Yes Virginia, there really is a UMBC


Back in February of 1981, I was working the copy desk at the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel when Notre Dame beat then undefeated and top-ranked Virginia and Ralph Sampson. The headline I wrote for the next day’s paper was “Yes Virginia, there really is a Notre Dame.”

Similiarly, two weeks before Christmas in 1982, Sampson and the top-ranked Cavaliers were upset by tiny Chaminade, an NAIA school, in Hawaii.

These upsets were certainly amazing, but nothing like what happened in the first round of the NCAA tournment when 16th seed UMBC took out top-ranked and #1 seed Virginia 74-54. Finally, for the first time ever, a #16 seed beat a #1 seed. Make it one win and 135 losses.

Wow, this is the granddaddy of all NCAA tourney upsets. UMBC, The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, became U Must be Cinderella. Fans rocked in the stands and the streets. The school’s website crashed after the game.

You know what this is like?” CBS Sports analyst Bill Raftery said after the game. “This is like saying, well, you know, one day the aliens are going to land here and that’s going to be incredible. But in the back of your mind you’re like, ‘C’mon, man, we all know the aliens are never going to land here.'”

We all thought we knew – a 16 can’t beat a 1. Not only did the UMBC Retrievers win, they won by 20 points, scoring 53 points in the second half against the nation’s top defensive team. Virginia allowed just 53.4 points per game during the regular season.

This is beyond madness. It’s insanity.

The UMBC victory easily ranks as the top upset in the history of the NCAAs, but there have been man others. Here are the top dozen, in chronological order:

12 Great NCAA Upsets

1944:  Utah 42, Dartmouth 40 (OT) — Utah originally turned down an invitation to the NCAA tournament, but was given a second chance after losing in the NIT, and after Arkansas pulled out of the tourney after two players were injured in an automobile accident.  In those days there were no seedings and no 64-team field, just two, four-team regionals and a title game at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The Utes were the youngest NCAA champion in history; the team’s average age was 18 years, six months. And in the midst of World War II, the team had two Japanese-American players, one on release from an internment camp. The Utes defeated Eastern champion and heavily favored Dartmouth in the championship game on a set shot by forward Herb Wilkinson in the first overtime championship game in NCAA history.  Utah became known as the Whiz Kids, Zoot Utes, and the Live Five from the Jive Drive.

1956: Canisius 79, North Carolina State 78 (4OT) — The Wolfpack was ranked second in the nation when they faced Canisius in the first round. The Golden Griffins won in four overtimes. The two teams set a record for longest NCAA Tournament game that’s been once tied (1961), but never broken. The San Francisco Dons, led by Bill Russell, won the NCAA title that year.

UTEP1966: Texas Western 72, Kentucky 65 — Texas Western (now the University of Texas at El Paso) and its all-black starting five was a heavy underdog to Kentucky’s all white starting five, including Pat Riley, and openly racist coach, Adolph Rupp. Yet the Miners managed the win. Rupp “carried the memory of that game to his grave,” wrote his biographer, Russell Rice.

1979: Penn 72, North Carolina 71 — The Quakers beat top-rated UNC in the East Regionals and later St. John’s in the Eastern regional finals, and became what remains the last Ivy League team to make the Final Four.  Penn would be the only team to beat four higher seeded opponents to reach the Final Four until the feat was matched in 1986 by LSU and again in 2006 by George Mason. Penn was crushed in the national semis by Magic Johnson and Michigan State, which went on to beat Larry Bird’s Indiana State team for the championship.

1983: NC State 54, Houston 52 — NC State had lost 10 games during the regular season and wasn’t expected to be in the title match. The Cougars and their “Phi  Slamma Jamma” crew of Akeem (later Hakeem) “The Dream” Olajuwon and Clyde “The Glide” Drexler, meanwhile, were the nation’s top-ranked team and on a 25-game winning streak. But when Lorenzo Charles slammed home an errant shot as time expired, the Wolfpack had an improbable win and coach Jim Valvano went “looking for someone to hug.”

1985: Villanova 66, Georgetown 64 — Many thought the eighth-seeded Wildcats didn’t belong on the same court with Patrick Ewing and the defending champion Hoyas. Georgetown had already beaten Villanova twice during the regular season. But the Wildcats  shot a record 78.6 percent from the field, missed only one shot in the entire second half, and became the lowest-seeded team ever to win the national championship.

