Happy Birthday (to Me)!
OK, so today’s my 55th birthday. I’m trying to remember exactly when birthdays stopped being awesome. I know a lot of people will say that it really stopped once they became adults or after they turned 30 or whatever, but I have to say I loved my birthday a lot longer than that. To be honest, I think I loved my birthday all the way until I turned 50. No, even that’s not right, I liked my 50th birthday too.
So, no, I think it was when I turned 51.
Anyway, I don’t dislike my birthday even now. I hear from all sorts of friends. My family usually lets me do whatever I want — if I want to sleep all day, I can do it because it’s my birthday.
Anyway, I wanted to give you a little birthday present — here are a few sports things that have happened on my favorite day of the year, Jan. 8.
Jan. 8, 1944: Bill Terry retired from baseball.
He was 45 years old, and he’d been at the forefront of baseball for more than 20 years, first as a hitting machine for the Giants; Terry is the last guy in the National League to hit .400, when he did it in 1930 — and that year he banged out 254 hits, which was the record until Ichiro came along. Then he was a player-manager for the Giants, and he managed his teams to three pennants and a World Series title.
Then he became a manager and the team began getting old and they dropped into the second division.
Then for a year, he was the team’s general manager, but he kind of hated that. He quit after a year and for a little while considered finding another baseball job. But on Jan. 8, he decided to give up baseball entirely and go into the cotton business.
“There’s no turning back now,” he said. “I gave the idea of returning to baseball a lot of thought but I finally made up my mind … [Baseball] is too cheap a business, and it’s getting cheaper all the time.”
Someone asked Memphis Bill, as he was often called, if he was worried about the future of baseball. He smiled (he was also called “Smiling Bill”) and said words that are true to this very day, 78 years later.
“Nah,” he said. “No business in the world has ever made more money with poorer management. It can survive anything.”
Jan. 8, 1962: Jack Nicklaus finished his first professional golf tournament.
Nicklaus was already a sensation when he played in the Los Angeles Open, his first professional tournament. He was a two-time U.S. Amateur champion, and there was a buzz around him playing. As it turns out, things didn’t go all that well for him — a brash Phil Rodgers tore things up and won the tournament by nine strokes.
Nicklaus finished 21 shots back and won — get this — $33.
Jan. 8, 1963: The Baltimore Colts fire Weeb Ewbank and hire a 33-year-old kid named Don Shula.
The late 1950s and early 1960s Colts are fascinating to me. I mean, you certainly cannot call them underachievers — they did win the NFL title in back-to-back seasons in 1958 and 1959. But at the same time, I mean, look at that team. Begin with John Unitas, who at least some old-timers would still argue was the greatest quarterback ever. They had Raymond Berry, who was certainly one of the greatest receivers ever. They had John Mackey, who was perhaps the greatest tight end ever. They had left tackle Jim Parker, surely one of the greatest offensive linemen ever. They had Lenny Moore, as dangerous a running back anyone. Gino Marchetti essentially reinvented the defensive end position. Defensive tackle Art Donovan is in the Hall of Fame. And they had a slew of All-Pros on top of them — Tom Matte, Alan Ameche, Bobby Boyd, Jim Orr, etc.
I mean, seriously, how did that team not win it all every year?
In the early 1960s, they not only didn’t win it all, they sunk deep into mediocrity. On Jan. 8, 1963, Weeb Ewbank paid the price for that. The Colts then hired a young defensive backs coach from Detroit named Don Shula, who through sheer will and force — Bill Curry would always say that Shula ran MUCH tougher practices than Vince Lombardi — made the Colts winners again, though it wasn’t until Shula left for Miami that he would win the Super Bowl.
Ewbank, meanwhile, had another chapter. His wife used to say that coaching was a “devil of a way to make a living,” but he couldn’t stop, and he took over the New York Jets in the upstart American Football League. In 1965, the Jets got themselves a flashy young quarterback named Joe Namath. And Ewbank was the coach of the Jets team that, yes, shocked the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
We like to have fun here at Joe Blogs. Baseball. Football. Tennis. Chess. Family. Basketball. Music. Infomercials. Movies. Olympics. Hockey. Nonsense. Magic. In short, it’s an adventure. I hope you’ll come along.
