ever seen anyone stand at attention during the national anthem. Actually, it’s more like never — except for the Super Bowl spectacle, which is the most viewed rendition of the song every year. Fact is, when the anthem is shown on TV, most patriotic sports fans are rushing to the refrigerator or flushing toilets. Please, what was that again you were saying about — disrespecting the flag?
Some insist the league and/or team owners can (or perhaps should) require that all players adhere to a “code of conduct” which would include things like observing patriotic loyalty. I see this as a grotesque violation of basic rights, even in the workplace. Keep in mind that those who stand during the anthem are also very much engaged in a political expression of sorts. So, if one act is authorized, so too must be the other act. The league nor owners cannot require its employees to hold a certain political view or behave in a certain way. Either leave the anthem as it is and let players react in their own way, or abolish it entirely from games. It cannot nor should not be grounds for some litmus test of team or country loyalty.
There’s absolutely nothing whatsoever patriotic nor honorable about forced coercion in a public place, demanding that citizens living in a free republic all march lock, stock, and barrel to the same drum beat. That’s not honoring anything. That’s not patriotism. To me, that’s an Orwellian nightmare. That’s the very definition of a totalitarian state which demands strict conformity and blind obedience, which is an anathema to all those (especially conservatives) who claim to be defenders of our personal freedom and the champion of individual rights.
Once again, I guess their twisted interpretation of “freedom” extends only to the viewpoints they share. Here’s a lesson worth remembering: Patriotism means something very different to each and every one of us. We are granted that marvelous right to exercise the manifestation of those varying convictions in different ways — if we so choose. That goes for you. It goes for me. It goes for NFL players, too.
It’s not often I say this given the deteriorating state of sports and entertainment in this country, but watching so many players exercising their rights today, I was proud again — proud to be both a football fan and proud of what this country represents at its best moments.
Thanks to those who stood up and/or kneeled on behalf of what they believe is right. They deserve respect. Not the critics who profess to be patriots telling the rest of us what to do and how we should act. Those who criticize others exercising their rights disrespect the very foundations of a free society.