1991: Richmond 73, Syracuse 69 — Richmond became the first No. 15 to beat a two seed The win inspired the immortal headline: Orangemen Bitten by Spiders. Other 15-2 shockers include Santa Clara over Arizona in 1991 and Coppin State over South Carolina in 1997. More below.

brycedrew1998: Valparaiso 70, Mississippi 69 — One of the most famous last-second shots in basketball history and the poster child for buzzer beaters was the three pointer by Bryce Drew, left, that helped 13-seed Valparaiso beat Ole Miss in a stunner.
2006: George Mason 86, Connecticut (OT) — A suburban commuter school from Fairfax, Va., that was a dicey choice to make the NCAA tournament as an at-large team, the 11th seeded Patriots upset No. 1 seed UConn and reached the Final Four. The Patriots were only the second double-digit seed to make the Final Four, matching LSU’s run, also as an 11th seed, in 1986. They were the first true outsider to crash the quartet since Penn and Indiana State both got there in 1979.

2010: Northern Ohio 67, Kansas 65 — It’s rare that the top seeded team in the tournament goes out this early. But NIU guard Ali Farokhmanes, the answer to future trivia question, hit a three-pointer with 34 seconds left to ultimately doom Kansas in the second round .The top-seeded Jayhawks were knocked out by ninth-seeded NIU in one of the bigger surprises in NCAA history.

2012: Lehigh 75, Duke 70 – Lehigh, a 15 seed, engineered the upset over second seed Duke. Led by C.J. McCollum, the Mountain Hawks from the Patriots League stunned the Blue Devils and legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski.

2016Middle Tennessee 90, Michigan State 81 – Big 10 champs and a trendy championship pick, coach Tom Izzo’s Michigan State squad fell to Middle Tennessee in a shocker.

Related Blog: Top 10 Championship Games in Final Four History


Potent pinstripe pair powers talk of HR peaks


Adding National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton to a powerful lineup that already includes American League Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge has baseball fans, Yankee fans, dreaming of record home run harvests in 2018.

Stanton, who led the majors in homers last year with 59, is one of the few home run champions to be traded, part of a short list that includes Babe Ruth and Alex Rodriguez. And Judge with 52 homers broke Mark McGwire’s rookie record of 49, established in 1987.

The only time teammates each hit 50 homers in a season was 1961, when Roger Maris (61) and Mickey Mantle (54) hammered their way to the record with 115 total home runs.

Stanton and Judge pose a threat to both of those records. If they had played on the same team last year, their 111 combined home runs would have been second on the all-time list.

The rest of the top five home runs by teammates features:

110 – Barry Bonds (73) and Rich Aurilia (37), 2001 Giants

107 – Babe Ruth (60) and Lou Gehrig (47), 1927 Yankees

101 – Mark McGwire (70) and Ray Lankford (31), 1998 Cardinals

100 – Alex Rodriguez (57) and Rafael Palmeiro (43, 2001 Rangers

The Super Bowl from hell

superbowlliiAbout 14 years or so ago, God approached the world’s biggest Yankee and Giants fan with a proposition. In return for the Yankees becoming the first team in MLB history to blow a 3-0 lead and lose a playoff series in seven games (to the Red Sox no less), God would grant the Giants not one, but two, comeback Super Bowl victories against the Patriots. And to sweeten the pot, one of those Super Bowl wins would knock out an undefeated New England team.

It was an offer no fan could refuse.

Now, as we approach Super Bow LII, the picture is about as bleak as can be for New York fans. Oh woe, it’s come down to this. For a Giants fan, Eagles-Patriots is about as bad a Super Bowl matchup as you could possibly get. Only thing worse would be Cowboys-Patriots.

There are so many reasons to dislike both these teams. It would be a LII (lie) to say I wanted the Eagles or the Patriots to win Super Bowl LII. But come Sunday, one of those teams will emerge triumphant.

Reasons to hate the Eagles

1. They’re an NFC East rival, and play the Giants twice each year.

2. The Eagles have handed the Giants numerous bitter losses over the year, most notably the Chuck Bednarik game in 1960, the Herman Edwards game in 1978, and the LeSean Jackson game in 2010. Those losses and others still cut deep.

3. Philadelphia fans booed Santa Claus.

4. Those some Philadelphia fans cut the brake lining in my nephew’s van during a Giants game at Lincoln Financial Field several years ago. Seriously. Fortunately noboby was injured when the van crashed into a cyclone fence.