Jan. 8, 1967: My birthdate! Also the day that Baltimore beat Philadelphia in the “Playoff Bowl” to determine third place in the NFL.
It is legend in our house that my Dad was watching football when I was born … and getting yelled at by my grandmother because of it. For many years, I thought that he was watching Super Bowl I, Kansas City Chiefs vs. Green Bay Packers, and I took great pride in that, felt very special to have been born on the day of the first Super Bowl.
But no. I was born one week BEFORE the first Super Bowl, which probably fits my life story a lot better.
Anyway, they used to have a playoff bowl for third place in the NFL — it is so very Detroit Lions to know that they won each of the first three Playoff Bowls. In fact, in the first one they edged the Cleveland Browns. Lions-Browns Playoff Bowl … it makes perfect sense.
Anyway, on the day I was born, Baltimore’s Tom Matte slammed in for a one-yard touchdown with 14 seconds left to seal the victory. In the game, Unitas set a Playoff Bowl record for most completions in a game. Why don’t you take a minute and try to guess just how many passes Unitas completed to set that record?
You got a number in your head?
Wrong. It was 19.
Jan. 8, 1978: Jimmy Connors beat Bjorn Borg in the Masters Grand Prix at Madison Square Garden for the biggest prize money in tennis history — $100,000.
“It’s the best I can play,” a humble Connors said after the match — it was the humble part that surprised everybody. It wasn’t a word that often described Jimmy Connors. He was brash and vengeful; Borg had beaten him at Wimbledon in ’77, and people began to say that he was finished, and as the United Press reporter wrote, “Jimmy Connors had every right to shout to the world, ‘I’m number one!” and take to task all those who doubted him.”
But he didn’t.
“Aw, I’m getting a little bit older,” Connors said. “I’ve seen it all. I’ve done it all. … I’m not looking to settle any scores anymore. I’m trying to play my best tennis.”
Connors was all of 25 years old.
Jan. 8, 1986: Willie McCovey voted into the Hall of Fame.
When the great Willie McCovey — 521 home runs, retired with the record for intentional walks, true force of nature, one of the greatest sluggers in the history of baseball — was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, he was asked how he’d like to be remembered.
He said this: “I’d like to be remembered as the guy who hit the line drive over Bobby Richardson’s head.”
It’s one of my all-time favorite answers — because, of course, his line drive DID NOT go over Richardson’s head. It was Game 7 of the 1962 World Series, the Yankees led 1-0, and the Giants had runners on second and third with two outs when McCovey stepped to the plate. He ripped a line drive off the Yankees’ Ralph Terry. But he hit it too low and Richardson snared it for the third out, ending the Series.
Jan. 8, 1996: Nobody is elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Ten years after McCovey — and one year after Mike Schmidt — the BBWAA got together and could not come to a Hall of Fame consensus on ANY player. It was the first time in 25 years that the writers voted in zero people.
It was a strange ballot because none of the first-year players on the ballot were especially compelling for the voters. Looking back, they should have shown more Hall of Fame interest in Keith Hernandez and maybe Dan Quisenberry, but the point is that it had been a remarkable run of first-year candidates: Wille Stargell in ’88; Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski in ’89, Joe Morgan and Jim Palmer in ’90; Rod Carew in ’91; Tom Seaver in ’92; Reggie Jackson in ’93; Steve Carlton in ’94 and Schmidt in ’95.
Not having a dead-lock first-ballot guy probably threw the voters in ’96.
And so they passed on future Hall of Famers Phil Niekro and Don Sutton, Tony Perez and Jim Rice, Ron Santo and Minnie Miñoso.