5. Philly can’t hold a candle to New York. First prize, a week’s vacation in Philadelphia. Second prize, two weeks vacation in Philly. Get it.

Reasons to hate the Patriots

1. They always win.

2. Most of their fans also root for the Boston Red Sox.

3. They cheat. Too many controversies, ie Spygate and Deflategate, make it appear more than simple coincidence.

4. The refs are on their side. I mean how many calls go New England’s way? There oughta be an investigation.

5. Boston can’t hold a candle to New York. The Big Apple vs. Beantown. Yeah right.

There’s only one saving grace in Super Bowl LII, and it leans towards the Pats. If the Patriots win, at least the Giants can claim the only Super Bowl victories against New England in the Brady-Belichick era. New England under B&B is presently 0-2 against the Giants in the Super Bowl, and 5-0 against the rest of the league.

Go Pats I guess. Good luck New England. Not really.


Will ‘Minny Miracle’ reverse the Vikings curse?

Jan 14, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) runs for the end zone and scores the winning touchdown against the New Orleans Saints in the fourth quarter of the NFC Divisional Playoff football game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe, just maybe, the Minny Miracle has reversed the longstanding playoff curse that has bedeviled the Minnesota Vikings.

It’s hard to find a more improbable ending to a football game than the play that gave the star-crossed Vikings a 29-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints and a ticket to the NFC Championship game.

More improbable than the Immaculate Reception of 1972 or the Music City Miracle of 2000? The craziest ending to a playoff game in NFL history? Yeah, why not?

Visions of Super Bowls danced in the heads of Viking fans when Stefon Diggs leaped for Case Keenum’s desperation pass, somehow eluded two defenders and raced down the sidelines to complete an unbelievable 61-yard touchdown pass.

The Vikings, founded in 1961, have played in four Super Bowls – and lost all four, the last to the Oakland Raiders 41 years ago. Minnesota shares the title of biggest Super Bowl loser with the Buffalo Bills, also 0-4.

Playoff hearbreakers

However, the Vikes have come close many other times, only to suffer playoff disappointments. Here are the top five Minny heartbreakers.

2015 – Kicker Blair Walsh hooks a last-minute, chip shot field goal as the Seattle Seahawks hang on to defeat the Vikings 10-9 in a divisional round stunner.

2010 – Three fumbles, two by Adrian Peterson, and a Brett Favre interception that led to overtime were crucial in this loss. The Saints went on to win 31-28.

2001 – The Vikings appeared primed for their first Super Bowl appearance in a quarter century. But they ran into a New York Giants buzz saw and suffered a 41-0 loss, the worst setback in NFC Championship game history.

1999 – Gary Anderson, perfect in the regular season, missed a 37-yard field goal that would have given the Vikings an insurmountable lead late in the NFC Championship game. The Atlanta Falcons scored the game-tying touchdown in the final minutes. Minnesota, 15-1 in the regular season, lost the coin flip in overtime and never got the ball back as Morton Anderson’s 38-yard field goal won it for the Falcons.

1975 – In the play that birthed the term “Hail Mary,” Roger Staubach connected with Drew Pearson on a 50-yard touchdown in the waning seconds and the Dallas Cowboys squashed Viking Super Bowl dreams with a 17-14 victory at the old Metropolitan Stadium.

Minny Miracle Call:


1951–my birth year in sports


Thomson_19511003Recently I read “1941: The Greatest Year in Sports” by Mike Vaccaro, the excellent columnist for the New York Post. Vacaro interweaves vignettes about the year in sports – Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, Ted Williams .406 season, Whirlaway’s Triple Crown, Joe Louis over Billy Conn and more – with the shadow of war hanging over the world in 1941. Excellent read.

My favorite sports year is 1951 – my birth year. That was a great year for sports.

Start with “The Shot Heard Round the World,” Bobby Thomson’s dramatic ninth inning home run off Ralph Branca at the Polo Grounds  that gave the Giants the National League pennant over the Dodgers. At one point in August, the Giants trailed Brooklyn by 13 1/2 games, yet came all the way back to win a dramatic playoff game on what is generally regarded as the most memorable home run in baseball history,

The Yankees went on to beat the Giants in six games in the World Series. It was Joe DiMaggio’s final appearance in the Fall Classic; while Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays found October’s spotlight as rookies.