“Shame on me for voting for Don Sutton,” wrote one columnist. “The only thing worse would have been to vote for both Sutton and Phil Niekro. They were good pitchers … make that very, very good pitcher if you wish.
“But Hall of Famers?
Whew. Seems pretty harsh.
Jan. 8, 2000: The Music City Miracle
One thing I find funny is that immediately the play was known as the Music City Miracle. I mean, immediately, it was in all the papers that way the next day. It was like people were waiting for SOMETHING they could call the Music City Miracle, and then this crazy play came along at just the right time.
In case you had forgotten the play — and, right, I know you haven’t — it was a wild-card game, Buffalo vs. Tennessee, and the Titans took a 15-13 lead on an Al Del Greco field goal with 1:48 left in the game.
The Bills, led by their quarterback Rob Johnson, put together a drive. Johnson completed a 14-yard pass to the superlatively named Peerless Price. Jonathan Linton ran for 12 yards. Johnson scrambled for three (losing a shoe in the process). And then Johnson hit Price again for nine (without his shoe!), moving the ball to the Tennessee 23. There were 20 seconds left when the Titans called timeout.
The Bills COULD have tried to run one more play to run the clock down even more — that is exactly what Buffalo’s special teams coach Bruce DeHaven wanted them to do. But apparently the other coaches thought it was too risky, which sounds ludicrous to us now. Nobody in football would kick that field goal with 20 second left.
But so it was: Steve Christie made the 41-yard field goal and the clock ran down to 16 seconds left.
As the Bills lined up for the kickoff, DeHaven screamed at anyone and everybody that the Titans would try some sort of crazy lateral play on the return and for everyone to just stay in their lanes.
Christie popped up the kickoff so that it landed at the 25-yard line. It was received by Lorenzo Neal, who began running to his right. He handed it off to Frank Wycheck, who turned to his left and, off his back foot, threw the ball across the field to Kevin Dyson.
“That looked like a forward pass,” the announcer said immediately.
It did look like a forward pass.
But there was no flag thrown.
And as soon as Dyson caught the ball, he saw nothing but open daylight in front of him. DeHaven’s warning had fallen entirely on deaf ears — the Bills’ contain man had chased after Wycheck, leaving the back door wide open. Nobody touched Dyson as he ran 75 yards for the most ridiculous touchdown imaginable.
Looking back, it is amazing how calm Bills coach Wade Phillips was after the play … he seemed utterly certain that it was coming back because of Wycheck’s forward lateral. But referee Phil Luckett — who I imagine is not getting any free beef on weck sandwiches when he goes to Buffalo — ruled that it was not a forward pass, that it was perfectly parallel.
I’ve watched the play a thousand times and one thing that strikes me is how OBVIOUS the forward pass looks at first glance — in part because Dyson had to come back for the ball — but when you slow it down and pay super-close attention to Wycheck’s right arm and exactly where Dyson caught it, it’s definitely a really close play.
I’m still pretty sure it’s a forward pass, though.
Jan. 8, 2007: Florida beat Ohio State 41-14 in the BCS National Championship Game.
Ah, remember the BCS? What a bright idea that was.
There’s one thing I remember about this game — well, a couple of things. First, I remember that Ohio State’s Ted Ginn returned the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown, and there was this feeling that Ohio State might roll.
But the second thing trumps the first: The Buckeyes got the ball and their Heisman Trophy winner, quarterback Troy Smith, took the field. And I don’t remember which play it was, but at one point he dropped back and nobody was open. He was being chased by one of the Florida defensive ends, either Jarvis Moss or Derrick Harvey, so Smith ran to his right to get away.
And the defensive end just ran him down and sacked him. Like it was nothing.
It was such a striking moment; you could almost see the light in Smith’s eyes go dark. Florida, it turns out, wasn’t Indiana. These defensive ends were FASTER THAN HIM. And from that moment on, Ohio State had absolutely no chance. Moss and Harvey combined for five sacks. Smith was 4 for 14 for 35 yards. That was some kind of beatdown.