The year 1951 saw the first professional championship in North America for a team based West of St. Louis. The Los Angeles Rams beat the Cleveland Browns 24-17, gaining revenge for a last-minute loss to the Browns in 1950.

Earlier in the 1951 season opener, LA quarterback Norm Van Brocklin passed for 554 yards and five TDs in a 54-14 win over the New York Yanks. That record has stood up for more than 66 years.

The world of boxing witnessed the career intersection of two of the game’s all-time heavyweights. Rocky Marciano and Joe Louis. In an October bout at Madison Square Garden, Marciano, age 27, knocked down Louis, 37, twice in the eighth round before the fight was called as a TKO.

The great golfer Ben Hogan overcame a near-fatal automobile accident in 1949, winning both the Masters and the US Open.

In the NBA, the New York  Knickerbockers nearly overcame a 3-0 deficit against the Rochester Royals before losing in seven games. The Royals won the final game 79-75 on April 21. It was their first, and to date only, NBA Championship.

That same day, the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup four games to one over the Montreal Canadians, with all five games going into overtime. Bill Barilko scored the Cup-winning goal; sadly it turned out to be his final goal. Barilko died in a plane crash during the summer in a fishing trip to northern Quebec.


End of an era: Mike Francesa signs off

WFAN-Radio talent Mike Francesa Photo Credit:  John Filo/CBS  ©2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved Mike Francesa signed off today, ending a 30-year career as a sports talk host on WFAN Sports Radio in New York.

Francesca was a pioneer. Along with his former co-host Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo, he set the standard for afternoon sports talk radio that is now a fixture in stations across America.

Russo’s departure for Sirius XM Radio in 2008 marked the end of the “Mike and the Mad Dog Show.” Francesa hosted “Mike’d Up”, his own show, for nine years. Both shows were ranked number one in the drive-time ratings.

Francesa could be tough on callers, and some called him a bully. Mike would call it arrogance. He was an opinionated host, all of which made for good listening.

Bottom line, Francesa generated interesting, entertaining radio in the New York market for 30 years.

Francesa had his detractors, most notably Phil Mushnick of the New York Post, who referred to him as “pompous, boastful and hypocritical” and more, right up until Mike’s final day on the job.

On a personal note, there was rarely a day I didn’t tune in to listen, at least for a while and especially if there was a hot topic about New York sports and one of my teams. My son, who was just an infant when Francesa started his run, would agree with me completely.

I was never the type to call in and voice my own opinions. But if I were to phone in, it would be to take umbrage with a statement Francesa made a few weeks back about Willie Mays being surly and unapproachable. I met Mays once on a flight from San Francisco to New York, and he couldn’t have been nicer.

We’re gonna miss you Mike. Thanks for all the good radio, and best of luck in the future.


Making a Hall of Fame case for Eli Manning

Here are 10 reasons why Elisha Nelson Manning IV is a Hall of Fame quarterback. eli


1. Eli ranks eighth all time in touchdown passes with 334.

2. He stands seventh all-time with 50,625 passing yards

3. Eli is sixth all-time in pass completions with 4319.


4. Manning is a two-time Super Bowl MVP.  He joins a short list of Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Tom Brady, all of whom won multiple MVP.  Manning led the Giants to two Super Bowl wins over the New England Patriots, including a stunning upset of Brady and the unbeaten Pats in 2007. .


5. Eli started 210 straight games, second in NFL history and two behind his brother Peyton. Only Brett Favre with 297 made more consecutive starts than Eli. Since Eli started his first game in 2004, every other NFL team has started at least three QBs. The Cleveland Browns have started 24 in the same time span.

Manning’s streak, of course, was snapped last week when coach Ben McAdoo made the highly questionable decision to start journeyman Geno Smith. It cost McAdoo his job.


6. A four-time Pro Bowler, Manning holds virtually every Giants passing record, including TD passes, passing yards and completions as documented above.


7. Eli has engineered 30 fourth quarter comebacks, tied for seventh all-time with Drew Brees, Favre, Ben Roethlisberger and Fran Tarkenton.

8. He’s tied for third all-time with four fourth quarter playoff comebacks with Roethlisberger, Bradshaw, John Elway and Russell Wilson.

9. Manning holds the NFL single season record for most TD passes in the fourth quarter with 15.


10. Leadership, durability, character, class. Elis has it all. Earlier this year Manning was named co-winner of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, one of the league’s most prestigious honors. The coveted award honors NFL players for excellence on and off the field.